We begin with a tour of the back streets of Mytilene, negotiating badly parked cars and mopeds and a Saturday afternoon drunk staggering in the middle of the road! Once installed in the Malemi Hotel with Spanish Sparrows nesting in the palm trees in the hotel gardens, a stroll to the nearby Kalloni pool produces super views of Wood Sandpipers, Glossy Ibises and a Little Bittern in the scope, with hundreds of House and Sand Martins and Swallows dipping low over the pool. In the adjacent fields, full of singing Corn Buntings, we also spot a posing Red-backed Shrike. Further on toward the mouth of the Tsiknias river, we find Little Ringed Plover and Crested Lark on the beach, with a couple of handsome Black-necked Grebes in smart breeding plumage offshore and Common and Little Terns, alongside Yellow-legged Gulls at the river mouth. On the way back we spot Cetti’s and then Olivaceous Warbler in a single bush! Not a bad result for a short stroll.
The initial plan today is to find the Penduline Tits nesting along the Tsiknias River, and along the way we spot an early Squacco Heron and then a Purple Heron, while a Long-legged Buzzard is posing obligingly on a telegraph pole giving fabulous views in the scope, quickly followed by a lovely male Whinchat, and a Nightingale singing from the pink flowering Tamarisks on the opposite bank. By 9.20am we have the male Penduline Tit at his large woven nest in our scopes, with Great Reed Warblers singing nearby, while a single Mediterranean Gull is in the adjacent field with a group of Yellow-legged Gulls. With news of a nearby Demoiselle Crane, never before recorded on Lesvos, all subsequent plans are on hold while we head for the crane site. We soon find this fabulous vagrant feeding in a field alongside two White Storks. How lucky we are to coincide with such a rarity, less than a mile from the hotel! A Fan-tailed Warbler is ‘zitting’ in mid air and the weather is warming up so we return to base for a cup of tea and a change into more lightweight clothing before heading to our next target bird, the Krüper’s Nuthatch. On the way to the stake out we have to stop to admire a pair of Ruddy Shelducks in a roadside pool and even spot a couple of Stone Curlews skulking in the background. A little further on we find a pair of Black-eared Wheatears right next to the road and as we scope the male on top of a bush, he is joined by a pair of Cirl Buntings in the same view! Five minutes further along the road, a Rock Nuthatch sitting on the roadside barrier forces an emergency stop and we all get great close views. We arrive at the Achladeri picnic site in time for lunch, but not before we have admired a bright yellow Serin singing from the top of a pine tree. Deeper into the pines we find Short-toed Treecreeper and then a Krüper’s Nuthatch feeding above our heads, even before we get to the nest site! A stake out of the nest hole produces some fantastic views in the scope as the parents pop in and out with food for the brood inside, while a zooming by Alpine Swift is a bonus. Back at the vehicle we find a Goldfinch sitting tight on its nest not much above head height, and then a Woodlark attracts our attention singing high above the tree tops. It’s now late afternoon and time for a well earned drink in a nearby taverna, where we are soon interrupted by the appearance of a Short-toed Eagle hovering above the ridge. On the way back to base we drop in at the salt pans, packed with elegant Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Greater Flamingos. One small pool allows close scrutiny of Wood and Marsh Sandpipers feeding side by side while a flock of over fifty Whiskered Terns puts on a balletic mid air performance. Kentish Plover, Black Stork, Great White Egret, Spotted Redshank and an incredibly bright yellow male Turkish black-headed Yellow Wagtail bring our tally for the day to 70 species; absolutely fabulous quantity and quality.
Today’s first target is Scops Owl and by 8.30am we have one of these delightful little owls in the scope! After a happy hour we have located a total of six of them roosting in the eucalyptus trees despite their amazing camouflage! No wonder they call it the ‘Scops Copse’. Heading north up an increasingly winding road, a stop at the ‘bandstand’ produces another Short-toed Eagle, another Long-legged Buzzard, two more Black Storks and a high flying Goshawk, as well as Orphean and Subalpine Warblers and Cirl and Cretzchmar’s Buntings, all singing at fairly close range. Further north we meet the scenic coast at Petra and as soon as we park and get out we have a superb male Rüppell’s Warbler singing less than ten yards in front of us! Other good sightings here include a family of Ravens, another stunning Black-eared Wheatear and Red-rumped Swallows. After a taverna lunch looking across the narrow strait to Turkey, we resume the birding with more Red-rumped Swallows and a Masked Shrike in the same view as a Subalpine Warbler! This is quickly followed by our first Cuckoo and then on a stroll through lovely olive groves we find Turtle Dove and Woodchat Shrike. After another taverna break we return to Skala Kalloni via the scenic Napi valley where we enjoy fantastic views of another Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Hoopoes, pushing the trip list to 94 species in just three days.
We’ve done the ‘Scops Copse’ so let’s try ‘Crake Lake’! Metochi Lake not far from our hotel is a well known site for Little Crake and we soon have incredible full frame views of not one but two males, with one perched on bare twigs and another actually sunbathing out in the open! With such incredible views we can clearly see all the details including the red base to the green bill. We even get equally brilliant views of male and female Little Bitterns from the same spot! Strolling on beyond the lake, we find a Turtle Dove sitting on a wire with yet another Long-legged Buzzard gliding by, and then a request for Rock Nuthatch is immediately satisfied by one visiting its nest of mud cemented to a rock right next to the track! In the nearby Potamia Valley we scope another singing Orphean Warbler, while both pale and dark-throated forms of Black-eared Wheatear are chasing each other between the rocks and bushes. Higher up the valley a short sky watch produces two Ravens, a Short-toed Eagle, a Sparrowhawk and just another Long-legged Buzzard! During our picnic lunch beside the clear babbling stream we are serenaded by a Subalpine Warbler on a nearby bare twig, and on the way back downstream a five foot snake crosses the road ahead of the vehicle! By late afternoon back in the salt pans the wind is ripping in off the sea and we watch a Purple Heron hanging in mid air while flapping like the clappers but making no progress against the stiff wind! Amongst all the Wood Sandpipers we find a couple of Temminck’s Stints, followed by super views of Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers as well as Ruff, but best find of all is the Red-throated Pipit, eventually pinned down in the scope after a determined search in the difficult windy conditions. Today has been a day for little birds; Little Grebe, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Little Crake, Little Ringed Plover, Little Tern and finally Little Stint! How often can you see all these in one day?
It’s time to head west on a scenic winding road, serenaded along the route by Nightingales in the bushier sections. First stop is the Lardia valley, a rocky gorge where we scope Blue Rock Thrush and eventually Rock Sparrow, showing just a hint of yellow on the throat, while plenty of Crag Martins are whizzing around the rocky pinnacles. Next stop is for Isabelline Wheatear which is waiting obligingly by the roadside west of Andisa. It’s late morning by the time we reach the imposing Ipsilou monastery, perched on a crag, where a stroll down from the monastery brings us to within twenty yards of a Cinereous Bunting singing from a tree top. So that’s another target in the bag! We arrive at the petrified forest in time for lunch and a spectacular air show by four Eleanora’s Falcons and a male Lesser Kestrel. On our way back from the ‘forest’ a pair of Little Owls attracts our attention and then we hit the west coast at Sigri, where a search of the area towards Faneromeni produces several Ruddy Shelducks, a Curlew Sandpiper, two Rollers, several Bee-eaters on a wire and a Persian Squirrel in an olive tree. From the beach at Faneromeni, we watch hundreds of Levantine Shearwaters passing by in line after line and then sit down for a drink at the beach bar while watching a couple of porpoising Dolphins, which make for a nice end to another great day.
Today we aim to find Sombre Tit, Golden Oriole and the apparently scarce Chukar and so we head west, with first stop at Agios Ioannis, where a Sombre Tit appears soon after we arrive, followed by a second bird which shows particularly well just before we leave. Moving southwest through prime Chukar habitat on the Apothika road, we remain ‘Chukar less’ while enjoying good views of Cretzchmar’s and Black-headed Buntings. A short spell of seawatching at Makara nets loads of passing Levantine Shearwaters as well as a couple of impressive Alpine Swifts flying in tandem, Red Arrow style almost over our heads. Further west at Chrousos, the unmistakable hoarse clucking chatter of the Chukar draws our scopes to the rocks above the beach where a patient wait is eventually rewarded with a magnificent view of this attractively marked partridge standing proud on a high rock as if surveying his domain. What a result! We just need a Golden Oriole to complete the show and amazingly we find at least two of these stunning birds in the Meladia valley fig tree grove, along with Red-backed Shrike and Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, while a pale sandy Red Fox is a surprise bonus.
We begin May Day with a drive along the Tsiknias river for excellent views of numerous Squacco Herons in full breeding plumage, a Turtle Dove taking a drink from the river, a Nightingale in full view, Black-headed Bunting and Cetti’s Warbler singing from the tops of bare branches and a superb aerial display by a group of Glossy Ibises shining in the morning sun. In the salt pans the displaying Flamingos are looking resplendent in the brilliant sunshine, while Little Terns hover and dive right in front of us. Up in the nearby Napi Valley, decorated with a fabulous display of wild flowers and ringing with the songs of Subalpine and Orphean Warblers, Masked Shrike and Cretzchmar’s and Cirl Buntings, we lay on a welcoming party for the Olive Tree Warblers, which stand us up as they must still be in transit from Africa. By now it’s time for the traditional U3A taverna stop and so we plump for Limonas Monastery where we watch Middle Spotted Woodpecker clinging to a post while sitting outside the taverna drinking beer and eating cisps! This is easy birding par excellence and such a nice way to end a tremendous tour, with so many quality sightings. Where else can one see such a variety of top quality birds so easily? What a fabulous island Lesvos is.