Lesvos September 17th to October 1st 2009
AUTUMN BIRDING ON LESVOS
Having birded Lesvos on 4 occasions during the spring since 2001, we wondered what it would be like in early autumn. As usual we trawled through the various websites looking for trip reports. We were frankly surprised and a little sceptical at the lack of both bird numbers and species recorded, especially when compared to spring trips. So in order to satisfy any doubts, we booked 2 weeks at the back-end of September.
Our holiday was booked through Thompson Holidays who found us a flight and accommodation through First Choice (not one of our favourite tour operators). Jude said that the service from the Thompson personnel at the Erdington branch in Birmingham was excellent. They soon had us booked into the Aeolian Gaea, the only four star hotel in Skala Kalloni. Incidentally, it was voted the “Best hotel on Lesvos 2008”. Our flight was through Thompson Airways, flying out of Gatwick, North Terminal, at 07.00 and arriving at Mytilene at 12.30 local time (2hr time differential), flight time 3.5hrs. Our car was parked at the BAA/NCP multi-storey short stay car park on the south terminal, total cost was £139.00. Apparently, in order to get that price you have to pre book; turning up on the day would have cost £313.50.
Car hire was conducted through the internet with Carhire3000.com. Our preferred mode of transport was a Suzuki Jimny Cabrio - a compact 4x4. This gives a little more ruggedness when traversing some of Lesvos’s rougher tracks. It also affords greater height for viewing over hedges and the East River tracks, especially when you have the roof open. Total cost, including full damage waver, was £493.00.
The hotel is situated in Skala Kalloni, a 10 minute stroll from the beach, harbour and town square with all its tavernas. It consists of a main building which houses reception, restaurant, pool and accommodation etc and an additional 3 blocks which contain 3 levels of accommodation, “Standard”, “Junior Suite”, and “Deluxe Suite”. We had a standard room in one of the blocks, which was spacious and very well equipped. It included a small kitchen area with a two burner hob and grill/oven, fridge, separate seating area, hair dryer, satellite TV, a well equipped bathroom with a whirlpool bath and shower head, air-conditioning, large balcony with recliners and table and chairs. The hotel was booked on a B&B basis, evening meals were available but when we ordered a meal “in”, on our first night, we were offered only a small selection of pasta dishes. Breakfast however was excellent, cereals, bacon, eggs, toast and all the usual meats and cheeses for a continental breakfast. Snacks were also available up to 3pm on the sun terrace and pool area. These consisted in the main of salads, toasted and ordinary sandwiches, etc.
The weather for the whole of the holiday was dry, hot and in the main sunny. Daytime temperatures were in the low 80°s dropping to mid 60°s at night.
There are several good tavernas in the town and in the past we have favoured the "Sea Horse" which has provided excellent food at a competitive price. Alas, there was an air of end-of-term this year, with many things missing from the menu, restricting choice. We stumbled across the “Trattoria”, just down the strip from the square. The menu was comprehensive, the food was well cooked and the service excellent. The cost of living has risen dramatically since our first visit in 2001. A meal that cost £6 per head then, is now £17.
As stated previously, we were slightly sceptical about the lack of bird numbers and species being reported. Surely there must be more birds than those being reported, after all the diversity of habitats remained constant and Lesvos’s geographical position must attract many birds during the autumn migration, we thought. Well, we can confirm that the contrast between spring and autumn is stark in the extreme. We were informed by Lesvos autumn birding aficionados that this autumn was particularly slow, with raptor passage in particular, well below par; so that must be taken into account.
Having spent many full spring days birding just the Kalloni Salt Pans and their environs, encountering dozens of different species in very large numbers, it’s very strange to drive the same pans in autumn and struggle to find a wader. Flamingo and Avocet were still there in numbers, together with small numbers of Black Stork, Grey Heron and both Great & Little Egret; any other species though were in short supply.
We visited most of the sites we would normally visit in spring and the story was as we had expected; the same. Although there had been some rain prior to our arrival, most of the major rivers & water courses were dry. Strangely enough, all of the irrigation lakes & reservoirs we visited still contained water. We had read that the Inland Lake, (Metochi Lake) could be just a puddle. In fact, water levels were near, if not at, the levels encountered in spring. If it is your intention to bird Lesvos in the autumn, be prepared for some hard but possibly rewarding birding.
Both rivers East & West of Skala are open to the sea and are therefore influenced by both tide and wind direction. The harder the wind blows off the sea the further inland the sea pushes. This is an ideal habitat for coastal fish such as mullet, of which the rivers were full. It is therefore perplexing that more birds were not exploiting this abundant food source.
Having birded Mallorca for many years we can confirm that although the autumn migration is a more protracted affair, most of the birds seen during spring can also be seen during autumn. If you add the many over-wintering birds, autumn can easily be as rewarding as spring. This does not appear to be the same on Lesvos.
Many of the birders we met had birded Lesvos in spring and found the hurly burly of an island full of birders and photographers not to their liking. They much preferred the more relaxed approach afforded in autumn; there certainly seemed to be a greater camaraderie between the birders during our trip than we have experienced in spring.Below is a daily “sites visited” guide, giving the birds encountered. We have also provided a daily tick list spread sheet where daily sighting can be matched to the sites visited.
Having obtained Steve Dudley’s new book A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos we visited a new site for us, Pithariou Reservoir. Pithariou was very reminiscent of our own upland reservoirs, with the same avian appeal. Steve gives a fairly extensive list of birds that can be found there; we’re sure this has been amassed over many visits and in our own humble opinion, other than a source of fresh drinking water, or a safe roost and a wash & brush up stop for gulls etc, its value as a “must visit” site is limited. It’s worth a look if you’re passing.
In order to amass a reasonable trip list (108 species seen) we made 52 site visits: many of these were repeat visits looking for new arrivals. Many visits produced scant reward. We are also aware that this report is based on 1 autumn visit so may not be representative of a normal autumn. One thing we are certain of however, is that the birding on Lesvos in autumn bears no comparison to spring.
As stated in our Spring 2008 report, we congratulated the Lesvos “powers that be” for recognising the value of eco tourism and constructing 3 elevated bird hides. 2 at Kalloni Salt Pans and 1 at Parakila Marsh. We have to report that the hide at Parakila has been burned down. We were informed by “those in the know” that this wasn’t an act of sabotage, but an amorous couple using the hide during the winter - apparently they knocked over a small heater they were using to keep warm. The recognition of this valued tourism continues with the construction of 2 small structures labelled "Kiosks" on the info boards. 1 is placed near the mouth of the East River giving good views of the sand bars where gulls, terns and waders can be found especially in the spring. The 2nd is situated on the old West River Bridge. Ecological information boards have also been constructed at various strategic positions. The tracks between Skala and the salt pans have also been way-marked, making it easier for those on foot to find their way to the various birding sites.
17/09/2009 - Having left home at the unearthly hour of 2am for our 7am flight, any birding on our arrival was going to be restricted to our journey from airport to hotel. This in itself was a precursor of what was to come, as the only birds seen until we hit the salt pans were a few Hooded Crow and a fly-over of a couple of Collared Dove - not a passerine in sight. Stopping briefly at the pans, we saw more Flamingo than we have previously encountered, possibly up to a 1000 individuals. 300> Avocet and 100> Shelduck swelled the numbers. Seeing these birds and feeling the warm sun on our backs gladdened our hearts; we were overjoyed to be back.
Having unpacked, (Jude always insists clothes are hung up as the first priority - “Party frocks with creases are not acceptable”) showered and taken a light lunch, we were ready to explore the gardens and the adjacent fields before preparing ourselves for our evening meal. The first thing that struck us was the amount of Willow/chiffs seen, almost every bush contained at least 1, with many others feeding on the lawns like wagtails (something we hadn’t encountered on this scale before). A small band of House Sparrows and Feral Pigeons were to be our constant companions at the hotel throughout the trip. Early morning swallows, both Eurasian and Red-rumped, were often on the adjacent wires when we pulled back the curtains. Crested Lark and Jay were seen in the grounds almost daily.
Our mornings followed the same pattern every day, which was up and out just after first light. Our route was also repeated daily. For those who know Skala Kalloni, we would walk down past the Pasiphae Hotel, turning right along what used to be Kalloni pool (it’s now just scrub!) to the bay. Turn left along the bay to the harbour, where the fishermen were attended in many cases by their families shaking sardines from their nets onto the deck. Mullet and octopus were also evident in much smaller numbers. The fish were often popped into plastic bags and sold to the waiting public, or boxed up and placed onto the backs of fish merchant’s pick-ups. Each boat had been adopted by feral cats who would sit waiting patiently for any of the sardines which were deemed un-saleable. The same cats were seen at the same boats daily. Then off through the town, past the old bakery with its wonderful aroma of fresh baked bread, back to the hotel for a well earned breakfast. The journey would take approximately 1hr and was a wonderful prelude to a new days birding. Kingfisher, Great & Little Egret, Coot, Red-necked Grebe, Lesser-grey Shrike, Cetti’s Warbler, Crested Lark, Yellow Wagtail, both Blue & Great Tit, Willow Warbler, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Hooded Crow, Collared Dove & Yellow-legged Herring Gull were all encountered during these early morning walks.
East River & Kalloni Salt Pans: Night Heron, Kentish Plover, Cormorant, Greater Flamingo, Shelduck, Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Cetti’s Warbler, Whinchat, Crested Lark, Moorhen, Linnet, Kestrel, Long-legged Buzzard, Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, Eurasian Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Stonechat, Corncrake.
Goat track: Little Owl.
Inland Lake & environs: Spotted Flycatcher, Kingfisher, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Nuthatch.
East River & Salt Pans: Kingfisher, Great Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Greater Flamingo, Cormorant, Black Stork, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Willow/Chiffs, Crested Lark, Cetti’s Warbler, Kentish Plover, Northern Wheatear.
Polichnitou Salt Pans: Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Dunlin, Little Stint, Ruff, Black Stork, Little Egret, Great Egret, Y.L. Herring Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Great White Pelican, Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Yellow Wagtail, Crested Lark, House Sparrow.
Achladeri: Cirl Bunting, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Jay, Kestrel, Blue Rock Thrush.
20/09/2009 (Day 3) - Sites Visited: Inland Lake, Pithariou Reservoir, Devil’s Bridge.
Inland Lake: Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Jay, Short-toed Eagle, Hoopoe.
Pithariou reservoir (en-route): Chukar, Goldfinch, Willow Warbler, Crag Martin, Short-toed Eagle.
Devil’s Bridge: Rock Nuthatch, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Woodchat Shrike, Black Stork, Great Egret.
21/09/2009 (Day 4) - Sites Visited: East River & Kalloni Salt Works, Nappi Valley.
East River & Kalloni Salt Works: Black Stork, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-footed Falcon (3), Curlew, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Little-ringed Plover, Teal, Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, and Avocet.
Nappi Valley: Raven, Red-backed Shrike, Chaffinch, Rock Nuthatch, Willow/chiffs, Jay, Cirl Bunting, Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Hoopoe, and Spotted Flycatcher.
22/09/2009 (Day 5) - Sites Visited: Eresos-Sigri track, Faneromeni Ford, Kalloni Salt Works.
Eresos-Sigri track: Rock Nuthatch, Jay, Short-toed Eagle, Stonechat, Red-backed Shrike, Goldfinch, Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler, Sombre Tit, Blue & Great Tit, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Swallow.
Faneromeni Ford: White Wagtail, Tawny Pipit, Jackdaw, Raven, Peregrine, Long-legged Buzzard.
Kalloni Salt Works: Curlew, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Avocet, Moorhen, Greater Flamingo, Black Stork, Great & Little Egret, Grey Heron, Kingfisher.
23/09/2009 (Day 6) - Sites Visited: Polichnitou Salt Works, Achladeri, Inland Lake, Potamia Valley.
Polichnitou Salt Works: Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Little Gull, Yellow-legged Herring Gull, Black Stork, Little & Great Egret, Avocet, Little-ringed Plover, Greenshank, Redshank, Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Great White Pelican, Jackdaw, Tawny Pipit, Yellow & White Wagtail, Sand Martin, Shag, Willow/chiffs.
Achladeri: Woodlark, Great & Blue Tit, Kingfisher, Jay.
Inland Lake: Little Grebe, Moorhen, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Snipe, Little Bittern, Kingfisher, Cetti’s Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Red-rumped Swallow, Sand Martin, Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush.
Potamia Valley: Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, Blackbird, House Sparrow.
24/09/2009 (Day 7) - Sites Visited: Kalloni Salt Works
Kalloni Salt Works: Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret, Black Stork, Cormorant, Slender-billed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Herring Gull, Common Buzzard, Eurasian & Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Avocet, Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Dunlin, White Wagtail, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Red-backed Shrike.
25/09/2009 (Day 8) - Sites Visited: Pithariou Reservoir, Eresos–Sigri Track, Ipsilou Monastery.
Pithariou: Hobby, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Rock Nuthatch (all seen en-route), Little Grebe, Short-toed Eagle, Red-backed Shrike, Common Buzzard.
Eresos–Sigri Track: Stonechat, Eurasian Swallow, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Linnet, Lesser Whitethroat, Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Willow/chiffs.
26/09/2009 (Day 9) - Sites Visited: Kalloni Salt Works, Polichnitou Salt Works, Inland Lake
Kalloni Salt Works: Grey Heron, Kingfisher, Great Egret, Little Egret, Greater Flamingo.
Polichnitou Salt Works: Yellow-legged Herring Gull, Little Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Little Egret, Black Stork, Cormorant, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Stint, Yellow Wagtail, Avocet. Plus in the vicinity Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Whinchat, Chaffinch.
Inland Lake: Little Bittern, Kingfisher, Red-rumped Swallow, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Cetti’s Warbler.
27/09/2009 (Day 10) - Sites Visited: Agiasos, Panaghia Chapel, Kalloni Salt Works, Potamia Valley, Inland Lake.
Agiasos: Raven, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Swallow, Chaffinch.
Panaghia Chapel: Red-backed Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Greenfinch, Short-toed Eagle, Hoopoe, House Martin, Eurasian Swallow.
Kalloni Salt Works: Greater Flamingo, Great Egret, Little Egret, Greenshank, Redshank, White Wagtail, Grey Heron.
Potamia Valley: Little Grebe (33) on the reservoir, Spotted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Whinchat, Blackbird, Cirl Bunting, Willow/chiffs.
Inland Lake: Kingfisher, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Cetti’s Warbler, Jay, Rock Nuthatch.
28/09/2009 (Day 11) - Sites Visited: Molyvos, Petra Reservoir, Nappi Valley.
Molyvos: Chukar, Common Buzzard, Blue Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Blackbird, Willow/chiffs.
Petra Reservoir: Little Grebe, Yellow Wagtail, Jay, Willow/chiffs.
Nappi Valley: Spotted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Rock Nuthatch, Willow/chiffs, Corn Bunting.
29/09/2009 (Day 12) - Sites Visited: Kalloni Salt Works, Polichnitou Salt Works, Agios Fokas, Achladeri, Inland Lake.
Kalloni Salt Works: Avocet, Greater Flamingo, Black Stork, Great & Little Egret, Grey Heron, Curlew, Greenshank, Redshank, Red-backed Shrike, Whinchat, Cormorant, Moorhen, Long-legged Buzzard, Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail.
Polichnitou Salt Works: Black Stork, Great White Pelican, Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret, Cormorant, Slender-billed Gull, Little Gull, Avocet, Sanderling, Kentish Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Redshank, Dunlin, White Wagtail.
Agios Fokas: Scopoli’s Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, Yellow-legged Herring Gull.
Achladeri: Krüper’s Nuthatch, Jay, Common Buzzard, Greenfinch, Northern Wheatear.
Inland Lake: Kingfisher, Little Egret, Little Bittern, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Red-backed Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow/chiffs.
30/09/2009 (Day13) - Sites Visited: Kalloni Salt Works, Potamia Valley (to Anemotia).
Kalloni Salt Works: Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret, Yellow-legged Herring Gull, Avocet, Curlew, Shag, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Little Owl, Jay, Northern Wheatear, Corn Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Blue Tit.
Potamia Valley & environs: Coot, Little Grebe, Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Blackbird, Eurasian Swallow.
1/10/2009 (Day14) - Sites Visited: Kalloni Salt Works
Kalloni Salt Works: Common Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Little Owl, Greater Flamingo, Avocet, Corn Bunting, Willow/chiffs.
MOANS, GROANS & MEMORABLE MOMENTS
The company of friends both old & new, who we spent some quality time with, either birding, just chewing the fat, or in their company for evening meals. This and the glorious weather really did make up for the less than exhilarating birding.
The 1000 plus Flamingos that greeted us on our arrival; we have never seen such numbers here before. Also the numbers of Black Stork and Great Egret that obviously over-winter on Lesvos.
Pat & Judy Hayes
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