Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Quick chat(s)

Autumns just seem to get busier these days, and the opportunities to bird locally are fewer and further between at this time of year; no complaints there, it's all for good, bird-related reasons, but it does mean less (strictly) local content here on these pages. Still, I grab the odd session here and there between surveying / guiding / trips / home-working, and this week a couple of chat species have been in evidence:
Firstly, this Red-flanked Bluetail in Top Scrub - not the mega it once was, but still a smart scarcity - and secondly, not one but four Black Redstarts along the side of Carr Naze the other day, easily the most I've ever seen together here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Lesvos, autumn '22 - part four

Spotted Flycatchers and Blackcaps coming down to drink at a water pipe leak
A very accommodating Icterine Warbler 

Our last two days in the field - actually, two and half (4th, 5th and the morning of 6th October) - were bird-filled and varied, the theme of the whole trip. We drove back out west to Perivolis Monastery on the morning of the 4th, with the whole area to ourselves (there really are no birders, or even tourists, here at this time of year): highlights here included two Blue Rock Thrushes, 35 Spotted Flycatchers, 20 Willow Warblers, seven Common Redstarts, more Western Rock Nuthatches, Middle Spotted Woodpeckers and Sombre Tits, 20 Crag Martins moving through and a couple of Short-toed Eagles.
With an increasingly strong and unfavourable wind, a couple of hours back at the raptor watchpoint at Lepetimnos was fairly quiet, with a few Honey-buzzards, Sparrowhawks and hirundines on the move but not too much else, before an afternoon session at a new site, Agios Loannis (on the western coast of the Kolpos Kalonis). Here we were reminded of the almost magical magnetism of Turpentine Trees (and specifically their plentiful berries) - lots of Sylvias, flcatchers and Redstarts enjoying the bounty.
Willow Warblers - extremely abundant!
A Short-toed Eagle passes a Blue Rock Thrush at Perivolis Cemetery 

An earlyish finish allowed time for a run, a swim, dinner and a few more drinks on the beach in the evening, before our last full day, the 5th. An early start (armed with plentiful pastries picked up fresh from the stone oven of our favourite bakery before dawn) saw us heading over to the wonderfully mixed, bird-rich habitats of the Skala Vasilikon / Skamioudi area, across the bay on the eastern coast of the Kolpos Kallonis.
Icterine Warbler
We'd fallen in love this area and its passerine-overloaded farmland (actually thick hedges, olive groves, alfalfa fields, tree-lined tracks, grassy fields and, most importantly, Turpentine trees) previously; maybe getting there first thing would give us a more realistic impression of migration moving through this obvious corridor?
Greater Flamingos
What a morning it turned out to be. Songbirds were bursting out of every bush and tree, moving along bushy hedges and field edges in mixed flocks, dropping in, leaving south, and generally leaving us in awe as they passed by us in concentrated waves. Conservative estimates of 350 (!) Blackcaps, 75 Spotted Flycatchers, 185 Willow Warblers, 200 Chaffinches, several Red-throated, Tree and Tawny Pipits, lots of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Corn and Cirl Buntings....
Grey Heron in the pine woods
Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Blackbird coming down to drink 

....three Hawfinches, plus Sardinian Warblers, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Cetti's Warblers, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Whinchats, lots of Yellow Wagtails (including a good proportion of thunbergi), Red-backed Shrikes and a (very showy) Icternine Warbler. All this, in a small, sunny, peaceful, human-free area that we just ambled around, soaking up the migration around us.
Avocets (above) and Cetti's Warbler (below)
Next stop the nearby Polichnitos saltpans, and more sunny, relaxed, productive birding - lots of waders again (including 20 Little Stints, plenty of Kentish Plovers and three Marsh Sandpipers), as well as Black Storks, Slender-billed Gulls, 100+ Greater Flamingos and much more.
Crag Martin (above) and Common Redstart at the monastery
For our final morning (the 6th), we stayed local, and enjoyed a lenghty, relaxed session ambling around the nearby Tsiknias River area - our nearby mixed farmland site, immediately east of Skalla Kalloni.
Slender-billed Gull at the saltpans 

Once again, the area was packed with migrants - including 25 Red-backed Shrikes, a Wryneck, 20 Willow warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, a scattering of Blackbirds, Spot flys, Robins and Whinchats, 15 Tree Pipits, four Red-throated Pipits, plenty of Chaffinches and Corn and Cirl Buntings, and a big arrival of Wagtails - we estimated 70 Yellow and 120 White, but there probably many more.
Persian Squirrel
Black Stork
Cetti's Warbler

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Lesvos, autumn '22 - part three

(This is the penultimate Lesvos post, covering Days Five and Six (2nd and 3rd October) of our trip; for previous posts, click on the 'older posts' link at the foot of this bulletin. For the final part, watch this space!).
Red-footed Falcon - one of five we clocked elegantly negotiating the strait between Turkey and us

Our fifth day on the island began with relaxed morning sessions nearby at Tsiknias river, Lotzaria Track and Kalloni saltpans (all just east of our base), which produced another satisfying diversity and abundance of migrants before we headed through the hills toward the north coast, in the hope of some raptor passage on potentially favourable winds.....
One of 20 Marsh Harriers for the session....
One of 79 Honey-buzzards.....

Stops en route in farmland near Petra and at Molinos Reservoir were entertaining enough, but not entertaining enough to stop us sticking to plan A, and a session at the idyllic Lepetimnos watchpoint. With the wind in the north-west (after persistent southerlies), we were hoping there may be raptors heading over from the Turkish coast, just six or so kilometres over the water...
.... and another....
.... and another Red-foot.....

For the next four and a half hours, we tipped our sun hats to the mainland, kicked back and enjoyed the view - which, happily, included many incoming raptors. There were many highlights, common and scarce, and those distant dots over the water often happily became close-up, spine-tingling fly-bys, and included:
... and another two Honey-buzzards....
... one of 33 Sparrowhawks... 

24 (!) Eleonora's Falcons, two Booted Eagles, four Red-footed Falcons, 79 Honey-buzzards, 10 Hobbys, 14 falcon sp., an Osprey, six Short-toed Eagles, 20 Marsh Harriers, one harrier sp., 33 Sparrowhawks, five Common Buzzards, 30 (Common) Kestrels, two Kestrel sp, a Bee-eater, many hirundines, five Spoonbills and more.....
Raptor-watching from our favourite cafe balcony
A close-up fly-by Goshawk

The following morning, we decided to explore an area we'd driven by previously - an open, arid, rocky area with areas of scrub - on the way to the north of the island again, known as Napi Valley; plenty of migrants here, including a good cast of Sylvias, the requisite band of Willow Warblers, scattered Western Rock Nuthatches, a few Redstarts, pipits, buntings, finches and Spot Flys.
One of, well, many Red-backed Shrikes 

After the previous day's bounty, we couldn't resist another roll of the dice at the raptor watchpoint, and while it didn't hit the same heights, there was still plenty of passage - 13 Honey-buzzards, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, 26 Sparrowhawks, a Goshawk, a Red-footed Falcon (from the cafe veranda), a couple of Hobbys, a few Kestrels....
....and lots of passerine vismig, including five Crag Martins, 80 Barn Swallows, Spotted Flycatchers, Blackbirds, wagtails, Tree Pipits and more. For the remainder of the afternoon? A buzz around the saltpans and nearby farmland, then a run, a swim, dinner and beers on the beach, as with most days. Tough times.
Western Rock Nuthatches
Tree Pipit

Friday, October 14, 2022

Lesvos, autumn '22 - part two

Long-tailed Tit - looking and sounding very different, but equally charismatic and rad 
Eleonora's Falcons - just divine

Days Three and Four

Day three was - like pretty much every day - sunny, warm, bird-filled and hugely enjoyable, and involved local sites in the morning and a drive out to Ipsilou Monastery (via various stops) for the afternoon session.
Sombre Tit playing Celebrity Squares 

We started with a few hours birding on our doorstep. The western side of Kalloni saltpans - and just as importantly, the messy, fertile, diverse and bird-rich farmland on our side of them, known as the Lotzaria Track - were just ten minutes away (via the greatest secret bakery in Europe), and we enjoyed an excellent abundance of grounded migrants here (as always, it turned out).
Ipsilou Monastery 
Birding here involved rolling slowly along the tracks, stopping every few minutes and enjoying what was on offer, which included at least 30 Red-backed Shrikes, a Woodchat Shrike, five Red-throated Pipits, two Tawny Pipits, 20 Whinchats, 65 Willow Warblers, 30 Yellow Wagtails (including thunbergi), Wheatears, Stonechats, lots of finches and Corn Buntings, Spotted Flycatchers, hirundines and more....
Often otherwise elusive, Sombre Tits were easily viewed from the monastery walls as they picked seeds from thistles in rocky, open terrain
... while a not-too-intense check of the saltpans produced various waders (Grey Plovers, Greenshanks, Green Sand, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlins, Curlew Sands, Redshank etc) plus Black Storks, Dalmatian Pelicans and 500+ Greater Flamingos; overhead, raptors included several Eleonora's Falcons, six Honey-buzzards, Osprey, Marsh Harriers, (the semi-resident?) Steppe Buzzard, Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and more.
Western Rock Nuthatches - cracking views of cracking birds

Then on to Ispilou Monastery over on the far western side of the island, where we'd a few target species in mind as well as looking forward to the views and landscapes (thanks again, Howard, for all your spot-on gen!). The drive involved hair-pinning up and down wooded mountain slopes, through small settlements and eventually up to the monastery itself, teetering atop a rocky peak overlooking, well, everything (I offered to drive, but Rich wouldn't be swayed, instead relishing the rallying opportunities).

Starred Agama

En route, we made stops where we bumped into roaming passerine flocks, which included various species, none more attractive and fascinating than the local Long-tailed Tits (which look, and sound, completely different), as well as our first Sombre Tits, local race Wood Nuthatches and more.
Juvenile Woodchat

Up at the monastery, meanwhile, and it was fish-in-a-barrel style birding for close-up Sombre Tits and Western Rock Nuthatches, as well as the effortlessly Godzilla-cool Starred Agamas; a wonderful place, which we had to ourselves (but for a young monk and his visiting family).

Day Four
, and we hit the Kalloni saltpans early, with the rising sun behind us and a panorama full of birds before us. A long list of species here included great views of Dalmatian Pelicans and lots of waders, but we were soon on our way to another network of saltpans which we'd enjoyed with Eleni a couple of days previously, at Polichnitos (over the bay to the south-east).
Short-toed Eagle at the monastery
What a place - by an easily accessed, undisturbed track, with the birds pretty much on a plate - which included five Marsh Sandpipers, 35 Little Stints, 100+ Flamingos, 50 Avocets, 20 Curlew Sandpipers, 15 Kentish Plovers, lots of Slender-billed and Med Gulls, and lots of passerine migration around us - including a wonderful 100+ Willow Warblers moving through in determined waves.
Dalmatian Pelican and friends
Lunch stop in the hills
The meandering, rocky track back to the main road took us through wonderfully fertile, mixed farmland habitat with lots of scrub, olive groves and trees - and lots more migrants, which included over a hundred Blackcaps, another 50 Willow Warblers, 40 Garden Warblers, lots of both Whitethroat sp., Sardinian Warblers, 20 Spotted Flycatchers and plenty more. Wonderful stuff - and we'd be back here for more soon enough....
Female and male Sardinian Warblers
The plague, a.k.a. Willow Warblers

An evening session at Ennia Kamares - an area of open grassland and saline marsh near the hotel - produced plenty, not least 150 Corn Buntings (as well as Red-throated pipits, various Yellow Wags, waders and more). With the winds swinging round to the north-west (after being fixed in the south for some days), it was up to the north coast for day five, in the hope of a few raptors.....
Whinchat - pleasingly abundant