Champions of the Flyway!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Lesvos, autumn '22 - part one

We - Rich, Will and I - have just returned from a wonderful trip to Lesvos, where we had eight full days on the ground to enjoy birds, wildlife and plenty more besides.
Krüper's Nuthatches, wonderful host, shiny happy birders - not a bad start to the trip
The latter included perfect weather (high 20's in the day, mid teens at night, usually sunny - we kept forgetting it was October...), delicious food - home-cooked evening meals at the hotel, mouth-watering savoury pastries from our nearby favourite back street bakery, and the fresh, free natural bounty: pomegranates and figs in particular (oh, the figs) ......
Greater Flamingos - a feature of saltpans and shorelines 

..... stunning scenery (shocking, in a very good way, to discover how unspoilt the island is), daily swims (in the Aegean and the pool), plenty of runs (gotta keep up my #ASwift1K targets....), evening drinks at our favourite on-the-beach bar, and great company (a lot of laughs, adventures and that rare commodity, genuine relaxation). Sounds excellent, eh? It was...
For want of a better way I'm dividing the trip photos up into a few posts, chronologically - a couple of days per post or thereabouts - and we were very fortunate to spend the first two with Eleni of the Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest, home-grown ornithologist, guide and all-round Lesvos super-birder. She met us at our digs in Skalla Kalloni, shortly after we'd experienced a crazy, post-deluge swarm of hirundines, Eleonora's Falcons, Bee-eaters and bats (yep, bats) feasting on a mass flying ant emergence around the hotel.
Red-rumped Swallows, and the storms that brought them (and many other insectivores) to us before breakfast on day one
Our next stop - via the roadside Messa wetland (Kentish Plovers, the long-staying Northern Lapwing, Wood Sandpiper, Osprey etc) - was Achladeri forest, an area of old, open coniferous/mixed woodland on the other side of the bay. We were here, ideally, for Krüper's Nuthatches; happily, we connected quickly and easily, and were able to enjoy their behaviour, calls and sharp looks over a lengthy period, alongside Short-toed Treecreepers, Phylloscs, finches and tits.
Eleonora's (more of those to come) and a Marsh Sandpiper at Polichnitos saltpans....
From there, a route we would savour several times in the coming days, through the forests and hills before looping back along the coast, via the always productive (and always birderless, like everywhere else) Polichnitos saltpans. Hundreds of Flamingos, lots of Avocets, plus Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers, Black Storks, egrets etc, as well as a pulse of flyover raptors that included a Booted Eagle, a Honey-buzzard and five more Eleonora's (yep, they were already becoming a contender for bird of the trip).
... with a pulse of raptors above us, including Honey-buzzard and Booted Eagle
The following day (our second) and Eleni again chaperoned us, this time to the northern coastal areas of the island. A lazy seawatch over the ridiculously picturesque panorama at Kavaki in the hope of Yelkouan Shearwaters produced not only great views of a tight, showy flock, but a pair of Scopoli's feeding lazily with gulls a little way offshore. Result!
Looking out towards Petra (above) and cleaning up on Shearwaters (below)
From there, to Molivos Reservoir, which held lots of Yellow Wagtails, Little Grebes, a lone Greenshank, our only Peregrines of the trip, an Eleonora's, a Short-toed Eagle and a scattering of passerine migrants, before familiarising ourselves with a couple of key raptor watchpoints, looking out across the water towards Turkey.
A rush of activity (despite the unfavourable winds) followed, with hundreds of hirundines, five Short-toed Eagles, three Honey-buzzards, 16 Alpine Swifts, a Marsh Harrier, a Black Kite and more incoming over the next couple of hours, boding well for when the winds were due to change....
Quality habitat along the north coast track.... 

From height to sea level, and along the coastal track that runs along the very northern edge of Lesvos terra firma, with Turkey looming closely across the glittering Aegean; too much to resist as it happened, and while the team continued birding, I had to jump in the warm, clear waters...
... and quality swimming / birding (take your pick) in the same area
More Eleonora's on the mountain drive back towards Kalloni, where the extensive, bird-rich saltpans were our next stop. Being so close to our base, we were to spend plenty more time here (see next posts), but familiarisation sessions both here and around the neigbouring agricultural fields (even closer to base) were ideal. Thanks again, Eleni, it really was a blast to hang out with you :-)
Red-backed Shrikes were soon to become another staple star bird of the trip (these are for you Howard ;-)
Below - our view as we approached Lesvos
Part two to follow shortly