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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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....
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.....