A White-winged Tern, an arresting sight over a Lesvos pond. Photo: David Fisher
How has such a sensational birding spot, and a Greek island at that, remained so unappreciated for so long? Whatever the reason, Lesvos is now firmly established as one of the most bird-rich and stunningly attractive locations in Europe for observing spring migration. In spite of being one of the largest islands in the Aegean Sea (second in size only to Crete) and having an international airport at Mytilini, Lesvos has remained remarkably unspoiled; one suspects that large parts of the island have changed little in the past hundred years. Its rich tapestry of habitats, ranging from rocky mountains, forested hills and stony uncultivated sheep pastures to more fertile lowlands planted with figs and olive groves, ensures an exciting variety of migrant and resident landbirds, including two breeding specialties, Krüper’s Nuthatch and Cinereous Bunting. Along the coast there are salt pans, pools, and river margins that act as magnets for the many waterbirds that stop off on migration. Our hotel is located at the quiet scenic resort of Skala Kalloni, very close to a number of the island’s most rewarding birding spots and also well positioned for visits to the more peripheral sites.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening at our Skala Kalloni hotel on the island of Lesvos. (see Note **, below).
Days 2-8: Since we’ll stay at the same hotel for the whole week, each day’s itinerary will be very flexible and the pace relaxed. We can expect to see more than 140 species of birds, and the main objective will be for everyone to get views of all of them. For those who wish, there will be plenty of informal guidance on improving identification skills.
Lesvos was a great tour! Killian was one of the best birding guides I’ve experienced with great skills both interpersonally and in finding and describing birds.
Karen Dahl, May 2012
Our ideal location gives us great scope for optional pre-breakfast birding. On some mornings there will be no need to go any farther than literally across the road from our hotel to sample the delights of what is known as “Kalloni Two Pool.” Depending on the water level the pool is attractive to a variety of waders including Little and Temminck’s Stints, Wood Sandpiper and Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers. Even when the water level is high it is never too high for the ubiquitous Black-winged Stilts or the more secretive Purple Herons. The early morning can be an especially good time for observing newly arrived migrants, and on the best days the bushes in this area are almost jumping with warblers, chats and shrikes.
After breakfast we’ll travel farther afield to one or more of the island’s particular birding localities, few of which are more than an hour’s drive away. Most days we’ll take an appetizing picnic lunch with us and thus avoid having to leave good birding spots to drive to the nearest town to eat. On some days we may return to the hotel in the afternoon and, after a break, go back out for some local birding before dinner.
In the course of the week we’ll undoubtedly make several visits to the East River, only a few minutes’ drive from the hotel but one of the best birding spots on the island. The elevated tracks that run alongside the river on both sides provide an excellent vantage point for viewing the abundant birdlife. Little Bittern, Squacco and Purple Herons and Spotted and Little Crakes lurk in the thickly vegetated margins while confiding White Storks, Glossy Ibises and Little Egrets forage out in the open. The bushes surrounding the scented wildflower meadows on either side are liberally scattered with Woodchat Shrikes, Whinchats and other migrants, and the background sound is dominated by the “fuzzling” song of numerous Corn Buntings.
Another site we are sure to visit more than once is the nearby Kalloni salt pans, the most productive wader habitat on the island. At this time of year Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint and Ruff predominate but Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Stone-curlew, Collared Pratincole and Marsh Sandpiper all occur and Broad-billed Sandpiper is a possibility. The cultivated fields and rough pastures adjacent to the pans are excellent places for migrant Red-footed Falcons and we can expect to see small gatherings of these attractive birds up on the telegraph wires.
When we feel like a complete change of scenery we can visit the shady pine forests around Achlederi, a stronghold for one of the island’s specialties, the handsome Kröper’s Nuthatch. This can be a difficult bird to locate but we should find plenty to interest us while we search including Short-toed Treecreeper, Masked Shrike, Subalpine Warbler, Serin and the distinctive local race of Long-tailed Tit.
When we visit the western end of the island around Eressos and Sigri, we’ll notice that the habitat is distinctly more barren but no less beautiful and every bit as exciting for birds. This is good wheatear country, Black-eared and Northern being abundant but with a few pairs of more discreetly plumaged Isabellines here and there. Rock Nuthatch, singing Woodlark, Cretzschmar’s Bunting and Rock Sparrow will provide added interest while we look for that other island specialty, Cinereous Bunting. A narrow fertile strip just north of Sigri has proved to be an excellent migrant trap and there is a good chance of finding some of the scarcer species such as Red-throated Pipit and Collared Flycatcher here.
The northern parts of the island around the picturesque towns of Petra and Molivos present yet another different habitat and some interesting birds that we may not encounter elsewhere. Here we’ll look for Röppell’s Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush and early-returning Eleonora’s Falcon. We’ll keep a close eye on the gulls as we follow the coast east of Molivos, the best place on the island for seeing Audouin’s Gull as well as Yelkouan and Cory’s Shearwaters.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of birding on Lesvos is the volume and variety of species, which at the height of migration is quite spectacular and all the more impressive for the splendid unspoiled surroundings. Every spring produces its own mix of species and includes one or two unexpected rarities. We’ll have lots of opportunities to familiarize ourselves with the more obvious species and will make a determined effort to find the ones that might easily be overlooked. Our week on this beautiful island is certain to be very enjoyable. Nights at Skala Kalloni.
Day 9: The tour concludes this morning on the island of Lesvos.
Updated: 07 November 2014
- 2018 Tour Price Not Yet Available
- (2017 Tour Price $2,000)
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
** The Sunbird group arrives from London late this evening. The WINGS price includes transfers from Mytileni to our Skala Kalloni hotel and return, and the day 1 evening meal.
Note: Participants may be able to connect with the Sunbird UK group in Athens; Sunbird’s flights from London stop in Athens on the way to and from Mytilini. Participants who would like to explore this option should see here.
Maximum group size seven with one leader; 14 with two leaders.