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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Greece: Lesvos

Spring Migration Through the Aegean

2018 Narrative

Our arrival on the island of Lesvos was met with some strong winds but this did not deter us from our first ‘little’ excursion, where Little Crake and Little Bittern showed really well, with Little Grebe keeping up the theme.  With just one hotel for the whole tour we were able to use this as a base to explore various parts of the island, nowhere more than an hours’ drive away. Some places, such as the salt pans and associated wetlands, were to be visited time and time again, especially in the early morning and early evening when the saturated Mediterranean light was at its best. Here we enjoyed superb views of flocks of Glossy Ibis, Squacco Herons, Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Wood, Marsh, and Curlew Sandpipers, Ruff, Temminck’s and Little Stints, and Spotted Redshanks. The pans were always turning up new birds – Collared Pratincoles were around but elusive although we managed to get good flight and on-the-deck views in the end. Two Spur-winged Plovers, large flocks of both Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns, a few White-winged Black Terns, and 3 Slender-billed Gulls were some of the other occasional visitors. These mingled with hundreds of Greater Flamingos, Little Egrets, Yellow-legged Gulls, and Common Terns. The surrounding fields and farmland was also a great source of interesting birds with highlights including Black Storks, Pallid and Marsh Harriers, Short-toed Eagles, Red-footed Falcons, Short-toed Larks, Red-throated Pipits, and a sprinkling of Yellow Wagtail of various races.

The wooded hillsides overlooking the massive bay was where we caught up with one of the island’s specialities, Krüper’s Nuthatch, which we watched feeding young at a nest hole. A Short-toed Treecreeper also put in an appearance and also proved to be nesting nearby, while almost everywhere we went where there were trees or mature bushes we encountered lots of singing Eastern Subalpine Warblers.

Out on the western side of the island the habitat changed, becoming more open with lots of rocky hillsides. Here the simple song of Cretzschmar’s Bunting buzzed out across the slopes and we also had our first encounters with grey and green Cinereous Buntings. The west tends to be where many migrants arrive and a couple of visits to Meladia valley produced some great birds. A Common Bittern was something of a surprise but perhaps more expected were the wonderfully blue Rollers, Golden Orioles, smart Collared and Pied Flycatchers, Lesser Grey, Red-backed and Masked Shrikes, Black-headed Buntings, Wood Warbler, numerous Whinchats, and Redstart. We also had a superb flyover Eleonora’s Bunting, as well as a female Montagu’s Harrier.  

On the northern coast, with the mainland of Turkey just a few kilometres away, we watched groups of Yelkouan Shearwaters out to sea and Audouin’s Gull patrolling the cliffs. There was a superb display from singing male Rüppell’s Warbler, a smart female Citrine Wagtail, and we played hide and seek with Middle-spotted Woodpeckers.  We watched some highly animated Isabelline Wheatears performing their wacky song flights, handsome Black-eared Wheatears, and Rock Nuthatches also kept us entertained. Inland we followed narrow roads through small villages and along ‘hidden’ valleys where we found another special bird of the island, Olive-tree Warbler, as well as Eastern Orphean Warbler, a few Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, beautiful Turtle Doves, lots of Cirl Buntings, Sombre Tit, and some brief Hawfinches.

Although the tour was full of birds, we found time to admire much of the other wildlife on the island from drifts of gaudy wildflowers, to hordes of sparkling butterflies and colourful lizards, and to enjoy some shady picnic lunches, and visit some quaint coastal villages for coffee and ice creams, all bathed in glorious sunshine.

- Steve Rooke

Created: 10 May 2018