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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Greece: Lesvos

Spring Migration Through the Aegean

2022 Narrative

After my unexpected last minute call up for duty I was on Lesvos and already enjoying the delights of the Island before the group arrived and after 12 years of visiting I never cease to wonder at the ornithological magic that greets you in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The next eight days saw us travel back and forth across the western half of the island visiting all the different environments that lure both birds and birders alike. The salt pans of Kalloni were covered in slowly moving patches of pale pink and carmine Greater Flamingos with scatterings of breeding Avocets and Black-winged Stilts alongside passage flocks of tiny Little Stints, ‘chiffing’ Wood Sandpipers and methodical Ruff who often were found swimming like Phalaropes across the calm waters. A host of other waders included Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Marsh Sandpipers and Greenshanks and Curlew and Whimbrel and even included both Bar and Black-tailed Godwits – a rare island double.

Two iceberg Dalmatian Pelicans loafed around the pans dwarfing everything else and at the other end of the scale at was good to hear Zitting Cisticolas back on the adjacent marshes once again. Graceful White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns dipped down for surface insects and even had Collared Pratincoles in tow and Gull-billed Terns similarly hawked the fields where Marsh Harriers quartered and Black and White Storks, well, stalked. Yellow-legged, Little, Med and Black-headed Gulls were all noted with a bonus Caspian Gull too.

Corn Buntings and Crested Larks were ubiquitous, and Whinchats dotted every fence while Bee-eaters were constant daily companions, and a Great Spotted Cuckoo gave obscenely good views as it thrashed caterpillars to death in front of the van.

The rivers, lakes and their reeds and margins gave us Spotted and Little Crake, Night Herons, Squacco and Little Bitterns along with Common Snipe and amazingly both Spur Winged and Northern Lapwing (which was an island tick for me too!) along with diminutive Temminck’s Stints and foraging Wagtails with four ‘Yellow’ types and two female Citrines. Warblers abounded with gurking Great Reeds, shouting Cetti’s and a reeling Savi’s that gave a grandstand performance as it crept mouse-like below our feet. Cyclical singing Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were along every track and for a change regularly gave themselves up. Swirling flocks of hirundines congregated at dusk and all three Swift species were seen while Nightingales upped the volume in an effort to drown out the Tree and Levant Water Frogs.

The calm cool pine woods of Achladeri and its environs gave us some superb views of the Kruper’s Nuthatches excavating their nest hole with Serins, Short-toed Treecreepers and the local Long-tailed Tits for company and Masked Shrikes held territory around the edges. This was a common species of the Olive groves too where Woodchats, Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Hoopoes, Turtle Doves and Cirl Buntings were seen. We even ventured up into the Chestnut woods above Agiosos where Robins and Wrens sang and three Honey Buzzard drifted over and Grey Wagtails displayed on a babbling stream while at Agriosikos Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler trilled in the oaks.

The dry West was home to some of the real island specialities and we were afforded excellent views of Black-headed, Cretzschmar’s and Cinerous Buntings, Isabelline and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, Western Rock Nuthatches, Blue Rock Thrushes, Rock Sparrows and Sombre Tit as well as a host of migrants passing through or arriving to breed with local Eastern Subalpine, Sardinian and Eastern Orphean Warblers mixing with Wood, Willow and Icterines, both Whitethroats and a host of Spotted Flycatchers. Every now and then we found a dapper Pied or even smarter male Collared Flycatcher too or flashes of yellow and black as a flock of Golden Orioles erupted like fireworks from a fig tree.

Clive found us a Chukar singing on a rock before it crouched down for an overhead threat. The skies were never empty with Common and Long-legged Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles the commonest big bird of prey but the eagle gods were smiling on us and we found a sub-adult Lesser Spotted Eagle and then an immature Bonelli’s Eagle two days later although I may have shouted ‘Woodpigeon’ as one flew through the Eagle air space!

Lesser Kestrels hovered over the rolling coast out west in little gangs and we had several good encounters with Hobby (a tricky Lesvos bird), Red-footed and lithe Eleonora’s Falcons. Little Owls scowled at us from roadside vantage points and a Scops Owl performed well although they were heard nightly around the hotel.  The regular Steppe Buzzard at Kalami was also seen well and just a day before he departed for the summer.

The azure Aegean was dotted with low flying flock of Yelkouan Shearwaters but just one towering Scopoli’s and a chance look for an Audouin’s Gull produced a fine adult at a seldom checked rivermouth.

Throw in a host of other species, memorable encounters and a smattering of other wildlife that included over twenty species of butterfly, wonderful floral displays, Glass Lizards, Persian Squirrels and basking Balkan Terrapins and it was, as you would expect, a week to remember.

- Howard Vaughan

Created: 05 May 2022