The distinctive song of Cinereous Bunting rings out across the Lesvos hillsides Photo: Steve Rooke
The stunningly beautiful Greek island of Lesvos is now firmly established as one of the best 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 Mytilene, Lesvos has remained remarkably unspoilt; one suspects that large parts of the island have changed little in the past hundred years. Steeped in history, its rich tapestry of habitats, ranging from rocky mountains, forested hills, and stony uncultivated pasture, through to more fertile lowlands planted with figs and olive groves, as well as coastal wetlands ensures an exciting variety of migrant and resident landbirds, including two breeding specialities, Krüper’s Nuthatch and Cinereous Bunting. Our single 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 is also well positioned for visits to the more peripheral sites. Birding on Lesvos is a real delight - everywhere you go there are drifts of gorgeous wildflowers and a staggering abundance of butterflies, and our explorations takes us through tiny white-painted villages dotted with tempting tavernas - Mediterranean birding does not get much better than this.
Please note that we avoid using charter flights favoured by other companies for this tour as they usually force a shorter stay on the island. Instead we will use schedule flights to give us a full 7 days on the island. These flights are inevitably more expensive than the cheaper charters.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening at Mytilene airport on the island of Lesvos. Night at Skala Kalloni.
Days 2-8: Since we are located 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 in excess of 140 species of bird and the main objective will be for everyone to get good views of them all. For those who wish, there will be plenty of informal guidance on improving identification skills. Our ideal location gives us great scope for optional pre-breakfast birding with the extensive Kalloni salt pans just a short drive away. These are alive with birds and we are bound to return here on numerous occasions. At this time of year Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints and Ruffs predominate the waders, but Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Stone-curlew, Collared Pratincole and Marsh Sandpiper all occur, and Spur-winged Plover is a possibility. The salt pans are ideal for groups of feeding Greater Flamingos, and Slender-billed or Mediterranean Gulls can drop in at any time, as can Whiskered or White-winged Black Terns. Any flooded grassland is bound to be buzzing with Glossy Ibis while overhead both Black and White Storks are possible. Nearby the cultivated fields and rough pastures adjacent to these pans are excellent places for migrant Red-footed Falcons and we can expect to see small gatherings of these attractive birds perched up on the telegraph wires. The early morning can be an especially good time for observing newly arrived migrants and on the best days the bushes in this area can almost be jumping with warblers, chats, and shrikes.
After breakfast each day we’ll travel further 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 delicious packed lunch of local produce – there is no shortage of shady spots to have a picnic. On one or two days, especially if it is very warm, we may return to the hotel in the afternoon and, after a break, go back out for some more local birding before dinner.
During the course of the week we’ll undoubtedly make several visits to the Tsiknias 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 from which to view the abundant birdlife. Squacco Herons, Little Bitterns, Purple Herons and Little Crakes lurk in the thickly vegetated margins, while dazzling Yellow Wagtails of various races feed along the water’s edge. The bushes surrounding the scented wild-flower meadows on either side are liberally scattered with Woodchat Shrikes, Whinchats and other migrants, while the background sound is dominated by the ‘fuzzling’ song of numerous Corn Buntings.
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 specialities, the handsome Krüper’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. And 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 with Black-eared Wheatear being abundant, and a few pairs of the more discreetly plumaged Isabelline Wheatears here and there. Rock Nuthatches, singing Woodlarks, pastel Cretzschmar’s Buntings, and Rock Sparrows provide added interest while we look for that other island speciality, Cinereous Bunting. This handsome soft grey and yellow bunting is best located by its distinctive song echoing out across the hillsides. 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 Roller and Collared Flycatcher here.
The northern parts of the island around the picturesque towns of Petra and Molivos present yet another habitat and some interesting birds that we may not encounter elsewhere. Here we’ll look for Rüppell’s Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, and early-returning Eleonora’s Falcons. We will keep a close eye on the gulls as we follow the coast east of Molivos as this is the best place on the island for seeing Audouin’s Gulls, as well as Yelkouan and Scopoli’s Shearwaters. And of course there will be chances to call in at the odd shaded taverna overlooking some quaint harbour bobbing with fishing boats for a cool drink or perhaps an ice cream!
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of birding on Lesvos is the volume of migration and the variety of species, which at its height is quite spectacular and all the more impressive for the splendid unspoilt surroundings. Every spring produces its own mix of species and includes one or two unexpected rarities. Nights at Skala Kalloni.
Day 9: Early this morning we’ll transfer to the airport where the tour ends.
Updated: 01 May 2018