Saturday, July 22, 2017

Birdwatching in Mt Parnassos: "Hot" birding tours, July 2-3, 2017

Everybody knows what a Greek summer is: hot and dry, temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius, sometimes evern reaching 40 C. Weather conditions seem ideal for sun bathing and swimming but, apparently, not for birding. Doing a birding trip in July is always a challenge, let alone in the case of a strong heat wave that may rise the temperature above 43 C!

Greece Bird Tours, however, loves challenges. When Brenda from Canada and Bill from the Unites States asked for a tour on July 2 and July 3, respectively, we did not hesitate for a moment. And the reason is very simple: we know where to go and what to see, no mater what the weather is!

Mt Parnassos was the ideal destination for our Athens-based trips. The weather was much cooler than in Athens and the habitat diversity gives the opportunity to see many different bird species.

Both trips had the same itinerary: starting from Athens at around 6 am, we first stopped at the plain of Kopaida to watch one of the most colourful bird of Europe, the Bee-eater. We enjoyed great views of this beautiful bird.
Bee-eater carrying food

Lesser Grey Shrike
We also found Lesser Grey Shrikes, Hoopoes, Spanish Sparrows, Great Reed Warblers and, surprisingly, a Syrian Woodpecker, a bird that was known to breed from Central Greece northwards but has, apparently, expanded its range south. Hundreds of Barn Swallows, several Red-rumped Swallows and two White Storks were also seen in the area, among others.

As the temperature was rising, it was time to move to higher elevations. We drove north-northwest towards the picturesque village of Arachova, located at an altitude of 1.000 m. Inside the village we saw several Swifts, House Martins, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Spotted Flycatchers and Nightingales, while the surrounding area was particularly rich. Short-toed Eagles, Buzzards, Kestrels and Peregrines were soaring over open areas, while Blue Rock Thrushes, Rock Nuthatches and Black-eared Wheatears were found in the rocky outcrops above Arachova. 

Short-toed Eagle
Leaving Arachova and its outskirts, we climbed to Livadia plateau. An open area with scattered trees and bushes, perfect habitat for the Red-backed Shrike. We saw several bright males, along with Woodlarks, Northern Wheatears, Red-rumped Swallows and Cirl Buntings. 

Male Red-backed Shrike
Next stop was the Greek Fir forest of the mountain. Coal Tits, Firecrests, Short-toed Treecreepers were the most common sights, along Chaffinches, Serins, Blackbirds, Robins and the odd Mistle Thrush. A distant Eleonora's Falcon was also seen high up in the sky. We didn't spend that much time there because the alpine zone was far more promising, as Alpine Choughs, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes and  Tawny Pipits are known to breed. We saw all these species, along with dozens of Northern Wheatears, Linnets and Black Redstarts! 

Alpine Chough 

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
At noon, we returned to Arachova to have lunch. We tried two different tavernas, "Kaplanis" on Sunday and "Fterolakka" on Monday. Both had great menus, full with local products and the portions were x-large! 

After lunch, it was time to start our way back to Athens. We used the old National Highway that crosses the plain of Erythres, a village close to the city of Thiva and the only one in the prefecture of Athens that still has a breeding pair of White Storks. We enjoyed great views of the nest, three chicks were waiting for their parents to bring some food, while an adult bird was seen in the plain as well.
Low-flying White Stork on the plain of Erythres

White Stork nest on the village of Erythres
Other birds seen in the plain include the Black-headed Bunting (males, females and juveniles) the Corn Bunting, the Crested Lark, the Hoopoe, the Lesser Grey Shrike and a small colony of Spanish Sparrows.
A worn out male Black-headed Bunting
Two long, "hot" days of birding were over. A total of 59 species were seen during these two days, a remarkable number, considering the fact that no wetland was visited and the temperatures were really high! 

Brenda from Canada
Bill and his son, Etan from USA



TRIPS CHECKLIST


  • White Stork 
  • Short-toed Eagle
  • Common Buzzard
  • Common Kestrel
  • Eleonora's Falcon
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Yellow-legged Gull
  • Collared Dove
  • Common Swift
  • Pallid Swift
  • Bee-eater
  • Green Woodpecker 
  • Syrian Woodpecker
  • Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 
  • Crested Lark
  • Woodlark
  • Barn Swallow
  • Crag Martin
  • House Martin
  • Red-rumped Swallow
  • Tawny Pipit
  • Wren
  • Robin
  • Nightingale
  • Black Redstart
  • Northern Wheatear
  • Black-eared Wheatear
  • Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
  • Blue Rock Thrush
  • Cetti's Warbler
  • Reed Warbler
  • Great Reed Warbler
  • Blackcap
  • Firecrest
  • Spotted Flycatcher
  • Blue Tit
  • Nuthatch
  • Rock Nuthatch
  • Short-toed Treecreeper
  • Red-backed Shrike
  • Lesser Grey Shrike
  • Jay
  • Magpie
  • Alpine Chough
  • Jackdaw
  • Hooded Crow
  • House Sparrow
  • Spanish Sparrow
  • Chaffinch
  • Serin
  • Greenfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Linnet
  • Cirl Bunting
  • Black-headed Bunting
  • Corn Bunting









Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Lesvos 2017 Bird Trip Report: April 28th - May 1rst



My annual spring birding trip in Lesvos was focused on bird photography this year. As I get to know the island better year by year, I decided to spend more time to the wilder west part, and discover Faneromeni fields, and Meladia Valley down to the river mouth. Also, get some better pics of Kruepper’s Nuthatch and Cinereous Buntings. So here is a trip report from this years' birdwatching trip.


Some information about the trip:

Flights: Aegean Airways flies everyday from Athens, about 40 min flight.
Hotel: Diamandi Studios, at Skala Kallonis. A quiet family owned “rooms to rent” type of studio. Very kind owners, walking distance from Skalla Kalloni’s restaurants and cafes.
Food: At Skalla Kallonis, Dionysos Taverna is a must, not only for the food specialties, especially sea food, but also for the “birding” atmosphere that clients bring to the place. It is a meeting place for most birders, after an exhausting every day around the island. Try different local dishes, you will not be disappointed. Prices are very reasonable.
My favorite breakfast: Taxiarchis Bakery at Skalla Kallonis. Birders do not take breakfast when on bird trip. We only get our day “fuel” from local bakeries. Taxiarchis is one of them. Sited just beside the little harbor, a small little bakery, easier to smell that to see it. The owner is always making jokes, he is the most fascinating man on the village. Try anything from the shelves, I usually go for the ham and cheese pie. Just going in this bakery makes me think of this warm and friendly part of Greece that is sadly disappearing.
Kalloni village: A very cheap (but very delicious) meal can be eaten at “Alexandros”. This is a classical “gyros” places. So, you should try Gyros. It costs 2.50euros and it’s a full meal. Together with a greek salad, I ate the twice while I was around Kalloni saltpans during the day or afternoon. With around 10-12 euros you will be more than full.
Car rental: Since 3 years now, I use Tsalis Car rental. Very reliable company, with friendly staff and office at Kalloni too. This year I got a 4x4 Fiat Panda, and I managed to get everywhere. I just loved this car, very light and flexible, ideal for birders. A lot more comfortable than the Suzuki Jimny I had last year.
Apart from my breakfast box from Taxiarchis bakery, I used My Market a couple of times, just behind Kalloni central road, a big supermarket with cheaper prices and great variety that any local food store.
Sigri: One of the best food experiences I had was lunch in Cavo d’Oro in Sigri. The most amazing seafood risotto I even tried, combined with local Ouzo and other small appetizers, like octopus and fresh made eggplant salad. 
Lesvos sea food lunch time
Delicious sea food risotto

Birding information: I always have “Birding in Lesvos” by Steve Dudley with me in every trip to the island. It’s the most accurate and detailed guide. Also, the Facebook group that Steve created, “Lesvos birders” is worth joining for any latest bird arrivals. From there I had several people asked for information and were all happy to provide them. Local birder Eleni Gallinou helped me a lot to find species I was looking for. Also local nature photographer Petros Tsakmakis was the perfect companion during 2 out of 4 birding days. Together we enjoyed several of photographic as well as gastronomic moments, both will remain unforgettable.    

Day 1: House Martins were the first bird species I saw while the aircraft was landing at 6:30am at Lesvos airport. There were plenty of nests of both House Martins and Barn Swallows all around the building of the airport, so hundreds of birds were flying in the area.
As soon as I got the car, I moved south towards Haramida. Together with Antonis, we had excellent views of breeding Rueppell’s Warblers and Cretzschmar’s Buntings. Early morning light was the best to capture some nice poses of these 2 species. After a couple of hours we also had our first Masked Shrike, Hoopoe and Black-eared Wheatear. 

Rueppell's Warbler at Haramida, Lesvos
Around mid day, we drove west, towards Kalloni Gulf. A Black Stork was recorded at Mesa as well as Black-headed Buntings, Olivaceaous Warblers and Red-rumped Swallows. Moving down to Tsiknias River we could enjoy White-winged Terns, Black-winged Stilts, Short-toed Larks and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers in the nearby orchards. The first day ended in Kallonis Saltpans, having recorder several species of waders, but not in great numbers like previous years.

Common Tern at Kalloni Wetland, Lesvos
Day 2. Having heard about Baillon’s Crake at Metochi Lake last night, I woke up early enough to avoid the hoards of birders in this small pond. I saw the bird clearly, but could not get a descent photo between the reeds. Little Crakes were there too, Little Bitterns, Bee-eaters were flying over later on, while a Long-legged Buzzard was soaring around 8am over the fields surrounding Metochi Lake.
Next stop was Ipsilou Monastery. Cinereous Bunting was there, more active in the north-east part of the hill, going upwards. Bird were very active singing, providing great photographic moments. On the other side of the hill, close to the parking area, several Isabelline Wheaters were recorded. Overall, Ispilou Monastery did not provide many species.

Cinereous Bunting at Ispilou Monastery, Lesvos
Rock Nuthatch
Then, the western part of the island was there to discover. I started with Faneromeni area which proved to be rather empty! A few Turtle Doves here and there, a couple of Woodchat Shrikes, a Red-backed Shrike and some Golden Orioles well hidden in the foliage of the almond trees. We were already hungry by 2pm time, so we had lunch at Cavo d’Oro at Sigri, truly an unforgettable meal!
The afternoon was all devoted to Meladia Valley. Highlights of the area were Golden Orioles and a forgotten but very “friendly” Temminck’s Stint. Eastern Orphean Warblers all along the road towards Eressos, Rock Nuthatches, Little Crake right on the little paved road bridge, Sardinian Warblers, lots of Black-headed Buntings, Bee-eaters, Black-headed Buntings, and of course Crested Larks, one of the most abundant birds on the island, together with Corn Buntings.
Temminck's Stint at Meladia Valley, Lesvos
Golden Oriole at Meladia, Lesvos
Day 3: We started from Parakila, an excellent place to see Cinereous Buntings, Cretzschmar’s Buntings from very close distance. We drove up the road that overlooks St-John’s chapel (Agios Ioannis) and stayed there until we got enough of these two species. Then, we drove down to Makara river mouth, were a beautiful Citrine Wagtail was waiting for us in the little stream. I was really excited, since it was the first male I ever saw of this species and managed to get some distant pics, since we could not easily approach it. 

Cretzschmar's Bunting at Parakila, Lesvos
Citrine Wagtail at Makara river mouth, Lesvos
We continued up to the Petrified Forest, where we had again Cinereous Bunting, Chukar, Hoopoe, Short-toed Eagle, Woodchat Shrikes, Black-headed Buntings.
Coming back around Kalloni, I decided to drive along Napi Valley. The oak trees in this area provide shelter for Olive-tree Warber, which I did not manage to see. On the other hand, lots of Masked Shrikes and Black-eared Wheatears, Olivaceous Warblers, Blue Tits, Cirl Buntings, Whinchats. 

Subalpine Warbler
Eastern Orphean Warbler
Day 4: Today was May 1rst, when locals like to gather in Achladeri forest for a huge BBQ fiesta. So, we had to be there before 9am, in order to be in a quiet area to enjoy Kruepper’s Nuthatch. We were lucky enough to find other birders who had previously found a nest, so we spend more than 2 hours watching the parents searching for food and bringing it back to the nest to a young nestling. The behavior was almost the same every time; the parents would leave and they would get back after 10-15 minutes with one or more caterpillars hanging from their mouth. Then, they would wait for 2-3 minutes in a nearby tree, just to inspect the area around the nest, and when they became sure that there was no disturbance, they would fly fast towards the nest, feed the young and go back to find another caterpillar.
Kruepper's Nuthatch at Achladeri forest, Lesvos
Scops Owls were missing from our list, so we moved to Papiana Soccer Pitch at Kalloni, and we easily found three birds on the Eucalyptus trees. This is by far, the easiest way to see Scops Owl in Greece! I’ve been listening to their call all year long, especially in the summer, but only in Lesvos I can always get such clear views.
My flight back to Athens was late in the afternoon, so I spent some of the last hours at Kalloni Wetland, enjoying some last views of Ruddy Shelducks, Little Terns, Common Terns, Flamingos, Avocets, Kentish Plovers, Spanish Sparrows, Black-headed Wagtails. This years’ trip was over and I had been more that satisfied again with so many unforgettable wildlife experiences. 

Other wildlife

Odalisque (Epallage fatime) close to Achladeri
European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) at Parakila main road
Snake-eye Lizard (Ophisops elegans)
Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) in almost every rock on Lesvos island
 Species List of 107 recorded bird species

Number
Bird Species
Location
1
Shag
Kalloni Gulf
2
Little Grebe
Metochi Lake
3
White Stork
Kalloni
4
Black Stork
Mesa, Kalloni
5
Grey Heron
Common
6
Purple heron
Metochi lake, Kalloni Pool
7
Great White Egret
Kalloni
8
Little Egret
Common
9
Squacco Heron
Kalloni Pool
10
Little Bittern
Metochi
11
Glossy Ibis
Kalloni
12
Flamingo
Kalloni
13
Shelduck
Kalloni
14
Ruddy Shelduck
Kalloni, Mesa
15
Teal
Kalloni
16
Mallard
Kalloni
17
Ferruginous Duck
Kalloni, Metochi
18
Marsh Harrier
Kalloni, Tsiknias
19
Long-legged Buzzard
Metochi
20
Common Buzzard
Common
21
Eleonorae’s Falcon
Sigri
22
Common Kestrel
Common
23
Lesser Kestrel
Sigri fields
24
Short-toed Eagle
Ipsilou, Eressos
25
Little Crake
Metochi, Meladia Valley
26
Baillon’s Crake
Metochi
27
Moorhen
Common
28
Coot
Common
29
Black-winged Stilt
Common
30
Pied Avocet
Kalloni
31
Collared Pratincole
Kalloni
32
Kentish Plover
Kalloni
33
Little Ringed Plover
Common
34
Wood Sandpiper
Common
35
Redshank
Common
36
Spotted Redshank
Kalloni
37
Little Stint
Common
38
Temminck’s Stint
Meladia Valley
39
Dunlin
Kalloni
40
Ruff
Common
41
Yellow-legged Gull
Common
42
Black-headed Gull
Common
43
Common Tern
Kalloni
44
Little Tern
Kalloni
45
White-winged Tern
Kalloni
46
Black-winged Tern
Kalloni
47
Turtle Dove
Common
48
Collared Dove
Common
49
Scops Owl
Papiana Soccer Pitch
50
Little Owl
Common
51
Common Swift
Common
52
Pallid Swift
Common
53
Alpine Swift
Common
54
Bee-eater
Common
55
Hoopoe
Common
56
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Tsiknias, Napi Valley
57
Greater Short-toed Lark
Tsiknias, Kalloni
58
Wood Lark
Ipsilou
59
Sand Martin
Common
60
Crag Martin
Antissa
61
House Martin
Common
62
Barn Swallow
Common
63
Red-rumped Swallow
Common
64
White Wagtail
Common
65
Black-headed Wagtail
Common
66
Citrine Wagtail
Makara river mouth
67
Nightingale
Common
68
Whinchat
Common
69
Stonechat
Common
70
Black-eared Wheatear
Common
71
Northern Wheatear
Common
72
Isabelline Wheatear
Ipsilou, Antissa
73
Spotted Flycatcher
Common
74
Pied Flycatcher
Faneromeni fields
75
Zitting Cisticola
Common
76
Cetti’s Warbler
Common
77
Sedge Warbler
Common
78
Reed Warbler
Common
79
Great Reed Warbler
Common
80
Sardinian Warbler
Common
81
Eastern Orphean Warbler
Common
82
Subalpine Warbler
Common
83
Rueppell’s Warbler
Haramida
84
Blackcap
Common
85
Olivaceous Warbler
Common
86
Great Tit
Common
87
Blue Tit
Common
88
Rock Nuthatch
Common
89
Kruepper’s Nuthatch
Achladeri forest
90
Golden Oriole
Faneromeni, Sigri, Meladia
91
Red-backed Shrike
Faneromeni
92
Woodchat Shrike
Common
93
Masked Shrike
Haramida, Napi
94
Jay
Common
95
Hooded Crow
Common
96
Raven
Ipsilou
97
House Sparrow
Common
98
Spanish Sparrow
Kalloni
99
Chaffinch
Common
100
Greenfinch
Common
101
Goldfinch
Common
102
Linnet
Meladia
103
Cirl Bunting
Common
104
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Common
105
Cinereous Bunting
Ipsilou, Parakila, Apothika
106
Corn Bunting
Common
107
Black-headed Bunting
Common








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