Last Updated on 08 July 2016

Trip Report to the island of Lesvos

03-05-2011 - 10-05-2011

Black-headed Wagtail, Skala Kalloni.


General Information

This is a report on a trip to the Greek Island of Lesvos by my wife and myself in May 2011. The main goal of the trip was taking as much wildlife photographs as possible. A secondary goal was to catch up with a few species that we managed to miss on previous birding trips. Of these the most important were Cinereous Bunting, Rufous Bush Robin, Krüper's Nuthatch, White-throated Robin and Olive-tree Warbler.

As the island is relatively small, no long distances need to be covered in order to see the many spectacular places on offer. If you are situated in or near Skala Kalloni, which is the epi-centre (in more than one way) of the island, nearly all need-to-see-spots are within reach of a 1,5 hours drive. Only the sites in the far south require a bit more of your precious time to reach. Having said that, the remote south holds little, from a birdwatchers point of view, that one cannot see closer to Skala Kaloni. We travelled about 800 km’s in 1 week. Birding was done from the car as well as on foot on many occasions. The car served mainly as a moving hide during the hours that photography was ongoing.

Probably due to the bad weather in previous weeks (see the “weather" section further on) many species such as Bee-eater were very scarce the first few days and became more abundant during the week. This is very unusual as breeding sites should have been occupied in the second half of April. Shrikes in general and Lesser Grey Shrike in particular were mostly absent. Only Woodchat Shrike was present everywhere. Many other species like Red-throated Pipit and Black-headed Wagtail were seen in only very small numbers.

Of the target species mentioned above Cinereous Bunting, Krüper's Nuthatch and Rufous Bush Robin were found, the latter only during the last minutes of our stay! Olive-tree Warbler should have been present but again, was not, certainly due to the weather in the previous weeks. White-throated Robin is rare anyway and was not expected to be seen.The final list of 159 species was what we expected to see although a longer list is certainly possible when you commit yourself to it.

Most birders prefer to visit the island somewhere between late April and early May. During this season the tourist industry relies on birdwatchers only as “normal” tourists usually arrive later in the season. April will yield a slightly different spectrum of bird species than you will encounter in May. Red-throated Pipits, for example are more common in April, Rosy Starlings are usually not found on the island before may 10th. If you are visiting Lesvos for any particular species it may be wise to prepare yourself on what to expect and when to see it.

In this report the names of each bird and of all important places we visited are typed in bold. This should make it easier to scan through the report for the information you’re after or skip the blabla you are not interested in. For each photo details are included about what it depicts and where the picture is taken. All photographs produced during this trip can be found at the travel picture gallery. All pictures are copyrighted but we are happy to provide you with a high res copy upon request.All the major bird sightings of this trip can also be found at Observado. All other observations made during various other trips can be found at Observado as well.

If you still have questions after reading this report please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.

 

The East River (or Tsiknias River), one of the most well known birding spots in Europe.

Crowds of birders

Lesvos is an extremely popular destination among birdwatchers which makes up for a not too good reputations on some accounts. In many reports one can read about birdwatchers arguing (or even fighting) with each other, regardless they are birders, photographers or general naturalists. This reputation held us back on visiting the island for many years.

We’re very happy that we did not encounter any misbehaviour of anyone we met, nor did we see anything else that was out of the ordinary for a place with such a large congregation of people. Let´s be clear about something: if you are looking for a destination to relax without ever encountering anyone else; Lesvos is NOT the place for you to visit. It’s surely possible to have one spot or another to yourself if you are prepared to get there early (Faneromeni, Sigri). In the end you will always find somebody else equipped with al the things you carry around yourself. Especially the Kalloni saltpans are a bird watcher’s magnet from dawn to dusk. If you don’t like that just find yourself another quiet spot to be, like Christou River or Mesa. Both are just outside Kalloni and seem to attract only a fraction of the crowds at the saltpans while the quality of the birds is equally good.

Transportation and getting around

As you may already know, many birdwatching sites are not “designed” for being easy to reach by means of public transport. As a consequence a rental car is essential for transportation to and from each site. Lesvos is no exception to that. We rented a Fiat Bravo which was just OK for the job.

Traffic signs along busier roads are usually in both Greek and English making it easy to find your way around. Along smaller roads signs are in Greek only but if you practice yourself in reading both you should be able to figure out what they try to tell you.As we found out no map was provided with the rental car and no maps could be obtained from a petrol station. As such we had some difficulty finding our way at first but finally we made it through and found the road towards Skala Kalloni.

Weather

The general weather ranges from rainy, windy and cold (10°C) to unclouded and warm (25°C and above). Generally temperatures are between 20-25°C with a cool northerly wind. This year however was a totally different story. The two weeks prio to our arrival saw a lot of rain rain, strong winds and low temperatures, around 10-15°C. The week of our visit the weather increased slow but steady each day. The first day was rainy and cold while the last few days temperatures were around 25 degrees and mostly sunny.

The bad weather in the previous weeks had a huge effect on bird migration. General numbers of birds were low compared to other years (according to people who visit Lesvos regularly). Nearly all species were present in very low nubers the first two days but getting increasingly common during the week. Especially, Swallows, Bee-eaters and Black-headed Buntings. Notably Whinchat and Spotted Flycatchers were encountered everywhere in large numbers. Species like Red-backed Shrike were only seen in very low numbers while they should be very common early May.

Safety

All Greek islands are generally safe places to visit. The only possible concern to birdwatchers on the island of Lesvos is the presence of military personnel in some areas. Signs that prohibit photography can be found anywhere near military buildings and complexes. All military compounds are guarded and especially birdwatchers have to be very aware of what they’re doing and where they’re doing it. The optical gear that we carry could easily be explained as it being used for espionage activities. On mainland Greece the military has been known to arrest birders that were unaware of this and some of them were held in custody for quite some time. To our knowledge however such incidents have not (yet) occured on Lesvos.

Accomodation

We booked an apartment at Kalloni Village, just west of Skala Kalloni which is operating for two years now and is still very new. Unfortunately this accommodation was overbooked and we were transferred to the nearby Ylida apartments. Not nearly as good as Kalloni Village but we settled for it.

Currency

Greece is part of the Economic and Monetary Union and as such the Euro is the national currency. ATM´s are readily available in most villages and we did not encounter any problems withdrawing money with our regular bank card.

Literature

For any popular bird watching destination books and trip reports are widely available and Lesvos is no exception. At Cloudbirder for example the number of reports dealing with the island is staggering.

As we like to have all information packed in one source we decided to purchase the Steve Dudley book “A birdwatchinguide to Lesvos” 2nd print (2010). It has many preface chapters dealing with nearly everything you want or need to know about the island. It also features an overwhelming amount of information on all the sites that you may want to visit. Unfortunately our copy was falling apart already after 5 days of moderatue use. It turns out that this is a known problem for this print of the book and a new and improved print is being prepared. If you buy this book make sure you catch up with the right copy. Steve Dudley also maintains a website about recent sightings on Lesvos www.lesvosbirding.com which can be very usefull while you’re on the island.

“Where to watch birds in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus” (1996) by Hilary Welch, Laurence Rose Derek Moore, Bill Oddie an Harry Sigg also deals with Lesvos but only a very limited amount of sites is discussed. Also, this book is rather outdated, at least the copy that we bought in 2001 when preparing for a trip to mainland Greece.

Directions to each site mentioned in this report are not given unless the information in the book is outdated or extra information is required to reach the spot.

Optical gear

As Lesvos offers many open landscapes a telescope can come in handy at many occasions. As our primary goal was taking photographs we did not use the telescope too much. For taking pictures various Canon equipment was used ranging from 300 to 500 mm lensensand either an EOS 7D or 40D camera. All pictures were shot in RAW format and processed afterwards. For being able to store our pictures when the CF card was out of memory a Vosonic image tank (VP8870) was used as a backup device.

Sites visited

 Lesvos offers many sites which must not be ignored. One week is perfectly suitable to visit al major sites, some of them even multiple times. The sites we found most rewarding were Ipsilou (all Buntings, Isabelline- and Black-eared Wheatear, Little Owl), Sigri (general migration, anything can and does turn up), Faneromeni (Shrikes, Buntings, Pipits, Waders,Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, general photography), Skala Kalloni saltpans (waders, Terns Flamingo’s, Red-footed Falcon) and Molivos-Petra (Sylvia warblers, Shearwaters). Below is a map which displays all sites we visited during our one week's stay. Most, but not all of them, are discussed in the section below.

 Map of the island including the sites we visited.

Ipsilou

The Ipsilou monastery is situated in the far west of the island, close to Sigri and Faneromeni. Therefore a visit to this site is easy to combine with Sigri/Faneromeni and other sites in the west. The Greek military is very active north and east of the monastery itself so care needs to be taken not to aim your bins (or even worse: your camera) the wrong way.

Trees are mostly absent here and therefore one can mainly expect to see species like Chukar, Lesser Kestrel, all Wheatears (including Isabeline and Eastern Black-eared), Stonechat, Whinchat, Woodchat Shrike, Blue Rock-Thrush, Cretzschmar's- and Cinereous Bunting. The Ipsilou monastery is the only place where we saw Wood Lark.

The road towards the petrified forest is very suitable for undisturbed birding, especially on mondays as the petrified forest itself is closed and traffic is not bothering you. Expecially when you're taking photographs, this road is excellent. The same species as mentioned for the Ipsilou monastery can be expected. The buildings around the forest entrance hold Little Owls as do some of the abandoned sheds along the road itself. 3 Golden Orioles came in from the sea and where desprately searching for tree-like shrubs but had to settle for solid rock.

Sigri

Situated at the western most tip of the island of Lesvos, Sigri is sure to be one of the best places to witness some spectacular migration. We visited the area twice and did not see huge numbers of birds. As always, timing is of the essence and we timed wrong. The previous weeks saw many hundreds of Pied Flycatcher in this area, including many Collared-, and the highest numbers of Semi-collared Flycatchers ever recorded for the island, reaching double firgures on many dates. Also many wagtails were on the move in the same time resulting in some Citrine Wagtails that where found.

During our two visits general numbers were low but we did find Black Stork, Lesser Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon, Eleonora's Falcon, Peregrine, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Masked- and Red-backed Shrike, Eastern Olivacous Warbler, Lesser- and Common Whitethroat, Subalpine Warbler, Rock Nuthatch and Tawny Pipit.

Red-backed Shrike, Sigri.

Faneromeni

Driving to the north from Sigri you reach Faneromeni. Although it's unclear to us where "Sigri" ends and "Faneromeni" starts we like to think that the rivers that can be crossed belong to Faneromeni as do the pools that you reach by taking one of the sideroads. Although the rivers do attract many waterbirds it's also possible to see many passerines here as well. Spotted Flycatchers were particularly numerous as where Olivaceous Warblers. Faneromeni was also the place where one of our targets was achieved: photographing Little Bittern. A bonus where the Squacco Herons that fouraged alongside the bitterns making it possible to make the most of the situation.

Other birds along the rivers and pools: Great- and Little Egret, Moorhen, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, European Turtle Dove, Sombre Tit, Icterine Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Nightingale.

Little Bittern, Faneromeni. One of the main photo-targets of our trip.

Skala Kalloni

The surrounding area surely holds the highest number of interesting birding sites. It's also the most crowded part of the island (with birdwatchers, that is), especially the saltpans are never deserted. Many site are very close to the city and are discussed below (have a look at the map for their locations). Skala Kalloni itself also has a famous birdwatching site: the Kalloni marshes. A viewing platform is erected on the west side from which viewing  is well possible. Durong our short visit only a few Little Bittern were visible and most of the area was covered by the reedbeds. Unfortunately urbanisation of the area has drastically reduced the number of birds that are being seen here. Another contributing factor is that the water levels are much lower than before which leads to the pools getting more and more overgrown by the reeds.

East / West River

Although these rivers are located on either side of the Kalloni town they are treated together as the species that can be found here are much the same. Both sides of the rivers are covered by a road and are therefore very accessible. This guarantees many birds to be seen and have equally lots of photo opportunities. Many different birds are attracted to this habitat and so the birdlife is abundant.

Expect to be catching up with Black Stork, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Red-footed Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Shor-toed Eagle, Kentish Plover, Spotted and Common Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, European Turtle Dove, Woodchat Shrike, many swallow, Cetti's Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Nightingale, Black-headed Wagtail, Corn Bunting and Black-headed Bunting. Our maint target for this trip, Rufous Bush Robin, was seen in the last two minutes of our stay along the east river at the most southern tip where the road leads eastwards from the river.

Many rarer migrants turn up around here as well so always keep an eye out for the odd Citrine Wagtail.

Temminck's Stint, East River. Common everywhere, especially in one of the Kalloni rivers.

Saltpans

There's probably no more heavily birded area than the saltpans. This is the only place we always found someone else even when we were there before sunrise. Very understandable though as no day is the same here and even more variety can be found than at the east/ and west rivers. All species that can be seen at one of the two main rivers many other birds turn up here as well. The saltpans also inhibit a somewhat drier area were you can expect to see Glossy Ibis, Collared Pratincole, Stone Curlew, smaller calidrids including Sanderling, Montagu's Harrier, Roller, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Spanish Sparrow. Many migrant songbirds can be found in the sparse bushes that grow in the area i.e. Icterine Warbler, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher.

Another marshy area is just south of the saltpans and can be productive too. Many Ruddy Shelduck were present there, as were Little Egret, Glossy Ibis and even a Cattle Egret which was about the fourth sighting for the island..

Mesa

The Mesa area is less well known than the other marshy areas around (Skala) Kalloni but is by no means less productive. All the birds that can be found at the previous two sites can be found there as well. Actually, Mesa was better on some accounts notably the number of Glossy Ibises and sometimes marsh terns. This also the only place where we saw Great Spotted Cuckoo. The place is just a few kilometres further down the Kalloni - Achladeri road.

Metochi Lake

Metochi Lake. View over the small, reedcovered fringes of the lake itself.

Another wel known place and for good reason as well. This place is mostly referred to as Inland Lake and as such known to most of the birders. Although the size of it could almost be called tiny, it's reputation surely is not! If you're looking for a place to see crakes, this is where you need to go. Little Crakes are almost guaranteed here but with a bit more luck you could also find Baillon's Crake (as we did) and with even more luck also Spotted Crake. Litte Bittern occurs everywhere along the overgrown channels that flow in and out of the lake at various sides. Another feature of the channels are the breeding Bee-eaters. Arriving late April they should have taken the breeding grounds by storm if you visit the place in early  May. Many opportunities for them to perch on means many photo opportunities as well. As with the salt pans this spot can be very busy and with so little space to share you have to be early if you want a seat on the first row. Many commoner birds can be found the reeds as well such as Great Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler,  Reed Warbler, Nightingale, and Olivacious Warbler. The surrounding orchards yields Golden  Oriole, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and many Spotted Flycatcher.

Bee-eater. One of the many breeding birds of the channels to and from lake Metochi.


Molivos area

The coastal road between Petra and Molivos is one of the better places on the island to combine some of it's highlights. A few parking spots are located along the road, one with a somewhat better view than the other but al of them equally worth a stop. In and around the bushes many songbords can be found, including the much sought after and rather localized Rüppel's Warbler. With some effort you should be able to find Sardinian Warbler here as well as many other migrating birds, basically anything can turn up here. Other features are the possibility for watching seabirds as well as the very visible migration, when weather permits. Species we saw (almost) exclusively here included Yelkouan- (thousands) and Scopoli's Shearwaters, Honey Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Alpine Swift, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Tree Pipit, European Serin and Cinereous Bunting.


Potamia

This spot basically consists of two separate places: the main road through the valley itself and another road wich forks from the main road an runs uphill along the well known Potamia reservoir. The latter becomes impossible to drive not too far after leaving the reservoir behind you. As this area is less overgrown by olive trees it holds some species not readily seen along the main. Chukar, Black-eared Wheatear, Subalpine Warbler, Orphean Warbler and Western Rock Nuthatch could all be found without effort. The reservoir itself is said to be a good spot for waders but we only found a Common Sandpiper here.

The main Potamia road leads you through endless olive orchards resulting in a not too divers birdlife. Having said that, the Potamia valley is the best place near Skala kalloni to look for Olive-tree Warbler. Most other places are much further from the Kalloni area which makes Potamia the best choice to look for it. We failed miserably here due to the bad weather in the week of our stay. Along the main road many other birds could be found including Eurasian Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Sombre Tit, Orphean Warbler and Masked Shrike.

Not only birds are to be found on Lesvos. European Glass Snake, Sigri.

Achladeri

Although Achladeri is worth a visit for more reasons it's mainly known for the breeding Krüper's Nuthatches. The birds nest in a different tree each year but usually one is discovered early April each year and passed on among birdwatchers. Be prepared for large crowds of people when you go there but also for usually extremely good views when you put some time in it.


Agiassos

Located in the south eastern part of the island this is probably the best stop after your arrival at Mytilini to look for Krüper's Nuthatch, especially when you stay at Skala Kalloni. The area around the sanatorium is probably the best to give it a try and many people succeed here. We first tried some of the places described in the book but failed to find any Nuthatches. When we tried just a random spot just east of the sanatorium we immediately found a nest that was attended by two adults. Views were crippling but the weather was too bad to produce any decent-quality pictures. The stroll through the area also produced Long-tailed Tit, Sardinian Warbler and Thrush Nightingale. The latter is a pretty good bird here.

 

Agra

The surrounding area of Agra holds many of the dry area species that can be found further to the west. One advantage is that Agra is much closer to the main town of Kalloni and therefore a good alternative to Sigri and surroundings if you hate to travel a bit longer. Being a verry dry and open are Agra is a good place to see Cinereous Bunting. The most striking feature of agra are the two towers to the northwest of the town itself. These buildings also mark the best spot to find the buntings. We found many singing males here over the next few hundred metres of road and many more while we travelled further west. A small orchard downhill from the towers was a magnet for migrating birds and we had good fun birding here. In the end the birdlist was pretty extensive:  Lesser Kestrel,  Eurasian Turtle Dove, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Golden Oriole, Eurasian Jay, Sedge-, Melodious-, Icterine-, Willow- and Wood Warblers, Blue Rock-Thrush, Red-throated Pipit (flying overhead), and Cretzschmar's-, Cinereous- and Cirl Buntings.

Cinereous Bunting is very common near the Agra towers and beyond.

Download our list of birds seen when and where here.

If any questions remain after reading this report please do not hesitate to contact us.