Lesbos May 2002
Brian and Pat Wetton took a two week package holiday to Skala Kalloni in Lesbos in May 2002 in order to bird the island during part of the spring migration. Our son Paul had enjoyed birding it in September 2000 so we had to see it for ourselves. Our itinerary was:
May 2nd   Gatwick to Mytilene and Skala Kalloni. Late birding of Kalloni Pool and Bay (SK)
May 3rd   Kalloni East River (ER), Kalloni Salt Pans (SP) and Kalloni Pool
May 4th   Lower Potamia Valley (PV), Inland Lake (IL), Kalloni Pool, Kruper's Track in Derbyshire (DS) and                  Napi Valley (NP)
May 5th   Ipsilou Monastery (IP) via Grand Canyon (GC), Sigri and Faneromeni (FN), returning via Eressos                  (ES) to Skala Kalloni
May 6th   Kalloni Pool, Kalloni West River (WR), Inland Lake, Agiassos (AG) and Kalloni Salt Pans
May 7th   Papiana (PP), Kalloni East River, Kalloni Pool and Potamia Valley
May 8th   Kalloni Pool, Kalloni East River, Petra (inc. sea cliffs and Petra Dam) (PT), Sikiminia (SI) and upper                  Napi Valley
May 9th   Kalloni Pool, Parakila Marsh and Devil's Bridge (PK), Makara (MK), Tavari (TV), Eressos Plain and                  Ipsilou Monastery
May 10th   Kalloni Pool, Inland Lake, Upper East River (UE), Kalloni East River and Kalloni Salt Pans
May 11th   Kalloni Pool, Potamia Valley, Kruper's Track Derbyshire, Derbyshire Bridge (DB), Skala Vasilikou                    (SV), Skala Polichnitos Salt Pans (PO), Vatera (VA) and Agios Fokas headland (AF)
May 12th   Inland Lake, Petra-Kalloni Road (PR), Petra cliffs, Eftalou-Skala Sikiminia Road (EF), Molyvos                    (MV) and Limonas Monastery (LM)
May 13th   Potamia River (PM), Inland Lake, Kalloni West River, Derbyshire Bridge, Mikri Limni Marsh                    (ML), Mount Olympos (OY), Dippi Larsos reedbed (DL) and Kalloni Pool
May 14th   Papiana, Kalloni East River, Grand Canyon, Sigri (SG), Faneromeni fords, Sigri-Eressos Road (SE),                    Gavathas and Kambos Bay (GV) and Kalloni Salt Pans
May 15th   Kalloni Pool, Potamia Valley and Kalloni Salt Pans
May 16th   Kalloni Pool and Kalloni West River. Return to UK
For details of sites, see Paul's report on his September 2000 visit, accessed from the home page and Richard Brooks "Birding on the Greek Island of Lesbos".
The weather on most days was warm and sunny with the notable exception of May 13th when in the afternoon a heavy thunderstorm aborted our trip to Dippi Larsos reed bed.
We stayed in Skala Kalloni which is "the centre" for birdwatching on the island. It has the advantage of a central location and a number of good wetland sites close by. There were times however when we thought it would be nice to get away from the melee of birdwatchers especially when all were lined up round Kalloni Pool. We only birded it for the first hour after dawn and en route to a taverna in the evening.
We were fortunate that the early spring had proved to be wet and there was a reasonable amount of water in Kalloni Pool, the East River and other sites. The East River always held something of interest and was especially attractive for photography. Make sure to bird it from the east bank in the morning and the west bank in the afternoon. From the ford on the East River are minor roads west to the centre of Skala Kalloni and east to the Saltpans pumping station therefore avoiding travel via the main road each time.
The Kalloni Saltpans were a magnet to passage waders and terns and always held good numbers of birds. The sheep fields and pools at the back of the saltpans were good for larks, pipits, wagtails, etc (including Caspian Plover) and the spit on the beach at the far end of these fields was a prime site for passage shore birds.
The best site we found on the West River was upstream from the road bridge on the east bank where pools held most of the passing waders and where there were sometimes good numbers of pipits and wagtails in the marsh grassland.
One of our favourite pre-breakfast sites was the Inland Lake which in addition to a good selection of warblers always had Little Crakes on display and roosting Night Herons.
The Potamia Valley disappointed in the early hours after dawn when it seemed to be too cold except for the more open areas in the lower part near the junction with the track to the Inland Lake. Later the "dead tree track" proved interesting for both birds (we eventually had Olive Tree Warbler in the olive grove there) and insects. We followed the main track right through the valley to Amrotia though the higher sections are rough going. There we saw many distant raptors one day but too distant to identify with confidence. Other tracks heading further west to the ridge between Potamia and Parakila needed exploring for closer viewing.
The Napi Valley now provides easy access along its whole route to Madamados from Agia Paraskevi. Only a short section is unpaved. The upper valley from the summit ridge to just south of the pig farm proved the best for raptors, numbers of Masked Shrikes and the elusive Olive Tree Warblers.
We found the North Coast somewhat disappointing because there was little raptor migration when we visited but at other times it is renowned for good raptor viewing. We did better from the main Molyvos to Sikiminia road than from the coast road via Eftalou to Skala Sikiminias. The cliffs between Petra and Molyvos didn't fail to deliver Ruppell's Warbler as predicted.
On the Kalloni to Petra road we found that, just after the first summit ridge from Kalloni, by turning right between a fenced telegraph pole and a roadside monument we got onto a pleasant (apart from discarded rubbish!) forest track leading to open glades where Woodlark and pine forest birds (Short-toed Treecreepers, Serins and even Wrens!) were located.
The Grand Canyon, between Vatoussa and Andissa, was a regular stop on westward journeys. We were told to stop near the entrance to the "canyon" opposite where a small white building with an adjacent telegraph pole were located to view for Rock Thrush. We eventually discovered that the sightings were on the most distant crags on the west side of the road from there and so, despite not seeing the birds ourselves, we felt we hadn't missed much. Crag Martins and Blue Rock Thrushes were seen however.
The junction of the Andissa to Sigri road and the Eressos road produced good close views of Isabeline Wheatears doing display flights.
Our favourite site of all was Ipsalou Monastery. On each of our visits it held good numbers of migrants, with changing species on each visit. We spent up to four hours walking up and down the two access roads and there were large numbers of birds. We were glad we hadn't driven up because we'd have missed so much both in birds and flowers.
Another favourite site was the Faneromeni Fords. The lower ford had nesting Penduline Tits and the upper ford gave close photographic views of Little Bittern, Little Crake and warblers. We totally agreed with Richard Brooks that staying in the car is essential here though at other sites (such as the sheep fields behind Kalloni Saltpans) we were less convinced of the desirability of driving on the fields.
The Sigri-Eressos coast road had been re-graded and was perfectly driveable when we visited. The ford was the best site on the road but the whole road produced over 50 Red-backed Shrikes when we followed it.
On the South West Coast we enjoyed good birding on the road to Makara and on the Tavari circuit with its ford but the sites at Parakila Marsh and Devil's Bridge disappointed. We needed to get higher up the ridge above Parakila.
Moving eastwards we found Derbyshire Bridge just after the turn off from the Mytilene road to be a good short stop. Although we weren't there on the day the Spur-winged Plover turned up, we did see Great White Egret and the biggest numbers of Ruddy Shelduck there. In Derbyshire itself we easily located Kruper's Nuthatch on the Kruper's Track. In the first week they were calling and displaying vehemently but in the second week were more subdued, feeding quietly. Beware the whole area north of the Achladeri road "is a military area" though no sign, at least in English, makes this clear. We were politely turned back from the track, which turns back at an acute angle from the main road even though on our map it is shown as part of a "scenic route".
Vatera was the furthest south we reached. It would make a lovely centre for exploring this part of the island with its hinterland of woods, a good long beach, reedy streams which could be good migrant traps and nice rocky headlands at each end of the bay. We visited one of these, Agios Fokas, where in one hour we recorded over 100 Levantine Shearwaters and 13 Cory's at close range. Other birders reported even bigger numbers. Anyone staying in Vatera could survey it thoroughly.
Easily accessible from Vatera, Skala Polichnitos Saltpans held good numbers of waders on our visit. It was best to view the pans from both the access to the salt works (via the settlement of Skala Polichnitos) and from the road inland of the pans to get a full picture of the area.
The coast road back to Achladeri via Skala Vasilikou is a very pleasant route along the shore of Kalloni Bay with good reedy areas which we didn't fully explore. Where the olive groves are under-ploughed we found several Stone Curlews.
The Mikri Limni Marsh at the junction of the Achladeri-Mytilene and Ambelikon roads held feeding storks of both species and the surrounding pine woodland had typical birds of the habitat including Serin.
We had good birding up Mount Olympos at the junction of the scrub zone with the upper rock slopes. The chestnut woodland nearby tempted us for its mixture of birds and flowers but before we could explore them we were again told this was "a military area" and "asked to leave".
The area above Agiassos was excellent for flowers and a few distinctively local birds. We managed to follow the directions in Richard Brooks' book though most other people we met didn't and gave up. (His English is at times convoluted and leads to misinterpretation). We saw most of the target species without difficulty though the peonies and especially the tulips were reaching the end of their flowering period.
Overall we thought Lesbos was a lovely island for a relaxed birding holiday. One could mix birding with photography (or painting), with flower and insect forays, with walking, or with family holiday activities very easily. We wouldn't like to visit any later in the spring but autumn visits would be appealing as would be a two-centre holiday based in different parts of the island.
The following trip list indicates for each species seen the number of days when recorded, the maximum number per day and the sites where recorded (see itinerary for site codes).
The only mammals we saw were Persian Squirrels and one dead hedgehog. The reptiles we saw included Spur-thighed Tortoise, Stripe-necked Terrapin, Pond Terrapin, Balkan Green Lizard, European Glass Lizard and Grass Snake. The island was rich in flowers and insects but we still have to identify many of these from our photographs.