Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Birding in Messolonghi Lagoon, June 26, 2016

Messolonghi Lagoon is a favourite birding destination all year round. Even in summer, it offers a great many interesting species that breed in the wetland or the surrounding areas.

That's why when James C Greenwood, member of the board of the National Audubon Society contacted us for a full day birding trip, Messolonghi was, undoubtedly, the place to go.

We started very early (05.30) from Athens so as to spend as much time as possible at the area, since it is a full 3 hours' drive (a large part of the national road leading to Messolonghi is under construction).

When we reached the lagoon, we enjoyed the view of several passerines that were moving in the dense reedbeds; Cetti's, Reed and Great Reed Warblers, along with Penduline Tits, were abundant.

The lagoon itself was full of terns: Little, Common, Caspian, Gull-billed Terns all breed there, while there were also Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns. There were also several Dalmatian PelicansOystercatchers, Avocets, Flamingoes, Black-winged Stilts and Redshanks.
Some Little Terns are still mating, while others have already chicks

 Other interesting birds found at the lagoon include Little and Great Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Stone Curlews and Kentish Plovers. The most interesting passerines were the Rufous Bush Robin, the Zitting Cisticola and the Spanish Sparrow. 

Male Spanish Sparrow

Close to the lagoon is the small village of Lesini. A small but increasing (thanks to nestboxes put the last few years) population of Lesser Kestrels is the greatest attraction. A Honey Buzzard, mobbed by the Lesser Kestrels, was also a very nice sighting.
Male Lesser Kestrel

The "intruder" Honey Buzzard

Another interesting site close to the area is the Lesini Ash Forest, home to woodpeckers, like the Middle and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Tired but happy after a very productive trip, we stood for the typical "selfie"!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Lake Dystos summer birding

Lake Dystos is a premier birding site of the island of Evvoia, Greece's second largest island after Crete. The rich birdlife includes mediterranean specialties like the Ruppell's Warbler, the Cretzschmar's Bunting and the Olive-tree Warbler, raptors like the Long-legged Buzzard, the Short-toed Eagle and the Lesser Kestrel and very elusive species like the Rock Partridge and the Bittern.

Although May is the best time of year to visit it, June is also very productive, especially if the weather is not hot.

Lesser Kestrels are foraging in the farmland

Cretzschmar's Buntings breed on the scrubby hills

The Black-headed Bunting is abundant in the farmland

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Messolonghi Full day trip, May 25th 2016

May is a great month for birdwatching in the area of Messolonghi: lots of summer visitors along with very interesting resident birds can be easily seen in the lagoons but also in the surrounding area.

The lagoons are home to, among others,  the endangered Dalmatian Pelican, the elegant Avocet, the elusive Stone Curlew and the buyoant Collared Pratincole 

Dalmatian Pelican

Stone Curlew


Collared Pratincole
There are also very interesting birds of prey in the surroundings; the gorge of Kleisoura, north of the lagoons, provides shelter to the Griffon Vulture, while a Black Vulture arrived two years ago and is still there! 

Black Vulture

Griffon Vulture

Finally, the elusive Levant Sparrowhawk breeds close to the city of Agrinio, 30 kms north of Messolonghi! 

Levant Sparrowhawk 

More than 70 species can be seen in just a daily trip from Athens!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Birdwatching in Athens: Half-day trip, May 12th 2016

A half-day trip around Athens, to look for all the local specialites was the choice of Mike and Max, two experienced British birders. They wanted to see the Ruppell's Warbler, the Cretzschmar's Bunting, the Sombre Tit, the Rock Nuthatch, the Chukar and the Eastern Orphean Warbler. A lot of birds, so we had to visit Mt Hymettus and Mt Parnitha that can give us all the aforementioned species.

We set off quite early, at 06.30, and reached Mt Parnitha at around 07.30. The sky was very hazy, because of the African dust that had invaded Athens, but this was no obstacle for our search. We found a small group of Rock Nuthatches very easily, the birds being very cooperative and calling from rocky outcrops for a while. Our next target, the Sombre Tit, was not that friendly. We managed to see one adult but it took as more than half an hour. Unfortunately, no Eastern Orphean Warbler was found; we did see many Subalpine Warblers, Black-eared Wheatears and the local pair of Peregrine Falcons! We also heard a male Olive-tree Warbler, definitely a passage migrant, singing from a bush. The bird was really reluctant to come out in the open and we only saw it flying from one bush to another.

Black-eared Wheatear

Subalpine Warbler

We left Mt Parnitha and headed to Mt Hymettus, the haven of the Ruppell's Warbler: it is very common in the high altitude maquis scrub, favouring Kermes Oaks. We managed to see more than one singing males, along with a very close Chukar and a confiding Cretzschmar's Bunting! 

Ruppell's Warbler

Cretzschmar's Bunting

The sky was full of Swifts (Common, Pallid and Alpine) and hirundines. Blue Rock Thrushes were also present along with Rock Nuthatches. 

Satisfied already with their new species, Mike and Max thought that it was time to call it a day. But I had other plans for them: during the day they told me that they also wanted to see the Black-headed Bunting, so I gave them a bonus! We visited Spata fields and very quickly we saw a male singing on top of a thistle. 

Black-headed Bunting

This was a great way to call it a (half) day. Mike and Max were really happy to have seen almost all (5 out of 6) of their wanted birds, plus the Black-headed Bunting! 

Mike (left) and Max 

We're looking forward to seeing both of them in Athens for another trip! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Meteora and Mt Antichasia birding trip

The area of Meteora and Mt Antichasia is and ideal birding destination in spring, especially from mid April to late May, when all the summer visitors have arrived and migration is still running.

Mt Antichasia lies at Central Greece, close to the city of Trikala. It is mainly covered with deciduous woodland Oaks (Quercus spp.) being the dominant tree. River Ion flows at the north and west slopes of the mountain, and the riparian forest consists of Planes (Platanus orientalis) and Willows (Salix spp.).

Meteora, apart from being a very popular tourist destination because of the unique rocks and the monasteries, is also the home of the last Egyptian Vultures of Central Greece...This very rare vulture declined rapidly in the last 20 years and now only a couple of pairs still remain in the area...

Egyptian Vulture
Other interesing raptors breeding in the area include the Lesser Spotted Eagle, the Lanner, the Black Kite, the Levant Sparrowhawk and the Short-toed Eagle

Black Kite
Mt Antichasia is also home to Bee-eaters, Cuckoos, Golden Orioles, Turtle Doves and Rollers. These summer visitors come every year and breed in large numbers in the woods. 

The riparian forest is the best habitat to look for the Semi-collared Flycatcher. This rare flycatcher has a quite dense breeding population along the river and singing males are quite easy to find. 

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Birdwatching in Lesvos: Trip Report, March 25th-26th 2016

Lesvos Bird Trip Report, March 25-27th 2016
compiled by Spyros Skareas
Scops Owls roosting at Papiana

 You can DOWLOAD here the PDF form of the report

Having been in Lesvos for birding twice the last 5 years, always beginning of May, I decided to spend a long weekend this year at the end of March. I was hoping to get some early migrants and possibly some rare vagrants. My targets were good views of Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier, Long-eared Owl, Rueppell’s Warbler, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, any raptors and anything else that could arrive before April.
Short-toed Eagles over Eressos

There are some pros and cons in birdwatching in Lesvos early in spring. First, and most important, there are no other birders in the island! I could not believe driving alone in Kalloni Wetland, imaging all that May traffic, a very unusual sighting for greek birders. Prices are very cheap, approximately 30-40% down from May, in accommodation & car rental. Food is cheap at year long in Lesvos anyway. In terms of bird species, I enjoyed Long-legged Buzzards, Scops Owl (I got two in a frame), Ruddy Shelducks, Spur-winged Plovers, numerous Short-toed Eagles, and excellent views of Rueppell’s Warber and Cretzschmar’s Bunting. Especially about the last two species, which are targets for many birders, I found that one can actually get really close views early in spring. Birds are not as shy as when they raise young, so they are fearless and easy to approach.
Chukar at Sigri

On the contrary, when arriving as early as March, you definitely miss some later arrivals, such as Cinereous Bunting, Kruepper’s Nuthatch (although resident, it’s hard if its not during breeding months), Black-headed Bunting, most terns, herons and flycatchers. Also, you miss lots of info from other birders, and you end up searching alone… but this is fun too!
Spur-winged Plover at Vatera beach

Cost: 297 € total, for 3 full days (2 nights accommodation)
Flight from Athens: 120€, with aegeanair.com If you live in central/northern Europe, you can book a cheap flight to Athens with Easy Jet or Ryanair, for as low as 50 €, or with AegeanAir starting with 100 €.
Parking at Athens Airport: 15€
Car rental: 120 € for 3 full days, unlimited km, full insurance. Michalis Tsalis is very reliable and friendly. I booked a 4X4 Suzuki Jimny, ideal for any road in Greece. It literally (not metaphorically) goes everywhere!
Gasoline: 50 € for approx.. 400km covered during 3 days.
Accomodation: 60 € total (30 € per night) at
Diamanti Rooms. Their website is very basic (needs renovation), so better see some pics at booking.com. Since Pasiphae was closed, they forwarded me at this lovely, family owned “rooms-to-rent”, just in front of the beach at Skalla Kallonis. Waking up and watching Black Heron on the beach was a super morning wakeup on Saturday. The rooms are basic, but very clean, the owners are very friendly, having birders as hosts since many years. Walking distance to local tavernas, bakery and small shops at Skalla Kallonis. After driving all day, I do not want to take the car any more.
Food: 32 € total for 3 days. Recommended in Steve’s book, Dionysos taverna at Skalla Kallonis is great, especially for sea food. I had boiled octopus with vinegar, fresh cod with skordalia (mashed patatos with garlic), and boiled beets with olive oil, plus coke, for just 20€.
At Kalloni, try “To Steki” souvlaki, I had full gyros, with green lettuce salad and coke, for just 7,20€. Opposite is super market “Selachas” (closed on Sundays) from where I bought typical birders food for the first day in a rush (chocolate, chips, water, crackers) for 25€ and lasted 2 days.
Note that on Lesvos, VAT in services and goods is only 16% (and not 23% like in Greece’s mainland)

Information from:
A birdwatching guide to Lesvos, excellent bird guide book, by Steve Dudley.
Lesvosbirding.com as well as personal communication with Steve Dudley
Lesvosbirdwatching.gr as well as personal communication and guiding with Eleni Gallinou, an avid local birder and experienced bird guide.
Personal info from local birder Petros Tsakmakis
Facebook group, such as “Facebook Birders” and “Lesvos Bird News”
Short-toed Lark at Kalloni Saltpans

Comments on locations from Steve Dudley’s book (A birdwatching guide to Lesvos) and general suggestions.

Road conditions are better than 2 years ago. A new road is now available, from Antissa to Sigri, it takes 10 min from Ipsilou to Sigri fields. Also, the notorious dirt road from Sigri to Eressos, via Santorium and Tsichlondas river (Meladia Valley) is drivable even with regular car, although some attention is needed in a few more rocky parts.

Great Spotted Cuckoo at Kalloni pumping station
          Eressos beach is amazing, especially at sunset. As suggested in Steve’s book, it’s great to finish your day in the wild west with a drink in the village beside the beach. Another great beach (but having no bars or caffes) is Chrousos beach, with lots of Long-legged Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles in the surrounding fields. Vatera beach offered me one of this trips’ highlight, the 2 Spur-winged Plovers, close to the river mouth. That’s another area with lots of tavernas and sea side bars to relax after a birding day. For the 3rd time in Lesvos, Polychnitos Saltpans was a disaster. Very few birds, most of them needing a telescope to see, and not a great scenery either. I guess the places attracts more waders later in spring, but having visited the area in May too, I think I will try a different area next time.
Cretzschmar’s Bunting at Apothika

          The north-east part of the island (from Mandamados to Mytilini) is nothing special, apart from the coastal road and the nice scenery. However, I got 4 Long-legged Buzzard soaring together close to Mandamados, and lost of Short-toed Eagles. Nice little ports throughout the road, ideal for an afternoon coffee or drink.
          The south part of the island is also beautiful, but road conditions are bad in some areas. Road from Apothika to Makara offers very close views of Cretzschmar’s Buntings, Black-eared Wheatears. There is a small river mouth at Makara, were plovers and wagtails are also very close to the road and can be easily photographed. Now, the problem starts from Makara to Agra, named Kontisia valley. Advising people to get a 4X4 is one thing. But not a simple 4X4 like Fiat Panda. You will need a Suzuki Jimny or Daihatsu Terios, as well as good driving skills, especially for the first 6-7 kilometers. If you really want to visit Kontisia Valley, I suggest the road from Agra, keeping south for the first 7-8 km. This is the easiest part, with lots of tall trees and bushes that attract passerines.
  Lesser Whitethroat at Sigri

Surprisingly, the water levels were awkward in various places. Kalloni wetlands are relatively dry in some area, while some pools are flooded. Faneromeni river mouth is dry, which was one of the best places for close up views of Squacco Heron, Little Bittern and possibly Citrine Wagtails. Metochi Lake was almost flooded, so there was no space for crakes, but maybe it was a little early too.
 Little Owl at Mesotopos

          The Scops Owls at Papiana park of Agia Triada (noted mini-soccer field in Steve’s book) is excellent for Scops Owls. I saw 4 birds in total on 2 trees, only about 3 meters from the ground. You need time to find them and when you do so, you wonder you could have missed them! This is the only place in Greece I could have such clear views and pics, even though I listen to them all year long even at my place. The first tree to look for them is the first eycalyptus next to the abandoned tavernas. It was the same 2 year ago. Then, on the eycalyptus next to the main road (please stay in the park and not on the road), try the trees in the middle.
Black Stork at Kalloni Salpans

          Overall, Steve’s book is great for any information a birder would need on the island. Do not expect to see every bird listed in each location. This is a matter of time, lack, skills and patience. Having good friends on the island, like bird guide Eleni Gallinou (http://www.lesvosbirdwatching.gr/) and amateur photographer Petros Tsakmakis, helped me enormously in finding the species I was looking for. Great Spotted Cuckoos were just beyond were I was looking for them every day, but it was only until Petros took me exactly to the spot. Same thing with the Bittern at Skalla Kalloni pool. I was looking for the Pallid Harrier for long, and it was only until Eleni showed me the place, when I finally show it. To make a point: Birding in Lesvos can be superb, but you need time and patience in each location. Help from other birders, exchanging info during the trip, and hiring a local guide even for one day (especially if you not have many days to spend) can make a tremendous difference. Again, Steve’s book is as essential as a pair of binoculars.
Black-headed Wagtail at Kalloni Saltpans

Long-legged Buzzard close to Mandamados

Feel free to ask me any more info, at s.skareas@gmail.com or at facebook groups, Lesvos Birders and Lesvos Bird News.

 You can DOWLOAD here the PDF form of the report

Species List
Scopoli’s Shearwater
1 off shore Eressos beach
2 off shore Eressos beach
Little Grebe          
Great Crested Grebe
10+ off shore, at Kalloni Bay
Grey Heron 
Great White Heron
Little Egret
1 at Skalla Kallonis pools, across Kalloni Bay Hotel
Black Stork
1 at Kalloni Saltpans, 1 at Mesa
200+ at Kalloni Saltpans
Ruddy Shelduck    
50+ at Kalloni Saltpans, several sightings across the island
a few individuals at Kalloni area
Short-toed Eagle
common especially in the east/south part, Eressos, Makara, Chrousos, Agra, Mesotopos, Vatera
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
1 at Kalloni Saltpans, 1 Eressos, 3 at Mandamados
1 at Parakoila
Marsh Harrier
Common around Kalloni area
Hen Harrier
1 female at Kalloni Saltpans
Pallid Harrier
1 adult male, at Kalloni Saltpans
Lesser Kestrel
4 at Sigri fields
Common Kestrel
5 at Sigri Sanatorium
Black-winged Stilt
Common at Kalloni Saltpans, but also smaller wetlands
200+ Kalloni
Spur-winged Plover
2 at Vatera beach, west end
Little Ringed Plover
Common at Kalloni
5 at Skalla Kalloni pools
Wood Sandpiper
10+ Kalloni
Common Sandpiper
3 at Kalloni, 1 at Chroussos River
Little Stint
5 at kalloni
Yellow-legged Gull
Black-headed Gull
10+ Tsiknias river mouth
Sandwitch Tern
3 at Tsiknias river mouth
Rock Dove
3 at Eressos beach, rocky west end of the beach
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Cuckoo
2 at kalloni pump station
Scops owl
4 at Kalloni, at Agia Triada Soccer Pitc, roosting on eucalyptus trees
Little owl
1 at Mesa
Common Swift
Alpine Swift
10+ at Sigri Sanatorium
Short-toed Lark
10+ at Kalloni
Sand Martin
10+ Kalloni, 5+ Makara
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Tawny Pipit
5+ at Kalloni
Tree Pipit
10+ at kalloni
White Wagtail
Black-headed Wagtail
Black Redstart
1 Kalloni beach, close to city of Mylilene
3 at Kalloni
Northern Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Zitting Cisticola
Kalloni, Polychnitos Saltpans
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
1 at Sigri Santorium
1 at Meladia Valley
Lesser Whitethroat
3 at Meladia Valley
Subalpine Warbler
Rueppell’s Warbler
2 at Sigri Sanatorium
Sombre Tit
2 at Napi
Coal Tit
2 at Kalloni, Papiana
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Rock Nuthatch
Woodchat Shrike
1 at Kalloni, 1 at Kontisia valley, 1 at Dafia
200+ at Sigri, 100+ at Eressos
Hooded Crow
2 at Ipsilou Monastery
Common Starling
1 at Kalloni
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
5+ at Kalloni
Widespread at the Sigri, Eressos area
Cirl Bunting
2 at Dafia
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Widespread. Best and close views at Apothika-Makara road, Sigri-Eressos road
Corn Bunting

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