Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Real Birder

Lesvos May 5th to 19th 2005



I looked forward to our return to Lesvos with a little apprehension, having read Richard Brooks's 2004 update which makes sombre reading. Surprise, surprise the island is coming under tremendous pressure due to commercial development; this includes some premier birding sites. Very bad weather conditions over the winter of 2003 have also taken their toll, causing severe damage to both olive and citrus trees, which hopefully will recover over the next few years.

Base CampAccomodation

As on previous trips we chose to self-cater and rented an apartment at the base of the Potamia valley. The apartments were obtained through Lesvos Travel Company who we have dealt with before.


Although we have taken earlier flights on a previous trip, stopping over in Athens , the amount of early migrants we saw was negligible. We also arrived in the late evening, leaving us to get to the apartment in the dark plus no time to grab a meal.

I am aware that each spring is different so using that as a yardstick is dangerous. However, we opted to go direct with First Choice from Gatwick, departing Thursday 05/05/2005 at 06:45, thus giving us the advantage of most of the day to shop, unpack, have a couple of hours birding and then freshen up ready for dinner.

Car Hire

We reserved our car on the internet with Hertz, which we picked up on arrival at the airport. The duration of the hire was fourteen days with the approximate cost for an Opel Corsa or similar of €331. The exact amount is determined by the exchange rates on arrival. Cars can be delivered to your hotel/apartment if you prefer.

I would recommend this for all nervous drivers or for those who would prefer to acclimatise to local conditions before attempting driving in the hustle bustle that is Mytilene.  

Things have not improved since our last visit and road signs for Scalla Kallonis from Mytilene are non-existent. On a previous visit we opted for a lift from the airport with our birding chum Frances Gatens, we spent at least 1hr travelling through Mytilene, visiting the same square several times and from every point of the compass. It can only be compared to the scene in the “Pink Panther” where the bemused old gent sits on his chair as the same vehicles pass several times from all directions.

Buy Birding on the Greek island of Lesvos by richard Brooks from AmazonBooks & Maps

We relied on just 1 map (Road Edition 212) Lesbos map; this is the latest map showing all the Island together with a street map of Mytilene, hence our willingness to pick up our car at the airport. What trusting souls we are!

Richard Brooks's “Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos”  ISBN 0 9527249 2 8 by Brookside Publishing is the definitive field guide to Lesvos giving information on all the birding sites, birds of the area, local history and customs.

Buy Collins Bird Guide from AmazonAlthough I have several bird guides for birds of Europe I usually take Collins Bird Guide.


With Greece being in the European Community, Euros are the order of the day. Multilingual cash machines are available, although I would recommend you take some cash. Credit Cards are widely accepted in most restaurants and supermarkets. Be aware that some rurally located garages only accept cash.    


As someone who can get bitten by Mosquitoes almost anywhere; I can confidently say that they should not be a problem as long as sensible precautions are taken.

A new book well worth considering - Buy A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos by Steve Dudley from AmazonSelf Catering

As stated in my previous report for Lesvos, the self-caterer is well cared for, with Supermarkets selling all you would require. If you stay in Skala there are 2 bakeries which bake fresh bread & cakes every day, including Sundays. There are several good restaurants in Skala and I suggest you try them out until you find one that suits. Traditional Greek food, together with European style dishes, tends to be the order of the day. On our previous trips there were no fast food outlets in Skala, so it was interesting to see how much westernised development had taken place….none.


Ipsilou MonasteryI have to say that although Kallonis 2 pool has been allowed to degenerate into an area of reed and scrub with very little open water and Faneromeni ford has been trashed by the management of the gravels to concentrate the water into a small but deeper channel in order to aid abstraction for irrigation, the majority of the Island is very much as it was when we last visited.

The citrus and olive trees, which were affected so badly during the severe frosts of 2003/04, seem to have made a remarkable recovery although some severe pruning to some Olive trees was evident.

Very little commercial development has taken place, with just a few small scale apartments and villas evident.

The demise of the Kallonis 2 pool has put a great deal of pressure on the inland lake which has taken over as the number 1 pre-breakfast birding spot. I visited the inland lake on 4 occasions between 06-00 and 06-30, on each visit many birders were outside their respective transport milling about pushing the bird life deeper into the reeds and out of sight.

Salt PansI must be fair and point out in mitigation that because there is no management of the pool the marginal vegetation has been allowed to grow, restricting views to a handful of places.


The temperature was a reasonable 23 degrees on our arrival and with the exception of very heavy rain during one evening early into the first week, the rest of the holiday remained dry and sunny with temperatures peaking to the high 80s towards the end of the second week.

A breeze ranging from slight to strong was evident most days.

On arrival at Hertz we were presented with a 5 door air conditioned Seat Ibiza, an improvement on the Corsa we were expecting. Remarkably we navigated our way out of Mytilene without getting lost, “stone blind luck”.


Potamia Valley

This picture was taken outside our apartments and shows the track leading up the Potamia Valley .

A selection of birds encountered

Black-headed buntings, Bee-eaters, Subalpine Warblers, Turtle Doves, all 4 Shrikes of the region, Swifts, both Swallow species, Short-toed Eagles, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Peregrine.

Salt Pans

Another area that hadn't changed since our last visit and 1 of the premier birding spots on the Island .

A selection of birds encountered

Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Marsh, Wood, and Common Sandpiper, Ringed, Little and Kentish Plovers, Turnstone, Stone Curlew, Little, Common, White-winged Black, Black, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns, White & Black Storks, Bee-eaters, Yellow Wagtails, Crested Lark, Rufus Bush Robin, Collared Pratincole.

Faneromeni FordFaneromeni Ford

Note the river has been channelled down 1 side of the river bed. Many reeds and marginal plants were removed making the area less attractive to birds and reducing the number of species seen during this trip.

A selection of birds encountered

Little Bittern, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Bee-eater, and Olivaceous Warbler.

Ipsilou Monastery

Another premiere birding spot that is still untouched by progress.

A selection of birds encountered

Blue Rock Thrush, Cinereous, Ortolan, Cretzschmar's, and Black–headed Buntings, Crag Martins, Black-eared Wheatear, Rock Nuthatch, Swift, Raven, Peregrine, Long-legged Buzzard, Black Kite and Kestrel.    

Inland LakeInland Lake

Not as good as previous years due to continual disturbance by birders.

A selection of birds encountered

Night Heron, Purple Heron, Water Rail, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Swift, Swallow, House, Crag and Sand Martins, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler and Olivaceous Warbler

East River

Because of the lack of water in the river, which incidentally I believe was caused by over-abstraction, the site did not perform as in previous visits.

East RiverA selection of birds encountered

Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Little, Common and Whiskered Terns, Olivaceous Warblers, White Stork, Squacco Heron, Rufus Bush Robin, Bee-eater, Yellow-legged Herring Gull.

Sweet Chestnut Woods

Late in the season, with most species having fledged young.

A selection of birds encountered

Robin, Mistle Thrush, Short-toed Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Wren, Blackbird, Jay.


Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis    only sightings were at the inland lake where a pair were obviously breeding.

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo    2 sightings only during the trip, both at the salt pans 1 on 9th & 1 on 19th.

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis    1 singleton seen on Skala bay on 15th.

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus    seen mostly at Faneromeni ford with both sexes seen on both visits. Also encountered at the inland lake.

Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax    1 male & 1 sub-adult at the inland lake on 10th.   

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides    birds seen on 3 occasions both at the salt pans & Faneromeni beach 5th, 9th & 16th.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta    birds common at most suitable locations, although not in great numbers this year.

Great White Egret Egretta alba    only 1 sighting, on the salt pans on 6th.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea    birds seen in fair numbers most visits to the salt pans.

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea    1 bird encountered roosting in the Tamarisk at the inland lake and a fly-over at the salt pans on 11th.

Black Stork Ciconia nigra    more birds seen this trip than both previous trips put together. Highlight was 5 at the salt pans on 19th.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia    although not abundant, birds were encountered at most suitable sights.

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia    a singleton was on the salt pans from 15th.

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber    between 60 & 200 birds were on the salt pans during our stay.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea    2 birds flew from the sheep fields into the salt pans on 5th.

Shelduck Tadorna tadorna    4 sightings during the trip, 2 birds Derbyshire on 6th, and 3 singletons on the salt pans on 9th, 15th & 19th.

Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus    2 birds seen in the Potamia valley on 8th and a bird landed on rocks at upper East River track 13th.

Black Kite Milvus migrans    1 fly past bird at Ipsilou monastery on 16th.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus    birds seen on 6th, 8th, 14th, 16th & 17th, with one confiding bird giving superb views in the Napi valley on 15th. (see photos).

Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus    all female sightings confined to the salt pans on 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 18th and 19th.

Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus    close views of a fly past ringtail in the Napi valley on 17th.

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus    1 ringtail hunting the fields adjacent to the salt pans on 10th.

Sparrow Hawk Accipiter nisus    3 sighting during the trip, Napi valley on 10th and 17th and 1 bird upper East River 13th.

Buzzard Buteo buteo    possibly the commonest raptor of the region with birds encountered most days.

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus    almost same status as common Buzzard.

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni    5 birds hawking over the fields at Sigri.

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus    odd birds seen most days.

Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus    3 birds on wires in the Napi Valley 10th, with a singleton at the salt pans the next day.

Eleonora's Falcon Falco eleonorae    only sighting was 2 birds in the Napi valley on 10th.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus    sightings on 8th, 11th, 13th & 15th. The bird on 15th was actively hunting Little Stints on the salt pans.

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus    only sighting was a single bird at the inland lake on 11th.

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus    only sighting was a resident pair on the inland lake .

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus    very common on the salt pans, with the odd pair on both the East & West rivers.

Avocet Recurvirosta avosetta    100> birds on salt pans.

Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus    surprisingly good numbers with birds seen regularly at suitable sites.

Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola    3 birds seen at the salt pans on 9th reducing to 2 on 11th with a last sighting of a single bird on 12th.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius    small numbers seen during the first half of the trip, with last sighting on 9th.

Ringed Plover  Charadrius hiaticula    birds seemed to appear once L.R.P. had gone with first encounter 11th and subsequent sightings on 12th & 16th.

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus    the commonest of the plovers with birds encountered at most suitable sites.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola    8 birds in various states of plumage at the salt pans on 8th reducing to 3 birds on 12th & 15th.

Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus    a single bird dropped in to the ponds at Derbyshire for 48hrs.

Sanderling Calidris alba    2 sighting of singletons on the salt pans on 6th & 11th.

Little Stint Calidris minuta    very common especially at the salt pans and both East & West rivers.

Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii    several birds with Little Stints on the East river on 5th, with a single bird at the salt pans on 14th.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea    a common passage wader with birds encountered in good numbers especially at the salt pans.

Ruff Philomachus pugnax    another common passage wader with 20> seen at the salt pans every visit.

Curlew Nemenius arquata    only 1 sighting at the salt pans on 5th.

Redshank Tringa totanus    surprisingly only 3 sightings for the trip, a single bird on 5th, 6th & 8th at the salt pans.

Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis    just a couple of sighting of single birds at the salt pans 7th & 8th.

Greenshank Tringa nebularia    a single bird seen at the salt pans on 7th.

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola    fair numbers at suitable locations during first week of the trip. No birds seen after 12th.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos    remarkably only 1 bird seen at the salt pans on 12th.

Turnstone Arenaria interpres    4 birds seen at the salt pans on 15th.

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus    a fly past of 15 birds through the Potamia Valley early morning of 12th.

Little Gull Larus minutus    up to 2 birds at the salt pans most days from 8th.

Slender-billed Gull Larus genei    1 fly past bird at Skala on 17th.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans    a very common gull for the region.

Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica    a singleton on the salt pans on 10th, 12th & 16th.

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis    a single bird at the salt pans on 8th, 12th, 15th, & 18th.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo    many birds nesting on the salt pans.

Little Tern Sterna albifrons    status similar to Common Tern.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus    far fewer birds encountered than on previous trips. All sightings confined to the salt pans.

Black Tern Chlidonias niger    again far fewer birds than previously. 5 birds seen on 5th & 8th with a single bird remaining through the remainder of the trip.

White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus    9 birds on 5th with 7 on 8th the only sightings.

Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto    very common everywhere.

Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur    good numbers at suitable locations.

Scops Owl Otus scops    single bird encountered at traditional roost site.

Little Owl Athene noctua    the commonest owl of the region with birds seen every day.

Swift Apus apus    very strong migration with large numbers of birds passing through the island most days.

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster    birds seen every day of the trip. Highlight being 100> in a tree between Agra & Sigri.

Roller Coracias garrulus    2 birds feeding in fields on the track to Faneromeni ford on 16th.

Hoopoe Upupa epops    birds common at most suitable locations.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius    birds encountered at all suitable locations.

Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla    only 1 sighting for the trip a single bird at the rear of the salt pans.

Crested Lark Galerida cristata    very common, seen all over the Island.

Woodlark Lullula arborea    birds seen on all visits to the Napi valley.

Sand Martin Riparia riparia    sporadic sightings mainly at the inland lake.

Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris    birds encountered at the inland lake, the Grand Canyon and Ipsilou monastery.

Swallow Hirundo rustica    many birds, both breeders and migrants.

Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica    birds very common with almost every culvert holding a breeding pair.  

House Martin Delichon urbica    almost the same status as Swallow. Several thousand used the inland lake in late afternoon for a drink.

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris    Only 2 records for the trip, a singleton behind the salt pans and several birds nesting near Faneromeni beach.

Yellow wagtail Motacilla flava    many birds at most suitable locations. Majority were of the black-headed race (feldegg), with the blue-headed race (thunbergi ) passing through the island during the middle of the trip.

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea    only 1 bird seen, on the road to Agiassos.

Wren Troglodytes troglodytes    several birds encountered in the Chestnut woods above Agiassos.

Rufus Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes    a very good year for the species, with birds holding territories at all traditional sites.

Robin Erithacus rubecula    2 birds seen and many heard in the Chestnut woods.

Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos    1 show off bird giving good views on the East River, with birds heard at all suitable habitats.

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra    only 2 sightings, 1 in the Potamia valley on 8th, and 1 at the salt pans on 9th.

Stonechat Saxicola torquata    again only 2 birds seen, far less than on previous trips.

Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina    a good year for the species with birds encountered at the usual sites and also further a field.

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe    just 1 sighting Potamia valley.

Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica    the commonest wheatear by far of the region with birds seen in all habitats.

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius    a common bird of the uplands with birds seen at most suitable locations.

Blackbird Turdus merula    very common with birds seen anywhere there was scattered trees.

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti    a common warbler of the region with many birds heard especially along both rivers and the salt pans.

Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis    only a single bird encountered at the salt pans.

Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus    only place where these birds were seen was at the inland lake.

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus    same status as Reed Warbler although other suitable habitat was not visited.

Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida    the commonest of all the Island 's warblers with birds at all suitable habitats.

Olive–tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum    a very good year for the species with good numbers of birds seen disputing territories especially in the Napi Valley.

Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans    status is widespread although can be overlooked. Birds seen on 8th & 13th in the Potamia Valley , and on 11th at Molivos.

Ruppell's Warbler Sylvia rueppelli    only 1 bird seen at the traditional site at Molivos, site only visited once.     

Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis    more Orpheans were seen this trip than both previous trips put together.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca    a single sighting in the Potamia Valley on 13th.

Whitethroat Sylvia communis    just a single bird at the salt pans on 5th.

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata    only flycatcher seen with birds common at most suitable locations.

Sombre Tit Parus lugubris    birds less common than in previous visits with sightings confined to the Napi valley.

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus    a very common bird with birds seen on most days.

Great Tit Parus major    same status as Blue Tit.

Kruper's Nuthatch Sitta krueperi    traditional nesting area was only visited once to reduce disturbance. Birds were actively feeding young.

Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer    birds not uncommon in suitable locations.

Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla    1 bird seen during our visit to the Sweet Chestnut Woods on 15th.

Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus    Only 2 sightings, both at the Napi Valley first on 10th & the second on 14th.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio    possibly the commonest of all the region's shrikes with birds noted most days.

Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor    probably the least common of all the region's shrikes with 5 sightings during the trip.

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator    almost as common as Red-backed with just 1 less sighting for the trip.

Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus    good numbers encountered especially at suitable habitats where local densities can be high.

Jay Garrulus glandarius    probably more birds seen this trip than previous ones. Birds seen on 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 14th, 15th & 16th.

Jackdaw Corvus monedula    trip to Molivos included sighting of 7 birds, only resident population of the species on the Island.

Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix    very common all over the Island.

Raven Corvus corax    only sighting, 2 birds near Ipsilou monastery.

Rose-coloured Starling Sturnus roseus    influx started on 15th. First sighting was 60-100 birds in the trees adjacent to the entrance of the chapel at Devil's Bridge 18th with 10 at the salt pans on 19th.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus    very, very common.

Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis    birds encountered most days, 100> on the salt pans on 5th. Colony in the stork's nest at Skala Kallonis.

Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia    a single bird at traditional site between Agra & Petra .

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs    a very common finch of the region.

Greenfinch Carduelis chloris    less common of all the commoner finches, with 7 sightings during the trip.

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis    another very common finch of the region.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus    birds not uncommon especially in the wooded valleys like Napi and Potamia where birds were seen during each visit.

Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea    2 sightings only, both at Ipsilou Monastery.

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana    1 sighting only this trip with a single bird at Molivos lay-by on 11th.

Cretzschmar's Bunting Emberiza caesia    a common upland bird with birds seen at all suitable habitats.

Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala    a very common summer breeder with many birds seen each day.

Corn Bunting Milaria calandra    by far the commonest of all the buntings.



I am aware that organised birding trips have an agenda to maximise the amount of birds seen, against the time spent in the field but this should not be to the detriment of both birds and other birders. Several birding companies were guilty of both. Sweet Chestnut WoodsEarly morning trips to the inland lake were spoilt by mini buses containing a dozen birders or more disgorging their human cargo as soon as they arrived, pushing birds clearly visible prior to their arrival into dense cover.

I also witnessed the same birders spread out in the olive groves of the Napi Valley pushing birds that were clearly visible from the track prior to their arrival out of view of more considerate birders.

I would also want to know why the size of camera lens bears absolutely no relationship as to the distance the photographer should be from his subject. Again I saw photographers with 1 metre long lenses creeping to within several metres of their intended quarry obviously causing distress to the bird.

A sight that will remain long in the memory is my pal David Mason in his underpants, trousers around his ankles, hanging onto the rear of a moving car. Dave had decided to change into his shorts and was leaning on the rear of his car for stability when it started moving downhill, a loud expletive preceded Dave with heels dug in being dragged down the hill. You never have a camera when you need one!

As usually happens at some point during our trip the Greek Army start to play soldiers with large troop movements all over the island. The Kruper's site was out of bounds with razor wire used to prohibit access. Extremely large artillery pieces were strategically placed along the coast around Parakila. These were discharged with deafening booms putting every bird in the area to flight.

This happened to the Rosy Starlings at Devil's Bridge. No sooner had we located them than the guns were discharged pushing them in all directions. We were approximately 1 mile away and could feel the percussion and hear the shells as they cut through the air. For the first time in our lives we had some comprehension of shell shock.

Bird Photos Blue Rock Thrush

Lesvos Flora and Fauna Balkan Green Lizard

Pat and Judy Hayes
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