Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lesvos 2014 May 2nd

Much to my surprise I found myself up and out of the apartment at 6.30am for the second day running. Usually averse to early starts I seem to overcome it on holidays probably due to the knowledge my opportunities are limited unlike at home when there is always tomorrow. Greece is two hours ahead of the UK too, so it was only 4.30am in body clock time. On day two the big draw was still the Rupell's Warbler and he didn't let me down. You had to be quick, unlike the Black Headed Bunting that perched for at least 5 minutes singing away, Mr Rupell's was usually there for only seconds but I got my shot and I was happy.
Rupell's Warbler 102014-05-02
Likewise the Subalpine Warbler, this time without a branch emerging from his head.
Subalpine Warbler 2014-05-02
With those two stunning looking birds in the bag it was back to the apartment via the supermarket to pick up the morning chocolate croissants and bread for our picnic lunch.
The weather looked reasonable but a bit too chilly for sunbathing, Claire decided to come on a walk with me along the north road from Efthalou to Skala Sikaminias. We drove to the point where it becomes an unmade track, abandoned the car and got out and walked. Yesterday I'd taken the 1D with a 300mm lens and the 2.0x TC attached, today I decided to go for more reach and take the 500mm , again with the 2.0x TC but with the 5D which weighs less. Just in case the 1D and a 1.4x TC were in the back pack !
We hadn't walked far when the first lifer for the day was there in front of me, a Masked Shrike.
Masked Shrike 2014-05-02
This was quickly followed by number two, a Cirl Bunting
Cirl Bunting 72014-05-02
Amazing stuff ! The views across the sea to Turkey which is only a few miles away were superb, there were very few people about and only the odd car or pickup driving the road. We continued on for several kilometres and an hour and a half in time. Subalpine Warblers were common, as were Corn Bunting, a species I had only previously seen in Hungary the previous year.
Corn Bunting 4a 2014-05-02
This time the photo opportunities were much better.
There was one particular species I was after though, the Steve Dudley book indicated that this was a good place for Cretzschmar's Bunting and he wasn't wrong.
Initially we had distant views but in due course I got the close ups I was after.
Cretzschmar's Bunting 2014-05-02 (10)
Like the Corn Bunting they are very vocal and the tune they sing is very distinctive. My bird guide describes the tune as being si-si-si-siuuh but , as with all the song descriptions in the book, I find it impossible to imaging those letters in music. However, if they added, think of Beethoven's 5th Symphony sung in high pitch and it's spot on. I wonder if that's were he pinched the tune from ?
Buntings do like to sing, and along the route Black-headed ones also provided the music too.
Another cracking sighting was pure luck. A small flock of about a dozen birds flew over and behind us and when I looked back I spotted a lone Chukar standing sentry duty high on a rock above us. It was a long way of but despite hand holding my camera set up I managed some reasonable shots of this stunning looking bird.
Chukar 162014-05-02
What a day I was having !
One of the most peculiar sights though wasn't a bird at all, it was this line of caterpillars crossing the road
Oak processionary caterpillars 2014-05-02
I had never seen anything like it and thought they were very cute. The shot was taken with the 500mm so from a few metres distance which is just as well as apparently they can be quite harmful if you happen to inhale those little hairs which are poisonous and cause both skin irritations and breathing problems. Even when the hairs, and it's estimated each caterpillar has 63,000, become detached they are still a problem and can remain so for several years. Looking around us the nearby oak trees were stripped bare of leaves and the caterpillars were everywhere. Many were squashed crossing the road and it was only reading about them later I realised it wasn't somewhere to hang about , especially in a slightly breezy place !!! The bad news is they have arrived in Southern UK now and their heading north. Fortunately it should take them a while to get to our garden!
As the weather was improved we decided to head back to the apartment for a late lunch and for Claire to do some sunbathing. What a morning I'd had though and the day was only half way through !
When we got back it appeared the very pleasant pool area was a bit too windy for sitting out so Claire decided to come with me on a drive down to Kalloni and Skala Kallonis on the southern coast. Sitting at the top of the huge Gulf of Kalloni it's a natural migrationary trap as there is usually plentiful food and fresh water on offer. This is the area most birders choose to stay as well but I have to say, in my opinion, by pure chance we had chosen the best area to stay on the island from both anaesthetic point of view and for choice of eating places etc. It's only a 30 minute drive so further visits wouldn't be out of the question  either, especially if the area proved to be as rewarding as I had heard described. We attempted to find the drivable track along the Tsiknias river but missed it and instead found the Saltpans.
Arriving at the top corner, just off the main highway, it was immediately noticeable how many birders and vehicles were drawn here. Still, we had a Little Tern fishing the river right in front of us. I got out to take a couple of shots.
Little Tern 2014-05-02
There were a couple of Black Winged Stilts and , better still, a pair of nesting Avocets. The light wasn't quite where I wanted it but I still managed better shots than my previous attempts in Minsmere several years ago.
Avocet 2014-05-02
Further down the road there were better views across the Saltpans where hundreds of Greater Flamingo were feeding.
Greater Flamingo 2014-05-02
Always distant I was never going to get more than a record shot. Closer in there were very few birds, a small flock of Ruff being one exception.
Ruff 2014-05-02
Large and vociferous numbers of House and Spanish Sparrows being the other.
Spanish Sparrow 2014-05-02 (4a)
The Spanish Sparrow my 5th lifer of the day was quickly followed by my 6th, an Isabelline Wheatear. (Sadly, not so I'm told this is a Northern Wheatear )
Isabelline Wheatear 2014-05-02
A single Little Ringed Plover was another "best ever" opportunity
Little Ringed Plover 2014-05-02 (2)
But I was feeling very guilty about stopping and starting the car to take photos on such a frequent basis.It isn't much fun sitting in the passenger seat whilst your camera toting husband gets that much sought after snap.
Ruff 2014-05-02
I'm blessed with the most wonderfully supportive wife but fair's fair. This holiday was meant to be for her to get some sun, birding for me a supposed bonus. I ignored the Wood Sandpiper and only watched a flock of Bee-eaters for a few moments, I have had shots of both in the past, and decided to park up, try and find somewhere for Claire to sit out and read her Kindle and I could wander on my own. There was nowhere suitable and it was very windy. She sat in the car whilst I took a walk in the nearby fields. There were some distant ponds which could have held some new birds, I was aware that there were some two Collard Pratincol on one but it wouldn't have been fair to attempt to get anywhere near them for photographs as there were a couple of dozen birders viewing through 'scopes. Not everyone was quite as considerate but I wanted none of that and wandered away on my own. I was rewarded with a brief but close encounter with this superb Yellow Wagtail.
Black-headed Yellow Wagtail 3a 2014-05-02
I'd seen similar in Hungary but never had a photo opportunity.
The other bird which looked particularly stunning in the light was a single Common Tern
Common Tern 32014-05-02
I didn't stay out long and headed back to the car deciding if possible I'd come back alone later. I did stop one more time though, a group of birders lined the road side of crash barrier on the main highway, risking life and limb to view a small pool below. Distant views of a Spur Winged Plover was what they were after. It had little interest to me as I have seen them many times in The Gambia, and very close too. No , what got my attention was a single Temminck's Stint.
Temminck's Stint 2014-05-02 (2)
Seven lifers in a day is no bad score. I might have minimised my photo opportunities as much as possible but I was doing extremely well too ! We headed back to Molyvos and after getting ready for the evening I dove back to Vafios to sample some more of their delicious food. Volunteering to drive was the least I could do to compensate for what had been "my day". Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed as they were holding a wedding for 200 people later that evening. They served us a beer on the terrace though and it  was magical watching the sun set over the sea in the distance. We drove back to the apartment, abandoned the car and discovered a fabulous eating place, right on the waters edge and serving the best Mousakka I have ever tasted. What a good way to end the day !

1 comment:

  1. Great report Dave .Fabulous images and back stories. Your "unknown" is a very wet looking female black headed bunting.
    A shame that good views of marsh terns and waders were hard to come by this year.
    Thanks for sharing.