Thursday, 8 May 2014

Lesvos May 2014 introduction

Just returned from Lesvos last night and have to say I had an enjoyable week there but the weather was disappointing from a sunbathing point of view so my wife Claire didn't get as much out of the holiday as I did.This year it appears the weather has been very unpredictable.
We paid £195 each 21 days before departure. A week later the price dropped to £139 ! Coach transport was offered at £70 but as car hire only cost £139 ( including excess at £40) picked up at the airport it was a no brainer to go down the latter route.
We stayed at the Marianthi Apartments outside of Molyvos (which is also known as Mithymna and makes initial sign posting and maps slightly confusing ) and they were quite adequate for our needs if not luxurious. One couple booked the week three days before departure and only paid £106 each including meals on the plane and a coach transfer. They also complained !
This year Thomas Cook had put on an extra flight from Manchester on Wednesday  and there were lots of empty seats both outward and even more on return ! Don't assume this will be the same next year.
Molyvos is well placed for lots of birding sites although Steve Dudley's well followed guide book is written with the Kalloni/Skala Kallonis area as being the centre of the birders world on the island with other areas further afield less featured.It is also a few years out of date now although he provides extra information on his web site and gives daily updates on what has been seen.
As a photographer rather than bird lister I am more interested in photo opportunities than ticking lists and consequently to an ardent birder my list of about 75 sightings would probably be deemed pathetic, however, I am pretty confident that I had 13 "lifers", possibly more had I been able to take a photo and ID them later. I was quite surprised to get that many new birds but I must admit my experience of European birding is less than places like India and Africa.
The most obvious feature about a Lesvos holiday is the number of birders everywhere at this time of year. The value of optical equipment on the island must be quite staggering and a pair of Swaro's is almost "de regueur" for birders, an expensive bit of Canon or Nikon kit for photographers.
Steve Dudley's book is both a help and a hinderance. He does encourage folk to find their own sites in addition but I guess as time is limited the easy option is to "do the book". A site like the Kavaki Ruppell's Warbler spot can turn from perfect peace to bedlam in an instant. Conveniently placed for Molyvos and Petra I was there early morning on several occasions, twice first to arrive at around 6.30am. The other day there were about four of us watching really close views of the Ruppell's gathering nesting materials just feet away when two coach loads of birders arrived.Suddenly there were about eighty four people in the top lay-by and as soon as they realised we were on to the bird they surrounded us, calling everyone over to join us ( and this appeared to be one of the tour leaders too) Needless to say with all the noise, chattering and occasional cries of delight the Ruppell's decided to move elsewhere for building supplies.
I must admit, I don't consider myself anti social, the opposite in fact, but I don't like big groups of birdwatchers and would never consider a tour of more than two or three people. A coach load of 40 plus is ridiculous unless you plan to view from afar.
On the other hand, who would know about the Scops Owl site if not for the book and I only found them on arrival as another birder showed me where to look. They too had benefited from some one else's instruction who had left before I arrived. A lifer for me,  I was surprised just how small and how well camouflaged they are ! I wonder if the coach load pulled in there ?
The other thing that struck me was how many repeat visits were being made, first timers like myself were very much in the minority. Old handers knew where to look, where the nesting sites were, where to get the best photographs. Lesvos had been described to me as a birding paradise but the reality didn't quite meet expectations, particularly from a photographic point of view. That said, I came away well satisfied and did get some decent images for my efforts, not only new records for my collection but "best ever" shots of previously photographed species too.
By all accounts, Lesvos 2014 is not a classic year for birding, not even an average year. I didn't really witness any big drops, there appeared not a lot flying north and in the south, the Salt Pans area and Tsiknias river didn't hold many waders and other water birds. Apparently, or so I was told, the frogs and toads didn't lay the eggs to produce the feast of tadpoles which is normally a big attraction  to refuel on migration.
Ah well, this is an account of what we did find !

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