Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Corfu 2018 Success at last!

Well the old saying is that good things come to those that wait and eventually my patience paid off. Out at first light 
I was first to arrive at the headland where I'd also cross paths with joggers and hikers but on this particular morning a car arrived. You could get a vehicle over a very narrow bridge if you came from a different direction but the track was very rough too and I wasn't going to risk damaging my hire car. This particular car had a couple in it and they gave me a look over with my big lens as they continued on to the beach less than 100 yards away. I paid little attention to what they were doing and continued staring at a bush where I hoped a warbler would appear. 
Then I spied a raptor heading my way so I quickly moved down the track a little to get a clear view in preparation for it flying past.
What I saw almost distracted me from getting the shot. The young lady , a vision of beauty too, was stripped off completely naked and posing for shots on the beach. I was mesmerised for a second or was it a minute..time flies but I regained my composure and like a true pro got the shot of the Sparrowhawk !
Armed with my 500mm with a 1.4TC attached the young lady would appear pretty large in the frame. Did I take a photo as a keepsake? I will leave you to think about what you would have done in such circumstances and I'm not telling what I decided to do. It's not often you see a sight of such beauty though and she was obviously a professional model. As a couple of hikers appeared she put some clothes on and to be honest looked even more alluring!
That young lady might have got the vote for best bird of the stay had it not been for this one!
Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla
I had spotted a small flock of House Sparrows feeding on the ground as I drove past but the minute I stopped the car the birds all flew.
All flew bar one!
The way it moved on the ground it was instantly recognisable as being a Lark of some description.
A view from the front helps narrow down the ID from Lesser to Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla
They are actually the same size so where the name came from is a mystery to me.
The only other candidate is Calandra Lark but that is a bigger chunkier bird compared to this one.
Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla
So, Greater Short-toed it is! Definitely the best photography subject I had all week as I have never photographed one before.
In terms of new birds altogether, the only "lifer" for me was a Shearwater.
Scopoli's Shearwater.   Calonectris diomedea)
I was lucky to spot it really as I don't usually carry binoculars with me because of the extra weight but on this day I did and I was actually watching a yacht passing through the straits when I spotted the bird. Again, skimming over the waves in Shearwater style I couldn't claim a specific species but to my delight when I put the shot on computer I can enlarge it sufficiently to clearly see it's a Scopoli's Shearwater.
Scopoli's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea
and with that addition I fulfilled my estimate of 5 new birds for the year from the trip!
This was never a trip about birding, it was hopefully about some sunshine and good food.
It delivered in bucketfulls.
The birding was secondary and for me a distraction as I find lying on a sunbed boring. In fact this is the first "family" holiday I can remember in years when I have never so much as sat on one! 
I did manage the pool though and during the course of the stay built up my fitness quite considerably, my record breaking attempt at non stop lengths was only interrupted when I rescued a Preying Mantis from drowning!
Preying Mantis
Having a car was a great bonus and one I would recommend if you have ambitions to get about. 
Corfu is a stunning island but it's not without it's problems.
It appears they have a huge ongoing refuse problem as they have no more landfill sites and so the rubbish isn't being collected. The only alternative is that islanders now take the rubbish and dump it away from where they live( for the most parts). It didn't impact on me as a tourist but for some it's very off putting.
The length of fly tipping outside a neighbouring resort was over 100yards long but the volume was largest outside Roda where we were staying.
Any attempts to re-cycle have been abandoned and in the rubbish you also have used toilet paper as it can't be flushed down the pan in Greece.
All in all it's not good for anyone and I felt particularly sorry for local residents who found themselves in a situation where fly tipping was very close to their homes, The stench was not pleasant and ultimately it's becoming a big health risk.
Will the solution be found? Who knows but right now it doesn't seem to be damaging tourist numbers but it can't be allowed to continue.
So, would I recommend Corfu?
As a holiday destination?
Yes. Ticked all the boxes.
As a birding destination?
The jury is out! I think spring would be better than autumn but there are better Meditteranean islands to visit if birding is the objective.
As a 10 day break out of season you need to get lucky with the weather and we certainly did.
Would I return?
We'll see! If that price came up again I'd certainly snap it up!
For now though, just good memories.

So, until next time.....

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Corfu 2018. If at first .....

With the third day now begun I headed straight to the nearest headland and the Antinioti Lagoon. It really was just a continuation of the beach at Roda at the other end of this small bay. 

I found the perfect spot at last. The ground cover was ideal for migratory birds dropping in so hopefully I'd get lucky. 
What I found to be the reality though was that birding was extremely difficult. The lagoon held nothing other than a few Coot and a Common Kingfisher that was always seen flying at distance and as for the birds in the bushes, you had to be fast, extremely fast, to lock on focus and get a shot off. There wasn't a shortage, there were quite a lot about but they flew out of deep cover and straight back in to the middle of a bush most of the time. Occasionally, and only very occasionally one might land on a visible branch before dropping in to cover.
The majority were Blackcaps but this shot confirmed that the species I was after were there too!
Sardinian Warbler
It took me several days and hours of waiting before I got something acceptable.
Sardinian Warbler
One shot and down they went.
Sardinian Warbler
I rarely got the second shot either.
Sardinian Warbler
Still Sardinian Warbler was a good addition to my year list even if after several days I eventually decided I was never going to get anything worthwhile and gave up trying! I imagine in the spring when the birds are singing from the bush tops it's a much easier opportunity but in the autumn they appeared very furtive.
The photography was indeed hard work. Over the course of 5 days and 6 or 7 visits the number of species I recorded was minimal.
House Sparrow
House Sparrow
Hooded Crow
Hooded Crow
and Starling.
Common Starling
Nothing to write home about but at least something!
I was so desperate I even started photographing fish!
as well as butterflies
This one was laying eggs.
On one afternoon  I persuaded Claire to come along with me on the promise I wouldn't take my camera, well only a 24-105 lens for some scene shots. It was the one of only two times I had a bird pose for ages as it fed within a few feet of me.
Willow Warbler
Ah well, that's the way it goes!

Corfu 2018 Have wheels will travel!

With the hire car collected I was ready for the off. I decided my first destination would be the highest mountain in Corfu, Mt Pantokrator which is just under 3000ft . Why choose here? Well it was midday and I thought there might be the possibility of raptors once the air had warmed up. Armed with a rather poor map I had been supplied with and my own Sat Nav which hasn't been updated in 7 years off I went. The sat nav correctly told me to turn right in the nearest town Acharavi but the street was so narrow I had passed it before I saw it. No matter just 20 yards further on there was another dog leg right turn so I guessed correctly that that would join the one I missed. Approaching from such and acute angled turn meant I missed the poorly placed sign that this was a one way street! My first indiscretion and I'd only been behind the wheel about 5 minutes!! Still, no matter as there was nothing coming the other way and it taught me my first lesson. Road signage in Corfu isn't the best!
Onwards and upwards I went enjoying the scenery but extremely wary of the traffic coming the other way on the narrow sharply bending roads.
Eventually I found a place to park safely not some distance from the summit so I got out to do a bit of a walkabout.
With my current back problem I couldn't go too far but I did find a tree lined little field where the bushes were full of Blackcaps.
If Corfu has an abundance of one species it's the Blackcap unless they just happen to be a migratory one passing through but I was to discover them everywhere.
As far as raptors went there was just one Kestrel spotted briefly and that was it.
I drove on to the summit, had a brief look at the view which was quite a distant one too. You could see most of the island which is about 30 miles long I think, and across the straits to Albania in the east.
Corfu and Albania
No more birds though, the shot a pair of Hooded Crows on the descent was ruined by the heat haze. I wasn't too bothered though, seen them already. I decided to seek out Antinioti Lagoon next. It's right in the north east corner and a short drive from were we were staying. I'd read it was another important  birding spot with over 96 rare species seen here. I decided to leave that until later after a quick scan but I did pick up a new species for the year, albeit at distance. A Yellow-legged Gull.
Yellow-Legged Gull
Well it was a bit of progress anyway!
Shooting with a long lens from a parked car overlooking a beach of half naked people isn't without problems so I didn't hang around long in case people started asking questions about my intentions.
I headed back to the apartment for a pre dinner beer by the pool but with the intention of returning to this or a similar spot later in the week. I had another 6 days after all so no rush.
By now I had been marked out as a bird watcher by the owners of the apartments and they told me that there were definitely Flamingos to be seen at Lake Korission in the south of the island. I decided to make that the next days priority in case they flew away!
Off at dawn I took the westerly route south enjoying some magnificent scenery but some rather hairy roads.
Driving certainly isn't for the feint hearted tourist as the locals seem to travel at high speed in to blind bends. The journey I thought would take 90 minutes took two and a half hours. My map might as well have been a sketch on the back of a postage stamp for all it was worth and the sat nav which I rarely use simply confused me half the time telling me to take a turn which wasn't there. 
Finding myself lost in a village square I decided I would at least take some photos of the Wagtails because the way things were going it might well be all I'd see that day!
Fortunately it wasn't the case and eventually, with the help of the locals giving directions on a couple of occasions I eventually got to my destination and yes...the Flamingos were still there too!
Greater Flamingo
I drove down an unmade track as far as I felt it safe to take the car then got out to try and stalk the birds without then seeing me. Unfortunately they were nearest the shore at a point that was impossible to view from so after scouting around settled for a spot that was at least hidden by some reeds. I had ignored some Little Egrets that had been close to the shore when I drove past and I wondered why they had all now taken flight.
Little Egret
Damn! There were two walkers heading my way and before you knew it the Flamingos all started walking out in to the middle of the lake.
There was another group over on the far side so I decided to try my luck there instead. The angle of the sun looked better from there too so, back in the car, off I went.
For a while quite a few of the birds from the original group flew over to join this new group so I had a bit of fun with some flight shots.
Greater Flamingo
They almost walk on water when they land or take off.
Greater Flamingo
My only problem was that they were still a bit distant and as the time was now moving on the heat haze effect was getting worse.
Greater Flamingo
I stuck with it a while but as the morning wore on the arrival of more and more cars was driving the birds further away too.
Greater Flamingo
Moving on again I thought I would seek out the rest of the lake's shores where I might get access. It was very limited to be honest and all I managed to spot was a couple of Greenshank and a single Ringed Plover. Not the feast of goodies I'd hoped for.
The lake is separated from the sea by a narrow strip of sand dunes so I decided to see what might be on the beach.
Lake Korisson,Corfu
Once again a place you have to be careful that your motives are not seen as being something you don't intend! That shot wasn't with a big lens!
So, despite having taken such a time to get to the Lake I only stayed an hour or so and bade farewell to the place.
Lake Korisson,Corfu
I wouldn't bother returning there, it was too far. I headed instead to the east side of the island and the final recommendation, a lake that runs alongside the runway of the airport. I had noticed it when we landed and it did indeed appear to have quite a few birds there.
Off I went, some more hairy moments, the worst being meeting a coach in a narrow street where I had to reverse. I hate reversing when I look over the alien right shoulder when driving a left hand drive. Safely negotiated but not without the loss of much sweat I carried on.
The traffic in Corfu Town was horrendous. I found my way to the airport but decided to not bother trying to find access to the lake. I went home instead. An OK day but not what I'd hoped for.

Corfu 2018. Autumn birding.

There was just one catch to our bargain holiday. The flight left Manchester at 5.00am. That meant check-in from 2.00am which in turn meant leaving home at just around midnight.
A non existent night's sleep was a small price to pay!
On the plus side I have never been through security as fast despite the most intensive check I have had yet. There was no-one else there, the airport was virtually deserted. Most of the shops and cafes were shut too so we had to forsake the traditional pre flight beer.A small sacrifice indeed.
Manchester airport
I had arranged a hire car but had decided to pick it up in the resort on our second full day.
Very sensible.The traffic in Corfu Town was pretty hectic and I was not fully wide awake after a nights travel. The coach transfer was by far the better option. Sit back , enjoy the scenery and besides, I'm always curious to see the other hotel drop off spots too.
Ours was the last drop but by no means the least desirable, on the contrary we were both delighted in what we found. Our apartment block, one of three small ones with a large garden area,  was spread over two floors. A bedroom upstairs with a balcony enjoying the sun from first light to early evening and views over olive groves and distant hills.
Not only that but on our first morning I was delighted to find there were plenty of birds around from a distant Stonechat having an insect field day
to a Buzzard sitting in a nearer tree.
Common Buzzard
There were plenty of birds about but nothing I can't see at home. Well not in the hotel grounds anyway.

Elizabeth Apartments, Roda

Downstairs we had the bathroom, a small kitchen area which included a fridge, two hobs, a kettle and a microwave oven. We had no intention of any serious self catering but the ability to make a cup of coffee and a lunch time sandwich taken on our shaded terrace overlooking the garden and pool area was ideal.
Right in front of us there was a fig tree that was attracting House Sparrows and Blackcaps for a fruity feast.
We even had a Jay visit, but as usual they were as furtive here as they are at home!
A walk around the neighbourhood which was a fairly green area produced a single Whinchat
and a roof with a dozen or so Barn Swallows suggested they might be on a migration path.
Barn Swift
On the walls I would spot the odd Lizard, this one if I have the ID correct is an endemic to Greece.
Greek Algyroides     Algyroides moreoticus

There wasn't a lot to excite me that's was for sure but I wasn't too bothered. I had hoped that during the course of the 10 days I would find perhaps 1-5 new species to photograph to add to my year list.The priority was good weather, good food and some R&R for Claire.
The resort of Roda, at the very northern end of Corfu is a fairly small one and at this time of year was extremely quiet as the season was rapidly coming to an end. Lots of places had already packed up for the year but there was still plenty of choice.
A short walk of a few minutes had you down at the beach for a sunset pre-dinner drink.

It was all very charming and just what we hoped for!
The package was so inexpensive we didn't think twice about the cost of eating out but in actual fact I thought it quite reasonable, certainly cheaper than the UK. A 500ml beer was 3 euro, a meal of two courses and a couple of beers, maybe a litre of house wine would be around 50 euros.
Oh and the food was excellent! Nothing too fancy, just good tasty local Greek dishes.
Our favourite was the grilled Octopus!
The best I have tasted at 13 euro per portion, slightly more expensive than most dishes but worth every cent!
Whilst Claire was more than content to stay by the pool all day, I looked forward to collecting my hire car, then I could investigate further afield!
My preliminary investigation before leaving home had revealed that there wasn't too much information about birding in Corfu. Unlike some of the islands like Lesbos, Corfu is on the western side of mainland Greece and not quite on the major migration highway some other islands are but nevertheless there were some suggested spots worth checking out and one was just a few kilometres away.
Great stuff... bring them on!