Friday, 3 August 2018

Summer gulling

With no big gulls at Collingham at the moment, I've been getting my gull fix at Cotham Landfill and Kilvington Lakes. A couple of visits to the latter this week have produced decent numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls - 16 on Wednesday, and at least 30 today. Most are adults or near adults, but there have been a couple of 2cy and juv birds around - with two juvs together today (and a few juv LBBGs for comparison). A juv Common Gull was the only other gull of note.

The images below show the 2 juv YLGs from today - the second and third birds from the left in the first shot (with LBBGs), and shots of both birds showing upper wing, and nice tail/rump pattern. I appreciate they're not the best photos in the world...

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Summer doldrums

Despite the fact that June has been and gone, the summer doldrums on the patch continue, with small numbers of passage waders, but nothing of particular note. However, pair of Red-crested Pochards on 21 July were the first addition for PWC in too long, and a juvenile Garganey on Mons Pool at the weekend was a welcome, if expected, appearance. 


Frustratingly, Yellow-legged Gull remains elusive - normally expected this time of year, but Phase 3 at Langford seems to be too much of a draw for them. Small number of GBBG and LBBGs have been the only big gulls. I guess I'll have to wait for the normal autumn roost build up for this species, and hopefully also a Casp or two. 

Elsewhere, I've had a couple of pre-work summer gulling visits to Cotham Landfill, where there have been small numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages present.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Lesvos, June 2018

I'm not sure why I've never been to Lesvos before; I think maybe I felt that I'd probably have a birding trip to Turkey one day, which would negate the need to go to Lesvos (in terms of specialities). However, a Turkey trip has never happened, so whilst casting around for holiday ideas which would suit a 7 month old, somewhere that wasn't too far away, and which would provide an opportunity for some new birds, Lesvos soon came to the top of the pile, and we booked a package holiday with Thomas Cook for early June (2nd to 9th). We stayed in Skala Kalloni, at the Hotel Pasiphae - a birder's favourite. I cannot recommend this hotel enough. It wasn't too big, had a nice pool and clientele, and the staff were incredibly friendly (perhaps helped by having a little blonde baby for them to coo over). It was also a pleasant walk down to the village, past the dried up Skala Kalloni Pool, allowing a bit of gentle birding on the way there and back. I have no doubt we'll be back for another stay one day.

Hotel Pasiphae
Skala Kalloni Pool - water long gone
Skala Kalloni
Skala Kalloni

In terms of the birding and wildlife, spring passage was clearly going to be well over by the time of our visit, but this was actually no bad thing as it meant I wouldn't want to be out birding all the time... Indeed, my trip list was pretty modest (just 89 species), and I didn't chase around trying to see as many of the available species as possible, focusing on four main targets. All in all, this worked well (with one exception!), with a number of early starts and other incidental birding. Most of the ephemeral wetlands were already dry, and herbaceous vegetation was already looking parched - it must be burnt to a crisp by August. 

Steve Dudley's book was obviously my main source of information, but I also used a trip report by Fraser Simpson due to it's comprehensive nature and site co-ordinates. I encountered one other birder during our stay. 

Olive-tree Warbler

Having failed to find this species a few years ago in Croatia, OTW was at the top of my wanted list. Despite some useful tips from Steve James and Gav Thomas, I failed to see (or hear) any birds along the Platania track (although I did have a cracking morning's birding). Bemoaning my failure on Twitter, the power of social media kicked in, and very soon I had an alternative site provided by Andrew Kinghorn who had been on the island the week before, over on the western side of the island near Sigri. A visit to the petrified forest at Sigri allowed me to reccy the site one afternoon, before having a more concerted effort the following morning...

Petrified tree at Sigri
Petrified trees at Sigri
Petrified tree at Sigri - a monster 

With a 3.30am start I was on site at Faneromeni by 5am, and had heard an Olive-tree Warbler by 5.20am (an air-grab moment). After some very obscured views (little more than a silhouette), I had nice views of a bird sat out for maybe 8 seconds or so by 6am. For once I resisted the temptation to reach straight for my camera and just enjoyed looking at it. I hung around for another hour or so hoping for another view without luck. There were two birds present, but both were singing very intermittently, making tracking them very difficult; but I was pretty pleased with my success.

The groves at Faneromeni
The groves at Faneromeni

The site is located about 3km north of Sigri, in the Faneromeni area, here. The groves are small and compact, and the trees fairly well spaced, making them relatively easy to work. It is possible to drive the track and park in the open area immediately west of the groves - the first OTW was singing just 20m from the car. The only downside of this site is that it is an hour and 20 minute drive from Skala Kalloni on fairly winding roads, but it could be worse. In fact, I was back for breakfast. 

Cinereous Bunting

After initially failing to locate this species at Ipsilou Monastery (one was singing distantly on the north side) during a fairly brief stop on the way to the petrified forest, I located a couple of Cinereous Buntings (which could've been closer...) on the Antissa to Sigri road, here, on the way back from the Olive-tree Warbler - just west of the Monastery. This was a fairly random stop, prompted by a bunting sp. flying across in front of me, but it proved to be a birdy little area. I'm sure anywhere along this road could yield Cinereous Buntings.

The road down from Ipsilou Monastery
Looking north
Looking south
Cinereous Bunting
Cinereous Bunting
Cinereous Bunting habitat

Kruper's Nuthatch

Kruper's Nuthatch were easy at the Achladeri Forest, here, being active and vocal. I spent an hour watching these in the midday heat, with 5 or 6 moving about in the tops of the pines, and occasionally dropping lower. 

Kruper's Nuthatch
Kruper's Nuthatch
The path up to the Nuthatch spot

Ruppell's Warbler

Unfortunately this species didn't play ball. I had a couple of hours at the Kavaki site (just south of Molyvos) on one occasion without luck - there were several Eastern Subalpine Warblers singing, but no Ruppell's. Clearly by the start of June this species has gone quiet, and I decided not to waste more time looking for it. At least there'll be something new for me when we revisit (earlier in the year..?).

The track above Kavaki
Looking north to Molyvos, just beyond Kavaki
Eastern Subalpine Warbler

Supporting cast

There were several species which I have only seen once or a handful of times before, but which were readily encountered - Masked Shrike, Cretzschmar's Bunting, Black-headed Bunting, Rock Nuthatch and various Easterns - Black-eared Wheatear, Olivaceous Warbler, and Subalpine Warbler. Eastern Orphean Warbler was seen on two occasions (Platania track and Kavaki), whilst I only saw Sombre Tit along the Platania track, albeit without any difficulty. A Rufous Bush Robin in song at the OTW site at Faneromeni was a nice bonus - a special bird I've only seen once before in Spain. 

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Female Cretzschmar's Bunting
Rock Nuthatch - confiding at times
Black-headed Bunting
Masked Shrike - the best shrike?
Rufous Bush Robin
Rufous Bush Robin - that tail!
Dawn on the Platania track, looking SE towards Turkey
Platania track
Platania track
Platania track

Best of the rest

Other nice species, in no particular order, included Long-legged Buzzard, Honey BuzzardShort-toed Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, Scops Owl (heard only around the hotel), Caspian Tern (one hunting just off the beach at Skala Kalloni on our last evening), Gull-billed Tern (one at the Kalloni salt pans), Ruddy Shelduck, Black Stork (almost daily in the Kalloni Bay area), Isabelline Wheatear (Ipsilou Monastery), Golden Oriole (a young male by the Lower Tsiknias river), Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Alpine SwiftRed-rumped Swallow, Goshawk and Nightjar (churring at dawn at Faneromeni). One thing that sticks in my mind is the number of hirundines and Swifts present in places. A brief stop in Mandamados for bread one morning had me stood staring skywards, as 100s upon 100s of Swifts chased each other around in huge screaming flocks - incredible! 

Black-winged Stilt
Black Stork
Kalloni saltpans
Greater Flamingos
Lower Tsiknias river
Lower Tsiknias river
Lower Tsiknias river

Species I missed or didn't make a concerted effort to see included Chukar, Rock Sparrow and Eleanora's Falcon. More time in the field would no doubt have rectified this. 

Other wildlife

I had two mammal ticks. The first was Eastern Hedgehog, with first a couple of squashed ones and then several alive, including three together on the road from Sigri to Faneromeni before dawn. The second was Persian Squirrel - animals were encountered on the Platania track, in the groves at Faneromeni and at Ipsilou Monastery. A couple of Red Foxes, a roadkill Beech Marten, and two distant dolphin sp. offshore at Kavaki completed things on the mammal front. 

Persian Squirrel

Herpetofauna included European Tree Frogs in the hotel grounds, Levant Marsh Frog (various places), Spur-thighed Totroise (one on the Platania track and one being helped across the road by some tourists near Kalloni), BalkanTerrapins (various places), Balkan Green Lizard and Starred Agama.

Spur-thighed Tortoise
European Tree Frog
Levant Marsh Frog
Balkan Terrapin
Starred Agama

I also notched up 23 species of butterfly, including Cleopatra, Scarce Swallowtail, Spotted Fritillary, Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Cardinal, Southern White Admiral, Great Banded Grayling, Grecian (Southern) Grayling, Freyer's Grayling, Samos Grayling, Levantine Skipper, Turkish Meadow Brown, Lattice Brown, Levantine Skipper, Balkan Marbled White and Lang's Short-tailed Blue.

Great Banded Grayling
Grecian (Southern) Grayling
Freyer's Grayling
Presumably a Samos Grayling, although the under hindwing pattern is a bit odd...
Lattice Brown
Turkish (?) Meadow Brown

So would I go to Lesvos in June again? Absolutely. Would I go in May instead of June if I had the choice? Very probably... I'd like to see migration here in full swing!

A pushchair is very useful for carrying gear around in...