Sunday, 29 May 2016

Lesvos 2016 - Part 1

Finally I have caught up with sorting photos and all that malarkey and can put finger(s) to keyboard.

Before I start with the birding, I have to say that for anyone giving the Greek Islands a miss because of the bad press regarding the refugee situation, DON'T! We were there for a week and this had no impact on us whatsoever. In fact we didn't see any sign of the refugees at all.

The only thing we did see was on a drive along a track on the north coast chore line was a refugee 'welcome' point. This was deserted apart from the aid workers and the remains of life jackets and dinghies. The only other reminder was a sign post for the refugees on the road as you left the coast and climbed back into the mountains.
We had a fantastic time, the Greek people were brilliant as usual, friendly, accommodating and just can't do enough for you. This crisis has hit them hard with their bookings in the region of 70% down on previous years. If we don't go then there won't be anything to go back to, the hotels and apartments will close ruining more peoples lives. I am not just aiming at birders here with this but anyone who is looking for a great holiday in a great place. The wildlife in the spring for us is just the icing on the cake.

As the birders who regularly go to Lesvos and use the Lesvos Birding Facebook Group already know, this isn't being helped by the UK tour operators. (For Lesvos only Thomas Cook go) For 2017 Thomas Cook have cut their Manchester and Birmingham flights and will only operate once a week from Gatwick. The other European Operators seem to have pulled the plug completely! How can the island survive on circa 250 tourists a week?

I don't have any answers, I'm just a birder that loves the island, I can only think that if people try booking and create the demand, it will help for 2018. Perhaps I'm being naive, but as a supermarket chain says; 'Every Little Helps'

So back to the birding bit................. (I hope you have stuck with it and got this far)

Our party was made up of 6, 4 mad birders, 1 birder and 1 dabbler! We hired a minibus for the week to make it easier to pile out if something was seen unexpectedly. As Tina and myself had been before and the other four were Lesvos newbies, I acted as driver and guide,

I have to say though I couldn't have done it without the great Lesvos bird watching guide written by Steve Dudley. (Also the fact that we went out with Steve a couple of times last year didn't do any harm. By the way you can buy the book from Steve at:
Had to put an ad in for Steve!

We stayed in Skala Kallonis so had easy access to some great birding sites, Kalloni Salt Pans, Tsiknias River, Christou River, Metochi Lake and many more. (Buy the book)

We also ventured further afield, to Sigri, Molyvos, Achladeri Forest, Agiasos, in fact all over the island. I won't go into a day by day detail, I'm just going to put a few of the better photos up, in chronological order, saying where they were taken.

So on day 1, from the photos you can see that day one we stayed near Kalloni.
House Martin, Skala Kallonis
 Collared Pratincole, Kalloni Saltpans
 Wood Sandpiper. Kalloni Saltpans
 Common Tern, Kalloni Saltpans
 Ruff, Kalloni Saltpans
Night Heron, Tsiknias River
Purple Heron, Tsiknias River

Scops Owl, Kalloni

Day 2 North West to Petra, Molyvos and North Coast
Not much to report on the way to Petra, we stopped there to look at the church and stretch our legs, also stopping for a coffee a one of the sadly deserted Tavernas.

Inbetween Petra and Molyvos we stopped to look for the reported Rüppels Warbler and after strolling back down the road a bit from one of the laybays we were rewarded, although distance and the sun in the wrong place prevented a decent photo. We also picked up a Subalpine Warbler and Black-eared Wheatear here.
For the record a very poor photo of the Rüppels Warbler
We now carried on to Molyvos and lunch at the harbour,
Black-eared Wheatear, Swallows and Martins showed around the harbour. After lunch we headed for the northern coast track, driving as far as Skala Sykamnias before heading inland and across, heading back to Skalloni via the Napi Valley.
Black-headed Bunting
 A very scraggy Buzzard (Rough Legged?)
 Record shot of our first Hoopoe of the week as we came down Napi Valley.
It would then have been rude not to visit the Saltpans and Tsiknias River before heading 'home' to Skala Kallonis.
Little Egret
 Greater Flamingoes
 Common Tern
Little Stint
 Wood Sandpiper
 Little Tern
 Black-winged Stilt and Little Egret
 Great Egret

This post is getting a bit long now, so I will close off here and continue in the next post..

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Our Ospreys

As I said at the end of the last post, we were travelling to Edinburgh before heading home to the Black Country, this was to spend a few days visiting our lovely daughter.

On the way we popped in to see our Ospreys. I want post the location here, but suffice to say it's somewhere between Aultbea and Edinburgh! These Ospreys never let us down and we always pop along to see them if they are not too far off our route.

As always, and long may it continue, they delivered the goods, just as we arrived and got the flasks out the male returned with a fish. It took a while for him to give it to the female as he was harassed by two buzzards, then a crow, he eventually saw them off but circled for a while before alighting in a tree next to the nest. After a few minutes he was up again and took the fish to his spouse, whereupon she moved to the neighbouring tree for 'lunch' and he settled onto the nest.

He are a few dodgy photos of the event:
This is the female enjoying lunch,
The male on approach,

Swap over:

Very privileged!

So that is our Scottish wildlife trip caught up with. The next post will be about our trip to Lesvos for the spring bird migration, that Thomas Crook tried it's hardest to spoil! But that IS another story that I won't add to the blog.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Wester Ross - April 2016

This is part two of our Scottish 'tour' following on from Mull. After leaving the ferry at Oban, we headed north along the west coast of Scotland to our new home for a week at Aultbea overlooking Loch Ewe. The drive was great as we got further north the scenery just got better and better. We quickly fell in love with this part of Scotland.
As you can see the weather turned a tad cooler for our second week!

After a lot of driving the previous day, we decided to keep things simple on our first full day and decided to spend some time locally. Firstly we dropped down into the 'town' and drove around the edge of Loch Ewe just 2 minutes from our 'shack'.

We were rewarded with a Slavonian Grebe a little offshore, for the record:
This first of many visits to our also provided us with Great Northern Diver and Merganser. So a good start to the day. Our next stop was Laide Wood just a couple of miles up the road and the chance for us to stretch our legs a bit. The weather was good and we risked setting out without waterproofs and we got away with it! From the car park we dropped down onto a track that disappeared into the woods, we had only been walking a few minutes when we spotted a Goldcrest flitting in the young pine trees:
This was quickly followed by a Treecreeper. An excellent start to our walk. We walked on a short way and found a bench beautifully located by a stream, so it would have been rude not to stop for a coffee and wait to see what presented itself. We didn't have to wait long for a number of Lesser Redpoll to appear:
They kept us company while we had our coffee and were ready to carry on. We then had another surprise a Wood Warbler, what made it even better was that this was our first. Photographing it did prove difficult though.
We carried on exploring various trails and finding two small lochs one with a hide. We sat for a bit but apart from a Grey Heron nothing else was seen. For those of you who are Lord of the Rings fans, we did find an Ent!
The rest of our walk although lovely proved uneventful from a birding point of view, that is until we were almost back to the car, that is when a White-tailed Eagle swung into view:

One of the things we planned this week was to head further north and get the foot ferry over to Cape Wrath. When we got in I phoned the ferry and checked for the following day, all looked good, so up early the next morning to zoom north for about two and a half hours only to find that the wind had got up, the ferryman came down to check but decided not to go, that's life.
So we went for plan B and headed for Tarbet to see if we could get across to Handa Island and the sea bird colonies, alas this was cancelled too!

So plan C was brought into play, we meandered back the way we had come making some detours on the way. We did have a coffee at Tarbet looking across to Handa and were pleases to fine Red-throated Diver, Black Guillemot, Eider, Common Sandpiper, Rock Pipit, Shag and Fulmar.

We could now enjoy the scenery on the drive back and even found a great place for a very late lunch at Lochinver. The journey back did provide us with mixed weather, sunshine, sleet, snow and blizzards as you can see by this sheltering Buzzard, that Tina spotted:
Day 3 saw us exploring around Loch Ewe and finding out its WWII history, it was used as a start point for the Arctic Conveys to Russia, evidenced by the many old gun emplacements scattered around the shore and this memorial:
I should say at this point that we had given up on Cape Wrath and Handa Island for the holiday as strong winds were forecast the rest of the week, so very little chance of any ferries running. Next time and there will be a next time.

On with day 3, we completed the Diver trilogy today and added Black-throated Diver to the other two. Mergansers were to be seen in most places,
 and Greenshank popped up now and again.
 The Loch Ewe tour also added Merlin, Turnstone, Redshank and Ringed Plover to our Wester Ross list. Back at the shack we had Song Thrush and Robin coming up to our patio doors as well as Lesser Redpoll in our garden too.

We turned Day 4 into a National Trust day exploring the Gardens at the SNT Inverewe property at Poolewe on the southern shore of Loch Ewe, There's certainly a lot of Eweing going on!

The gardens were magnificent, we saw Bullfinch and Blackcap in the trees, this was a nice addition to our fortnight. I will digress from birding for a bit as the gardens are worthy of a few photos:

OK enough foliage! There is a hide in the estate that is accessible without paying to go into the property, so we went for lunch there. As the tide was out there wasn't a great deal to add, although we did see; Oystercatcher, Merganser, Redshank, Heron, Ringed Plover, Great Northern Diver and Common Sandpiper, so not bad really for a lunch stop.

Next day we went south and Loch Torridon, en route on a roadside Loch we found three Black-throated Divers, brilliant! We also had a look at Loch Maree, but this was uninhabited apart for a Goosander and some Mallard.

We drove along Loch Torridon all the way to Diabaig, this was a fantastic drive over mountains and moorland, absolutley brilliant, we stopped at the top to admire this view:
when two Snow Buntings surprised us, they had gone again before I could swap lenses. Never mind.
Taking our time we meandered back and stopped at the forestry visitor centre and walked from there down to a hide. We hadn't gone far when we spotted no less than 4 Ring Ouzels in a tree line, good views through the bins but sadly to far for the camera.

In the hide we had (familiar story) a late lunch, seeing our first Golden Plover of the trip in an adjacent field plus a few other bits and bobs but the weather wasn't looking great so we decided to head 'home'

So that was our first visit to Wester Ross and mighty good it was too! There will be a small third instalment to follow concerning a brief stop we made on the way to Edinburgh from here.

Wester Ross Birds:
Black Guillemot  ("Cepphus grylle")
Blackbird  ("Turdus merula")
Blackcap  ("Sylvia atricapilla")
Black-headed Gull  ("Chroicocephalus ridibundus")
Black-throated Diver  ("Gavia arctica")
Blue Tit  ("Cyanistes caeruleus")
Bullfinch  ("Pyrrhula pyrrhula")
Buzzard  ("Buteo buteo")
Chaffinch  ("Fringilla coelebs")
Coal Tit  ("Periparus ater")
Collared Dove  ("Streptopelia decaocto")
Common Gull  ("Larus canus")
Common Sandpiper  ("Actitis hypoleucos")
Cormorant  ("Phalacrocorax carbo")
Curlew  ("Numenius arquata")
Dunnock  ("Prunella modularis")
Gannet  ("Morus bassanus")
Goldcrest  ("Regulus regulus")
Golden Plover  ("Pluvialis apricaria")
Goldfinch  ("Carduelis carduelis")
Goosander  ("Mergus merganser")
Great Black-backed Gull  ("Larus marinus")
Great Northern Diver  ("Gavia immer")
Great Tit  ("Parus major")
Greenfinch  ("Chloris chloris")
Greenshank  ("Tringa nebularia")
Grey Heron  ("Ardea cinerea")
Greylag Goose  ("Anser anser")
Herring Gull  ("Larus argentatus")
Hooded Crow  ("Corvus cornix")
House Sparrow  ("Passer domesticus")
Kestrel  ("Falco tinnunculus")
Lapwing  ("Vanellus vanellus")
Lesser Black-backed Gull  ("Larus fuscus")
Lesser Redpoll  ("Carduelis cabaret")
Little Grebe  ("Tachybaptus ruficollis")
Mallard  ("Anas platyrhynchos")
Meadow Pipit  ("Anthus pratensis")
Oystercatcher  ("Haematopus ostralegus")
Pied Wagtail  ("Motacilla alba")
Raven  ("Corvus corax")
Red-breasted Merganser  ("Mergus serrator")
Redshank  ("Tringa totanus")
Ring Ouzel  ("Turdus torquatus")
Ringed Plover  ("Charadrius hiaticula")
Robin  ("Erithacus rubecula")
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon  ("Columba livia")
Slavonian Grebe  ("Podiceps auritus")
Snow Bunting  ("Plectrophenax nivalis")
Song Thrush  ("Turdus philomelos")
Sparrowhawk  ("Accipiter nisus")
Starling  ("Sturnus vulgaris")
Treecreeper  ("Certhia familiaris")
Turnstone  ("Arenaria interpres")
Wheatear  ("Oenanthe oenanthe")
White-tailed Eagle  ("Haliaeetus albicilla")
Willow Warbler  ("Phylloscopus trochilus")
Wood Warbler  ("Phylloscopus sibilatrix")
Wren  ("Troglodytes troglodytes")