As usual, breathtaking pics from Mike McKavett (just look at that Kruper's Nuthatch above!), just back from a three week stint in Lesvos.
He caught up with just about everything, and his pix and account just make me want to go back - it's been too long since I visited this amazing island.
Take it away Mike....
Just got back from 3 weeks in Lesvos. It was a good trip. As you can imagine, I was out for most of the days taking pics while the wife looked after her mother!
Got most of the target species and saw some nice snakes.
Below are Masked Shrike; Cinerous Bunting and Ruppell's Warbler.
2 Ottoman vipers; one a huge beast about 4' and easily 3" across the middle. I nearly trod on it coming back to my vehicle one morning in the Potamia Valley.
The other was a small one near the side of the road between Agra and Mesotopos.
Judging by the bulge it had just eaten and was reluctant to move.
I found it while rescuing yet another tortoise in the middle of the road. I managed to photograph the Ottoman with the 500mm and convertor.
I wasn't too keen to get really close with the macro lens.
Lesvos is the only place in Europe where this snake occurs.
It's Europe's most poisonous snake and although not in the same league as cobras or mambas it is nontheless a very dangerous snake.
Saw several Large Whip Snakes, again in the Potamia Valley. They're not poisonous but have a reputation for being aggressive. One I came across in the middle of the road, reared up and came at me as I tried to grab its tail. They readily bite and chew and will draw blood, but they can't kill you.
The other pic showing a snake is actually a Glass Lizard, a large relative of the Slow Worm.
They can get very big, over a metre but are a lot slower than snakes and relatively easy to catch. The one in the pic was actually caught in the road. After it had calmed down, I lay it across a boulder and photographed it, holding the camera with the other hand. Because they are slower at getting out of the way, they often end up as road casualties.
Most of you will have heard of Lesvos through the writings of Richard Brooks and some of you may have visited this wonderful island.
If you've never been, you must go. A word of warning though. You have to book early if you want to go at the beginning of the season in early May, which is the best time for birdwatching. We have already booked for next year and got the last 2 seats on the flight!
Most of the specialities of the island are fairly easy to find as most have been well staked out. Specialities like Rock Nuthatch, Sombre Tit and Rufous Bush Robin are real attractions.
This was a problem for me as a photographer on my first visit in 2003.
Birders and photographers everywhere making my life a misery. On subsequent trips, I took my hide and just went up into the hills.
No disrespect guys, but most of the photographers and birders I've seen in Lesvos are lazy and just want to bird from the vehicle or close to it.
The shot of me with my hide is a couple of 100m from the old Eresos Sigri Road. This dirt and rubble track is infrequently used and is also the best site on the island for Cinereous Bunting, a Lesvos speciality.
The shot of the Cinereous at the beginning of the report was taken from the site in the picture.
Lesvos is the 2nd largest island in Greece but nowhere is more than an hours drive from Skala Kalloni, where most birders stay.
A lot of birders are now staying on the north coast, Anaxos, Petra and Molivos but I find this area a little 'naff' and 'touristy'. Skala Kaloni on the other hand is just a small fishing village, much as it probably was before the birders arrived.
Sure it's busy with birders but the small hotels are outside the village and the small central square is alive with ordinary Greeks going about their business in an unhurried and relaxing sort of way.
It's brilliant; I could quite happily live there. Tourism is not actually an important part of the island's economy. The main industry is olives; over 11 million trees. Most grow semi wild as opposed to ordered orchards like you see in other parts of the med. Those that are in orchards are mostly surrounded by natural growth, full of birds, butterflies and those wonderful snakes.
The trip was an undoubted success for me but there is one notable absence; Olive-tree Warbler. Several years ago, I found a good site for them well away from the crowds. I'd saved the last week for this difficult species but unfortunately bad weather scuppered my plans.
Never mind, there's always next year. Watch this space!
The scenics are just to give you an idea what the island is like, if you've never been. The harbour is in Skala Kalloni where most birders stay.
A traditional fishing village with a typical Greek relaxed and 'laid back' way of life. One morning while having my 'full hit' cooked breakfast at Theo's after a busy morning in the field (I get up at 5), a fisherman walked into the front of the taverna holding what looked like a Conger Eel and asked Theo if he wanted to buy it. That's Lesvos and it's magic.
The olive grove with poppies is the Potamia Valley, only 10 minutes drive from Skala. Masked Shrike, Olive-tree Warbler, Sombre Tit, Turtle Dove; Peregrines and Long-legged Buzzard on the crags behind and loads of snakes if you know how and where to look.
The coastal shot is from the north coast between Petra and Molivos. Very scenic and popular now with many birders but as I said earlier, a little touristy. This area is good for Ruppell's Warbler; one of the island's specialities.
The bird shots are varied, with some common and well known species and some specialities. Lesvos is the place for buntings.
The Black-headed is a common summer visitor to low lying farming areas but like the equally abundant and widespread Corn Bunting, occurs in a variety of habitats.
Interestingly, Black-headed seem to have a very co-ordinated migration. They winter in Asia, particularly NW India and their arrival in Lesvos (and the rest of the region apparently) is very sudden and co-ordinated. One day nothing and the next 2 days, Black-headed Buntings everywhere singing on territory.
Cretzschmar's is another speciality of the area and a common bird of rocky sparsely vegetated upland areas.
This shot is unusual in that the bird is singing from an elevated perch in a tree. They normally sing from boulders low down close to the ground like Cinereous.
Crested Lark is very common and widespread. Rather drab in appearance and easy to photograph but this is a classic with that great crest sticking up like a spiked helmet.
Forget the specialities though, my favourite shot on this trip is undoubtedly the Subalpine.
There's something about Sylvia warblers in song. They have an air of 'cockiness' almost arrogance as they sing from exposed perches and I think I've captured that perfectly in this shot.
Crown feathers raised and moving the head from side to side with the mouth wide open. When I was photographing the Ruppell's, I nicknamed it 'Rappa Ruppelli'. The Subalpine was photographed near Petra Reservoir, a good site for this species. I photographed one here in April 2005 but wasn't totally satisfied with the shot.
This year, early May was a little late to be photographing them singing. Sylvia generally stop singing once the young have hatched and they're early nesters in Lesvos. Most were feeding young when I arrived this year but eventually found one singing on what I think was a Salix bush.
The rest was easy really. Up at 5 and in the hide for sun-up when most birders were still in bed. Once the sun cleared the hillside behind me, there it was on the twig singing it's heart out as if it was 'on something!'
When I'd finished and came down the hillside lugging all my gear, the birders were just arriving and looking at me in a quizzical sort of way as if saying "I wonder what he's found?"
Bumped into Harry Shorrock at this site one morning and despite his advancing years he is just as entertaining as he ever was.
They've had a severe drought this winter in Lesvos, only 4 days of rain all winter. This appears to have impacted on the migration this spring with apparently fewer birds.
Harry like other birders was complaining about this and then told me he'd just found a River Warbler and asked me if I'd seen the Citrine Wagtail and male Ferruginous Duck that were feeding in front of us at the edge of Petra Reservoir.
There's just no pleasing some people!
Last three pictures are, of course, Little Bittern, Bee-eaters and Black Winged Stilt.
Wow, thanks again for sharing Mike.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...