Unending rain keeps me indoors at Dempsey Towers this afternoon, but I was okay, 'cos Mike McKavett had e-mailed me his fabulous pictures and a trip report from his annual trip to Lesvos.
MIke is one of the most meticulous, professional photographers I've ever met (including all my press chums), and this combined with his abilities as a top class birder means his stuff is always amazing. Always.
Thanks for the pix Mike.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies....
Lesvos 2008 - by Mike McKavett
Just a few shots from my recent trip to Lesvos.
We actually got back about a month ago and it was a good trip.
Lesvos was very quiet this year with the number of birders well down.
I don't know if this was because the island is losing its attraction to birders or cock ups by the tour operators.
We were supposed to go for 3 weeks with a company called Manos.
They were taken over last year by Thomas Cook and in their wisdom they decided to cancel the first flight on the 1st May.
As a result we lost our holiday but I managed to book accommodation as we know Vasso who owns the appartments used by Manos.
Lo & behold flight seats available on both Thompson & First Choice on the 1st & 8th May. Personally I think Thomas Cook don't know their arse from their elbow.
Anyway we got there, albeit for 2 weeks instead of the planned 3.
The hotel & taverna owners in Skalla Kalonis were visibly worried at the poor turnout and I can't blame them; it's their living after all.
The 757 hold about 200+ people so if only half are going to Skalla, that represents possibly 100 punters to bed & feed.
Last year, I mentioned that I'd failed with Olive-tree Warbler mainly as a result of the bad weather during my last week & that I was returning this year to have another crack at the little bastards.
Well the danger with that plan is having concentrated on one difficult species and possibly failing, I could come back from what is a superb photographic venue with nothing.
Well I didn't have to worry as good fortune was on my side.
As you can see from the attached shots, the trip was a success but I have to admit the shot of the Bee-eater is an old one.
It's such a nice shot though, I just had to put it in. Let's face it, Bee-eaters are one of Europe's star birds.
Lots of Curlew Sandpipers around the salt-pans, many in almost full breeding plumage.
This is not unusual for Lesvos in mid May but the numbers were good this year.
The Rock Nuthatch is only a standard nest shot but I've included it because appearances can be deceptive.
The nest entrance looks like dry mud but is in fact mashed up insects.
I watched in amazement as the male began to mash up the caterpillars in it's bill and turn them into a sort of green mastic.
The dark green area around the nest entrance just to the left of the bird's head has only recently been applied and is still wet.
Amazingly when the stuff dries it changes colour to orange, like the rest of the nest which is made of mud.
Closer examination of the nest entrance revealed a dried composite of insect and beetle cases. I thought I'd discovered something new, but checking my books on returning home revealed the habit is well documented.
The female Whinchat and male Red-backed Shrike were photographed near Sigri in the far west of the island.
It's the furthest you'll have to drive from Skalla. Only 30 odd miles but it takes well over an hour due to the mountainous terrain on the island.
Sigri is a favoured venue and can turn up some surprises but it's main claim to fame is that it's a migrant trap. Common well known species but sometimes in huge numbers.
The morning I got the Red-backed Shrike, the place was teeming with them.
Almost every weed and bush had it's attendant bird.
I generally find shrikes a little skittish and they don't seem to like cars but with so many that morning, I couldn't fail.
A good place for Red-throated Pipit is the so called 'sheep field'. A seasonally inundated area just south of the salt-pans. It was dry this year but still had pipits coming through.
My favourite shot on this trip? Well it's got to be the singing Isabelline Wheatear.
It was photographed at the well known stake-out by the junction of the Sigri and Erresos road. Isabelline Wheatears nest almost exclusively in rodent burrows and according to BWP this is the main limiting factor in their breeding distribution.
This area is certainly littered with rodent burrows, Mole Rats apparently.
I wanted a shot of the male in it's spectacular song-flight but after watching several males for a couple of days, I realised that wasn't going to happen.
They generally sing quite high up but come down close to the ground when the females are off nest feeding.
The males then hover over them uttering some amazing sounds. The problem for me was predicting where the females were going to feed; an impossible task. I had to content myself with a shot of one perched.
The bird is actually singing to a rival male below and on the other side of the road. Isabelline Wheatears are amazing mimics.
This one did an accurate rendition of bee-eaters, Blue Rock Thrush, gull and amazingly Fieldfare.
God knows where it picked that call up because as far as I know, Isabelline Wheatears winter in sub-saharan africa.
The mimicry even included echo effect. When I first heard it, I thought it was someone behind my hide using a tape recorder. Other calls on this bird's repertoire were car and scooter horn obviously picked up from the passing traffic and an amazing rendition of Marsh Frogs.
Well what about the Olive-tree Warbler?
When we arrived, Michaela (the trouble & strife) suggested I go out while she unpacked. Off I went to my spec in the Potamia Valley and as I drove into the olive grove, a male Olive-tree Warbler singing in the tree right by my vehicle.
This had to be a good omen. I parked up and watched. It soon became apparent that this tree was the focus of much attention not only of the singing male but another bird as well.
After a short while, I realised why; a female nest building. A deep compact nest like a Reed Warbler hanging at the end of an olive-tree branch, only 2 feet off the ground.
To say this was lucky would be an understatement.
I'm not too keen on nest shots of birds but under the circumstances, my best chance of a decent shot of this difficult and frustrating species.
The following morning I was in the hide. The nest was easy to work as there was only one branch shielding the nest.
No cutting or pruning which would be unacceptable and unethical anyway.
Just a case of tying back the overhanging branch with string and hey presto! watch the show. The male would always accompany the female back to the nest, singing.
It would often examine the female's handy work but would only sing in the cover of the tree.
Very frustrating as I didn't get my hoped for shot of the male singing.
I can't complain though as the shots I got were more than I could have hoped for. The shot of the bird looking inside the nest is actually the male just after the female had laid the first egg.
Hope you like the pictures.
Mike's Lesvos Gallery:
Black Winged Stilt: