Although spring has been in fill swing now for some weeks, the spring migration of birders doesn’t occur until the third week of April when the charter flights begin flying. So, from 19 April the Kalloni area will be swarming with newly arrived birders, eager to drink in all the new sights and sounds of their Lesvos return or first time visit.
Good for the locals, but not so the birders, is the recent fine weather the island has enjoyed with, apart from the odd storm, relatively little early spring rains. This means that the water levels in the rivers and in particular the coastal wetlands will continue to drain and evaporate rather than keep stable. If we don’t see any more rain it will mean that those birders arriving in May, may not have much wetland areas left to look at.
These wetlands are not only important for the winter birds (see previous blog post) but are vital for migrant birds to refuel. They are the roadside service station of choice for hungry and thirsty migrants. Water is life giving and, along with the sun, the main need for plants to grow, insects to hatch and take to their wings or feet, and for frogs and fish to spawn. And all of these things are key for birds, as they are all food.
Migrants began to trickle through Lesvos from early March. In fact, this March saw the earliest ever arrival dates of several migrant bird species – Hoopoe (which has also been seen in winter before now), Willow Warbler and Yellow Wagtail. Not to mention the Finsch’s Wheatear found by local birder Eleni Gallinou in February near Sigri (but we’re certain that this bird spent the winter on the island and wasn’t a migrant) – only the fifth record for Lesvos and the sixth record for the whole of Greece! Some other nice species have already been seen by the handful of locals this last month including a Spur-winged Plover at the Tsiknias River at the end of March.
It stands to reason that with many more eyes looking for them, many more birds will be found from the 19 April onwards. If the weather follows recent years, then we can expect the second half of April to be dry with clear skies – not great for migrant hunting. Clear skies are what migrant birds need to migrate. The clearer the better as it means they can get to where they’re going a whole lot quicker. For the bird-hungry birder this can be frustrating as it means that all but the hungriest of migrants, or birds coming to Lesvos to breed, fly over the island without stopping.
The wind too makes a big difference. If it’s all southerly then that’s good to bring the migrants from the south, but combined with clear skies means that’s the perfect weather for them to pass over unseen. But if we add a little northerly wind (brrr) and rain in to the mix, then it can all change. On their own either can help to bring migrants down on the island, but together they can cause major arrivals (falls) of migrants, especially the smaller passerines – warblers, flycatchers and shrikes – the real fayre of the migrant-hungry birder.
Imagine every tree is dripping with birds. Dotted like baubles amongst the green foliage. Imagine standing rooted to the spot for several hours because there are so many birds to look at you can’t move. Well on the right day, with the right weather, you don’t have to imagine it on Lesvos – you can live it.
I remember such a day some years back when it took my group four hours to move only 100m along the road at Moni Ipsilou. You couldn’t see the monastery as it was shrouded in low cloud. The wind was in the north and bitingly cold. But migrants were moving up from Tsichliondas Bay, up the Meladia Valley following the green, bush-lined river north, inland, and straight to Ipsilou. The birds moved up the slopes but were then stopped in their tracks by the cloud hiding the monastery above us. They had nowhere to go other than around, around, and around the mount. So all we had to do was stay put and watch them pass us by, flitting from bush to bush – Collared, Semicollared, Pied, Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers; Willow, Wood, Bonelli’s, Icterine, Orphean and Subalpine Warblers; Blackcaps; Common and Lesser Whitethroats; Masked, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes Hoopoes and Golden Orioles – its was endless. It was brilliant! And when the cloud finally started to lift and the sun shone through to breath a little warmth in to us, the aerial masters skimmed through – swallows, martins, swifts; and then the raptors appeared – Montagu’s Harriers, Honey-buzzards, Lesser Kestrels, Eleonora’s Falcons – brilliant just got even better!
These are the days many birders live for. They live with us forever. These are the sorts of days that very few European birding destinations can deliver. These are the days that Lesvos offers and delivers like nowhere else I know. This is the magic of Lesvos.
You can read a full account of one of my magical migration days in There and Back: a celebration of migration (Langford Press, 2011) and Lesvos is featured in the new book Migration Hotspots (Bloomsbury, 2013).
You can view the latest bird sightings on the island here.
You can view Lesvos bird names in seven different languages, including Greek, here.