Greek Island of Kos 05th - 12th May 2005

by Dave Pearce

This trip with Ornitholidays was not our first choice (which was full) for this destination.  This was a new destination for the company and therefore it was not a question of being taken to target species all the time - we had to find them ourselves to some extent, which made the trip a bit more of a challenge (although our amiable leader, Mike Witherick, a top ex-RSPB man, was highly competent).  As a consequence, our bird list of 111 species may be regarded as a bit thin!  An aspect, which we usually avoid, are lunches in tavernas which take up a lot of birding time compared with picnic lunches in the fields.  The weather was excellent and as a consequence, most migrants probably passed over us! 

Day 1 Gatwick to Kos (Hotel & Lake)

A late lunch was taken at the Hotel Palladium at Marmari and then we went to the nearby salt lake Alikes - the only lake on the island.  Here we had a very close view from the minibus of an immature male Little Bittern.  The Lake always contained up to 50 Greater Flamingos and 10 Ruddy Shelducks.  Waders, which were present most days, usually in summer plumage, were Little Stints, Curlew and Common Sandpipers, Dunlins, Ruff, Greenshanks, Wood Sandpipers and Turnstones all viewed down to 10 yards.  A single Grey Plover was present today.  Up to eight Slender-billed Gulls were present daily and could be observed to within 20 yards.  On occasions they appeared to be displaying by all quickly pecking at the mud together and one adult at least had a pink tinge. 

Up to 20 Whiskered, 10 Black, several White-winged Terns and Gull-billed Terns were seen feeding over the marshy fields around the hotel on most days, along with up to 5 Cattle and a few Little Egrets.  Many Yellow Wagtails (mostly the Blue-headed flava) were also feeding in the fields and occasionally one would fly up with a frothy “shriee” call and was a Black-headed Wagtail of the race feldegg

Two Black-headed Buntings were by the hotel and sang from perches throughout the week, as did many Olivaceous Warblers within the hotel grounds. 

There were always up to 10 Lesser Kestrels around the hotel (with a few Common Kestrels).  The bluish wing panel of the male was only very occasionally seen when the bird was perched.  I was unclear whether these were resident or passing through, probably the latter.  A flock of 30 falcons in the distance turned out to be a mixture of Red-footed Falcons (mostly males) and Lesser Kestrels.  At a distance both species had a similar jizz and were very elegant - both gliding on drooped wings and eating insects using their feet like a Hobby.  I watched a Lesser Kestrel eating a vole whilst on the wing.  When hovering the latter held its tail downwards compared to the Red-footed Falcon which held its tail horizontally.             

Day 2 (Limestone Plateau & Old Pyli)

We visited a limestone plateau, with deep wadis, to the west of Mastichari, which had several rough tracks crossing it.  Here we saw about 10 Cretzschmar's Buntings and Corn and Black-headed Buntings were common.  A few Marsh and Hen Harriers, a Whinchat, Woodchat Shrikes, Black-eared Wheatears, Alpine Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows were seen. 

A Golden Oriole was close by in the open and another mobbed a Cuckoo.  Many Bee-eaters were seen, along with several Rollers - often perched on wires when one could drive right up beneath them.  Similarly, very close views of a male and female Red-footed Falcons were obtained (and about ten others were seen). 

Two Long-legged Buzzards were probably at their nest site and looked very pale brown (especially at rest) with a light coloured upper tail. 

An Isabelline Wheatear and a Calandra Lark (with the black neck patch) gave close views as Short-toed Larks sang in the background.  A Squacco Heron was down by the stream.  

In the pine "forest" at Plaka were feral Peacocks, Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Greenfinches. 

In the afternoon we drove up to Old Pyli at the foot of the Dikheus Mountains.  Jackdaws were numerous here and there were a few Coal Tits (scruffy compared to our neat birds), Great Tits and many Spotted Flycatchers, Blackbirds and Chaffinches.  A Scops Owl called and then answered our tape.  It was quite windy and it was clear that Lesser Kestrels liked these conditions in the foothills.    

At the lake we had extremely close views of a Collared Pratincole (red brown underwing and thin white trailing edge) on the track and flying and also two Stone Curlews on the track, which eventually flew off.  A Kentish and Ringed Plover and a sub-adult Audouin's Gull and a few Pallid among many Common Swifts were also new species. 

Day 3 (Empros Thermi & Psalidi & Zia)

A strong wind was blowing so we went to the cliffs at Empros Thermi.  No Eleonora's Falcons were seen but four pairs of Blue Rock Thrush were very close together and were singing with a song rather like that of a Mistle Thrush.  

Retracing our route to Psalidi we visited a small wetland reserve on the coast.  There were several Cory’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters at sea and a Cormorant together with an Audouin's Gull.  There were many Yellow and a few Black-headed Wagtails and a Whinchat

On the reserve there were Coots, Moorhens, Reed Warblers, Little Grebes and Bee-eaters and a single Squacco Heron and male Garganey

Returning via the Lake we watched five (one immature) Audouin's and four Slender-billed Gulls feeding close together. 

After lunch we went up the mountain to Zia where there were many Serins, Spotted Flycatchers and Sardinian Warblers and some good views of two Subalpine Warblers.  A tape of the Rüppell’s Warbler's song was immediately answered by Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers.  Although the song of all these species sound very similar to my ears one would have thought they would differentiate amongst themselves!          

We had super views of a Long-legged Buzzard close to a smaller raptor (about 2/3rds the length) with drooped wings, which was probably a Honey Buzzard.  Also a Peregrine briefly showed along the skyline. 

At the Lake the only newcomer were two Sanderlings (one in summer, and the other in winter, plumage).  

Day 4 (Kamari & Limestone Plateau) 

We drove to the high hilly promontory at the western end above Kamari. 

Although the hoped-for Bonelli's Eagle did not appear for sure (probably seen in the distance) a few Hobbies, a Long-legged Buzzard and Lesser Kestrels were seen.  A pair of stocky, brown, broad winged falcons, nearly as large as a nearby Common Buzzard, were identified as Sakers.  A Raven and a Little Owl were also new species.  We had more good views of Rollers including a probable breeding pair. 

On the way back we came over the limestone plateau and saw about ten Rollers (including four mobbing a Hoodie), 500 Bee-eaters, five Woodchat Shrikes, two Northern Wheatears and ten Black-eared Wheatears (one singing was of the black-throated form) and a Snipe was flushed from the stream. 

Two Marsh Harriers, a female and an immature Hen Harrier (it still had a white rump despite being clearly a male) hunted over the area.  A very pale-headed Red-footed Falcon put up a Ruff in the middle of the island and we saw a probable second pair of Sakers.  Two pairs each of Common and Long-legged Buzzards and about six Hobbies flew overhead.   

Day 5 (Foothills of the Dikheus Mountains)

Before breakfast a visit to the Lake gave us a Great Reed Warbler, Squacco Heron and a small flock of Greenshank.   

The morning was spent along the foothills of the Dikheus Mountains.  A few Scops Owls were heard and we had distant views of a Bonelli's Eagle perched on a rock and a little later briefly saw two together and a probable food pass.  Nightingales were heard and seen, a pair of Stonechats, a Red-rumped Swallow's nest was under a culvert, and several Cretzschmar's Buntings sang.  An Orphean Warbler was heard (the song could be overlooked as a Song Thrush/ Nightingale/ Blackbird with so many other birds singing) and eventually close views revealed a white eye ring.  A very smart (silver headed) Black-eared Wheatear was seen and a few Subalpines were amongst the many Sardinian Warblers.  A Hoopoe was heard. 

A Hobby flew by and a circling Long-legged Buzzard with prey displayed overhead.  We had several views of Honey Buzzards with their drooping wings, sometimes briefly and slightly upturned and then flicked down in a characteristic manner. 

In the evening we visited a nearby quarry where there were two Rollers and a Chukar Partridge.  Suddenly a calling Great Spotted Cuckoo appeared and posed on the top of some bushes.  The first good view I have ever had of one. 

The evening meal was based on Ancient Greek dishes and we all agreed the roast lamb with prunes, apricots and honey was superb.  The friendly, family-run Hotel Palladium was excellent and conveniently close to the productive Lake Alikes.     

Day 6 (Nisyros Island) 

After seeing a Night Heron before breakfast, we made our way to Kardamena on the south coast.  On the way (about half an hour) at least 10 Rollers were seen. 

Here we went aboard a boat (10 Shags just outside the harbour) to Nisyros Island (about 70 minutes) but calm seas meant no Shearwaters and only distant views of Eleonora’s Falcons and Long-legged Buzzards

We walked up to the castle and it was a treat to spot ten Subalpine Warblers without having to sift through many Sardinian Warblers as on previous days.  Close views of two Orphean Warblers were obtained - one feeding young and the other in display flight, singing with a mixture of warbler and flutey notes (the outer white tail feathers were well seen).  A few Blue Tits were present. 

On the way up to the volcanic caldera were two Blue Rock Thrushes.  At the caldera we had excellent close views of an Eleonora’s Falcon (pale morph) showing the black coverts and paler primaries; about six others were seen more distantly.  A White Wagtail, a Northern Wheatear, Cretzschmar's Bunting and more Subalpine Warblers were also seen.  There were many Bee-eaters, some Red-rumped Swallows and Alpine Swifts and a flock of Turtle Doves.  The caldera also had a colony of Lesser Kestrels

After landing back at Kardamena we entered a nearby valley and saw two Chukars, Cretzschmar's Buntings and heard a Scops Owl.   Overhead a Honey Buzzard and a Hobby flew by and two Rollers interacted with a Jackdaw.     

Day 7 (Limestone Plateau)

Before breakfast, in a small marsh near the hotel, we watched a male Little Bittern warming itself in the sun, together with a Night Heron, Little and Cattle Egrets and several Wood Sandpipers viewed down to 5 yards.  As the week progressed the marsh became smaller by dumped gravel as a road was built close by and soon will be no longer.  Pity!  A Golden Oriole was heard. 

We visited the limestone plateau again but this was somewhat thwarted by the military.  However, we did well, spotting more Rollers (including a pair rolling) and another Great Spotted Cuckoo.  A male Red-foot, Hobby and an Eleonora’s Falcon flew overhead.  After each flyover, there was much discussion about which species had been seen but it was very difficult to be sure!  The usual Buzzards and Harriers were seen and also a Little Ringed Plover on the shore. 

Lunch at Mastichari was enlivened by a line of 28 adult Mediterranean Gulls, all in perfect summer plumage and making their distinctive “Yeah” calls whilst flying overhead.  A very fine sight indeed.   

At the Lake we had a new bird - a Temminck's Stint and also a close view of an oiled one, and the Slender-bills were now up to eight in number.

Day 8 (Pyli) 

The Little Bittern and Night Heron were seen before breakfast and then we explored the area west of Pyli.  Eight sightings of Rollers were made, about our daily average, and there was the usual backdrop of Buzzards and falcons.  The only new bird was a Red-backed Shrike

Vic and I assumed on Day 1 at Gatwick that our birding activities would be somewhat restricted when we estimated the age of two of the ladies in the party to be about 90 (the oldest was 93!).  In practice they were most accommodating and were delightful ladies.  I cannot imagine myself at 93 getting up at 2am to catch a plane and still be in good humour at 10pm (really two hours later than this) later in the day! An example to us all!