When this autumn escape was booked at the end of 2019 there was no way of knowing the tumultuous year we were all in for and like most other holidays it was cancelled by the operator. We rebooked with Aegeon and kept our fingers crossed but even that was altered before the final confirmation that it was still good to go. We set out on the 9th from Kent after dropping the cats off and then endured two thankfully unpacked trains to get us to Heathrow for mid afternoon with the monotony broken by Red Kites as we hit West London. This was the first time I had been on public transport since January and it all felt very odd but even with the mandatory masks there were still many who chose to ignore this at a time when the infection rate was rising steadily once again. The airport was empty and even has House Sparrows inside it now rumaging under the tables from dropped crumbs.
We did not have long to wait until the flight was called and after a slightly turbulent flight we touched down in Athens at about 10pm local time and here came the slight downside to the loss of so many flights. A nine hour overnight layover in an almost shut down and ludicrously well lit airport with vociferous cleaning staff and annoyingly repetitive public health announcements is certainly not an experience I wish to go through ever again. But, it was do it this way or not get back to Lesvos at all.
The normally empty early flight to Mytilini turned into a bit of a bun fight as the European press had arrived en masse to cover the burning down of the Moria immigrant camp by its occupants (who wrongly that that this would get them shipped to the mainland) and the threat to the public they and COVID now presented to the island. The press ignored the boarding protocol and hand luggage allowance rules and just headed for the front of the queue and so when we got to the new shiny Mytilini airport half an hour later, I had a chat to an English film crew. I politely asked if when they did their story could they perhaps mention that the island has had a terrible few years with the fallout from the refugees and now COVID and that it is the residents and businesses who are also suffering on an island that is very safe, welcoming and desperately in need of some good positive press or at least a wider view of the bigger story involved. Needless to say they looked at me like I was some sort of mad man who had unnecessarily entered a major war zone.
While they were all fighting for car hire, we popped outside where Alison (Lesvos Car Hire) already had the Jimny waiting and headed off to town where there is now a new route through with big shiny blue diversion signs that say Kalloni. A couple of the turns are even narrower than the old route and I suspect that the coaches (if they ever reappear) will be taking the long scenic route for the time being. I did wonder how many of the press crews got lost...
With the Pela closed up, Thekla had sorted us out with lovely self catering accommodation at Nancy's Studios in Skala Kallonis which sits at the corner of the sand football pitch.
A quick decamp and then out onto Lotzaria for the first of two circuits. It was not heaving with birds but the alfalfa fields were in rotation and each held good numbers of flava Wagtails, Whinchats, Northern Wheatears and a few Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers.
Tree and Tawny Pipits strutted around along with a single Short toed Lark amongst the Cresteds and hoards of mainly House Sparrows.
|Tawny Pipit in a Tree...
Juvenile Bee-eaters sallied out from the wires and over a dozen Red-backed Shrikes, three Woodchats and a single beefy Lesser Grey were seen.
|Lesser Grey Shrike - it was a little bit bright and hazy!
The four usual hirundines were hawking and Common Buzzards squabbled with the Long-legs and Hooded Crows in the hay fields while Marsh Harriers quartered after errant passerine that were not paying attention. Three Short toed Eagles hovered after reptilian prey and a richly ginger juvenile male Goshawk was spooked from the path with Collared Dove prey before taking it to a Almond tree out of the scorching sun.
|Hooded Crows - you can count them if you wish...
|juvenile Long-legged Buzzard
|juvenile Long-legged Buzzard
|By far my closest views of this species and good to see a juvenile
A quick scoot alongside the Kalloni Saltpans added Common, Green and Marsh Sandpiper along with Greenshank, Little Stint and Little Ringed Plover. A Slender billed Gull paddled around with the Black-headed Gulls and two Black Storks circled on the hot northerly wind.
Clouded Yellows and Great Banded Graylings seemed to have no rouble with the windy conditions and still managed to go in whichever direction they chose and Red-veined Darters were perched up on dead stems and wires.
|Great Banded Grayling
The Tsiknias was bone dry above the ford but down near the river mouth there were some Flamingos and singles of Curlew and Glossy Ibis along with a very exciting island tick for me in the shape of an immature Lesser Black Backed Gull. Got to take a tick where you find it! New birdwatching interpretation boards have gone up around the river and pans and look great.
|Lesser Black Backed Gull - bottom left
Dinner was taken at the Dionysis with Peter who was staying in the Pasiphae, where it was great to be so warmly welcomed back by the Stamatis, his family and Yiorgos before bed beckoned...
|Milk Thistle head