The green and fertile island of Lesbos lies in the Aegean Sea just a few kilometres from the coast of Turkey. Third largest of the Greek islands, it has a rugged mountainous interior which travellers can access by means of narrow twisting roads passing through villages where the traditional way of life is virtually unchanged. A magnificent coastline has thus far largely escaped the ravages of mass tourism, although the island has always been popular with Greek holidaymakers and artists. A major source of revenue is the production of high quality olive oil and one of the most conspicuous aspects of the island vegetation is the abundance of Olive Trees which seem to adorn every hillside and valley. Fishing is still an important industry but, as with other fisheries in Europe, catches have been much reduced in recent years. Another local industry is the distilling of Ouzo and the product can be sampled at the numerous tavernas which are such a feature of Greek island life. With so many natural attributes Lesbos is a perfect holiday destination; but for birdwatchers there is further incentive, for the island is not only perfectly situated as a stop-over for migrant birds heading north from Africa, but also boasts an impressive list of breeding species. There are few better places in Europe to observe the ebb and flow of spring migration and certainly none more pleasant.
We are based for seven nights at a small family-run hotel in the village of Skala Kallonis at the head of a large shallow inlet from the sea. The village is renowned for its Sardine fishery and there are a number of excellent restaurants along the waterside to sample this local speciality. The sheltered waters of the bay and uncrowded beaches provide diversions for anyone wishing to relax in the Aegean sun but Skala Kallonis is also close to some of the best birdwatching sites on Lesbos and a perfect base for our activities.
A variety of pools, marshes and salt-pans in the vicinity of Skala Kallonis provide some of the biggest concentrations of birds on the island and will warrant daily inspection to witness the ever changing populations of passage migrants, in particular herons, waders and marsh terns. Venturing further afield we will arrange our programme to ensure a leisurely exploration of the prime birding areas elsewhere on the island. A full day will be spent in each of the main regions, allowing plenty of time to thoroughly investigate the range of habitats and to enjoy unhurried lunches at convenient tavernas. In the course of our travels we will be seeing rural corners of the island where donkeys replace motor vehicles and herds of goats browse in pastoral scenes, which seem a world away from the windsurfing and paragliding activities of the tourist resorts.
The local Kruper’s Nuthatch and Cinereous Bunting are two of the rarer breeding birds that we will be hoping to find, but many other delights await us including Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Bee-eater, Lesser Grey and Masked Shrikes, Rock Nuthatch, Ruppell’s and Olive-tree Warblers to name but a few. Whether crossing rock-strewn hillsides where Blackeared Wheatears and Cretzschmar’s Buntings abound, or watching waders probing alongside egrets and herons on a muddy pool, we are never far from birds on Lesbos, and in late April and early May each morning brings a fresh selection of new arrivals. Some, like Black-winged Stilts, Collared Pratincoles and Red-footed Falcons, may linger for days where there is a good supply of food; others, driven by the compulsion to move north to breeding grounds, only settle for a few moments before continuing their journey. Such wanderers can turn up almost anywhere and enhance the sense of anticipation at every birdwatching stop. The regular migrants form a long and impressive list but added to this are vagrants, many of Central Asian origin, which have occurred in recent years including Lanner Falcon, Spur-winged Plover, Great Snipe, Citrine Wagtail and White-throated Robin.
Birdwatching in Lesbos during the spring migration season is an unforgettable experience, but there will be many other memories to take away as a reminder of our stay on the island. Hot sunny days ending with the chorus of cicadas and crickets, fireflies flashing in the darkness, lizards scuttling from underfoot, and a profusion of wild flowers and butterflies including among the latter the impressive Scarce Swallowtail. Add to this heady mixture the warm hospitality of our island hosts and you have all the components of a superlative holiday.
Lesbos is a birders' heaven, the island is unspoiled and with the spring migration the variety of birds is constantly changing. Birders are willing to discuss sightings which was mutually beneficial. There is great diversity of high rocky mountainous areas to low wetlands, salt pans and coastal areas. All of which were highly enjoyable for walking and finding wildflowers, birds, butterflies - definitely therapeutic. Every day was a pleasurable experience. Concerns regarding illegal human immigrants were unfounded. I can recommend Lesbos, definitely worth a visit.
An excellent holiday overall, with a wide range of species, interesting habitats, good catering arrangements, and all at a relaxed pace. But what made it really special was our leader: Chris Murphy is not just very good/excellent but really exceptional in terms of all the key leadership qualities - good local knowledge, ability to find and identify species, skilful/quick use of telescope, caring and communication, and very good company, as well as constant enthusiasm. A truly enjoyable experience and well worth waiting for!
Chris Murphy made this holiday. He is a fantastic leader with all the skills and qualities I enjoy from a leader.
My husband is the real birdwatcher - and I mean a real birdwatcher! He appreciated the expertise of the two guides. I felt that their knowledge was brilliant and they managed to include everyone on the tour with all that was happening. Enjoyed the variety of food and the places to eat. Great choice of holiday for serious birders and novices alike - plenty of spring flowers too.
As a birding holiday where the aim was to see new species (26 in my case) and a range of species (ca. 140), this was highly successful. Added to that were good food and beautiful scenery, in addition to good weather.
On an island that was full of birdwatchers, it was particularly appreciated that the leaders were able to take us to remote locations where we were often the only group present. The itinerary was tailored so as to maximise the number of species seen.
Opportunities to eat in local tavernas, thus sampling a bit of Greek culture, were appreciated, as were (coincidental) visits to historical religious sites.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable birding holiday.
Good range of habitat and birds. Chris Murphy worked hard to ensure everyone’s wish list was fulfilled and helped me (as the groups least experienced birder) to identify the different Warblers and Buntings.
Picnic lunches were excellent and varied.
The quality of the leaders was outstanding and enabled us to see virtually all the birds we’d hoped for. Lesbos is clearly underdeveloped as a tourist destination but this is a definite plus on a birdwatching holiday.
The group worked well together and with the leaders as on previous trips we have had with Naturetrek. Entirely what we have come to expect.
The guides (Chris and Martin) were excellent and made the holiday. The birds seen were spectacular – either outstanding views of birds we might see in the UK or completely new species. We were lucky with our group which worked well together overall. We are already exchanging photos.
The guides were willing to adapt to the interests of the group – quite a number of us were very interested in botany, as well as birds and so we were able to enjoy this as well.
Merely ‘excellent’ fails to do full justice to the tour leaders Chris Murphy and Marcus John. The leaders made for good communal spirit within the group and were concerned that we saw everything we wanted to properly, without it all becoming too hectic. Chris Murphy’s profound knowledge of all aspects of the island was staggering and made sure that we got as much out of the trip as possible.
The guides were well informed and knowledgeable as expected. They both worked well together leading us and helping socially and most professional.The lunchtime picnics were great fun as we were lucky with the weather.
The hotel gardens were a great source of interest; a nightingale - I'm assuming one - was around the whole week and sang every day; and the gardens seemed to be the haunt of several owls, which were seen several nights by some group members. Lots of bird busyness went on during the day - Spanish Sparrow, Olivaceous Warblers etc.
Mr & Mrs M
We thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The leaders, Chris and Mike, were excellent: friendly, personable, highly knowledgeable, highly enthusiastic, patient and diligent in helping each one of the group 'get on' with the birds. The size of the group - 14 - was just right and we all got on very well. We saw some great birds and went to some beautiful places.
An excellent holiday. Three highlights: the island of Lesbos, the birds and the two outstanding leaders. Chris and Mike were incredibly knowledgeable, patient and hard-working. They got us on to all the birds possible and we were lucky. Well done.
I found Reg Thorpe exceptionally good as a leader for this tour. His knowledge and sharp ears and eyes found us the key species plus other less expected birds.
Lesbos in mid-April is as close to birding heaven as Im likely to get, but its worth separating the ingredients that made this such a special trip for me... Another contributing factor was the geography of the island with the comfortable distances to and from the various sites, enabling us to be based at one hotel throughout. Ive now been on six holidays of this type...and I think the one particular feature of this trip that stood out was the qualities of the two leaders. Profound ornithological knowledge one takes for granted...The level of banter, always good-natured, was at just the right level, nothing was too much trouble, patiently getting the last person onto a difficult-to-see bird. They clearly put a lot of energy into everything they did, not least behind the scenes, while making the whole progress of the tour smooth and seemingly effortless... So full marks to them and Naturetrek for an exceptional and memorable trip. Its worth mentioning that both leaders driving was as excellent and reassuring as one could wish, particularly necessary on the unmade and sometimes precipitous mountain roads.
This holiday encompassed all our expectations in regards to bird watching. The tour leaders, Mike Hodgson and Reg Thorpe gave us a great experience with their knowledge of venues and bird identification, giving us many new and unexpected birds.
We have just returned from a trip to Lesbos and I would like to thank everyone involved for a very sucessful holiday. I felt I needed to write especially to commend the leaders for this trip - Mike Hodgson and Reg Thorpe. They were exemplary in their bird locating and identification skills as might be expected on such a holiday but way and above that, their ability to draw the group together was excellent. They were especially kind and helpful to my family who represented the oldest and the youngest members of the group... I cannot praise them and their welcoming and inclusive attitude highly enough.
The hotel was excellent...comfortable beds and plenty of hot water for the shower... No words of mine can express my admiration for the professionalism and dedication shown by both leaders. Their devotion to making our holiday an enjoyable one, bordered on obsession. Nothing was too much trouble, and they bent over backwards to please all the people all the time... Their birding abilities constantly astonished me with their knowledge and identification skills. Every bird of any interest was instantly scoped for all the group to see if they wished and didnt have a telescope... They always made sure that everyone had seen the bird before we left the site...they retained their enthusiasm for birds and transmitted this to the rest of the group.
One of the very best birding trips I have ever had. Lesbos is a lovely island and our base was in the centre of a splendidly rich birding area. The trip was well organised, planned down to the last details and our tour leaders were more than excellent. They were inspired birders, highly efficient, good fun to be with, and so considerate of everyones welfare. They never grudged sharing their time and expertise, ensured that the less skilled birds saw everything - undoubtedly the best leaders I have been with.
Mike and Dave couldnt have done more! Excellent bird watchers and very good company. We are very keen to go on trips with them again.
Both leaders worked very hard to make the trip a success; they were extremely patient and ensured that we had an enjoyable week. Both deserve well merited thanks.
Please convey our thanks to the two tour leaders, who did an excellent job and also were such good company.
Both Mike and Dave were excellent, very accommodating and extremely knowledgeable. They made the holiday.
Mr & Mrs P.
A wonderful trip - our leaders were superb and worked hard to meet everyones needs. Very good company too.
My wife and I had a splendid trip, and thank you for that.