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Lesbos RETURNING! The Magic of Lesbos

An 8-day birdwatching tour to the Greek island of Lesbos

Lesbos is a simply stunning island in the eastern Mediterranean, where you can really enjoy the magic of spring bird migration. It may have had a troubled recent history, but has now emerged back into the birding limelight. And who could resist the mouthwatering list of species this tour regularly enjoys? From raptors, shrikes, buntings, pipits and wagtails, to rarities such as Steppe Eagle and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - among the many surprise finds for our groups in past years. No less exciting is the list of Lesbos specialities: Olive-tree Warbler, Krüper’s and Western Rock Nuthatches, plus Cretzschmar’s and Cinereous Buntings. With more than 40 tours under our belts, no one knows Lesbos quite like Limosa... Join us in 2019 and see why this lovely Greek island rates as one of our all-time favourite birding trips!

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
6

Leaders
Mike Crewe

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1745

inc flights from London Heathrow-Mytilene (Lesbos) with Aegean Airlines

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £150
Land Only: £1545

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There is nowhere better than Lesbos in spring to see the scarce Cinereous Bunting © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Limosa has been running birdwatching tours to Lesbos longer than any other specialist bird tour company. Indeed, we first sampled the magic of migration on Lesbos as long ago as spring 1995 - and have operated more than 40 tours there since that wonderful start 25 years ago!

A beautiful and unspoilt island stretched out beneath the warm Mediterranean sun, Lesbos is a place where old farming traditions still hold sway - and it shows in the wealth of glorious wildflowers that are a backdrop throughout our tour, with carpets of blood-red poppies beneath ancient groves of gnarled olives, thyme-scented hillsides alive with the hum of bees and stands of orchids amidst cool forests of pine. Such an idyllic setting would be reason enough to travel to this lovely Aegean island - but a spring visit to Lesbos brings migrant birds in abundance and variety, too!

Late April through early May is the time for birdwatchers to visit Lesbos. For it’s only then that the special birds arrive on the island. A regular halt for classic Mediterranean species such as European Roller, European Bee-eater and Red-rumped Swallow, Lesbos also entices birds of a more easterly character - including Baillon’s and Little Crakes, Collared Flycatcher, Masked Shrike, Pallid Harrier and flocks of Red-footed Falcons. While 'falls' of migrants can never be predicted and numbers can vary widely year on year, the prospect of not knowing what the next day will bring is all part of the fun!

Expansive saltpans not far from our hotel are home to sweeping flocks of Greater Flamingos and dancing White-winged Terns. Shorebirds teem along channels, wetland and streambeds and in late April can include a number of very smart species, such as Great Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Spur-winged Lapwing and Broad-billed Sandpiper.

Lesbos is also home to some of the most sought-after but localised breeding birds in all Europe. Krüper’s and Western Rock Nuthatches are resident, and summer visitors to the island include Rüppell’s, Subalpine, Olive-tree and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, plus a trio of great buntings - Cretzschmar’s, Black-headed and Cinereous.

Over the years, we have also come across our fair share of rarities on the island, too - from Steppe Eagle and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater to White-throated Robin and Thrush Nightingale.

We are based throughout at the same friendly, family-run hotel we've been returning to for years - conveniently located at the island’s heart, with good home cooking, service with a smile and where nothing is too much trouble. This is a tour with all-round appeal - from the antics of playful Persian Squirrels right down to our mix of leisurely picnics and taverna lunches.

Whatever the excitements of the day - be it an excursion into the forests on Mount Olympus in search of Krüper’s Nuthatch and various orchids; finding ourselves caught up amidst an exciting fall of migrants; or pausing to enjoy the exquisite Eastern Festoon butterflies on the way up to the 12th-century monastery at Ipsilou - as the evening chorus of Nightingales, crickets and tree frogs takes over from the incessant daytime hum of cicadas, we can sit back on the hotel terrace and savour the true 'magic of Lesbos'.

Limosa can justly claim to know Lesbos and its special birds as well as anyone. This April 2019 tour will be guide Mike Crewe's 10th tour to Lesbos and Limosa's 42nd visit there... Join the experts for an unbeatable, small group birdwatching holiday as spring returns to the eastern Mediterranean - and revel in the very best of Aegean birding!

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The diminutive Baillon's Crake is a potential treat for participants on our annual spring tour to Lesbos © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Day 1            
FLY MYTILENE, TRANSFER TO SKALA KALLONIS

Our spring birdwatching tour to Lesbos begins with an Aegean Airlines flight from London Heathrow via Athens to Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos. We transfer (45 minutes) to our comfortable and convenient hotel in Skala Kallonis, which will be our base throughout the holiday. Night Skala Kallonis

Days 2 - 7                             
KALLONI & BEYOND

Skala Kallonis is a fishing village at the northern end of Kalloni Bay. Centrally located, it offers easy access to all the best birding sites - with the prospect of migrants such as Squacco Heron, Garganey and White-winged Tern on the pool right outside our hotel.         

A visit to the nearby Tsiknias River should more than whet our appetites for the days to come. Exotic Black-headed Buntings will be arriving now to sing from the bush-tops, Bee-eaters nest, and fields and banks fringed with willow and pink-flowering tamarisks harbour Stone-curlews, loud-voiced Cetti’s, Great Reed and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Crested Lark and Spanish Sparrow. Passage migrants such as Purple Heron, Black Stork, Little Crake and Lesser Grey Shrike regularly drop by in spring and clusters of graceful Whiskered Terns and immaculate Glossy Ibises are often seen.

Working our way around Kalloni’s saltpans, we’ll watch for migrant Greater Short-toed Larks, Red-throated Pipits and lots of water birds. Expect anything from Pied Avocets and high-stepping Black-winged Stilts to rose-pink Greater Flamingos and handsome Ruddy Shelducks, while troops of vibrant yellow Black-headed Wagtails that patrol the grassy meadows sometimes conceal the much rarer Citrine. One morning the saltpans might hold a solitary Marsh Sandpiper looking as fragile as porcelain; next day, top of the bill might be a group of elegant Curlew Sandpipers in perfect brick-red summer plumage - or perhaps a ghostly male Pallid Harrier coasting through on migration.          

Groves of silver-leaved olives grace the hills above Kalloni and provide a summer home for one of the region’s most sought-after birds: Olive-tree Warbler. Always shy and elusive, this robust Hippolais is more easily heard than seen but we’ll be hoping for continued success at our own reliable spots. We'll also learn to be wary about the pitfall of singing Masked Shrike! Sombre Tit, Hoopoe and Middle Spotted Woodpecker also nest here - and a roosting Eurasian Scops Owl is often about, too.          

The western side of Lesbos is an area of wild and beautiful Aegean hills. Like the Short-toed Snake Eagle that hangs high overhead, we can overlook it all from the 900-year-old monastery at Ipsilou, high on a tree-clad hillside. Long-legged Buzzard, Chukar, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Rock Sparrow and Western Rock Nuthatch haunt the hillsides, where a range of fascinating Mediterranean plants and butterflies flourish on the broken, rocky terrain. This is ideal habitat for wheatears and we should be able to find a few sandy Isabellines among the more numerous Black-eared and Northern Wheatears. The west is an important stronghold of the range-restricted Cinereous Bunting; indeed, there is probably nowhere better than Lesbos to see this very scarce bird. Flycatchers here often include the lively Red-breasted Flycatcher and the pie-bald delights of Collared, Pied and the rare Semi-collared Flycatcher.         

At Eressos, Little Bitterns may be seen feeding openly along the edges of the Chalandra River. Continuing on beyond the small coastal town of Sigri, we’ll check some likely spots for Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and look offshore for possible Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters. During April and early May, we could well find ourselves birding amidst an exciting ‘fall’ of warblers, flycatchers, shrikes and other migrants.          

The north side of the island is a good place to see graceful Red-rumped Swallows gathering mud for their distinctive tunnel nests, while cliff-top scrub along the coast from Petra is the haunt of Rüppell’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers, and displaying Blue Rock Thrushes drift past in fluting song-flight. Magnificently scenic, it’s here that Peregrine and the elegant Eleonora’s Falcon breed, the latter only now beginning to arrive back on the island from their winter quarters on distant Madagascar.

The countryside east of Skala Kallonis is a favourite haunt of Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, as well as good numbers of Subalpine Warblers as we travel on to Mt. Olympus. At 968m (3175ft), Mt. Olympus is the highest point on the island. The forests of Calabrian Pine which clad the lower slopes are home to the last of the island’s speciality birds: the elfin Krüper’s Nuthatch. Occurring here at the westernmost limit of its very restricted world range, this animated little chap should be busy nesting now and never fails to delight its audience. Higher up, where the pines give way to woodlands of Sweet Chestnut, the flora is superb with a fine show of wild tulips, fritillaries and orchids in spring. These can include Provençe, Toothed and Painted Orchids, Long-leaved Helleborine and the rare Komper’s Orchid.

Springtime on Lesbos is always a joy and our days on the island will remain flexible to take best advantage of the season’s migration as it unfolds. Although they can never be predicted, ‘falls’ of migrants occur regularly in late April and early May - and can bring surprises! Pygmy Cormorant, Dalmatian Pelican, Demoiselle Crane, Levant Sparrowhawk, Spur-winged Lapwing, Great Snipe, Terek Sandpiper, Collared and Black-winged Pratincoles, Citrine Wagtail, White-throated Robin and the island’s first-ever record of Steppe Eagle are just some of the unexpected rarities our groups have enjoyed on Lesbos over the years. Six further nights Skala Kallonis

Day 8                        
MYTILENE, FLY LONDON

We return to Mytilene airport this morning and catch the Aegean Airlines flight back to Athens with onward connection to London Heathrow, where our birdwatching holiday to Lesbos concludes.

TAWNY PIPIT 1161 Lesbos 2013 Gordon Small

A super portrait of a Tawny Pipit taken on our Lesbos tour © tour particIpant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

What To Expect

Experience the true magic of Lesbos on this long-running tour timed to coincide with the peak of spring bird migration through this Eastern Mediterranean hotspot. Exciting daily turnover of species, with Baillon’s Crake, Demoiselle Crane and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater among a host of surprise finds over the years - alongside Lesbos specialities such as Olive-tree Warbler, Krüper’s Nuthatch and Cinereous Bunting.

No one knows Lesbos quite like Limosa... Join us for our 42nd visit there and see why this lovely Greek island rates as one of our all-time favourite trips!

In spring, expect sunshine and showers, with spring temperatures on Lesbos typically in the range of 10-25C (50-77F). Some years can be cooler than others, so come prepared for cool weather with some lightweight layers of warm clothing, just in case.

Birds

135-175 species

This tour can also be excellent for orchids and spring wildflowers.

Butterflies

A few early spring butterflies, including Eastern Festoon, are usually about.

Accommodation

We are based throughout at the Hotel Pela, a small and friendly, family-run hotel in Skala Kallonis. We've been returning here for years and our groups are assured of a warm welcome and personal service, delicious meals and comfortable en suite rooms - plus great birding right on the doorstep! The hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, though it is quite cool in spring!

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on Day 1 and concluding with breakfast on Day 8. The hotel's home-cooked Greek meals are varied and tasty. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Our mix of Greek picnics and relaxed taverna lunches are another popular feature of this tour.

Walking

Easy. Short walks through unspoilt countryside. Wear comfy walking shoes.

Travel

There isn't a great deal of choice when it comes to flights from the UK to Lesbos. The direct charter flights don't start to operate until mid-May - by when the best of the spring bird migration through the island is over! So on this tour we use Aegean Airlines scheduled service from London Heathrow via Athens to Mytilene.

Ground transport by minibus. Almost everywhere on Lesbos lies within an hour or so drive of our convenient, centrally located hotel.

MASKED SHRIKE 386 Lesbos 2013 Gordon Small

A lovely pair of Masked Shrikes on Lesbos © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

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1 AS, Lesbos tour Richard is an inspirational leader who is able to include birders of all abilities. He was there at Heathrow and Athens to help and inform his clients... Overall an excellent holiday. A great leader, a happy and friendly tour group with an age span of mid-30s to mid-70s. “Apres birding” meetings and dinner were entertaining and we all got on very well together. [empty string]
2 MD, Lesbos tour ... Lesvos is an island with many different habitats that in the migration season you just never know what’s round the next bend - a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, a Baillon’s Crake perhaps, or a Black Stork just 20 metres away... [empty string]
3 CG, Lesbos tour Limosa is my first choice for wildlife holidays. Thanks for a lovely, relaxing, interesting and happy holiday... The early morning sunrise, watching saltpans brimming over with birds, was memorable. Breakfast on the terrace, in warm sunshine, with nesting Swallows skimming overhead and chattering to each other. A holiday indeed! [empty string]
4 EC, Lesbos tour We would like you to know how much we enjoyed the holiday. Everything was perfect, the leaders were great and Richard in particular made sure that I as a keen amateur saw everything. The hotel was excellent, Thekla could not do enough to make sure everybody was happy and the rest of the group were very friendly. [empty string]
5 IB, Lesbos tour This was my first guided birding tour with any operator. I have been so impressed with every aspect of the Limosa tour that I intend to look no further when choosing my next one! The two leaders - Richard & Robin - were simply top notch, always knowledgeable and caring. [empty string]
6 R&KG, Lesbos tour In your brochure you said you never forget that the tour is a holiday and you lived up to this 100%. Your guide (Richard Thaxton) was superb, amiable and knowledgeable, the accommodation and hotel staff comfortable and welcoming. We will book again soon! [empty string]
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