March and April are unpredictable months weather-wise. As days begin to brighten the temperatures also pick up but it can be showery and windy. By the end of April and into May, air temperature becomes noticeably warmer and rainfall becomes less likely. May daytime temperatures can be tempered by northerly winds making it feel decidedly cool on some days.
Migration is already underway in early March with early migrant species such as Chiffchaff, Garganey and Northern Wheatear in evidence. By mid-month, hirundines and swifts are moving through and by the end of the month the wetland areas in particular see an increase in both species and numbers – herons, egrets, storks, waders, raptors and the first crakes. The first Quail can be heard calling from lowland fields. Even highland areas will see increased activity as breeding birds
begin setting up territories in earnest and the first Black-eared Wheatears arrive. Stone-curlews appear around the saltpans and river mouth areas, with some staying on to breed.
Early April sees another push of migrants. Raptors include Lesser Kestrel and Short-toed Eagle from the start, both increasing in numbers during the month. Red-rumped Swallows and Crag Martins arrive back around breeding sites and even larger numbers pass through.
Mid-month is the best time for Pallid Harrier and the passage and arrival of many species seems relentless; it is the period with both greatest variety of species and total number of birds. Cretzschmar’s Buntings are suddenly all over the mid-to-higher areas, Orphean and Rüppell’s Warblers are on territory, and ‘yellow’ wagtails begin to pass through in considerable numbers. Flycatchers also pass through in large numbers, including many Collared and the odd Semi-collared. Warblers
include increasing numbers of Wood, Icterine and Eastern Bonelli’s (on passage as well as returning breeding birds), good numbers of Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Common Redstart, Whinchat (often in hundreds), and small numbers of Roller.
Lucky birders will chance upon Ortolan Bunting or a singing Thrush Nightingale. You won’t fail to miss Great Reed Warblers around any of the scrub- or reed-lined rivers and wetlands. Raptors include good numbers of Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, the last of the spring’s Hen Harriers, increasing numbers of Osprey, Hobby, Red-footed Falcon and Lesser Kestrel, and by the month’s end, Eleanora’s Falcon and Levant Sparrowhawk - the latter occasionally seen in small flocks, sometimes
into double figures. Long-legged and Common Buzzards will be displaying over the open valleys, Goshawks are still much in evidence and the odd Black Kite and eagle species can be seen passing over to the north. In the west, Isabelline Wheatears are back on their breeding areas and offshore both Yelkouan (Mediterranean) and Scopoli’s (Cory’s) Shearwaters can be seen. Waders peak at wetland sites including the saltpan areas and wetter rivers and include good numbers of Wood, Common, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers,
Little and Temminck’s Stints, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and the occasional goody such as Spur-winged Plover or a downright rarity such as a Caspian Plover. Rivers, especially river mouths, are the best place to look out for Citrine Wagtail, and the coastal areas are the places to look for Audouin’s Gull. Any wetland area can see passage flocks of Mediterranean Gulls, the odd Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Terns or Collared Pratincoles. The latter can often be seen in good numbers in fields around the Kalloni
Saltpans. Mid-month usually sees the last of the lingering wintering species such as Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, wildfowl and a decline in Greater Flamingo numbers.
Mid- to late April is probably the best time to catch up with two of the main target breeding species. Cinereous Buntings are now back on territory in the west of the island, with Ipsilou the best site to look for them but they can also be encountered in many western areas including the Meladia Valley between Sigri and Eressos and at Aghia Ioannis just west of Parakila. Look for males singing from prominent rocks or small trees. They can be incredibly difficult to see!
Krüpers Nuthatch is also very obvious. Most pairs excavate their nest holes around the middle of the month. Once the nests are complete the females will be sat on eggs and males then make only irregular nest visits and turn all too quiet. From the last week of the month the first broods will have hatched and both parents will be busy collecting food and regularly seen at the nest.
The back third of April sees the main arrival of Olivaceous Warbler, who soon set up territories along the river valleys and wetlands. Shrike numbers peak, with Woodchat, Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Masked Shrikes all in evidence, and occasionally all seen together around a single field! Hoopoes will also be much more evident and as the month progresses the wooded valleys will be filled with their far-carrying song and courting birds which often chase one another around suitable
nesting areas. Check coastal areas for Red-throated Pipit and Short-toed Lark, while Barred and River Warblers, Wryneck, Red-breasted Flycatcher and other scarce passage passerines can pop up anywhere. The first flocks of Bee-eaters can be heard passing over, with some tempted down into the wooded valleys or fruit groves to feed.
As water levels begin to reduce at places such as Metochi Lake, searching for Little and Spotted Crakes is made a whole lot easier! Little Bitterns too are more obvious now and Purple Herons are moving through and will often roost in tall trees or long grass areas at wetland sites or along river valleys, and Night-herons are also best looked for at their day time roost sites, including the tamarisks around Metochi Lake. Both of these herons can occur in large flocks. These
same areas often hold roosting hirundines, often in huge numbers. Common and Alpine Swifts pass over in much broader movements, but river valleys often funnel them northwards when clouds can appear overhead. During cooler, damper weather birds are driven down and will concentrate over water areas or along valley ridges to feed. The odd Pallid Swift might still be in amongst these flocks, but this species is best looked for earlier in the month.
White, and occasionally Dalmatian, Pelicans can also be encountered this month, with both species occasional occurring in small flocks with the odd singleton lingering for a few days.
By the end of the April Masked Shrikes will be nesting, Rock Nuthatches will be feeding young in their funnel-shaped mud nesting chambers and Common Nightingales sing from any damp scrubby areas, including the hotel grounds at Skala Kallonis. The first broods of Sombre Tits will be hatching and the parents much more obvious as nest visits increase. The first Black-headed Bunting, Olive-tree Warbler and Rufous Bush Robin all arrive in the last few days of the month, and breeding
Bee-eaters can be seen excavating their nest holes in the low river banks.
Spring raptor migration occurs broadly across the island, but several ‘hot spots’ stand out. In the west, mixed falcon flocks can be found hunting over hillsides between Ipsilou and Sigri. Ipsilou mount itself is excellent for many species, and watching from the top can often give views down on to birds moving along the valleys either side. In the centre of the island, the route north following almost exactly the road north to Petra is excellent. The Raptor Watchpoint just
north of Kalloni at the ‘band stand’ (see site section) is excellent. Just to the east, Napi Valley is also excellent with several good viewpoints along its length. The north coast track between Efthalou and Skala Sikaminias provides several areas to view birds leaving to the north, and the main road inland of here running between Molivos and Mandamados (running below Mount Lepetimnos) offers vantage points looking south and north. In the south of the island, the Almiropotomas valley between Vatera and Aghias
Fokas can also be very good. The headland of Aghias Fokas is a natural arrival point for birds coming across the sea to the south (on a clear day the Turkish mainland and Chios can be seen to the south of here), and the valley to the north provides a natural corridor for migrants to follow northwards towards Polchnitos and over the Gulf of Kalloni (and then either north along the Napi Valley or the Kalloni-Petra route). The sheer size of Mount Olympus cannot be ignored as such a prominent area will attract migrating
birds, particularly larger birds such as raptors, storks and pelicans in need of updrafts and thermals to lift them high over the island. Few birders however spend much time down this southern end of the island, and virtually no one visits the far south-eastern peninsula and the Haramida Marsh area where Sardinian Warbler is present throughout the year.
With migration still in full swing, and temperatures now decidedly on the warm side, the first week of May sees more birders on Lesvos than any other week.
Early May sees an increased chance of semi-rarities such as Thrush Nightingale or even a White-throated Robin. The latter, although still a vagrant, amazingly has a tentative hold as a breeding species with the odd pair popping up every few years, but rarely in the same location.
Marsh terns are much in evidence with good numbers of White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns gracing the saltpan areas, the wetter rivers and any remaining flooded fields (e.g. near the Kalloni saltworks entrance). These same wetland sites continue to attract waders including the occasional Great Snipe.
Red-footed Falcons peak in early May, but like most species, numbers are heavily dictated by the weather. Search through any flocks of falcons for Eleanora’s, and make sure to check all small raptors for Levant Sparrowhawk. Honey-buzzard too should be much more evident.
Rufous Bush Robins arrive with a vengeance during the first week of the May and territorial males are easy to pick out as they sing their thrush-like tune from a prominent bush-top. A territory can comprise a ridiculously small area of only a small group of bushes, and despite the limited cover, birds can go missing for long periods when disturbed.
As water levels recede in the heat, look for small pockets of water containing large numbers of tadpoles. Any such pools near cover will attract herons and egrets, including Little Bittern and Night-heron. Muddy margins along rivers and wetland areas are still good for secretive crakes and early May offers the best chance to find a Baillon’s.
By mid-month some of the breeding birds are easier to see. Krüpers Nuthatch young will be fledging and small family parties should be looked for in the usual woodland areas. Middle Spotted Woodpeckers are remarkably common and will be feeding young in the nest throughout the month. During nestling-feeding the parents are much more obvious and noisier than earlier in the season and nest holes are often easy to stake out from a respectable distance.
From mid-month numbers of many species begin to reduce leaving one of the spring spectacles to take over – the passage of Rose-coloured Starling. Large flocks occur across the island, but particularly around water areas where they come down to drink in noisy groups before hiding in nearby trees. They have a distinct preference for Mulberry trees which concentrates the flocks to regular sites. This passage usually continues into June.
Other breeding birds to look for at the month’s end include Common Nightjar which occurs across the island in open scrubby areas including Potamia Valley, Mesa area and throughout the west. Listen for their remarkable ‘churring’ song at dusk and watch for their delightful display flights, including ‘wing-clapping’ against the dusk sky.
As summer takes hold the island becomes home for many fascinating insects including the spectacular Threadwing Lacewing and numerous butterflies including Swallowtail.