Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mediterranean birding part 1

 "Where have you been, Scott?" Is the question I have been asked by countless followers (countless because none have asked).  To put all of your concerns to rest, I am proud to announce I have been alive and well and birding! ...just over on a different continent without a computer with which to blog.  Since I've been away for almost a month rather than crank out one mammoth post, I am going to do this in installments... so here goes part 1!


I planned my itinerary around offerings of Ryanair out of London-Stansted rather than any specific birding destination.  I ended up with a route that had me arriving in Rhodes in the southeastern corner of Europe, a mere stone’s throw from Turkey. 
From there I island hopped my way through Tilos, Kos, Siros and to Paros to see my brother get married (the impetus for making this trip in the first place).  From Paros I ferried on to Athens before a quick pass through the Peloponnese peninsula to Patras.  After a couple overnight boat rides and a 36-hour taste of Italy I arrived in Croatia for a few days along part of the gorgeous Dalmatian coast before my exit flight from Zadar.  

So many cats :(
Birding this part of the world (particularly Greece), one gets the sense that it’s a rather rough place to make a living as a song bird.  Feral cats are everywhere, feeders don’t exist and trees are often a scarce commodity.  Birding as an activity seems to be more often carried out with a shotgun and not much thought.  Sound enticing?  

It’s not as if Greeks are concerned about promoting ecotourism; between the picturesque beaches and abundant remnants of the ancient world, visitors already arrive in swarms during peak months (July and August).  May is an ideal time to visit even if there aren’t the diversity of migrant birds I would have expected.  The weather and flowers are gorgeous and the throngs of tourists are absent making for lots of discounted accommodation and un-crowded ferries. 


I arrived in the late afternoon in the former knight stronghold, rented a car and immediately headed for the mountainous and forested interior of the island.  As if to welcome me to Greece I quickly stumbled upon a huge flock of Bee-eaters. 
Lots of Bee-eaters!
I slammed on the brakes and pulled over to watch them swirl around and alight on some power lines.  One of my target birds found almost immediately! 
Bee-eaters (with bee!)
Then I noticed two raptors gliding by overhead: a pair of Booted Eagles!  What a great start!

Woodchat Shrike
I spent the next day-and-a-half crisscrossing the island looking for birds while visiting various castles and ruins.  I tried camping at higher elevations in the forest hoping to find migrating flocks of birds in the early morning, but this made for uninteresting birding.   The land birding provided little diversity, though Bee-eaters were everywhere (I estimated seeing 200 total; peak migration I assume) and I was happy to find a couple Woodchat Shrikes along power lines.  Partridges were quite common and I got a good look at a brave one with a white throat that must have been a Rock Partridge.  I had assumed all would be Chukars; could both species breed on Rhodes?  I also had some great looks at Lesser Kestrel, which can be pretty difficult to discern from the more widespread Eurasian Kestrel (see photo).
Which Kestrel?

Temminck's Stint
The best birding was undoubtedly shorebirding the coastal streambeds that still held some water.  I found a Temminck’s Stint in Afandou (along with Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper and Squacco Heron) and in another stream further north I found what was possibly the best bird of the island, a Citrine Wagtail, which ebird flagged as a rare observation. 
Citrine Wagtail (flagged as rare by ebird)
Too bad it was a female and not a male. For conveniently easy identification, it was in the company of a pair of Yellow Wagtails (along with more Little Stints, Little Ringed Plovers and a Wood Sandpiper). 

I ended up with 16 life birds after 3 days in Rhodes including most of those mentioned above as well as: European Turtle-Dove, Whinchat, Red-rumped Swallow and Mediterranean Gull.  As a bonus a saw 6 Corey’s Shearwaters (“Scopoli’s Shearwaters”) on the ferry to Tilos.  Strangely these were flagged as rare by ebird as well.  I saw at least one on just about every ferry I rode in Greece.  

I'll begin part 2 with Tilos, a self-proclaimed sanctuary for birds and proud home to three important and rare species.  Stay tuned!
Common Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper