Day 2 (Friday, 3rd May)
After a good nights sleep, we overestimated the time of dawn (just after 6am), and got past Kalloni to the East River at 7am. The initial intention was to skirt straight down the river, and then aim for the salt pans. Yet it took an hour to do so, due to the excellent birding that can be had from the tracks along the banks. The eastern one was the best one to use at this time of day, keeping the strong sunlight behind us. The river still holds quite a lot of water, containing more as it winds towards the sea. There were plenty of warblers singing in the bushes, and it became clear that most of them were Olivaceous, which were particularly active. Some Reed Warblers were also here, and a single Sedge Warbler, with one pair of noisy Great Reed Warblers half way down the track. Wood Sandpiper seemed to be the predominant wader by far, with plenty of groups of birds spread out along the river bed. Together with the numerous Black-headed Buntings and Crested Larks, there was also the constant sound of singing Nightingales, with occasional birds popping out into the open briefly, with one hopping along the track itself. Most of the birds seemed to be concentrated on the banks of the river, as opposed to the orchards and farmland to the east, although not as much time was spent scanning this area due to the strong face-on sunlight. That area was to be covered later in the morning anyway.
After this steady start to the day, we came across the track opposite the ford on the East River, which snakes towards the salt pans. This track bisects a couple of km of open grazing land and crop fields, which was interesting enough in itself for a few stops. Initial birds were more Olivaceous Warblers and a single Cetti's Warbler, which came into the open quite regularly, with a single male Red-footed Falcon on telegraph wires close by. We were a little surprised by the paucity of harriers in what looked like appropriate habitat, but that might have been related to the time of year and luck. A group of 4 Black Storks together did fly in, and the first of our Little Owls was perched on telegraph wires. Towards the end of the track (near to the salt pans), was the first of the open small pools, and this was quite good for various races of Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi and flava). Bee-eaters seemed as if they were everywhere.
Past this pool, and over a cattle grid, there is a concrete headland where we left the car. The bridge can probably be crossed in the car if careful, but did not look too welcoming. We crossed the bridge on foot, through the rusty metal fence, and probably saw a lot more than could be seen using the car anyway. We spent the rest of the morning here, and overall it was well worth the time and effort put in. Numerous Crested & Short-toed Larks were around, with occasional raptors overhead - initially Short-toed Eagle and Marsh Harrier, with eventually female Montagu's Harrier low over the fields, and in the distance a Long-legged Buzzard was mobbed by Yellow-legged Gulls, which flew closer before circling over and away. On the sand dunes was a small plover that was attracting some interest from other birders, being variously diagnosed as Caspian Plover by the British birders, Lesser Sand Plover by the Scandinavians, and Kentish Plover by others. It was different, in that it had the overall jizz of a Kentish Plover, but lacks a white collar round the back of the neck (if anything, there was a slightly lighter brown band). The bill looked a little finer and longer than I remember from Lesser Sand Plovers, but this could not rule out the latter totally. The legs seemed dark, the breast band at the sides quite obvious, with the white on the forehead extending to the front of the eye, but not obviously behind. It also seemed to be sitting a nest, even though there was no sign of a male. While watching this for the first time, a Pratincole flew over and circled for around 5 minutes. It seemed to have the trademark dark trailing wing edge and underwing of Black-winged, but the views were not perfect enough to clinch this. We reached the eastern stream border of these sheep fields where there is a sand spit, which hosted 4 Grey Plover, a couple of Dunlin, and 2 Sandwich Terns among the Common Terns.
Walking back past where the plover was nesting, we cut across the sheep fields. This area also contained some boggy patches and occasional shallow pools, which were very good for Red-throated Pipits and various Yellow Wagtail subspecies, including the first Black-headed feldegg. On the pools were more Wood Sandpiper, a couple of Ruff, and a single Marsh Sandpiper.
The main interest on the Plain, which is just north of Achladeri village, is the pine coniferous woodland, where some time was spent looking for one of the main target species - Krüper's Nuthatch. The appropriate site is found quite easily, not only by the obvious white disused buildings that can be seen from the road, but also the throng of birders cars (and minibuses if you are really unlucky with the timing!). The track through the pine wood leads directly from the parking spot, and within about 100m, the soft nasal calls of the Nuthatches can be heard reasonably frequently. They actually seem to have two calls, one which sounds similar to the North American White- & Red-breasted Nuthatches, and an alarm call resembling a very soft version of the European Nuthatch. They are also very mobile, but can eventually be picked out with good views (we saw at least 4 different birds). They are a delicate little Nuthatch, with the usual white breast and light grey back, but with additional rufous on the front of the breast as a band and on the forehead. Although not densely populated with varied species, and apart from Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, the woods are worth looking for others - we found singing Serin and Cretzchmar's Bunting, along with a pair of Woodchat Shrikes and single Masked Shrike.