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Day 5 (Monday, 6th May)

After the hour drive from Petra to the Andissa / Sigri / Eressos junction, we exited from the car to look over the fairly barren terrain on a cool and calm morning. At least 4 displaying Isabelline Wheatears were evident straight away. They were mobile and very obvious, especially when in display flight. Also here were Red-backed & Woodchat Shrikes, numerous Spanish Sparrows from what was likely to be a colony in the poplars across the valley, and a couple of Ravens overhead.

Isabelline Wheatear

Woodchat

Isabelline Wheatear

Woodchat Shrike

After leaving the junction, there were at least another 3 Isabelline Wheatears on the way to Ipsilou monastery, where we parked at the base. Any birder contemplating driving up the track to the monastery needs certifying, because there are masses of migrants whichever side is climbed. We started on the right hand track, which skirts the eastern side of the hill, and it was still quite cold and windy at this time. The slopes here are quite rocky, with one or two small cliffs and scattered bushes, and was a haven for migrants - plenty of warblers (Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat), and the first Stonechats of the trip. On this side we saw at least 2 singing Cinereous Buntings and the first signs of Rock Sparrow on the cliff face. The latter were much closer to hand at the monastery itself, where a pair were breeding in the walls next to the entrance. 2 separate Western Rock Nuthatches were here as well, along with the by now ubiquitous Cretzchmar's Bunting. As we neared the top of the hill, the presence of a military building and warning signs meant cameras away just in case (they reappeared when we reached the monastery buildings). While watching distance Rock Sparrow and Blue Rock Thrush (2 males of the latter) from the top, a Lanner flew past just over head height, then giving excellent views from above and below.

Monastery

Rock Sparrow

Ipsilou monastery from rough track to South

Rock Sparrow at nest in monastery walls

For the descent we chose a narrow and rough cobbled path bounded by a dry stone wall, which was on the southern (sunny) slope, with many scattered trees and bushes. This eventually met the newer looking track presumably designed for military use (it was roped off at the base). The bushes on this side were alive with migrants, particularly flycatchers (Spotted and Pied, with a single Red-breasted). 2 males and 1 female Golden Orioles flew over. In addition there were various Warblers. This side of the hill was again good for Cinereous Bunting in the form of 2 more singing males.

Cinereous Bunting

Cinereous Bunting

After finding ourselves going the wrong way through Sigri, which is virtually one street anyway, we doubled back and found the small track to Faneromeni. This is one of the best cultivated patches on this part of the plain, showing as a postage stamp of green among much rougher and more desolate terrain from the Andissa road. For such a small area, there is quite a variation in habitat, and although the irrigated and cultivated plots are supposed to be the best for birds, we found more of interest elsewhere.

First stop was to have lunch by the beach, which also happens to be next to a marsh with quite dense reeds, and over here were 3 Purple Herons, with a group of 5 Glossy Ibises flying in, as well as one or two Little Bitterns back and forth. Doubling back to the small pool and wet mud next to the beach, Little Stint and Little Ringed Plover were joined for a short while by a Collared Pratincole, which was very approachable in the car. The small river, which presumably feeds the marsh, is crossed by two fords. The lower ford, which seems to be the less well known, and nearer the sea, was visited for breeding Penduline Tit, which had an obvious nest ~100m downstream. The bird visited every 10 minutes or so, and once in the nest, stayed inside for another about another 5 minutes. While watching here, a female Little Bittern was fishing for tadpoles directly in front of us, and a feldegg Yellow Wagtail was even closer. Back at the upper ford, which was better known and usually populated by a few birders cars, is an excellent site for Little Bittern. We saw at least 3, and these come right out into the open, presumably hunting amongst the swarms of thousands of tadpoles in the water.

Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole

River

Little Bittern

Down river from the lower ford (looking to Penduline Tit nest in centre)

Little Bittern

The main Sigri / Eressos road was predictably no more than a rough dirt track. Very tortuous, not too potholed, but also not too many birds. Main interest was provided by a very close Little Owl half way along. As we approached the plains of Eressos, which is rather impressive from the slopes above, Long-legged Buzzard flew past, Steppe Buzzard further below, and the rather glorious surrounds of the Eressos rubbish tip found a Black Kite being harried by a Hooded Crow. Getting from this track through Eressos was testing - it merged into very narrow and tortuous back streets, but we eventually found the square and much needed ATM for cash.

The last couple of hours of the day were spent back at Ipsilou looking for migrants. The wind was still howling from the North, so we decided to ascend the left hand track which seemed the more sheltered. Near to the top of this track was where most of the birds were hiding and hawking. These were predominantly female Pied Flycatchers, with the odd male, multitudes of Spotted Flycatchers, and various common warblers which included the first Wood Warblers of the trip. Overhead as we climbed the gradient was the Lanner for the second time in the day, flying quite high and away from the monastery. We spent some time looking over the open areas of broom in the sunlight, just below the entrance to the monastery, and it was noticeable that most of the flycatchers were here. As we descended the rough track once more, there were very few birds.

Little Owl

Little Owl

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Introduction

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Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

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