After 3 successive birding holidays on continents other than Europe, we decided a Mediterranean destination was well overdue. Lesbos was an excellent choice. We had covered many of the Med birds on offer before, but this island presents a mix of speciality breeders (such as Krüpers Nuthatch, Cinereous Bunting, and Western Rock Nuthatch), and superb migration potential, with the particular possibility of good numbers of fly through Red-footed Falcons. This combined with the ease of getting there (a few companies do package tours for a good price) proved an excellent combination.
The island is apparently the third largest in Greece, which gives plenty of scope for exploration. Even so, most of the hotels used are in the centre of the island, which means that even distant destinations are no more than just over an hour to reach. Almost all of the terrain is hilly, with few flat plains anywhere, and most of this, apart from the higher peaks and some of the more barren slopes to the west, is covered by either low scrub or trees. Woodland is by no means dense, or the trees high, which makes woodland birding somewhat easier than I have encountered elsewhere.
In addition to the accessibility of Lesbos by means of the package holidays, which has probably helped in the islands popularity over other islands of similar placing and potential (such as Samos to the south), is the advent of Richard Brookes' excellent guide to the birding sites on the island. He has spent over a decade visiting Lesbos, and the detail in the book reflects this, meaning it is a must have essential on the trip. The only word of warning I would have is that some of the distances he uses are a little optimistic, so don't aways believe exact milages quoted. Alongside this guide, the other essential is a good map of the island, which can be bought beforehand, or seem to be generally available in most tat shops ("Road Editions" #212, 65 Ippokratous str. GR 106 70. Athens). I emphasise the word good - anything less than an Ordnance Survey quality map would lead to problems considering the size and placing of some of the tracks (not to mention the tiny streets in the towns).
For our base we chose Petra in the north of the island. The reason for this was purely down to cost, since Kosmar do a very reasonable range of appartments in this area - we paid £210 each for the week. The ideal base is Skala Kalloni , which is right on the birding doorstep (in fact, the Kalloni II hotel is situated directly opposite Kalloni Pool, which is one of the best small sites in the area, if not the whole of Lesbos!). Some of the companies that cover Skala Kallomi also fly out in April, whereas Kosmar have the first week in May as the earliest date (currently), alhough with a one week trip, which we found more than ample to see most if not all of the specialities, this week is probably the best. Occasional wintering birds are still lingering, migration is still constant, and some of the breeding birds, such as Rufous Bush Robin, only appeared in this time.
There is often quite a difference in the weather at this time of year, judging by the experience of others who had been present the week before. The weather had been cool and unsettled, whereas we experienced almost constant full sunshine, which also meant that the amount of water in the pools and rivers depleted through the week. Yet despite sunblock being a requirement, mornings could be quite cold, and on the last morning, there were spots of rain - so rain gear may even be needed at times!
Car hire is an absolute essential, not only for reaching the birding sites (most are out of the way, and there was little evidence of a regular bus service), but also as a mobile hide. The latter benefit is not to be underestimated, since I have not noticed as big a difference between how close birds can be approached on foot and in car on trips before. Another tip is to pick the car up at the airport. The island is very easy to navigate on a first day including through Mytilini, the capital, which must be crossed from the airport, and we squeezed in many extra hours birding by doing this. The act of driving on Lesvos is an experience, since the quality of the roads varies tremendously. Many of the main roads are tarmacked, but even then you can bizarrely change from tarmac to dirt track at a seemingly indiscriminate part of the route. The Napi valley road has tarmac for most of its length, but incredulously the middle 3 kms or so are dirt track. We managed reasonably comfortably in a Renault Clio, but a 4x4 would have managed even better occasionally. On the other hand, some of the streets through even the more major villages have squeeze-tight alleys as the major thoroughfairs, so small is often good!