Birding at Tigaki

Greece has never been at the top of my wish-to-go-to list. It is a place almost everybody in Romania goes to. Since I’m not very keen on going where everybody else does, you’ll probably have a rough understanding of my reluctance about Greece. Yet I’m aware this country doesn’t deserve such a harsh judgement.
So – on our way to the Greek island of  Kos for a full week of sunbathing ! Well now, strictly geographically and geomorphically speaking, I’d rather say Kos is Turkey, not Greece, but since they greet you with `Kalimera`, it’s Greece all right.
One of the reasons why I felt excited about going to Kos is that I planned to do some birdwatching, and the environment seemed quite offering, as I could learn from Birdforum. It was again Birdforum which helped me get in contact with a fellow birder located in Kos, Stuart. As you may notice, Stuart is quite a peculiar Greek name, and that’s because Stu is an Englishman, one of many of his fellow compatriots fascinated by Ellada ever since lord Byron.

We set up a meeting in a Sunday morning somewhere in the town of Kos (the island’s capital) and we’re off for lake Tigaki ! The only small problem: we’re riding at different speeds, since Stu is riding a moped and I’m riding a bike. However, Stu is doing a surprisingly good job keeping up with me until we get to his place, where he switches to a bike, so that both of us can ride at full speed 🙂
Ok, I’ll skip the riding part, just let me say one more thing about riding bikes in Kos: one really feels like the king of the road when sitting ontop two wheels ! A sort of a Mediterranean Amsterdam !
Here we are at Lake Tigaki. The tele lens are on (we’re both Canonners, our total focal length is 700 mm) and we’re on birding. The lake is a known place where flamingos lay eggs in May, so probably May is the best time to come here, not September. But hey, May is the best time for birding everywhere else in the Western Palearctic !
Our first stop is to shoot some Dunlins (Calidris alpina).


Forgetting that they are quite bold birds, not afraid to be close to humans, I uselessly try to sneak, not paying attention to my steps. The result: my boots get covered with a freakily looking mud, whose traces will probably last forever and remind me of my wanderings on the island of Hyppocrates.
Now this is what you may call a professional birdwatcher:

Stuart in action
Little Ringed Plover

Along the little canal which connects the lake northwards to the sea (the lake seems to lay a little below the sea surface, so the seawater keeps flowing into the lake through this canal; that’s probably why lake Tigaki never dries out, like every other pond or stream on Kos during summer) we see a juvenile Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius). Not a huge finding, but it counts to the trip report !

We are striving with our bikes on a sandy path which cuts through a reedbed. Stu makes me aware of a little bird which is quite abundant here – Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis). It’s a first for me – I owe Stu a beer 🙂 Its flight is very elusive and always against the sun. Finally, I manage to take a decent shot. I’ll make the beer a cold one !

Zitting Cisticola

Ignoring the much too common Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), we advance on a footbridge that goes towards the centre of the lake, to take a closer look to the gulls. But there is no surprise – all of them seem to be Yellow-legged (Larus michahellis). Just three or four of them have black legs and yellow feet, and I reckon that’s mainly because they are Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta). There’s a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)too.

We have completed about half a circle around the lake when a moisty and muddy portion of the shore prevents us to go further on. At least not with the bike. We manage some way to make it by foot to the other side of the mud, just close to where a bunch of Little Stints (Calidris minuta), a few juvenile Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea) and a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) dig in the mud for some fresh meal. Three or four Little Ringed Plovers join them soon.

Flock of Little Stints and a Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper

We go back to our bikes and find a way out avoiding a reedbed and a canal. We are now on an arid pasture field, where Stu hopes we’ll find a Spur-winged Lapwing, but we don’t. What we do find is a flock of around 100 Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) ! It’s not a lifer for me, since I saw two in Romania earlier this year (in May, if I’m correct, and chances are that I am…), but I wonder if I will ever see 100 more Stone Curlews aggregated, for the rest of my life, unless I come back to this very spot on Kos…

Stone Curlew

It’s time to take a break, it’s past noon already – yeah, that’s a turtle dove up there on the wire – so we head lunchwards. We lag for a Curlew (Numenius arquata) conveniently positioned in direct sunlight. Too bad it is not very close. I try to sneak as close as possible by crouching and performing a `camouflage march`. My legs hurt badly – I don’t know how much longer I can do it. To my relief, the bird flies away and I can finally stand up.
To the South lies majestically the Dikeos mountain. Not so majestic judging by its height – a little over 800 meters – but very impressive by its look. I will have a closer look another day, that’s for sure.

To the West, someone misjudged and overrated the solidity of the mud, pretty much the way I did using my shoes. Just that instead of shoes, he used an ATV.
Another plover pops up – it’s a Ringed (Charadrius hiaticula). Like all other plovers and waders, it has moulted to the winter plumage, because it’s already autumn. Wanna see it in summer plumage ? Come in spring !

Ringed Plover

We are finally sitting in a taverna. The first thing I can think of is a cold beer. The second one – another beer.
Although I’m not too hungry, I need to have something to eat, otherwise the two beers would take too much control of the situation. So I decide to try a moussaka – the original Greek one. They serve me an eclectic one, with lots of ingredients inside: aubergine, potatoes, something looking like beans, spiced meat and who knows what else. They may have thought: since I’m a tourist, God knows when I’ll come to Greece again, so I should take advantage of my being here and try all the flavours at the same time. They don’t know I am really a professional moussaka eater. Incidentally, my favourite flavour is aubergine, so it would have been better if they had only used aubergine instead of that New Year’s Concert mix. It was good and tasty anyway, but not as good as my mother’s, not by a long shot !
In the meantime, Stu and I exchange opinions on a wide range of subjects – from Romanian and Greek birds to Canon lens and shooting technique.
For dessert I have Stellion (Laudakia stellio), a spectacular lizard climbing a little wall nearby. It is another first for me (thanks for the id, Vlad !)


Back in the field for another brief birding session. The waders are still there, only more against the light. No problem, I can take a perfect shot to a gull youngster. I have some friends who will be excited to find the exact subspecies (if any), date and place of birth, sex and political orientation of the bird.

Yellow-legged Gull (juv)

After we heard quite for a while the voice of the Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), we finally manage to see it. Them, in fact. There are half a dozen, along with some Redshanks (Tringa totanus) and Marsh Sandpipers (Tringa stagnatilis). Of course, they are very far, but at least they are against the light, so no reason to regret I was this close to the ultimate picture. We try to get closer anyway, stepping on the tricky and already famous Tigaki mud, using all the expertise we acquired in the last few hours. The distance shrinks by 5%, but the contre-jour doesn’t.


On our way out, the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) adds to our plover list, but not to our CF cards too (guess why ! Hints: sun, far).
Overall it has been a good birding trip, hasn’t it, Stu ? Now it’s time for me to say goodbye to Stu, thank him for the tour and remove as much dirt as I can from my shoes before I get into the `civilization` again. My vacation on Kos is far from over.


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