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Day 1: Wed 21 April - Arrival and Ferry to Skyros
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly from London Heathrow to Athens, transfer to our ferry point. The journey itself is beautifully scenic, as is the ferry to Skyros - a superb pelagic voyage! Viewing from the upper deck, we can hope for Yellow-legged and Audouin's Gull, Caspian and Sandwich Tern, Scopoli's and Yelkouan Shearwater and perhaps even dolphins before we arrive on Skyros.
Day 2: Thur 22 Apr - The Kalamitsa Valley
A gentle introduction to birding will begin around the fields and wetlands at Kalamitsa, a gently sloping valley separating the two halves of Skyros. One of the best birding spots on the island where anything is possible in the fertile fields, hedges and gardens. Birding will be from tracks and quiet roads and walking is gently paced on flat ground with many stops to enjoy the birdlife. Being migration, what we see is very much dependent on the prevailing weather, but likely species include Whinchat, Redstart, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Nightingale, Yellow Wagtail (of multiple races), a variety of warblers, Spotted, Pied, Collared and perhaps even late to move Semi-collared Flycatcher. In wetland areas, species such as Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Purple, Night and Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Greenshank, Wood, Green and Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Little Crake and hunting Marsh Harrier may be seen. A great first day, with lunch at a local taverna during the middle part of the day when birds are quieter.
Day 3: Fri 23 Apr - Palamari and Trachy, the Jewel of the Fertile North
We spend the whole day birding around the fields and wetlands of Palamari and Trachy, in the north of Skyros. With a huge range of habitats in this low-lying area we enjoy brilliant birdwatching in the scrub, fields, groves and wetlands. By the close of play we should have a healthy list which may include species such as Marsh, Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Hoopoe, Stone Curlew, Turtle Dove, Crested and Short-toed Lark, Tawny, Tree and Red-throated Pipit, Great Reed and Savi’s Warbler, Corn and Ortolan Bunting, Red-rumped Swallow and more.
Day 4: Sat 24 April - The Rugged South
A complete change of scenery as we explore the rugged southern half of the island. The rocky heaths and scrub seem barren at first glance, but once investigated reveal a wealth of bird life, with Cretzschmar’s Buntings singing from the bushes, recently arrived Eleonora’s Falcon hunting overhead and perhaps Bonelli’s Eagle cruising the ridges. The gnarly and twisted oaks and maples in the valleys also hold a good array of breeding birds, and being the only cover on the mountain, funnel migrants into pocketed areas; with patience, and a little luck, we may unearth some surprises.
We shall also visit the site of war poet Rupert Brooke’s grave, a poignant spot, but also good for birding. Walking is at times on uneven rocky paths, but we take these slow whilst birding. Among other targets on this day are Sardinian, Eastern Subalpine, Eastern Olivaceous, Eastern Bonelli’s and Wood Warbler, Eastern Black-eared and Northern Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Cuckoo, Little Owl, Alpine and Common Swift. Always a great day, topped off perhaps by raptors overhead such as Honey Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Hobby and brookei Peregrine.
Day 5: Sun 25 April - Kareflou, Magazia and Island Cruise
The morning shall be spent birding in a couple of sheltered valleys. There are a few options, the thick bushes growing beside any trickle of water forming good cover and attracting migrants. Rocky slopes on the sides of the valleys are good for Little Owl and we will try and see the few remaining Chukar on the island.
In the afternoon we enjoy a leisurely cruise (c.4 hours) on a bespoke, inshore coastal boat trip. We will see the island and all its rocky islets from a new perspective but will specifically look for Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwater, Audouin’s Gull, roosting herons, waders and terns on the rocks, with chances of dolphins, turtles and, the critically endangered, Monk Seal. Our experienced skipper will plan to take us below the cliffs on which the Eleonora’s Falcons breed, where we may well witness the spellbinding aerial antics of these dynamic predators. Two colour morphs exist (a sooty dark and a paler breasted form, the latter being the commoner here) and Skyros boasts the largest, single breeding population of these critically endangered Falcons. It will be a joy and undisputed highlight to spend some time with these speedy hunters as they return to their colonies. A full afternoon on the open water, though please be aware, the exact itinerary of the cruise may change depending on conditions, though our team will plan the trip in order to maximise wildlife encounters and passenger comfort.
Day 6: Mon 26 April - North-West Corner, Atsitsa and surroundings
Birding along the coast and among pine forest and open wood pasture, this day in denser cover and a new habitat should produce some of the scarcer breeders of the island. Likely species include Bee-eater, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Little Owl, Cirl and Black-headed Buntings, shrikes, warblers, flycatchers and often swarms of hundreds of hirundines and swifts as they gather to migrate north. In the afternoon we may return to hotspots such as Palamari or Kalamitsa to check for new arrivals.
Day 7: Tue 27 April - Central Skyros
We start with a visit to the new wetland reservoir behind the main town to search for waders, wildfowl and anything else on offer. If fitness and weather allow we shall walk on a good path up to Panaghia Lympiani (church) through open pine and scrub to look for raptors and for an amazing view of the island. A series of shorter walks on well-maintained paths in the Magazia area may follow to mop-up on any missed species and enjoy the wonderful birdlife of Skyros one last time. There may also be opportunity to visit the old-town on this day, or perhaps in the evening – local life and history is all part of the Heatherlea Skyros experience!
Day 8: Wed 28 April - Departure Day
Breakfast and departure, on the morning ferry with birdwatching from the upper deck possible again before transfer to the airport and our flight home.