Although I do like birds, I will
never become a birdwatcher: I haven't enough patience for that. And I can
imagine that in order to pry on birds you need to study a bit. How else would
you recognize a bird? Lesvos is a birdwatch-paradise and I often see odd birds
and then think: what can that possibly be? The flamingo is the easiest bird on
Lesvos to identify. For that I do not need a book. Same for the Black Storks.
They of course are easy to recognize, but are not easy be find.
The real trouble starts when seeing
a heron or a (white) stork. Sometimes, when driving with friends along the
saltpans of Polichnitos, I say: “Look, there's a stork”, when, according to my friends, I
am actually pointing out a heron. I have no idea what the small stilt-walkers
are that roam the same waters. I have never studied the bird world and I rarely
write about it. I did once write about those strange flamingos. And I was so surprised at finding
a huge information board about the colourful red shellduck in the middle of nowhere in Palios,
that I had to mention that phenomenon. As far as I know it is the only
information board about a bird on the island. They should install more of those
boards, especially along the saltpans on the island.
I do see often seagulls and it seems
that here on the north coast you can even spot different species like the
Audouin’s gull, the Yellow-legged gull and the Yelkouan shearwater (this bird
looks like a gull, but is not a gull). My intention now is to learn more about
birds and so I have bought a book (only in Dutch: Vogels kijken op Lesbos [Watching birds on Lesbos] by Luc Hoogenstein), and hope that
this will make me a bit wiser about the birding world. The book describes all
the important birdwatch-places of Lesvos and also provides a list of what birds
you can expect at those places. Very handy. But I think this is a book for the
more advanced. I mean, I can learn to say all those names by heart, but how
does such a bird look? It would have been better if each name was accompanied
by a small picture. Now I have to go through the whole book hoping that there
will be a photograph of the bird I have just seen. How do I find, for example,
the little bird I saw with white spots on its sides? Even on the internet that
will be a Herculean feat.
Another bird that I see nearly daily
is a crow. Well, that's wrong. The black birds here that sit on the electricity
cables and scrabble around in the fields and the beach are not crows. It has
taken me some time to decide whether that are crows, ravens or jackdaws. But I
think they are jackdaws (corvus monedula), because they are partly grey and they are
recognizable by their beautiful eyes with a yellow circle around the dark iris.
Even though jackdaws are big birds, it seems crows are even bigger and ravens
are as big as an enormous bird of prey. It is good that their family members
Eurasian jays and magpies are so much coloured that they at least are easy to
The big birding season is, of
course, in the spring. But even during the past months I have seen lots of
birds, sometimes very bold in stealing my fruit. Even though the crickets now
sing louder than anyone else, you can still sometimes hear the song of a bird
in the background.
And when I go out for dinner, I am
often confronted with birds flying over the tables. Tourists can be confronted
by this phenomenon on the balcony of their hotel: a swallows' nest that, when
birds are in residence, is at the end of a busy landing strip.
(Old) Greeks think that dogs in the
sea may dirty the water and – as far as I know – dogs still are officially not allowed to swim in the sea. But Greeks
have no problem with birds pooping around their homes or in restaurants. You
see, swallows bring luck and even prosperity when they choose your home,
terrace or balcony to raise their off spring. The Greeks will watch over the
nests, even though that most flying hours, made by the parents to feed their baby’s, go straight over the heads of the
I am not complaining: I think this
birding thing is an entertaining performance and it makes you feel immediately
at ease in the restaurant. I never realized that swallows are trekking birds
and have a special place in Greek culture: not only do they bring fortune, they
also are the announcers of the spring and they all should be back from Africa
on March first. At least, that is the day in Greece that their arrival is
celebrated and when children go around the houses with swallows made out of
paper and sing songs about the spring and about swallows (Chelidonismata).
I am always looking for new forms of
income for the Greeks and that is why I was interested to learn which swallow
nests are eaten in Asia. The artfully crafted nests here are made of mud, small
branches, straw and whatever else keeps the construction together. Somehow, I
could not imagine that these nests could be a new export product. And I was
right, they cannot. In Asia there lives a kind of special swallow that build
its nests only with saliva! I am not sure if I prefer to taste swallow’s saliva or a bit of mud.
Also swallows are divided in
different kind of birds. I did some study but am still confused. What the heck:
if it has a forked tail it just is a swallow! I now will look for a book about
birds on Lesvos that has a clear overview in photographs that makes it easy to
find what bird you just saw. It must be a bird guide for beginners, with clear
explanations about differences within species. Now that the heat has arrived
and the sparrows fall off the roof (a Dutch expression meaning that it is very
hot), it seems to me that it would be helpful to quickly identify which kind of
sparrow you might have to resuscitate.