James Lowen 


24 May 2024 Lesvos

For the first week of the month, I was co-leading the Wildlife Travel tour of Lesvos with Philip Precey. Clients included Mark Hows, who will be well-known to many readers of this blog. I did this last year, but loved the island so much (even writing about it for The Telegraph) that returning was a must. All the more so because the 2023 trip missed three key, much-desired birds that would have been world ticks: Rüppell’s Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler and Krüper’s Nuthatch (which we heard only). Would 2024 enable me grip these back? And would going ten days later reveal a different aspect to spring bird migration and potentially more herp encounters – albeit at the expense of orchid diversity?​ 

Lesvos plants

Due to an unusually hot, dry and early spring, most of the plants had gone over - so our orchid tally, for example, was down on last year. It did, however, mean that Holmboe's Butterfly Orchid was in perfect nick. Just a shame that our itinerary did not coincide with any Komper's Orchid. I'll have to come back (and a bit later) for that marvel. 


Being ten days later also increased the numbers and diversity of butterflies we observed. On one memorable walk, single oregano bushes were covered with up to sixty butterflies. Stunning stuff. 


We saw rather fewer lizards than last year, but the encounters were better: much closer views of Starred Agama being a particular highlight. A single European Pond Terrapin was a great find by Philip. And I did a better job this year of tracking down the Eastern Tree-frogs that call around Skala Kalloni, the clients getting some good looks at them. The only serpent was a single Worm Snake, found by Mark a few metres from a rock where we found three last year. Ottoman's Viper will have to wait another year... 

A nice bit of Batesian mimicry was on show too, with this Cleris mutillarius doing a neat imitation of a stinger of a velvet ant.


Rüppell’s Warbler now seems to be tricky on Lesvos – at least in the parts we visit; fortunately, however, I saw it in Cyprus last month. Krüper’s Nuthatch teased us at the new stakeout of Miki Limni until one finally flew overhead just as I had decided to turn the group around and give up. What a cracker. We managed good views (but no photos) of Olive-tree Warblers at a 2023 stake-out near Potamia reservoir, which I had Google-pinned last year – and was relieved to find the birds again present. They are really large, and their gliding flight is truly a wonder.


Visiting ten days later certainly helped with dragonflies and damselflies - although Odalisque still evaded us. Small Pincertail and Small Skimmer were both new for me - and the latter was very smart.

A few nice ones here, including day-flyers.

We did better for other speciality breeding birds overall than in 2023. We saw several Cinereous Buntings, many more Cretzschmar’s Buntings, had good views of Masked Shrikes (including a pair on a nest) and better views than last year of Rock Nuthatch, Sombre Tit and Isabelline Wheatear. We were too early for Black-headed Buntings last year, but their sunny males were a regular feature throughout our week.our paragraph here.

(Some) Other inverts

Flipping stones produced the odd Scolopendra millipede  - still the stuff of nightmares - and Eastern Mediterranean Yellow Scorpions. Among the orthopterans were several of the very smart Lesvos Bush-cricket. Meanwhile, numerous Mammoth Wasps dropped jaws.


I ran two traps every night on the hotel balcony: the AngLeps twin actinic (run from the mains) and their twin LED (run from a power bank). It was the first time I had run two lights within a few metres of one another - something that I had been told was a no-no, but did seem to work here. There wasn't really anywhere suitable in the hotel grounds to leave the battery trap (my original intention), and I didn't have the energy to stay with it all night. Mark How's, however, is a different matter, and he ran his two LED traps remotely for a few hours most nights. In truth, the nights were chillier than expected, and catches (save the first night or two) lower than hoped. Nevertheless they were better than April 2023, and I totted up around 80 species. As with Cyprus last month, these are my best guesses for ID, based largely on lepiforum. A clear highlight was a score or so Striped Hawk-moths, which were also seen nectarine at honeysuckles. A clear mystery was a 'Poplar Hawk-moth' that looked rather unfamiliar - perhaps ssp populetorum, perhaps Persian Poplar Hawk-moth or conceivably an integrate between the two.

Migrant birds were also present in greater number and wider diversity. Lots of lovely highlights, including a flickering smoky flock of all three marsh terns, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-footed Falcon, Citrine Wagtail, some nice Marsh Sandpipers and Temminck’s Stints and – the highlight – a self-found Great Snipe, which was almost the very first bird of the tour, just 200m from the Hotel Malemi on our first walk at Skala Kalloni. 

Grand Antlion swiftly became my 'critter of the trip'. But it was bettered within 24 hours. I had spent several days dreaming of seeing Spoon-winged Lacewing Nemoptera sinuata, an even lovelier lacewing. We were sat having lunch by the harbour at Molivos when Mark How's calmly said 'James, there's that lacewing flying right behind you'. I couldn't believe my ears, or eyes, and watched - open-mouthed - as it sailed past the table and away. No photographs - just memories.

An hour later, and it was spotted face down in the harbour, drifting above shoals of hungry fish! Come the end of lunch, I manoeuvred myself into a position whereby I could create a ripple effect in the water with my moth net, and gently coaxed it towards shore - and into said net. Once out of the water - it had been floating on the meniscus, rather than sinking - we popped it on a sunny wall. And within a few minutes, it was right as rain, only much less wet... and it flew off, apparently none-the-worse for its ordeal. I am indebted to Wildlife Travel client Judith M. S. Robinson, ofr allowing me to use the photos of my antics on this blog. Thank you, Judith - and thank you, Mark!

And there we have it - another fabulous trip to Lesvos. In my view, visiting ten days later was better for everything bar plants. Roll on next year - and if you want to join us, then visit the Wildlife Travel website and drop Philip an email... 

Here's another selection of fine geometers - some familiar, some not.


Sadly, we couldn't find Persian Squirrel for Mark. The day we were at Ipsilou monastery, where we got good views last year, it pelted it down - and we dipped. A world tick for me, however, was this Southern White-breasted Hedgehog just outside the hotel. A nice surprise.

These were all trumped by the discovery of a Grand Antlion Palpares libelluloides on a grassy slope near Petri. The next day, we bumped into another near Kavaki - plus a larva. These were the first adult antlions I had ever seen - and what a place to start. 

And some lovely micros to finish with, including the gem that is Tebenna micalis.

Several species werefamiliar from Cyprus last month and/or from UK immigrant-mothing - but there were also new species aplenty. Seeing a few examples of The Geometrician was particularly pleasing. As were a nice range of variation in Blair's Mocha. Idaea ostrinaria ('Coral-bordered Wave') provided eye candy.