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Lesvos 'where to watch birds' books

These days, the island of Lesvos is lucky to have two ‘Where to watch birds’ books. Honeyguide’s Lesvos leader, Rob Lucking, reviews and compares them.

Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos by Richard Brooks

Richard Brooks can rightly claim to have put the island of Lesvos on the birdwatchers’ map. A Norfolk-based wildlife photographer and former landscape gardener, Richard first visited Lesvos in 1991 and was so captivated by the island that he wound up his landscape gardening business and spent increasingly long periods of time on Lesvos exploring the island and photographing its wildlife. Birders’ appetites were whetted by Richard’s articles on Lesvos in Birdwatching and Birdwatch magazine and talks at the Rutland Bird Fair. For those who were inspired to visit the island, Richard’s book ‘Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos’ was an essential trip companion.

'Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos' is written, illustrated and published by Richard Brooks and contains a great deal of useful information on culture, mythology, weather and basic Greek. And that’s before you get on to anything about birds! Here, Richard did an excellent job compiling a thorough and detailed account of what was known about Lesvos’ birdlife and where to see it. Much of this information came from Richard’s experience from his extended stays on the island and throughout the book is punctuated by attractive line drawings and three sets of full colour plates of Richard’s top class photographs. On the whole, the book is very easy to read and certainly does a good job in building up your pre-trip anticipation! 

In the field, the rather idiosyncratic lay-out makes it less than easy to use. The descriptions of the key birdwatching sites are in the front of the book but the relevant maps are at the back so in the field you find yourself constantly flipping backwards and forwards which in itself exposes another weakness. During my first visit to the island, the bindings in my book didn’t stand up to that amount of use and after a couple of days the map section came out completely. This however proved to be a blessing in disguise as the maps could then finally be united with the site descriptions! Later editions are more robust.

Despite these shortcomings, 'Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos' was instrumental in introducing Lesvos to thousands of appreciative birdwatchers and, let’s be honest, to holiday leaders many of whom based their itineraries around the key sites in Richard’s book!

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A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos by Steve Dudley

Launched at the Rutland Bird Fair in 2009, 'A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos' is the more recent of the two Lesvos site guides. The author, Steve Dudley, is another committed Lesvos aficionado and first visited Lesvos in 2000 (no doubt inspired by Richard Brooks!) and has visited annually since leading more than 30 birding tours.

Steve’s book fulfils the same purpose as Richard’s but, with the benefit of professional editing and an established publisher, is a more polished publication. The content is broadly similar with a lot of useful background information on the island and its bird life. The real step forward though is in the presentation of the site information which is both more extensive than in Richard’s book and better laid out. Each site has its own annotated map with useful hints and tips on what to look out for and where, accompanied by a more detailed description of the site, what you could expect to see and the best areas to search. Steve also describes a lot more sites than Richard, perhaps not surprising given the extra coverage by birders Lesvos has received since Richard published his guide. The bird checklist is also more up to date and accurate, and there are also very useful checklists for butterflies, dragonflies and orchids – all favourites among birders when the birding is slow!

The book is well illustrated by colour photographs by the author and nice line drawings by Dave Nurney. The bird photos aren’t up to Richard Brooks’s high standards but a selection of landscapes give a flavour of the variety of habitats Lesvos has to offer.

The only real weakness I could find was of the binding which started to give way when I started to write this review but, in fairness, this is a problem that has been acknowledged by the publisher who will replace all affected copies.

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So of the two books, which is the one to buy? I personally would go for the newer 'A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos' on the basis of its more user-friendly layout and more extensive coverage of good birdwatching sites. But this is by no means to take anything away from the original 'Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos' which introduced myself and hundreds of others to the island. In fact the only real bone of contention I have with Steve Dudley’s book is the rather cruel dig he makes at the unconventional layout of Richard’s book, which I felt was rather unnecessary and unwarranted given all Richard has done to promote the island.

Rob Lucking, June 2010

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Lesvos map

Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos by Richard Brooks (Brookside Publishing). 252 pages,

Contact Richard Brooks via www.richard-brooks.co.uk including to order his book and other Lesvos publications and maps.

Krüper’s nuthatch
Krüper’s nuthatch, a Lesvos speciality

The attractions of Lesvos to birdwatchers are numerous. For starters, the island supports bird species that are very difficult to see elsewhere in Europe – Krüper’s nuthatch, cinereous bunting and masked shrike being just three.

Lesvos is also on a major migration route and the sheer number of birds that pass through the island in the spring and autumn can be spectacular. It is therefore perhaps a surprise that Lesvos was almost unheard of as a wildlife holiday destination until the early 1990s.

A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos by Steve Dudley (Arlequin Press). 272 pages.

As well as writing the Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos, Steve also set up and runs the website www.lesvosbirding.com, an excellent online resource for birders visiting the island. He can probably justifiably claim (as he modestly does!) to be one of Lesvos’s most experienced bird and wildlife guides.

Also by Steve Dudley: Lesvos Birds 2009. Read or download a PDF here

Lesvos Birds cover

More reading on Lesvos: Honeyguide holiday reports 2003-2007 and 2009

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... where there are many holiday photos to enjoy.

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