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Dave Williams

Autumn birding in Corfu

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Dave Williams

Part 1) Some very healthy advice.

2018 has been a strange year, it was intended to be my "year of travel" but it soon became the year it unravelled!

Off to a great start we should have been heading to Namibia and South Africa in July but two weeks before we were due to leave I had an MRI scan on my back, it had been troublesome for the previous 9 months or so, and after much waiting it was decided that they should investigate properly and the result was I had Spinal Stenosis and was at extreme risk of Cauda Equina! What does that all mean. Well it meant my GP advised me I would be foolish to go ahead and travel on an African Safari in case I needed urgent medical attention. There was a risk of permanent paralysis. I cancelled. No choice really but at least I had travel insurance...or so I thought!

Meantime my back consultant had enquired if I had had any blood tests recently and suggested I should get one done. That revealed I had a PSA level that was slightly higher than the considered safe limit. Further examination suggested an enlarged prostate ( you get used to the sound of the rubber glove snapping on to the hand and to be honest, it's no big deal being examined particularly if it might save your life). I decided to get a prostate scan done privately as our local health service doesn't pay for them.

The result came as a big shock if I'm honest. I had two areas of concern, one looked very dubious and a private consultation with a Professor in Urinology told me it was 95% certain I had prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer isn't necessarily the end of the world, especially if you catch it early enough. Contained within the prostate survival rates after surgery are very high indeed but if it spreads outside you can find yourself in trouble.Big trouble.

I would need a biopsy to confirm the cancer and to decide a course of action. Once again, I decided to pay and had one done within 4 days instead of the 8-10 week waiting list for one on the National Health. Shrouds don't have pockets was a regular quote from a friend of mine now deceased and didn't leave a fortune in the process either. 

Miracles do happen. The biopsy came back clear. I didn't have cancer after all. That was one problem less but in the meantime I had seen a neurosurgeon in a Liverpool specialist hospital and been given a provisional date for my back operation 12 weeks later at the end of October.

Things were looking up but then the insurance company rang up and told me that my claim for a cancelled holiday had been rejected on the ground that I had failed to disclose a prescription for some painkillers, co-codomel tablets, and an undisclosed medical condition, the Spinal Stenosis, when I had renewed my policy.

That was 9 months previously when I had first mentioned backache to my GP and he prescribed the painkillers. ( Ironically I only took one tablet and that made me feel worse than the mild pain I was suffering then).

On the other hand, there wasn't a medical condition to disclose really. It was 9 months and three consultants appointments later that it was decided I was suffering more than typical ageing problems.

Still, the insurance would not budge.

I'd managed to recoup a fair amount of my costs. No charges for cancelling accommodation  booked via Booking.com, cars from Rentalcar.com, airport parking included cancellation insurance which strangely I usually don't bother with and I got the tax back on our Emirates flights. All in all I was still down £4.5K but hey, look at it another way and it was a saving. No further expenditure on the planned trip and even a bit of money back which helped offset the cost of my prostate treatments!

So people, the moral of the story is, don't hold back on any information, no matter how unimportant you feel it might be, when renewing your insurance policy. It might come back and bite you in the bum! And my nether regions had certainly suffered in recent weeks!

I had no excuse for not mentioning the co-codomel tablets as the doctor visit was two days before I renewed the policy. I didn't think it worth mentioning at the time, it wasn't a deliberate attempt to mislead but I do also wonder what would have happened if I had visited the doctor two days after I renewed the policy. Would I be expected to ring the insurance company to tell them about the prescription? Are you expected to ring the insurance company after every visit to see your GP?

I can't see it myself but there you go. If you don't, you give them a get out clause for non payment.

However, here in the UK we have an option to appeal via an independent ombudsman. It's a free service but whatever they decide you have to accept. Their decision is final.

It's worth a try. I have written to them for an adjudication and I'm still hoping that I might yet be rewarded with at least a partial payout. Might be some time before I hear I'm told.

To add to my cause though, I received the annual renewal letter telling me the fee for my travel insurance would be automatically deducted unless I rang to cancel or needed to tell them about any change in circumstance.

Well, I certainly had a change in circumstance so I would ring and see what they had to say. What would be the renewal cost be?

The verbal reason the insurance company had given me for not paying out was that there would have been an extra premium to pay had I declared everything at the time. I had already tried another company and got a quote online, first pretending that there was nothing wrong with me aka 12 months prior, then declaring prescription and spinal stenosis. I was pleasantly surprised to see they didn't ask for any increase payment as a result, so at least I had a benchmark of what I might have to pay.

Back to my current insurance company then, I rang the renewal line and spoke to their sales person. She too added all the details and this time she got the lot, despite her assurances they didn't need to know she got the entire prescription list including suppositories and enemas. They weren't getting out of any future claims. When all was said and done , my every condition declared, the quote came back as no extra premium to pay.

I asked her to repeat that I was covered for my spinal condition ( they record the phone calls which is where they got me last time!). Yes I was covered even BEFORE I was due to have my back operation.

Did that mean I could travel?

There were just two conditions added.

1) I wasn't covered if I travelled within 6 weeks of an operation

2) I should get my GP's approval to travel prior to the forthcoming operation .

The payment was taken and that was that. I shot off to my GP and asked for permission to travel somewhere "safe", close to a medical facility, somewhere not too far away. He said I could go anywhere if it was sensible and by that he suggested no safari trips, rough travel or extreme activities.

I got him to write that on my record card. That is important because if you happen to make a claim on your insurance the GP has to fill in a form disclosing all they know.

Now as my prostate biopsy was a fairly big procedure and done under general anaesthetic I had to wait 6 weeks before I could travel. No problem, during that period I had Champion's League tickets for the Paris St Germain game and I didn't want to miss that anyway. Another week and we had already made arrangements to visit some friends for the weekend. 

Claire was really desperate for a holiday. As she pointed out, I had had birding trips to Scotland and Estonia (twice!) since she had been anywhere. Wherever we went had to be her decision, her choice.

By an odd coincidence we both discovered the same trip at almost the same time whilst browsing the internet.

It was too good to be true. The date was perfect! We would fly 12 hours after I had been to Liverpool to watch them play Manchester City so I wasn't going to miss that game after all.

10 days in Corfu in a self catering apartment. Flights and transfers included. The place was getting brilliant Trip Advisor reports too.

I decided to book it online there and then but when it got to the payment stage my credit card wasn't accepted as there was a problem and it told me to ring their help line.

I rang. 

The girl took the holiday detail.

I was told the problem was that there must be a mistake. The price was too cheap!

I insisted there wasn't an error so she put the card details in again and this time it went through.

I had got an absolute bargain.

£292 for the two of us. It was cheaper than the flights alone would have cost.

Nothing to lose then. We could always find somewhere else to stay if needed.

But as it happened that wasn't the case at all.

For once it was a genuine bargain. 

T.B.C.

 

Edited by Dave Williams

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Dave Williams

There was just one catch to our bargain holiday. The flight left Manchester at 5.00am. That meant check-in from 2.00am which in turn meant leaving home at just around midnight.

A non existent night's sleep was a small price to pay!

On the plus side I have never been through security as fast despite the most intensive check I have had yet. There was no-one else there, the airport was virtually deserted. Most of the shops and cafes were shut too so we had to forsake the traditional pre flight beer.A small sacrifice indeed.

Manchester airport

I had arranged a hire car but had decided to pick it up in the resort on our second full day.

Very sensible.The traffic in Corfu Town was pretty hectic and I was not fully wide awake after a nights travel. The coach transfer was by far the better option. Sit back , enjoy the scenery and besides, I'm always curious to see the other hotel drop off spots too.

Ours was the last drop but by no means the least desirable, on the contrary we were both delighted in what we found. Our apartment block, one of three small ones with a large garden area,  was spread over two floors. A bedroom upstairs with a balcony enjoying the sun from first light to early evening and views over olive groves and distant hills.

Roda,Corfu

Not only that but on our first morning I was delighted to find there were plenty of birds around from a distant Stonechat having an insect field day

Stonechat

to a Buzzard sitting in a nearer tree.

Common Buzzard

There were plenty of birds about but nothing I can't see at home. Well not in the hotel grounds anyway.


Elizabeth Apartments, Roda


Downstairs we had the bathroom, a small kitchen area which included a fridge, two hobs, a kettle and a microwave oven. We had no intention of any serious self catering but the ability to make a cup of coffee and a lunch time sandwich taken on our shaded terrace overlooking the garden and pool area was ideal.

Right in front of us there was a fig tree that was attracting House Sparrows and Blackcaps for a fruity feast.

Blackcap

We even had a Jay visit, but as usual they were as furtive here as they are at home!

Jay

A walk around the neighbourhood which was a fairly green area produced a single Whinchat

Whinchat

and a roof with a dozen or so Barn Swallows suggested they might be on a migration path.

Barn Swift

On the walls I would spot the odd Lizard, this one if I have the ID correct is an endemic to Greece.

Greek Algyroides     Algyroides moreoticus


There wasn't a lot to excite me that's was for sure but I wasn't too bothered. I had hoped that during the course of the 10 days I would find perhaps 1-5 new species to photograph to add to my year list.The priority was good weather, good food and some R&R for Claire.

The resort of Roda, at the very northern end of Corfu is a fairly small one and at this time of year was extremely quiet as the season was rapidly coming to an end. Lots of places had already packed up for the year but there was still plenty of choice.

A short walk of a few minutes had you down at the beach for a sunset pre-dinner drink.


Roda,Corfu

It was all very charming and just what we hoped for!

Roda,Corfu

The package was so inexpensive we didn't think twice about the cost of eating out but in actual fact I thought it quite reasonable, certainly cheaper than the UK. A 500ml beer was 3 euro, a meal of two courses and a couple of beers, maybe a litre of house wine would be around 50 euros.

Oh and the food was excellent! Nothing too fancy, just good tasty local Greek dishes.

Our favourite was the grilled Octopus!

Octopus

The best I have tasted at 13 euro per portion, slightly more expensive than most dishes but worth every cent!

Whilst Claire was more than content to stay by the pool all day, I looked forward to collecting my hire car, then I could investigate further afield!

My preliminary investigation before leaving home had revealed that there wasn't too much information about birding in Corfu. Unlike some of the islands like Lesbos, Corfu is on the western side of mainland Greece and not quite on the major migration highway some other islands are but nevertheless there were some suggested spots worth checking out and one was just a few kilometres away.

Great stuff... bring them on!

T.B.C.

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Dave Williams

With the hire car collected I was ready for the off. I decided my first destination would be the highest mountain in Corfu, Mt Pantokrator which is just under 3000ft . Why choose here? Well it was midday and I thought there might be the possibility of raptors once the air had warmed up. Armed with a rather poor map I had been supplied with and my own Sat Nav which hasn't been updated in 7 years off I went. The sat nav correctly told me to turn right in the nearest town Acharavi but the street was so narrow I had passed it before I saw it. No matter just 20 yards further on there was another dog leg right turn so I guessed correctly that that would join the one I missed. Approaching from such and acute angled turn meant I missed the poorly placed sign that this was a one way street! My first indiscretion and I'd only been behind the wheel about 5 minutes!! Still, no matter as there was nothing coming the other way and it taught me my first lesson. Road signage in Corfu isn't the best!

Onwards and upwards I went enjoying the scenery but extremely wary of the traffic coming the other way on the narrow sharply bending roads.

Eventually I found a place to park safely not some distance from the summit so I got out to do a bit of a walkabout.

Corfu

With my current back problem I couldn't go too far but I did find a tree lined little field where the bushes were full of Blackcaps.

If Corfu has an abundance of one species it's the Blackcap unless they just happen to be a migratory one passing through but I was to discover them everywhere.

As far as raptors went there was just one Kestrel spotted briefly and that was it.

I drove on to the summit, had a brief look at the view which was quite a distant one too. You could see most of the island which is about 30 miles long I think, and across the straits to Albania in the east.

Corfu and Albania

No more birds though, the shot a pair of Hooded Crows on the descent was ruined by the heat haze. I wasn't too bothered though, seen them already. I decided to seek out Antinioti Lagoon next. It's right in the north east corner and a short drive from were we were staying. I'd read it was another important  birding spot with over 96 rare species seen here. I decided to leave that until later after a quick scan but I did pick up a new species for the year, albeit at distance. A Yellow-legged Gull.

Yellow-Legged Gull

Well it was a bit of progress anyway!

Shooting with a long lens from a parked car overlooking a beach of half naked people isn't without problems so I didn't hang around long in case people started asking questions about my intentions.

I headed back to the apartment for a pre dinner beer by the pool but with the intention of returning to this or a similar spot later in the week. I had another 6 days after all so no rush.

Roda,Corfu

By now I had been marked out as a bird watcher by the owners of the apartments and they told me that there were definitely Flamingos to be seen at Lake Korission in the south of the island. I decided to make that the next days priority in case they flew away!

Off at dawn I took the westerly route south enjoying some magnificent scenery but some rather hairy roads.

Corfu

Driving certainly isn't for the feint hearted tourist as the locals seem to travel at high speed in to blind bends. The journey I thought would take 90 minutes took two and a half hours. My map might as well have been a sketch on the back of a postage stamp for all it was worth and the sat nav which I rarely use simply confused me half the time telling me to take a turn which wasn't there. 

Finding myself lost in a village square I decided I would at least take some photos of the Wagtails because the way things were going it might well be all I'd see that day!

Wagtail

Fortunately it wasn't the case and eventually, with the help of the locals giving directions on a couple of occasions I eventually got to my destination and yes...the Flamingos were still there too!

Greater Flamingo

I drove down an unmade track as far as I felt it safe to take the car then got out to try and stalk the birds without then seeing me. Unfortunately they were nearest the shore at a point that was impossible to view from so after scouting around settled for a spot that was at least hidden by some reeds. I had ignored some Little Egrets that had been close to the shore when I drove past and I wondered why they had all now taken flight.

Little Egret

Damn! There were two walkers heading my way and before you knew it the Flamingos all started walking out in to the middle of the lake.

There was another group over on the far side so I decided to try my luck there instead. The angle of the sun looked better from there too so, back in the car, off I went.

For a while quite a few of the birds from the original group flew over to join this new group so I had a bit of fun with some flight shots.

Greater Flamingo

They almost walk on water when they land or take off.

Greater Flamingo

My only problem was that they were still a bit distant and as the time was now moving on the heat haze effect was getting worse.

Greater Flamingo

I stuck with it a while but as the morning wore on the arrival of more and more cars was driving the birds further away too.

Greater Flamingo

Moving on again I thought I would seek out the rest of the lake's shores where I might get access. It was very limited to be honest and all I managed to spot was a couple of Greenshank and a single Ringed Plover. Not the feast of goodies I'd hoped for.

The lake is separated from the sea by a narrow strip of sand dunes so I decided to see what might be on the beach.

Lake Korisson,Corfu

Once again a place you have to be careful that your motives are not seen as being something you don't intend! That shot wasn't with a big lens!

So, despite having taken such a time to get to the Lake I only stayed an hour or so and bade farewell to the place.

Lake Korisson,Corfu

I wouldn't bother returning there, it was too far. I headed instead to the east side of the island and the final recommendation, a lake that runs alongside the runway of the airport. I had noticed it when we landed and it did indeed appear to have quite a few birds there.

Off I went, some more hairy moments, the worst being meeting a coach in a narrow street where I had to reverse. I hate reversing when I look over the alien right shoulder when driving a left hand drive. Safely negotiated but not without the loss of much sweat I carried on.

The traffic in Corfu Town was horrendous. I found my way to the airport but decided to not bother trying to find access to the lake. I went home instead. An OK day but not what I'd hoped for.

TBC.

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Dave Williams

With the third day now begun I headed straight to the nearest headland and the Antinioti Lagoon. It really was just a continuation of the beach at Roda at the other end of this small bay. 


Corfu

I found the perfect spot at last. The ground cover was ideal for migratory birds dropping in so hopefully I'd get lucky. 

Corfu

What I found to be the reality though was that birding was extremely difficult. The lagoon held nothing other than a few Coot and a Common Kingfisher that was always seen flying at distance and as for the birds in the bushes, you had to be fast, extremely fast, to lock on focus and get a shot off. There wasn't a shortage, there were quite a lot about but they flew out of deep cover and straight back in to the middle of a bush most of the time. Occasionally, and only very occasionally one might land on a visible branch before dropping in to cover.

The majority were Blackcaps but this shot confirmed that the species I was after were there too!

Sardinian Warbler

It took me several days and hours of waiting before I got something acceptable.

Sardinian Warbler

One shot and down they went.

Sardinian Warbler

I rarely got the second shot either.

Sardinian Warbler

Still Sardinian Warbler was a good addition to my year list even if after several days I eventually decided I was never going to get anything worthwhile and gave up trying! I imagine in the spring when the birds are singing from the bush tops it's a much easier opportunity but in the autumn they appeared very furtive.

The photography was indeed hard work. Over the course of 5 days and 6 or 7 visits the number of species I recorded was minimal.

Stonechat

Stonechat

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow

and Starling.

Common Starling

Nothing to write home about but at least something!

I was so desperate I even started photographing fish!

Mullet

as well as butterflies

Corfu

This one was laying eggs.

Corfu.

On one afternoon  I persuaded Claire to come along with me on the promise I wouldn't take my camera, well only a 24-105 lens for some scene shots. It was the one of only two times I had a bird pose for ages as it fed within a few feet of me.

Willow Warbler

Ah well, that's the way it goes!

TBC

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Dave Williams

Well the old saying is that good things come to those that wait and eventually my patience paid off. Out at first light 

Roda,Corfu

I was first to arrive at the headland where I'd also cross paths with joggers and hikers but on this particular morning a car arrived. You could get a vehicle over a very narrow bridge if you came from a different direction but the track was very rough too and I wasn't going to risk damaging my hire car. This particular car had a couple in it and they gave me a look over with my big lens as they continued on to the beach less than 100 yards away. I paid little attention to what they were doing and continued staring at a bush where I hoped a warbler would appear. 

Then I spied a raptor heading my way so I quickly moved down the track a little to get a clear view in preparation for it flying past.

What I saw almost distracted me from getting the shot. The young lady , a vision of beauty too, was stripped off completely naked and posing for shots on the beach. I was mesmerised for a second or was it a minute..time flies but I regained my composure and like a true pro got the shot of the Sparrowhawk !

Sparrowhawk

Armed with my 500mm with a 1.4TC attached the young lady would appear pretty large in the frame. Did I take a photo as a keepsake? I will leave you to think about what you would have done in such circumstances and I'm not telling what I decided to do. It's not often you see a sight of such beauty though and she was obviously a professional model. As a couple of hikers appeared she put some clothes on and to be honest looked even more alluring!

That young lady might have got the vote for best bird of the stay had it not been for this one!

Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla

I had spotted a small flock of House Sparrows feeding on the ground as I drove past but the minute I stopped the car the birds all flew.

All flew bar one!

The way it moved on the ground it was instantly recognisable as being a Lark of some description.

A view from the front helps narrow down the ID from Lesser to Greater Short-toed Lark

Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla

They are actually the same size so where the name came from is a mystery to me.

The only other candidate is Calandra Lark but that is a bigger chunkier bird compared to this one.

Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla

So, Greater Short-toed it is! Definitely the best photography subject I had all week as I have never photographed one before.

In terms of new birds altogether, the only "lifer" for me was a Shearwater.

Scopoli's Shearwater.   Calonectris diomedea)

I was lucky to spot it really as I don't usually carry binoculars with me because of the extra weight but on this day I did and I was actually watching a yacht passing through the straits when I spotted the bird. Again, skimming over the waves in Shearwater style I couldn't claim a specific species but to my delight when I put the shot on computer I can enlarge it sufficiently to clearly see it's a Scopoli's Shearwater.

Scopoli's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea

and with that addition I fulfilled my estimate of 5 new birds for the year from the trip!

This was never a trip about birding, it was hopefully about some sunshine and good food.

It delivered in bucketfulls.

The birding was secondary and for me a distraction as I find lying on a sunbed boring. In fact this is the first "family" holiday I can remember in years when I have never so much as sat on one! 

I did manage the pool though and during the course of the stay built up my fitness quite considerably, my record breaking attempt at non stop lengths was only interrupted when I rescued a Preying Mantis from drowning!

Preying Mantis

Having a car was a great bonus and one I would recommend if you have ambitions to get about. 

Corfu is a stunning island but it's not without it's problems.

It appears they have a huge ongoing refuse problem as they have no more landfill sites and so the rubbish isn't being collected. The only alternative is that islanders now take the rubbish and dump it away from where they live( for the most parts). It didn't impact on me as a tourist but for some it's very off putting.

Sidari,Corfu

The length of fly tipping outside a neighbouring resort was over 100yards long but the volume was largest outside Roda where we were staying.

Roda,Corfu

Any attempts to re-cycle have been abandoned and in the rubbish you also have used toilet paper as it can't be flushed down the pan in Greece.

All in all it's not good for anyone and I felt particularly sorry for local residents who found themselves in a situation where fly tipping was very close to their homes, The stench was not pleasant and ultimately it's becoming a big health risk.

Will the solution be found? Who knows but right now it doesn't seem to be damaging tourist numbers but it can't be allowed to continue.

So, would I recommend Corfu?

As a holiday destination?

Yes. Ticked all the boxes.

As a birding destination?

The jury is out! I think spring would be better than autumn but there are better Meditteranean islands to visit if birding is the objective.

As a 10 day break out of season you need to get lucky with the weather and we certainly did.

Would I return?

We'll see! If that price came up again I'd certainly snap it up!

For now though, just good memories.

Roda,Corfu


So, until next time.....

cheers

Dave

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Peter Connan

Great report thank you Dave!

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xelas

I needed these sunny photos, thank you for sharing them! One day I will pay a visit to see that beauty that you did not post here :D.

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