We live permanently in the western half of Crete, and try to make at least one visit a year to the opposite end of the island. Mostly, these visits have been with family or friends, but this time we were able to concentrate on birding.
We had high hopes of something unusual, or perhaps a new species for us, but alas this was not to be. It was nevertheless a productive trip with 71 species ticked off, and a few photos to record our sightings.
28th October - Home (Georgioupoli) to Makry Gialos on the south east coast.
Our route meant that we could take a detour to the south side of the Dikti Mountains, where a black vulture is known to reside. We took the road north from Pefki towards the Sanctuary of Hermes and Aphrodite. As we left the tarmac behind we continued for a couple of kilometres, but it would have been many more to reach Omalos, where sightings have been made. We picnicked and trained our binoculars on the distant ridges – griffon after griffon, plus a few chough, but no black vulture. Enroute, a couple of pale phase booted eagles and sparrowhawk, the latter seen every day of this trip.
29th October - Makry Gialos to Zakros and Xerocambos.
The unusually warm weather with strong southerly winds continued today. Apart from Eleanora’s, hunting high up, common buzzard and sparrowhawk, other species were generally “staying put”. There were a few crag martins and a blue rock thrush in Zakros Gorge, and a glimpse of newly arrived black redstart. If the coast at Kato Zakros proved fruitless, it was nothing compared to Xerocambos! This coastal area has a large lagoon which has been a haven for waders, herons, egrets and the odd flamingo. The recent weather had lashed sea water into the lagoon, which looked no different to the seaward side – choppy water, probably a metre or two deep. We picnicked here and had to settle for adding just crested lark and kestrel to our list.
30th October – M G to Vai and Kouremenos
Yesterday and today provided us with scenic and sometimes dramatic drives across east Crete, which has many un-named gorges. As we crossed an upland plain, we spotted a very small falcon in fast direct flight. As best we could tell, this was a merlin – a bird we have only seen once before. (I would like to share my photo, but it is just a fuzzy silhouette!)
The Vai area proved quite productive. Along large tracts of agricultural land we found woodlark, yellow wagtail, and some juvenile red-throated pipits. A flock of starlings settled on overhead cables, and were accompanied by corn buntings and linnets. We made a brief visit to Vai Beach and climbed to the Viewpoint. Here we had the highlight of the day – a lesser spotted eagle which gave us nearly five minutes of viewing. It remained fairly high up, but one of many photos below.
Kouremenos Beach, near Paleokastro, has been subject of many good sightings over the years, particularly in November and December. We were obviously too early, as only buzzard and sparrowhawk entertained us during our visit. Along the beach we were able to add cormorant, kingfisher, willow warbler and chiffchaff to our slowly growing list. This coastal strip includes a “nature reserve” area with pools, just off the beach between Kouremenos and Plakapoules. The opposite to Xerocambos here – completely dry, and only inhabited by flocks of goldfinches!
31st October – A return to Vai and Kouremenos
We felt that these areas needed a second visit. By now the weather was more cloudy, even occasional drizzle, but remaining warm in the mid twenties. A pale phase booted eagle presented itself during the morning drive.
Other sightings included song thrush (all too brief as usual), chukar, which were being hunted, and more Eleanoras’ falcons.
At Kouremenos we couldn’t add to yesterday’s sightings, but did see a huge number of painted lady butterflies, plus one we have not been able to identify yet. We think it may have been an African species, as yesterday we found three plain tiger butterflies, which had definitely arrived here on warm southerly winds. These latter species were very restless and photos not possible. The other single sighting is below – it looks white in flight, quite small, and closes its wings immediately when resting.
At Vai, several meadow pipits, and two water pipits mixing with large numbers of white wagtails and serins. A few Spanish sparrows were seen on roadside fencing.
A memorable moment as we sat in the car watching starlings. They suddenly descended into a large hedge, about 50 metres ahead of us. We were then startled by a great whoosh of air beside the car, as a sparrowhawk arrowed towards the hedge at great speed, crashing into it. All the starlings scattered, but the sparrowhawk was nowhere to be seen. I walked slowly towards the hedge, and could only watch as the sparrowhawk flew out with one unfortunate starling held in its claws. It was an “awesome” moment.
1st November – M G to Elounda, via Bramiana Reservoir.
We have visited Bramiana many times, mainly in May. This time we traversed the perimeter track anticlockwise, giving us early long distant views across the water. We were somewhat disappointed at only seeing yellow-legged gulls, though in the far distance we could see an eagle perched on low overhanging branches. Its position was at the end of a small “peninsular”, and we earmarked it for some further investigation as we continued along the track. A few other species came into view in shallower areas – mallard, pochard, pintail, little egret and grey heron. At trackside we saw a grey wagtail, which was close enough to photograph.
I parked the car near the “peninsular” and walked towards the high ground above the perched eagle. I was probably within 20 metres of viewing it, when it took off. The ground was scrunchy to walk on and it obviously heard me. The bird flew directly away from me, and never looked back, eventually being mobbed by gulls. It appeared to be another lesser spotted eagle, and this was the only view I got!
Soon after we found a great white egret, which kept looking for more suitable areas to feed, so was quite restless. It was also unusually noisy, as in photo below.
Other species seen around the reservoir included coot, moorhen, little grebe, sedge warbler and jackdaw.
The weather deteriorated as we drove northwards towards Elounda, with very low cloud, but temperatures still holding up at around 20c. No more species added today.
2nd November – Elounda to Katharo Plain.
A favourite drive of ours, once we have climbed the hills above Kritsa. Despite its 1,200 metres altitude, the temperature remained at around 23c all day and we picnicked above the Xavga Gorge after an hour’s walkabout. Griffons abounded; some quite low.
In the gorge and around the plain, red-billed choughs mixed with hooded crows – a cacophony of sound. Jays were heard, but not seen this time, and a couple of wood warblers busied themselves in some small trees. Our best sighting was of female hen harrier (at least, a ringtail) flying low, close by, across fields. Its movement made photos impossible, but good to watch. Choughs were much easier to photograph, as was the black redstart….
3rd November – Elounda to Lassithi and Dikti
Today gave us splendid weather again, and a new road to pencil in on our map. The highlight, though, was to see three lammergeiers within a period of two and a half hours – all different birds according to their plumage and colours. The first two sightings were very distant – one a sub adult with pale breast but dark head. The second was more juvenile, moulting and generally quite dark. The last was a full adult, and a closer sighting too
Again it was the griffons that won the day, numerically, with dozens seen throughout the drive. Unexpectedly, no other large birds except common buzzard and sparrowhawk, and small birds were limited to larks and finches.
For those planning a trip to Lassithi Plateau, there is now a new road leaving the plateau to the south at Kaminaki. A tarmac road from this village has been in existence for some years now, but only went for a few kilometres. Now, it continues in splendid new tarmac all the way to Katofighi, passing below the western slopes of Mount Dikti on the way. There is some dramatic scenery too.
4th November – Elounda and nearby north coast
Today we walked to the Elounda “salt pans”. It is a few years since we last saw them in saltpan state, and so we were not surprised to find them filled with water again. Our one and only wader sighting on this trip – common sandpiper, of which there were two.
Otherwise, a single little egret and many crested larks were the only other sightings.
In the afternoon we drove north towards the small villages near the north coast and ticked off cirl bunting. It was a pair on overhead cables, this being the male
The only other bird to get our attention was what we thought to be an osprey, sitting atop a small tree at some distance. As I got out of the car, it flew and was not seen again. We guessed it was on migration, taking a deserved rest, but at home later, I was corrected on this sighting – it was a peregrine after all! – the only one we saw on this trip. (Thanks Nikos!)
5th November – Elounda to Georgioupoli, via Gouves
Our drive home included a picnic stop at Gouves, where there was some water behind the beach. We added teal, squacco heron, tawny pipit and common snipe to our list, but this area would be much more productive in the spring.
Our complete list of sightings is as follows;
Mallard, pintail, teal, pochard, chukar, little grebe, cormorant, squacco heron, little egret, great egret, grey heron, lammergeier, griffon vulture, lesser spotted eagle, booted eagle, hen harrier, common buzzard, sparrowhawk, kestrel, Eleonora’s falcon, peregrine, merlin, moorhen, coot, common sandpiper, snipe, yellow-legged gull, rock dove, collared dove, kingfisher, crested lark, woodlark, crag martin, barn swallow, tawny pipit, water pipit, meadow pipit, red-throated pipit, white/pied wagtail, yellow wagtail, grey wagtail, black redstart, stonechat, song thrush, blackbird, blue rock thrush, Sardinian warbler, sedge warbler, Cetti’s warbler, willow warbler, wood warbler, chiffchaff, wren, great tit, blue tit, jay, jackdaw, red-billed chough, hooded crow, raven, starling, house sparrow, Italian sparrow, Spanish sparrow, chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, serin, cirl bunting, corn bunting.
Holiday in Crete – based near Rethymno – 13th – 21st October 2012
My wife and I spent a week in Crete to celebrate her 60th. Our primary purpose was not birding but to relax and get to know Crete. In general, birds were very hard to find but we did have a few interesting sightings.
We arrived at Heraklion at about 11 p.m. Our dear travel company had not given us any instructions on how to find our hotel, so we had a fairly hairy drive in the (unfamiliar) hire car along the main highway. Somewhere along the way a largish owl (long-winged) flew across the road ahead of us. It wasn’t barn or tawny but not sure what it was. Fortunately, we had Googled the hotel and, amazingly, found it without any trouble. We were the only people staying there! It was ‘Fawlty Towers meets best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ but at least it was clean – pork and chips five nights running, need I say more!
The first birds of interest were two great white egrets which flew over the Venetian fort in Rethymno on 14th, quite low. I saw the only robin of the trip in a taverna garden. In the grounds of the fort was a butterfly which I think must have been a mallow skipper but it was too skittish to photograph – in fact I didn’t get a single butterfly photo of quality the whole trip. I also found a shieldbug, Graphosoma semipunctata.
The next day we spent some time wandering round Rethymno. There was a strong southerly wind and we saw a raptor battling to get to shore from the north. We must have watched it for about 15 minutes until it eventually made landfall. I must admit that I had it as a pallid harrier to start with but a couple of poor photos showed that I was getting carried away and it was a male marsh harrier. We also saw a large swift in the harbour which must have been Alpine though I could not see any plumage details.
On 17th we headed towards the monastery at Arkadia. There were plenty of ravens and we saw at least one griffon vulture. A stonechat was one of the few passerines seen.
On 18th we went to the South, through the Kourtalioutiko Gorge. There were several griffon vultures and an Accipiter species, and again lots of ravens. Nearer to Preveli monastery we found a stream with running water where I was able to photograph a couple of dragonflies – banded demoiselle of the Cretan subspecies and Trithemis annuata. There was also a grey wagtail. We stopped for a drink at a nearby tavern and watched a couple of short-toed eagles – the first I had seen for about 20 years, so it took me a while to be sure of their ID. Again a poor photo helped with that.
Our last full day was 19th when we took a pedalo round Lake Kourno. Apart from the masses of coots, little grebes and moorhens, we saw a heron (probably grey) flying over, two kingfishers and a couple of snipe. A very dark eagle flew over but I wasn’t sure what species it was. I was also able to photograph three species of dragonfly – all ones that occur in the UK as well. Stripe-necked terrapins were common and we saw a ‘water snake’.
In total I identified 33 species of bird, which is probably not many but it was an enjoyable holiday.
PS I’ve put a few photos on http://www.wildlife-galleries.co.uk/gallery2/main.php
If you search for ‘Crete’ you should be able to see 17 images.
Hello Colin and Sue,
Very nice blogg, been a dedicated follower for a while since it was decided that me and my wife where going to Crete for vacation and work related stuff. My wife planned the whole trip so I just birded wherever we end up. Some species might be of interest for Cretan birders. I just give a brief text about the species that might be of interest. Have in mind that I only had binoculars and not any telescope, have seen alot on unidentified stuff :)
Bearded Vulture: 2 seen, 1st half way down Samaria Gorge, heard a raven looked up and there it was soaring over the top of the gorge. One of my most wanted species already at day 2, 7th of october. A bit of a distance but it was an older bird.
At the 14th we saw one or two individuals again, only one for sure but photos say there might have been another one behind. This was at the top of the Zaros Gorge, we walked up from Zaros to the little chappel and parking place, had lunch on a little hill where I had a good view. Again an adult like.
At the 15th there was a suspected immature indivdial seen sitting on a cliff. I'm not sure what it is, the pictures don't reveal enough either. The position and shape of head just confuses me and don't look like what I'm used to. Dark with some lighter plumage below head.
Golden eagle: 4 seen at the 7th. After the Samaria Gorge with not far left to the sea, high above the mountain on right hand side. Most young individuals of what I could see. Soaring together. One older individual was also seen at the 11th when coming back to the Samaria Gorge and hiking up the mountain instead of down the Gorge.
Lesser spotted eagle: 9th of october. Sunbathing at Sweet water beach close to Leutro, 2ex 1cy birds come along the mountain side. One sits down for a short bit and then takes of again. Just following the coast. Pictures exist.
Short-toed eagle: 3ex migrating south on the 11th. Seen from the ridge above Samaria Gorge, above the Samaria spring and all. Came very high, straight over the ridge over our heads. Pictures exist.
Booted eagle: Only one seen for sure. On the 16th on the way to up Lasihiti platoe. Discoverd when looking at soaring vultures. Pale morph, picture exist.
Long-legged buzzard: 13th at peveli monastry. Ok, this is a tricky one and I admitt, never seen one before. Saw it quite close when it was catching the up wind together with a common buzzard from below my position. With the moult going on I would say not younger than 3cy.
Bluethroat: 13th on Palm Beach. First heard and then just saw the red tail feathers when quickly flying between low shrubs. Farily common from where I come. No risk of confusion with other "redtailed passerines" i think.
Red-throated pipit: Many at Lashiti platoe the 16th. Unusual to have so many so concentrated for me. Don't live so far from Swedish mountains where they breed but we never have flocks of them during migration.
Eleonora falcon: 16th. Very special for me, not for you i guess. Interesting at Lasihiti platoe that there where perhaps 15 falcons at once feeding on airborne insects. A great experience. There was likely a couple of other falcons involved too but I could not identify them, they never came as close to me as the eleonoras.
Levant sparrowhawk: 16th. Seen above Malia abit up on the mountain.
Wood warbler: 14th. Seen in the Zaros Gorge. Pictures exist. (also chifchaff and willow warbers was seen during the trip)
Marsh harrier: Several seen. 1ex close to Zaros, 1ex east of Heraklion, Aposelemis, where the river comes out to the sea. 1ex at the water power station they are building at Potamies. Several ponds there that I wanted to check out but never came close enough. Felt like I was intruding a bit so I turned around again. Also saw an un id wheatear, a dark thing so most likely a blackeared i think.
Northern pintail: 17th, 2ex at Aposelemis in the little river there, close to the sea.
Northern Shoveler: 6th, Agia lake.
Ortolanbunting: 18th, singing at Potamies power station. (where I saw the un id wheatear) I was desperately looking for good lakes but around Heraklion but I could not find any. Was 20 min at Agia lake the first day.
Also saw a big concentration of bird of prey from Mirthios toward the west above a big hill close to the sea. It was too far away from me to see what it was but a mixture i would guess. It was abit cloude but there the sun came through i suspect it made good up winds at that spot. Saw alot of buzzards flying there and coming from there. Counted atleast 150 birds in the spiral.
Peter Mathisen (from northern Sweden)
We would like to share our little trip in Crete, during summer 2012.
Total of species seen is 72. I assume it’s quite low compared to the number of species passing by at this time of the year….! Knowing that my girlfriend is not fond of birding, I didn’t spend much of my holidays birding around! And also we spend most of the time near the coast, so we did not get through a lot of habitat diversity. We wondered where all the marine birds are?? Almost saw no gulls and no cormorants, even in harbors…
I’ll just write about species that (to me) feels a little “exotic” compared to what I’m use to spot in France. Please be merciful if I make a big deal about something very common to you!
Saw a couple of red-backed shrikes chasing in bushes on the coast. They were scaring to death a small flock of 5 common stonechats. That’s most of it
Also found a green toad (Bufo viridis) jumping around our tent in Sisi camping!
Saw 3 Chukar on the deadly road between Plaka and Katos road, and my first Northern Wheatear of the summer!
A really windy day! There were not a lot of birds flying around… except a flock of 20 Black-crowned Night-Heron, desperately trying to reach the small island of mochlos!
We walked in the dead’s gorge and saw many birds:
Blue Rock-Thrush (about 4)
Eurasian Crag-Martin (20)
Rock Dove (2)
…and what looked to me to a juvenile of Peregrine falcon (don’t know if he is known for breeding there, but it wouldn’t be surprised according to the habitat.
Caught a flock of Yellow Wagtail on active migration, by the end of the day. A few individuals were from the feldegg subspecie… not seen this one since central Asia 3 years ago! Nice!
Then we spent the morning around the Bramanion reservoir. One of the best bird spot of my holidays! They were not a lot of birds, but good specific diversity:
4 Eleanor Falcons chasing above the water, and resting on the shore, although crows where trying to scare them… we were about 200m away and watched them for about 30 minutes. That was a first!
Common Grey Heron 1
Little Egret 1
Yellow-legged Gull 5
Marsh Harrier 1
Common Snipe 2
Common Pochard 2
Ferruginous Duck 4
…And a few European pond turtles swimming by to top it all!
We slept the night in Mirtos, and heard a Little owl hooting in the village!
A nice group of 20 Alpine Swift chasin’ and screamin’ by the end of the day, in the famous old hippie bay.
In the Plakias (dirty) river, a lonely Common Sandpiper
There was also a pair of breeding Red-rumped Swallow in the Plakias camping facility.
On the road of Agios Ioannis, I heard what sounds to me a Wood lark.
And on the way back, quite a funny story. As I stopped by the road to take a picture, I made a small bird fly away on a scree. It was flying and shaped like a big Quail… then; a kestrel came from nowhere and killed it 100 meters from me! And flew away with the poor bird in his talon… I found some feathers which also looked like quail, but still not sure… that was not really the typical habitat! If somebody has an idea of what it could have been, just tell me!
We spent the night in nopigia’s camping, a quiet place with lots of old tamarix.. On the morning, I went birding around, and there was a lot of passerine activity in the trees
Collared flycatcher 2
Common wren 1 (unexpected here)
…And a true red-breasted flycatcher, 5 meters from me perched on a string! I was facing his back but could observe it for a few seconds, and saw the typical tail pattern when he swift away. Apparently it’s quite uncommon in Crete, and I wished I had a picture for the records and a proper identification… But I’ve seen tons of this specie in Romania and I can tell I am 99% sure of it. Even before I saw the tail in flight, the robin-like attitude really rang my bell.
I also spotted my only Great Cormorant drying his wings in front of the camping beach.
We stopped for the night in Kambos, in the nice little hotel by the main road… I must say that the innkeeper is more than generous on the food he serves. I almost thought I was going to die! I swear to myself to make him a little advertisement because of his warm welcome and great food, so if you birders want to spent a little time in the area, you won’t be despite by the place.
We trekked in the nearby gorge of Kambos and sighted a few Blue Rock-Thrushes, and a pair of European sparrow hawk. While I was sweating myself out under the terrible noon sun, my lovely girlfriend spotted a beautiful male of Black-eared Wheatear!
Later on the day, we arrived in Elafonissi beach. Beautiful place but birds are scarce! By the end of the day, as all tourists except for a dozen of us have left the beach, we have been surrounded by a band of ruddy turnstone (8), where a Sanderling was hiding! They were trying to feed on some peanuts leftovers lying on the sand… didn’t really appreciate, though.
Day 19 – Samaria area
I can’t remember where but I wrote on my note 1 or more Sand Martin between Elafonissi and the gorges of Samaria.
Later on the day, in the Omalos plateau, we met with a band of hundreds on Barn Swallow, chasing around. They were also lots of Linnet, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Great and Blue tits on the orchards.
That’s where I realized that I was able to take pictures through my 10x42 with my camera (a few days before leaving ). So starting this moment we try to get pictures of exciting birds…
…Like this exotic one!
On the way down to Chania, 3 Eurasian Jay passed by flying. It has been the only ones we saw during the trip.
We stopped by the famous Agia Lake, on the advice of Dear Sue and Colin. The place was not as crowded as I imagined, especially for ducks and gulls.
Nevertheless, we spotted Purple Heron (2) , Whiskered Tern (4-5), little grebe (6), grey heron (10), common coots (50) Common Moorhen (2) and Cetti’s warbler (1 singing).
As we were about to leave, Jess wanted to take a last picture of the fat disgusting exotic ducks hanging around. She was just near the sluice gate when, she scared away a tiny little Rallidae who ran to the reeds. I persuaded her into staying for a few minutes, to give a little time for the mysterious bird to come back (what do you know!). After 5 minutes of time, we saw popping out from the reedbeds a nice Little crake!
We were sitting on the sluice gate, and just under our feet were a kind of mattress (5 square meters) made of a lot of plants stuck in the metal gate (mostly algae and reeds). And the crake wouldn’t feed elsewhere than on this place!! It was literally 1 to 2 meters from us! That was a first for me; I wasn’t expecting to see this bird, even less so close!! It was pecking the little invertebrates living in the natural mattress… we spend 30 minutes with it, it was really tame, and get accustomed to us quite fast. Our best bird memory of the summer!
Day 20 – Kournas area
Our last day was dedicated to rest, so we went on the Mouri Lake to rent pedalos. This is not a great place for birds, except coots, kingfishers, and little grebes. What a surprise when a Pygmy Cormorant arrived towards us and took a little swim… that was the last specie that we saw during this really nice trip
Hope you’ll enjoy this island as much as we did, there’s much more than birds to see there… it’s a great place with great people.
Some pictures of the Pygmy Cormorant to close this trip, enough for an identification
Bird highlight report for week visit to Crete
Arrived Tuesday 21st August into Chana Airport
A drive around the roads at the rear of the airport, around the Refuse area and by the Target Launching area.
Lots of stonechats and Sardinian Warblers, we also saw three Eurasian Hoopoes in different locations and several Female Red backed Shrikes also a pair of common Kestrels were seen hunting.
Wednesday 22nd August
We started by heading past Maleme and took a road by the Tavronitis River heading towards the coast, we stopped by a field that was being irrigated there were hundreds of Yellow Wagtails mainly young birds with lots of Hirundines including Barn Swallows, several Red-rumped Swallows and lots of House Martins also a Sedge Warbler was seen, lots of Hooded Crows and several Buzzards.
We also followed your guidelines to the Kolymbari river where the reeds had been cut down, we picked up Wood Sandpiper, several Common Sandpipers.
A Late afternoon visit to Agia Lake followed, several common species were seen including, Moorhen lots of Little Grebe. Ducks present were three Garganey, one Ferruginous duck, two Pochard, Mallard and Northern Shoveler, two Kingfishers were seen flying, along with four Eleanora’s Falcons, A Glossy Ibis was seen Landing into the reeds disappearing quickly and several Little Egrets.
On the way back to our lodgings we drove the road from Chania Airport up to Gouverneto Monastery.
Birds seen where Crested Lark, Stonechat and Red-backed Shrikes in numbers several Spotted Flycatchers, One Woodchat Shrike and two Common Ravens.
In the Monastery grounds we saw and photographed a Female Collared Flycatcher which we watched for quite a while.
Thursday 23rd August
Today started with a trip up to Samaria Gorge, on the journey up we saw several Common Ravens, one really close Griffon Vulture and several Common Kestrels.
And one stunning Common Buzzard perched really close. A large Raptor flew up of the cliff edge definitely an Eagle but it all happened too quickly and it will remain a mystery.
The Omalos Plateau was fairly quiet with lots of Goldfinch, Barn Swallow, several Northern Wheatear, Black Eared Wheatear, Linnet, Greenfinch and several Eurasian Jay.
Onto the gorge we saw several Griffons flying high and around the entrance were Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits and a Wren.
Unfortunately no Lammergier and no Chough were seen.
On the way out we did manage to pick up Eurasian Crag Martins.
On the way back we stopped off at Agia Lake, additions seen were huge flocks of Alpine Swifts feeding and moving on, several Sand Martins, and Red-rumped Swallows mixed with Barn Swallows.
Again late afternoon we drove the roads around the back of the Airport with Hoopoe, Red-backed Shrikes both male and female, Crested Larks in numbers Stonechats and Spotted Flycatchers, also one bonus a Lesser Grey Shrike sat out in the open allowing wonderful scope views. There seemed to be a larger influx of Red-backed Shrikes and Spotted Flycatchers today
Friday 24th August
An early morning visit to Kolymbari added Little Ringed Plover with Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper still present.
Following that a morning trip up to the Gouverneto Monastery with lots of Spotted Flycatchers, Red-backed Shrikes , Stonechats and Crested Larks. We found Several Black-eared Wheatear and two Willow Warblers , highlight was a Wryneck which hung around for a minute or two before flying off, Lots of Sardinian Warblers were also around.
Afternoon was a trip to Georgioupolis the Lake was poor but Spotted Flycatcher, Little Grebe and Grey Heron where found on the coast side. Yellow-legged Gulls were seen out to sea, and a Mute Swan was seen in the Harbour Area.
Saturday 25th August
We decided to go West and travelled the Gramvousa Peninsula taking it slowly with several stops worked well, we saw Common Raven, Crested Larks , Black-eared Wheatear, Red-backed Shrikes , Whinchat, and a pair of obliging Blue Rock Thrushes
Following that we did the Peninsula up past Rodopos. Good numbers of the same birds with good numbers of Griffon Vultures soaring.
Saturday 25th August
A planned return Visit to Agia Lake added a few more species With lots of Alpine Swifts again moving through this time with a good few Common Swifts, and a late visit by a female Marsh Harrier stirred up everything. Two Common Sandpiper were also seen.
Sunday 26th August
We decided to have ago at the Lammergier again at Samaria today so a visit to Agia Lake was first. Nothing new at first till the Marsh Harrier re-appeared suddenly 5 Snipe struck up and circled around for a while and then a flock of about 12 Green Sandpiper did the same, all landing out of sight once the Harrier had gone.
The Journey into the gorge proved to be a Highlight with around 15 Booted eagles soaring above entrance into the Plateau drifting all one way and several Eleanora’s Falcons hunting around the cliffs, but again no Lammergier!!!
Monday 27th August
Our last full day Started at Agia again with only Eurasian Reed Warbler added but 6 Eleanora’s Falcon seen for along time hunting over the lake. We checked the roads around the back of the Airport again and the road up to the Monastery nothing new added but more birds being seen now.
Tuesday 28th August
Only a couple of hours this morning before flight home, so we decided to go back up to the Gouverneto Monastery, lots of the usual again but at the Monastery grounds we managed to get extended views of a Female Subalpine Warbler first and last of the trip.
We saw 69 species in all, the weather was superb all week but very hot by midday.
Considering the time of year and the fact that we knew it was probably too early to get the best from any migration we consider we did ok and certainly saw the early start of migration taking place.
Steve and Annette
Our family trip to Crete was great. Back home I went through the pictures I took and
send you some of the highlights of the birdlife I saw. Feel free to post my sightings and pics on your website of birding in Crete.
I wanted to walk to Ayia lake but did not reach my destination. But the countryside was lovely.
In a next attempt I hired a bike and reached the beautifull Ayia lake in about 35 min from Kalamaki.
Next to the usual suspects I counted 34 green sandpipers on 17/7 and just before I wanted to leave the place, what appeared to be a first summer gull billed tern (pic attached, species to be confirmed)
flew in but it left after 10 minutes (on migration?), so I did too. I visited Ayia lake again on the 19/7, this time with a scope, and saw the ferruginous duck, to my delight.
On 19th of July I left at 6 am to Omalos and the Samaria gorge entrance. Just before reaching the Omalos plain there were 8 griffon vultures circling above so I quickly got out of the car (1 pic attached). It was a fantastic experience.
Further on the plain there were more griffon vultures flying above the mountains. But only when one took off from closeby on the Omalos plain, I realized how huge they are. I straight away continued to the Samaria gorge entrance where it was very windy and cold, so I had to put on a woolen hat! More griffon vultures were spotted but they were all very far away. Around 9 am I spotted a raptor above the hill in front of the souvvenir shop (so on the other side of the road). I took my bins and quickly noticed its long tail, so I thought bingo. I realized it could drop right away out of sight so I took my camera and tried to get some profile pictures. Before I could switch to my scope it was gone. The pics turned out to be good enough and a raptor expert just confirmed it concerns a bearded vulture (pic attached). Very good indeed for a first attempt! After a while I went back to position myself in the middle of the Omalos plain to further spot a flock of 10 griffon vultures and some single griffon vultures plus the tons of small birds moving through the plain.
I enjoyed the Omalos plain enormously so I went down to the sea to pick up my family and in the afternoon we drove back up for a drink at Omalos. Once again we saw a bearded vulture, but this time it was a dead one hanging above the exit of one of the restaurants in town (the one nearest to the gorge). Still very impressive.
Best regards from Helsinki and thanks again for the info you provided me,
Little Grebe Squacco Heron
Little Egret Grey Heron
Griffon Vulture Booted Eagle
Bonelli’s Eagle Kestrel
Eleonora’s Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Black-winged Stilt Little Ringed Plover
Greenshank Yellow-legged Gull
Audouin’s Gull Rock Dove
Wood Pigeon Collared Dove
Turtle Dove Swift
Alpine Swift Hoopoe
Crested Lark Woodlark
Barn Swallow Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin Tawny Pipit
White Wagtail Black-eared Wheatear
Sardinian Warbler Spotted Flycatcher
Great Tit Blue Tit
Woodchat Shrike Jay
Hooded Crow Raven
House Sparrow Italian Sparrow
Greenfinch Corn Bunting
As for my trip report for 2011, I was based in a villa near the village of Prasses, above the Prassiano gorge. There are outstanding views across the gorge and the olive trees surrounding the villa can be quite productive. I drive around a bit during the three weeks I am there and get to the obvious sites in the western half of Crete at least once, but a lot of my bird-watching is done near the gorge. I don’t keep systematic daily records, but the following notes may be of some use to visitors wanting to find good places. Where I haven’t commented on a species the notes from 2011 would apply, eg Raven is a regular in the Prassiano gorge.
Chukar – heard regularly near the villa and seen occasionally in the olives and scrub above the Prassiano gorge, usually fleetingly as they disappear over the edge of the gorge!
Squacco Heron – a singleton at Agia on several occasions.
Little Egret – seen regularly all along the north coast (even while landing at Heraklion airport!) and at obvious places like Moronis and Agia.
Griffon Vulture – the star turn in the Prassiano gorge (see last year’s comments), also seen on the Omalos plateau, in the Kourtaliotiko gorge, above Spili and in some of the smaller gorges along the north coast west of Rethymno.
Booted Eagle – still only seeing dark morph birds, but very regular round the Prassiano gorge.
Bonelli’s Eagle – as for last year, a pair always at long range at the top of the Prassiano gorge fairly regularly.
Eleonora’s Falcon – occasional evening visitor above the gorge, with good views of a dark bird catching dragonflies and eating them on the wing.
Peregrine Falcon – fairly regular visitor to the gorge (most days, in fact) with some really good views from the villa veranda (early evening is a good time).
Black-winged Stilt – a singleton at Tavronitis, resting on a pool right by the beach. I was surprised to see one as this would have been no later than the first week in July.
Little Ringed Plover – a regular at the mouth of the Petres river.
Greenshank – a singleton at Tavronitis, together with the Stilt (very close views of both). Again I was a bit surprised to see one on Crete at this point in the year.
Yellow-legged Gull – large numbers on the Potamon reservoir always, presumably wanting a fresh water bath.
Audouin’s Gull – a singleton at Tavronitis, together with the Greenshank and the Stilt, was a first for me (and I nearly didn’t get out of the car to have a closer look!).
Turtle Dove – a regular in the olive groves round the villa, in quite good numbers.
Swift – still a regular early evening visitor in good numbers over the Prassiano gorge, with suspected Pallid Swifts amongst them.
Alpine Swift – not so many as in 2011 perhaps, but still a regular sight over the gorge and at Agia.
Hoopoe – a singleton in the usual place below the villa.
Crested Lark – a regular in small numbers round the villa and even in the field next to the Lidl car park on the eastern outskirts of Rethymno.
Woodlark – a few here and there in the olives near the villa.
Red-rumped Swallow – quite a while before they put in an appearance at the villa drinking from the pool, but then in small groups every day.
Tawny Pipit – a singleton on the Omalos plateau on a fence near the sheep drinking stations.
Black-eared Wheatear – a regular on the edges of the Prassiano gorge and in amongst the olive trees.
Woodcaht Shrike – a few singletons (or the same bird on several occasions?) in the olive trees near the villa.
Chough – a small flock on the Omalos plateau in rough ground near the sheep drinking stations, difficult to count (perhaps 15-20?)
Corn Bunting – a regular above Spili and in the fields near the Potamon reservoir
Trip report Crete 2012 (by Leo Tukker).
From 11 to 18 May I went with my wife to Crete. She had been here 27 years ago, but for me it was the first time on this island.
We had booked a hotel in Ano Vouves, a small village in Western Crete. We stayed at Hotel Eliá.
At 05:20 we took off from Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) and after dropping some passengers at Irakleion Airport, we landed on Chania Airport at about eleven o’clock.
After picking up our hired car we drove to our hotel and arrived there at 12:30. Near the hotel we saw a lot of Italian Sparrows, a lifer for me.
Birds we saw every day were Barn Swallow, Hooded Crow, Common Buzzard, Italian Sparrow and Collared Dove. I shall not mention these species any more in this report.
After checking in I went for a walk in the area near the hotel.
Besides the everyday birds I saw Great Tit, Goldfinch, Woodchat Shrike, Chaffinch and Turtle Dove.
In the evening we heard the Scops Owl calling.
The next morning we left Ano Vouves to go to Agia Lake. Just outsidethe village of Agia Triada, aHoopoewas sitting on the road and flew off.
At Agia Lake we stayed for acouple of hours and saw:Blackbird,Common Coot,Common Swift,Great Tit,Grey Heron,Little Bittern,Little Egret,Little Grebe,Mallard,Moorhen,Purple Heron,Squacco Heron,Wood SandpiperandYellow-legged Gull.
We also saw anAmericanBullfrogand aBalkan GreenLizardat Agia Lake.
We then drove on to the Omalos Plateau and to the entrance of the Samaria Gorge.
In the mountains it was very cloudy and cold. After passing the beautiful town of Lakki I suddenly saw a group of Griffon Vultures sitting on a ridge.
Ten minutes later a juvenile Lammergeier flew by (my second lifer this trip). At the entrance of the Gorge I saw my third lifer, Red-billed Chough.
Our intention was to go to the taverna at the entrance of the gorge and stay there for a while, but the taverna was still closed. While it was so very cold, we moved on.
In the mountains and on the Omalos Plateau we saw: Black-eared Wheatear, Chaffinch, Common Sandpiper, Eurasian Jay, European Bee-eater, European Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Griffon Vulture, Linnet, Long-legged Buzzard, Rock Dove, Turtle Dove and Whinchat.
We then drove to Tavronitis and we did some birding near the river. There I saw two more lifers i.e. Moustached Warbler and Sardinian Warbler.
We also saw: Little-ringed Plover, Little Stint, Sand Martin, and Temminck’s Stint.
On Sunday we went for a walk in the Mesávlia Gorge (a.k.a.Delianá Gorge). It was beautiful.
We saw a lot of Griffon Vultures. We also saw: Blackbird, Blue Rock Thrush, Chaffinch, Common Raven, Common Stonechat, Crag Martin, European Greenfinch, two Golden Eagles, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Long-legged Buzzard, Rock Dove, and Wren.
Before we drove back to the hotel we visited Tavronitis River again, where we saw: Little Egret, Little-ringed Plover, Moorhen, Sand Martin, Yellow-legged Gull and Yellow Wagtail.
When we were back at the hotel, sitting on the terrace with a cold beer, a Black Kite flew by.
Before dinner I took a walk in the area round the hotel and saw Sardinian Warbler.
On Monday we went to the Polirrinía Gorge. Again a beautiful walk. We saw Blackbird, Blue Rock Thrush, Common Kestrel, Common Raven, Common Stonechat, Crag Martin, European Greenfinch, House Martin, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Griffon Vulture, Rock Dove, Spanish Sparrow, and Wren.
After the gorge we went to Falasarna, where we only saw Yellow-legged Gulls.
Back at the hotel I saw a dark-morphed Booted Eagle (a lifer) and European Bee-eaters.
On Tuesday we went to Chania. In the afternoon we went again to Agia Lake for the birds. We there met an English birder, who lives a couple of months a year on the island and we met Manos Papadomanolakis, who has a website with beautiful photos of the birds of Crete.
We saw: Blackbird, Chaffinch, Common Coot, Common Raven, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Grey Heron, Little Bittern, Little Crake, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Mallard, Moorhen, Night-heron, Purple Heron, Ruff, Squacco Heron, Whiskered Tern, Wood Sandpiper and Yellow-legged Gull.
On Wednesday we went tot Elafonissi, where we saw Crested Lark, Eleonora’s Falcon and Yellow-legged Gull. After an hour on the beach, we drove though the mountains to Paleochora.
Suddenly my wife saw a couple of Common Buzzards that were attacking a large eagle. They were flying in our direction, so I jumped out of the car, got my telescope and had beautiful views on the birds and the eagle turned out to be a Bonelli’s Eagle (again a lifer).
Near Paleochora we saw some Griffon Vultures and a dark-morphed Booted Eagle.
Near the hotel we saw: Blackbird, Black Kite and Goldfinch.
On Thursday we went to Rethymnon, because my wife had been there 27 years ago. On the way back to the west we drove along Lake Kournas and for the last time we went to Agia Lake.
There we met Colin and Sue Turvey from the ‘Crete Birding’ website. Also Manos showed up again. I was able to take some nice pictures of Little Crake, Squacco Heron and Wood Sandpiper.
We saw: Alpine Swift, Black-headed Wagtail, Common Coot, Common Redshank, Grey Heron, House Martin, Little Crake, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Moorhen, Ruff, Sand Martin, Squacco Heron, Whiskered Tern, Wood Sandpiper and Yellow-legged Gull.
On Friday we had to fly home again and left the hotel at 08:00. We were at home at 17:15.
We had a great vacation, the weather was fine, we met a lot of very friendly people and with
7 lifers in one week it was a good week for birding.
For pictures you can go to www.pbase.com/tukkl00
5 images by and © Leo Tukker
Thank you for your help and advice.
As promised, here is a summary of my sightings whilst my partner, Louise, and I stayed with our friends, near Kolymbari. As I said, this, our first visit to Crete, was a holiday with some birding, rather than a birding holiday. I hope that some of what follows will be of interest and I would welcome your thoughts about the sparrows (see below).
I was particularly impressed with the scenery at Kourtaliotiko Gorge, which was quite awesome in its scale and by Samaria Gorge, which I thought was utterly spectacular. I also enjoyed the Seli Ambelou Pass from the Homo Sapiens Museum and I thought that the Omalos and Lsssithi plateaux were really charming.
We'll be back!
Shag - two immatures seen at Kolymbari on 25th April were noticeably paler on the underparts than the aristotelis we get here in Britain. This was the first time I had seen desmarestii.
Black-crowned Night Heron - 1 adult, Aghia Reservoir, 27th April.
Squacco Heron - 3, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April; 2, Aghia Reservoir, 27th April.
Little Egret - as well as good numbers at Aghia Reservoir on 25th and 27th April, there was one at the gravel workings to the north of Seli Ambelou Pass on 29th.
Glossy Ibis - 1, Aghia Reservoir, 25th and 27th April.
Garganey - pair, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April.
Lammergeier - one adult, high over Kourtaliotiko Gorge on 26th April. I watched this bird from the lay-by with the wooden-roofed shelter at about 6.30pm. It appeared from the east of the Gorge and after circling over the Gorge it drifted back in the direction from which it had come.
Griffon Vulture - several seen (maximum of four together) at Kourtaliotiko Gorge, 26th April; several seen at Samaria Gorge, 27th April; 5, Seli Ambelou Pass, 28th April and 2 there on 29th.
Marsh Harrier - 1, between Platanias and Tavronitis, 25th April; 1, Aghia Reservoir, 25th and 27th April; 1, heading west along the beach at Platanias, 30th April.
Common Buzzard - seen at various sites around the island and I was interested to note that the birds were of consistent plumage, very much like the most frequent type that occurs in Britain.
Booted Eagle - 2 adults together, both pale phase, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, 26th April.
Chukar - 1 flew over the road, north of Kourtaliotiko Gorge, 26th April.
Little Crake - male, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April (on the opposite shore from the ramp up from the cafe).
Baillon's Crake - adult, Aghia Reservoir, 27th April (very close, beneath the building at the top of the ramp up from the cafe).
Coot - good numbers at Aghia Reservoir on 25th (when a Yellow-legged Gull caught and carried off a chick, swallowing it whole whilst in flight) and 27th April; 5+ at gravel workings to the north of Seli Ambelou Pass on 29th April.
Black-winged Stilt - 1, Aghia Reservoir, 25th and 27th April.
Ruff - 1, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April; 4, Aghia Reservoir, 27th April
Wood Sandpiper - 54, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April; c20, Aghia Reservoir, 27th April; 2, at gravel workings to the north of Seli Ambelou Pass, 29th April.
Common Sandpiper - 1, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April
Yellow-legged Gull - seen at several sites and I was interested to hear them calling, which was noticeably higher-pitched than the equivalent call of Herring Gull (L argentatus).
Rock Dove and Feral Pigeon.
Turtle Dove - 1 heard singing and seen near taverna en route from Agios Nikolaos to Lassithi Platea, 29th April.
Cuckoo - 1, heard singing, near the entrance to Samaria Gorge, 27th April.
Barn Owl - 1, on a roadside post on the seaward side of the olive grove at Thebla on 30th April (Harvey often sees and hears them there).
Swift - 1, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April and several there on 27th; 1, Thebla, 30th April.
Alpine Swift - 1, Thebla, 25th April; 1, at the southern end of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, 26th April; 1, Samaria Gorge, 27th April; 2, Thebla, 30th April; 1, Thebla, 1st May.
Bee-eater - heard over Thebla, 25th April but not seen; 6 together and then another one, heading north-west over Thebla, 25th April; c30, Aghia Reservoir, 27th April; 9, north-west over Thebla, 30th April.
Hoopoe - heard calling in the olive grove at Thebla on 25th April; 2 seen together, there, on 26th April, one of which was perched on a wire and was making a rasping call (which I hadn't heard before) and fanning its tail.
Crested Lark - 1 on western outskirts of Agios Nikolaos, 28th April.
Woodlark - 2, heard singing, Omalos Plateau, 27th April.
Sand Martin - good numbers at Aghia Reservoir, 27th April; 1, Tavronitis, 1st May.
Crag Martin - 2+, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, 26th April; several, Samaria Gorge, 27th April.
Red-rumped Swallow - 1, Thebla, 27th April; 2, Laki, 27th April; 1, Thebla, 30th April; 2, Thebla, 1st May.
House Martin - small party at the southern end of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge on 26th April; small party at entrance to Samaria Gorge, 27th April.
Black-headed Wagtail - 2, Aghia Reservoir, 25th April.
Wren - heard singing at Omalos Plateau, 27th April.
Whinchat - 2, Omalos Plateau, 27th April.
Wheatear - male, in song, Omalos Plateau, 27th April.
Blue Rock Thrush - male, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, 26th April.
Blackbird - I was interested to note that all those that I heard singing, at various sites around the island, sang short, Mistle Thrush-like phrases, quite different from the longer, more elaborate song that is familiar here in Britain.
Sardinian Warbler - seen at several sites and I was interested to note that one male that I saw very well, several times, at Thebla, had black tips to the underside of the tail feathers, which I wasn't aware that they have.
Blackcap - heard singing at the Botanical Gardens on 26th April.
Spotted Flycatcher - 1, Thebla, 30th April.
Woodchat Shrike - 1, Omalos Plateau, 27th April.
Red-billed Chough - 2, Samaria Gorge, 27th April.
Raven - heard at the Botanical Gardens on 26th April; 1, Samaria Gorge, 27th April; heard, Seli Ambelou Pass, 28th April; 5 between Agios Nikolaos and Lassithi Plateau, 29th April.
Italian Sparrow - I was very keen to see this species now that it has been split and is quoted in Stephanie Coghlan's book as being the dominant taxon in Crete. However, I was somewhat perplexed by a number of individuals that showed more white in the supercillium than I was expecting (more like Spanish Sparrow) and some with grey feathering on the crown (more like House Sparrow). A number of those that I saw did, however, look like "classic" Italian Sparrows. I would welcome your thoughts.
Serin - male seen singing at the Botanical Gardens on 26th April.
Cirl Bunting - male, Omalos Plateau, 27th April; male near roadside taverna, en route from Agios Nikolaos to the Lassithi Plateau, 29th April.
Sending you a few records from my holiday date in Villa Christina, approx 1km east of Kalives.
Virtually no excursions undertaken due to 5 & 3 year old boys in tow!!
Nearly all records around this location. Small river entered the sea approx 250 metres from house.
More interesting records but sorry not in any particular order!
L.R. Plover 4 on 3/4
Woodchat Shrike 1 on 3/4
purple heron 3-5/4 seen every day in flight, plus once flushed from bamboo adjacent to beach.
common sand 1 3-6/4 on beach
med gull 2nd summer 3-5/4 on beach by rivermouth (only other gull species seen apart from numerous y.l. gulls in bay)
northern wheatear max 8 on beach 4/4
isabelline wheatear 5/4
marsh harrier 4-6/4 same bird seen hunting in area
spannish sparrow 16+ around all week
green sandpiper 2 on 5/4 feeding in irrigated ploughed field next to villa
redstart female 5/4 plus male at allied war cemetary
black kite 7/4
meadow pipit 7/4
great reed warbler 2 seen from 7/4 till end holiday
bonelli's warbler 9/4
alpine swift largest flock was 20 overhead on 9/4
numerous yellow wags of various races, buzzards (one possible long legged), kestrels, peregrine, serin, stonechat, blackcap, r.r swallows, raven, plus usual hirudines and common residents.
Had a 2 hour visit to Ayia reservoir on the 8/4. Other birders were there so assuming you have received records from here. Also visited the tiny reserve in corner of Souda Bay, again you seem to have records already.
Brief visit to Falasana on 9/4 where had:
white wagtails 4
crag martin 4
b.e. wheatear 6
Unfortunately despite getting onto the fatbirders website I could not open your blog up on my partner's Iphone whilst on the island.
Managed just 77 species in all during the week but never even attempted to go up into the mountains i.e Omalos etc. Hope to return next year.