A&M Report No 11, October 2008
We recently found a newly tarmaced road leading up above the Irini Gorge - it goes to a telephone mast, and then continues as a track.  Height about 1,200 metres.  So, our first report this month, on 3rd, relocates to our trip to this road, and a stop at Agia on the return.

3rd.  Enroute to the top of the Irini Gorge, 3 eleonoras, and our first booted eagle since January (light phase).  We walked from the telephone mast and became surrounded by sheep and goats, but no birds.  A wooded area further on turned up a short-toed treecreeper, and yet again no chance of a photo of this little bird which was glimpsed several times between leaves as it climbed.  Back at the car we picnicked in the hope of some larger raptors - we had a huge area of sky to look at.  A single griffon was the only sighting, until a harrier raced by.  Two quick photos have not identified the bird, which had white on the upper parts of the tail coverts - size would suggest montagu's or pallid.

We next drove down to the Omalos plateau.  All the birds you would expect were there; jay, linnet, goldfinch, whinchat, woodlark, corn bunting.

Finally at Agia we were entertained by 3 terns.  We agonised over identification as 2 were roughly together most of the time and were whiskered.  The other appeared to have much faster wingbeats and continually dived into the water.  None of these birds were adult, so id was more difficult.  Other birds there included several kingfishers, pochard, shoveller, little grebe, grey heron, little egret, common sandpiper, yellow wagtail and marsh harrier. A photo of little grebe with juvenile below.

Photo above by and A&M

Whiskered Tern, photo above by and A&M

6th.  A walk from the house, broadly aiming for the far side of Georgioupolis viewpoint. A cettis' warbler was disturbed at very close quarters - nearly trod on it!, and then a quick glimpse of a redstart.  No black redstarts in our area yet.  Further along a small river at the back of the lake revealed a grey heron, a single white wagtail, and a spotted flycatcher.
Crossing the ford and making for the Georgioupolis to Vrisses old road, I had a great view of light phase booted eagle and marsh harrier in the same air space, both being mocked by five hooded crows.  At the lake (viewpoint) the water level was extremely high and nothing to be seen except coots and a kingfisher.  However, walking towards Georgioupolis and entering the eucalyptus avenue, I noticed Stelios at the water works.  He let me in, and I walked down to the weir.  The water was gushing from the lake into the river.  I hung around long enough to see a grey wagtail there, and a little ringed plover (photo of latter below).  Back at the eucalyptus avenue, another display by the crows, this time after a sparrowhawk which almost looked as if it was enjoying the encounter.  This was a two hour stroll on my own, and is becoming a favourite walk - while we can still cross the ford!

Photo above by and A&M

7th.  Margaret's choice - she wanted to walk "Roy and Raye's" track high above Asfendou.
The weather was perfect - warm with clear blue skies, and far-reaching views to Psiloritis in the east and the White Mountains in the west.  The birding was unremarkable, though enjoyable - a couple of griffons and ravens, sand and house martins, hordes of goldfinches and linnets, several woodlarks being very vocal, a wren in similar habitat to my photo last month, spotted flycatchers, corn buntings, a yellow wagtail following a flock of sheep, and a single blackbird.  Blackbirds are very few and far between in our part of Crete, and extremely wary, as are the robins when they winter here.  We walked as far as the mast and the final shepherd's hut, before returning.  I decided a quick drive up to the radar scanners (Chonistra on the map at 1,243 metres) would complete our trip, as we had never been there when the weather was clear.  What a fabulous spot with 360 degree viewing - earmarked for future picnics weather permitting.  Similar birds were seen, until Hawkeye saw something grey below us on a wire.  It was a long way off, but flew around and re-settled on the wires.  We were really surprised to identify it as a male red-footed falcon, as we hadn't seen one in the autumn before.  It appeared to have strayed into a patch dominated by kestrels, as two were harassing it most of the time.  A really pleasing trip; the photography this time mainly focussing on the views, so one attached.

Photo above by and A&M

8th.  The same walk as on 6th - I said it was a favourite!  Notable sightings were three hoopoe, just off the eucalyptus avenue.  I had seen a marsh harrier on 3 or 4 occasions during the walk, always at distance.  As I approached the bridge from the eucalyptus avenue, I saw it again.  No longer interested in the reed beds around the lake, this time it was practically in the village.  (See photo below).  For anyone reading this who knows Georgioupolis, the building in the harrier picture is the first one on the left, as you cross the bridge, leaving Georgioupolis towards Vamos.

Photo above by and A&M

9th.  Showed Margaret the hoopoe spot - 2 still there, plus 2 little-ringed plovers and a spotted flycatcher.  Drove via Imbros to Aradena.  Beyond the bridge we turned on to tracks and had good clear views towards the foothills of the white mountains.  We were rewarded with a clear sighting of a pair of adult golden eagles - a nice birthday present for me!

11th.  5 turtle doves in  field off the eucalyptus avenue.  Georgioupolis viewpoint, a single ferruginous duck amongst dozens of coots. 2 little grebes and a few moorhens there.

12th. Flock of Pintail flying past Georgioupolis in heavy weather, see photos below.

Photo above by and A&M

Photo above by and A&M
13th. A visit to Aghia late morning. First sightings were two marsh harriers and a booted eagle vying for best positions over the weir end of the lake.  More coots than I could count, but amongst them at least 6 ferruginous duck, a few gargeney and pochard.  Further across 3 shoveller, 3 grey herons.  To the left a single little egret in the corner reed beds, but also in the reeds the head of a great white egret could be seen.  A slow walk along the path gave me great views of the latter. (photos below).  Also seen this morning were little grebes, kingfishers, willow warblers, sand martins and possibly a spotted crake scurrying into the the reeds, where the little egret had been.

Great White Egret, photo above by and A&M

Great White Egret, photo above by and A&M

I decided to see if the ferruginous duck was still at Georgioupolis viewpoint later in the day, as so far all my sightings had been fairly distant.  It was there, but the longer I looked at it, the more I wasn't convinced.  Checking in my Collins Bird Guide, I looked at the page on hybrids and realised that this was a cross pochard/ferruginous duck.  There are several pointers to this in the book, and most of them were identified.

The hybrid, photo above by and A&M

.  My "favourite" walk to Georgioupolis water revealed 2 common snipe, one kingfisher, the hybrid pochard/ferruginous duck and 2 shoveller.  Enroute, first starling of the winter period - somewhat surprised to see it alone, and three serins.  Earlier today, first wintering robin in olive grove opposite house.
Nothing of note while walking the eucalyptus avenue - the hoopoe have gone, so too the turtle doves and little ringed plovers, though there were three of the latter at Petres beach yesterday.  Spotted flycatchers are still everywhere.  Returning via Kalivaki beach, another two kingfishers, and a grey heron off the headland beyond the beach.

16th. While at a Georgioupolis bar for a drink we were accompanied by a collared dove strolling around between the tables.  There are often more than 20 of these birds in small flocks around the village, and are now seemingly prevelant in all Cretan urban areas.

17th. A lunch date with Mike and Angela Domijan.  We met at Spili, and as we prepared to drive off 3 griffons made a flypast overhead, straightlining it above the village. Great sightings of more griffons later and a display by 4 ravens.

Later, a curry night at our neighbours. Sitting on their balcony, Margaret had a close view of a barn owl gliding past the house.  I was obviously sitting in the wrong seat!

19th.  A visit to Lake Kournas to watch some canoe racing gave us long distance views of 7 griffons, and only little grebes staying on the lake with so much activity there.  As we arrived a light morph booted eagle swept across the road, and then rapidly made height above the lake until it was barely visible, even using bins.  A few chiffchaffs were seen in the area too.
Back home, during the afternoon, a dark morph booted eagle appeared, and stayed in the area for some time. Photos of both below.  Also seen from the house today were whinchat, raven, kestrel and a female marsh harrier.

Above the pale morph booted eagle, photo above by and A&M

Above the dark morph booted eagle, photo above by and A&M

20th.  Credit goes to our friends Helen Stuart, and her mother Rita, for a phone call alerting us to a pair of pelicans at Georgioupolis viewpoint this morning.  We arrived to find two juvenile white pelicans standing in shallow water near the roadside.  One was darker, and obviously younger, than the other.  They eventually separated and swam out of sight to different parts of the lake.  We telephoned Colin and Sue Turvey, who decided to make the long trip despite not knowing if the birds would be sighted again.  Later, at home we had a call from them to say they were there, but no birds seen.  We went down to join them, only to find both birds were back in view, and coming back to the roadside area of the lake.  Many good photos; some attached.  We only hope that the local population don't see them as target practice or food.  When we last saw them they were standing on the bank near the water pumping station - hopefully they will make for the river, where they will find plenty of fish. Will they stay?

We had an enjoyable couple of hours with Colin and Sue, who also had their first sightings of common snipe - there were 5 today, which is the most we have seen.  Other notable sightings included a single spotted flycatcher and a swallow, neither of which we had seen for a few days.  Also seen were little stint, serins, willow warblers, a chiffchaff, a grey wagtail, a marsh harrier and a pale morph booted eagle.  The hybrid pochard/ferruginous duck appears to have moved on.

Above four photos of the juvenile White Pelicans, photos by and A&M

21st.  As our grandson, Alex, was off school through a teachers' strike, we walked down to see if we could find the pelicans.  They were both there, near the roadside viewpoint, but later moved away to a quieter part of the lake.  They appeared "less tired" than yesterday.
Common snipe are increasing daily - seven today, all together with one little stint amongst them. Water rail seen briefly along lake edge immediately opposite viewpoint.  Dark morph booted eagle, male marsh harrier and a dog-fight between a hooded crow and sparrowhawk completed the sightings.

Later in the day, we saw a small flock of (c18) newly arrived starlings, a juvenile red-backed shrike - haven't seen one since last month, and two spotted flycatchers along our lane just before dusk.

22nd.  Both pelicans still on Georgioupolis water.  Unusually from the viewpoint, a gathering of 12 griffons stacking high above Georgioupolis.  First black redstart seen from the house - a good-looking male, which heralds the beginning of winter for us.

23rd.  Took friends out to Aradena area, where another distant viewing of two golden eagles seen this time from the Bailey bridge.  Upon return to Georgioupolis, the younger pelican was now standing on the quayside near the fishing boats, and causing much interest.  The second pelican not seen today, but now hearing it may have moved to Kournas Lake.  Having been sent a photo of that bird, it does look very similar in plumage to the one we had seen at Georgioupolis this week.

25th.  The Kournas lake pelican is the 3rd in the area.  After speaking to one of the taverna owners there, he confirmed it arrived last Monday - same time as the other two.  Meanwhile in Georgioupolis, the younger pelican is being fed by local fishermen, and many tourists are having their photo taken standing right next to the bird - even stroking it!  The other has not been seen now for two days, so can't confirm if it's still around.  Had a look around the  Kalives and Kiliaris river areas today looking for more pelicans, but none there.
26th.  A cooler and windy day.  We decided on a drive to Arkadi monastery area, and in particular the huge landfill site nearby in hope of seeing a black kite.  We were not disappointed - amongst dozens of noisy ravens, a marsh harrier and then the kite. (see pics attached - I was lucky enough to get both harrier and kite in the same frame, albeit in silhouette).  By now it was raining and very windy, and so decided to earmark the track, that might allow us to walk nearer to the landfill site, for another day.  Staying in the car, we drove across the mountains to Thronos at the head of the Amari Valley, and then cut back towards the new dam.  The water level is between 2 and 3 metres higher already.  Only bird seen was a female sparrowhawk skirting the edge of the water, and then soaring high above us.  Earlier, enroute to Arkadi, more good sightings of griffons, which seem quite active this month.

The Black Kite, photo above by and A&M

The Black Kite left, Marsh Harrier right, photo above by and A&M

We noticed many hillsides turning purple with heather, and there was definitley a hint of winter in the air today.  The clocks went back last night, and I for one am disappointed with the thought of shorter afternoons - we are not early morning people......yet!

27th.  Pelican still in Georgioupolis at quayside.  Three kingfishers on the river.  First black redstart in the garden.

29th.  My "favourite" walk this afternoon with Margaret and Grandson.  Despite all the chatter between us, the following list of birds were encountered.

house sparrow
common buzzard (particularly pale specimen)
hooded crow
sardinian warbler
greenfinch in small flocks
great tit
white wagtail
starling, small flock
coot x 100
little grebe
cetti's warbler (a photo at last!)
grey heron x 2
yellow-legged gull
collared dove
and the white pelican still at Georgioupolis quayside.

31st.  Breakfast on our balcony gave us a great display by sparrowhawk, light morph booted eagle and hooded crow all vying for the same airspace.

Later, in the afternoon we had a walk along a track on the hillside opposite Argiroupolis - a new walk for us.  Nothing of note except for a pair of cirl buntings occupying a disused quarry.  Many robins seen and heard in this area - guess they will be fighting for this territory soon.

Finally, the pelican is seemingly enjoying life on the river at Georgioupolis.  It is being fed by fishermen, but will hopefully fish for itself too.  Last time I saw it, it was "hanging around" near a priest who was fishing.  The bird was paddling around the float bobbing on the river - obviously a quick learner.  The priest was not impressed!

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