A&M Report No 12b, December 2008
2nd.  Having picked our olives and had them processed, I decided a trip to Aghia in search of the bluethroat was next on my agenda.  It was possibly only stopping enroute to a more southerly wintering area, and so I wasn't too expectant.  But I needn't have worried, the bird was there and very obliging, as you can see from my photos.  It is obviously a rarity on Crete, and I wonder when the last one was recorded here?  Thanks again to Colin for letting me know about it last week.

Photo above by and A&M

While at the lake, I was able to add wigeon and tufted duck to my photo collection, albeit at some distance.  The water level was very high and the usual birds were seen.  I then had a common snipe fly across the lake landing close to where I was standing, and this gave me my best view of this bird so far, and certainly my best photo - see attached.

Photo above by and A&M

4th.  With vicious south winds and power cuts early today, we decided to head off for better weather elsewhere.  Margaret was keen to make for Omalos, so a stop at Aghia was included, and the bluethroat obliged again, though not so boldly this time.  Unexpectedly, two white pelicans were seen on the path as we arrived, busy preening themselves (see pic).  We have since established they are two of the three at Georgioupolis.  The remaining bird at Georgioupolis struggles to fly any distance.  A huge number of gulls erupted off the far side of the lake (see pic), and a single lapwing was fluttering around the edges.

Photo above by and A&M

While looking for the bluethroat I saw several small warblers in the reeds near the pump station.  One was quite different, and two snapshots revealed it to be a moustached warbler.  Photographing this bird was difficult, but I have attached one pic of my effort.
(a week later I managed a better pic, so that's attached instead).

Photo above by and A&M

Picnicking on the beach at Sougia, we saw two shag offshore, two common sandpipers, several white wagtail, half a dozen rock doves, plus flocks of linnets.

Returning via Omalos, in low cloud, a real highlight on the Omalos plateau - a hawfinch sitting in a small tree with several cirl buntings.  I had to limit my photo to taking it through the windscreen, which has meant a poor picture, but at least a record for Crete - again see attached pic.  The bird flew off almost immediately, making for the centre of the plateau, so I was pleased I hadn't tried to get out of the car first!  Two chough, a male sparrowhawk, large numbers of chaffinch, goldfinch, linnet and juvenile cirl bunting also seen in this area.

Photo above by and A&M

5th.  A look at Georgioupolis viewpoint this morning revealed two cormorants, a single male wigeon, and, surprisingly, a great crested grebe on the far side.  In the afternoon I returned with the scope to try and get better views of the great crested grebe, but it was out of sight.  Kournas Lake seemed like a good spot for me to move on to, as there had been a great crested grebe there last winter.  Not this time, but ten cormorant, all at distance, and maybe one or two of them could have been shag, plus a single little egret.  A solitary song thrush revealed itself in some scrub near the nature reserve area, giving me the first opportunity to photograph this winter visitor.

There is more shooting taking place this year in our immediate area. I have encountered a local man (nice chap; shame about his hobby!) shooting in our locality, and established that song thrushes are the main target - for food.  Apparently, blackbird and robin can also be shot legally.  On this point too, we fear for the two pelicans that have descended on Aghia, which is a popular shooting area in the early morning.

6th.  A worthwhile return trip for picnic lunch in hen harrier territory south of Rethymno.  I missed the best opportunity as the bird surprised us, but had a reasonable pic at middle distance (see attached), as it continued its chase.  This was also where we saw the lammergeier two weeks ago.  Not today though - however great fly past by at least 12 griffons over the hour we were there, some quite low.

Photo above by and A&M

Have also attached photo of one of just a few rock rose flowering at the "wrong time of year".  I believe this is cistus creticus.

Photo above by and A&M

7th  With the good weather continuing, we take lunch with us and head for Imbros, and stop high above the village enroute to Asfendou.  Another flypast of griffons (c10), two ravens and a small flock of woodlark entertain us while we eat lunch in the car (warm, but too windy to eat outside!).  We had stopped off on the Askifou Plain on the way, and spotted two pheasants, near the riding stables.  They may have escaped "captivity" there, but a photo of the female was possible, and takes my total of bird species photographed to 135.

On the way home we passed Georgioupolis viewpoint, and found the great crested grebe was still there after all, and a little closer - so I'm able to attach a pic.

Photo above by and A&M

8th.  A bit of a surprise today with 3 great crested grebes at the viewpoint.

11th.  A drive along the north coast, westwards, stopping off at one or two coastal spots on the way, revealed cormorant, teal, grey wagtail, chiffchaffs, but little else.  Eventually, two shag seen swimming offshore - the first we have seen off the north coast.  One or two early flowering crocus were seen enroute - we think crocus biflorus (or close relative) - a pretty flower, so pic attached.

Photo above by and A&M

We couldn't resist returning via Aghia again - it's been a magnet recently - and this time we met Nikos, your photo contributer, with his girlfriend.  We had a long chat and agreed we should all meet up, with Colin and Sue, at some future date.  Just before we met them, our first sighting of two water pipits, which briefly visited the pumping station side of the lake.  Nikos confirmed our sighting.  Then, more views of the moustached warbler, and a better photo this time, as mentioned above.

12th.  A look at the viewpoint this morning and the water level high again after several days of being very low.  Two snipe seen on the roadside of the lake, and then a brief but good view of a water rail.  On the lake itself, three cormorant now, and two great crested grebes, still way out in the middle.  Ducks included teal, wigeon and pochard.

13th.  A walk around the shoreline of Lake Kournas revealed c.120 black-necked grebes had arrived.  There are usually more than this, so maybe another flock on the way?

15th. A drive to Arkadi monastery (landfill site) revealed more yellow-legged gulls than it would be possible to count.  They outnumbered ravens by 10 to 1.  However, the sighting of the day was a pair of white pelicans flying around this area - sub adult, but more mature than those seen recently.  To our surprise we saw them again, about two hours later, on the "new" water created by the dam near Amari, rather boringly named Potamoi Dam (river dam).  We picnicked here and watched them paddling on the water, while two marsh harriers hunted the lake edges.  The pelicans  eventually flew away. (pelican pics attached).  The water level is noticeably higher each time we visit, but will likely take years to fill the designated area.  Other birds on the water included c.12 coots, 6 moorhen and a little grebe.  No sign of the kingfisher this time. During this circular drive today we encountered no fewer than 50 griffons - 28 stacking above the Prassanos Gorge near Rethymno.

Photo above by and A&M

24th.  Probably only the second time this year, but today one griffon flew past the house. Booted eagle (pale morph) also seen.

25th.  My grandson was the first to spot the booted eagle today, while we were walking off our Christmas dinner.  I was interested in knowing whether our local pelican had survived becoming Christmas dinner - fortunately it's still with us, and was on the riverbank as we walked by.  During a sunny spell this morning, a red admiral was seen in the garden

Our house is well placed for sunrises (we don't often see those!), but today Mt Psiloritis was bathed in late sun on Christmas Day - I couldn't resist a few photos, so one attached.  We feel privileged to have such wonderful views from our house, and would like to share this one with you.

Photo above by and A&M

29th.  A trip to the south coast to escape the cold, wet and windy weather we have experienced lately - really! it does happen sometimes.  Not much to report on birds - a distant hen harrier, and a flock of c15 song thrushes is mentionable.  The weather improved somewhat, but I have attached a photo of an unusual cloud formation over Mt Kedros, midway between Spili and Aghia Galini.  The cloud appears to be folding over the mountain side, totally separate from the higher cloud cover.

Photo above by and A&M
30th.  A quick look at Kournas Lake in rainy conditions revealed about 150 black-necked grebes there now.  But the highlight today was a little gull flitting around the lake edges.  The photos weren't great given the weather conditions, but they do confirm this to be an adult bird with a large black area on the underwing, and uniformly pale above. (see pic).

Photo above by and A&M

31st.  Back to Kournas to try and improve on my little gull photo.  I thought I may have seen two there yesterday, both initially very distant.  Today, only one, but surprisingly not the adult - this one was immature, probably 2nd winter bird, but stayed well away from my side of the lake, so photos not possible.

Enroute to the lake, a great sighting of 5 hooded crows toying with a light morph booted eagle over Georgioupolis.  At the lake, one little egret, one grey heron and a couple of kingfishers also seen.  Having returned home, my birdwatching year finished with a male blackcap in the garden - I have seen very few of these on the island, and then a very striking male black redstart.  This common winter visitor is invariably seen as a female or juvenile - well under 10% are adult males in our experience.

A very happy New Year to anyone reading this, and good birdwatching, wherever you are!

Alan and Margaret Hargrave.

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