Out and About April 2011

All photographs by and © A@M


Hi Everyone,

BIRDS

We made another visit to the spot where we found the flamingo last month, and it was still there. The black-winged stilts and marsh sandpipers had moved on, but ruff, redshank and little stint were there in numbers. Best sighting was a rather bedraggled spotted redshank, and a brown stint-like bird which we haven’t identified. We have ruled out an oiled bird, or dunlin owing to the smallish size of the beak, though there are some likenesses. It kept within the vicinity of the flock of little stints, though remained just away from them most of the time. Pictures below of the flamingo, spotted redshank and the unidentified bird with little stints.

Kalivaki continues to attract waders as the meadows are still flooded. During the first few days of the month there are small numbers each of common, wood and green sandpiper, ruff, little stint and little-ringed plovers. Up to 23 little egrets. At the Viewpoint, two night herons flew away as I arrived – these being the first I have seen this year. One picture from Kalivaki below. (004).

On one visit to Kalivaki, I noticed four buzzards high above me. Two were distinctly different, looking slightly smaller, plain light brown tail and dark reddish brown colourings with no dark trailing edge to the wings. I’m sure they were steppe buzzards, but my photo is not good enough to confirm.

A good day with an unexpected sighting of my first pallid harrier, a male seen from the Viewpoint. The day got even better when I stopped off at Kavros by a ploughed field and caught sight of my first short-toed larks. They were part of a small mixed flock with crested larks, plus another bird I couldn’t identify. It may have been a juvenile, with its darker, plainer colouring around the face, but I’m unsure. Earlier, I had looked at Kalivaki – most of the flood water has gone and apart from a single wood sandpiper, only the little egrets remain. As I left a very obliging northern wheatear sat on a wall by the road, so photos of that and the new birds. (005 - 007).

After a visit to Chania, we made our way to Agia, where it started to rain. We were limited to staying under cover at the pump station, but it was worth it. First red-rumped swallows and sand martins of the year, followed by a purple heron overflying the lake. As the weather turned more stormy, a black kite appeared high above, and on the far side of the water, a male marsh harrier was quickly followed by a female and a juvenile – probably a family, though we rarely see a male at Agia. As Margaret made for the car, I had a very quick look along the reeds by the perimeter path, and found what I initially thought was a sedge warbler darting in amongst the reeds. Just one photo showed the face of the bird and confirmed it was in fact a moustached warbler – a really good find. Photos below of the warbler and black kite (008 - 009).

 

We moved on from Agia and explored the fields around Tavronitis. Margaret had a distant sighting of female hen harrier, and in one field a flock of c25 short-toed larks! After seeing our first of this species only a day before, now a whole flock. They were very restless and photos were difficult as they picked their way across the field in next-to-no-time, before taking off again.
 

At the Viewpoint on 8th, a single night heron was visible from the road. As I watched it, a glossy ibis landed next to it, but didn’t stay. I found the glossy at Kalivaki a little later, where it was mixed with little egrets before flying away. (010 - 011).


 

We are looking forward to a week at the eastern end of the island, but we will be away at the best time for seeing Ruppell’s warbler at Drapanos Head. I made an earlier trip there on 9th, while Margaret was meeting a friend. In the short time I was there I think I heard them, but not seen. Good sightings of tawny pipit, whinchat, hoopoe, male subalpine warbler, and a nightingale. Only a photo of the former was possible. (012).

 

Back from our week away, (you will find a separate heading below, covering our findings during a very productive time exploring east Crete), and our grandson, Alex, informs us that up to 38 little egrets were present at Kalivaki while we were away.


 

We had a day out with John and Patti Bayley. Nearing the end of the month, we visited Agia and found the water at the highest level ever. All the hirundines were present and a few little egrets and little crakes. A single little bittern presented itself for a photo – see below. (013).

 We continued on towards Omalos and then made slow circuits of the plateau – twice! Best sightings were at the “ponds” where John and I saw red-throated pipits. Unfortunately, our wives walked a little further along the road and sighted two Cretschmar’s buntings – lucky them – they had flown away by the time we got the message about them. So far I’ve waited seven years to see and photograph this bird – maybe another seven now? The plateau was full of wheatears, whinchats and woodchats. A cuckoo was heard but not found. Later in the afternoon we took the road to the area above Irini Gorge. A great, albeit distant sighting of two Bonelli’s eagles circling above the ridges. Our photos suggest at least one was juvenile, and the other sub-adult, but they are not worth posting here this time. As we left the Omalos plateau, Margaret noticed some birds in a tree not too far off. We stopped and were surprised to find c25 turtle doves, presumably settling in for the night.
 

The next day, Margaret and I decided this was our last chance of finding Ruppell’s warbler at Drapanos Head – and we did – just one, a male. (a fuzzy photo for the record (014)).

 A great morning’s sightings gave us 26 species in all, including singles of hoopoe, tawny pipit, ortolan bunting, wood warbler and several black-throated black-eared wheatears. Best photos were of the last two, as below. (015 - 016).

We had promised Alex a trip to Rodopou. This peninsular is mainly dirt track and a 4x4 is needed. Having disposed of ours last year, we hired a little jeep for the day and took Alex birdwatching. Sightings were slow at first, but we picnicked in the same area as last year and the birds seem to “arrive”. Alex saw his first pied flycatchers and a willow warbler. High above, a short-toed eagle was our only raptor sighting. Pale underneath, and bulky, it kept going in the same direction until it was out of sight. Photos of a male collared and female pied flycatcher below, along with a willow warbler. (017 - 019).

We made full use of the Jeep and headed for Akrotiri late afternoon. We knew that red-footed falcons may be seen, and we were lucky with three males and a female around pastureland behind Stavros. One male was particularly obliging, as below. (020).

 In this same area we saw what we thought to be hen harriers, a pair, very distant. My photo only caught the female and it suggests these were pallid harriers. By the time we got back to Georgioupoli and had a very quick look at the Viewpoint and Kalivaki, we found that we had recorded 51 species, easily our best day count. The last sighting was a curlew sandpiper at Kalivaki. It was to be next day (1st May) before I could get a reasonable photo, so that’s in next months report.

Finally, apart from the usual 25 listed in January, birds sighted this month are;

White pelican, cormorant, little bittern, night heron, squacco heron, little egret, great egret, grey heron, purple heron, glossy ibis, mute swan, greylag goose, mallard, wigeon, garganey, griffon vulture, golden eagle, short-toed eagle, booted eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, black kite, marsh harrier, hen harrier, long-legged buzzard, sparrowhawk, lesser kestrel, red-footed falcon, Eleonora’s falcon, peregrine falcon, chukar, little crake, black-winged stilt, little-ringed plover, curlew sandpiper, little stint, wood sandpiper, green sandpiper, redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, marsh sandpiper, common snipe, ruff, black-headed gull, rock dove, wood pigeon, turtle dove, cuckoo, barn owl, swift, alpine swift, hoopoe, kingfisher, woodlark, sand martin, barn swallow, red-rumped swallow, house martin, tawny pipit, meadow pipit, red-throated pipit, white wagtail, yellow wagtail, nightingale, redstart, northern wheatear, black-eared wheatear, whinchat, blue rock thrush, Ruppells warbler, whitethroat, subalpine warbler, moustached warbler, willow warbler, wood warbler, spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher, collared flycatcher, woodchat shrike, jay, jackdaw, golden oriole, ortolan bunting, cirl bunting, corn bunting, greater flamingo, short-toed lark, Steppe buzzard, pallid harrier, probable lanner, and Cretschmar’s bunting (lucky Margaret and Patti).
 

ANIMALS

We have some interesting beetles here. The one below we believe to be a garlic weevil. (021).

While orchid hunting I came across this group of flies (green bottles) in a pile of “dung”. They were kind of attractive! (022).

 

A local walk gave us a good close-up sighting of a brimstone butterfly, which is pictured below. Initially it flew away, but when it settled it seemed reluctant to move, and may have been exhausted. It appears to have just one antennae. (023).


 

Our visit to Agia with John and Patti started with a good sighting of dice snake. There were at least two, occasionally in the water, but on land I could get the better photos (024-025).


 

WILD FLOWERS

More orchids are coming into bloom at the beginning of the month. We stopped for coffee on the main road south of Spili, and came across seven different species in a roadside olive grove. Two are shown below, the woodcock orchid (subsp apiformis) and fan-lipped orchid (orchis collina) (026-027)

A couple of days later, on a local walk, I was able to photograph both monkey orchid (orchis simian) and pyramidal orchid (anacamptis pyramidalis). (028-029).

With John and Patti above the Irini Gorge, John remembered an area where he had seen orchids before. After watching the Bonelli’s eagles we set off in search of them, and found orchis quadripunctata, as below (030) and a possibly related species, in pure white (031).

 Earlier, we had found vast tracts of tulipa saxatilis at Omalos, presenting itself in three hues – some more pics below. (032-033).


LANDSCAPES

A photo below of the temporary stretch of water at Kokkinos Pirgos (flamingo territory). (034).


 

Our March visit to Omalos showed the plateau snowed under. This has now of course cleared, giving the more commonly seen view towards the Samaria Gorge entrance. (035).


 

TRIP TO EAST CRETE 12TH TO 20TH APRIL 2011

 

Three years ago we spent a few April nights in east Crete with Roy and Raye. Then, the weather was very hot and dusty with strong southerly winds – not many birds to be seen, but ok for the wild flowers. This time, the weather continued to be unsettled with temperatures only averaging about 15c, very cloudy and occasionally rainy – but good for birds and not bad for the flowers either.

We were out every day and explored some new roads as well as favourites we had driven before. A particularly scenic, and new, route took us through the villages of Kalamafka, Anatoli and Males, which provided an endless backdrop of the Dikti mountains one way and the south coast the other, kilometre after kilometre. We explored several tracks on foot, but always had to picnic in the car – just too fresh, or windy, to sit around outside. From our four nights staying in Mochlos, we visited Bramiana reservoir and the Sarakinas Gorge, north coast hillsides around Kalavros, and twice the scenic road mentioned above, including one dubiously shown “tarmac” road to Selakano in the Dikti foothills. From our four nights staying in Sitia, we explored the remote villages in the “centre” of this area, took the torcherous descent to Xerokambos on the south coast, and twice spent time birdwatching in the area between Toplou Monastery, Vai Beach and Paleokastro. As we left Sitia for home on 20th April, the weather was particularly wet and windy – amazingly for here, the temperature reading was only 9c, and stayed that way for the first quarter of our journey.

Our bird sightings totalled over 80 species, with just one new to us. However, my first ever confirmed photos of lesser kestrel was my personal highlight. Photos of these and a few other species are shown below. The more memorable sightings from this trip include golden eagle (3), booted eagle, long-legged buzzard, peregrine, lesser kestrel (13 at least), marsh and hen harriers, hoopoe, black-headed gull, golden oriole, redstart, pied flycatcher, collared flycatcher, marsh sandpiper, immature flamingo, tawny pipit, ortolan bunting, wood warbler, glimpses of cuckoo, nightingale and whitethroat, and bee-eaters that were only heard high above.

The new species was a lanner (I’m 95% sure). My photo doesn’t confirm it being a lanner, but the following helped with identification. Our first thoughts were of peregrine, both birds are the roughly the same size, the wings were not pointed as a peregrines, and I “lost” sight when it took a fast stoop from high up, deep into the valley nearby. The dark colouring underwing means it was probably a juvenile. (036-050).

Just one butterfly was photographed – it appears to be a close relative of the Bath White, and was the size of a Red Admiral. A heather spider was found climbing my leg when I had got back into the car. Its bright gold/yellow colouring is obtained from the flower it was residing on – a yellow one! If it had been on heather, it would have been pink, etc. And one donkey was photographed – especially for Raye! (051-053).

Margaret was able to take a great portfolio of wild flower photos, some of which are shown below, and identified where possible. A few plants were new to us, the stand-out one being the turban buttercup (ranunculis asiaticus), of which just one specimen was found. We explored many roadside verges and hillsides, with orchids always a pleasing find, and often almost overlooked. (054-068).

The scenery was often dramatic and photos can’t always do them justice. A few below, including views of greenhouses in the Ierapetra area. This flat south coast region is almost completely covered in greenhouses, which provide tomatoes and bananas for export. (069-073).

And finally……

I have just set myself up on “flickr”. My best bird photos will appear on there, monthly, and can be viewed as a slideshow, or individually.

Please see links page
 

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