Out and About August 2011

All photographs by and © A@M
 

BIRDS

Hi everyone

As we enter August, we start thinking about the autumn migration, which should be underway in earnest by the middle of the month. Today, 4th, we had a short stop at Agia and saw a male little bittern, which may have been an early migrant. Too distant for a photo, but not so the Eleonora’s falcons, two of which were hunting over the water. A dark morph hunted low for a while, and a couple of photos were possible.
 

 

 
Looked at the Viewpoint this morning – three wood sandpipers, and then later we duplicated our circular drive from the end of last month, but this time did not see the Bonelli’s eagle or an ortolan bunting. Plenty of wheatears and linnets; photo of the latter below. Otherwise, singles of jay, whinchat and crag martin to mention, but no big birds for the first time ever – that includes buzzard and griffon! Having read Colin Turvey’s blog for today, we feel hard done by!
 

 
A day at home with my camera handy, and an olivaceous warbler was spotted in one of our olive trees. These birds are not often viewed in the open, so a couple of photos was quite a result.
 

 

 
Later, early evening, it was very humid, and the hirundines were feasting on insects at low level, particularly around our house. They were a mixture of house martins, barn and red-rumped swallows, with two alpine swifts turning up later. What we considered unusual was that the swallows were landing on our mulberry trees, and feeding on insects crawling amongst the leaves. Dozens of these birds were taking up positions on our overhead cables, before continuing sortees in the warm air above.
 

Red-rumped swallow
 

Barn swallows
 

Red-rumped swallow
 

House Martin
 

A sad event this morning (10th). After spotting an olivaceous warbler in our garden yesterday, today at breakfast a thud was heard, and we found the same species had crashed into one of our French doors. Unfortunately it appeared to have broken its neck, and never regained consciousness.

We are now getting glimpses of olivaceous warblers in our olive trees a few times each day, and have also sighted a willow warbler too. During an otherwise fairly uneventful late morning drive to the Ano Mallaki area on the 12th, we spot our first red-backed shrike of the autumn migration. This is our earliest sighting of this species – a week earlier than any previous year for us. One spotted flycatcher also seen and a female cirl bunting.

An evening drive to Kallikratis revealed very little, although we did see our first woodchat shrike since spring. In previous years we have occasionally had a breeding pair throughout the summer, not far from the house.

A quick look at the Viewpoint on 15th revealed a kingfisher, the first sighting there since last year. Last winter/spring we had very few kingfishers at the obvious locations, though one did remain around the Kalivaki beach area. Two garganey also seen at the Viewpoint photo below.
 

 

With business in Kefalas we took the opportunity to take coffee to Drapanos Head. We needn’t have bothered as there was nothing to be seen there this time. On the way back we did encounter a tawny pipit, and a probable peregrine at some distance over Ombriasgalos. Back home we saw a flock of c.50 dark birds flying over the Almyros Bay. They stayed distant, and we can only guess they were glossy ibis. Today is 16th, and we saw our first autumn migrating flock on this very same day last year. Before dusk, alpine swifts were seen high above the house; about 25 of them.

For the first time this year, I took an early morning trip to Agia at sunrise. Unfortunately it had to be aborted after 20 minutes, when a large dog appeared, barking, and generally making a nuisance of itself. During the short time I was there, I saw three little stints, female little bittern, a reed warbler and a grey wagtail. The only photo was across the water shortly after sunrise, with some geese and a couple of little grebe showing up in the sunlit water.
 

 
We placed an old soup bowl in the garden a few weeks ago, keeping it filled with water. Today, 18th, we had our first visitor to the bowl – a female chaffinch, as below.
 

 
There is a stretch of beach between Kavros and Petres (Roy will remember), which has proved very productive for birds at certain times of the year. Now is such a time, so an early evening visit was made to see what was there on 22nd. A few photos below to record a single glossy ibis perched atop a tree with squacco herons, a small flock of redshank with one or two caught in odd positions! A new Crete bird (for me) was then next up – turnstones. I found six in all and managed five in one photo. Other birds seen included sandwich tern, common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, grey heron and little egret.
 

 

 

 

 

 
Margaret joined me for a return visit the following evening. The turnstones were still there, little–ringed plovers and a grey heron. Then coming in off the sea was a curlew/whimbrel. Distant to start with, it eventually came much close – a whimbrel; a very pleasing sight and only our second sighting on Crete.
 

 

Many red-backed and woodchat shrikes present now.

Turnstones still present on 3rd visit, plus single little egret, as below.
 

 

On 25th we hired a jeep for the day and made our way to the mountain refuge called Toubotos Prinos – on the southern slopes of Psiloritis. It’s two years since our last trip there, and again we took grandson, Alex, who enjoyed the open-top trip on precipitous mountain tracks. Sighting and photographing short-toed treecreepers was high on my agenda, but alas it was only the former. One good sighting by me, and about six between Margaret and Alex, during the period we split up to explore the area. Little did we realise that in this remote area the church of Aghias Titos celebrates its name day today! We must have encountered 40 or 50 cars and trucks enroute to the church, and then many more who ventured on towards the mountain refuge – where we were! Other birds seen included griffon, raven, kestrel, blue rock thrush, jay, spotted flycatcher, northern and black-eared wheatears, goldfinch and Britain’s two most common birds were also common here – wren and chaffinch.

On 26th I located two lesser grey shrikes in different locations – Drapanos Head and Kalivaki. All photos were distant until one surprised me by landing on an overhead cable, just as I was leaving Kalivaki.
 

 
27th and another lesser grey shrike behind the Viewpoint. I walked to this area from home as today was cloudy with rain threatening. My first autumn sighting of hoopoe, and for the first time this year, I managed a photo of one.
 

 
29th gives us our first view of lesser grey shrike from the house, and this after an unproductive drive to the Ano Mallaki area. We needn’t have travelled so far. Enroute, near Kavros, Margaret spotted a flock of little egrets with a single glossy ibis amongst them. She thought she saw them come down near the rivermouth (turnstone territory), so we stopped off for a look on our return. No egrets, but about 20 purple herons and a couple of grey herons in the same tree as last week’s squacco herons and glossy ibis. As we approached, and still quite distant, they took off – not 20, but nearer 80 of them, mostly purple. Some great photo opportunites.
 

 

 

 

 
This month has been the best August for birding that we have experienced here. It got better today, 30th, when Alex and I went back to the same beach area. 15 purple herons still present, and then a flock of c70 glossy ibis out over the bay.
 

 
Alex was quick to spot another flock of smaller birds flying low over the water. They were joined by another, forming a massive flock – easily in excess of a thousand birds. When they soared it became evident that they were pintails.
 

 

 
As we left we watched a couple of small plovers picking their way along the stony beach. I dismissed them as little-ringed plovers as they flew further away, and only one photo was possible. Back home with the laptop, I now thought these were Kentish plovers, but was unsure. (Thanks to Colin Turvey for confirmation). I returned to the beach in the afternoon and managed several photos of these birds, which were a first for me on Crete, and even got a shot of them flying along the coast. Back home again with the laptop, and I now find that apart from little-ringed plovers accompanying the Kentish plovers, there was a single ringed plover – only my second sighting of this species.
 

 

 

 

 
So, a good week and a good month.
 

ANIMALS

The Egyptian grasshopper is a large specimen with striped eyes. It’s quite common here. We have previously seen this species in its nymph form, but today we got two in different colours.
 

 
We rarely go through the summer without a few wasp nests around the house or in shrubs. By our back steps a nest has been developing very slowly – much slower than usual. A picture below of this small species of wasp (paper wasp/polistes gallicus) at their nest.
 

 

This morning (15th), I arrived downstairs to the call of “Houston – we have a problem!” Margaret had opened the doors onto our covered terrace for breakfast, only to find a sizeable rat hiding behind the top end of one of the shutters. Our three cats had given up on the chase, and so it was left to me. I thought it would be easy, but the rat had other ideas, choosing to hide behind what ever it could find, rather than leave the terrace. Eventually it disappeared down the drain hole, which we quickly blocked up – and had breakfast!

Footnote. A couple of years ago, we found that a family of mice had built a nest under the bonnet of the car, eventually interfering with the air-con flow. It was a costly job to renew some filters etc. We hope there is no repetition, as the drain pipe this month’s rat entered, empties where the car is parked!

The carpenter bee is a common insect around our house – large and noisy, it can be quite scary at times, but is not usually one to sting. The one shown below had recently died, so not the best specimen to show, but at least Margaret got close to it for her picture. About two years ago she was actually bitten by a carpenter bee. It had settled on her top behind her shoulder. Feeling some movement, she must have touched it, and it stung her. We don’t trust them anymore!
 

 
The Balkan green lizard is common here too – and sometimes they let you get quite close.
 

 
Our trip on 25th to the Toubotos Prinos refuge gave us many sightings of one particular butterfly. It was large, fast flying and restless, and photos only possible from a few metres distance. After research, we identified this species as silver-washed fritillary (argynnis paphia).
 

 
A walk from the house towards the Viewpoint meant crossing at a ford. Normally all but dry this time of year, today it had water to a depth of at least half a metre. I asked Margaret to cross first, just for the record!
 

 
Where the water was still, banded demoiselles were flying around. One was captured with its wings open.
 

 

WILD FLOWERS

At last! A flower to show you. Nothing new, but a short flowering period means these lovely daffodils can be missed – usually found in sandy areas behind the beaches.
 

 

LANDSCAPE

Despite the long hot summer, we occasionally come across some beautiful hillsides full of colour. The picture below shows what a difference the lilac hue of common thyme makes to this particular hillside above Imbros.
 

 
From behind the mountain refuge of Toubotos Prinos, the bare upper slopes of Mt. Psiloritis (2,456m) are clearly visible, with some bold way-marking for the intrepid climber.
 

 
Our descent had fabulous views – this one from some way below the highest point we drove up to.
 

 
I am now seeing fewer birds at the “turnstone beach”, but thought I would capture the view to be had at the point where the little river meets the sea.
 

 
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