A&M report 24 - December 2009

Hi Everyone,

1st.  With wet days forecast after today, we had a trip up to Omalos and the mountain refuge above the Irini Gorge, that we visited with Grandson last month.  With temperatures down to 12c (had been 21c at sea level), we arrived at the picnic spot just in time to have a close-up view of a lammergeier flying past at eye-level.  Photos weren't possible, but we "caught up" with the bird using our binoculars, and watched it continuing to fly away from us for a couple of minutes.  It was flying south against a southerly wind and flapping more than we have seen before.  Once it disappeared over a far ridge, we picnicked in great expectation of its return - but alas not to be!  In fact, apart from a good sighting of sparrowhawk over the Omalos plateau, we saw nothing else for the entire day, including a late afternoon stop at Agia.  A scenic drive nonetheless, and the only photo attached is of a view southwards from the mountain refuge.


Photo by and A&M

2nd.  Heavy rain overnight and this morning brought a rush of small birds into the garden once it stopped raining.  A rare sighting for us of a blackcap (female) briefly resting up on a now leafless fig tree.  It's a bird I'd like to photograph - and still would!  As I've mentioned before, the vast majority of black redstarts we see are females, but today a beautifully marked male entered our covered terrace for a few moments, but not long enough for me to reach for the camera.  Is this going to be one of those months of missed opportunities?

4th.  An unexpectedly drier day than forecast got me in the garden for some overdue weeding.  But a text from Colin and Sue Turvey changed our plans, when they told us of a flamingo on the Moronis River at Souda Bay.  A rare opportunity this, so we packed some sandwiches and set off to join them.  The bird was still there, mainly standing in water "knee-deep" - a youngster, still white rather than a mature pink, and probably exhausted.  Three photos below.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

Thanks again Colin.

Back home, a quick look at the Kalivaki area, and I unwittingly disturbed the greenshank again.  On the riverbank, the pelican and mute swan.  Sharing a rock on the river, these two below - common sandpiper and grey wagtail.


Photo by and A&M

6th.  A brief look at Kournas Lake on a drizzly Sunday morning, wondering if the black-necked grebes have arrived yet.  Answer: no.  The first cormorants have arrived though - 5 so far.

7th.  An unlikely sighting - all too brief - of a wryneck amongst the trees between the eucalyptus avenue and Viewpoint at Georgioupolis.  Watched for some time for its re-emergence, but no luck.  Hopeful that this bird could be overwintering here. Another sighting was of a female pintail - the first we have seen at the Viewpoint.  This one was photographed at some distance, as below.


Photo by and A&M

9th.  A short diversion to Kalivaki on the way home from shopping, and although nothing new there, I did find one of the local pigs had something to boast about - ten little ones!  One piglet was a bit late arriving, as you can see below.


Photo by and A&M

10th.  A picnic trip to Ano Mallaki and beyond.  This area gave us good sightings in December last year (lammergeier, hen harrier and lapwing), so we picnicked in anticipation.  Today, a cirl bunting still in bold summer plumage, griffons, marsh harrier, jays, song thrushes, corn buntings, chiffchaffs, and then a golden eagle being ushered away from the area by a pair of ravens.  The eagle was a first winter bird, and the clearest sighting we've had since our visit to the Ha Gorge last year.  We had several sightings of the harrier thinking it was a hen harrier, but closer inspection of the photos confirmed an orange-ish coloured belly, so a male marsh was the result.  We returned via the road that descends to the sea close to Petres Gorge, and had our first ever sighting on Crete of a siskin.  There was a small flock (about 6) that settled on thistles on the hillside above us.  The photo shows an impressive yellow rump on what I think is a female.


Photo by and A&M

That's the 160th different species I've photographed in Crete - so I'm quietly pleased with myself.

12th.  A drizzly day, and just before dusk, a second sighting of a female blackcap in the garden.  I grabbed the camera, but the time of day and the drizzle was against me, and although I got a record for myself, it's not good enough for here - but another new species for me caught on camera.

17th.  With business in Chania, the usual diversion to Agia was called for.  I was on my own, which was just as well, as the weather turned and I stood around at the reservoir in strong winds and drizzly rain.  Nothing really took my eye, except more than usual tufted ducks were amongst the large numbers coots, pochard and little grebe.  A "family" of shoveller passed by, and I've attached the photo below.  There are male and female together, but the bird ahead of them has confused me - I guess it is a young male as the beak is so dark?


Photo by and A&M

Other birds seen were wigeon, crag martins, kingfisher and cetti's warbler.
Cutting short this visit, I headed for the Moronis River at Souda Bay to see if the flamingo was still present.  As far as I could tell, it was absent.  The rain caught up with me as I walked round to the beach area - two common sandpipers scurried along the water's edge, a single cirl bunting flitted around the bamboo stands.  Then in the distance a great egret appeared, but quickly took flight.  See photo below.


Photo by and A&M


Moving on, next stop was Kournas Lake to see if the black-necked grebes have arrived yet.  The answer was still "no" - last year over 100 had arrived prior to 13th December when I reported them on this site.  The last stop was Kalivaki Beach and the rivermouth at Georgioupolis.  The greenshank is still resident, so too a single little egret and common sandpiper.  On the river, I am noticing the pelican and mute swan are sharing the same stretch of riverbank, but they aren't usually as close to each other as in the picture below.


Photo by and A&M

20th.  A misty, but very windy day, with unusually warm temperatures for mid December.  We decided some exercise was the order of the day, so we drove to Argyroupolis and walked the low road, beyond the wells and tavernas, hoping to keep out of the wind.  A pleasant enough walk, fairly level and under trees most of the time.  With binoculars in hand, we saw nothing apart from robins and goldfinches.  One or two other sightings are photographed below - an Autumnal leaf, a wild blackberry flower, and a group of horses, which are not a common sight here.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

We saw a variety of butterflies, a large grasshopper (or locust), some sizeable toadstools, and some minute mauve flowers, which we are trying to identify.  Driving home we saw what we thought was a buzzard atop a pole.  I stopped short, but it flew before I could reach for the camera.  Margaret commented that its breast had no white on it.  I jumped out the car and followed it through my binoculars, and managed a couple of distant photos - it was a black kite.  Photo attached.


Photo by and A&M

It was soon mobbed by hooded crows, but in the distance, a huge number of hooded crows erupted from a hillside - I counted well over 100 of them on my photo, and that wasn't all of them.
Back home, we are having regular visits to the garden by serins.  Hitherto, these little birds are mainly seen in local olive groves, but as our own trees have grown, I guess they have sufficient cover in ours now.  They are proving little devils to photograph!  A new bird seen from the house today - a pair of cirl buntings, previously seen only further afield.

22nd.  The black-necked grebes have arrived at Kournas Lake - two smallish groups totalling about 70 to 80 birds.  They tend to favour the far side so I haven't attached any photos yet, but will no doubt visit again soon.

A look around Kalivaki this afternoon, and the greenshank was still there.  This particular bird is very easily disturbed, even at distance, but I just managed a picture of it in flight, as below.


Photo by and A&M

If ever there was a small bird on which to practice my photography, it must be the stonechat.  They are very common residents here and will remain perching at close proximity.  As long as they are not flicking their tail, they should give good results - like the one below.


Photo by and A&M

Last month I first reported the mute swan on the river here at Georgioupolis.  I have been in touch with WWT at Slimbridge, and they have finally confirmed that they can't identify the ring on this bird.  Despite sending them photos, they believe the bird must have been ringed by a private wildfowl collection, or a rescue centre.  The bird isn't often seen on the riverbank - so another picture attached.


Photo by and A&M
 
26th.  The warmest Boxing Day on record (23c in the shade), and I decided on a short walk before lunch.  About 10 minutes from the house, along a quiet track, I disturbed what appeared to be an adult woodchat shrike.  It flew further along the track and rested in the top of an olive tree.  At some distance, I took a photo, and then tried to get closer.  A couple of fuzzy pictures followed, using the digital zoom on my camera.  My woodchat moment was interrupted by a couple of fellas on horseback - rarely encountered here - and the bird flew away.  Back home on the laptop, my first picture confirmed the sighting.  If Roy can "play around" with it, it may appear below.  Woodchat shrikes are spring and autumn migrants, and occasional summer visitors, but not seen in winter.  My "Birds of Greece" book states that they have been known up to mid-November in Crete - and this was Boxing Day!

27th.  The crazy weather continues and we take a picnic lunch to the Plakias area.  Even the often parched south coast is looking verdant today.  We picnic in hot sunshine by a church near Schinaria beach and realise how lucky we are, compared to the recent UK weather.  This is unusual though, so we are making the most of it.  Some pictures below, one showing a view along the south coast westwards, with very little snow evident on the White Mountains for this time of year.  Another view looking northwards towards the Kourtaliotis Gorge, where we stopped later to watch about 15 griffons swirling above us - but no bonelli's eagle this time.  Two other photos of woodlark, and a kestrel with an itch!


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

29th.  A day at home, but it didn't stop a call from Margaret, who was pegging out some washing on the balcony.  She had a great view, mine just for a second or so, of a young golden eagle flying past at surprisingly low altitude.  I fetched the camera, but it straight-lined it away from us, heading for the foothills a few kilometres away.  This is the third time we have seen a young golden eagle away from "normal territory" - twice from the house.  Before going indoors, our resident common buzzard came past at close quarters, so a photo of that below.  (Been nice if it was the other bird though!).


Photo by and A&M

31st.  A stroll down to Kalivaki beach and the rivermouth before lunchtime gave me these two photo opportunties.  The little egret has been here for a couple of months, but is rarely seen out of shallow water - so nice to see its golden feet.  The odd couple on the river are increasingly seen "together".


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

The weather has continued to stay warm since Boxing Day, and we have just learned this is the warmest last week of December for over 50 years!  A walk in the hills with Margaret this afternoon "confirmed" this when we stumbled across an Erhardt's wall lizard, not yet bothering with hibernation.  We occasionally see young lizards at this time, but this specimen was a larger than usual adult.  Picture below.


Photo by and A&M

We finish this year with a call from a friend to tell us tonight is a blue moon - something that only happens once in 19 years on New Year's Eve.  We had friends with us during the evening, and we all went out onto the balcony to look - clear skies helped, and so a photo below to finish this year.


Photo by and A&M

Maybe you had clear skies too?

We wish everyone reading this a very happy New Year for 2010.

Alan and Margaret Hargrave


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