A&M Report 36 December 2010
All photographs by and A@M
 
Hi Everyone,

5th.  It has been a very quiet start for us this month.  Maybe we have just been in the wrong place, but visits to Omalos and Agia provided nothing to report.  A point of interest is the construction of a reservoir on the Omalos plateau.  This will probably take some years to complete, and may attract more birdlife in years to come.  For now though, there is much noise and movement from the contractors working there, not to mention clouds of dust swirling around.

 


We somehow feel that the delayed arrival of our Cretan winter may be to blame for lack of bird life?  This morning, our first shower of rain since 14th November, brought a small flock of chiffchaff into the garden, but strong winds are making it uncomfortable for the small birds, and they disappeared as quickly as they arrived.  One bird not at all put off by the wind is our local white pelican, which was flying around Georgioupoli this morning. This handsome bird looks so much better now the flight feathers have grown back - two pictures below from March 2010 and today, showing the difference. Two further photos of the bird flying around this morning.

 

 

 
Having had several hen harrier sightings last Sunday - end of November, we had a couple of good sightings of another female, more local this time.  In the same area, one or two song thrushes seen, and a huge combined flock of hooded crow and jackdaw.

Today the weather is fresher than it's been for some weeks, and the clouds gave an interesting sunrise from our kitchen window, as below.
 

 
10th.  No improvement on the birding front, but a continued extension to the unusally mild weather for this time of year, albeit uncomfortably windy at times.  A couple of visits to the local patch at Kalivaki and the river at Georgioupoli result in a few photos below.  Firstly, another opportunity to photograph a mature male black redstart atop Kalivaki studios.
 

 
A first sighting of little grebe on the river, rather than usual sightings on the lakes.

 
A general view of the river in bright December sunshine, showing the area used by the pelican and mute swan.
 

 
And finally an overhead picture of the pelican sitting on a pile of matting just below the road bridge in Georgioupoli.
 

 
11th.  Winter's arrived!!  We knew a few days ago that the forecast for today was cold and very wet, but nobody believed it.  Yesterday we shopped in Rethymno with the temperature reaching 24c, even 21c in the shade at home!   This morning, after a night of high winds and rain, we awoke to a temperature of 2c, reaching only 6c by lunch, with raw northerly winds and sleet making it feel much colder.  The change was alarming.  A short trip down to the village enabled me to check out the rivermouth (with a sea-swell in force) and take a few photos.  So, below - St Nicolas chapel under siege at the end of the breakwater, and a cormorant finding the weather somewhat invigorating.  Before returning home I went to the Mathes road, and recorded the first winter snow above the village.  When the cloud disperses we should find the higher mountain peaks well and truly white - very scenic.
 

 

 

 

 
Later in the afternoon, the first bird in the garden - a single black redstart, as below, a little fluffed up against the cold.
 

 
As I returned the camera to its case, I noticed the view from the kitchen window.  It was looking very stormy beyond the bay, and the little church was still taking a battering, - two more pics below.
 

 
12th.  Last night we had snow!  Unusual for us at almost sea-level - only the second time since we had our house here.  Just an inch or so, but with a north facing frontage, we had some clearing to do first thing.  The mountains were beckoning, looking beautiful in the morning sun, and with about 50% cloud cover, more precipitation looked unlikely.  We decided to have a scenic drive to Imbros, hoping the road was clear.  As we climbed through the Krapi Basin, we had lovely views back towards Akrotiri, as below.
 

 
At Imbros there was about half a metre of snow and their little church looked very Christmasy.
 

 
There was much activity getting sheep and goats off the higher pastures, and the road was becoming full of animals.  With others having important work to do, we turned round and headed back.  The favourite return route via Kallikratis was out of the question - see next picture!
 

 
Back home the snow had practically disappeared, but Alex's snowman was still standing on the lawn.  He often stays over on Saturday night, and getting him up on Sunday morning can be difficult - not today though!  As we closed the shutters for the day, a female blackcap was in one of our olive trees, before retreating to the same thicket used by a pair last year - so they're back?
 
14th.  Our weather has "recovered" - we are in the mid teens now.  An overcast day, but I had a walk to the far side of Kournas Lake this morning.  The broken fence is once again allowing me access to the path, which skirts the right-hand side of the lake, as you view it from the tavernas.  The hope was to get closer views of the black-necked grebes, which tend to stay tantalizingly too far from the lakeside for good photos.  I had some success, but they were still quite distant - two flocks of 20 and c60.  At least I could make out that many of these birds were juvenile, which you might make out in the photo below.
 

 
Also on the water I spotted mallard, teal, pochard, little grebe and about ten cormorants.  Above there was a flock of c20 crag martins, a single sparrowhawk, single common buzzard, and in the woodland, couple of jays that were only heard.  Along the path, Cetti's warbler, sardinian warbler, goldfinch, chaffinch, robin and meadow pipit.  On the drive home I was just able to catch a common buzzard leaving a telegraph pole, as below. Another "through the windscreen" pic!
 

 
15th.  Picnic time!  We decided to have a look at the Spili high meadows in winter, which we would normally leave until early spring.  We can categorically state that there was not a wild flower in sight, but picturesque all the same as there were some small areas of snow making the area very scenic.  A couple of photos below.
 

 
The drive there was in drizzle, and we anticipated picnicking in the car.  As we climbed from Spili the temperature dropped (to 11c), but the skies cleared.  We were able to walk for over an hour, following a track past two churches with a view of Psiloritis our aim today. Picture below of Margaret at the point where we turned back.
 

 
Along this walk birds seen were much as expected; linnets, goldfinches, corn buntings and a single cirl bunting.  Above, a kestrel, a couple of common buzzards and up to fifteen griffons.  A very distant view of probable golden eagle completed the sightings, but no worthwhile photos. We picnicked where we had parked, with a view over the meadows as in picture below.

 
But the weather had deteriorated by now and most of the picnic was taken in the car.  Our return route was taking us past the Potamon Dam.  As another view of the water showed up between the hills, we spotted a large bird perched on a lakeside rock - about 250 metres away.  Our first thoughts were that this was an osprey, as the breast was whitish, but the bird was "bulky".  As soon as I got out the car it started to fly away, and was soon out of sight.  I managed one distant photo, and with Colin Turvey's help, we now believe this to be a juvenile Bonelli's eagle.
 

 
17th.  Most of the photos I take from the house tend to be towards the bay and Psiloritis, but most of our birdwatching is through one window into the "back" garden, especially if we are watching from indoors. The picture below shows some of the garden, and a second picture is a juvenile goldfinch, which was there at the time - it has just taken a piece of pine cone from a small conifer.
 

 

 
Down at the river in Georgioupoli the cormorants are easily disturbed by the fishing boats.  A comical photo of two below, and then the reason why - with a fishing boat exceeding the river speed limit!
 

 

 
21st.  It's seven years today since we first arrived in Crete, and with the White Mountains looking inviting with snow on the higher levels, we decided to make that our trip for the week.  We drove to Omalos with temperatures around 20c in Chania, but the skies looking gloomier as we travelled inland.  It stayed gloomy all day, with the temperature at Omalos steady at 12c.  There was almost a complete lack of birdlife on or above the plateau - quite eerie.  Apart from ravens and chaffinches, we took some time before finally seeing a pair of cirl buntings in a small tree.  The male was always slightly hidden, but I did manage a photo of the female - yet again having to do this through the windscreen.
 

 
Our drive was a circular route, approaching Omalos via the wind turbines at Petras Seli (Sougia road).  This scenic route in gloomy weather was dotted with areas of autumnal chestnut trees, looking golden, and mixed deciduous trees along water courses in hillside gulleys.  Autumn is all too short here - blink and you miss it!  Two pictures below.
 

 

 

Our return journey gave us the opportunity to call in briefly at the Moronis River reserve.

There has been a gipsy encampment here in recent weeks, but they have now moved on, leaving the area quiet again.  All the same, not a lot here today - little egret, common sandpiper, cormorant, kingfisher, six little-ringed plovers and a grey heron which flew in as we left.  A photo of three of the plovers below.

 
Arriving home there was a lovely view of Psiloritis reflecting sunlight as the light faded.  It had obviously been sunny somewhere today!

 
23rd.  A beautifully clear and sunny day.  In the afternoon we had a walk along the coastal track between Petres Bridge and Rethymno.  Not usually a good birding area, but today we saw cattle egret, little egret, common sandpiper, blue rock thrush, black redstart, chiffchaff, white wagtail, griffon vulture and a sparrowhawk.  Earlier in the day, while weeding in the garden, a sparrowhawk glided lazily above the house long enough for me to find the camera - photo below.
 

 
Along the coastal path Margaret found a single flowering yellow-horned poppy.  It looked a bit lost on its own - they don't usually flower until May! The photo below shows the flower, but it is yet to open out fully.
 

 
26th.  After a hectic Christmas Day with the family - silly parlour games and all! - this morning I spent some time birdwatching the garden.  The birds seen were house sparrow, great tit, robin, black redstart, stonechat, chaffinch, goldfinch, serin, chiffchaff,  Sardinian warbler, Cetti's warbler and blackcap.  Above the house, hooded crow, common buzzard, light phase booted eagle, starlings and crag martins.  The female blackcap is top of my list for a decent photo, but not this morning.  However, during a local walk this afternoon, I managed a picture of one which stayed in the open, just for a second or so.  See below.
 

 
Robins are winter visitors for us and, as it's Christmas, I had to include a photo of one in the garden.
 

30th.  We are experiencing some dull and rainy days as the year comes to an end, and with the wind generally becoming more northerly, it's feeling cold too.  Not much birding then, but a check on the river at Georgioupoli and the pelican was flying, quite high up at times.  It looked spectacular against a dark grey sky, so one more picture below of this bird.
 

 

We are hearing that local islanders from Chania and Rethymno make trips to Georgioupoli just to see the pelican - encouraging in some respects - it does seem to "enjoy" its easy life here, but has probably lost its natural instincts to look for food, now that the local fishermen are its provider.

As the year comes to a close, I am recalling the birds we have seen more, or less, of in 2010.  The weather may be a factor - it has been both drier and warmer either side of the hot summer months, and we have experienced more high winds, often very fierce southerly ones.

So, these we have seen more;

glossy ibis - only a couple of singles in previous six years, but singles at Agia and Kalivaki, and flocks of varying sizes over the bay at Georgioupoli.  Report of fifty plus at Bramiana reservoir from John Bayley.

osprey - we hadn't seen one at all until this year.  Now three sightings, plus from others in Kalives, Souda and Bramiana.  The November sightings along the north coast were getting us thinking that some may overwinter here, but nothing seen since then.

common buzzard - seen everyday, everywhere - if it's a raptor, nine out of ten will be one

and they seem to be even more common now than when we first arrived.

sparrowhawk - mostly during the final three months of the year.

raven - always common, but being seen in greater variety of habitats, including our immediate locality.

red-backed shrike - common in autumn, but more this year than we remember before, particularly immatures.

blackcap - now wintering for the second year running.  Last spring they were still with us until June.

linnets and goldfinches - as we drive around, Margaret, as passenger, has a better view of things, and she feels she sees more of these than ever before.

collared dove - have to include this as they're taking over villages and towns.

And these we have seen less;

booted eagle - a disappointment this as it was the first eagle we started seeing in Crete, with many sightings from the house.  Not this year though, although one on Boxing day.

bee-eater -  much less than previous years.  In the spring they were some small flocks very high up.  Only one good sighting during the autumn migration.

blue rock thrush - fewer seen, and noticeable by their absence in areas where we have normally  seen them.

scop's owl - usually heard so frequently that we don't mention it.  This year we mention it if we hear one - not many times.

willow warbler - a summer visitor, but I only remember one sighting last summer, whereas chiffchaffs, which replace them for the winter, are here in good numbers.
 

That's all for 2010, so we wish all our readers;

 "A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR 2011"
 

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