Out and About – December 2011
 

Hi Everyone,

BIRDS

1st. The month starts with an “at home” day with various jobs required around the house, and after a gloomy November - the sun is shining! I left my camera outside with me, just in case. It was a good decision, as I had two booted eagles with a common buzzard circling above the house for a while. They were never close enough to get both eagles in the same frame, which was a pity as one was dark morph, and the other light – very different looking birds. Two photos below of these taken within seconds of each other.
 

booted eagle

booted eagle

 
While washing the car I began hearing a loud “teck” coming from our olive grove. It was a female blackcap. We have recently had glimpses of both male and female together at the back of the garden, and hopefully they are here to stay for the winter again.
 

blackcap female

 
With the sun still shining in the afternoon, we took a coastal walk between Petres and Rethymno. Best sightings here were cormorant and shag. We have seen very few shag, and again this time it was just a single bird, in the company of three cormorants.
 

cormorants with shag

 

shag

 
2nd. With clear blue skies, and a previously arranged trip with friends suddenly postponed, we went out with a picnic. Beautiful scenery (see landscape section) but few birds, despite looking at Agia, Omalos and Moronis. At Omalos a flock of linnets took off leaving just one female behind – next photo.

female linnet

 
The highlight here though was a very late migrant (or rare resident?) – a whinchat, though no photo possible. At Moronis a grey heron was standing in the middle of the rivermouth, at low tide, with a reflection suitably positioned for a photo.

grey heron

 
5th. Another pale morph booted eagle moment – this time the bird much closer over the house.
 

 

 
6th. The Viewpoint water level is currently very high with mainly coot, moorhen and little grebe the only birds present. A couple of cormorants visit frequently, and today a green sandpiper was seen briefly.
 
7th. Finally managed a long awaited “close-up” photo of a male blackcap. It was raining this morning, and as the sunshine returned there was much bird activity in the garden for a while. The blackcap was with its mate flitting around a pomegranate bush.
 

blackcap male

 
8th. Since my mention of reed bunting at the end of last month’s report, I have looked twice more without success – until today. In an area between Kalivaki Studios and the small river I found three of this species, and was able to capture two of them on camera. The question now is whether these will remain here for the winter? As these are on my local patch, I shall keep checking.
 

reed bunting

 

reed buntings

 
9th. Another look at the Moronis Reserve whilst enroute to Chania for shopping. The great egret was nicely placed for a photo, and our first sighting this winter of a Sandwich tern over the bay.
 

great egret

 

Sandwich tern

 
11th. Maybe I have overlooked them in the past, but today two reed buntings seen from the Viewpoint at Georgioupoli.
 

 
 
13th. And today I find reed buntings in two further places! Firstly, a single male at the springs at Agia, and later a pair at Moronis.
 
I had made a lone trip to the above sites, while Margaret was shopping in Rethymno with a friend. Apart from a few glimpses (but no photo) of a single moustached warbler at Agia, the trip was not particularly memorable, despite a list totalling 44 birds! This was an overcast day with no wind, and I saw no raptors apart from the female marsh harrier at Agia. Here the skies were frequently filled with yellow-legged gulls, until they landed en masse on the water. Other flocks included starlings, linnets, goldfinches and crag martins. At Moronis the highlight was the reed buntings, but a successful catch for a kingfisher made a nice picture. Other obliging birds were cormorant and redshank.

kingfisher and coots

 

cormorant

 

redshank

 
15th. While feeding the ducks, my daughter phoned to say there was a great egret at the Viewpoint. I had a look later and found it alongside a grey heron. This is only the second time I have seen great egret in our locality – all my other sightings have been at Souda Bay.
 
18th. Like any family with grandchildren, we occasionally feed the ducks, or in this case – a mute swan. This is the third winter this particular ringed bird has resided here.

mute swan

 
23rd. A single ferruginous duck now present at the Viewpoint and other species mentioned above are seen on most visits. At Kalivaki a peregrine swooped around just off the coast – but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera for this one, and only got the rear view!
 
24th. Now seeing at least four blackcaps at the back of the garden, with two appearing to be a pair, and the other two somewhat younger looking. Daily sightings in and above the garden include black redstart, robin, chaffinch, goldfinch, serin, chiffchaff, Sardinian warbler, Cetti’s warbler, house sparrow (Italiae), hooded crow, collared dove, common buzzard, and less frequently, greenfinch, blackbird, corn bunting, starling, booted eagle, kestrel, sparrowhawk and raven. Only occasional glimpses of song thrush.
 
29th. This year has been the coldest and wettest Christmas period we have experienced. Today’s forecast was dry, but foggy. We took a chance on going towards the south coast for “better” weather. It didn’t materialize. As we approached Anopoli enroute to Aradena, the clouds formed a thick blanket across the mountains completely covering the snow-line, and although it didn’t rain, it remained damp and misty all day. So to today’s birding – very little. The usual birds in this area were seen – blue rock thrush, crested larks and woodlarks, ravens and griffons. The highlight was a huge flock of red-billed choughs high above the Aradena Gorge. We were picnicking in the car at the time and hoped our “hide” would see these birds descend towards the gorge. They didn’t, so a record photo of some of the flock was taken as the birds soared high above us. It was impossible to count them, but we estimated between 300 and 400 hundred birds in all.
 

flock of choughs

 
On the way home, a hooded crow obliged for a photo. This species is incredibly shy and get agitated quickly by human presence. This is probably the best shot I have had in years!
 

hooded crow

 
30th. We had a short walk around part of Kournas Lake this afternoon – between showers – and found three flocks of black-necked grebes. The photo below was the nearest flock with about 75 birds. Both the more distant flocks were clearly larger, meaning that there are now well in excess of 250 of this species here this winter.

black-necked grebes

 

31st. A final look around Kalivaki at the end of the year revealed two reed buntings, clearly seen through binoculars. Other birds here included several meadow pipits, chiffchaffs, serins, black redstarts and a single common snipe.

While washing up after lunch Margaret spots a “large” bird and gets her binoculars. I get mine too when she says there are more birds higher up. Then Alison phones to ask what are the birds high above her apartment! So, in the space of five minutes we have two ravens, a common buzzard, a pale morph booted eagle, four kestrels, a sparrowhawk, and a few crag martins. The sky is light grey and all these birds are high as the skies darken and rain threatens. Then the heavens open and all the birds disappear and we went back indoors – no worthwhile photos, but a nice five minutes watching.

Lastly, just to mention here that on New Year’s Eve last year we had a great sighting of lammergeier near Ano Mallaki. (The photos were in January’s report). We are disappointed to say that, for us, 2011 has been a lammergeier-free year!

 
ANIMALS
An opportunity to photograph the large white (pieris brassicae) butterfly on one of our margarita blooms.

 
In October’s report I showed photos of the silver-striped hawk-moth larvae – a large caterpillar which was found in a vine on my daughter’s patio. Now it has emerged from the pupae state, and Alison managed a photo before freeing it from the artificial home she gave the caterpillar a few weeks ago.

 
 
As a rule the lizard community hibernate for our short Cretan winter. We have noticed, however, that young ones take longer to realise this, and are often seen on warmer winter days. This one was at the Georgioupoli Viewpoint area.

 
WILD FLOWERS
Crown anenomes are just beginning to show during the second half of the month. These are one of our favourite flowers which bloom in all shades of pink and purple, with some bright red or creamy white. They are at their best during early spring.
 
The Bermuda buttercup (oxalis pes-caprae) is another flower to start blooming now. They open out in vast numbers when the sun shines. So rampant are they, that they “cover” western Crete in a bright yellow blanket, that (apparently) can be observed from outer space!
 

 
LANDSCAPES
An unexpected snowfall in early December gave us this view from our picnic stop, during a drive to Omalos.

 
Agia can be quite scenic, and while photographing the yellow-legged gulls there, I realised this picture should come under this heading instead.

 
We found a new stretch of coastline to walk this month – the western side of the Rodopos peninsular. The length of track is limited, but a pleasant stroll all the same.

 
Our grandson, Alex, informed us about a recent school trip to Aptera, the ancient Roman site near Kalives. We hadn’t visited for a few years, and so made the trip this month to see the recently excavated amphitheatre – impressive!

 

 

And back home we finish the year with a view of the St Nicolas fishermen’s chapel at the end of the breakwater at Georgioupoli. This photo was taken after the snow early this month.

 

We wish all our readers….


 

A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR”

 

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