Report 26 - February 2010
Hi Everyone

3rd.  Our first trip this month was to look at the Moronis river area, before heading onto Akrotiri for a picnic.  We were hoping to see the red-crested pochard spotted by Nikos last week.  Initially, we only saw coots, and a pair of cormorants, with one immaculately presented in breeding plumage, as below.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

As we walked around we saw a single great white egret, two little egrets, two redshanks and four little ringed plovers.  In the distance was a small flock of gulls we couldn't identify.  Walking back, Margaret spotted another duck which was "different".  We quickly identified this as a female red-crested pochard, and have some photos below - thanks Nikos.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

The distant gulls came our way and settled on the river - these were our first sightings of black-headed gulls on Crete, so more pics below.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

We have never looked too closely at gulls before, but having seen the Mediterranean gull last month, and now this - we shall be sharper eyed in future!

The drive around Akrotiri did not turn up anything too memorable.  Our picnic spot was great for watching serins and corn buntings from the comfort of the car, though not for any photography.  We did see a lovely clump of French lavender growing wild - it was windy and I had to hold a single stem to record a photo, as below.


Photo by and A&M

5th.  As spring approaches, sightings of wild flowers are gathering pace.  Anenomes are now joined by lupins giving a lovely hue to some of the meadows.  See below.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

As we drive around Crete we are blessed with fantastic scenery.  A recent trip included a, now favourite, descent of the recently tarmacced Kallikratis gorge road to Frangokastello.  Like many Cretan mountain roads, this one has no armco (crash barriers), and is not for the faint-hearted.  Two photos below show the gorge, with the road to its right, and another zoomed in on the road only. The third photo was taken from the top, in 2008, when the road was first tarmacced, giving us our first glimpse of what lay ahead!


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

10th.  Another of those weird weather days here - strong southerly winds with temperatures up to 22c at times.  We had already chosen to go out on this day, and set off westwards towards Falassarna on the far west coast.  Bird sightings were non-existent when we stopped off at Tavronitis rivermouth, and the coastal strip around Kissamos - probably a result of the windy conditions.  On the approach to Falassarna, my only bird photo of the day - a male linnet.


Photo by and A&M

We continued to ancient Falassarna where we picnicked using the car as a hide.  We were surrounded by white wagtails and serins, both in flocks of 20-30.  One or two black redstarts, and all the common finches, completed the sightings.
Some flowers were photographed, like the star of Bethlehem (ornithogalum collinum) below.


Photo by and A&M

On our return, several turkeys were seen and heard in an olive grove.  One in particular was in fine plumage and very talkative, presumably speaking gobbledy gooch!  A picture below.


Photo by and A&M

11th.  Some good news.  As Alex and I drove into Georgioupolis this morning, we had sight of the pelican flying around the river and adjoining farmland.  Evidently some growth on the clipped wings has enabled this, though watching the bird, it has further growth to complete its flight feathers.  I guess it would not be strong enough to fly too far at present?

16th.  We have discovered a new walk near Vamos (towards Karidi Monastery for those that know the area).  It has potential for good birding, but not today.  An unusual sight of bees around a discarded "collection" of polystyrene bricks.  I don't know what the attraction was, but it was close to their hives.  Photo below.


Photo by and A&M

Whilst walking in this area, we had good views of both Psiloritis to the east, and the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) to the south.  We have had another warm dry spell this month, and the snow is receding fast.  Two photos below.



17th.  This weeks drive found us heading out to Agia for a coffee stop, before continuing up to Omalos.  The weather has become even warmer - 23c today, and even 18c at Omalos.  Agia was pleasant for a short stay.  All the usual birds were around including a kingfisher.  A couple of tufted ducks dabbled amongst the coots and pochards.  Along the perimeter path, we had good views of chiffchaff, sedge warbler and cetti's warbler - a photo of the former below.


Photo by and A&M

Up at Omalos we had our second ever sighting of water pipit, albeit at some distance.  Otherwise, good sightings of cirl bunting, meadow pipit, jay and red-billed chough.  At one point the choughs encircled an eagle (possibly booted), but otherwise no raptors other than common buzzards.  Photos below of Woodlark singing, then noticing me! the flock of choughs with the eagle, and view from our picnic spot on the plateau.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

Back home, I had my first sighting of a song thrush seen from the house - but the photos are too distant to publish here.
 
20th.  High temperature records are being broken daily for this time of year!  Today, breakfast on the covered terrace at 24c, and three good views (with binoculars), of a female blackcap behind the back of our garden.  The male also appeared once.  I think they have wintered in this spot, but are quite elusive.
By midday the shade temperature had reached 29c - in direct sun 44c!!!!  There almost seems something "sinister" about these temperatures being so far removed
from what they should be at this time of year.  As often the case with this type of unseasonal hot weather, there are ferocious winds and hazy skies, so I won't bother with a photo of the bay from the house, because we can't see it!

22nd.  We thought the warm weather may bring forward the orchids.  There are seveal areas that we visit each year for these particular flowers, but this early we would only expect the giant orchid and maybe the milky orchid.  A walk near Ombriagalos this morning revealed four different orchids - the above two, yellow bee orchid and pink butterfly orchid.  Photos of dark and pale forms of the latter are below, plus a variety of muscari (grape hyacinth) that we have not yet identified.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

24th.  With continuing good weather and a national strike today, I took Alex to Agia and Moronis River for some birdwatching - his school was closed.  Agia was very quiet with the water level still high.  For the first time for several visits we had sight of the marsh harrier hunting over the far side, but nothing much else, although we spotted more wigeon than we've seen before.  Our visit to Moronis River was more productive with singles of grey heron, little egret, redshank, little ringed plover and black-headed gull.  But it was Alex that spotted "another gull" as we walked back to the car on the harbour quayside.  I wasn't sure whether to use camera or binoculars first!  Unless it was a little gull, this was a tern performing some wonderful dives into the water.  This terned out (sorry!) to be a sandwich tern - a first for me here, and so a couple of photos below. 


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

26th.  We chose to visit the Late Minoan Cemetery near Armeni as part of this week's trip.  Although fewer anenomes, there was a proliferation of snakes' head iris and some yellow bee orchids, as pictured below.

 
Snakes Head -
Photo by and A&M

Our coffee stop was between Spili and Aghia Galini, above the village of Kria Vrisi.  We stopped here about three years ago for the views, but this time we explored the hillside for a while, and found no less than seven different species of orchid.  Avoiding the latin names, these were giant orchid, monkey orchid, milky orchid, yellow bee orchid, late spider orchid, sombre bee orchid and sombre bee orchid sub-species iricolor.  At the same spot, a few barbary nut and Algerian iris.  Some more pics below


Late Spider Orchid - Photo by and A&M


Monkey Orchid - Photo by and A&M


Sombre Orchid - Photo by and A&M


Sombre Bee Orchid - Photo by and A&M


Barbary Nuts
- Photo by and A&M

A distinct lack of birds today - windy again!  However, just as we arrived at what was to be our picnic lunch spot, a couple of wood pigeons were spotted on an telephone wire.  These birds are not exactly common here, and not usually obliging like the picture below.


Photo by and A&M

The last picture for this month is one of our commonest birds - the stonechat - and also one of the easiest to photograph.  This one was at Kournas Lake earlier in the week.


Photo by and A&M
  
28th.  February bows out with yet another dry day, cooler but sunny nonetheless.  We took the fresh air as we walked around the harbour at Kalives, and the stonechat isn't the last photo after all - it's a kingfisher perched on one of the moored boats in the harbour.


Photo by and A&M
 

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