Out and About - February 2011

All photographs by and © A@M
 

Hi Everyone,

BIRDS
We can’t trust any weather forecasts here, and so when we decided to go to Omalos early in the month, we weren’t surprised to find the weather deteriorating within an hour of leaving home!  We stopped at Agia briefly and almost had to duck the crag martins which were swirling around in their dozens.  For me the visit was worth it for the chance to improve on my photo of a gadwall, which is shown below.

 

 
At Omalos the drizzle was relentless and spoilt any chance of decent photography.  We did, though have our best ever view of a male sparrowhawk perched not too far away.  The photos below were taken between intermittent wipes of our windscreen wipers – so not bad considering.  The sightings on Omalos were scant – in fact jays and cirl buntings are the only birds worthy of mention, with no raptors to be found at all.
 

 

The first few days of February have been very “English” with much drizzle and low cloud, and temperatures barely reaching double figures.  As we drove to Rethymno on one such morning the sea was in swell, and breaking dramatically on the rocky coastline.  Near Petres, Margaret noticed a large number of gulls interacting with the waves – they all appeared to be yellow-legged, the “equivalent” of herring gull in the UK.  I decided to have a closer look there in the afternoon, and was pleased to record 12 sandwich terns, one Mediterranean gull, two lesser black-backed gulls, plus others I couldn’t identify.  With swirling wind, driving rain and spray, photography was again difficult, and so abandoned for another day.

 The next day I had another look, but the rain was persistent.  This time just three sandwich terns and the rest were yellow-legged gulls.  The following day, in dry and bright weather, Margaret joined me for another look, and a short coastal walk.  No dramatic waves this time, so nothing at Petres to speak of.  Along the beach enroute, we did see a small flock of seven Mediterranean gulls.  Most were adults, but one showed itself to be a second winter bird, strikingly different to the older birds.
 

 
Beyond Petres we watched yellow-legged gulls on the beach feeding off the water’s edge.  In the next photo below, you can make out four age differences between the gulls.
 

 

During the first week of this month, Kalivaki has been fairly quiet.  The greenshank appeared at distance on the flooded meadows during one visit, and a single water pipit was again sighted behind the beach on another flooded area.  A juvenile green sandpiper has been resident here throughout the winter so far.

An afternoon walk around the Askifou plain gave us an interesting few minutes watching a small warbler at distance.  We both commented on the bird flicking its tail downwards while moving around, and whilst it resembled a reed warbler at this distance, the bird now appears to have been an olivaceous warbler – known for flicking its tail downwards.  This was possibly an early spring migrant.  My only photo is poor, and I can’t confirm identification.

After an uneventful exploration along the north coast as far as Falassarna, we dropped in briefly again at Moronis on the way home.  This time, a few black-headed gulls were around the quayside and one picture below of a first winter bird.

 

 
A trip to Deliana Gorge gave us more good buzzard, griffon and raven sightings, plus a single wren.  We called in at Agia on the way home and had a light phase booted eagle as we arrived there.  The female marsh harrier was hunting around the far side reed beds.  The usual ducks were present, and I managed decent photos of male shoveller and wigeon, as shown below.
 

 
We had time for another brief visit to Moronis too and whilst nothing unusual there, a nice group of little egret, greenshank and redshank all together, was worthy of a picture.
 

 
With a view across the valley from our kitchen window, Margaret spotted a large bird, which she realised was not a buzzard.  An eagle definitely, but photos were inconclusive for me to identify.  With Roy’s help, I agree it was a juvenile Bonelli’s eagle – the first of this species that we have seen from the house.  Photo below.
 

 
A very wet end to the month, and more flooding at Kalivaki.  On 25th, a quick look round revealed four green sandpipers there, three of them on the next photo.  Green sandpipers seem more wary than other sandpipers, and all photos today were at distance.
 

 
During this visit, the pelican was flying high over Georgioupoli accompanied by yellow-legged gulls.  Eventually the gulls had had enough and chased the pelican away, as shown below.
 

 

Before returning home I gave the Viewpoint a quick look and found two female garganey there again. More distant, our first spring migrants – a flock of c.20 housemartins feeding over the water on the far side.

The weather deteriorated even more on 26th, and by the following day there were floods everywhere.  At Petres, the gulls were back, and with rain persisting, photos were again poor.  The 27th was a washout too, but on the last day of February I made my final visit to Petres and the local beach there.  This time, in dry weather, there were scores of y-l gulls, nearly as many Mediterranean gulls, and a couple of lesser black-backed gulls.  A few pictures below to make up for the poor quality ones from earlier visits. (013-017).

 

Mixed gulls along the beach
 

y-l gulls and lesser b-b gulls
 

Med gulls taking off
 

Med gulls feeding off the waves
 

Med gulls - time for a brush up
 

I have mentioned a greenshank is occasionally seen at distance, either at Kalivaki, or the Viewpoint.  Finally, this elusive bird turned up on the flooded meadows, and stayed just long enough for a photo.
 

 

We have spotted a dark phase booted eagle on at least five occasions this month – all within our local area.  We think it is the same bird, but it is always distant.

This month’s garden photo is of a male chaffinch.

 

 

List of birds seen this month, apart from the 25 regulars listed in January, are;
black-necked grebe, white pelican, cormorant, cattle egret, little egret, grey heron, mute swan, greylag goose,
mallard, gadwall, shoveller, wigeon, garganey, pochard, tufted duck, griffon vulture, booted eagle,
bonelli’s eagle, marsh harrier, sparrowhawk, chukar, little-ringed plover, green sandpiper, redshank,
greenshank, black-headed gull, mediterranean gull, lesser black-backed gull, sandwich tern, rock dove,
barn owl, kingfisher, housemartin, water pipit, meadow pipit, white wagtail, grey wagtail, wren, robin,
black redstart, blue rock thrush, song thrush, blackcap, chiffchaff, jay, starling, cirl bunting, corn bunting.

 
ANIMALS

Askifou plain is very much a pastural area, and many sheep graze there in winter, weather permitting.  This ewe is proud mum to a family of mixed coloured offspring.
 

 
We still see the occasional local on a donkey as we travel around, but they are few and far between these days.  A tethered donkey, on the other hand, is still a frequent sight.  The one below was just off the road above Rodakino on the south coast.  He enjoyed a couple of biscuits!
 

 
During our walk through the Deliana Gorge, I photographed a small wasp, mainly black with some cream banding.  It appears to be a digger wasp, but which one I can’t tell.
 

 

WILD FLOWERS

We had another look at the Spili high meadows one afternoon.  It was mid-month, and too early for orchids.  Crown anenomes proliferated, but the meadow colours were increased by areas of white crocus (crocus laevigatus as shown in last month’s) and the intense yellow of lesser celandine (ranunculus ficaria).  One or two narcissus (narcissus tazetta s.sp italicus) were sighted too, and small areas of rocket (eruca vesicaria).  Some photos below, mainly from Margaret’s camera.

 

lesser celandine (ranunculus ficaria)
 

narcissus tazetta s.sp italicus

rocket (eruca vesicaria)

 
On the south facing slopes, giant fennel, (ferula communis) is beginning to dominate the roadside.  The one below was seen as we returned from our south coast circular trip in mid-month. 
 

 
Bermuda buttercup is everywhere.

 
In the Deliana Gorge Margaret was photographing flowers, as shown below. We showed Mandrake flowers last month, but the plant shown below had the best cluster of flowers we have ever seenAnenomes and lupins are giving colour in many areas now.
 

 

Anenomes
 

lupins
 

LANDSCAPES

We didn’t stay long at Agia earlier in the month.  A very dull, but relatively clear  morning, gave us a good view towards the White Mountains from the reservoir perimeter path.

 

 
Askifou plain is looking verdant at this time of year, and picturesque in late afternoon sun, as shown below.  Above the eastern side of the plain is the remains of a Turkish fort, looking more dramatic as the clouds roll in.
 

 

 

 
The “uneventful” trip to Falassarna, mentioned above, was at least taken in bright sunny weather.  The northerly breeze was stiff, and our picnic was taken in the car.  What had changed since our last visit here, was the increase in greenhouses – mostly for tomato growing.  The photo below shows this well, with Ancient Falassarna the rocky area in the distance to the left, and greenhouses encroaching at quite close quarters.
 

 
We took a round trip to the south coast during the month.  The weather had been forecast to be bright and sunny, even warm, but driving through the Imbros Gorge was eerie, with dense cloud restricting our visibility to about 20 metres.  Down at sea level it was clear and warm, about 19c, and we made our way to Plakias, returning through the Kourtaliotis Gorge.  Descending to Plakias from Sellia gave us some lovely views towards the resort and beyond – the photo below taken when we had completed the descent.
 

 
The Deliana Gorge is an easy walk with dramatic views.  I have shown these views in previous reports, but below is a different aspect.  In winter and early spring, there is a stream running through the gorge, which crosses the path in many places.  We needed wellies for this walk, but otherwise the stream was alongside us, looking picturesque as below.
 

 
The birding trips to Petres give dramatic views of the river emerging out of the gorge before entering the sea.  To holidaymakers, this river is either a trickle, or completely dried up – unlike this February!
 

 

 That’s the end of February, the wettest we have experienced in seven years here.   Next month the spring migration should be well underway.

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