Report 25 - January 2010
 
Hi Everyone,

5th.  The new year has started with a continuation of the warm weather, though tempered by fresh winds yesterday and today.  Birds are conspicuous by their absence, whereas lizards, dragonflies and terrapins (see photos below) are conspicuous by their appearance at this time of year.  Wild flowers and our garden flowers are blooming, and snow has all but disappeared, even from the highest peaks of the White Mountains.  Maybe we will "pay" for this summery weather as the winter unfolds?


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

So today I took a look at Kournas Lake and found the black-necked grebes in the middle - still far off.  I ventured round the far side of the lake for the first time, starting by taking the "nature path", and then scrambling across broken fences to make it to the track, which follows the edge of the lake.  Direct access to this track from the main road now appears to be denied to the public.  The track gave me many glimpses of song thrushes that reside in this area during the winter, and a beautifully marked male marsh harrier.  None of the birds today could be photographed satisfactorily.  The track along the lake side could be a new favourite walk, and I plan to take grandson there tomorrow before he goes back to school.

6th.  Very strong winds throughout the night produced a wonderful sky at dawn, so a picture from the kitchen window was called for - see below:


Photo by and A&M

Despite the fierce wind, Alex and I headed for the lake knowing that birding was going to be difficult.  We had good views of the black-necked grebes - two groups with about 50 in each.  Two photos below taken from about 80 metres away.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

Our stroll along the track gave us very little in the way of birds - we disturbed three wood pigeons, and heard jays - but not much else, except an opportunity for a photo back across the lake, as attached.


Photo by and A&M
As we walked back, we were surprised by a small bat flying directly towards us.  It disappeared from sight and then re-appeared fleetingly.  This is our first ever sighting of a bat in broad daylight and made the trip memorable.

8th.  With such wintery weather in the UK, it won't go down too well when I tell you that, since Boxing Day, the daytime shade temperature has not fallen below 17c.  For this time of year, this is the warmest spell in memory for the locals, so today, with temperature about 21c, we headed for the Arkadi Monastery area - with a picnic!  It would have been perfect, but the wind was so strong, we could barely stand up at times, so the picnic was taken in the car!  Most birds don't care for the wind, so sightings were limited to stonechat, chaffinch, cirl bunting and crested lark.  We then drove to the landfill site beyond the monastery, and the skies filled with yellow-legged gulls and ravens.  A couple of griffons completed the sightings.  That was it until we returned home and found a pair of pintails at the Viewpoint.  I had seen a female before, but not the striking male - so two photos below.


Photo by and A&M



Photo by and A&M

As a record, the next photo is of Mt Psiloritis, Crete's highest mountain at 2,456 metres, as we would normally expect to see it in May, when the snow has all but melted!  We will have major water shortage problems on the island later this year, if snow is not forthcoming in the next few weeks.


Photo by and A&M

11th.  A couple of booted eagles seen from the house over the weekend, otherwise a very quiet time, including a trip to Agia with grandson on the Sunday morning, devoid of anything worthy of a mention here.  Alex, though, was pleased to identify shoveller, garganey, wigeon and tufted duck, which he "hadn't seen" before, and he was at least able to get used to his Christmas present from us - a good pair of binoculars.

12th.  Our run of good weather is forecast to change today, but we continued with our planned drive to the Polyrrinia area in the hope of some good birding.  Just before the rain started, we had a coffee stop and a sighting of a distant female sparrowhawk or male goshawk.  During the next hour Crete threw all kinds of weather at us as we drove higher into the hills.  First the rain became heavier, followed by thunder and lightning, then hail, and finally some snow flurries.  We had to abandon the drive southward, as by now we were on a gravel road being prepared for tarmaccing, and the torrential rain was creating large ruts across the road.  We were in Margaret's Fiat Panda, and thought it better to be safe than sorry!

Lunch was taken at Tavronitis on the north coast, and so afterwards we had a look at the rivermouth nearby.  Quite a lot of bird activity there, but nothing unusual today - mainly linnets, chiffchaffs, grey wagtails, crested lark, meadow pipit, song thrush, blackbird and all the finches.  One picture below of a chiffchaff, in what appears to be a darker form than usual.  There were two like this, distinctly different to the other chiffchaffs there.


Photo by and A&M

19th.  We have not had a decent day for a week now - aaah, I hear you say!  There may be snow on the mountains, but we can't tell because of low cloud cover.  Our plot, and the local countryside, is sodden.  Temperatures are still good though, averaging about 14c throughout the day.

Birdwatching has been confined to watching our garden, and a couple of short local walks.
What has become apparent this year is the increased number of blackcaps around..  I'd like to share a photo or two, but these little birds are secretive and always on the move under the cover of foliage.  I've still got a few weeks left to tackle them!

Birds seen from the house over the past two days are:
common buzzard, booted eagle (light phase), kestrel, male sparrowhawk, hooded crow, collared doves, house sparrow, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, black redstart, robin, great tit, blue tit, sardinian warbler, Cetti's warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, serin, linnet and y-l gull.
Yesterday, a small flock of siskins flew across in front of me, as I drove to the Post Office in Vamos.
 
21st.  There is a good covering of snow on the higher peaks of the White Mountains and we decided a trip to Omalos would be this week's drive.  We weren't expecting snow on the plateau itself, but thought the scenery would be good and the possibility of birds moving down off the slopes - chough maybe.  Well, a bright start soon turned to a grey, dull and misty day, especially at Omalos, where it drizzled for most of the day.  Plenty of woodlark and cirl buntings enroute, mixing with the usual finches.  No choughs.  Driving around the perimeter of the plateau we were alerted to a small flock moving from tree to tree, bigger than the small birds we had been seeing..  We soon found them to be mistle thrushes - a first for us on Crete.  A poor photo below of one.


Photo by and A&M

This was making the trip worthwhile, but then, even better......a hawfinch was "scared" out of one tree as the mistle thrushes arrived in it.  This was close to where we had only previous sighting in December 2008.  Sitting in the car, we were able to watch the hawfinch for nearly ten minutes, as it foraged on the ground amid thistles.  Great views with binoculars, but photos were barely possible, so had to give up on them and just enjoy the moment.  To accompany my mistle thrush photo, I have also attached one taken in the UK last October, when we were with Roy and Raye on the Norfolk Broads.


Photo by and A&M

A brief look at Agia on the way home revealed nothing out of the ordinary, except the unusual absence of kingfishers there over the past few weeks.

23rd.  A local walk before lunch, between rain showers.  Blackcaps and Cetti's warblers could be heard, but not seen.  Otherwise it was the usual finches, linnets, blackbird and sardinian warblers.  A couple of song thrushes were disturbed, but they fled and were out of sight immediatley.  Serins were also seen, and I finally managed a reasonable photo of a juvenile, as below.


Photo by and A&M

24th.  A cold day with a biting north wind.  When the rain stopped I stood by the window watching the garden hoping for a return of some birds.  I was rewarded with a female blackcap at the back of the garden, providing me with yet another fuzzy picture that I can't share with you!  In the afternoon we had a short car trip to Kournas Lake and Argyroupolis.  A light phase booted eagle was seen - again mobbed by crows.  At the lake, the black-necked grebes were even further across the far side than usual, so couldn't count them.  Nearer to Argyoupolis, a couple of ravens were enjoying the windy conditions, and I managed a shot of one from the comfort of my car seat!  It's a silhouette, but good diagnostically.  For interest, I have also attached a close-up photo of a raven's talon.  This was taken from a deceased bird earlier this month.  Couldn't tell if it had been shot, but that's the most likely cause of death.  Anyway, the picture shows what a dangerous piece of equipment these birds have at their disposal.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

25th.  A call from daughter Alison to alert us of cattle egret with sheep at Kavros.  Apart from a single bird at Agia this time last year, this is early for a small flock to arrive.  I went to Kavros with Alison and counted four running in and out between the sheeps' legs.  Then one jumped up on the back of a sheep, and hence my photo below.


Photo by and A&M

26th.  The cold weather has continued, but unlike the UK, it probably won't last too long now.  I had an afternoon walk down to Kalivaki beach and then to the Viewpoint.  The mute swan is still with us, but unusually, I found it on the beach, instead of along the river - pic below.


Photo by and A&M

27th.  For the record, griffons are again being sighted at Petres Gorge after an absence of nearly two years.  We can occasionally see them while driving past on the National Highway, but I have visited the gorge on three occasions over the past two months, and seen griffons there on each visit - last time 12 were counted, but there are usually just two or three.

We have Alex stay with us on Wednesdays, and driving him home after school, I took the beach front route.  I noticed a gull on the seaweed strewn beach, and dismissed it at first, as we never see anything but yellow-legged gulls along here.  But it was Alex who commented on the bird having red legs.  I couldn't identify it properly, so we sped home and returned with my camera.  We were lucky to find it again, as it had moved along the beach by now.  Though not uncommon, this was our first sighting of a Mediterranean gull - just a single bird, waiting for my photo! - as below.


Photo by and A&M

Thanks to Alex!

29th.  This week's drive took us to the Amari valley, and our best sightings were all flowers this time.  Our first giant orchid of the year was seen just off the road beyond Ano Meros.  With views, on this normally scenic route, obliterated by a very hazy (sand filled) sky, we made a diversion to the Late Minoan Settlement at Apodoulou - somewhere I had just located when I last looked at my map.  It was a great picnic spot - we were surrounded by anenomes and bermuda buttercups, which added so much colour to the immediate area.  The excavations are in their early stages, and I imagine very few visitors have seen this site so far - it's somewhat off the beaten track, although reached by a tarmac road.  A small selection of flora seen and photographed by Margaret are below.


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M


Photo by and A&M

30th.  At last!  After rare glimpses of female blackcaps in the garden - and fuzzy photos - a male sat in our margarita bush, just long enough for a quick picture this morning. (see below.


Photo by and A&M

31st.  This month finishes with three warm days, and an average temperature slightly higher than any we have experienced before.  When the clouds disperse we have lovely views of the white mountains from the top of our lane, and that's the final photo for this month.


Photo by and A&M
 

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