OUT & ABOUT – JANUARY 2012
 

Hi Everyone,

BIRDS

4th. The New Year has started with a few days of dull, cool and cloudy weather. We are at home most of the time and birding is limited to what we can find from the house. We get distant views of booted eagle and marsh harrier. Then our first “house” sighting of a distant hen harrier – a female. A brief walk down to Kalivaki revealed a very distant eagle sighting. At home with the laptop my two photos of this bird appear to suggest greater spotted or eastern imperial eagle, but it’s only a probability, as was a similar sighting a few weeks ago. So the only photo over these first few days is……a house sparrow! Like many here it appears to be a hybrid (italiae).

 

(male house sparrow)

 

5th. The forecast is cold and wet for next week, so today we took ourselves off to Omalos. With the pre-Christmas snow on the mountains this was a scenic drive, which was just as well as there were few birds about. We did watch a male hen harrier hunting across the Omalos Plateau, counted about seven jays, and glimpsed a sparrowhawk racing away. No other big birds to be seen – the small ones included both water and meadow pipit, cirl and corn bunting.

We made the obligatory stop at Agia on the way home. For once, a pair of gadwall were close enough for a photo, and a single black-necked grebe looked quite lonely compared to the large flocks at Kournas Lake. As always during the winter here, the chiffchaff was the most obliging of the small birds.
 

(gadwall pair)

 

(black-necked grebe)

 

(chiffchaff)

 

7th. A look at the Viewpoint this morning revealed two reed buntings. I then took a distant photo of another one (I thought), but as it flew away, it evidently was not a reed bunting – perhaps a sparrow? Back home I was pleasantly surprised to find I had caught an image of a moustached warbler – previously only seen at Agia. A poor photo, but here for the record. Also at the Viewpoint, two female teal – one shown below.

 

(moustached warbler)

 

(female teal)

 

10th. The cold and wet weather forecast was correct! So far, our Cretan winter is more akin to northern Europe than the South. With cold north winds the coast near us has a continuous sea swell with massive breakers. This is heaven for the gulls, and at Petres I sat in the car and watched yellow-legged, a single lesser black-backed and Mediterranean gulls feeding off the waves. Photos of each follow, plus a common sandpiper, seen along the promenade in Georgioupoli as I returned home.

 

(y-l gull with lesser black-backed gull)

 

(Mediterranean gull)

 

(common sandpiper)

 

12th. The cold and wet weather continued through yesterday and today. Fewer gulls to be seen, but a brief window of opportunity to photograph two first winter Mediterranean gulls hovering over the waves at Petres.

Also today, a huge flock of starlings (c1,000+) appeared over the house, briefly settling on overhead wires nearby. Over 200 birds in this photo - just a small fraction of total birds along these wires.

 

(Mediterranean gulls)

 

(starlings)

 

17th. In what is becoming a lean month for birding – more damp, dull and cold weather – I made a brief stop at the Viewpoint today. Locals appeared and started feeding the ducks, and another couple arrived, only to let their dog loose into the water, so not much point in staying around! However, as I was about to leave, I noticed three large birds in high, direct flight. I couldn’t retrieve my camera quick enough to capture three night herons flying westwards – towards Moronis or Agia?

We are not seeing much bird activity in the garden at present. I guess they don’t appreciate the weather either. However, at lunchtime today, a stonechat appeared on our pomegranate bush. I know not why, but within the space of just three minutes, this bird was followed by a robin, black redstart, blackcap, chiffchaff, great tit, chaffinch, three goldfinches, and two Sardinian warblers. None of them showed up again today!

18th. Some pleasant sunny weather today for a change, and a pre-arranged walk with an expat friend saw us walking along the western ridge of the Prassanos Gorge for a couple of hours. The usual griffon sightings made this an enjoyable stroll. After the walk we drove to a taverna for lunch. During this drive Margaret rang to say that our daughter Alison had just seen a spoonbill on the river in Georgioupoli. This is a bird I haven’t seen on Crete and here I was nearly 50 kms away! Fortunately Alison had her camera with her and was able to get some photos. One of those follows.

(spoonbill)

 

19th. We just had to see if the spoonbill was still around. Alison said it flew away in the direction of the Viewpoint, and it was there that we found it today – on a bank at great distance. At least I could record my own photo – but I envy Alison’s! The “lean” month started to improve as three lapwings overflew the area heading eastwards. Then, back at the Viewpoint, hoping for better sighting of the spoonbill, I had a large eagle appear from the snow-clad hills to the south. This was a very big bird, dwarfing the buzzards. My photos are all in silhouette, owing to the direction I had to point the camera, but I think these confirm a Greater Spotted Eagle. We had seen one recently at closer quarters (without camera), so this was a very pleasing opportunity. Later in the day, I found a water pipit had returned to the flooded areas at Kalivaki beach – all in all a good day!

 

 

(Above 3 photos of Greater Spotted Eagle)

 

(water pipit)

 

20th A third look at the Viewpoint yesterday seemed to suggest the spoonbill had moved on, but with a power cut at home this morning, we decided to look again and make the most of the sunny weather, as the house was cold. No spoonbill, but a very distant sighting of another new Crete bird for us – a ruddy shelduck. These birds are often escapes from parks or collections, but I doubt whether they are held “captive” on Crete, so we think this is a wild bird. Very pretty it is too.

 

(ruddy shelduck)

 
What a coincidence then, when we drove to Chania for some afternoon shopping, that we called in at Moronis Reserve, and found three common shelduck! Now we have had three new birds in two days, and no longer a lean month. A good selection of birds to be had at Moronis, including cormorant, great egret, little egret, greenshank, redshank, common sandpiper, little-ringed plover, black-headed gulls, Sandwich tern and kingfisher. But the icing on the cake were the shelducks, which are rare here.
 

(shelduck)

 

(shelduck)

 

(black-headed gulls)

 

21st. I returned to the Viewpoint this morning and was able to get further images of the ruddy shelduck, which flew off as I was photographing it, and a better image of the spoonbill, which hadn’t moved on after all.

 

(ruddy shelduck in flight)

 

(spoonbill)

 

22nd. Our grandson, Alex, missed out on the recent new sightings being at school etc, and wanted to have a trip out today to see if he could add to “his” list. I took him to Agia, where we were able to add lapwing for him. There was a flock of eleven flying around the lake, which is the largest flock I have seen on Crete. Also seen were pochard, mallard, wigeon, gadwall, pintail, ferruginous duck and tufted duck.

 

(lapwings over Agia)

 

(lapwings over Agia)

 

Next stop was Moronis Reserve, which was not as productive as my recent visit with Margaret. Alex added black-headed gull to his list. Finally, we stopped off at the Viewpoint at Georgioupoli and he was able to see the spoonbill. (We learned later from Nikos, that the ruddy shelduck had been at the Viewpoint early this morning – so it returned – but flew away shortly after his arrival). Nikos was also able to tell us that this is only the second record of this bird on Crete, and had been spotted earlier at two locations near Heraklion, before my sighting in Georgioupoli.

23rd. Keeping an eye on the recent new sightings – spoonbill still present on day 6 and ruddy shelduck back again for day 4, though absent again in the afternoon. At Kalivaki beach an unexpected sighting of a single shag. This my first sighting of this species on my local patch. It was initially standing on the rocky outcrop behind St Nicholas chapel at the end of the breakwater. Later, I returned with Alex, and it was swimming across the bay.

 

(shag)

 

24th. Alex missed the ruddy shelduck yesterday, so we tried again today and found it in the same spot as before. While we were there it took off and flew towards Georgioupoli appearing to follow the river, where we guess it will remain until tomorrow. Also at the Viewpoint a sparrowhawk interacted with a hooded crow. We were then given permission to enter some neighbouring land, where Alex could get a better view of the spoonbill. It was late afternoon, and I managed another photo of this rare visitor. 

 

(ruddy shelduck in flight)

 

(sparrowawk above top, and hooded crow)

 

(spoonbill)

 

29th. The last two days are forecast to be a total washout here, and cold too. So today I had a look at the Viewpoint to keep up the recording of the two rarities. The ruddy shelduck continues to occupy a distant stretch of water, which can be viewed with binoculars, but not much good for photography. For a change, the spoonbill was seen directly opposite where we stand and another photo was possible. This was the first time we have seen the spoonbill “in action”, feeding as it walked through shallow water, using its huge spatula-like bill to catch its food.

 

(spoonbill)

 

31st. A dreadful day yesterday, continued into today – 36 hours of continuous rain and daytime temperatures between 4c and 7c. As the clouds broke a little this afternoon, Margaret and I took the short drive to Petres Bridge, as there was a sea swell again. At the rivermouth we were “entertained” by many gulls. Apart from the usual yellow-legged gulls, we again sighted Mediterranean gulls, and a single lesser black-backed gull. However, this time we also saw black-headed gulls and a little gull, the latter only our second or third sighting on Crete. So to complete this month, photos of these last two sightings.

 

(little gull)

 

(black-headed gull)

 
ANIMALS

22nd. While birdwatching at Agia, this stripe-necked terrapin took my eye. Some stretches of water are unusually clear at present, so we don’t often get a view like this.

 

 

WILD FLOWERS

Nothing special to report this month.

 

LANDSCAPES

5th. Our arrival at the Samaria Gorge entrance coincided with many local people being there too, plus a tv filming crew. Just took the photo below to record the rugged slopes beside Mt Gigilos.

 

 

12th.

A third day of cold, wet and windy conditions at Petres beach.

 

 

13th. What a difference a day makes! Today is crisp and sunny, and we can admire the snowy views of the White Mountains. A morning drive towards Psychro Pigadi (this high altitude taverna has been permanently closed for many months now) and the road gradually became dangerous to drive on. So a walk further up the road gave us a good chance for some bracing air, and snap a few of those views.

 

 

 

 

22nd- The view across Agia towards the White Mountains changes with the seasons. In good January weather we get this one.

 

23rd. I’m always mentioning Kalivaki beach and the flooded meadows. This photo is how the flood water affects the rear view of Kalivaki Studios, that sit immediately behind the beach.

 

 

Back to Out and About index