March 2009
Hi All,

1st.  Most of our annual snowfall seemed to come during the second half of February this year - later than usual. However, it was today before we had good clear views of how much snow was on the mountains.  As a treat for grandson, we drove up and then continued on foot towards Tableland (a high area above the western side of the Askifou Plain).  The views were magnificent, so two photos below:

Photo by and A&M

Photo by and A&M

2nd.  A "slow" start to this month as regards bird sightings, but walked to Kalivaki beach (Clean Monday here), and found our white pelican a bit of a celebrity with so many Greeks around for the Bank Holiday.  A nice close-up attached see below.
Also a picture of some of the activity a few yards away from the pelican - with Mt Psiloritis at its best!

White Pelican - Photo by and A&M

Petres Gorge far left and Mt Psiloritis above - Photo by and A&M

3rd.  With the beautifully clear weather continuing, we took ourselves off to Aradena and were able to sit outside for our picnic on the slopes overlooking Livaniana.  The usual griffons were gliding around, graceful as ever, but nothing else to report.  Back at Anopoli and Aradena, there were fields of anenomes, but not as profuse this year. One photo of the startling red variety - very poppy-like at distance see below:

Photo by and A&M

8th. A drive to Aghia and Omalos on what turned out to be a grey and rather wet day.  Aghia gave us our first sightings this year of swifts, accompanied by housemartins.  More interesting was another sight of the moustached warbler (by me), while Margaret was almost confronted by the bluethroat, which arrived a few yards from her on the perimeter path fence.  So both these birds have been here all winter after all!

Omalos was devoid of any birds except two jays and a small flock of red-billed choughs.  On our way back towards Laki we spotted some activity ahead on the roadside.  We pulled up, switched off the engine and waited in the car.  We were rewarded with woodlark and cirl bunting - a photo below.  Further down, just after Laki, we found a new tarmac road which went down steeply to Meskla.  A great view of Meskla below us got the camera out.  By doing so we disturbed a flock of c.50 woodpigeons, we don't see many here.

Cirl Bunting - Photo by and A&M

The Wood Pigeons - Photo by and A&M

9th.  A quick look at Georgioupolis Viewpoint this morning revealed a single black-winged stilt.  One arrived in March last year, but 2 weeks later.

10th.  Another look today, with the stilt now joined by swifts, housemartins, swallows and 2 or 3 red-rumped swallows.  Then, a walk around Kalivaki beach to look for orchids.  Three years ago we were shown a particular spot, to which we have returned each March.  This time, however, we found three species (two previously).  Unfortunately my camera batteries gave up, so I only managed photos of two.  See photos below:

Ophrys phryganae/Ophrys sicula  -  Photo by and A&M
(Still working on i/d Roy)

Early Spider Orchid  - Ophrys Cretica spp. beloniae - Photo by and A&M
(Still working on i/d Roy)

13th.  A local walk around Georgioupolis gave me my first sighting this year of northern wheatear - a single male.  By a watery meadow, two grey herons and a little egret all took flight, making for the river near Georgioupolis viewpoint.  A humble female house sparrow posed for a photo, and I thought it deserved to be included in the three pictures from this walk.

wheatear - Photo by and A&M

Grey Heron - Photo by and A&M

Female House Sparrow - Photo by and A&M

14th.  A trip to the south coast - Preveli and Plakias areas.  Bird sightings were numerous of the species we would expect - over 30 in total - but the return drive up the Kourtaliotis Gorge gave us lovely views of a male adult bonelli's eagle, our most memorable sighting of the day - a bit distant, but photo below.  Our hopes of some orchid hunting looked doomed until we lunched on the approach road to Schinaria Beach.  Margaret thought she had seen a small group of pink butterfly orchid before we parked.  After lunch we explored the hillside above the road.  We found what we think are yellow bee orchid and early spider orchid, both already found locally at Kalivaki beach.  Then a bumblebee orchid and the pink butterfly orchid in a very pale form - just one amongst dozens of the usual pink form.  Photos of these orchids below:

Bumblebee Orchid/Ophrys - Ophrys bombyliflora - Photo by and A&M

Orchis papilionacea ssp. heroica Heroic Butterfly Orchid - Photo by and A&M

Orchis papilionacea ssp. heroica Heroic Butterfly Orchid - Photo by and A&M

Bonelli's Eagle - Photo by and A&M

18th. A walk down to Kalivaki beach revealed 4 little-ringed plovers, a common sandpiper, a kingfisher and a little egret.  By the little river on the far side of the beach, I was distracted from the plover activity by some movement in the river, which was very shallow at this point.  I swung the camera around just in time to catch a Mediterranean monk seal taking air, before it continued inland along the river. I stayed in the area for over an hour expecting it to return, as the river is no more than 300 metres long before disappearing under ground.  The seal did not return, although I phoned some friends later - a German woman whose Greek husband fishes locally - and he confirmed having seen the seal twice that day.  His theory was that it followed a large fishing vessel into the bay which started discharging unwanted catch.  Back at home, I checked the internet for more info on the monk seal, only to read it is one of the world's rarest mammals, although the eastern Med is one of two of its last known habitats.  I felt privileged to see this creature, and hope it survives for many a year, photo below.

The Monk Seal Monachus monachus - Photo by and A&M

20th.  From the house today, first booted eagle for quite a while (pale morph).  However, at the same time, two buzzards appeared, and a closer look at them confirmed our first properly identified long-legged buzzards.  Thanks to Colin Turvey's fantastic photo of one of these birds on this website, we were able to confirm with our photo alongside.

21st.  A day out with John and Patti Bayley resulted in some successful orchid hunting, concentrating on the Spili high meadows (and mound), and then later near Schinaria beach on the south coast, east of Plakias.  A new species for us was sombre orchid, sub species iricolor (pic attached).   Three species of iris also seen, with large numbers of snake's head iris - a close-up attached.  Our visit to the "mound" was well timed, as the tulips were out in good numbers, though the inclement weather meant they were mostly closed up.

Ophrys iricolor - Sombre Orchid/Rainbow Orchid (underside of lip is rainbow red)
Photo by and A&M

Snakes Head Iris - Photo by and A&M 

The weather was not favourable - rainy and windy with some spectacular low cloud formations.  It started to darken about an hour early, just as we began our return.  Heading towards Plakias, John spotted some birds high up and we stopped to investigate.   The somewhat stormy weather probably contributed to what we saw - c30 marsh harriers (possibly one or two black kites with them) displaying around us, occasionally quite low, but mostly at higher altitudes.  These birds were presumably on migration and looking for a roosting place.   We were entertained for about half an hour, before the rain got the better of us - a fantastic end to the day. Se photos below.

Some of the Marsh Harriers - Photo by and A&M

Male Marsh Harrier - Photo by and A&M

Marsh Harrier - Photo by and A&M

24th.  A day weeding the garden.  Taking a breather, I looked up to see three alpine swifts.  I find it difficult to photograph these fast fliers and fetched my camera.  While focussing, a very large bird was picked up in the distance, skirting the hills inland from our house. I snapped it quickly, and it confirmed my first thoughts - a golden eagle (or could it have been an imperial eagle!!). It was huge, even at distance, and the faintly white patches on the wing suggested a youngster.  A wonderful sight, but couldn't compare with our astonishing sightings at the Ha Gorge last November (see November report).  Meanwhile, Margaret had been helping our daughter, Alison with her garden, just up the road from us.  Walking back with our Grandson, Alex, they had a good sighting of their first hoopoe this year - Margaret's favourite!

25th. A morning drive south of Rethymno towards one of our favourite areas, near Ano Mallaki.  Still plenty of anenomes and iris at the roadside and in adjoining olive groves and pastureland photo below:

Olive Grove - Photo by and A&M

But today we were hoping for some birdlife.  Although nothing really outstanding, this is what we came across: the usual sightings of goldfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch, serin, stonechat, meadow pipit, corn bunting, blue tit, great tit, sardinian warbler, crag martin, blackbird, blue rockthrush, hooded crow and house sparrow.  Then the larger birds - kestrels, common buzzards, ravens, two jackdaws, three griffon vultures and a couple of cattle egret seen earlier from the National Highway near Dramia.  More memorable were a pair of robins (probably the last we shall see before next autumn), a male blackcap, quite a rarity for us, a single jay, usually seen at higher altitude than where we were today, a wren skulking in a thicket and a couple of cirl buntings.  Back at Georgioupolis, the viewpoint revealed the usual coots, moorhen, little grebes, swallows and housemartins, six little-ringed plovers, one cormorant and a cetti's warbler.  At Kalivaki beach, one little egret, one common sandpiper, one green sandpiper, I think a juvenile, (see photo below), grey wagtail, white wagtail, Italian sparrows, collared doves, yellow-legged gulls, and of course the white pelican.  All in all a pleasant three hours in variable weather, and a total count of over 40 species.

Green Sandpiper - Photo by and A&M

26th.  Having just dropped off my grandson at school, I did my usual detour returning home via the beaches.  So have attached two photos - one from Georgioupolis town beach of housemartins collecting mud for their summer nests, and the second from Kalivaki beach, where a single little-ringed plover was busy scurrying around the sand.

House Martins - Photo by and A&M

Little Ringed Plover - Photo by and A&M

28th.  A day spent gardening in the company of a female black redstart, which appeared unexpectedly - likely to be the last we see for this winter?  A late afternoon visit to Georgioupolis for provisions, gave me a chance to check out Kalivaki beach area, where there are now 5 common sandpipers around the rivermouth.  The green sandpiper appears to have moved on from here, as has the black-winged stilt from the viewpoint, but we still have cormorants at both locations.

30th.  With the weather improving we headed for Gerapotamus Rivermouth and took a picnic lunch.  The last time we were here the waves were very dramatic, but today it was calm and inviting - see photo below, showing the White Mountains in the distance. A good view of blue rock thrush, see photo below:

White Mountains in the distance - Photo by and A&M

Blue Rock Thrush - Photo by and A&M

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