A&M Report 27 - March 2010
Under construction all photos © A&M
Hi Everyone,

1st - 4th.  A few days at home as we start the long job of tidying up the plot and weeding in particular.  While around the house we have watched booted eagle, song thrush, blackcap and chiffchaff along with the usual birds we have year round in the garden.  We have seen our first green lizard this year, but the Erhardt's wall lizard has been visible throughout this year's mild winter.  A close-up of this lively little lizard below.

Podarcis erhardii - Erhard's Wall Lizard - Photo by and © A&M  

5th.  With such a mild and dry winter, we decided to investigate the high meadows above Spili earlier this year.  It was a good decision as you will see from the following photos, all taken in the same area, except the first, which was taken behind Kalivaki beach.  I have tried to put names to most of the plants - some with their latin name, others their common name, and some untitled.

During this trip, we saw very few birds, but managed a couple of photos of corn bunting and chukar.

Τσιφτάς - Miliaria calandra - Corn Bunting

Νησιώτικη πέρδικα - Alectoris chukar - Chuker

Back home with a cup of tea, Margaret spotted a small bird in our pomegranate bush.  A quick look before it took off, and I'm certain this was our first ever sighting of a lesser whitethroat.  We'll have to look out for a possible migration through here?

10th.  Unbelievably, we have had no rain now for four weeks!  Our garden is bone dry and difficult to weed - and there's plenty of that needed.  So, an afternoon run to the south coast gave us another opportunity to see what flowers were about.  Enroute we stopped for sandwiches in the Kourtaliotis gorge.  Ever hopeful of seeing Bonelli's eagle, we were rewarded with a good sighting just as we were preparing to leave.  It was flying between the gorges and my distant shot is shown below - just for the record.

Σπιζαετός - Hieraaetus fasciatus - Bonelliís Eagle

Today was the first time we have seen red-billed choughs in the gorge, rather than above - the usual views of griffons, kestrels, jackdaws and crag martins completed the scene.
Our "destination" was the rocky hillside we found last year along the road to Shinaria beach.  Much of this area is fenced off, now a recurring theme as we drive around the island, but we parked up and were able to scramble onto the desired area.  A worthwhile scramble it was too.  The following orchids were seen; giant, milky, pyramidal, pink butterfly, early spider, yellow bee, bumblebee, fan-lipped, monkey, woodcock sub-species heldreichii, and a tongued orchid in bud.  A final orchid which we haven't identified gave us a total of twelve in all - found within an area of about half an acre. Amongst the plants I found an Egyptian grasshopper (note the striped eyes).  This, and four of the orchids are below.

Shortly after leaving to drive home, we stopped for a final coffee, and saw six song thrushes and three male blackcaps.  These birds will be heading north soon, but this winter we have seen more of these two species than ever before - but so difficult to photograph!

11th.  With some business to do in Chania, I made the excursion to Agia and Moronis river.  I was on my own, so was prepared to sit and watch for a while to see what might turn up - nothing of course!  I was entertained by several sedge warblers and yellow wagtails.  The latter was the feldegg variety, so picture below.

Κιτρινοσουσουράδα - Motacilla flava - Yellow Wagtail

Later at Moronis rivermouth a more productive time with little egret, great white egret, grey heron, redshank, common sandpiper, little stint, little-ringed plover, great crested grebe, sandwich tern, black-headed gull, and my first northern wheatear for this year.  Photos of redshank and little stint below. (031027-28).

Κοκκινοσκέλης - Tringa totanus  - Redshank

Νανοσκαλίδρα - Calidris minutus - Little Stint

A speckled wood butterfly landed just in front of me as I walked around, so presumably wanting its photo taken too!

13th.  A day at home was changed when Colin Turvey rang to tell me there was a pied kingfisher at Platanias.  I took the opportunity to go and was rewarded with a few long distant sightings.  Then, the bird appeared from nowhere and flew over where I was standing.  A very quick photo opportunity gave me a not too fuzzy picture - so included below for the record. (031030).

Κήρυλος - Ceryle rudis - Pied Kingfisher

15th.  Our first rain for five weeks yesterday, and today is dull and cloudy - finally some "English" weather!  We are still seeing blackcaps flitting in some thickets at the back of the garden, and a long distance view towards the bay gave me a sight of the pelican flying around again.

16th.  Margaret was keen to see if the beautiful pied kingfisher at Platanias was around, and so on a fresh, but sunny day we took a picnic to have later at Agia.  We stayed around kingfisher territory for about 45 minutes, and just as we were about to leave, I spotted it - probably 200 metres away.  Margaret found it in her binoculars, and we left duly satisfied.  While waiting, we saw little bittern, wood sandpiper and two hoopoes - our firsts of this year for these birds.
We somehow thought Agia wouldn't prove fruitful, and we were right.  But a lovely spot for a picnic and we were at least surrounded by swallows, swifts, alpine swifts, house martins and sand martins.
We couldn't resist another look at Platanias in the afternoon, but this time no luck.  While there we met Christos Vlachos from Athens.  A professional bird photographer, he had come over from Athens especially to find the pied kingfisher.  He had arrived early morning and was fortunate to get some lovely pictures, although at great distance.
Lastly, a stop at Moronis rivermouth.  This time it was Margaret that spotted a different gull - two lesser black-backed gulls over the harbourside area.  These were firsts for us here in Crete, probably because we haven't looked too closely at gulls in the past!  Two pictures below.

Μελανόγλαρος - Larus fuscus - Lesser Black-backed Gull

Μελανόγλαρος - Larus fuscus - Lesser Black-backed Gull

 19th.   The weather has remained fresh this week, and after a couple of days around the house, we decided to look at Drapanos Head to see if the ruppell's warbler has arrived earlier this year.  Well, it was Margaret that spotted one - a female, briefly showing itself around some thickets.  For my part, looking elsewhere, subalpine warblers were doing the same, but no photos possible of either of these birds.  As we had often encountered hoopoes further down the road, we went on.  This time it was me that spotted something rather different - a male rock thrush on a telegraph wire - about 150 metres away.  We stayed in the area hoping to get closer views and were rewarded with some when the bird perched on a small tree, as well as on the ground.  It was never very close, but some photos below. (031034-6).

Πετροκότσυφας - Monticola saxatilis - Rock Thrush

Πετροκότσυφας - Monticola saxatilis - Rock Thrush

Πετροκότσυφας - Monticola saxatilis - Rock Thrush

We were then surprised to see another.  At distance, we first thought this was a nightingale, but it was too "chunky" and the beak too long.  It disappeared quickly, and only at home with the photos downloaded onto the laptop, could we identify it as a female or juvenile rock thrush.  Photo quality not good enough for here though.  A very pleasing trip, and we'll be back there again soon!

23rd.  Having seen the pelican flying around the river at Georgioupolis on three occasions now, I thought I would try and time a visit to photograph it flying.  I was there for 40 minutes, when it flapped and took off.  It made a couple of circular "tours" of the immediate area, and then landed again after about three minutes.  While waiting for this opportunity, I had watched the pelican paddle upstream closely following the mute swan, which has now been here since November.  They appear to enjoy each other's company, and make an odd couple.  The swan takes the lead wherever they go!  Some photos below.

Back home, with lunch taken on our covered terrace, we had a visit by a subalpine warbler.  Just one photo possible, as below.

25th.  A late afternoon drive to the Argyroupolis area after a damp and drizzly day.  Enroute, a newly ploughed field at Kavros revealed northern wheatear, greenfinch, goldfinch, crested lark, meadow pipit and, we think, a single red-throated pipit.  The field was deeply furrowed, and try as we might, we never saw the red-throated again to confirm it.  We may look again tomorrow.  Nearer to Argyroupolis, we started seeing buzzards and griffons, and then a single marsh harrier was seen hunting nearby.  Continuing on, we turned up a track towards Patima, and had hoopoe, three collared flycatchers and a male blackcap.  This area looked good enough to return to again.

26th.  And today we did!  Initially a stop at Kavros, where we were delighted to find a whole flock of red-throated pipits - about 20 in all.   These were a first for us on Crete.  They were picking their way along the furrows of a newly ploughed field, looking for insects and grubs, like in the first picture below. (031042-3).

The area where we saw collared flycatchers was not productive this time, though the marsh harrier was still around.  We spotted a small pond further down the hillside where we were standing - it was man-made, and lay just above a lane that we drive along quite often, though it can't be seen from the lane itself.  Through binoculars we could see a flycatcher around the pond, and decided to investigate further.  The pond was found to be fenced off, but fortunately part of the fence was broken - just enough to climb up to the level of the pond.  First bird seen was a single wood sandpiper, then a cetti's warbler was drinking by the edge of the pond.  Next was a female flycatcher - could have been pied, collared etc.  Then a male appeared, and some photos were just possible at distance across the pond.  We were really pleased when we downloaded these pictures onto the laptop, as the male flycatcher appeared to be semi-collared - a really good find if confirmed, and another first for us.  Thanks to Colin Turvey for subsequent confirmation!  So a couple of pictures below (031044-5).

We had some cuppa-soups with us, and so stayed out for the rest of the day.  Near Kallikratis we had good, but distant, views of a single adult golden eagle.  Soup was taken at Asfendou, where the temperature had dropped to 12c (had been 18c).  As we sat in the car, we watched two subalpine warblers a few metres away, and another female flycatcher.  Our route took us on to Imbros and then to the Askifou Plain, where we drove very slowly around the meadows in hope of something interesting.  We can only record corn bunting, meadow pipit, linnet, chaffinch and goldfinch - and a little-ringed plover which I disturbed by a ditch.  Finally, a look at the Georgioupolis Viewpoint, which continues to have a very high water level, as the pumping station is not operating properly.  There have been no birds of note here all winter.

28th.  A day out with John and Patti Bayley, in search of orchids and hopefully some birds.  We stopped briefly at Kavros to check on the red-throated pipits - they were still there, but fewer in number.  Next stop was the Late Minoan Cemetery at Armeni.  More orchids present this time than when we visited a few weeks ago, and on the birding front, a wren was seen in the oak trees.  Three photos below - common asphodel, sawfly orchid (ophrys tenthredinifera) and an unidentified ugly bug! (031046-48).

Continuing on, we aimed for the Spili high meadows, where again we found a good variety of wild flowers.  Several variations on the Anatolian and lax-flowered orchids were making identification very difficult.  The monkey orchid (orchis simia) was easier to name and two photos below - one of a group and another of the "monkey" detail. (031049-50).

Some of the surrounding fields were interspersed with tulips (tulipa orphanidea), as below, including a close up. (031051-2).

Memorable here was a sighting of more than 50 griffons in one viewing - 35 swirling to the east, and about 15-20 to the south.
Lunch was taken at Plakias, and enroute we saw a small group of woodlarks, one of which I just managed to photograph.

We visited the hillside near Shinaria beach in the hope of more orchids, but this time it was disappointing.  There are some lovely views along the south coast from this area, and with the giant fennel in bloom, I've attached a photo below. (031054).

29th.  Finally this month (we're painting the house for the last two days!), I had an early evening re-visit to see if the semi-collared flycatcher was still there.  The best views were of collared flycatcher, so a picture below.  Across the pond, two flycatcher males were squabbling.  I have a distant picture below showing both birds - you'll have to look closely - one is semi-collared and the other collared.  The white "smudge" on the median wing covert and the smaller white crown patch help to identify the bird to the left as the semi-collared. (031055-6).

On the drive home I nearly ran over a hoopoe.  We are seeing these daily at the moment, but not yet from the house.  Maybe next month?

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