Out and About - March 2012

 

Hi Everyone,

BIRDS

4th. A cold and wet start to this month and no bird watching to speak of so far. Today, though, we had a drive out following a more promising weather forecast. We aimed for the semi-mountainous area in the south west stopping first at the Topolia Gorge. Taking coffee, our sightings were just common buzzard and red-billed chough. We had already seen a few buzzards enroute, and by the end of the day this figure was over twenty. We continued on and as the road climbed we had the sighting of the day – an adult lammergeier. Despite its size we only saw it at the last moment as it glided overhead, and just one photo was possible.

 

 
We saw nothing else of note all day, except an interesting cameo by a pair of blue rock thrushes. The male was courting the female, standing in an upright position, beak pointing upwards. The female did not seem impressed!
 

(blue rock thrush pair)

 
7th. With business in Chania we continued on to Agia for a spot of lunch. Nothing new at the reservoir (though Nikos saw a little crake a few days earlier). My only photo was of an immature shoveller with plumage between juvenile and mature – haven’t seen one like this before.

(shoveller)

 

12th. After a summery weekend we decided to take a picnic to our favourite area near Ano Mallaki – hen harrier country. By lunch time our picnic had returned home with us after the weather turned misty and the rain became persistent. But it was a productive trip. Yes, we saw a male hen harrier, then some lovely male cirl buntings, but each of these birds was photographed in the rain, so not worth showing here. We then saw both northern and black-eared wheatears, and then a hoopoe, all our first for this year.

At a small excavated area a small pond had formed, and here we had a surprise. Firstly, a shoveller and teal, both males, were swimming in the muddy water. As we approached they flew off together, only to circle above and return to the same patch of water. This happened three times, each time flying close to each other, as if a pair! At the same spot we came across a new Crete bird for us – skylark. Though common in the UK, these were our first sightings here. There were four of them and having bathed (or was it the rain?) they looked slightly bedraggled. Some images below to record this trip.

 

(hoopoe)

 

(black-eared wheatear)

 

(northern wheatear)

 

(shoveller and teal)

 

(skylark)

 

(skylark)

 
13th. If yesterday’s weather was wet, today was torrential! Despite the rain, which had eased off a little by the afternoon, I went along to Petres to see if the gulls were enjoying the rough seas there. Dozens of yellow-legged, but nothing else. I drove inland up the zig-zag road towards Karoti and sighted a kestrel. As I aborted this drive I noticed more kestrels – five in all. They were all hovering and swooping against the wind. As I looked through my binoculars I looked for evidence of lesser kestrel, especially as I thought these birds looked small for kestrel. Two of the birds showed up blue patches on the upper wing – mature adult lesser kestrel. This then was only my second confirmed sighting of this species. Getting photos, especially in the rain, was more difficult. Back home, I could just make out the pale coloured claws (black/dark on common kestrel) once the photos were on our laptop. But the photos were taken at distance, so just one below after severe cropping.
 

(lesser kestrel)

 
14th. A dry, but cold and windy day, saw me back at Petres hunting lesser kestrels! I found two, but they were more distant than yesterday, so no improvement on the photos. Down at Petres beach there was a better variety of gulls. Best sighting here was a single little gull – an uncommon sighting.
 

(little gull)

 
At home, a male blackcap briefly braved the open spaces in the garden. We have several of this species in the bushes and brambles at the back of the garden, but rarely see the females.
 

(male blackcap)

 
15th. The spring migration is well underway now. I spent an hour around Kalivaki this afternoon, and the sightings included; grey heron, little egret, little-ringed plover, green sandpiper, ruff, hoopoe, northern wheatear, tawny pipit, and yellow wagtail (feldegg). Images of tawny pipit and ruff below.
 

(tawny pipit)

 

(ruff)

 
16th. We had earmarked today to visit Akrotiri in search of early orchids (see wildflower section), but we had some good bird sightings too. Best of these was a small flock of short-toed larks feeding at the edge of a field near Stavros, a distant glossy ibis at Tersanas pool, and a female marsh harrier.
 

(marsh harrier)

 

(short-toed lark)

 
18th. This time last year we watched migrating marsh harriers over fields near Kavros. With a sunny morning, we had a walk in that same area, but saw nothing of note. Before returning home we had a look at a couple of meadows by the coast and found another new Crete bird for us – golden plover. There were three present. The sun was against for photos, so I returned in the afternoon, and managed the following two images.
 

(golden plover)

 

(golden plovers)

 
In the same field we came across a couple of adult tawny pipits, which looked much paler than the same species seen a few days earlier at Kalivaki – see below.
 

(adult tawny pipit)

 

19th. Found the golden plovers still present, and on the way home recorded first swift and wood sandpiper of the year.

20th. After shopping in Vamos on a splendid sunny morning, we took coffee to Drapanos Head. We chanced seeing a few species on a visit earlier than usual to this area, but it paid dividends. Two male Ruppell’s warblers were already holding their respective territory, and a single subalpine warbler was sighted. Photos of these are too distant to publish here. A good variety of the more usual species was noted, but above us we watched a peregrine circle at height, before drifting away. This was captured on camera, as below. Another highlight, later in the day, was only our second sighting of Kentish plover. This single bird was on Georgioupoli’s town beach, along with a common sandpiper.

 

(peregrine)

 

(Kentish plover)

 
23rd. We are starting to work in the garden and painting parts of the house, but today we went to the low road below Argyrioupoli, in hope of finding collared and semi-collared flycatchers seen there this time two years ago. We had no sightings of small birds other than finches and tits – maybe we are a little early? However, the trip was made memorable by sighting of fifteen griffons, and then a single lammergeier which arrowed its way towards the distant griffons. At the same time ravens, common buzzards and a single peregrine all sighted in the same area of sky. The only photo was the lammergeier, but quality is not as good as our sighting earlier this month, so just here for the record and the diagnostic shape.
 

(lammergeier)

 
24th. During a day out with some friends, a brief opportunity to photograph a few birds on the south coast, including our first purple heron of the year, and a greater flamingo.
 

(flock of ruff)

 

(purple heron)

 

(greater flamingo)

 
26th. Another look around Kalivaki turned up an obliging corn bunting behind Kalivaki Studios.
 

(corn bunting)

 
27th. Our March weather still not as warm as the UK! – and nights are cold. Had an unproductive drive to Tavronitis, Kolymbari and Falassarna. First squacco herons seen, along with first sand martins, otherwise nothing particular to report after a longish drive. Have another marsh harrier image below, from Falassarna, showing an “abnormal” amount of white on the upper wing?
 

(female marsh harrier)

 

(female marsh harrier)

 
29th. A nice opportunity to capture an image of night heron near Kavros. This juvenile remained in place as we drove past a flooded field, whereas the grey heron and little egret there flew away.
 

(night heron)

 
Finally, a favourite photo of this month – a male northern wheatear with its cap looking – like a cap!
 

(northern wheatear)

 

ANIMALS

24th. A chance to photograph an ocellated skink – at a taverna! This came to our noticed as two cats chased it, but fortunately didn’t catch it.

 

 

26th. Eventually we will see many swallowtail butterflies here, but probably not with the opportunity to photograph one as closely as the one below. This was resting at length on Kalivaki headland.
 

 

WILD FLOWERS

16th.

A day trip to Akrotiri in search of orchids and other wild flowers gave Margaret and me a lot of photo opportunities. Several of these below giving a good indication of the variety we found.

 

Pink butterfly orchid

 

Early spider orchid

 

Papaver rhoeas

 

Salsify

 

Wild mignonette

 

Bermuda buttercup - double

 

Crown anenome

 

Rock rose

 
17th. While birding at Kalivaki, I noticed that many barbary nut were starting to bloom near the river.
 

Barbary nut

 
30th. We had a “wild flower” day out with John and Patti Bayley. First stop was at the Late Minoan Cemetery near Armeni (Rethymno), where we saw the expected orchid, iris and anenome species. New to us was a small area of freesia. At least they looked and smelt like freesia, but were small (about 15cm tall) We haven’t found these listed in any publication, but would like to know more about them. It was a very windy day and our many photos were not very sharp. One below of the freesia, and two of orchids.
 

Freesia?

 

Sawfly orchid

 

Yellow bee orchid

 
We moved on to the Spili “high meadows and mound” and found the tulips (tulipa Cretica) were only just starting to bloom. Irises were beautiful at this time of year and my personal orchid favourite (Provence orchid) was found in just one or two spots. (045-048)
 
 

Algerian iris

 

Snake's head iris

 

Tulipa cretica

 

(Provence orchid)

 

LANDSCAPES

9th. Leaving Margaret at home today, I went to Omalos with a local English friend to walk the perimeter of the plateau – about 9 kms. Recent precipitation had fallen as snow on the mountains including the plateau. It had mostly cleared by today, but some lay on the fields and roadside making for a very scenic walk, despite the obvious lack of wild flowers. We expect the snow on the highest peaks to remain longer than ever before, owing to the particularly wet winter we have experienced this year.

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

20th. With birdwatching and flower hunting, I haven’t paid much attention to landscapes this month. The final photo (Psiloritis and the range) was taken while I waited for a Ruppell’s warbler to appear at Drapanos. The photo was taken on full zoom – the mountain is over 50 km away and is 2,580 metres high! – Crete’s highest.

 

(Psiloritis)

 
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