Out and About May 2011

All photographs by and © A@M and Alison 

Hi Everyone,


Yesterday, after a long day trip in a hired jeep, we ended up at Kalivaki and spotted a sandpiper. It was distant, but I thought it was a curlew sandpiper, and went back the following morning to look again. So, today, 1st May, I managed a photo which confirms this was a curlew sandpiper – only our second ever sighting. Picture below.

An early evening drive to Kallikratis in search of bee eaters, which we have seen several times in that area. Today though, countless spotted flycatchers, a couple of pied flycatchers, a single jay, cirl buntings and woodlark.

We are busy at home trying to get the plot tidied up. While doing this, and no camera to hand, we have seen c15 bee eaters, two honey buzzards, blue rock thrush and a dramatic airborne battle between a raven and a hooded crow. At the Viewpoint there are currently ten glossy ibis in temporary residence, but Kalivaki is now devoid of birds except for a couple of little egrets – the tourists are taking over, and the flood water has gone.

More gardening, and this time a flock of c30 bee eaters flew past the house at low level. At this level I hoped they would settle on telegraph wires nearby – but no.

A cool and rainy day that brightened a little in the afternoon gave us the excuse for a visit to Moronis and Agia late in the day. It proved fruitful with two new Cretan bird sightings for us. At Moronis, a single ringed plover was on the riverbank, accompanied by single curlew sandpiper and little stint – pictures below.

 A great sighting of male little bittern fishing off the reeds gave more photographic opportunities.

 Later at Agia two terns were in action over the water some distance away. One was a whiskered tern, but the other we found to be a black tern – a first for us. The photos aren’t great, but two pictures below for the record, including one of both terns close to each other.

 Other birds seen at Agia and Moronis included immature male marsh harrier, greenshank, redshank, little egret, squacco heron, little crake, sedge warbler, blackcap and willow warbler.

7th today and the weather is still unsettled. We took an afternoon drive to Kali Sikia and Ano Mallaki and found birds hard to come by. A cold north wind, and in upland areas at about 400 metres, the temperature reading was 13c – probably one of the coldest daytime temperatures in May that we’ve experienced, and the wind made it feel much colder. Eventually we spotted two golden orioles, which “disappeared” quickly. South of Ano Mallaki, we watched a male marsh harrier hunting over pastureland, and near Ano Valsamonero, a glimpse of golden eagle. No worthwhile pics today.

Margaret and I took a circular walk behind Georgioupoli via the stables (for those that know). It meant that we passed by the Viewpoint on our return, and to our surprise we found a black tern there – on the far side, where we have seen white-winged tern in previous years. Three other birdwatchers were there, and we all agreed on the id. We also noted that five of the glossy ibis were still there, but could only be seen from higher ground during our walk.

I had been promising myself an early morning visit to Agia – for sunrise! I managed this a few times last year, but this year the weather has been too cold and damp for early morning birding – for me anyway. Today, 10th, I arrived at 9.15 on another cool and cloudy morning. I was hoping for closer views of the black tern, but today only a distant whiskered tern was in evidence, and it made me wonder whether the one seen at the Viewpoint yesterday could have been the same bird? Plenty of hirundines above, but the only other birds were grey heron, little egret, squacco heron, little bittern, little stint, little crake, cetti’s warbler and blackcap. By 11.00 there was evidence of raptors – common buzzard, female marsh harrier, and one light phase Eleanora’s falcon. I was watching the swifts closely, as yet again I thought many were pale enough to be pallid. I began taking photos and then realised how amusing it must have been for the recently arrived tourists, watching me spinning round trying to follow these fast fliers with my camera! I had the last laugh though, as just one bird was caught in focus, and as luck would have it, it appeared to be a pallid swift – so I went home happy.

(I have since put this photo on Birdforum, and received two replies stating “probable” pallid swift).

Another sighting of the black tern at the Viewpoint, and one more photo.

 This visit also revealed a pair of garganey, three Temminck’s stints, three wood sandpipers, a single glossy ibis, two little egrets, two distant little bittern, female marsh harrier, common buzzard, and the white pelican was seen flying over Georgioupoli. There were reports of a black stork over Georgioupoli today, but in all probability it was the pelican?

A day out with our daughter, Alison, and she captured a woodchat shrike on camera, which is worthy of inclusion here. (My old camera still working well!)

The black tern spent about 8-10 days at the Viewpoint, before moving on.

We are into the third week of May now and the migration has slowed right down. Much of our time is being spent around the house, painting, weeding and the like. As we had coffee outside, three red-rumped swallows landed on our telephone line, sitting very close together. As two flew off, I just managed a photo of the remaining bird which is in a somewhat confused position!

With what will probably be our last look at Omalos until September, we made the customary stop at Agia first and watched two ruff and three little stints feeding off the ever increasing layer of weed – photo of the ruff below.

 It was a Saturday and too many people around the taverna and lake, so we made off for Omalos. This was possibly the least productive day we have spent there, and my only photo is of woodlark, taken through the car window. We did see some griffons, woodchat, cirl bunting and jay, but little else, including nothing but y-l gulls at the pools.

 We called in at Agia again on our return hoping to find the female sparrow that was “fishing” off the lake. We had read about this a few days ago, and today we were able to watch the male sparrow catching dragonflies and the female hovering over the water, but not netting a catch while we were there. The coots provided a couple of nice poses.

23rd May, and a small flock of late migrating bee-eaters overflew the house.

After a thundery and showery morning, I had a look at the Viewpoint, only to find the water as high as I have known it! The same birds were present, but three glossy ibis were now perched on dead branches of trees overhanging the water – this might just be the excuse to move on? I stopped off at Kalivaki on the way home, just as it started to rain again. A squacco heron on the river’s edge took my eye. The water beside it was deep, but it watched patiently, for what seemed an eternity, and still didn’t catch anything. Meanwhile, at least four yellow-legged gulls flew by, over the river, each with a small fish in its beak. A couple of photos below.

A trip to Prassanos and Antonis Gorges towards the end of the month gave us high views of a pair of Bonelli’s eagles at the former, together with the usual impressive sightings of griffons, above and below us. Red-rumped swallows were building their unusual nest in a half-built house there too. At St Antonis Gorge I found a jackdaw nest (alerted by the noisy chicks inside). It was in the rockface with a few sticks showing at the entrance. I was there long enough to see a parent bird arrive, as below.

The last day of May today and we still have three glossy ibis at the Viewpoint, a male blackcap that sings at length from a tall dead conifer opposite our house, bee-eaters again heard briefly, high up, and a possible honey buzzard seen off by our local common buzzard.

Last photo of the month (just found it!), shows a male pied flycatcher in grey/brown plumage – a variation on the more usual black and white.

This was sighted during our Kallikratis trip looking for bee-eaters.

Birds sighted this month, apart from the 25 common residents listed in January, are;

White pelican, little bittern, squacco heron, little egret, grey heron, glossy ibis, greylag goose, wigeon, garganey, griffon vulture, golden eagle, marsh harrier, sparrowhawk, Eleonora’s falcon, little crake, little-ringed plover, curlew sandpiper, Temminck’s stint, little stint, wood sandpiper, redshank, greenshank, ruff, whiskered tern, rock dove, wood pigeon, turtle dove, swift, alpine swift, bee-eater, woodlark, sand martin, barn swallow, red-rumped swallow, house martin, meadow pipit, white wagtail, wren, northern wheatear, black-eared wheatear, whinchat, blue rock thrush, blackcap, sedge warbler, willow warbler, spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher, woodchat shrike, jay, jackdaw, golden oriole, cirl bunting, corn bunting, ringed plover, black tern, and pallid swift.


A colourful flock on a hillside near Asi Gonia. We often see sheep with single colour marking, but not two colours.

A goat kid became detached from the flock for a while at Kalivaki Beach headland. It’s difficult to resist photographs of these!



A local walk behind Georgioupoli, via the stables, and Margaret spotted two flowers that we don’t recall seeing before. They have been identified as fringed rue and viola cretica (believe this is incorrect see below Roy).

fringed rue, ruta chalepensis

Solenopsis minuta annua ? Roy

Our trip to Omalos late in the month revealed another two plants we haven’t seen before the second is golden drop (onosma erecta) – very pretty.

Legusia sp. ? Roy

golden drop (onosma erecta)


A view eastwards from our lunch stop on the south coast near Rodakino.

The atmospheric St. Antonis Gorge is still looking verdant at the end of May – testament to the higher than average rainfall so far this year.


I’ve been banging on about what a cold and wet year we have had so far, compared with all the previous years we have experienced here. Today is the 19th, and we would not expect a daytime temperature of 10c! Admittedly it was almost 15c at home today, which is still cold for mid May, but I had to record this temperature, which remained constant for about half an hour during our drive to Kallikratis this afternoon.


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