Out and About – November 2011

Hi Everyone,


A damp and drizzly start to this month, and not much happening bird-wise in the first few days. I did have a look at Kournas Lake on the 3rd – first time for several months, and was surprised to see the first influx of black-necked grebes have already arrived. As usual they were on the far reaches of the lake, but I was able to scramble through some undergrowth and walk the “perimeter” path on the right-hand side, when viewed from the tavernas. This got me a little closer to the grebes and the following photo was the best of the bunch. So far, about 50 of these birds have arrived.

(black-necked grebes)

There are still plenty of spotted flycatchers to be seen; probably more still here early November than we can recall. The one below was at Kalivaki.

(spotted flycatcher)


Other birds seen there included black redstart, grey wagtail, white wagtail and common sandpiper. The first wintering cormorants have now arrived at the Viewpoint.

5th, and the first sunny day for a while, so we took a picnic to the Ano Mallaki area. We anticipated some good birding, but it never really happened – a sparrowhawk duelling with a hooded crow was the highlight, but it was very distant. A photo of that, and an obliging meadow pipit.


(sparrowhawk and crow)


(meadow pipit)

Now and again small birds can be very obliging for photos, as with the black redstart and stonechat in the next pics. The black redstart flew off as I attempted one of the photos, but actually gave me different view of the bird! These were taken at Kalivaki on 6th, when common snipe and redshank were also seen in the long grass in partially flooded meadows. Good photos of those were not possible today.

(stonechat after bathing)


(black redstart)


(black redstart flies off)

On 8th I went back to Kalivaki and used the car as a hide to watch for water pipits, which I thought I saw on a brief visit there yesterday. I was lucky and saw three of this species walking around the flooded area under trees behind the beach. While I sat in the car, some birds were flushed from an adjoining meadow. Happily they landed in the flood water near me, giving me good photo opportunities of the common snipe and redshank that I mentioned on 6th, plus common sandpiper. For the record I also saw a spotted flycatcher, which is the latest autumn date I have seen this bird. For the record there were five water pipits at the Omalos pools.

(water pipit)


(common sandpiper)


(common snipe)


(redshank with the snipe)

A rather unproductive trip to Omalos and Agia with John and Patti Bayley on 9th. The only photo is of a goldfinch. This picture may need a double take. The bird is perched with its back to me, but the head has turned almost 180 degrees!


With business in Chania today, 11th , we called in at Moronis Reserve after hearing that a shelduck was seen there the day before. This would have been a new Cretan species for us, but unfortunately it wasn’t there, but an attractive pintail was. Looking at the colouring of this bird, I wondered if it was a male in eclipse plumage, rather than a female, but the consensus of opinion now is that it is probably a young male. Gulls are now in evidence at Moronis, so a photo below of a Mediterranean gull approaching two black-headed gulls – all immatures. Great egret and grey heron flew close by, with a photo of the latter, as it prepared to land in the river.

(pintail swimming)




(the gulls)


(grey heron)


We have had a run of very poor weather from 12th to 16th so far – the forecast is still poor for the next few days, staying cold and dull, but somewhat drier. Persistent heavy showers, low cloud, strong winds and temperatures down to 10c during the day, are not what we normally expect from Crete at this time of year! And all this at the most popular olive picking time! Robins and black redstarts don’t mind this weather, and we have them constantly in the garden now, with the occasional chiffchaff. A quick look around Kalivaki on 15th (from the car!) revealed several meadow pipits and water pipits, and singles of little egret and greenshank.

On 16th a female/immature marsh harrier was hunting around the Viewpoint area. It never came close, but a picture of it below, as nothing much else to photograph at the moment!


(marsh harrier)

At Moronis a sighting of a single dunlin, for the first time this year - along with great egret, little egret, greenshank, common sandpiper, little ringed plover, kingfisher and redshank. The latter were a pair who provided an interesting spectacle, as they appeared to fight each other on the river – for territory? A couple of images below.



(two redshanks)

Every now and again I photograph a bird not knowing what it is. Back home, on the laptop, identification usually becomes clear. Today, 21st, on a quiet approach road to Kournas Lake, I spotted some bird activity on the road ahead. Two quick, through the windscreen photos, were taken of one of the birds. The quality was poor, but at home I thought this was a thrush nightingale, which would be a new species for me, and I don’t know anyone else that’s seen one here. I placed my images of the bird on “birdforum.net”, where others can view and comment. Several birders confirmed it as a thrush nightingale – so I’m well pleased.

(thrush nightingale)


(thrush nightingale)

On the same day I had a look at Kalivaki. On the flood water a greenshank was wading through the “pond” behind the beach. This bird is easily flushed by any disturbance, but sitting in the car, as a hide. I was able to watch at closer quarters than usual. What was different today though was that the bird was looking duck-like, by wading through water deep enough to completely cover its long legs! Other birds here included common sandpiper, grey wagtail, meadow pipit and kingfisher.



(greenshank in deep water)


(grey wagtail)

So the next day I just had to return to see if I could find the thrush nightingale again, and of course I couldn’t! Walking by the lake I noticed the black-necked grebes were a little closer to the shore than usual, so a couple more pictures of them – they now total well over 160 birds.

(black-necked grebes)


(same birds closer)

23rd today, and it’s good news and bad news! We had just set off for shopping in Rethymno, when Margaret spotted two birds above the car, not too high either. It was a hooded crow mobbing an eagle. The eagle absolutely dwarfed the crow, was very big and dark with long fingers at the end of its huge broad wings, but not such a long tail, as with a golden eagle. It was shepherded away behind us, and didn’t return our way. The good news was that this was our first Eastern imperial eagle (an adult we believe) – the bad news was that we didn’t take the camera on our shopping trip!

This sighting takes our total Crete species list to 200 birds, of which 196 have been photographed. The only four not photographed are nightjar, barn owl, merlin and the above eagle.

Our daughter, Alison, told us of a great sight she had while driving yesterday. It was almost dark, when an owl, brown and similar size to a barn owl, flew past her car in pursuit of bats. From the colouring and size we guess this was a long-eared owl – one I have never seen. We do have many sightings of barn owl, and one often sits just outside Alison’s apartment after dark – maybe a photo of that one day?

24th and eleven common snipe seen today – 4 at the Viewpoint and the remainder at Kalivaki. One photo attached which is the result of being just 3 metres away from the bird – very accommodating!


(common snipe close-up)

I hadn’t seen the water pipits at Kalivaki for a while, and wondered if they had moved on. Today, 27th, one was present with the redshank. A picture of the former feeding on the edge of flood water.

(water pipit feeding)

A walk around the Spili high meadows revealed our first hen harrier of this winter on 28th. It was a female and quite distant, but the corn buntings were obliging.

(corn bunting)

Almost the end of the month and two new Kalivaki sightings for me. Firstly, a single teal on the flooded water behind the beach. Then, behind Kalivaki Studios, a single reed bunting. Unfortunately my pic of the latter was blurred by reeds between me and the bird, but the teal was possible to photograph, and I think this was a female. I’ll be looking again for the reed bunting, as this is only the second Crete sighting I have had of this species – the first was at Agia in Feb 2009.

(teal and snipe)



Insects intrigue both Margaret and me. Trying to identify them can prove difficult, but this flesh-fly (sarcophaga carnaria) was easier, though we have never seen one indoors before. It’s almost the size of a blue-bottle.


Another fly; this one a member of the crane fly family. Unlike the huge crane flies we usually see, this one was only ¾ inch long.

Two Egyptian grasshoppers caught my eye. The photo clearly shows the difference in size between male and female (female the larger). I don’t know if this is their mating position, but there were occasional jerky movements by the male!

The next photo is my favourite for this month. Having recently seen some hawkmoth caterpillars, this one, on the beach at Lake Kournas, was a whopper at about 120 mm long – and pretty too! It’s the larvae of the death’s head hawkmoth.

We have three cats as our pets at home – they mainly live outside. For the past year we also have a tree frog that resides in one of our watering cans. We haven’t named him yet, but we might!



Not a great month for wild flowers, but many crocii in bloom on the Spili high meadows towards the end of the month – this species is crocus biflorus (possibly ssp adamii).




On 1st we visited Agia for the afternoon in hope of another osprey sighting. Several birdwatchers were there, but we were all disappointed this time. In fact there was nothing to photograph on this very dull day, so a photo of the view we had from the car as we waited.


One of the views from our picnic spot near Ano Mallaki on 5th.


After five days of dull, cloudy and cold weather in mid-month, we set out for a drive to Anogia on 18th. Some of those five days were very wet and, as the clouds lifted, we realised there was snow in the mountain areas. This is quite unusual for this time of year, and it’s possible it will remain until the next snowfall nearer to Christmas.

Above Anogia the road climbs further into high alpine terrain, an area we have visited several times before, but not at this time of year. Well, suffice to say, the day reverted to cloud and drizzle. The temperature when we left home was a mere 13c – at Anogia it was 6c, and as we climbed we entered the clouds and our hopes of a scenic drive were dashed. We drove on through the fog until we reached snow on the road and the temperature now 1c. That was it – we turned round and picnicked further down the road, where we could at least see. There was distant snow when the cloud lifted – the photo is from our picnic in the car. Two further photos below show where we turned round. It was by a traditional shepherd’s mountain retreat.




Since the recent long periods of rain and low cloud we finally had some clear views of the snow on the White Mountains. It is disappearing slowly, especially on the south-facing slopes, but it won’t belong before more “permanent” snow arrives and stays until early summer. This view was taken from the edge of the Spili high meadows walk I did on 28th.


Back to Out and About index