A&M’s LOCAL BIRDING DIARY

NOVEMBER 2012

Hi Everyone,

This report starts with a trip report from our holiday in east Crete;

EAST CRETE – 28th Oct to 5th Nov 2012

We live permanently in the western half of Crete, and try to make at least one visit a year to the opposite end of the island.  Mostly, these visits have been with family or friends, but this time we were able to concentrate on birding.

We had high hopes of something unusual, or perhaps a new species for us, but alas this was not to be.  It was nevertheless a productive trip with 71 species ticked off, and a few photos to record our sightings.

28th October - Home (Georgioupoli) to Makry Gialos on the south east coast.

Our route meant that we could take a detour to the south side of the Dikti Mountains, where a black vulture is known to reside.  We took the road north from Pefki towards the Sanctuary of Hermes and Aphrodite.  As we left the tarmac behind we continued for a couple of kilometres, but it would have been many more to reach Omalos, where sightings have been made.  We picnicked and trained our binoculars on the distant ridges – griffon after griffon, plus a few chough, but no black vulture.  Enroute, a couple of pale phase booted eagles and sparrowhawk, the latter seen every day of this trip.

29th October - Makry Gialos to Zakros and Xerocambos.

The unusually warm weather with strong southerly winds continued today.  Apart from Eleanora’s, hunting high up, common buzzard and sparrowhawk, other species were generally “staying put”.  There were a few crag martins and a blue rock thrush in Zakros Gorge, and a glimpse of newly arrived black redstart.  If the coast at Kato Zakros proved fruitless, it was nothing compared to Xerocambos!  This coastal area has a large lagoon which has been a haven for waders, herons, egrets and the odd flamingo.  The recent weather had lashed sea water into the lagoon, which looked no different to the seaward side – choppy water, probably a metre or two deep.  We picnicked here and had to settle for adding just crested lark and kestrel to our list.

30th October – M G to Vai and Kouremenos

Yesterday and today provided us with scenic and sometimes dramatic drives across east Crete, which has many un-named gorges.  As we crossed an upland plain, we spotted a very small falcon in fast direct flight.  As best we could tell, this was a merlin – a bird we have only seen once before.  (I would like to share my photo, but it is just a fuzzy silhouette!)

The Vai area proved quite productive.  Along large tracts of agricultural land we found woodlark, yellow wagtail, and some juvenile red-throated pipits.  A flock of starlings settled on overhead cables, and were accompanied by corn buntings and linnets.  We made a brief visit to Vai Beach and climbed to the Viewpoint.  Here we had the highlight of the day – a lesser spotted eagle which gave us nearly five minutes of viewing.  It remained fairly high up, but one of many photos below.

 

 

Kouremenos Beach, near Paleokastro, has been subject of many good sightings over the years, particularly in November and December.  We were obviously too early, as only buzzard and sparrowhawk entertained us during our visit.  Along the beach we were able to add cormorant, kingfisher, willow warbler and chiffchaff to our slowly growing list.  This coastal strip includes a “nature reserve” area with pools, just off the beach between Kouremenos and Plakapoules.  The opposite to Xerocambos here – completely dry, and only inhabited by flocks of goldfinches!

31st October – A return to Vai and Kouremenos

We felt that these areas needed a second visit.  By now the weather was more cloudy, even occasional drizzle, but remaining warm in the mid twenties.  A pale phase booted eagle presented itself during the morning drive.

 

booted eagle

 

 Other sightings included song thrush (all too brief as usual), chukar, which were being hunted, and more Eleanoras’ falcons.

At Kouremenos we couldn’t add to yesterday’s sightings, but did see a huge number of painted lady butterflies, plus an interesting moth we have not been able to identify yet. Yesterday we found three plain tiger butterflies, which had definitely arrived here on warm southerly winds.   These latter species were very restless and photos not possible.  The moth – it looks white in flight, quite small, and closes its wings immediately when resting.

 

Interesting moth - Crimson Speckled Utetheisa pulchella - A meditteranean species rare in UK Roy

 

At Vai, several meadow pipits, and two water pipits mixing with large numbers of white wagtails and serins.  A few Spanish sparrows were seen on roadside fencing.

A memorable moment as we sat in the car watching starlings.  They suddenly descended into a large hedge, about 50 metres ahead of us.  We were then startled by a great whoosh of air beside the car, as a sparrowhawk arrowed towards the hedge at great speed, crashing into it.  All the starlings scattered, but the sparrowhawk was nowhere to be seen.  I walked slowly towards the hedge, and could only watch as the sparrowhawk flew out with one unfortunate starling held in its claws.  It was an “awesome” moment.

1st November – M G to Elounda, via Bramiana Reservoir.

We have visited Bramiana many times, mainly in May.  This time we traversed the perimeter track anticlockwise, giving us early long distant views across the water.  We were somewhat disappointed at only seeing yellow-legged gulls, though in the far distance we could see an eagle perched on low overhanging branches.  Its position was at the end of a small “peninsular”, and we earmarked it for some further investigation as we continued along the track.  A few other species came into view in shallower areas – mallard, pochard, pintail, little egret and grey heron.  At trackside we saw a grey wagtail, which was close enough to photograph.

 

grey wagtail

 

I parked the car near the “peninsular” and walked towards the high ground above the perched eagle.  I was probably within 20 metres of viewing it, when it took off.  The ground was scrunchy to walk on and it obviously heard me.  The bird flew directly away from me, and never looked back, eventually being mobbed by gulls.  It appeared to be another lesser spotted eagle.

Soon after we found a great white egret, which kept looking for more suitable areas to feed, so was quite restless.  It was also unusually noisy, as in photo below.

 

great white egret

 

 Other species seen around the reservoir included coot, moorhen, little grebe, sedge warbler and jackdaw.

The weather deteriorated as we drove northwards towards Elounda, with very low cloud, but temperatures still holding up at around 20c.  No more species added today.

2nd November – Elounda to Katharo Plain.

A favourite drive of ours, once we have climbed the hills above Kritsa.  Despite its 1,200 metres altitude, the temperature remained at around 23c all day and we picnicked above the Xavga Gorge after an hour’s walkabout.  Griffons abounded; some quite low.

 

griffon vulture

 
  In the gorge and around the plain, red-billed choughs mixed with hooded crows – a cacophony of sound.  Jays were heard, but not seen this time, and a couple of wood warblers busied themselves in some small trees.  Our best sighting was of female hen harrier (at least, a ringtail) flying low, close by, across fields.  Its movement made photos impossible, but good to watch.  Choughs were much easier to photograph, as was the black redstart.
 

 chough

 

 black redstart

 

3rd November – Elounda to Lassithi and Dikti

Today gave us splendid weather again, and a new road to pencil in on our map.  The highlight, though, was to see three lammergeiers within a period of two and a half hours – all different birds according to their plumage and colours.  The first two sightings were very distant – one a sub adult with pale breast but dark head.  The second was more juvenile, moulting and generally quite dark.  The last was a full adult, and a closer sighting too.

 

lammergeier

 

lammergeier

 

  Again it was the griffons that won the day, numerically, with dozens seen throughout the drive.  Unexpectedly, no other large birds except common buzzard and sparrowhawk, and small birds were limited to larks and finches.

For those planning a trip to Lassithi Plateau, there is now a new road leaving the plateau to the south at Kaminaki.  A tarmac road from this village has been in existence for some years now, but only went for a few kilometres.  Now, it continues in splendid new tarmac all the way to Katofighi, passing below the western slopes of Mount Dikti on the way.  There is some dramatic scenery too.

4th November – Elounda and nearby north coast

Today we walked to the Elounda “salt pans”.  It is a few years since we last saw them in saltpan state, and so we were not surprised to find them filled with water again.  Our one and only wader sighting on this trip – common sandpiper, of which there were two.

 

common sandpiper

 

 Otherwise, a single little egret and many crested larks were the only other sightings.

In the afternoon we drove north towards the small villages near the north coast and ticked off cirl bunting.  It was a pair on overhead cables, this being the male.

 

cirl bunting

 
The only other bird to get our attention was what we thought to be an osprey, sitting atop a small tree at some distance.  As I got out of the car, it flew and was not seen again.  We guessed it was on migration, taking a deserved rest, but at home later, I was corrected on this sighting – it was a peregrine after all! – the only one we saw on this trip.
 

 

5th November – Elounda to Georgioupoli, via Gouves

Our drive home included a picnic stop at Gouves, where there was some water behind the beach.  We added teal, squacco heron, tawny pipit and common snipe to our list, but this area would be much more productive in the spring.

 

squacco heron

 

Our complete list of sightings is as follows;

Mallard, pintail, teal, pochard, chukar, little grebe, cormorant, squacco heron, little egret, great egret, grey heron, lammergeier, griffon vulture, lesser spotted eagle, booted eagle, hen harrier, common buzzard, sparrowhawk, kestrel, Eleonora’s falcon, peregrine, merlin, moorhen, coot, common sandpiper, snipe, yellow-legged gull, rock dove, collared dove, kingfisher, crested lark, woodlark, crag martin, barn swallow, tawny pipit, water pipit, meadow pipit, red-throated pipit, white/pied wagtail, yellow wagtail, grey wagtail, black redstart, stonechat, song thrush, blackbird, blue rock thrush, Sardinian warbler, sedge warbler, Cetti’s warbler, willow warbler, wood warbler, chiffchaff, wren, great tit, blue tit, jay, jackdaw, red-billed chough, hooded crow, raven, starling, house sparrow, Italian sparrow, Spanish sparrow, chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, serin, cirl bunting, corn bunting.

 

And so to the rest of the month;

FROM THE HOUSE

13th.

We are having some work on paths around the house and the extra noise and movement is keeping the birds at bay.  Today a small flock of starlings seen on overhead cables – these are winter visitors for us – and a dark phase booted eagle seen high over the valley opposite the house.

GEORGIOUPOLI VIEWPOINT

18th.

A small flock of ferruginous ducks seen today.  Otherwise this site continues to disappoint most of the time.

KALIVAKI MEADOWS

15th.

We had an afternoon walk to Kalivaki Beach – just for the exercise really!  It was good to see first arrivals of reed bunting, a male and female.  On the river a little egret was seen, but otherwise still quiet around here.

 

little egret

 

 25th.

Kingfishers seem more active now, and this one was fairly high up in an overhanging tree.

 

kingfisher

 

26th.

Still looking for waders and maybe water pipits, but no luck so far.  But did see two plain tiger butterflies, which have been swept here from Africa on southerly winds.

 

plain tiger/danaus chrysippus

 

 28th

Despite some flood water, there are no waders to be seen at all.  But a surprise sighting of wryneck made the visit worthwhile.  We haven’t seen this species outside the usual migration period, but understand these are known to winter here, but not usually seen.  It was a case of “now you see me – now you don’t”, so no chance for a photo!

KAVROS MEADOWS

7th to 11th.

These five consecutive days have given us great viewings of a greater spotted eagle in a triangular area between Georgioupoli, Kavros and Kournas Lake.  I have been able to establish that this is the same bird that I photographed last February (by comparing photos then and now, the nicks and cuts in the right-hand wing’s fingers are identical, as is a small nick in the first finger of the left-hand wing.  Whether this is the radio-tagged bird known to be over Crete last winter we will probably never know).  It remains to be seen if this bird will continue to winter here – we will keep looking.  Getting good quality images has been difficult as the bird is basically quite dark, but I was lucky enough to see it perch in a small tree after being mobbed by crows, and this shows the spots of a juvenile bird.  Two images below.

 

greater spotted eagle

 

greater spotted eagle

 

KOURNAS LAKE

This lake is part of our local area, being about 3 or 4 kms from the house.  It is not of much interest during the summer months, as it is visited by many holidaymakers, who make use of the large number of pedaloes available for hire.

28th.

A few days ago the first black-necked grebes arrived to use the lake as their wintering grounds.  Today their numbers have swelled to c.100, and may double over the next couple of weeks.  I found a great crested grebe among the resident coots – only the second time I have found this species here at the lake.

 

black-necked grebes

 

great crested grebe and coot

 

NORTH COAST BEACHES (KALIVAKI TO PETRES)

Still nothing of interest sighted in this area during November.

OUR TRAVELS

9th.

We have started visiting Moronis Reserve again, usually a quick look whilst enroute to somewhere else.  Today, a peregrine was perched high up on a mast.  It was probably keeping a close eye on the flock of starlings we saw. Later, at Agia, a little grebe was seen in very flat water giving a lovely reflection.

 

starlings

 

little grebe

 

 14th.

With wet and stormy weather forecast for the coming days, we took advantage of today being dry and very mild (20c), and went in search of raptors.  We chose the areas around Topolia Gorge and Elos.  There is a road from Topolia village that climbs to a position above the western side of Topolia Gorge.  There we stopped for coffee and again we were surprised from behind by a lammergeier!  We are almost losing count of our 2012 sightings of this species – I think it’s eight now – and one can never stop being impressed by the sight of this huge bird.

Apart from griffons, buzzards and sparrowhawks, we really saw little else today.  There is a hint of snow on the uppermost peaks of the White Mountains, but generally, everywhere is very dry.

23rd.

During the winter months we will keep an eye on the area around Ano Mallaki, south of Rethymno, which has given us a good variety of sightings over the last few years.  Today, just a coffee stop.  Initially, nothing about, but as we prepared to continue on our way, we had sight of sparrowhawk, kestrel, griffon, raven, buzzard and peregrine.  Then, an unexpected sighting of two lapwings.  All these in just 15 minutes!

We lunched at Plakias on the south coast, and it was Margaret that noticed two birds on the shingle beach.  This was only our second sighting on Crete of turnstone – and they were very accommodating for photographs.  Just off the coast, a juvenile shag was seen, with an adult further out.
 

turnstones

turnstone

 

shag

 

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