Out and About – September 2011

All photographs by and © A@M

Birds

Hi all

Our birdwatching month began with an evening walk in the foothills of the White Mountains, not far from Embrosneros. We remembered taking Roy and Raye to this area when they lived here, and I recall a hoopoe was the only memorable sighting then. Today was a little better. A pair of blue rock thrushes sat on an overhead cable, (too far apart for a photo), numerous spotted flycatchers, red-backed shrikes, and both common wheatear species to be seen, a lovely male cirl bunting, several jays, and then an unexpected sighting of great reed warbler. This migrant was not in its usual habitat, and didn’t allow me enough time to focus the camera on it. Then, another migrant we haven’t seen in the autumn – wood warbler; and that was the only photo possible – after a game of hide and seek with it!

 

 

 
Next day, next photo, another warbler. This time a migrant juvenile chiffchaff in one of our olive trees. It took a while to identify (dark legs with brown feet/claws). This species is a winter visitor here normally arriving late October or November. Some though are migrants coming through earlier enroute to Africa, and we guess this is one of those.
 

 
3rd and my first visit this month to the beach where we had such good sightings last month. Taking Alex with me (lucky mascot!) we found purple, grey and squacco herons in varying numbers, and pintails flying low out at sea.
 

 

 
Arriving home, we found Margaret on our front balcony watching bee-eaters across the valley. These were our first sightings this autumn, and late in the day. Just one photo obtained taken towards the setting sun.
 

 
On 4th an early evening walk from the house towards the Viewpoint gave me some very good sightings. At a small pond, usually dry now, singles of wood sandpiper, common snipe and yellow wagtail were seen. Throughout the walk, red-backed shrikes and spotted flycatchers were hunting for food from low branches. Then a small flock of bee-eaters passed overhead, with alpine swifts accompanying them – photo of the latter.
 

 
Walking back I had a great view of a male golden oriole flying low and fast across open country. Finally, as I tried to focus the camera on another red-backed shrike, I found a wryneck in close proximity to it. Although unexpected, it justified the sighting I thought I had in light woodland by the Viewpoint this time last year. The photo is distant, but a record for this area.
 

 
A trip to Anopoli and Aradena area on 5th, in hope of repeating the great wryneck sightings we had there last year, drew blanks. The usual shrike, wheatear, and flycatcher sightings were mixed with stonechat, whinchat, blue rock thrush and crested lark. Margaret, however, had the sighting of the day – a nightingale, which didn’t linger long enough for me to see it too. We returned via Kallikratis and were entertained by dozens of bee-eaters skilfully catching insects – always a highlight, but easier to photograph when they are perched.
 

 
Margaret’s birthday today, 7th, and a day out with the family, not birdwatching until we stopped off at Agia on the way home. Whilst there, two Eleonora’s falcons entertained us again with a juvenile whiskered tern present too. The latter gave me my best photos of this species so far. The water level has remained higher with much less weed on the surface. It seems the presence of waders may be more limited this year?
 

 
On 11th we repeated our walk into the foothills beyond Embrosneros, seeing the same species as before, except no great reed warbler. Did manage a photo of an adult male red-backed shrike – seeing mainly juveniles at present.
 

 
As we passed the Viewpoint on the way home, Margaret spotted little egrets roosting in a tree beside the lake.
 

 
The bee-eaters are coming into their own now, and stealing the show wherever they are found. During a drive out on 13th we encountered up to a hundred throughout the day – all of them flying low or perched on wires. More pictures below.
 

 

 
Kallikratis is a mountain village with a flat area to one side – a kind of plateau. In previous years we have found bee-eaters congregating there early evening during September. On 19th we made our way there and saw absolutely nothing enroute. Once there, our bird list included stonechat, whinchat, cirl bunting, spotted flycatcher, red-backed shrike, jay, hoopoe, blue tit, great tit, wood warbler and whitethroat. And we were lucky with bee-eaters too, though not as easy to photograph as on 13th. The whitethroat was our first this year, and I just managed a photo through a wire fence.
 

 
As we drove home, Margaret caught sight of a falcon landing high on some rockface. Through binoculars we were able to watch it with its prey – it was a juvenile peregrine. Very fuzzy photos at this distance, but I’m including one humorous pose – we think it looks almost human?
 

 
I don’t often get to photograph the topside of a common buzzard, but this one was seen from the house on 20th.

 
We had a picnic lunch at the Kotsifou Gorge on 21st. By a small church, above the north side of the gorge, we have twice had good views of lammergeier in September – not so today. While many griffons came over, our only other sightings were marsh harriers. First, a female flew straight through the gorge. Fifteen minutes later, a lovely male surprised us, but by the time I had the camera focussed on it, the photo isn’t good enough to use here. So, no photos from this trip, but before we went, I found a small number of grey herons on tall eucalyptus trees near the Georgioupoli Viewpoint – two captured in photo below.
 

 
22nd and our first proper rainfall for over three months! When the rain stopped we expected more bird activity in the garden as insects surfaced, but not much happened. However, a couple of Sardinian warblers feasted on an over-ripe fig that I placed by the water bowl. I saw that the female had a dark vent (undertail), which I haven’t noticed before, and haven’t seen in any other photos of this species – it is normally white.
 

 
We had a red-rumped swallow drying out on an overhead telephone wire, and it was most obliging for a photo.
 

 
The rain eventually abated and we took a walk near Petres Gorge late afternoon. A good variety of species was seen, including a flock of c25 jackdaws, but the highlight was a small flock of migrating red-footed falcons. We once glimpsed a single of this species in the autumn some years ago, but today we watched nine of these birds for about five minutes before they drifted south.
 

 
With business in Chania on 23rd we took the diversion to Moronis Reserve at Souda on the way. Unfortunately another gypsy encampment meant the area was disgusting to walk round, so we didn’t stay long. However, a ringed plover was seen. We hadn’t sighted this species on Crete until this year – and now this is our 4th sighting. A small number of willow warblers seen in the reeds and four little egrets.
 

 
On the way back from Chania we stopped at the Georgioupoli Viewpoint. We were joined by English couple, Norma and Graham who were holidaying on Akrotiri. Margaret was able to point out a marsh harrier, which was being mobbed by hooded crows – a new species for them, as well as a kingfisher and a glimpse of Eleonora’s falcon. At distance I thought the harrier was a female, but the photo confirms a juvenile.
 

 
Common buzzards are with us all year round, but not many are as boldly marked as this one. It is holding a mouse in its talons, though not very easy to see in the photo.
 

 
We had another look at the Viewpoint on 25th. It was very quiet – just a female shoveller amongst large numbers of coot and moorhen. We were just leaving when passers-by asked us for directions to Kournas Lake. The delay in setting off afterwards rewarded us with a falcon over the lake. We watched as it repeatedly dived from height for insects. It was never very close to where we were standing, but my photos eventually confirmed this was a hobby, thanks to some responses on Birdforum – only our second ever confirmed sighting on Crete. (I returned before sunset to see if it was still around – it had moved on, but a greenshank was now present on the far side of the water).
 

 
29th and the month is drawing to a close with very few migrant waders to be found in any of the obvious locations, including the Viewpoint. After I visited there today, I had a look along the river in Georgioupoli and found the mute swan. I was able to see the ring, and this confirmed it was the same bird that has wintered here for the last two years. In the fields off the quayside there was some activity with small birds, including whinchat, stonechat and willow warbler. More interesting for me was a first winter male redstart. I have only seen this migrant in the spring before.

 

…….and the month finishes with……… a female redstart at the back of our garden!

So I re-visited the quayside and found the male redstart still there, but no improvement on yesterday’s photo. Whilst there a flock of barn swallows arrived and took up positions on an overhead cable. We don’t expect to see many more of these, as they prepare to depart for South Africa.
 

 

 

Animals

A common butterfly in the UK, and here too – the large white, or cabbage white. This one is a female with one feeler recoiled.
 

 
Moths are generally more acceptable to being photographed close up. This one is the Jersey tiger seen here with its wings closed up – concealing the bright red/orange hind-wing.
 

 
A tiger moth found on our dining table. Thanks to Colin Turvey for id.
 

 
Another butterfly – this time the two-tailed pasha (charaxes jasius). I tried hard for a close-up, but this one kept its distance. Whenever it landed it was seen off very quickly by a large wasp. This was entertaining to watch, but frustrating to get the photo I wanted.
 

 
Last month I included a photo of a dead carpenter bee that Margaret was able to photo close up. This month, a live one – also close up!
 

 
A photo from Margaret – this time a tree frog presented in a colour we haven’t seen before. It was still around at the end of the month and seemed quite well. We have since learned that this species can change colour at times.
 

 

Wild flowers

We are still seeing the sea daffodil in large clusters on sand dunes between Kavros and Petres as at 24th. They seem to be blooming later this year.

Our first sighting of autumn crocus near Atsipopoulou (Rethymnon). I couldn’t’ get the photo, as we had driven up a small road which finished at some houses. I was embarrassed enough, without getting out the car and trudging over some of their land!

The second half of the year is always lean for wild flower photography – more than made up for in the first half.

 

Landscapes

A walk into the foothills of the White Mountains gave us lovely long views towards the Akrotiri peninsular.
 

 
A view from high above the Deliana Gorge looking north to the coast. A recently tarmacced road takes us close to this point, where a track can then be followed to Mesanlia at the top of the gorge walk. I reckon this could be yet another fabulous spot for griffon watching? – though not today.

 
The Kotsifou Gorge is dramatic to drive through with its overhanging rock – and gushing waterfalls in winter. The photo below is taken from a hillside walk north of the gorge, looking south.

 

I bought a new camera last September (2010) and have started posting some of my bird photos on Flickr They represent my favourite (and best) photos and each contains a short description, or a little information. I hope you enjoy them.

(See links page under:
Our main contributor websites, Roy)
 
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