March 2009

Birding in Western Crete

During February we had a trip to the UK, France and Italy there is no Crete report for this period and the first two weeks of March.

We had some great sightings on our trip, notably, a pair of adult Golden eagles flew low across the road a few miles before we entered France from Italy, many common Buzzard through France. An Osprey and a Cormorant nest site at the Venice Lagoons.

In the UK brilliant views of Bittern and a Penduline Tit at Strumpshaw Fen where we met up with Kate who was doing volunteering work at Antikythera last autumn.

Meeting with Roy and Raye we visited the Harrier roost at Stubbs Mill and Hickling Broad.

Along with day trips to Titchwell reserve and Cley, where doing some seawatching we managed to spot many seals and a lone Harbour porpoise.

We watched Short-eared and Barn Owls at Linford in Milton Keynes.

On the trip back to Crete we marvelled at the sight of several hundred Alpine Chough as they swooped low over the main road before heading high  into the mountains accompanied by a single Common Buzzard.

Back to Venice to watch scores of Goldcrest feeding in the coastal trees, Great White Egret in roadside ditches, a flock of thirty plus Cattle Egret in a field of horses that flew up and over us and headed into the Lagoons. East of Venice we stood at the roadside watching half a dozen Jay feeding metres away.

And…so back to Crete, We arrived back at Chania to torrential rain on the 13th and here we will continue our diary with spring migration well underway……………..

Monthly Highlights

Subalpine Warblers in our garden as we arrive home on 13th

Two new species to add to our Crete list …a Crane on the 20th and a Rock Thrush on the 28th

13th March

Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, a Pair of Subalpine Warbler visited our courtyard, Common Buzzard 3, pale morph Booted Eagle 1, Yellow Wagtail, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel 3, Blue Rock Thrush, Chaffinch, Italian Sparrow, Griffon Vulture 1, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Rock Dove, Yellow-legged Gull, Willow Warbler and roosting Black Redstart.


We spot our first Barn Swallow and Red-rumped Swallow today, they are swooping around the house, the first birds of the day.

20+ Common Buzzard fly through heading north. Goldfinch, Raven, Italian Sparrow, Cormorant 2, Hooded Crow, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Rock Thrush, Griffon Vulture 1, Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler, Hooded Crow, Black Redstart, Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler. Night Heron were heard after dark.

Around Kissamos….Crested Lark, Hooded Crow, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Stonechat, Little Ringed Plover, Yellow Wagtail, Hoopoe, Yellow-legged Gull, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Italian Sparrow, Blackbird, Common Buzzard 5, Barn Swallow, Sardinian and Cetti’s Warbler.

Meadow Pipit photo by and © C&S

Hoopoe photo by and © C&S


Common Buzzard 20+ seen distant and high over Gramvousa

Yellow-legged Gull, Hooded Crow, chaffinch, Italian Sparrow, Blackbird. A Sparrowhawk was seen to dive at speed into the olive grove. Greenfinch, Great Tit, Crag martin, Crested Lark, Goldfinch, Woodlark, Griffon Vulture 1, Barn Swallow, Cetti’s Warbler, Lesser Kestrel 3, Sardinian Warbler and a Blue Rock Thrush.


Yellow-legged Gull, Blue Rock Thrush, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Woodlark, Hooded Crow, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Linnet, Sparrowhawk, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Common Buzzard, Greenfinch, Blue Tit, Italian Sparrow, Little Ringed Plover, Collared Dove, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Cetti’s Warbler.

Along the beach road……

Little Ringed Plover 4, Kentish Plover 1, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Crested Lark, Collared Dove, Hooded Crow and Yellow-legged Gull.

Painted Lady photo by and © C&S

Little Ringed Plover

White Wagtail photo by and © C&S

Woodlark, Yellow-legged Gull, Hooded Crow, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Great Tit, Italian Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, at 0915 a Sparrowhawk over the ridge, Greenfinch, Cetti’s Warbler, Goldfinch, Crested Lark, Blue Tit, Cormorant, White Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover, Yellow Wagtail, Kentish Plover and Collared Dove.

Below are a few photos of some variations in the yellow wagtails

Yellow Wagtail [ Supercillaris/dombrowskii ?] photo by and © C&S

Yellow Wagtail [Feldegg] photo by and © C&S

Yellow Wagtail [Flava] photo by and © C&S

Yellow Wagtail [Flava] photo by and © C&S

Yellow Wagtail [Feldegg] photo by and © C&S


Yellow-legged Gull, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Hooded Crow, Woodlark, Great Tit, at 11.25 three Griffon Vulture, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, Crested lark, Goldfinch, Blackbird and Buzzard.

Beach and Kissamos…….1 Little Egret, 8 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Hoopoe, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Yellow-legged Gull, 4 Common Sandpiper, 1 Redshank, Hooded Crow, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Yell Wagtail, White Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Barn swallow, Common Buzzard, Cetti’s Warbler, Skylark and Crested Lark.

Little Ringed Plover photo by and © C&S

Northern Wheatear photo by and © C&S

Meadow Pipit photo by and © C&S

White Wagtail photo by and © C&S


Common Buzzard, Chaffinch, Hooded Crow, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Woodlark. At 10.05 a male Marsh harrier flew over heading north, Great Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Greenfinch, Italian Sparrow, Yellow-legged Gull.

At 14.05 a single Griffon Vulture over the ridges and forty five minutes later another 5 were seen. At 14.43 a Sparrowhawk was seen hunting behind the house. Rock Dove, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow and a pair of Raven.


Another new species for us today as a lone juvenile Crane Grus grus  appeared over the lower fields where the Harriers come in to roost. It landed near to the track to the beach giving brilliant views staying for a while until a local sheep farmer came along, it then flew out along the eastern edge of Gramvoua . This takes our Crete species list to 207.

Crane, juvenile photo by and © C&S

Crane, juvenile in flight photo by and © C&S

Other birds for the day… Goldfinch, Chaffinch, our local Common Buzzard were seen carrying sticks and mating. Woodlark, Greenfinch, Hooded Crow, Crested Lark, a Shag was seen fishing just offshore, 200+ Yellow-legged Gull, at 09.45 a Sparrowhawk, Great Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Blackbird.

Stonechat, Collared Dove, 3 Little Ringed Plover, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Barn Swallow, Sardinian Warbler,  at 15.00, six Griffon Vultures rose of the ridges of  the peninsula and the Italian Sparrows start to attack the pergolas contesting their nesting sites.


Barn Swallow, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Woodlark, Hooded Crow, Yellow-legged Gull, Italian Sparrow, Raven, Common Buzzard, Yellow Wagtail, Goldfinch, Alpine Swift, at 18.25 two Marsh Harriers came into the fields to roost.


Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Kestrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Barn Swallow, Hooded Crow, Cetti’s Warbler, Great Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Italian Sparrow, Rock Dove, 2 Shag, 1 Little Egret and Alpine Swift.

Today we have four species of orchid in flower in the olive grove.


Today we are going to head off for a few days to the eastern end of the island on route today we plan a stop at Agia Lake and Georgopouli , then up towards Spilia for some flowers.

Prior to leaving home we spotted Yellow-legged Gull, Great Tit, Crested Lark, Hooded Crow, Italian Sparrow, our first sighting of Black-eared Wheatear this year. Kestrel, Blackbird, and two Common Buzzard.

On route to Agia we stopped off at the prison near Chania as we had heard from Nikos that the White Stork was still present, we searched the area which is on the main road to Omalos but we could not see it…. Just as we started the engine to leave it obligingly flew in from behind the prison walls and we watched it for a short while, the growth that was shown in an earlier diary has now almost gone, the bird looks to be feeding OK and looks fairly healthy.

At Agia…….. We arrived to find a pale morph Booted Eagle circling overhead, Barn Swallow, Swift, Crag, Martin, House Martin, Alpine Swift and Sand Martin swooped noisily and low over the water. The Moustached warbler is still present along with 2 Reed Bunting seen on the far reeds. Sedge Warbler numbers are rising as several birds dispute areas of reed. Greenfinch, Kingfisher, and Goldfinch were about in small numbers. A small party [14] Red-rumped Swallow arrived. A single Common Buzzard circled on the southern side of the lake. Blackbird and Chaffinch sang near the footbridge. A Mute swan swam lazily near the lake centre where many Coot were present. Several Shoveler, Moorhen and Teal along with a single female Pochard patrolled the margins. Cetti’s Warbler called loudly from all around. A party of  30+ Yellow-legged Gulls appeared and settled in the middle of the lake. A search of the reed edges through the telescope produced nine Little Crake. Two Yellow Wagtail  [Feldegg] were spotted feeding on the eastern edges along with  a Water Rail. The always present Sardinian Warbler moved through the wild blackberry bushes, and a single White Wagtail fed near the pump station. . The resident Marsh Harrier put in a brief appearance. A Little Stint showed briefly before flying off across the lake. We counted 32 Little Grebe. Italian Sparrows chased noisily in and out of the closed Taverna.

Cetti’s Warbler photo by and © C&S

Little Egret photo by and © C&S

Sedge Warbler photo by and © C&S

On to Georgopouli where we found the White Pelican preening on the sea side of the bridge, a Common Sandpiper, Stonechat, Collared Dove, Blue Rock Thrush and two Cormorant.

White Pelican photo by and © C&S

Cormorant photo by and © C&S

We left Georgopouli for the area above Spili where we were to spend the night, in the morning we would explore for wild flowers.


We awoke to find there had been a frost and snowfall, the skies were clear and we eagerly waited for the sun to rise over the nearby hills.

Setting off into the “orchid area”, we spent an enjoyable few hours and found several species of flower in bloom although there were only three species of Orchid in flower, a few more weeks should see the area with an abundance of orchid.

Whilst here we found the following birds Stonechat, Woodlark, Corn Bunting, Linnet, Hooded Crow [only two] building a nest in one of the few trees. An adult male Hen Harrier flew through very close but as we had our heads buried photographing the flowers we were too late to grab a picture and it disappeared off into a nearby valley. Thirty plus Chough were spotted flying over the snow clad nearby hills.

Great Tit, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Lark, 1 Blackcap, 2 Raven, 3 Common Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and 4 griffon Vulture were all seen before 10am .

We left the area via the south coast town of Agios  Galini  before heading north to Heraklion then east to Malia where we were to spend the night near the eastern Marsh area in the vicinity of the Malia Minoan Palace, on route we spotted…. Subalpine Warbler, Kestrel, Chukar, Barn Swallow, Common Buzzard, Collared Dove and Stonechat.

Chukar photo by and © C&S

Lupin covered hills and snow clad mountains photo by and © C&S

Arriving at Malia we spotted a Marsh Harrier cruising lazily over the Bamboo grasses. The only other birds we caught sight of before night fell were several Great Tit, Blackbird and Goldfinch…… a couple of Corn Bunting and another Subalpine Warbler.


We were awake early again to find this area a lot warmer than the hills of the night before emerging into the sunshine we scanned the immediate area and before we left to head for Selinari Gorge we had spotted only fifteen species….

Blackbird, Great tit, Chaffinch, Hoopoe, Common Buzzard, Yellow Wagtail, Greenfinch,
White Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Italian Sparrow, Kestrel,
Alpine Swift, Barn Swallow, Yellow-legged Gull.

Arriving at Selinari Gorge ….. 7 Griffon Vulture soared overhead along with Raven and Common Buzzard.

Other birds here were few.

Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Dove, Collared Dove

The highlight spot though had to be when unexpectedly our friends Nikos and Angeliki suddenly  appeared, we had not seen them for some time and we all teamed up for the rest of the day to explore Elouda Salt Pans, Ha Gorge and Brahmiana Reservoir.

Today being a national holiday we arrived in Elouda to find the town centre closed off due to the parade and celebrations. We headed back to the saltpans where we found little to encourage us bird wise, a pleasant walk with nice scenery and in the good company of friends we spent a pleasant few hours just strolling and chatting.

Birds seen……

1 Common Buzzard     7 Little Ringed Plover      2 Little Egret

Yellow-legged Gull       Italian Sparrow

We eventually set off for Ha Gorge, we parked a short distance away and walked to the base of the cliff, finding a profusion of orchids along the way… arriving at the entrance we found that this gorge was impossible to access unless you had wet suits and climbing gear, the “gash” in the sheer walls climbs at a very steep angle 45-60 degrees and is filled with deep pools of water. Nikos climbed a short way and took the following picture I am sure he won’t mind us using it

Ha Gorge photo by and © Nikos Samaritakis

We spent  a while here exploring and watching the birds the best sight of the day so far the 50+ Cough that dropped from the top of the gorge to the fields below , passing very close to us giving our best views ever of this bird….other species here.

Crag Martin                Blue Rock Thrush             Blackbird

Griffon Vulture           Hooded Crow                     Raven

Sardinian Warbler        Rock Dove                 Common Buzzard

We realised that to make the reservoir before dark we would have to get a move on none of us had been this way before and it was our turn to take the lead as we had the better map. After a short journey we arrived with about one and a half hours light left. This reservoir is a must to visit although there was not a great deal there the area is developing into a good habitat. There is an information centre “closed today” and various screens come hides at viewpoints the perimeter track was closed part way around after the winter rains but backtrack to the dam and go anticlockwise could produce some good birding in the quiet eastern area.

Birds seen…..

Mallard  4                         Coot  7                            Ruff 7

Hoopoe   1                         Meadow Pipit                Crested Lark

Little Ringed Plover 6     Common Sandpiper 1   Corn Bunting

Sardinian Warbler          Cormorant 12                 Jackdaw 20

Hooded Crow 20+            Crag Martin                   Barn Swallow

Yellow-legged Gull

Chough photo by and © C&S

Corn Bunting photo by and © C&S

Ruff in flight photo by and © C&S

Mallard in flight photo by and © C&S

Nikos and Angeliki left us here and headed off after a fantastic day, we stopped the night at the information centre hoping for some good migratory bird spots in the morning.


Waking just before dawn we set up the tripod and scope to scan the reservoir from this vantage point that is about 20-30 metres above the water, much of the lake is viewable from here.

We found many Yellow-legged Gull roosting on the water and a few Black-headed Gull.

There was not much else to note from here so we drove back down to water level to search the trees and marsh areas

Chaffinch                       Hooded Crow        Coot 9

Cormorant                    Little Grebe 1         Subalpine Warbler       Chiffchaff                     Willow Warbler      Ruff 2                    

Blue Rock Thrush        Goldfinch                Barn Swallow

Blackcap                       Yellow Wagtail        Hen Harrier

Little Ringed Plover     Grey Heron 1          Linnet

Red-rumped Swallow   Skylark                    Crested Lark

Common Buzzard 10    Italian Sparrow       Sand Martin    

Northern Wheatear     Common Sandpiper Alpine Swift    

Mid morning we headed off along the south coast then onwards north to Heraklion via the Mountain roads

On route we spot…

Griffon Vulture 7           Kestrel                       Raven

Swift                                Wood Pigeon 2          Corn Bunting

Rock Dove             

We stop to search the skies for Golden Eagle one obliges flying north east picture below:    

Golden Eagle photo by and © C&S

We decide rather than stopping away another night to head for kissamos


What a good decision to return home rather than stay away. We get great sightings of raptors from home.

Marsh Harrier 18                 Sparrowhawk 5   

Common Buzzard 20+         Lesser Spotted Eagle 1

Griffon Vulture 4               Kestrel 2

Alpine Swift                        Raven                        House Martin

Barn Swallow                     Goldfinch                  Linnet

Yellow-legged Gull            Chaffinch                  Blackbird

Great Tit                             Swift                         Yellow Wagtail

White wagtail                     Cetti’s Warbler        Rock Dove

Collared Dove                     Blackcap

Lesser Spotted Eagle photo by and © C&S


Today we added another species to our Crete list Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilus or as its known in the Greek list the Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. Whilst watching our resident Blue Rock Thrush through the telescope this addition flew into view landing on a fence directly in line with the B.R.T. Quickly refocusing this beautiful male appeared in the scope getting Sue to watch it I ran for the camera and managed some heat hazed shots of which one is added below. Although these are not regarded as a rarity in Greece we believe that only a handful have been sighted in Crete. A high altitude bird this was seen at 50 metres above sea level and below the B.R.Thrush  another really nice spot that makes birding such a wonderful hobby or with me an obsession.

[Rufous-tailed] Rock Thrush photo by and © C&S

Today’s list

Chaffinch                   Blackcap                   Italian Sparrow

Woodlark                   Alpine Swift             Swallow

Sardinian Warbler    Common Buzzard   Hooded Crow

Rock Thrush              Blue Rock Thrush   House Martin

Great Tit                     Blue Tit                    Willow Warbler

Kestrel                         Raven                        Stonechat

p/m  Booted Eagle      Goldfinch                 

At dusk 8 Marsh Harrier [all males] dropped in together to roost in the grassed fields a wonderful sight as they swooped in and dropped down out of sight.

Along the beach……….

Common Sandpiper 3          Little Ringed Plover 4

Yellow Wagtail……….small numbers of different ssp’s

White Wagtail                       Crested Lark

Northern Wheatear              Meadow Pipit


Today’s List from home………

Yellow-legged Gull           Chaffinch            Hooded Crow

Great Tit                            Blue Rock Thrush 2 male

Italian Sparrow                Barn Swallow        House Martin

Alpine Swift                      Common Buzzard 2+6+1+2+6

Black Kite 1                      Cormorant 2         Marsh Harrier 3

Sardinian Warbler          p/m Booted Eagle  Subalpine Warbler

Blue Tit                            Bonelli’s Eagle 1     Kestrel 4+1

Hoopoe 4                          Wryneck                  Robin

Black-eared Wheatear 2   Greenfinch            Stonechat

Blackbird                           Raven                     Skylark

Cetti’s Warbler                 Rock Dove             Woodlark


Wryneck photo by and © C&S


Chaffinch                    Great Tit                        Blackbird

Hoopoe                         Yellow-legged Gull       Goldfinch

Italian Sparrow           Blue Rock Thrush        Barn Swallow

Little Egret                 Stonechat ? [ssp maura] Woodlark

Raven                          Corn Bunting                  Rock Dove

Common Buzzard 6   Chukar [heard]              Skylark

Black-eared Wheatear    Blue Tit                     Sparrowhawk

Redstart male                 Shag                         Icterine warbler

Northern Wheatear      Sardinian Warbler   Marsh Harrier



Little Ringed Plover 2    Common Sandpiper 3

Yellow Wagtail 4 ssps     White Wagtail         

Crested Lark

Stonechat possible [Maura ] Siberian race photo by and © C&S

Bee type insect as yet unidentified photo by and © C&S


Great Tit               Chaffinch                 Blue Rock Thrush

Barn Swallow        Hooded Crow          Common Sandpiper

Shag                       Sardinian Warbler   Italian Sparrow

Goldfinch              Common Buzzard     Woodlark

Crested Lark        Yellow-legged Gull    Cetti’s Warbler

Greenfinch             Raven                          Blackbird

p/m Booted Eagle  Marsh Harrier 2m   Lesser Kestrel 1

Stonechat               Blackcap                    Scops Owl

? Nightjar heard


Although we missed the first half of the month we are pleased that we have had a couple of the larger raptors and two new additions to our list.

Finding the sick white Stork again apparently looking reasonably healthy was really nice.

A text from Bob told of a Woodchat Shrike in Kissamos on the 30th so watch out for more arriving daily

More Harriers using the lower fields to roost in this year.

Less numbers of Subalpine Warblers seen near the house, but Blackcap numbers are up.

Look out for  ………..

April should really pick up , look for Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove , Peregrine Falcon, an increase in Northern Wheatear numbers, Purple and Squacco Heron, Nightingale, Cuckoo, Shrikes and Flycatchers and Stone Curlew. All could be seen anytime from now.

Around mid month expect the first arrivals of Eleonora’s Falcon, Red-footed Falcon and Bee-eater, also watch for Short-toed Eagle and maybe an Osprey.

Until next month ……Good birding

Colin and Sue

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