Crete 9-25 Apr 2008

Apr 10, at Farangi Rosas (15 kms inland from Malia);  Black-throated Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush x 2, Blackbirds, Hooded Crows, Ravens x 3, 18 Griffon Vultures, Kestrel x 2, Common Buzzard x 2. Also 2 Griffon Vulture nests along west-facing cliffs at Gonies end of gorge (F.Rosas) provided daily distant views of family comings & goings.  Both chicks appeared a month older than chick at Selinari (below).  .

            At Selinari Gorge; Griffon Vulture parents with pale scrawny chick.  No casual vultures visited nest on cliff ledge 50 metres from road, (unlike sometimes hectic scenario here October 2007). 10 griffons circling over gorge, kestrel x 2, feral pigeons (or Rock Doves?) x 20, House Sparrows, Sardinian Warbler x 2, Hooded Crows x 3, Blackbirds.

            The above include our basic daily statistics for 2 weeks around Farangi Rosas and Selinari Gorge.  There were exceptions, as follows:

  1. No further wheaters until a Common Wheater on 25th.
  2. Several Blue Rock Thrushes daily along roads around Mochos, Kera & Gonies.
  3. Afternoon of dry stormy 18th from a viewing stage at Kera end of F.Rosas we found 7 Griffons huddled on a sheltered N/E-facing cliff ledge.  Within an hour 7 more Griffons were sharing this ledge and a further 6 were hanging on to bushes along the same cliff face.  South wind gusted to Force8. Tripods unsteady.  We thought we had found a new (for us) vulture roost.  Next afternoon until dusk the same ledge was empty except for one that flew away.  It was still windy but not stormy and this allowed vultures to occupy sunnier roosts on S/W facing side of gorge, out of near viewing range. The ledge opposite the viewing stage is below eye-level and while upward glides are useful landing strategy during storms, in a narrow gorge at this point, the birds were poorly lit for video.
  4. At Selinari on 13th a windy day turned suddenly very stormy.  We had just moved away 200 metres from roadside nest ledge, where little had happened for hours, when 6 Griffons swooped in rapid succession and in varying degrees of disarray to find shelter on the “forecourt” of that nest ledge.  We were seconds late getting back to the action but saw some crash-landing for sure. We stayed to witness 4 adult griffons taking off into the gale after they gave what looked like stern advice to 2 juveniles to stay put until the strong winds abated hours later.  Throughout this exceptional visit to this roadside nest ledge no apparent contact occurred between the visiting vultures and the mother and chick in residence.  In the storm the 4 adults may have deliberately escorted the juveniles to the safety of a familiar nesting/roosting site.  Up to 24th this ledge was only occupied by mother griffon & chick with rare visits by father to regurgitate food.
  5. On Friday 17th, (following some emailing from Ireland in March and texting in Crete,) we enjoyed a marvellous day’s birdwatching in Western Crete with Colin & Sue Turvey who live in Gramvousa.  The day proved dry stormy and my hopes of seeing lammergier around Kallergi hut were literally blown away.  Getting to the hut with Colin & Sue in their 4 x 4 was a treat in itself.  On the way to meet them at Laki we passed through the most heavenly scented orchards smothered with orange and lemon blossom.  Then they brought us to the upland valley-plateau at Omalos with protected plots of tulipa bakeri where Sue identified a range of alpines for us near a viewpoint over Samaria Gorge.  The 4 x 4 did its essential job for 3 kilometres up to Kallergi hut to the shrieks of choughs and the flybys of crag martins. Wheatears figured all over this summit at 1680 metres.   A copy of Wild Flowers of Crete by Vangelis Papiomitoglou quickly sorted out any arguments about alpines and our trip to Omalos and Kallergi was greatly enhanced by Sue’s botany and her knowledge of where the flora would be in bloom.  Orchids, crocus, gagea, daphne & cyclamen featured, but to be introduced to Cerastium scaposum was for me quite special.  After a picnic and as a haze thickened we descended right down to reach sea-level at Agia Lake near Chania by 5pm.
                     Within an hour Colin had guided us to close-ups of Little Crake, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Night Heron, Reed Warbler, Greenshank, 2 species of Sandpiper, a nesting ornamental goose, coot with chicks aboard, dabchick, Garganey, Bittern, Hooded Crows and longer shots of Shoveler, Marsh Harrier, Mute Swan and Yellow-legged Gulls with sporadic soundtrack provided by Cetti’s Warbler and hirundines.  Sue showed us 2 beautiful orchids nearby.  Put all that in your viewfinder and tape it!  We did, with great pleasure.   We can only say with much respect and affection, thank you both, to Colin and Sue.  Not only are they generous with their knowledge of the wildlife of Western Crete and their time in sharing it and their 4 x 4, but they are the most delightful company for a relaxed evening out.  Long may they continue to monitor, enjoy and care for the birds and flora of Crete.  We’ll be back, lammergier or no lammergier.

Brendan & Grainne Marnell
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