Crete, Saturday 15th. April - Saturday 23rd April 2005
For a list of birds seen on this trip click here
This was a Naturetrek holiday to the lovely island of Crete, and I was the ornithological leader for the trip.
Saturday 16th. April 2005
Depart Heathrow on Olympic Airways, on time 12:20, to Athens. 3 hour wait for transfer flight to Crete. Arrived Heraklion 23:05, followed by transfer to Europa Beach Hotel, Heraklion.
Sunday 17th. April, 2005
After breakfast the party divided into those wanting to see the Palace at Knossoss and those who wanted to do some birdwatching on the ‘Creta Sun’ lagoon.
The day dawned breezy but warm, due to the SW wind.
The birdwatchers had an excellent time with wonderful views of Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus), Little Stints (Calidris minuta) and several Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola). In amongst these was a superb Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) in full summer dress, and a summer plumaged Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii). It was an excellent opportunity to compare the characteristics of Temminck's with Little Stint, especially at such close quarters. Backing this up were several smart Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius), no less than 12 Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta), a dozen Short-toed Larks (Calandrella brachydactyla) and four Alpine Swifts (Apus melba), which performed overhead at less than 150 feet up.
Later, a lone drake Garganey (Anas querquedula) was found lurking near the edge of the water, and what a superb bird he was. All in all, this morning gave everyone a very good introduction to the birds of the Mediterranean at this time of the year.
We then met up with the clients who had been to Knossoss and drove east along the coast to Malia.
By now, the warm southerly wind had picked up to gale force and soon the sky literally turned light brown as we were enveloped in a dust storm which must have originated in north Africa. This made birdwatching all but impossible, but a hardy few were rewarded with brief views of a Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus). In spite of the weather (which at one point had reduced visibility to 200 yards), the botany continued. We did have to retire to the hotel earlier than planned, though, where the accumulated dust was removed!
Sunday 18th. April 2005
From Hotel Europa Beach to Hersonissos, Selinari Gorge, Elounda, and on to Plaka and Ioannis headland. Return via same route.
Cloudy to start, then better by mid morning, with sunshine by lunchtime resulting in a lovely sunny day with a nice breeze. What a contrast to the exceptional weather of yesterday!
Birding began at the ‘Creta Sun’ lagoons, with a nice selection of waders again present. New birds here included Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) with all clients having wonderful views of this beautiful heron. A male Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) put on a good performance, catching insects from a fence post.
After breakfast we proceeded east along the north coast and made our first stop of the day at the Selinari Gorge where there are nests of Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). Two nests were seen, each containing a well-fledged young. Everyone got superb views of the birds from close range through the telescope.
Other interest was provided by Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius), including close views of a male delivering food to a nest.
From Selinari we proceeded up the Ioannia headland, and stopped for a picnic lunch high on the cliff top. The weather was excellent as were the views. The botanists were kept busy, with numerous species of plants, whilst we were all serenaded by that magnificent songster, the Woodlark (Lullula arborea).
After lunch, the group divided into botanists and birdwatchers. The latter had excellent vies of a pair of Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus). However, only tantalising views were obtained of a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) before it flew out of sight and couldn't be relocated.
Final destination was the disused saltpans at Elounda. We were disappointed not to see many birds there, but were nevertheless rewarded with unsurpassed views of a most obliging Great White Egret (Egretta alba), keeping company with its much smaller, commoner cousin, a Little Egret.
In addition, large numbers of hirundines were passing through, presumably having had their migration curtailed by the storm of the day before.
Overall, this was a much more successful day and was much appreciated by all.
Monday 19th. April, 2005
An early morning walk around ‘Creta Sun’ lagoon revealed more waders, with Wood Sandpipers again prominent. Little Stint and Temminck's Stint were also present for entertainment, together with several Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus).
After breakfast we moved up to the Lesithi Plateau, birdwatching en route. We had lunch at a picnic site on the plateau and were richly entertained by excellent views of Choughs (Pyrrhocoroax pyrrhocorax), Blue Rock Thrush and a pair of Ravens (Corvus corax) being attacked by a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) nesting nearby.
A Woodlark again sang for us during lunch and soon this was joined by the distinctive calls of Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) and Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra).
After a drive around the plateau, we made our way back to the hotel by mid evening.
The weather was again very kind to us, with excellent visibility in sunny weather and warm temperatures.
Wednesday 20th. April, 2005
We made an early departure from Heraklion for our transfer to Chania. Once again, we were treated to a lovely warm sunny day. The birdwatchers were able to 'scope the ‘Creta Sun’ lagoon from their Europa Beach Hotel balcony before departure. During this, a party of 12 Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) landed in vegetation at the pools.
The route for the day was the Armeni cemetry, followed by a cafe stop. We then moved on to Spili and Gaious Cambos. The hill at the top was covered in wonderful flowers. Two of the birders were able to get convincing views of a single Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), which unfortunately drifted out of view, and sadly didn't reappear. However, we were compensated with several Griffon Vultures, Woodlark, Corn Bunting and Stonechat (Saxicola torquata). Finally, before we left, we had excellent views of a female Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus), switchbacking along the hillside opposite the coach.
Thursday 21st.April, 2005
The itinerary today was the Omalos plateau and the top of the Samaria Gorge. However, this was to be after a stop at the famous Agia reservoir. Several new birds were to be seen here, including the always charismatic Little Crakes (Porzana parva). Squacco Herons put on a show for us all, and Sedge Warblers (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) were in full song, accompanied by their larger 'cousin' the Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus).
Close views overhead were had of some Alpine Swifts, and several more males of that most attractive of ducks, the Garganey, were on view for all to enjoy through the telescope.
With great regret, we turned from the lake and headed to Omalos. The weather was again very kind with glorious sunshine and it was a delight to have our picnic in the plateau with hardly a breeze.
The botanists were kept busy while the birdwatchers kept their eyes to the skies in the hope of seeing a passing Lammergeier - regrettably, we were not lucky, but there was compensation in the form of two Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), which perched on the ridgeline, across the valley from the cafe at the top of the Samaria Gorge. All the party were able to enjoy the birds in the telescope, noting especially the golden neck plumage which gives this species its English name.
Most of the party then walked above the cafe to admire the superb view into the gorge itself, and all were impressed.
Finally, we had to leave Samaria and called in for another look at Agia reservoir on the way back to the hotel. It is always nice to make two visits to Agia, at different times of the day. The light is always different, and usually the birds have changed between the two visits. This time was no exception, and the star bird of the trip for some was seen on this second visit, namely a stunning male Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus). It was standing motionless, against the reeds, looking intently into the water for a passing morsel. He was clearly too interested in this to notice our approach, and we were all able to admire him through the telescope, though he was so close, telescopes were hardly necessary!
Friday 22nd April, 2005
Once again, the weather was very kind to us.
After breakfast we had our usual optional trip to Chania for those who wanted to visit the town, whilst the remainder of the party headed again for the Agia reservoir. Once again, there were new birds, with an adult Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) tucked away adjacent to the reed beds. Close views were had of a pair of Black-winged Stilts, and more Squacco Herons delighted us. Sadly, yesterday's Little Bittern was nowhere to be seen.
After returning to Chania to pick up the rest of the party, we headed up the Akrotiri peninsula. We made a stop at the Gouvernetou monastery, noting several Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni) and Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus), before heading up the gorge to its end, where a picnic was taken overlooking splendid scenery down to the sea.
Afterwards, the party again divided. Some walked down to the monastery near the sea whilst the rest retraced our steps, this time on foot, and walked down the gorge, and were picked up later by the returning coach.
Birds were present in the form of several Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica), Woodlark and Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra). We also saw the only Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) for the trip, as well as some Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca).
On our way back to Chania, we called in at the Souda Allied War Cemetry. It is always a moving experience here. After a brief visit, we retuned to our hotel. Our trip was almost over, but over 100 species of birds had been seen. All agreed it had been a wonderful week, with the weather helping to make it even more enjoyable.