Friday, 28 October 2011

Crete, September 2011

After a hectic summer of work it was time to try to re-charge my batteries and so my wife and I settled on a trip to the Greek island of Crete. We have been to other Greek islands before, but this was our first trip here. We had no real plans other than to relax, soak up the sun, and sample the local beer and wine, but obviously being a birder I wasn't gong to go away without my bins and a camera!!

After our four hour flight from London Gatwick, we picked up our hire car at Heraklion Airport, and headed off to the village of Sissi, on the north-east coast, and our accommodation. We settled into our room and made a bee-line for the local harbour and a nice cold beer!! And this is the area that we spent most of our time, except for the odd excursion to a few local birding hotspots or sightseeing locations.

Migrating Purple Herons - Crete, September 2011

The harbour was generally quiet, except when the odd tour boat arrived from the surrounding villages; one pirate ship in particular blasted out the theme tune to 'Pirates of the Caribbean' as it entered the harbour. But this didn't stop the steady migration of birds overhead; in one hour five Purple Herons, 14 Little Egrets and 9 Steppe Buzzards had headed in a south-westerly direction.

Common Kingfisher - Crete, September 2011

During our visit we spent several hours wandering the local area, Common Kingfishers were very obvious as they fished in the harbour, whilst Barn and Red-rumped Swallows hunted overhead. The steady passage of Steppe Buzzards and Purple Herons continued, whilst Sardinian Warblers and Serin's were the most visible species in the bushes, with Blue Rock Thrush's singing from the nearby cliffs. Black-crowned Night-herons and a Barn Owl were occasional  fly overs at dusk.

Areas close to Sissi proved to be ideal for looking for resident and migrant birds. Crested Larks were present in good numbers...

Crested Lark - Crete, September 2011

                                           ....and Yellow Wagtails fed on the lawns of the local hotel. Based on the head pattern I am assuming that the Yellow Wagtails were of the race Motacilla flava beema or Sykes's Yellow Wagtail. This is based on the longer and wider supercilium, more prominent subocular stripe , and paler ear covert.

Yellow Wagtail - Crete, September 2011

Some individuals, however proved to be a little bit more difficult to assign to race. The individual below, being a female/juvenile type, lacked the strong facial patterns of the male above, but I am assuming that they were all of the same race.

Yellow Wagtail - Crete, September 2011

Other migrants which were seen daily during our trip were Red-backed Shrikes. Shrikes are always interesting species to see, but in Eastern Europe they are always worth further investigation just in case one turns out to be a Turkestan or Isabelline Shrike. Unfortunately all of the birds I encountered were Red-backed's, with both adults and juveniles encountered.

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike - Crete, September 2011

Adult Red-backed Shrike - Crete, September 2011

In stark contrast to birding in the UK, Spotted Flycatchers were the commonest migrant species in Crete, with at least 20 birds seen each day. During our ringing sessions at Titchfield Haven this year, we did not catch a single bird, and only saw one in the field, so it was nice to see good numbers of this species.

Spotted Flycatcher - Crete, September 2011

A confiding Hoopoe added a touch of glamour to our bird tally....

Hoopoe - Crete, September 2011
 .......whereas the resident House Sparrows added some home comfort, it won't be long before I am back at Manor Farm for another winter catching house sparrows.

House Sparrow - Crete, September 2011

With most of the inland pools dried up, it was not surprising that some birds had to resort to the  coast to feed. Common Kingfishers were seen on a daily basis along the coast...

Common Kingfisher - Crete, September 2011

.....and those Little Egrets that were not migrating, were fishing in shallow bays on the incoming tide. The individual below spent more time dodging the waves than feeding, and it was whilst it was dancing around that I noticed it was in primary moult.

Little Egret - Crete, September 2011

I am not familiar with the moult strategy of Little Egrets, but based on the fact that the wings are in moult and the black colouration of the legs, I think this bird is an adult.

A visit to Lassithi Plateau involved a long and winding drive, but it was worth the effort. Excellent views of Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle and a Red-throated Pipit were the highlights, with Cirl Bunting, Common Ravens and a large movement of Alpine Swifts, all welcome additions to the list. 

Crag Martin - Crete, September 2011

Whilst up on the plateau we visited Dikteon Andron Cave and were rewarded with excellent views of Crag Martins at the entrance. Several birds were circling at the entrance before landing on nearby rocks to rest. The birds pictured above have pale fringing to their flight feathers, and scaling on their mantles, indicating that they are juvenile birds.

Painted Lady - Crete, September 2011

There were a few butterfly species to be seen during our trip, and those that I could identify included Painted Lady, with large numbers of butterflies migrating, along with smaller numbers of Clouded Yellows. 

Lang's short-tailed Blue - Crete, September 2011

Lang's Short-tailed Blue was common on the flowering plants around the hotel...

Cretan Grayling - Crete, September 2011

                                                           ....and Cretan Grayling and Cardinal were present on the path upto Dikteon Andron Cave. Unfortunately the small blue butterflies did not hang around long enough for me to identify.

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