Another largely non-birding trip, this time in search of much-needed sunshine with the added attraction of some hiking, migrant birds and endemic plants. We started in the mountains of Omalos, but one day of cold, wind, rain and cold sent us scuttling southwards to the coast.
Before we left we did manage to find some flowers, including tulips and several orchid species, and we viewed the top of the Samaria Gorge, even though it was still closed for the winter. Through the murk we did also see at least 8 Wood Sandpipers, Raven, Northern & Black-eared Wheatear, Alpine & Pallid Swifts, Blue Rock Thrush and a large flock of Red-footed Falcons. Simon also managed to fluke a Lammergeier overhead. Hmmmph!
Our next stay was in Paleohora in the southwest, which was beautifully deserted, with an almost forgotten feel to it out of season. We picked a hotel near a promontory, which turned out to be a reasonable migrant trap, and as we arrived we found an exhausted Wood Sandpiper by the front door, boding well for future migrant searches!
The promontory itself yielded Wryneck, Short-toed, Wood and Crested Larks, Subalpine & Ruppell’s Warbler, Wood Warbler, Griffon Vulture, Squacco Heron, Yelkouan Shearwater, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, and a Thrush Nightingale right in the town centre . One evening, after another enormous meal, no doubt including the ubiquitous Greek Salad, we stumbled across a Beech Marten foraging on the beach – a first for both of us! More flowers hesitantly identified included the amazing, huge Dragon Arum lily (Dracunculus vulgaris), Gladiolus illyrica, and more orchids including Serapias spp and Orchis spp. We also found several butterflies in spite of the wind, such as Clouded Yellow and an obliging Swallowtail up on the ruins of the Venetian castle above the town.
One day we took a boat to Sougia and walked back in the wind (about five hours at a slow botanising pace). On stopping to admire the Lissos ancient ruins, we found Sardinian Warbler, Raven, Whinchat and Wood Warbler. Also here were Wood & Crested Lark, Collared Flycatcher, Red-throated Pipit and Woodchat Shrike.
Another expedition was the walk through the beautiful Irini Gorge, which was very sheltered and warm, offering a welcome respite from the wind. Here we saw Collared Flycatcher, Blackcap, Wood & Willow Warblers, Cuckoo, Bee-eater and best of all, a roosting Scops Owl. New butterflies for the trip included Speckled Wood and Wall Brown, and we also enjoyed seeing wild Cyclamen everywhere.
Whilst at Paleohora, we visited the fabled Elafonisi beach in the west, which was gorgeous and wonderfully deserted, and really does have pink sand! Whilst Julia paddled, enjoying the sunshine, Simon was inevitably kicking bushes and found us Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Hoopoe, Kentish Plover, more Red-footed Falcons and a family party of Linnets. A new butterfly for both of us was Cardinal Fritillary, and we found the endemic Rock Lettuce (Petromarula pinnata). On the drive back we added Tawny Pipit and Cetti’s Warbler to the trip list.
Next was Agias Lake, where we got brilliant views (although sadly not photos) of Little Crake and added a few more waterbirds to our trip list: Moorhen, Coot, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt and Little Grebe. And then on to our next base - Plakias. Near there birds included Stone Curlew, Chough and a wonderful Bonelli’s Eagle near the Imbros Gorge.
A search for orchids on a famous hill near Spili gave us lots of orchids, but we did struggle to confidently identify most of them. We think we found Lax-flowered Orchid (Orchis lactiflora), Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora), Italian Man Orchid (Orchis italica), and Ophrys fusca sp, along with Ophrys sicula, Orchis quadripunctata, Ophrys bombiliflora, Orchis boryiand Ophrys episcopalis. In addition, there were Serapias sp and more Ophrys sp unidentified (by us, anyway!). More easily identified were the masses of Tulipa doerfleri, and on much safer ground we were pleased to see and hear several Corn Buntings in song here.
You can’t come to Crete without being a bit of a tourist, and so we did visit two archaeological sites; the first was Phaistos in the east where the Phaistos disk was found, and of course, how could we not go to Knossos in Iraklio?
However, we couldn’t quite leave the binoculars behind so we did manage find Golden Oriole and Red-rumped Swallow whilst admiring the frescoes and ruins! So no bird ticks for us on this trip, but one mammal, one butterfly and lots of plant lifers (even if we’re not quite sure of all of their identities!).
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