The lake of crakes

I went out to a reservoir near Hania today. The guide to birdwatching in Crete listed, among the possible birds for the site, Little Crake, Spotted Crake and Baillon’s Crake. I’ve never seen any of those before, but I didn’t get my hopes up because all the crakes are notoriously difficult to see; they skulk.

So I arrived and pretty much the first thing I saw? A crake! In full view! And I had one of those panicky moments of trying to put down the telescope in a controlled fashion and get a proper look at the bird and check the field guide, all at the same time, thinking I had to make use of my lucky moment, while the crake just kept pottering about at the edge of the reeds. After I’d had a long look at it and decided it was Little Crake (plain blue underside and no barring on the flanks, since you ask) I had a quick check in the other direction along the lake, and there was another one! And it became apparent that not only were they not bothering to skulk, they were extremely approachable. I now have lots and lots of blurry crake photos. I don’t know how many individual birds there were – maybe eight, in total? – but I certainly had incredible views of them. All the same species, but it would be churlish to complain about that.

I can only assume that they are so tame because they’re on migration and their priority is eating furiously to get their strength up. From Africa to, say, Poland is a long way to fly for a little bird with stubby wings. I also got incredibly good views of a Little Bittern that just sat and looked at me as I approached instead of ducking into the reeds. Again, it was probably knackered from all the flying.

Being in Crete at the moment really brings home the scale of migration. The whole island is full of birds, but nearly all of them are just passing through. Even many species which are common all over Europe – hoopoe, cuckoo, grey
heron, little egret – don’t breed on Crete. I’ve seen all those species, and if I didn’t have a birdwatching guide to Crete with me I’d assume they were residents, but they’re all on their way somewhere else.

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