Long day planned

I’m jut killing time until I get the first bus of a planned three-bus, five or six hour journey halfway across Crete. Maybe even three-quarters. I considered breaking it up by stopping somewhere for a night halfway, but actually time is a limited resource and there’s no point using up extra days of my holiday hanging around in bus stations. Fortunately there are lots of buses for the second and third sections (Hania-Iraklion and Iraklion-Malia) so the plan should be fairly robust in the face of any little cock-ups.

Then I’m currently intending, after a morning’s birding at Malia, to take another couple of buses tomorrow and get up to the Lasithi plateau for a couple of nights before coming home. That’s a slightly flakier plan, and depends whether I feel like doing the extra bussing, but it sounds like a nice place, and sort of a substitute for going to Omalos.

I’m sure all this must be fascinating for you all :)


Bio Blitz bust

It turns out I was a bit optimstic planning to ID flowers for the bio-blitz. There are just too many different little yellow compositidae and white umbellifers to try to ID them from descriptions of petal length and leaf shape. If I do it again next year, I’ll make sure I have a field guide I can actually use. I’ll probably submit one of my days’ birds lists just to take part, but it’s disappointing.

Irritatingly, I think going to the Omalos plateau, which was my preferred next step, is not going to be practical. The buses only start running there when the Samaria Gorge is safe enough to open for tourists, and that’s not going to be for another fortnight at least. I don’t actually want to walk the gorge, but I suppose I can’t expect them to lay on a bus just for me. I did consider getting a taxi there, which would be expensive but possible, but then I’d have to get out again afterwards, which would basically mean ordering an even more expensive taxi to come and fetch me from Hania. So I’m going to have to quickly come up with a plan for my last few days; I think I’ve done Paleohora now. There’s a good birding site and Minoan palace at Malia, which is a simple bus trip from Heraklion, but I don’t think I want to spend three days there. Perhaps I’ll stop an Rethymno (sp?) and check out the town.

Hmm. Decisions decisions.

Yesterday’s napo poem has been written but I’m not going to post it just now.

Me Nature

Red-letter day

For me, one of the nice things about birding in Europe is that, in a sense, every new bird represents a lifetime ambition fulfilled. If you live in the UK, soon after you start taking an interest in birds, you get a book of birds of Britain and Europe, and spend time looking at all the intriguing species that aren’t found in the UK. Obviously, not all the ambitions are equally deeply held; not even the most geekily bird-obsessed six-year old is going to get that excited by the drabber waders and warblers. But at least you’ve known the names for years; it’s not like birding in South America or Africa, where often the first time I consciously register the bird’s name is when I identify it.

There’s one group of birds, though, that I can sincerely say represent a lifetime’s ambition for me. One of the first bird books we had in the house was not a field guide exactly, but a large format book of British birds for the family library. I’m not sure it even had all the British breeding species, and it certainly didn’t have many rarities. But it did make room for one set, chosen more for their visual appeal than because the reader was likely to see them. On what was effectively the ‘colourful birds’ page, along with kingfisher and golden oriole, there were three species that are occasional vagrants to the UK: bee-eater, hoopoe and roller.

Well, as of today, I’ve finally seen the whole set, because today I saw a roller for the first time. I’ve actually seen other species of roller in Africa, but I’d never seen European Roller, and it was even better than I expected. I saw it flutter up onto a bare tree, where it was sitting facing me in full sunlight, and I knew they were blue, but it was just the most beautiful, unreal sky blue colour.

So this is a big day for me. I’ve also seen Golden Oriole, Woodchat Shrike, Quail and Peregrine Falcon, which would be pretty good by normal standards, but today is all about that roller.

EDIT: what’s more, I’ve now discovered that according to the book, Roller is a ‘Very Rare’ passage migrant here, so not only is it a beautiful bird and an exciting one for me personally, it’s actually a good record for Crete! Which isn’t really that important to me but adds a little extra je ne sais quoi.



I’m in Paleohora. I don’t really know why I need to share that with you all, but there you go.

Me Nature

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.

Me Nature

birding at Aghia Triada

‘Aghia Triada’ is ‘Holy Trinity’, and it’s a monastery on Akrotiri. I went there not just to look at the monastery, but mainly to do birding.

It was a good birding day, I’m pleased to say. Lots of birds, but the most notable were the black-headed race of Yellow Wagtail, Golden Oriole and two which are new for me: Black-eared Wheatear and Collared Flycatcher.

Also lots of flowers; my first orchid of the trip, a serapsis of some kind, and some extraordinary huge dark purple arums that looked like something from Day of the Triffids. So that was all good.

Cloudy all day, which was good for my personal comfort but not so good for photography.