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A Report from

Crete, 20 – 26th April 2011,

Alison Parnell

Crete is the largest Greek island and is relatively undeveloped.  Consequently the road network, though extensive, is often not well surfaced.   On the plus side, there is very little traffic.

Many migrants use the island on their way to and from Europe.

Information sources

Stephanie Coghlan’s “A Birdwatching Guide to Crete” was very useful for maps, sites and species’ status, though it needs updating (we have the 4th edition – 1996).
Many trip reports are available on the net.

Getting There

Since we live in Italy, we flew from Milan to Heraklion on Aegean Air.

Getting Around

We hired a saloon car through Hertz.   A four-wheel drive vehicle would have been useful on mountain tracks.

We bought maps of Crete before we went but they were not very accurate or up to date.  Place names were imaginatively written, though road signs were usually both in Greek and English.  Rudimentary knowledge of the Greek alphabet was useful. English is widely spoken in resorts.   Smiles and mime coped with the rest.


There are many hotels all over Crete with prices ranging from cheap to expensive. We booked over the net before we left.

Everywhere we went we were met with courtesy and friendliness.  We were even offered raki and pastries (the Cretan equivalent of tea and biscuits) when the road was blocked by an Easter party which had spilled out into the street.


20th April Gouves Lagoon 21km east of Heraklion
21st April Gouves Lagoon, Heraklion Power Station, Platanes River and gorge 4km east of Rethymnon on the north coast, Georgioupolis Lake 25km east of Chania on the north coast.
22nd April Agia Reservoir 12km southeast of Chania, Omalos Plateau 50km south of Chania and Samaria Gorge
23rd April Georgioupolis Lake, Lake Kornas, 4km south of Georgioupolis, Prasiano Gorge, 10kms south of Rethymnon, Koutaliotiko and Kotsiphos Gorges –  30kms west of Aghia Galini on the south coast, Plakias promontory.
24th April Saktouria – a small village west of Aghia Galini, Platis Rivernorth of Ahia Galini, foothills of Mount Idi
25th April Spili Bumps, Mount Idi, Amari Reservoir, Prasiano Gorge
26th April Return from Saktouria to Heraklion
Site Accounts
20th April
Gouves Lagoon

The entrance to the area was not at all obvious.  You need to turn down one of the tracks on the seaward side of the main road on the west side of Hersonisou.  In the fields to either side of the track were Cattle Egret, Pied Flycatcher, Sardinian Warbler, Italian and Spanish Sparrows, Crested Lark and Tree Pipit. Overhead were Swallows and Sand Martins.   Raptors were good with Hobby, Kestrel, Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Griffon Vulture.  From the reeds we could hear Reed, Great Reed  and Cetti’s Warblers, while on the river edges were Purple and Squacco Herons.

In the lagoon by the shore were Little Stint, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover.

21st April Gouves Lagoon, Platanes River and gorge and Georgioupolis Lake

The day started off with Mediterranean and Cory’s Shearwaters seen from our hotel room.  While eating breakfast a Hoopoe put in a brief appearance. In a scruffy field on the edge of Hersonisou there were many Yellow Wagtails, Swallows, Sand and House Martins, the first of many Woodchat Shrikes, and a Griffon Vulture overhead. A quick return to Gouves Lagoon added Whimbrel, Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Short-toed Lark to our list.

We had a quick stop at Heraklion Power Station.  Like so many of the sites in Crete, it was obvious that large amounts of EU money had been spent 10 or 15 years ago to improve sites which were then abandoned.  The 2 viewing towers at the power station were one example.   They were falling apart and badly situated.  However, on the river were 2 Mute Swans.

We reached Platanes Gorge in time for lunch and enjoyed watching Red-rumped Swallows and Lesser Kestrels while we munched our sandwiches.  As the thermals were active, Griffon Vultures were always in sight.   Jackdaws and Raven also performed well. At the mouth of the river, a Reed Warbler was singing

Continuing west, we called in at Georgioupolis Lake.  There was a good selection of waders – Common, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, and other migrants.  A pair of Garganey showed well, as did a male Little Bittern and 3 Little Crakes.  A Kingfisher  perched obligingly on a nearby branch before darting off.  A return visit to the lake 2 days later added 24 Glossy Ibis to the list.

22nd April

Scanning the sea from our hotel room near Chania before breakfast added Shag to the list.  We then drove south to Agia Reservoir where there were so many Sand Martins that they looked like swarming bees. A Black-eared Wheatear and Whinchats sang from the top of dead flower stalks while a Cormorant – unusual in spring, flew by.  Common and Alpine Swifts, Swallow and House Martin were other  species seen there.

Careful scanning of the base of the dam revealed 3 Little and a Baillon’s Crake.  A Sedge Warbler showed well on reeds and a Common Sandpiper fed on the lake’s outflow.

Heading towards the Omalos plateau, Pallid Swift and Crag Martin completed the  list.  The famous Samaria Gorge was closed as it was still too early in the season to guarantee no life-threatening flash floods.  However, a bit of patient searching came up with Red-billed Chough.  The plateau produced good views of Griffon Vulture and an excellent performance of a juvenile Lammergeier. Kestrel and Buzzard also put in an appearance.   Closer to earth, Wood Lark sang its lovely song and Turtle Dove and Cirl Bunting called.  There were several more Woodchat Shrikes and Yellow Wagtails.  There are 3 pools on the far side of the plateau, and it looks like a major construction is underway to provide a larger and more permanent reservoir.   On the pool edges were Common and Wood Sandpipers.

Stopping and scanning by the side of the road on the way down added Blue Rock Thrush and Linnet to the list.

23rd April

A quick visit to Lake Kournas proved rather frustrating as the only thing of interest was a very distant tern – possibly White-winged Black.  The pedalos were causing a lot of disturbance and we quickly left, heading east from Chania to Rethymnon and then south onto Prasiano Gorge.   The road for Prassis was not at all clear and it was more by luck than judgement that we found ourselves on the correct road.

Half a dozen Griffon Vultures were very active as we scanned the gorge from the roadside, but the Bonelli’s Eagle we were hoping for didn’t show.  Italian Sparrows and Jackdaws were nesting in the eroded holes in the limestone cliffs. Carg Martins were much in evidence through Koutaliotiko and Kotsiphos Gorges and a couple of Alpine Choughs put in a brief appearance.

Scanning the cliff tops above Plakias promontory added Tawny Pipit and White Wagtail while offshore a group of 12 Cory’s Shearwaters showed well.   On the beach by Plakias village was an exhausted group of Black-winged Stilts being disturbed by people on the sand.

24th April

We spent a couple of days staying with friends in Saktouria – a hamlet 5kms west of Aghia Galini on the south coast.    I am sure that the villagew as just like hundreds of others dotted round the same area.  But just by spending a few hours scanning we picked up some good birds:  Chukar, Golden Orioles, Corn, Ortolan and Cretzschmar’s Buntings and a Cuckoo.

Stopping at the road bridge over Platis River came up with Little Egrets, Greenshank, Wood and Common Sandpipers and Little Stint.

Driving round the south slopes of Mount Idi with frequent stops came up with Lesser and Common Kestrels and Cuckoo.  The Lesser Kestrels seemed to be nesting as there were several pairs around a big outcrop of rock on the north side of the road just past Lochria

25th April

We started the day by going down to the coast to have another look at Chukar and were also rewarded with Honey Buzzard and Black Kite.    Then on to Spili Bumps – famous for wild flowers in general and orchids in particular.    Access is from the Spili to Gerakari road.    Climb up from Spili and where the road the levels out, there is a taverna on the left.   Continue past the taverna and take the track 100m further down on the right.   Park after another 100m and the first Bump is between you and the main road.     The second Bump is a kilometre further on, just after a sharp left hand bend.    Quail called as we were photographing Italian Man Orchid, a hobby flew over while Griffon Vultures were always present once the thermals were rising.    Slowly cruising around the foothills of Mount Idi added a tantalising glimpse of Ruppell’s Warbler.   Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Common and Long-legged Buzzard and Tawny Pipit were also seen.    We went as far as Amari Reservoir, south of Rethymnon. The reservoir has been much enlarged and the road we had hoped to follow was lost under the water.  We did however, find a splendid new rubbish dump on the east side of the road north of Aghia Fotini with 60+ Ravens, 2 Black Kites and hundreds of Yellow-legged Gulls.  

26th April

Our last day was spent slowly making our way back to Heraklion airport.   We had marvellous views of a group of migrating Red-footed Falcons just south of Aghia Varvara while from the departure lounge two ring-tailed Montagu’s Harriers made a fitting end to our trip.

Systematic List

Chukar , Several birds near the coast at Saktouria
Quail ,     2 heard at Spili Bumps
Mute Swan,      A pair on the river at Heraklion Power Station
Garganey ,        A pair at Georgioupolis Lake
Cory's Shearwater , Over the sea at Chania
Mediterranean Shearwater,      Over the sea at Chania
Little Grebe ,    Common and widespread wherever there was water
Glossy Ibis ,     Georgioupolis Lake
Little Bittern , 3 birds at Georgioupolis Lake
Squacco Heron ,       Frequent wherever there was water
Cattle Egret ,     Gouves Lagoon
Grey Heron,     Frequent wherever there was water
Purple Heron,    Frequent wherever there was water
Little Egret ,      Common and widespread wherever there was water
Cormorant,        Agia Reservoir
Shag,       On the sea at Chania and near Aghia Galini
Lesser Kestrel , Seen in several areas
Common Kestrel ,    Common and widespread 
Red-footed Falcon ,   A migrating group seen east of Mount Idi
European Hobby ,    Seen in several areas
Honey Buzzard,      One bird at the coast at Saktouria
Black Kite,       Two birds over the rubbish dump at
Lammergeier,   One bird on the Omalos Plateau
Griffon Vulture ,      Common and widespread whenever there were thermals
Marsh Harrier , Seen at several sites
Montagu's Harrier , Two ringtails at Heraklion airport
Common Buzzard , Common and widespread
Long-legged Buzzard , Seen at several sites
Little Crake ,     3 at Georgioupolis lake, up to 4 birds at Agia
Baillon’s Crake ,      One bird at Agia Lake
Moorhen,          Common and widespread wherever there was water
Black-winged Stilt ,   On the beach on the Plakias promontory
Little Ringed Plover , Frequent wherever there was water
Whimbrel,        One bird at Gouves Lagoon
Marsh Sandpiper ,    2 at Georgioupolis Lake
Greenshank ,     1 seen on Platis River, Aghia Galini
Wood Sandpiper ,    Frequent wherever there was water
Common Sandpiper ,   Frequent wherever there was water
Little Stint ,       2 at Platis River, Aghia Galini, 2 at Gouves Lagoon
Curlew Sandpiper , 1 bird at Gouves Lagoon
Ruff ,       5 birds at Gouves Lagoon
Yellow-legged Gull ,   Common and widespread
(Feral) Rock Pigeon ,   Common and widespread
Wood Pigeon,   Frequent in wooded areas
Turtle Dove ,     Frequent in many sites
Collared Dove,        Far too common
Common Cuckoo ,   1 at Saktouria, 1 on foothills of Mount Idi
Alpine Swift,   Frequent and widespread
Common Swift ,      Frequent and widespread
Pallid Swift ,    Several sightings in mixed groups of migrating Swifts
Common Kingfisher , 1 bird at Georgioupolis Lake
Hoopoe , 1 in hotel garden east of Heraklion
Woodchat Shrike ,   Common and widespread
Golden Oriole, Seen at several sites on the south coast
Jay,   1 bird on foothills of Mount Idi
Red-billedChough, Samaria Gorge and foothills of Mount Idi
Alpine Chough,        Koutaliotiko and Kotsiphos Gorges
Jackdaw, Common and widespread
Raven,      Common and widespread
Hooded Crow, Common and widespread
Great Tit, Common and widespread
Blue Tit,   Common and widespread
Sand Martin ,    Common and widespread over water
Barn Swallow, Common and widespread
Crag Martin,     Common along any of the gorges
House Martin , Common and widespread over water
Red-rumped Swallow, Platanas Gorge and foothills of Mount Idi
Short-toed Lark,     In the fields by Gouves Lagoon
Crested Lark,   Common and widespread
Wood Lark,      Common and widespread
Skylark,   One bird on the hills round Saktouria
Cetti's Warbler,       Common and widespread
Great Reed Warbler ,   Gouves Lagoon
Sedge Warbler,       Agia Reservoir
Reed Warbler, Gouves Lagoon
Blackca,         Frequently heard
Sardinian Warbler, Common and widespread
Ruppell's Warbler,   One bird on foothills of Mount Idi
Wren,      Frequent in many areas
Nightingale,     One bird heard at Spili Bumps
Whinchat ,         Frequent and widespread
Stonechat ,        Common and widespread
Northern Wheatear, Frequent and widespread
Black-eared Wheatear, Frequent and widespread
Blue Rock Thrush, Frequent in rocky places
Pied Flycatcher,       1 in fields near at Gouves Lagoon and 1 near Saktoruia
Italian Sparrow,       Common and widespread
Spanish Sparrow,     Several in fields at Gouves Lagoon
Tree Sparrow,    1 at Agia reservoir and 1 on foothills of Mount Idi
Yellow Wagtail,      20+ in a field near Hersonisou, 1 at Agia Reservoir
White Wagtail,        One bird seen on the Plakias Promentary
Tawny Pipit,     One bird seen on the Plakias Promentary
Tree Pipit ,         One bird at Gouves Lagoon
Chaffinch,         All over the place
Serin,        Frequent in many areas
Greenfinch,       Common and widespread
Goldfinch,         Common and widespread
Linnet,      Frequently seen or heard in hilly areas
Corn Bunting,   Frequent around the south coast
Ortolan Bunting,      One bird seen near Saktouria
Cretzschmar's Bunting,     One bird seen near Saktouria 
Cirl Bunting,   Saktouria, Spili Bumps, Mount Idi


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