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A Report from

Rethymnon, Crete, 5th-19th April 2012,

Bob Shiret


This was our first trip to Crete and was booked through Olympic Holidays and cost for 2 weeks half board including flights and taxi transfers was around £1700.  Our hotel was the Theartemis Palace which we can heartily recommend with good food, pleasant service and helpful staff.

My wife is a non birder so this was not a bird watching trip but a holiday to do some walking, sightseeing and wildlife watching.

Weather during our trip was around 650-700f most days, it rained on 2 days and was fairly windy on the coast.  We did not hire a car and used the local and long distance buses that connect the towns along the north coast.  For information if using the buses get the latest timetables from the bus stations and double check everything, assume nothing! 

Pre-reading consisted included previous reports on and Stephanie Coghlan’s “A Bird watching Guide To Crete”(BGC).


On one walk I marched through a valley full of the plant pictured (Jerusalem Sage) below with Stonechat atop and finished up in a very bad way.  Dust disturbed from the plant got into my lungs and for half an hour I was quite ill so beware!


The town consists of a quaint harbour and Venetian fort surrounded by a characterful “Old Town” and hotels spread out along the western edge where the main beach resides.  The Fortezza is the imposing fort that overlooks the town and was about 30 minutes walk from our hotel.  Birds seen here include a Woodchat Shrike (lifer), Hoopoe, Northern Wheatear and a pair of breeding Blue Rock Thrushes.  A Sandwich Tern was in the harbour and along the beach and dunes going west were a Sanderling, several Little Ringed Plovers, Crested larks, Yellow Wagtails  (feldegg), Common Sandpiper, Great Reed Warbler, Spanish Sparrows, Stonechat, Whinchat, Cettis Warblers, Kestrel, Buzzard, Sardinian Warblers.

Woodchat Shrike

Blue Rock Thrush

Sandwich Tern


Little Ringed Plovers

Yellow Wagtails (feldegg)


Sardinian Warbler

The Platanes River and Prasses Gorge were 30 minutes walk east from our hotel along the “Old Road” until a new bridge is reached, turn right here and the tracks either side of the bridge will take you along up to the Gorge.  Birds seen along the river were Pied Flycatcher, Cettis Warbler, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Whinchat.  In the Prasses Gorge which is about an hours walk from the bridge mentioned earlier there were breeding Kestrels, Swallows, Red Rumped Swallows  (lifer) Blue Rock Thrush,  two Black Eared Wheatears, Sardinian Warblers , Little Crake (heard) and 20 Griffon Vultures. As we walked up to the Gorge a Vulture was spotted coming in to land out of site around the next river bend and we managed to get reasonable views at about 200 yards, as shown in the top picture below.  On our walk back down the Gorge my wife shouted to me “they’re feeding on something on the hillside”, and sure enough we were privileged to see the group feeding on a newly deceased goat.

These birds with an eight and a half foot wingspan were flying directly above us to the hillside to squabble with each other for pickings. We watched them for about fifteen minutes as they made short work of the goat, they tolerated our presence at about 100 yards and when they had finished they gained height in the gorge using the thermals and within minutes were specs in the sky.

We both felt we were extremely lucky to witness this entirely natural event which was a case of being in the right place at the right time, hope you enjoy the pictures.

Griffon Vulture

This was the first bird that we saw and we were pretty pleased to get this view!

This final shot shows the vultures wheeling around after lunch !

The “pines” and Hills around Rethymnon

The Pines is an area perhaps four hundred yards square of conifers above Rethymnon and can be reached on foot up a steep road.  Stonechat, Sardinian Warblers and common Finches were seen here but most interesting was a small hawk/falcon that was seen on three occasions but not identified.  On my first visit to the Pines the bird flashed by very fast through the trees, I saw it was dark and seemed too small for a Sparrowhawk.  On my second visit I realised that there were in fact a pair of birds, and they were keeping an eye on me!  They flew very fast through the trees, twisting and turning like a miniature Goshawk, but they were perched tantalizingly just out of site and they still did not appear to be Sparrowhawks, (we get these regularly in our garden).  On my third visit my wife accompanied me and did not think they were Sparrowhawks either, too small, dark, fast and agile.  Again although they were seen several times no view was good enough to clinch identification.  The hills behind Rethymnon has large tracts of Olive Groves where a Woodchat Shrike, Buzzard, Alpine Swift and Sardinian Warbler were seen.  Interestingly whilst walking here we both heard the unmistakable “laugh” of a Green Woodpecker which I am pretty sure are not supposed to occur on Crete!


This town is on the south side of the island and can be reached by bus from Rethymnon bus station at reasonable times at weekends only (out at 9 am returning at 3 pm).  Take the path by the river where it meets the beach and follow it inland to the Kotsiphos Gorge.  Along the route you have to cross the stream on your left which can be done at a boulder crossing point.  Griffon Vultures were here along with a Golden Eagle and a very energetic Common Buzzard who was diving as per a Peregrine from a great height, flattening out above the trees and flying like a Goshawk at treetop height at great speed out to sea and then using the strong wind to lift itself quickly to great height again.  This performance was repeated at least four times before he came to rest in a tree.  It appeared to us as if it was doing it for pure enjoyment, interestingly none of the many Buzzards we saw in Crete gave the “mewing” call one would expect of UK Buzzards.

Amari Valley and Gorge

Griffon Vultures were here along with Crag Martins in the Gorge along with a large colony of Jackdaws and several Buzzards and Kestrels, a Turtle Dove was heard in the valley. 

Petres River and Gorge

This area is easily reached by regular bus from Rethymnon and around the road bridge were a Little Egret, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Sardinian and Cettis Warblers and two Kestrels.  In the Gorge were small colony of Griffon Vultures and on surrounding hillside a young Honey Buzzard was spotted.  For interest in the BGC it shows a path going into the gorge, this is not now passable due to trees/shrubs etc.

Black Winged Stilts on rocks at Chania Harbour

Other Wildlife

It was a bit early in the year for butterflies on Crete but Swallowtails were common along with Eastern Dappled White and many Speckled Woods more golden than in the UK, a single Cleopatra was seen and a few Easton Baton Blues.


Speckled  Wood (P.a.aegeria)

Easton Baton Blue

 Red-eared Terrapin

This terrapin was seen at Petres River Bridge and for some reason Pliakas seemed to be good for reptiles which were surprisingly absent from most places (too early?). 

Balkan Wall Lizard at Pliakas


A very good holiday with some good birds, unspoilt countryside and lots of history.  Only one shotgun cartridge was seen on our travels and if you were of a mind to combine family holiday with nearby bird watching it would be hard to beat!

One point of note was that over half the migrant birds seen only arrived the day before we left, this was due to a heavy storm and winds the previous night.


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