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A Report from

South Western Crete, 24th July - 9th August 2001,

John Girdley

I start with a confession, I had just had one hell of a year at work, this was a rest cure, and nothing was going to get in the way of that!

However, I am a birder and I well knew the birding potential of Crete. (At least in spring when migrants can turn up anywhere!) A hit list was duly compiled, with the assistance of Stephanie Coghlans "A birdwatching guide to Crete." Seven potential lifers were identified: Ruppells Warbler, Chukar, Yelkouan Shearwater, Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor and Scops Owl.

I armed myself with as much information as possible, (not difficult when you run a trip reports Web Page!!) and dreamt of the day.

I had studied the maps, but my first true inkling of the difficulties of birding the island came with my first three hour drive from the airport in searing heat. The air-conditioning struggled to cope. I was staying at Chora Sfakion, which while excellent as a relaxing destination proved to rather off the beaten track. The final ten miles to my hotel took a grueling thirty minutes down a series of thirty hairpins, dropping some six hundred metres in the process.

My intention had been to do lots of pre-breakfast birding, traveling to all the key sites. However the thought of negotiating the hairpins in the dark was a none starter. I had failed to fully appreciate the size of the Island and the difficulty of getting from one destination to the next. Also, it was far too hot during the day to contemplate birding at all!

Plans were reassessed. The final four species on my list could wait, I was heading for the Pyrenees on my return, and they would all would be much easier to see there. (And indeed were, but that's another story):

Some key sites:

The headland immediately east of Chora Sfakion:
I spent at least half my mornings down here, patiently sea-watching. A steady stream of Shearwaters flew by, on average about 25 Cory's Shearwaters / hour. I must have seen hundreds by the end of my two weeks. Not a single Yelkouan Shearwater was seen. Yellow-legged Gulls flew by only occasionally. Two Kingfishers were a surprise, the first time that I have ever seen one whilst sea-watching. Walks to and from the headland were enlivened by large flocks of mixed Alpine, Pallid and Common Swift, several covey's of Chukar, lots of Black-eared Wheatear, Crested Lark, Blue Rock Thrush and Raven.

Area near Aradena Gorge Bridge:
Approached up yet another set of hairpins, leading west from Shora Sfakion. Woodchat Shrikes were a surprise, Hooded Crow was fairly common, Jay and several common birds also seen.

The Imbros Gorge:
I only walked the lower third of this gorge: Blue Rock Thrush were seen but the best bird was undoubtably a female Ruppells Warbler. This was a key target bird, and as such, probably saved me much driving and seaching later in the fortnight.

There is a small wetland area here ( in the spring.) In the summer it was little more than a puddle. A Squacco Heron was a nice surprise.

Omalos Plateau / End of Samaria Gorge:
On the map, this was little more than 10km from my hotel. (as the Crow flies). However, by road it was a journey of over100km. Potentially this was the best area on the Island for birding. Griffon Vulture were much in evidence. Chough seemed fairly common. Woodchat Shrike were seen again. Without a family breathing down my neck, I would have savoured the area more. I didn't see them but Lammergeier, Alpine Chough and Alpine Accentor can all be found in this area, apparently.

Georgiopolis Lake:
Had I been staying on the north coast, I would have visited this site on a daily basis. A freshwater spring and shallow lagoon provide the best duck and wader habitat that I saw on the Island. Woodsandpiper, Dabchick, Coot and Moorhen on my visit.

Lake Kournas:
Situated about 10km SE of Georgiopolis. I dropped in here on my way back to the airport. In the mid afternoon, there were far too many tourists about. I saw three little Egrets. As an early morning site, it had huge potential.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge:
This is a known Lammergeier stakeout. (Though I learnt on my return, that this applies only morning and evening as the birds move in and out of their roost site - and they are then only visible from the big central layby.) In the middle of the day, I saw only a few Griffon Vultures . Very hot and with a scorching wind blowing.

Species List:
Specific comments relate to the status as implied in "A birdwatching guide to Crete" by S. Coghlan.

Dabchick: 4 in total, 3 Georgiopoulis Lake (3/8/01) , 1 (4/8/01). I suspect breeding birds.
Corys Shearwater: These were passing the Headland at Chora Sfakion at the rate of about 25/hour throughout my visit. All seawatching was done early Morning and most days, with one exception in the late afternoon. Cory's were seen on every visit. Coghlan lists no July records.
Yelkouan Shearwater: Did not see one. This was the main object of my repeated sea watching! No listed July records and very few for autumn
Shag: 1 at the entrance to Georgiopoulis river (1/8/01). Rare resident.
Squacco Heron: 1 Frangocastello (1/8/01) Coghlan lists 5 July and 80 August records
Little Egret: 3 Lake Kournas (9/8/01) A very brief stop off on my way back to the airport, too hot and too disturbed but obviously a good site... A few birds summer.
Grey Heron: 2 seen, Georgiopolis, possibly early migrants though a few summer.
Greylag Goose: A presumed feral flock (several had extensive white feathering) at Georgiopolis and later, possibly the same birds at Lake Kournas.
Mallard: 2 Georgiopoulis (1/8/01). Few summer records listed.
Griffon Vulture: 3 at Koutaliotiko Gorge and 5 at Omalos Plateau
Long-legged Buzzard: (Adult) 1 soaring above the coast road between Imbros and Frangocastello 27th July. Coghlan lists no July records, the date would suggest a breeding bird???
Common Buzzard: Individuals seen on several occasions, widely distributed.
Golden Eagle: 1 at head of Samaria Gorge, Scarce resident (c14 pairs on island)
Chukar: Easy to see on the barren headland near my hotel at Chora Sfakion. 3 Covey's in the area, c40 birds.
Moorhen: 4 at Georgiopolis Lake
Coot: 4 at Georgiopolis Lake (including young)
Wood Sandpiper: 2 Georgiopoulis Lake (3/8/01) , 1 (4/8/01).
Yellow-legged Gull: Odd individuals flew by during my sea-watching at Chora Sfakion, small no's at the mouth of Georgiopolis River.
Rock Dove: A flock of about 60 birds regular at the headland at Chora Sfakion. Flocks also seen at Kourtaliotiko and Imbros Gorges.
Wood Pigeon: 4 at head of Samaria Gorge.
Collared Dove: At least 2 pairs at my Hotel at Chora Sfakion. (A new site?). Also seen at Frangocastello, Chania and Rethymno...The spread continues.
Alpine Swift: Regular flocks of 100+ in the Chora Sfakion area throughout the period, always over the sea cliffs.
Pallid Swift: In the Chora Sfakion area, appeared to be just as common as Common Swift. No proper counts done, but regularly 20-30 seen.
Common Swift: see above comments
Common Kingfisher: 1 Georgiopoulis Lake (4/8/01), 2 on the sea cliffs at Chora Sfakion (5/8/01). Early passage migrants?
Crested Lark: Common in most arid areas.
Swallow: Just a few seen.
Crag Martin: Regularly seen, often skimming the hotel pool.
White Wagtail: A pair on the headland at Chora Sfakion.
Stonechat: Common resident.
Black-eared Wheatear: Very common.
Blue Rock Thrush: Seen in the Imbros Gorge and at several points along the South Coast.
Blackbird: Seen at least once, can't remember where.
Ruppells Warbler: Female at lower entrance of Imbros Gorge (29/7/01) presumably a breeding site.
Blue Tit: In hilly areas
Great Tit: Common.
Woodchat Shrike: Three seen , all assumed to be breeding birds as seemed to be on territory.
2 , a mile apart, above the Aradena Gorge (27/7/01), 1 Omalos Plateau (4/8/01)
Jay: Several in the hills.
Chough: 10 Omalos plateau.
Hooded Crow: Regular in hilly areas
Raven: Two flew over my hotel every day.
House (Italian) Sparrow: Only the Italian type seen, always seemed very wary and hard to view properly.
Greenfinch: Common
Goldfinch: Very Common
Linnet: Common, especially Omalos plateau.


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