Trip Report: Crete, 4th to 17th May 2002


Report on Birdwatching Trip to Crete, 4th to 17th May 2002 -  Dermot McCabe, Patricia Price,  Bill and Heather Quinn - Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland

 We planned a birding trip to Crete for spring migrants and residents. We had intended to go in late April but discovered that charters to Crete from Dublin did not commence until the beginning of May and the airfare on scheduled flights would cost twice the price of a two week package, (apartments, self catering) which came to 470 euros per person. We hired a car (Opel Corsa) for two weeks for 290 euros over the internet. We stayed at Kato Gouves about 25 km east of Iraklio. For our information we used Stephanie Coghlan's "A Birdwatching Guide to Crete". Despite annoying ambiguities in maps and directions to some sites we found it invaluable.  In the fortnight we managed to visit 34 of the 56 sites listed in the book. At some of the sites visited there was little of interest to be seen either due to the time of the day and/or the month of the year being unsuitable.  We were not too conscientious about early starts but resisted the siesta and travelled throughout the day until dark most evenings and we clocked up more than 3000 km.

 We use Coghlan's reference numbers to identify each site we visited, e.g. Gouves Lagoon (9).

 4th May

Gouves Lagoon (9)

Pools, Salt marsh  (mostly dry),  land side of dunes.

Species:-  Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron (2), White- winged Black Tern (2),

Little Ringed Plover (5+), Temminck's Stint (1), Little Stint (3), Ruff (4), Spotted Redshank (1), Wood Sandpiper (1), Flava Wagtail (Yellow Wagtail) mixed bunch of 15,  Red-throated Pipit (5), Crested Lark (10+), Stonechat (1), Whinchat (2), Hooded Crow (3), Italian Sparrow  (20+), Goldfinch (4). 


Spotted Redshank

Yellow Wagtail at Gouves Lagoon

Malia Marsh (31)

Scrub, fields and rocky seashore. Here we had 4 Red throated Pipits, 1 White Wagtail and 1 Subalpine Warbler with 2 Marsh Harriers passing over.

5th May

Gourtys (16)

Archaeological site -  stream and scrubby valley with olive groves. 2 Squacco Herons (and a dead Night Heron, first Summer, killed by a car according to a local shepherd), Buzzard (Steppe Buzzard type), Kestrels, Collared Doves, Great Tits, Sparrows and Finches.

Phaestos (37)
There are excellent elevated views from this magnificent Minoan site, which should be good for raptors. We had Steppe Buzzard and Kestrel here also.
Steppe Buzzard at Phaestos


Gouves - Aposelemis River (9)

Overgrown river viewed from high banks on North side and dry but green riverbed walkable on the upstream side of the main road bridge. Here we had 6+ singing Cetti’s Warblers, Olivaceous Warbler and 2 Woodchat shrikes. We added Common Snipe and Common Sandpiper to our wader list and when we came to the rivermouth we could see the Glossy Ibis at the lagoon, probably the same bird from 4th.  At this point 12 European Bee Eaters flew Eastwards over our heads.

Thrapsano (39)

A large irrigation pond in an area of fields and olives. Viewed from the road the whole area can be scanned. Part of the shoreline allows small birds access for drinking and bathing.  We added 1 male Shoveler, 1 Whiskered Tern, 2 Curlew Sandpipers along with Little Stint and Little Ringed Plover. Alpine (3) and Common swifts, Barn swallows and Sand Martins were coming in to drink and at the shore 1 Tree Sparrow along with linnets and finches. 

Whiskered Tern at Thrapsano Pond

7th May

Selinari Gorge (4)

The main road Iraklio to Ayios Nicolaos passes through the gorge . There is a monastery church and a stall  market at the large lay-by where parking is convenient. Griffon Vultures are nesting on the cliff across the road not much above eye level.

Kestrel, Blue Rock Thrush and Raven were present. We had the luck to catch an Alpine Chough passing through.

Griffon Vulture at Selinari Gorge

Katharon Plateau (27)

This is a flat plain high in the surrounding mountains. The road up is steep but tarmac up to the top and then rough down into the farmland. It was much cooler and the Spring wildflowers were more plentiful than lower down, where the season was more advanced.  On the road up we had Black Eared Wheatears (both male and female of melanoleucus race) on the mountainside, where the shrubs are cropped close by goats. On the plateau streams run through farm fields. We saw a pair of nesting Cirl Buntings and a Tree Pipit.

8th May

Fodele Beach (12)

West of Iraklio.  The stream running into the beach provides cover and could hold migrants. We had Cettis again singing but invisible in the Giant Reeds. There was a Common Sandpiper  here feeding on the porch of a house.

Platanes River and Gorge (40)

This river, East of Rethymno, with pools, gravel and shrubby banks looks like great habitat, and the Gorge was mentioned in Coghlan as having Lesser Kestrel and Red Rumped Swallow.  But we had only the usual species and one Woodchat Shrike along the river.  In the Gorge where the road is narrow and steep there are wooded areas and views across to cliffs.  The cliffs were alive with sparrows but no goodies. 1 Spotted flycatcher, with Great Tit, Sardinian Warbler and usual finches plentiful in the woods.

Rethymno Pines (3)

A Pine wood with scrubby undergrowth on a hill above the city of Rethymno.This looked like promising habitat again and birds were plentiful, Blackbird, Spotted flycatcher, Great Tit , Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch, with one Buzzard drifting by obligingly at eye level.

Perama bridge near Mylo Ford (33)

In attempting to get to Mylo Ford in the late afternoon we came upon an excellent observation point on the new bridge under construction at Perama. This is a fine point for viewing, upstream and down, the wide gravelly riverbed with pools and woody banks.  In about an hour we had Little Egret, Night Heron (first summer), Grey Heron, Little Ringed Plover, Alpine and Common Swifts, Swallows and  Sand Martins, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, and finally our first sight of Cetti’s Warbler flitting about the riverbed stones like a mouse.

9th May

Thrapsano (49)

A revisit to Thrapsano Pond added Night Heron, Whitethroat and Sedge warbler to our previous species. On the road between Ano Viannos and Ierapetra (20) we had super views of 3 Red Rumped Swallows.

Ha Gorge  (17)

On the road returning from Ierapetra to Agios Nikolaos the gorge is an obvious cleft in the Monastiraki Mountains the bottom of which can be reached on foot.  It has many Red-billed Choughs and Alpine Swifts high on the cliff faces, and we had three Crag Martins sweeping about us at head height at the bottom of the gorge. We had 2 Golden Eagles cause ructions among the Choughs high above us and just cruising over the top of the cliff.

10th May

Lassithi Plateau (29)
A larger and agriculturally more developed plateau than Katharon with paved roads and some tourist activity. (The cave birthplace of Zeus is here.) Here on a streambank among pasture and vegetable fields we had 1 Jay, 3 Serins, 1 Corn Bunting, 2 Cirl Buntings as well as Crag Martin,  Red-billed Chough,  Raven,  Linnet, Chaffinch and the ubiquitous Italian Sparrow. In an orchard further on we had 1  Wood Warbler and 1 Tawny Pipit. A high hill on the plateau called Holy Cross (Stavros) has an unpaved road to its summit, driveable with care. And here we had 1 Woodlark singing in flight and perching conveniently close to us.

Woodlark at Holy Cross (Stavros)

11th May

A rest day to visit Knossos (25) and a large Jackdaw Colony at the bridge just past the Minoan Site. In the evening a return to Malia (31) produced 1 Short-toed Lark and  3 Red-throated Pipits.

12th May

Ha Gorge (17)

We revisited Ha Gorge this time at noon to see what the thermals would produce. There were fewer Alpine Swifts and Choughs and the Crag Martins were flying much higher. A Blue Rock Thrush put in an appearance, carrying food. Just as we were leaving what showed up but 3 Lammergeiers,( two adults and a Juvenile)  cruising along the cliff top and giving us great views in good light. 

    Lammergeier at Ha Gorge

Bramiana Reservoir (20)

A very good site a little to the west of the town of Ierapetra. The large reservoir is viewable from the road for most of its circumference. We Had 6 Little Bitterns, 4 Night Herons, 14 Squacco Herons, 15 Little Egrets 1 Grey Heron and  2 Purple Herons. We saw a female Shelduck,  (we were surprised to find it listed as an accidental visitor in Coghlan)  5 Mallard and 3 Gargany.  It was here we saw our only  Eleanora’s Falcon of the trip.  Waders  present were Little Stint, Ruff, Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper. We also had  2 Turtledoves , 1 Woodchat Shrike and 1 Spotted Flycatcher.


Shelduck (accidental visitor)

  Night Heron at Bramiana Resevoir

13th May

Makrigialos Bay (30)

A beach in the South- east where we had one Cory’s Shearwater and several Shearwater sp. too far out to identify. This was really the only bit of seawatching we did as most of the time the sea was really calm. We had 1 Lesser Black Backed Gull here also.

Xerocampos (50)

Further East at Xerocampos, a large brackish pool between the Olive groves and the sea was good for waders with 30+ Little Stints, 9 Curlew Sandpipers , 1 Ruff and our first Sanderling and Dunlin. In the Olives we had a female Black- eared Wheatear.

Kato Zakros Gorge (23)

Moving Northeast we inspected the Kato Zakros Gorge from the roadside at the top. We saw many House Martins in a cave colony, but, as it was getting late, we did not get any raptors although the site looked excellent. 2 Marsh  Harriers passed over the area as we left.

14th May

Georgioupolis (14), Kournas Lake (28), Agia Reservoir (2)

On Tuesday we went on a long trip westward. Our first call was to Georgioupolis Lake with Dabchicks, Coots and Moorhens in plenty. We also had 1 Little Bittern, 1 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. At Kournas Lake 2 Little Bitterns and 1 Squacco showed. This is a nice looking site with lots of bushy cover as well as the lake but is popular with tourists and pedal boats were much in evidence. It would probably be at its most undisturbed much earlier in the morning than we reached it. On to Agia Reservoir to the east of Hania on the route to Omalos Plateau and the famed Samaria Gorge. The reservoir in the early afternoon was best watched from the dam side for the light. To the above species we added Marsh Harrier, Whiskered Tern and Sedge Warbler. The gate to the pools mentioned in Coghlan seems now to be permanently closed.

Omalos Plateau & Samaria Gorge (34)

We carried on up to Omalos Plateau through impressive mountain scenery, at one stage picking up 10 Griffon Vultures perched in a Pine tree. The plateau is bleaker and less lush than Katharon or Lassithi . We had 26 Blackeared Wheatears including 16, all male,  in one small  field of short grass. Whinchats, Woodchat Shrikes and Linnets were common and we saw 1 cold looking Squacco at a small pool in a grassy field.  That night we stayed in Paleochora.

15th May

Paleochora (35) & Skoutelonas River (46)

Two of our party saw a single Shag flying by towards the West from the comfort of a seaside taverna at breakfast. Returning North to the coast at Skoutelonas River (46) we had 2 more Little Bitterns and a Reed Warbler

16th May

Frangokastello (13)

Frangokastello is a seaside town on the South coast and we reached it via Kourtaliotiko Gorge,(26) returning by Kotsiphos Gorge,(26) a really scenic, if tiring, drive. At Frangokastello, Coghlan’s  site with the ruptured waterpipes along the dusty road between olive trees  was very productive. We had 2 Marsh Harriers, 2 Waterpipits, 1 Northern Wheatear, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchats, Crested Larks,  Woodchat Shrikes and Chaffinches  with about 300 Sand Martins. 

    Marsh Harrier at Frangokastello

17th May

Gouves Lagoon (9)

On the last morning of our stay we paid an early morning visit to Gouves Lagoon, the site where we did our first day’s birding.  Since May 4th it had dried out almost completely, and many of the birds had departed. We saw a pair of Black-headed wagtails - all that were left of our flock of 15 from the 4th. We had our first Ringed plover, obligingly posing beside its ‘Little’ congener, and Yellow Wagtails. Finally 18 European Bee Eaters flew eastwards, calling above us, and we retired to the poolside to reminisce and await our bus to the Airport.


Species List    
Little Grebe
Cory’s Shearwater (1)
Shag (1)
Little Bittern
Night Heron
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron (2)
Glossy Ibis (1)
Shelduck (1)
Shoveler (1)
Lammergeier (3)
Griffon Vulture
Marsh Harrier
Golden Eagle (2)
Eleonora’s Falcon (1)
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover (1)
Sanderling (1)
Little Stint
Temminck’s Stint (1)
Curlew Sandpiper
Dunlin (1)
Spotted Redshank
Greenshank (1)
Wood Sandpiper
Common sandpiper
Lesser Blackbacked Gull (1)
Yellow Legged Herring Gull
Whiskered tern (2)
White-winged Black Tern (2)
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Alpine Swift
European Bee-eater
Short-toed Lark (1)
Crested Lark
Woodlark  (1)
Sand Martin
Crag Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Tawny Pipit (1)
Tree Pipit(1)
Red-throated Pipit
Water Pipit (2)
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Northern Wheatear (1)
Black-eared Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler (1)
Olivaceous Warbler (1)
Subalpine Warbler (1)
Sardinian Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat (2)
Whitethroat (1)
Wood Warbler (1)
Spotted Flycatcher
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Woodchat Shrike
Jay (1)
Alpine Chough (1)
Hooded Crow
Italian Sparrow
Tree Sparrow (1)
Serin (3)
Cirl Bunting
Corn Bunting (1)  
Species total: 95
Plus Shearwater sp.
Falcon sp.  

Beech Marten and Badger featured in our Road Kill observations, and we saw one Beech Marten from the car in darkness.

Reptiles: Stripe-necked Terrapin (common), Balkan Green Lizard (3). Tadpoles and froglets sp. (common)

Butterflies we could recognise:- Swallowtail, Large White,Small White, Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Greyling sp., Meadow Brown,  Small Copper, Blue ssp., Skipper sp.





© Copyright, Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland 2006