Elounda birding

I'm sure that most of us have gone on a 'family' holiday and made the decision that, although there will be birding potential, it is best not to show any intent to act upon it. The binoculars, of course, still come along for the trip - just in case we might find ourselves near to a bit of decent habitat - but the scope will be left behind, as that would be a dead give-away of our true intentions!

This is how I treated our recent holiday to Crete, although I'm sure that I fooled nobody. I'm not the most widely travelled world birder, but have seen a good cross-section of what Southern Europe has to offer, and there was just Lammergeier and Italian Sparrow present on the island that I had yet to see elsewhere. We were staying at the fairly small coastal resort of Elounda in the north-east, nestled underneath a range of imposing hills.

I spent a good couple of hours each day mooching about the surrounding countryside, wandering no further away than 3km. I got up early on just the one morning and spent a couple of afternoons in the hills. Even with so little effort, and with no travelling, it was still possible to find some notable species.

From the town itself I was able to watch Griffon Vultures on a daily basis, that circled the hill tops west of the resort, which were joined by an Eleonora's Falcon on one occasion and regularly sharing the skies with up to 25 Alpine Swifts. All of the sparrows that grubbed around the houses, gardens and pavements appeared to be Italian, with some authorities treating it as a full species. Hooded Crows and Ravens were always on show. Sardinian Warblers (above), Crested Larks and Red-rumped Swallows were easily found in the nearest areas of scrub. From the beach a small number of Audouin's Gulls were observed every day.

The closest hills were very dry, steep and rocky. There were times when it was hard work to winkle out any birds at all, but a bit of perseverance yielded Pallid Swift, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (a family party, below), Chukar and Blue Rock Thrush.

Mid-June is not a good time of year to go birding in Crete, but as can be seen, there is still enough present to make a little birding effort worthwhile. A visit in the spring and autumn will throw up a good cross-section of species and, at times, in great numbers. There are salt-pans at Elounda that can, at times of passage, be full of birds - apart from the odd Yellow-legged Gull and Little Egret they were deathly quiet when we were there.


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