Crete is the largest Greek island and lies a long way south in the eastern Mediterranean. Spring and Autumn migrants and winter visitors use the island and it has a good range of resident birds, such as Griffon Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Ruppell’s Warbler and Red-billed and Alpine Chough.
This mainly limestone island is about 250 Km long and is almost like a miniature continent with many mountain ranges, gorges, coastal fields, beaches, seasonal rivers and pools and even high mountain deserts. All these habitats mean that birding is very varied with residents like Griffon Vultures, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Buzzard, Kestrel, Cetti’s Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Rock Thrush, Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola). Stonechat and Crested Lark and Italian Sparrow are fairly common.
Samaria Gorge from Omalos Plateau ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
In the uplands on the plateaux and gorges there are Cirl Bunting, Alpine & Red-billed Chough, Woodlark and Black–eared Wheatear. Winter visitors arrive from November to end of March and Kingfisher, Bluethroat, Starling, Robin and Black Redstart over winter. Spring passage begins in late March to May and Pied, Collared and Semi-collared Flycatchers, Wood Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Golden Oriole, Grey and Purple Heron, Night Heron, Little Egret, and Little Bittern, Little Crake and Bee-eaters pass through. Autumn passage begins in late August through September and October when Whitethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Garganey, Mallard pass through. Eleanora’s Falcon are nesting and Harriers and smaller Eagles follow the east coast south to Africa.
Chukar Alectoris chukar ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
Getting There: The main airport is at Heraklion on the north coast. Flights direct to Crete by charter aircraft from April to October and daily on scheduled flights via Athens. Crete offers a huge range of accommodation from self-catering apartments through small hotels to large hotel complexes, which are open all year. Transport systems are a good local and town-to-town bus service at a reasonable price and car and motorbike and bicycle hire are available. Most of the northern coast has tourist development and could be used as a base, but the central mountains, the south and the east coasts are more attractive.
As the island is largely dry due to the geology, then river mouth pools, small wetlands and spring pools from underground water are very important for birds. The largest reservoir is at Bramiana to the NE of Ierapetra, the largest town on the south coast. Here there are good roosts of gulls and ducks in winter, and passage waders, birds of prey like Eleanora’s and Red-footed Falcon and interesting birds like Black-winged Stilt, Glossy Ibis, Garganey and Green and Wood Sandpipers.
The rivers tend to run dry by the end of May but in April and May. They are fed by melt water from the snow in the high mountains.
Ricotia cretica ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
The Aposelemis river and Gouves lagoons on the north coast off the old coast road east of Iraklion to Hersonissos are a real hot spot for migrants and breeding birds and regularly attract Little Crake, Garganey, Black-winged Stilt, Purple Heron, Greater Flamingo, Short-toed Lark, Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Buzzard, Kestrel, Griffon Vulture, Little Egret, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear in the Gorge behind the site. The bird list is 150+. This cannot be truthfully described as one of Crete’s beautiful spots due to rubbish dumping, the Gouves football pitch and the general air of neglect, but the birds are blind to this and are feeding up frantically before moving on to breed further north. Rarities from Richard’s Pipit to Sociable Plover have turned up here.
The Tavronitis river mouth also attracts similar birds as well as Osprey and lies to the west of Chania and the western side of Maleme. There are other river mouths to check out along the north coast.
Agia Reservoir to the SW of Chania is another small gem. The reservoir is fed by the Great Springs of Ayia, which bring huge amounts of cold underground water to serve the town of Chania. The dam and pumping station are situated on two banks of this reservoir and the other banks are backed by reeds, Marsh Harrier, Reed Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Wood Warbler, Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House and Sand Martin, Swift, Alpine Swift, Little and Baillon’s Crake and Yellow Wagtails.If you explore into the mountain ranges and plateaux you will find a wealth of beautiful spots.
The south coast has a steep descent to the sea as Crete really is the top of a mountain range, but there are good beaches at Plakias and Frangocastello that are also good birding areas.
Plants: For botanists the island is a delight and there are wonderful displays of Mediterranean flowers and orchids.
Crown Anemones Anemone coronaria – Omalos Plateau ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
Butterflies: There are endemic butterflies such as Cretan Argus and Cretan Festoon, as well as a wide variety of others.
Cretan Festoon Zerynthia cretica ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
Target Birds: Bearded Vulture 10-15 pairs sadly with poor breeding rates Rûppells Warbler, breed in the locally common areas on the south side of the island. They favour slopes with Yellow Spiny Broom Calicotome villosa. Griffon Vultures are common in small colonies in the gorges. Lanner Falcon may breed in the sea-level gorges and… Bonelli’s Eagles also breed in the mountain gorges. Crete has a hundred gorges. Ortolan Bunting breed in the southern mountains on dry slopes and… Cirl Buntings prefer the mountain plateaux.
Some Top Sites include:
Ayia reservoir – near Chania (Map)
This is a small, artificial lake but mostly very natural looking with reeds and trees along three of its banks. There is a less natural looking dam on the fourth side to watch from; the open edge here is well-known for close views of Baillon’s and Little Crakes. Other birds could include Marsh Harrier, Moustached Warbler, Squacco Heron and Little Bittern.
Coast at Frangocastello with Dragon Arum Dranunculus vulgaris ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
The coastal strip by this former garrison is a good place for migrants such as Wryneck and Black-eared Wheatear, though its appearance is marred by dumping.
Georgioupolis lake (Map)
There is a handy viewpoint over this freshwater lake by the bridge over the road. Like all of Crete’s wetlands, it can attract herons, terns, waders and passerine migrants. It’s a good site for Black-winged Stilt, Common Kingfisher and Great Reed Warbler.
Freshwater Crab Potamon potamios ©Chris Durdin Honeyguide
Kedros foothills – near Spili (Map)
Best known for its orchids –some 25 species – this area can turn up Lammergeier, European Griffon Vulture, Woodlark and Common Quail.
Kourtaliótiko and Kotsiphos Gorges (Map)
Approaching Plakias by road from the north brings you through Kourtaliotiko gorge. It has a handy layby and stone steps down to a chapel in the gorge. Griffon Vulture and Crag Martin are fairly reliable. Kotsiphos gorge to the west is less dramatic; Blue Rockthrush, Raven and Chukar are possibles. With only six or seven pairs of lammergeiers on Crete you need luck or patience to see one anywhere, but over these gorges it is a possibility.
Lake Kournas (Map)
Crete’s only natural freshwater lake is, frankly, disappointing for birds, but an excellent stop for coffee and yoghurt in the adjacent tavernas. Black-necked Grebe, ducks, warblers in the scrub and passing birds of prey are the best bet.
Moní Préveli (Map)
The trees by the monastery attract migrants, which can include flycatchers, Wood Warbler, Golden Oriole and Turtle Dove. Ruppell’s Warbler is occasionally seen here, as elsewhere along the south coast of Crete generally in taller scrub than the ubiquitous Sardinian Warbler. Chukar or Ortolan Bunting may be seen by scanning more open hillsides from the car park.
This quiet south coast resort is often used a base for wildlife holidays, including for Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays. Immediately east of the town is an open area of fields that often holds migrants, such as Whinchats and Woodchat Shrikes. Like anywhere on the south coast in spring, flocks of migrating herons, egrets and ibises can be seen over the sea or flying inland. Flocks of Garganeys settle in Plakias Bay and waders settle briefly on the shore or in the small river as it joins the sea in the centre of the town
Major Source: Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™
Photo Source: © Honeyguide