MY BIRDWATCHING HIGHLIGHTS FOR MAY 2003

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1st May. At Neo Chorio.  A woodlark was singing, an unusual bird here, normally they prefer wilder habitats.  A pair of long legged buzzards annoyed our trio of common buzzards with lots of calling and dive bombing.  Several times in the morning we had at least two pairs of swallows fly into out lounge through the open windows and circle round in search of nest sites.  They do this every year but I draw the line at swallows nesting in our lounge as they make such a mess while nesting.  Later a sudden commotion made me look up as a common swift shot in through the open patio doors and out again via the window at the other end - with a very aggressive eleonoras falcon in hot pursuit and only half a metre behind.  As they shot through the lounge I could hear the hiss of air passing over their wings as they dueled.  Nature in action.  I do not know the outcome but would put money on the swift as they are my favourite birds.

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2nd May.  At Neo Chorio.  A dark phase eleonoras falcon and later a flock of many hundred common swifts.  In the garden the first swallowtail butterfly of the year was flittering around the fennel, their food plant.

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4th May.  At Neo Chorio.  A single golden oriole and three separate eleonoras falcons, all dark phase.
                 At Astratigos.  An adult bonellis eagle and a flock of bee-eaters that though clearly heard was too high up to see.

bullet6th May.  Driving about.  Now that the flooded fields have all dried up waders are restricted to the now shrinking rivers to feed and rest.   On one we found 3 wood sandpipers; 2 little stints; 4 ruff; 3 curlew sandpipers; 1 little egret; and a light phase booted eagle.

Flying around a favoured mountain peak were 2 griffon vultures and an adult bearded vulture.

At the nest site.  We were pleased to see 2 bearded vultures.  One was at the nest, but blocking the entrance so we could not see the chick at all, but presume it is still there.  In the same area we saw 2 eleonoras falcons; a collared flycatcher; a raven; and several alpine swifts. 

Over a reservoir.  Were 3+ whiskered terns; 3+ white winged black terns; plus a single grey heron. 

At Topolia.  We found a pair of nesting ravens; a pair of nesting common buzzards; a single lesser kestrel; a hunting peregrine; and an alpine accentor was singing and seen.  High up on the crags a rock thrush was taking everything in.

At Neo Chorio.  At least 2 long legged buzzards circled for an hour enabling us to sort them out from the common buzzards. Tail colour is not very reliable as age has to be known.  Rather look at the longer, broader wings with rich rufous colouring and also the more vigorous circling pattern compared to the lazy and slow circling of common buzzards.  A flock of 80+ house martins was making its way north.

bullet9th May.  Back to the river mouth.  There were 5 white winged black terns; 2 ruff; 4 wood sandpipers; 3 little ringed plovers; 2 collared pratincoles; 7 starlings; and 1 eleonoras falcon.
Along the coast.  At three different places along the coast we heard the diagnostic calling of fan tailed warblers.  Hopefully their numbers are starting to recover from the decimating snows of the winter before last.
bullet11th May.  In one of the gorges.  We found at least two griffon vulture nests with well grown chicks.  One of them is again in the nest previously used by the bonellis eagles which presumably have nested elsewhere this year.  We saw both adult bonellis eagles and also a 3-4 year old immature.  A pair of peregrines; 2 kestrels; and a rock thrush were also seen.

At Neo Chorio.  A lovely flock of at least 10 bee-eaters passed through; a woodlark was singing again.
bullet12th May. At Neo Chorio.  A pair of rough legged buzzards enabled further buzzard comparisons. Their low, fast and tight circling is very distinctive and those white banded tails are unmistakable. Four of the local common buzzards took great exception to them being in their territories, so there was a lot of angry calling and dive bombing until the rough legs drifted away to the north.
bullet13th May. At the river mouth.  Were 4 little stint; 1 little egret; 2 curlew sandpipers; and a single eleonoras falcon; while just offshore a shag was fishing.
bullet18th May. At Maleme.  A late pair of steppe buzzards even further polished up our buzzard recognition. They are so much smaller and lighter than common buzzards, but there was the usual posturing, calling and dive bombing until the steppe buzzards moved on to leave the local resident common buzzards in charge again.
bullet20th May.  At Neo Chorio.  A turtle dove perched on nearby telegraph wires for an hour.  A singularly dangerous thing to do given the number of raptors we have around us.
bullet22nd May.    A male sparrow hawk shot across the garden, low down and looking for food.  A single rough legged buzzard came through and for once was completely ignored by the local resident buzzards as it slowly drifted northwards.  At dusk 35 hooded crows noisily circled before moving off to roost, presumably their breeding season is already over.
bullet22nd May. At Neo Chorio.  A male sparrow hawk shot across the garden, low down and looking for food. A single rough legged buzzard came through and for once was completely ignored by the local resident buzzards as it slowly drifted northwards. At dusk 35 hooded crows noisily circled before moving off to roost, presumably their breeding season is already over.
bullet24th May. At Neo Chorio.  A spotted eagle majestically soared by.  No circling but flying straight and level as it leisurely made its way north.  The buzzard population completely ignored it so it passed by unmolested.
bullet25th May. At Neo Chorio.  A red rumped swallow confused me for a few moments as I was watching the local swallows feeding their young in a neighbours shed.  These swallows are again in a trio is it possible they are the same three birds using the same nest as last year?  I thought trios were temporary, seasonal arrangements in small birds, but this is the second season running this has happened.  In larger birds longer relationships are known and our local common buzzards have been a constant trio for at least four years now.
bullet30th May. At Neo Chorio.  A short toed eagle was well and truly beaten up by our trio of common buzzards, who are now feeding their young.  There was a lot of squealing, whistling calls from the eagle as the buzzards dive bombed it mercilessly.  Though it tried to give as good as it got by dive bombing back at them, being outnumbered three to one it soon gave up and moved away.
And a few final words for May.....  Another good month with lots to see and much to ponder over. The frantic rush of spring migration is rapidly tailing off now and all the resident species are nesting.

I am conscious that the rare, the unexpected, the unusual and the spectacular sightings grab the headlines especially when these are as entitled my HIGHLIGHTS for the month.  The mundane, the everyday and common do not get a look in as the headlines are grabbed by the outstanding moments.  I feel sorry that birds like the mundane and common wren never get a mention and our local blackbird population ought to get some recognition as their breeding biology is fascinating.  However, who could fail to get excited when an eleonoras falcon chases a swift through their lounge, so much so that I dropped my pipe tobacco all over the floor in the excitement?

Two sets of readers of these notes came to Crete this month, one from Ireland and one from Holland.  Both visited and were more than welcome here.  I hope that I was able to enhance their pleasure in coming to the island for their holidays and that they took away some of the warmth and friendliness that the island is famous for.  Meeting kindred spirits such as these makes it more than worth my while to devote my time to the labour of producing these notes.  Bless you all!

For now, good watching.  Paul Smith.

Editor: The review a of very recent book by another Cretan ornithologist which contains some superb photographs is now complete. The review is linked to a photo gallery - with kind permission from the author Anastasios Sakoulis. Have a look at the review in Books and Good Reading pages. 
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