MY BIRDWATCHING HIGHLIGHTS FOR SEPTEMBER 2006

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2nd Sept.  On the coast. A little egret; a spotted flycatcher; and a flock of 80+ purple herons

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2nd Aug.  At a nearly dried up estuary. Were 2 adult and a juvenile ringed plovers; while a light phase eleonoras falcon hunted overhead.

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3rd Sept.  On the Coast. Just out to sea a lovely flock of 30 little egrets looked beautifully snowy against the deep blue colour of the sea.
 

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4th Sept.  On the coast. Another flock of purple herons, this time 17.

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6th Sept.  On the Coast. Things are warming up with 2 red backed shrikes; a male whinchat; a flock of 27 purple herons; a juvenile little ringed plover; a marsh harrier; and a spotted flycatcher. Then,
                 
At Neo Chorio.  A big flock of bee-eaters was heard going over late at night.

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7th Sept.  At Neo Chorio. A male kestrel sought a tasty lunch while high overhead a big flock of alpine swifts moved south; then a flock of 100+ bee-eaters; and a female sparrowhawk.
                   On the coast. Were 2 juvenile red backed shrikes and a lovely flock of 10 great white egrets.


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8th Sept.  On the Coast. 2 juvenile red backed shrikes; a little egret; and 3 juvenile and 3 adult little ringed plovers.  It was pleasant to be able to compare their plumages at only a few meters range. Also, the resident weasel popped up to have a look at us - but may have been more interested in the 6 yellow wagtails that flopped down exhausted - presumably after a flight from mainland Greece.
                  
At Neo Chorio. We heard flocks of high bee-eaters both early and late in the day.

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9th Sept.  At Neo Chorio. A female sparrowhawk again, probably the same one as on the 7th; plus a flock of 50+ bee-eaters. At night two more big flocks were heard going over. It looks like bee-eaters had a good breeding season as there are lots and lots about.
                  Along the coast. We found a juvenile lesser spotted eagle; a pair of booted eagles; a juvenile white winged black tern; a juvenile black tern; 3 griffon vultures; a pair of adult bonellis eagles with this years young flying with them.  A flock of 67+ purple herons; a steppe buzzard circling with a pair of local common buzzards - and about 50 meters out to sea a dolphin frolicked.


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10th Sept. On the coast. Were a male stonechat in fine new plumage after a full moult; the first of the winters kingfishers; a spotted flycatcher; a flock of 17 purple herons; a flock of 27 bee-eaters; a turtle dove; and a steppe buzzard.
                  
At Neo Chorio. Bee-eaters came down to try and feed and rest on telegraph wires and three times the local scum blasted away with their shotguns. In all we saw flocks of 100+, 37+ 66, 44, 40+ and a very big flock very noisily, but very wisely chose midnight to over fly our dangerous valley.

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11th Sept. At Neo Chorio. The bee-eaters seem to be learning. 3 big flocks flew over very high up.
                   On the coast. Was a flock of 60+ yellow wagtails.


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12th Sept. At Platanias.  A cuckoo sat on the electricity wires.
                   At Chania airport.  A male hen harrier was no match for those big noisy aluminium tubes full of tourists that kept thundering down the runways.
                   At Aloni. Was another hen harrier.
                   At Gerani. Just 1 bee-eater.
                   At Maleme. A booted eagle. and,
                   At Tavronitis. Were a spotted flycatcher; 2 juvenile red backed shrikes; 3 wheatears; 4 whinchat; an unexpected lesser grey shrike; and 5 yellow wagtails.


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13th Sept. At Neo Chorio. More bee-eaters: the female sparrowhawk again; and a skulking spotted flycatcher.
                   On the coast. Were more spotted flycatchers; a flock of 40+ purple herons; a wheatear; and a marsh harrier.
                   At Vlacheronitsa. We saw our first of this winters rough legged buzzards.


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15th Sept. At Drapanias. Were a pair of booted eagles and 2+ honey buzzards circling with a common buzzard.
                   At Topolia. Were 3 ravens; and then,
                   At the vulture feeding station. High up in the mountains, we saw no vultures or eagles at all, just a pair of kestrels; a lanner falcon; a few spotted flycatchers; a male whinchat; 100+ alpine swifts; dozens of common swifts; 4 ortolan buntings; a female wheatear (and a southern white admiral butterfly). My brother and his wife were very disappointed that having dragged them up to altitudes where oxygen masks would have been useful, the air was too still for the large raptors to fly.

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17th Sept. At Neo Chorio. A flock of 4 honey buzzards; 2 linnets; and a very difficult to identify juvenile red breasted flycatcher. The flock of 50+ bee-eaters was much easier!
                   On the coast. Were spotted flycatchers; stonechats; crested larks; a pair of marsh harriers; 2 dark phase booted eagles; and a steppe buzzard.
                   Near Kolymbari. Were the 2 adult and 1 juvenile bonellis eagles and a raven - while just inland was a dark phase booted eagle.
 

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18th Sept. At Neo Chorio. An out of place cettis warbler muttered its sub song - whilst a dark phase booted eagle drifted south.
                  At the base of one of the peninsulas were a wheatear, a kestrel, 2 blue rock thrushes, 1 lanner falcon, a lovely pair of long legged buzzards, a red backed shrike, several crested larks and just over the sea a juvenile great black backed gull.
 

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19th Sept. At Neo Chorio.  1 dark phase booted eagles and a flock of 7 honey buzzards.
 

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20th Sept. At Neo Chorio.  Another very high flock of bee-eaters; and,
                   On the coast. A sub alpine warbler obligingly sat on a fence while a marsh harrier flew over; a fan tailed warbler was calling.

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22nd Sept. At Neo Chorio. The first of the wintering blackcaps was calling in the garden  On the coast a flock of 14 adult and 6 juvenile purple herons flew by with a single white stork tagging along for company.

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23rd Sept. At Neo Chorio. A black kite; a steppe buzzard; and later a single long legged buzzard circled with one of our local buzzards before drifting south.
                   At Sirili. We saw another black kite; and on the coast an adult lesser spotted eagle.
                   Near Kolymbari. Were the 3 bonellis again; a flock of 25 little egrets; and dozens of swallows came in from their long journey across the Mediterranean - to gratefully hawk for insects before heading for the giant reed beds to roost and rest.


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24th Sept. At Neo Chorio. The first of the wintering black redstarts took up residence in the garden, while overhead some 10,000 swallows streamed by, dragging several hundred house martins with them.
                   At Maleme. A flock of 68 purple herons flew up and down along the coast with a single glossy ibis in tow that presumably got separated from its flock.


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25th Sept. At Astrikas. Were hundreds of swallows and house martins in mixed flocks. We saw the first of the wintering song thrushes; a swift; 3 juvenile griffon vultures; a pair of bonellis eagles; a woodlark; and a blue rock thrush.
                   At Deliana. We saw a red rumped swallow; and a golden oriole.
                   At Sassolos. Were an adult golden eagle; 2 griffon vultures; an unusual autumn woodchat shrike; a blue rock thrush; a raven; and a flock of 30+ wheatears.
                   Towards the coast. We found a juvenile golden eagle; 2 griffon vultures; 2 honey buzzards; a booted eagle; and to really impress my brother we at last found a pair of bearded vultures, the new pair! It is hoped that they will breed this winter for the first time. En-route home we saw dozens more swallows; and 2 barn owls.


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26th Sept. At Gerani. Was a hen harrier; and,
                   At Galatas. An adult greater spotted eagle; and then
                   On the coast. We saw a pair of hen harriers; a juvenile lesser spotted eagle; a flock of 12 purple herons; a flock of 21 little egrets; 3 crested larks; and a red rumped swallow.
 

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27th Sept.  At Neo Chorio. Hundreds of swallows; and the first eleonoras falcon for some time. Later, while my right hand man had a well deserved swim in the sea, a flock of 14 little egrets flew by.
 

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28th Sept.  At Neo Chorio. Thousands of house martins and hundreds of swallows streamed by.
 

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30th Sept.  On the coast. Were spotted flycatchers; a singing cettis warbler; a female marsh harrier; a flock of 8 white storks; a flock of 43 little egrets; and a flock of 13 purple herons.

A few final words for September.

Only a blind person might fail to notice that migration is with us in a big way - bringing with it the excitement of going out watching in the knowledge that literally anything is likely to turn up - and usually does. This time of year can be a frustrating one for inexperienced birdwatchers, as there are so many plumage variations about to fool the unwary, with adults and juveniles of the same species looking very different from each other - and quite often more like entirely different species that are also around. I had real trouble with the red breasted flycatcher and had to have long hard looks, fortunately at very close range (below 5 meters!), before even I was satisfied with the identification. How beginners even begin to cope with the falcons and especially the eagles I have no idea, except to say try to tag along with someone who can show them what to look for. It is the only sure way to learn with such difficult groups. Sometimes, after nearly eight years of intensive study, I still sometimes have to admit defeat and put some birds down as 'eagle or falcon spp'.  To hope for closer views next time or a more diagnostic plumage.  

We have some more bird watching friends coming to see us very soon, eager to get to grips with the above problems and I am hoping they will help me with the weak spot in my identification repertoire waders. They drive me mad with so many plumage variations and even size variations at this time of year. I feel certain that ruffs are the cause of many claims to extremely rare sightings of other similar species. Many amateurs unfortunately see only what they want to see and claim the most extravagant sightings. While I will battle with the waders until certain of what I am looking at, I have come across too many people who claim to have seen bearded vultures almost from their hotel balconies without even having broken into a sweat! Good sightings need to be accurate, reliable and, above all. valid...

This not so much a swipe at my fellow birdwatchers as an effort to encourage scrupulous study before claiming identification. Getting it right is so much more satisfying than guessing it was drummed into me over 40 years ago that there is a huge difference between looking and seeing. Which do you do?  

Until next month, good watching.  Paul Smith.

Paul's Diary highlights commenced at the end of August 2001.  The current diary is moved to the diary archive at the end of each month - if you are considering a bird watching trip to NW Crete, the previous highlights may well help you decide the best month for your visit - your link to the diary archive is below.

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