Greek language is very difficult. Many Cretans speak English or German.
On the roads
Driving is on the right. All the roads but the main on the north coast are narrow with often big holes. Il is necessary drive carefuly above all in the small villages and on mountain roads. Motor-fuels are cheap. Cars renters and motor-bike renters are numerous in all the cities and expensive.
Renting a room is a good idea. Rooms are numerous and often cheap. There are hotels in the toursit areas, that are cheap during April and October but often expensive or very expensive in summer (June to September). Booking is not necessary in April or in the first half of May.
Taberna and restaurants are cheap and a good meal is possible with $8.00 or $10.00. Traditional Cretan food is the best choice: Zaziki (cucumber, yoghourt and garlic), aubergine salad, Souvlaki, fried rabbit, Greek salads (tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta and olive oil).
Our best addresses In Spilia, 3 or 4 km south of Knossos, just under the Agia Irini aqueduc, there is the small taverna OXPEIAZOMERO. Traveller's cheques are a good idea. Credit Cards are not often used. Visa Card most common. There are money machines only in the bigest cities.
Books The Birds of Greece G. Handrinos & T. Akriotis. It is not a field guide but it is very useful. Birds of Europe Lars Jonsson. A birdwatching guide to Crete, Stephanie Coghlan. Numerous sites, but maps are often unprecise and the bird list is not perfect. Yet useful.
1. Knossos area
To Mounts Jouchtas, pass the Knossos archeological site, after 5 km, turn right to Ano Arhanes. 4 km after this small town, a small road goes down on the right (there is an European Union panel). Park here and walk the dirty road (Griffon Vultures, Eleonora's Falcon...). En route, look the Agia Irini aqueduc (Jackdaws of thesommerringii race).
2. Lasithi plateau
(map 1). In the west, between Agios Haralambos and Kato Metohi, there is a temporray pool with some waders. After the late village, look at the river and the farmland for Woodchat Shrike, Chough, Black-eared Wheatear... In the east, past Mesa Lasithi, walk the dirty roads on the right (Griffon Vultures, Long-legged Buzzard...). Near Agios Georgios walk the durty roads in the farmlands (Wryneck, Red-footed Falcon, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark...)
3. Elounda old salt pans and neighbourhood
Driving north, in the middle of the city, turn right at the panel the other side of Elounda (in English). This site is very good late April (Black-headed Wagtail, Woodchat Shrike...). Driving Iraklion to Agios Nikolaos, 17 km before this city, the road follows the Selinari gorge. Park on the left after the Moni Agios Georgios (Monatery of Saint George) near an old quarry. Griffon Vultures nest above the road. (also seen, Golden Eagles, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin...)
4. Kato Zakros
A small bay with a small river, gorge and olive orchard (Collared Flycatcher, Olive-tree Warbler, Audouin's Gull, Rock Dove, Scops Owl... )
east of the Makrigalios bay. Small river with Grey Heron, Red-footed Falcon, Cetti's Warbler...)
6. Ierapetra lake
. Big reservoir near the city (Black Tern, White-winged Black tern, Black-winged Stilt, Squacco Heron, Little Grebe, Alpine Swift...)
7. Festos area
. Near the Gortys archeological site, there is a river with Common Sandpiper, Squacco Heron, European Oriole... In the small village of Kamilari, Collared Dove and Scops Owl bred. The Monastery of Vrondissi and neighbourhood, near the village of Ano Zaros, north of the main road, are good (Black-eared Wheatear, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift...)
8. Agia Galini
. This small harbour is surrounded by cliffs where Alpine Swift and Blue Rock Thrush nest. Walking the track at the east of the harbour, you arrive to a small river (Kingfisher, Reed Warbler and other migrants...)
9. Plakias area
Very good area. 22 km south of Rethymnon, turn right to Asomatos and Plakias. After 4 km, the road follow the Kourtaliotiko gorge (Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Raven, Crag Martin, Alpine Swift, Blue Rock Thrush...). Drive to Moni Prevelli (Chukar, Ortolan, Black-eared Wheatear...). Return to Plakias, en route, pass the village of Lefkogia ; 200 m after the motor-fuel station, turn left to a small bay with a river (Little Bittern, Great-reed Warbler...)
. The village is between Plakias and Hora Sfakion. After the small village of Skaloti (22 km after Sellia), turn left to Frangocastello, park as soon as possible on the side of the road and explore pastures and orchards (Short-toed and Crested Larks, Tawny Pipit, Black-headed Wagtail... We saw a Richard's Pipit here !).
11. Georgioupoli area
. For Georgioupoli lake, drive the old road Xania - Rethymnon, this road follow the lake 4 km before Georgioupoli (Little Grebe, Great Reed Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler, Terns...). For Kournas lake, east Georgioupoli, always on the old road, follow the signs (Terns, waders, Olivaceous, Reed, Great Reed, Cetti's Warblers...).
12. Agia reservoir
. Very good site. En route from Xania to Samaria gorge, Agia reservoir is 5 km south of Xania. At the small village of Agia, park near the church and walk the small road in the Eucalyptus wood. There is a gate... Ask to open. (Little Crake, Little Bittern, Little Grebe, Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Harrier...)
13. Omalos plateau
After Agia reservoir drive south for Samaria gorge. The road cross Omalos plateau, a cultivated area (Woodlark, Tawny Pipit, Griffon Vulture...)
14. Kasteli/Kisamos area
There is a small river at the western exit of the city. The mouth is good for waders (Little-ringed Plover, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Red-throated Pipit, Black-headed Wagtail...). To the mouth, driving to west, turn right just after the bridge on the river and drive right following this. There is small wet farmlands in the city, just at the west exit on the right (250 m after the bridge), with Little Egret, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wagtails...
This monastery is on the south-west coast. From Kisamos, drive south and pass Topolia, Mili, Elos. When the road arrive in the small bay of Stomio, look at sea for Shag and Shearwaters.
Walk the last road on the left before the monastery and explore the cultivated lands (Chuckar, Woodchat Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear, Olivaceous Warbler, numerous migrants...). Then drive the new road to Elafonisi beach (Yellow-legged Gull colony, Little-ringed Plover...)
16. Rethymnon area
. Look at the Platanes river, 3 km east Rethymnon. The is a small road on the left side of the river, upstream the bridge with easy park (Waders, Reed, Great Reed, Cetti's and Olivaceous Warblers, Blue Rock Thrush...)
17. Askifos plateau
Between Vrisses and Hora Sfakion. Farmlands (Corn Bunting, Woodchat Shrike, Stonechat...)
18. Livadia neighbourood
Driving the old road Rethymnon - Iraklion, 24 km after Rethymnon (at Perama), turn right to Anogia. Livadia is 12 km after. Explore pastures and farmlands (Griffon Vulture, Red-rumped Swallow...)
19. Mountains south of Anogia
This is the only mountainous site easily accessible. Living Livadia, drive to Anogia then turn right to observatory and ski resort. After 15 km a road start on the left without sign. This is the road to the observatory at 1742 m (5,250 feet) (Chuckar, Wheatear, Chough, Eleonora's Falcon, Griffon Vulture..). The other road go to Ideo Cave (species are the same.).
20. Aposelemis mouth
. Arriving from east, turn right just after the bridge on the dirty road and park where is possible. A very good site for migrants (numerous waders, Olivaceous, Cetti's, Reed, Great Reed and Sedge Warblers, Short-toed Lark, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Bee-eater...)
21. Thrapsano lake
(maps 6a & 6b). Drive from Iraklion, pass Knossos. 12 km after the archeological site turn left to Kastelli and, well before this city, right to Voni and Thrapsano. In the village, follow the main road until the church. Turn left just before the church and follow the sign to Kastelli. 200 m after the exit, turn left on a large road and drive this road until the lake (Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Hobby, Eleonora's Falcon, Bee-eater, Red-throated Pipit, Black-headed Wagtail, Sedge Warbler, Little Bittern, Wiskered Tern...
Annotated species lists
abbreviations: f = female ; m = male ; Max = maximum
During these three weeks, we saw 127 species (or races). Many of the species are east-European species. We did not seen Ruppell's Warbler or Black-headed Bunting.
Birds (except Chukar !) are tame, this is extraordinary for a Mediterranean land where hunters are numerous.
The more common species are Chaffinch, Italian Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler, Great Tit, Crested Lark, Swallow, Stonechat and European Black Swift.
(Numbers in brackets are the number of observations for the species).
1. Little Grebe
(5). Kournas, Ierapetra lakes & Agia reservoir. At Georgioupoli lake, a pair feeding 1 young, 30/04 et 05/05.
2. Black-necked Grebe
(1). 1, Ierapetra lake, 26/04.
33. Little Ringed Plover
(7). 2, 02/05 Elafonisi. All other data from north coast at river mouth (Kisamos, Platanes, Aposelemis) or on beach (Elafonisi, Rethymnon, Metohi). Pair displaying 08/05 Aposelemis mouth.
81. Common Stonechat
(29). Very common breeder.
82. Northern Wheatear
(7). Common in mountains near Anogia. Some pairs above the Lasithi.
83. Black-eared Wheatear
Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca
(14). Widespread in rocky areas, from sea level to 1400 m.
Oenanthe hispanica hispanica
(1). 1 male Stomio bay 02/05.
84. Blue Rock Thrush
(16). Common in gorges and cliffs, sometimes in villages (Paleocastro). 11 singers on 3 km in Kato Zakros gorge. Pairs feeding youngs 27/04 Moni Vrondissi, 06/05 Ideo cave and Platanes river.
85. Eurasian Blackbird
(38). Common and widespread
86. Cetti's Warbler
(28). Common near water. Sometimes in drt areas (mounts Jouchtas). 6 singers on 500 m Aposelemis river. Very abundant Kournas lake.
88. Sedge Warbler
(4). Migrants between 01 and 10/05 Kournas, Agia reservoir, Thrapsano and Aposelemis river (4 le 07/05).
89. Eurasian Reed Warbler
(6). Seen along the riparian forests. More than 30 on 500 m (!!) 07/05 along Aposelemis river, but only 5 here 08/05.
90. Great Reed Warbler
(11). More widespread but less common than the late species.
91. Olivaceous Warbler
(6). Frequent Migrant. 2 singers 30/04 Kournas lake ; 1 in olive trees 02/05 Hrissoskalitissa ; singers 04 and 06/05 Platanes river, 05/05 Georgioupoli lake and le 07/05 Aposelemis river.