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Birdlife

Crete holds a highly diverse winged population with around 400 species. The island is one of the major fly-past routes for migratory birds that make a pit-stop from March to May on their way to northern Europe and in autumn back to Africa. This makes it a Mecca for birdwatchers, who – depending on the time of year – can enjoy watching both resident and migratory birds. The Potamos wetland and Lake Lyghara in Mohos are such excellent spots for bird-watching.

Except for the birds of prey and the water and wading birds, peak activity time for most small birds is just at dawn, which really makes an alarm clock superfluous in spring: you’ll be woken every morning before daybreak by the love-chirping and twittering of hundreds of birds such as robins, sparrows, blackbirds, larks, pipits, finches and stone curlews. And if that isn’t enough, the Scop’s owl, Europe’s smallest owl and one of four species in Crete, may keep you company during the night with its monotonous, complaining ‘hoo hoo’.

Fresh as a daisy after this wake-up call, you may be into a walk along the beaches of Malia and Stalis, looking out for birds of passage like egrets and herons, marsh sandpipers and harriers, waders and stilts. There will be gulls and sometimes woodpigeons nesting on coastal cliffs and on off-shore islets.

On your trip through hills and mountains of Mohos and Krassi, by bike or car, don’t forget to bring your binoculars along, as there is a chance you’ll spot the rare Ruppell’s warbler or flycatchers, wrynecks, wheatears and thrushes alongside birds of prey like buzzards, the rare Eleanor’s falcon, migrating hawks and red-footed falcons, going north in summer.

The higher up in the mountains you get, the more exciting and impressive the spectacle: you might encounter large predatory birds like the Golden eagle and the Bonelli’s eagle while over the plateaus of Lassithi and Omalos there is a chance you see the Griffin vulture, or even more rare, the Bearded vulture or lammergeyer.

There are only 25 of these birds left, 7 of which are breeding pairs. Crete is its last breeding place in Greece, although it used to live in mountainous regions all over Europe, Asia and Africa. A magnificent bird with a wingspan of nearly 3metres, it is somewhat bigger than the Griffin vulture; it is also the only vulture feeding on bones and it can reach an age of 40.