BIRDS & VEGETATION

  

BIRDS

  

The mountains are home to some of the most exciting birds in Crete. Its mountainous terrain ensures the survival of some very special species of birds that have been reported. These are of course a valuable asset for the functioning of the mountains ecosystem. One of the most important species the rare birds of prey such as the Golden eagle Aquila crhysaetus, the rare Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus. and the Vulture Gyps fulvus

 

Crete today hosts a dwindling population of 20-30 the predatory bird the Lammergeyer Gypaetus barbatus, also known as the Bearded Vulture. Gypaetus refers to its species - Lammergeyer. Barbatus means mustached. This name justifies the long black hair, which starts from the birds beak and looks just like a beard. These birds can grow to 102-114 cm in length and have a wing span of 2.5 m, this makes it the largest bird of prey in Europe. They are exclusively carrion eaters, feeding largely off the bones left by other vultures after they have had their fill (this explains its other Greek name of kakala, or boner). It drops the larger marrow bones from a great height onto rocks to break them, choosing a specific spot, these are known as spastres (or breakers).  


These birds are endangered, and are protected under the Life program of the European Union. There are a few endemic subspecies as well as some Mediterranean endemics that breed on the island. other rare birds are the Eleanora's falcon and the Ruppell's warbler both have their breeding strongholds in Crete. Along with species that have not yet been observed but are suspected of occurring since they have been seen in immediate area.


If you pick the right time you will see both resident and migratory species as Crete is on the main flight path for the species that have wintered in East Africa, but breed in eastern and northern Europe.

 

The Hoopoe is widespread in Europe and a very colourful bird seen in Crete perched on telegraph wires and trees notable for its distinctive 'crown' of feathers. Hoopoe is the common name for this shy, solitary, Old World woodland bird, Upupa epops. Its body colour ranges from cinnamon to chestnut, with white-barred, black wings and tail. They are mainly ground feeders and use their long, slender bills to probe for large insects, worms, and lizards. Less frequently, the hoopoe feeds while airborne, exhibiting its characteristic undulating erratic flight. Hoopoes are excellent runners and are found in warm dry areas which are partially open. 

 

BIRDS

Common Name

Scientific Name

Hoopoe Upupa epops
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
Little Owl   Athene noctua  
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Scopes Owl Otus scops 
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo
Tawny Owl Strix aluco
Long-eared Owl Asio otus
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus
Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Chukar (Partridge)  Alectoris chukar 
Curl Bunting  Emberiza cirlus
Alpine Cough  Pyrrhocorax graculus
Swift Apus apus
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus
Alpine Swift  Apus melba
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
White-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
Blue-cheeked Kingfisher Merops supercilious
Bee-eater  Merops apiaster 
Roller Coracias garrulus
Wryneck Jynx torquilla
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Woodlark Lullula arborea 
Skylark Alauda arvensi
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Firecrest  Regulus ignicapillus
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 
Goldcrest   Regulus regulus  
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Rook  Corvus frugilegus
Hooded Crow Corvus corone 
Raven   Corvus corax  
Sardinian Warbler   Sylvia melanocephala  
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus 
Little Crake Porzana parva 
Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus
Coot  Fulica atra
Black-winged Stilt  Himantopus himantopus
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Collared Pratincole  Glareola pratincola
Little Ringed Plover    Charadrius dubius
Ringed Plover  Charadrius hiaticula
Kentish Plover  Charadrius alexandrinus
Greater Sand Plover  Charadrius leshenaultii 
Golden Plover  Pluialis apricaria
Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus
Sanderling Calidris alba 
Little Stint Calidris minuta 
Temmincks Stint  Calidris temminckii
Curlew Sandpipe  Calidris ferruginea
Dunlin  Calidris alpina 
Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis 
Great Crested Grebe    Podiceps cristatus
Black-necked Grebe  Podiceps nigricollis 
Cory's Shearwater    Calonectris diomedea 
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Little Bittern  Ixobrychus minutus 
Night Heron  Nycticorax nycticorax 
Squacco Heron    Ardeola ralliodes 
Little Egret  Egretta garzetta 
Great White Egret  Egretta alba
Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron  Ardea purpurea 
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Glossy Ibis    Plegadis falcinellus 
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Greater Flamingo  Phoenicopterus ruber 
Mute Swan    Cygnus olor
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Wigeon  Anas penelope 
Gadwall   Anas strepera 
Teal  Anas crecca
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
 Pintail Anas acuta
Garganey  Anas querquedula 
Shoveler  Anas clypeata 
Marbled Teal Marmaronetta augustirostris 
Pochard Aythya ferina
Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca 
Tufted Duck  Aythya fuligula 
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
 
BIRDS OF PREY
Bearded Vulture Lammergeier (rare) Gypaetus barbatus
Griffon Vulture (endangered)   Gyps fulvus  

Egyptian Vulture

Neophron percnopterus  
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 
Bonelli's Eagle

Hieraaetus fasciatus 

Booted Eagle   Hieraetus pennatus  

Short-toed eagle

Circaetus gallicus

Eastern Imperial Eagle  Aquila heliaca 
Lesser Spotted Eagle  Aquila pomarina
Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus
Eleonora's Falcon Falco eleonorae
Lanner Falco biarmicus
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 
Kestrals Falco tinnunculus
Lesser Kestrel  Falco naumanni
Saker Falcons   Falco cherrug  
Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus 
Hobby Falco subbuteo
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

Honey Buzzards

Pernis apivorus

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rifinus
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 
Black Kite      Milvus migrans 
Red Kite  Milvus milvus
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
Pallid harrier Circus macrourus
Montagu's Harrier  Circus pygargus 
   

VEGETATION

   

The Mountain Ranges of Crete were once covered by vast forests of pine, cypresses, Kermes Oak and Maple. Covering the slopes of the White Mountains, Psiloritis and on the Lasithi Mountains. The vegetation you can see today has been diminished  to a large degree with only small clumps of various species of oak and carob occurring sporadically, often the remnant of earlier cultivation.  
 

 

The highest mountains are Ida, with Mount Psiloritis at 2456m in the centre of Crete, the White Mountains or Lefka Ori, with Mount Pahnes at 2452m in the west of Crete. And the Dikti Mountains with Afendi Christos at 2148m to the east of the island. Isolated Mt Kedhros 1776m. Today's mountains are very different and have diminished by a large degree. The once lush vegetation that covered Mount Ida (Psiloritis) are today almost bare with only the Southern flanks more or less in tacked. 'Psiloritis' actually means smooth - 'treeless mountain'. The White Mountain Range in Western Crete and the wooded Samaria Gorge are one of the rare reminders of the long gone forest covered Mountains. Other areas are again the Southern range of the Dikti Mountains in Selakano and Pefkos.

    

The Mediterranean scrubland (maquis) which consists mostly of arbutus, kermes oak, tree heath and lentisk often covers large areas. Here, the vegetation is sometimes so dense that it is impenetrable. Particularly characteristics are the coastal populations of the endemic Cretan palm Phoenix throphrasti , a variety unique to Crete. Another famous palm forest is at Preveli which impart an African accent to the Cretan landscape. A much smaller and less known palm forest one at Agios Antonios in south Heraklion district.

    

Another unusual feature is the evergreen Cretan plane tree (platanus orientalis, var. cretica). endemic to Crete. Most plane trees are deciduous, but this rare evergreen subspecies and around fifty different kind have been recorded around the island. As with all plane trees they are often found in village squares offering the always welcoming shade in the heat of the summer and as with all plane trees synonymous with water. Small formations of plane trees can be found alongside streams and rivers growing to heights of 30m. A huge plane tree, can be seen at Topolia village in west Crete on the road from Kissamos (Kastelli) to Elafonissi. The local community has declared it a "Monument of Nature". Another famous plane tree is the one in Krasi  village on the way from Heraklion to Lassithi Plateau the trunk of which has the largest circumference of any plane tree in Europe.   


However the plane tree of Gortys is the most famous written about in Classical Greek mythology.

Disguised as a bull, Zeus abducted princess Europa from Lebanon and they reportedly had an affair under this very plane tree. Following this affair three children were born, who became the kings of the three Minoan Palaces in Crete. The identification of Europa in this myth gives weight to the claim that the Civilisation of the European continent was born on the island of Crete. This very same  tree can be seen today in the ruins of this ancient city.

  

Common Name

Scientific Name

Cretan plane tree Platanus orientalis, var. cretica
Cretan palm Phoenix theophrasti
Tamarisk  Tamarix cretica
Kermes oak   Quercus coccifera  

Holm oak

Querqus ilex  
Judas tree   Cercis siliquastrum  
Carob   Ceratonia siliqua  
Wild strawberry   Arbutus adrachne  
Wild strawberry   Arbutus unedo  
Hawthorn   Crataegus oxyacantha  

Tree heath

Erica arborea  
Hop-hornbeam   Ostrya carpinifolia  

Phiyrea

Phillyrea latifolia

Wild Pear

Pyrus amygdaliformis

Lentisk

Pistacia lentiscus

Turpentine tree

Pistacia terebinthus

Smoke tree

Rhus cotinus

Spurge   Euphorbia rigida  
Grass   Flomis fruticosa  
   
 
 

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