The Eleonora's Falcons of Skiathos inhabit a wild and remote place in the north of the island. It takes a little effort to reach the location, a very long hot, humid and tiring trek over uneven countryside, a fair old journey from Skiathos town. Or the route is comparatively short but a rough and ready ride over unmade roads and bumpy tracks to reach the beginning of the Kastro experience. The Suzuki Jimny would get us there no problem.
I’ve dotted the text below with some pictures of Eleonora’s Falcons from 15th September 2014, pictures taken from a long distance due to the sheer unapproachability of the location, the birds’ reluctance to come close and far from the best light. The remoteness and inaccessibility is surely a good thing as the falcon is so rare that were it to breed in easily reached places, it would be finished off by man’s interference.
By mid-September and close to the peak of their breeding season there were many falcons about, probably twenty or more, comprising adults and at least three broods of newly fledged young, all of them hurtling above the water or dashing over cliffs at breakneck speed; so much action that is hard to convey the thrill of both watching and hearing so many birds. At times an individual would break off from their flight of fancy to chase a passing Swallow for a moment or two, so strange to say I didn’t witness a successful pursuit. I rather thought that the falcons appeared so finely tuned with their environment that they could perhaps pick out slow, tired or weak prey and catch them at will without using energy by chasing healthy birds.
The Kastro (fortification or castle) is believed to have been built in the mid 14th century with the aim of providing a sanctuary for the inhabitants of Skiathos from pirate attacks. Three of the four Kastro protective walls overlook the sea, with steep exposed cliff faces underpinning them. A single entrance via what was originally a wooden drawbridge leads to the nearby cliff top.
Moving the town inside the Kastro proved fairly successful, and for many years after, it was not only the capital of Skiathos, but the only inhabited town on the island. During its occupancy in the 14th century the Kastro is believed to have contained upwards of 300 houses, and at least 20 churches. The Turkish occupation of the island from 1538 saw the building of a mosque within the Kastro fortifications. The Mosque is believed to have been erected on the site of an existing church, and for some reason it was built without a minuet. Much of the building remains today. In the early 19th century, the residents deserted the Kastro moving on-mass back to the harbour town that is the Skiathos Town of today. With the exception of two churches and some smaller buildings much of the Kastro was demolished or fell into ruin and what ruins remain are very overgrown as can be seen in my pictures below.
The foreground of the picture begins a trek to the distant flag and the falcons beyond, the second and third pictures taken at the flag and looking back to the start point. There's a taverna, another trek up and down the rocks as an alternative to watching the Eleanora's.
Kastro - Skiathos
Kastro - Skiathos
Kastro - Skiathos
Much of the following information is borrowed from the The Hellenic Ornithological Society at http://www.ornithologiki.gr/.
Greece is considered the most significant country for the conservation and survival of Eleonora's Falcon, since during the breeding season it hosts more than 85% of the global population.
In Greece, the Eleonora's Falcon arrives from April with older individuals mating and occupying nesting places, thereby developing loose colonies as early as May. Owing to the low food availability in the nesting areas the falcons hunt at large distances from the nest and only few of the birds return to the colony at night. Indeed, the area in which the falcons of one colony are active during this specific period is considered to possibly exceed 1000 km2. Thus, and since the islands where the reproductive colonies are located cannot support all the birds with food, Eleonora's Falcons can be spotted during the reproductive season on the mainland of Greece as well, even in high mountains far removed from the coasts.
The diet of the Eleonora's Falcon until the end of July, when the egg-laying has been completed, consists mainly of larger insects such as butterflies, flying ants, dragonflies, cicadas and beetles. During the following period and until October, it feeds exclusively on migratory birds, a food source that is, theoretically, infinite. After its breeding, between the end of October and the beginning of November, it flies to East Africa, especially to Madagascar, where it spends the winter, returning to a diet based on insects.
The unique characteristic of the Eleonora's Falcon is that it breeds more slowly in relation to other birds. More specifically, its breeding season begins much later (in July), compared to other migratory birds. Consequently, it can include in its diet the plethora of migratory bird fauna species that fly over the Mediterranean basin during the end of summer, heading for the South Because of this, travel is generally not observed between the island where it breeds as the mature individuals and the chicks feed on birds from the autumn migration wave.
The species nests in natural rock cavities that are located on small islets, on cliffs of islets and larger island, but also in rocks located in the interior land.
Every couple of Eleonora's Falcons gives birth to one to three eggs, while the chicks hatch at the end of August, the timing which coincides with an immense migratory wave of birds that offers an easily accessible as well as ample food source. The chicks develop plumage after 35 days and so, from mid-October on, the populations start migrating towards East Africa and Madagascar.
Eleanora’s Falcon chasing Common Buzzard
Eleonora's Falcon was named after Giudicessa Eleonora de Arborea (1350-1404), a Sardinian princess who fought for Sardinia's independence from the Kingdom of Aragon, and who drafted the first laws in Europe protecting birds of prey.
More birding soon with Another Bird Blog but I don’t expect to see an Eleonora's Falcon in Pilling.