Thursday, September 29, 2016

Greece Again

Why bother to go on holiday? I asked the question on Wednesday evening after viewing the overgrown garden, the pile of letters and junk mail waiting to be sorted, never mind the dozens of emails. 

And then I downloaded the pictures from two weeks in Skiathos to reveal the answer to my question. The island of Skiathos may be just 46 sq km, but many people choose to return for their holidays year after year for the simple fact that it has amongst the best beaches of the Greek islands, a large variety of tavernas, places to stay and the fact that it has a spectacular coastline that begs to be explored. The day before we left for home we too felt the pull of the island and left a deposit to secure our room for 2017. 

There aren’t many bird pictures in this posting as the weather was mostly too clear and sunny for large scale migration, but there are lots of photos of the island and the places we visited. Several locals told us how there had been a lack of rain for the previous three months, a fact that became all too obvious once we began to explore in our go-anywhere Jimny and viewed the tinder dry landscape.

Don't forget to 'click the pics' for a close-up of Skiathos.

The plane’s approach took us close to the sister island of Skopelos with Skiathos Town on the right, just before the pilot turned right towards the rapid and heavily braked landing on the short, but recently extended runway. 

Skiathos Town
 
The Bourtzi, Skiathos Town

Around The Bourtzi, Skiathos

The Old Port, Skiathos Town 

Next stop Skopelos

Skiathos Town from the Airport

Arrival - Skiathos

Our host Makis Mathinou met us at the airport and just twenty minutes later we settled down in our favourite room at the idyllic, stunning and totally soothing Hotel Ostria. I am reluctant to mention this hotel on the Internet for fear of the place becoming too well known. Some secrets are best kept that way. But word does seem to have got around via the dreaded Trip Advisor, and quite deservedly, anyone wishing to stay at The Ostria must be quick off the mark to reserve a room.

The hotel has resident Hooded Crows and plays host to Scop’s Owl, Little Owl, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Red-backed Shrike. It also offers free drinks from the swimming pool to Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows and on occasion, Bee Eaters which join the swifts and swallows overhead in the hunt for flying insects. We had one sighting of Bee Eaters this year when a party of eight or ten flew around before heading off towards the nearby shore. 

The Ostria, Agia Paraskevi

Hooded Crow

We had a super two weeks and even though the weather turned a little dodgy in week two with a couple of mornings of heavy rain to disrupt migration, the birds never arrived in any numbers. Even after downpours the landscape remained dry and parched with a lack of standing water where migrants might normally be found.

On a number of days we called in at Aselinos and the tomato farm near Xanemos beach and found Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, House Sparrow and Red-backed Shrikes, together with Barn Swallows, Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows, plus the ubiquitous Hooded Crows. The cliffs at the tomato/pepper farm are a good spot to watch for gulls and Eleonora’s Falcon as it’s not far from the falcon’s stronghold of Kastro just along the coast. Yellow-legged Gull is the neighbourhood gull of Skiathos but unlike our closely related UK Herring Gull, the Yellow-legged Gull of Skiathos remains wary of human contact and wouldn’t dream of snatching a sandwich. 

Aselinos, Skiathos

Red-backed Shrike

 Yellow Wagtail

A dodgy morning near Xanemos

Eleonora's Falcon

 Yellow-legged Gull

On other days we explored the unmade roads and tracks of the wild north coast to the beaches of Kanapitsa, Kechria, Ligaries and Agistros where we came across more shrikes, flycatchers and Whinchats but this time with Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat amongst the Chiffchaffs. There are one or two pairs of Ravens on the island, birds which alerted us to the presence of on high Honey Buzzards, a Kestrel and more Eleonora’s. On our journeys we we found similarly minded people, not birding, but simply exploring and enjoying the landscape, mostly in the obligatory Jimny.  Anyone thinking of driving in Skiathos, dont worry. The only things to be be wary of are taxi drivers on flight days, tourists strolling along the narrow street of town, or helmetless locals riding motorcycles. Sticking to rules is not something the Greeks enjoy. 

Which Way? - Skiathos
 
Skiathos goat

Agistros - Skiathos

Whinchat

Jimnys- Skiathos

Kechria - Skiathos

Spotted Flycatcher

Looking for warblers- Skiathos

Kanapitsa - Skiathos

Skopelos and Tsougria viewed from Kanapitsa - Skiathos

Skiathos is a captivating island that has great charm, a fascinating history, wonderful beaches, a friendly and civilised population and one that boasts an amazing array of tavernas in which to spend an evening. I heartily recommend it to readers. In fact, I’ll drink to that. Cheers everyone! 

Dish Of the Mum - Skiathos

Tourists - Skiathos

Back soon with more to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kalispera

Good Afternoon. Sorry I haven’t been posting much but Sue and I are not at home. We are still in Greece, staying on the island of Skiathos to be precise. 

This is mainly a sun holiday for Sue and I although regular readers of this blog will know that binoculars and camera always go on holiday with us. 

Skopelos

I’m home in a day or two and will post news and pictures of our trip, birds and views of the beautiful Sporades islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. In the meantime here are a few photographs from the same place in 2014 and 2015. It’s so good we decided to return. 

Flying Cat at Alonissos 

One of the highlights of our stay is day exploring Kastro in the north of Skiathos where Eleanora’s Falcons are guaranteed during the month of September, a time when the falcons feed on the millions of small birds migrating through the Greek islands. It’s a fair old bumpy journey to get to Kastro and then a trek over the rocks to reach the Greek flagged promontory. It’s well worth the effort to watch the magical and acrobatic Eleanoras in action. 

Eleanora's Falcon

Jimny
  
Kastro, Skiathos

There are lots of Alpine Swifts here and in fact all over the island where they tear across the sky at breakneck speed. There’s a good number of Bee Eaters around too and they often feed up high in amongst swifts, swallows and martins.

Alpine Swift

Bee Eater

Skiathos

We’re staying on the south coast where there’s often scrubby habitat, reeds and remnants of pine forest just yards from the tourist beaches. They make good spots for shrikes, wagtails, pipits and chats.

Red-backed Shrike

Woodchat Shrike

That's all for now, it's time to head off for our evening meal.

Taverna - Skiathos

I'm not blogging for a day or two so apologies if I don't catch up with everyone.  We are back home soon and I promise to do so then. 

Log in later for more news, views and photographs from Another Bird Blog in Greece.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Kalimera

Good Morning. Yes, Sue and I are in Skiathos, Greece, so apologies that there is no local news today. Instead here are pictures and a few words about Skiathos until we return. I really enjoy my local birding as regular readers will know; but once or twice a year spending quality time in the sunshine of the Med or Greece is just the job to reinvigorate the birding senses. 

The economy of Skiathos island is mainly centred on tourism and fishing, followed closely by crop and livestock farming. Skiathos is greener than someone might expect from many of the typical hot and sunny Greek island in holiday brochures. While Skiathos has many beaches they are often flanked by lush green hills. This landscape feature makes it one of the more naturally attractive Greek islands. Skiathos is also called “the boomerang island” because it is said that once someone has visited this island they will feel an irresistible urge to return. This is our fourth visit here. 

The island of Skiathos and the neighbouring one of Skopelos are both renowned for their population of wasps, and I daresay that the creatures are all pervasive on nearby islands and the mainland. No wonder then that Skiathos has a good resident population of Honey Buzzards, a raptor that specializes in raiding the nests of bees and wasps. The numbers of this buzzard are swelled in September by migrating birds from further north, but Common Buzzard also occurs here as a migrant. 

Eleonora's Falcon and Honey Buzzard

We always rent a Suzuki Jimny when in Skiathos. On the neglected roads and rough tracks of post-financial crisis Greece, the legendary robustness and fun factor of the tiny 4x4 is sought after by European tourists looking for an authentic Greek experience. For us it’s a bit of nostalgia for the electric blue Jimny we once owned. 

Birding Greek Style

You are never far away from a beach in Skiathos, but if sun bathing is not your thing, just a few yards away is the real Greece where a spot of birding is possible. 

Skiathos

Birding to the beach 

Red-backed Shrike

Yellow Wagtail

Whinchat

Wheatear

This year’s list of birds may not be the longest or contain a large number of rare birds, but it’s an eclectic mix containing a number of “goodies”. And boy, are we having a good time! 

These are the species so far during days split between exploring, chilling and soaking up the Greek sunshine: Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Yellow-legged Gull, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Spotted Flycatcher, Sardinian Warbler, Great Tit, Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Bee Eater, Eleanora’s Falcon, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Whinchat, Wheatear, Cuckoo, Common Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler, House Sparrow, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Little Owl, Scops Owl, Common Buzzard, Raven, Hooded Crow, Yellow Wagtail, Richard’s Pipit, Caspian Gull, Hobby, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Blackcap, Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Lesser Whitethroat, Bonelli’s Warbler, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, European Shag. 

This week I managed a number of return visits to fellow bloggers but with just a smartphone and intermittent WiFi it’s not easy, so please bear with me for a while. I will be with you all soon. 

Chicken Souvlaki


I hope everyone enjoyed this taste of Greece. Back soon.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dead As A Dodo?

The Dodo Raphus cucullatus is extinct. But is the Latin I used there a dead language? Well if you’re a birder the answer is a resounding “No”. Read on. 

On this blog I sometimes include the Latin name/scientific name of a bird species. This is to add interest for the reader or to illustrate a particular feature of the bird. But for many birdwatchers the Latin names of birds found in books is a waste of space or a puzzle to be ignored. I rather like studying the scientific names I encounter, wondering about their origins and then often find myself Googling for an answer to satisfy my innate curiosity. 

A reader recently thanked me for explaining the use of the Latin name when relating my sighting of a Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus, the scientific name that means “a rusty coloured hawk which flies in a circle”. So for Sallie in Canada and other readers who may be intrigued, puzzled, or simply curious about scientific names, here is a brief explanation of their usage and beginnings, mostly in relation to birds. 

Circus aeruginosus

Think back many years, before modern communications like the Internet, the telephone, widely available books, newspapers and magazines, or beyond that even, when the spoken word was the only way to describe a bird, plant or animal and when many names might be in use for the same thing. 

A solution was proposed by the Swedish biologist Carl van Linné, usually known by the Latin version of his name Linnaeus. He proposed that all species of plant and animal should be identified by a unique Latin name in a standard form. Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae was first published in Latin in 1735. The most important version, the tenth edition of 1758 is still considered as the starting point for modern day zoological nomenclature. Linnaeus helped future research into the natural history of man by describing humans Homo sapiens just as he described any other plant or animal. The question of the origin of man may have begun with Linnaeus and later continued by Alfred Wallace, Charles Darwin and others in the early 1800s. This later culminated in the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. 

Linnaeus’ naming system consists of two parts: the name of the genus, or group of organisms, followed by a name identifying the species within the genus. So for example the Mallard is allocated to genus Anas “fresh-water duck”, and is called Anas platyrhynchos - broad-billed duck. The Latin generic name is a noun and the specific name an adjective, just as in English, except that in Latin the noun comes first. 

Anas platyrhyncos

In the written form we italicise scientific names so as to separate the species from the common name and also to show we are using Linnaeus’ system. Using the Latin or scientific name in text, discussion or debate avoids ambiguity between different continents, cultures and languages. For instance, and by using a familiar species to illustrate the point, in Great Britain Pluvialis squatarola is known in modern English as Grey Plover. In North America the exact same species is known as Black-bellied Plover but retains the Latin/scientific name. 

A few scientific names are original Latin as used by the Romans for their everyday birds. These are usually their Latin generic names, such as Cygnus (swan), Columba (pigeon), Passer (sparrow) or Ardea (heron). In Roman times people were familiar a few dozen species of birds only, but over the next hundreds of years bird names both stuck and became more specific by the use of the Latin genus together with Latin identifiers - e.g. Ardea cinerea, Grey Heron, Columba palumbus, Wood Pigeon, or Passer domesticus House Sparrow. 

Ardea cinerea

Other scientific names come from classical Greek where the choice of names gives the impression that Linnaeus used Latin as much as possible and then resorted to Greek when the Latin ran out. Linnaeus and other early naturalists used these mainly Greek words to apply to otherwise anonymous birds, having turned the Greek into a Latin form. In the case of harriers, and to return to the second paragraph above, the Greek “kirkos” became the Latin “circus”. The word was applied to a hawk which flew in a circular manner, Circus aeruginosus, the Marsh Harrier, as well as to a similar but blue-coloured hawk Circus cyaneus, the Hen Harrier. Both species were probably familiar to Linnaeus and other naturalists of the time who recognised the need to differentiate these two as well as many other birds. 

Nowadays there are about 10,000 bird species on Earth, plus millions of other forms of life, either now extinct, very much alive, or yet to be discovered. All need classification through a naming system able to identify them as uniquely separate and where with a little invention, imagination, and knowledge of the species, Linnaeus’ system comes into its own. 

Here are just a few birds that readers will recognise together with the species’ scientific names, meaning and a brief explanation of its origins. 

Birds named for their appearance:
  • Common Coot  Fulica atra  - a black coot
  • Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca  - a dusky black duck
Birds named for their behaviour: voice, display, feeding preferences or habitat, etc: 
  • Hoopoe Upupa epops - the Latin is onomatopoeic, a bird named for its repetitive call of  “hoop-hoop-hoop-hoop” 
  • Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus - a mistletoe-eating thrush
Bird names based on geography:
  • Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica - Lapland godwit 
  • Fulmar Fulmaris glacialis - a northern seabird, an icy fulmar 
Birds named after or people, usually the person, mostly an ornithologist, who first identified the species to be scientifically different from a closely related one: 
  • Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris  bairdii - a grey-coloured waterside bird named after Spencer Fullerton Baird a 19th century naturalist
  • Hume’s Warbler Phylloscopus humei - a "leaf watcher" named after the ormithologist Allan Octavian Hume 
Upupa epops

Taxonomy, the branch of science that encompasses the description, identification, nomenclature, and classification of organisms is a large and varied topic full of sometimes complex ideas. It’s a subject that will crop up from time to time on Another Bird Blog but Wikipedia is a good and recommended starting point for readers who wish to explore further.

Now forgive me. I'm off to Greece for a while where I'm hoping to brush up on my Greek, grab a few birds and to top up my sun tan.


Related Posts with Thumbnails