Hobby (Rob Cole)
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, being 258 kilometres long and 56 kilometres wide. To its south, across the Libyan Sea, lie the shores of north Africa; to the north lie the islands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese. Crete itself is dominated by four mountain chains which are largely limestone in content and stretch, like the backbone of a great sea monster, from its eastern to its western shores, rising at their highest point to 2,450 metres. From these heights, clear mountain streams empty into the Aegean Sea to the north. To the south the streams have cut deep gorges before entering the Libyan Sea, and many dry out under the intense heat of the summer sun.
Crete’s northern coast has been cultivated for thousands of years. Here, olives, grapes, melons, peaches, oranges and cereals are grown, and the ubiquitous sheep and goats are still pastured as in Biblical times. The island’s climate, position, and variety of both altitude and terrain have created its outstanding — indeed world-renowned — flora. Not only are there over 1,600 species of flowering plant, of which at least 139 are endemic, but the display of colour along each roadside verge is breath-taking. The intense reds of poppies; the delicate pink of Silene colorata blending so well with the pale purple of Sea Stock; the red, yellow and white of Ranunculus asiaticus; the pink of gladioli in the fields, and everywhere the pale yellow of Crown Daisies make Crete a most colourful island in spring.
Our visit to Crete will also coincide with the northward migration of birds visiting Europe for the summer. Greek islands are their stepping stones, and indeed the final destination of many of the most colourful species. We will watch for herons and birds of prey, as they fly in off the sea, for ‘falls’ of passerine migrants in coastal maquis and olive groves, and for waders feeding in the tiny marshy fields. At this season the coastal scrub can hold Icterine, Subalpine, Eastern Bonelli’s and Olivaceous Warblers, Collared and Pied Flycatchers, and Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears. Overhead, Swifts and Bee-eaters hawk for insects. Crete also has its own eastern Mediterranean specialities; amongst them, the elegant Rüppell’s Warbler, and the Eleonora’s Falcon which can be seen flying at dusk along most shorelines in late spring. In the mountains, a good population of Griffon Vultures can be found, together with the rarer Bonelli’s and Golden Eagles, and Lammergeier.
With the recurring theme of occupation followed by heroic battles for liberation, Crete’s history is unusually rich, and we do not plan to ignore it. The Romans, Venetians, Turks and Nazis have all tried to suppress these quiet, cheerful people. All have failed, leaving only the relics of their occupation behind them. Most fascinating of all Crete’s settlers were the fun-loving Minoans, the remains of whose palaces and villages lie scattered throughout the island.
During our 8-day stay we will be based for the first four days in the picturesque seaside town of Plakias on the south coast. This will allow us the opportunity to explore the dramatic gorges of Imbros, Kotsiphos and Kourtilotiki and the hills around the little town of Spili, famous for its orchids, tulips and other wonderful flora. Other explorations will include the Minoan Palace of Phaestos which, with its view of plain and mountain, has the most awe-inspiring location of all Minoan sites. It also provides an excellent hilltop bird migration viewpoint and flower-rich slopes with possible Monkey Orchid and Eastern Serapias. We will visit the Late Minoan Cemetery at Armeni with its cool Valonia Oak woodland and the atmospheric monastery at Moni Prevelli. From there we will explore the back roads of the verdant Amari Valley, famous for its apple, cherry and almond orchards, and Byzantine churches.
Western Crete is perhaps less well known, but is greener than the east and has some dramatic scenery. On one day we will head to the top of the spectacular Samaria Gorge, where we will keep our eyes skyward for Lammergeier, but walking on the Omalos Plateau we shall be torn between birds and the amazing display of iris, tulips and anemones. We return to Chania via the reed-fringed reservoir at Ayia to look for Great Reed Warblers and Little Crake. On another day we will visit the peaceful Akrotiri Peninsula and spend time searching the extensive olive groves around the monastery of Agia Triada for migrant flycatchers, warblers and Golden Orioles. By now under the island’s spell, we must return to London, well satisfied with the colour, history and natural history of Crete.
This combination of leaders works particularly well. We had glorious weather and plentiful botany to see and enjoy. The Omalos plateau was a joy with its tulips and anemones and a wonderful way to end the trip. We had full days and a very satisfactorily tiring ones! It's good to be tired at the end of a day well-spent!I liked to combination of half-board and Plakias and bed and breakfast at Chania.
The itinerary worked well, as it's been honed over many years. Good variety of wildlife over a good range of sites. Archaeological interest too, and some historical sites. The tour leaders were excellent and really made the trip. The Alianthos Beach Hotel in Plakias was particularly good, with excellent buffet for breakfast and evening meal.
Tour leaders are both excellent and form a great team. Itinerary is well-crafted with lots of variety including some archaeology, history and geology as well as flowers/birds. Hotels both excellent, plus, of course, the weather!
Mr & Mrs B.
The Willsher's made every effort to ensure we made the most of the experience, including daily picnic lunches. Their expertise and enthusiasm was infectious.
The wild flowers were excellent and we were given the chance to see nearly everything in season.
It was both a pleasure and a privilege to have the company of David Tattersfield as tour leader. Nothing was too much trouble for him. Whilst we both love and appreciate birds and wildflowers we are far from expert and he was endlessly patient with our sometimes naive questions! We are greatly indebted to him for organising an anniversary cake at the end of one of many memorable meals in well chosen restaurants. It was a really nice touch.
Great leaders - John & Jenny Wilsher did really well. We enjoyed being in Crete again and it was wonderful to find so much of interest and have such good company.
David is a superb leader and very attentive to the requirements of the group. Always approachable and willing to go the extra distance to fulfil the wishes of the group paying particular attention to members as they require it. My knowledge of plant species was not great at the start but his enthusiasm was very infectious, and not just for plants, but those people interested in birds were also catered for in some depth. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Naturetrek holiday and will travel with you again sometime next year.
The tour was excellent and Jenny and John were knowledgeable, helpful friendly and very hardworking. We saw birds and plants we had never seen before.
Both leaders were very knowledgeable about birds and flowers. Their enthusiasm for the subjects was very infectious.
Dr & Mrs H.
Tim Melling was very good; he had enthusiasm, excellent knowledge of birds but also other wildlife.
Leaders - better than excellent. Vastly knowledgeable enthusiastic, hardworking and pleasant people with it.
I must mention the contribution of the leaders, Tim and Tom. They were both excellent - relaxed but professional, and endlessly good-humoured, patient, and enthusiastic. And knowledgeable of course! - its always fascinating to be out in the field with experienced naturalists.
Tim Melling is brilliant, indefatigable and fun. Tom Brereton was also persistent at tracking down small plants for determined amateurs! And always helpful and kind to this oldie who is inclined to forget names! I enjoyed the company and the format of the holiday very much.
The birdwatching and botanising was excellent - truly remarkable finds, thanks to Tim Mellings leadership and acute observation and Davids expertise and tenacity, exciting novices & proficient members of the group alike!
This was our first Naturetrek trip. We liked the ethics and principles applied.
Both David Tattersfield and Peter Dunn were excellent at their particular specialities. David, especially, led the trip very well indeed, was an excellent communicator with information about Crete generally, consideration for everything, and deserves high praise.