Monday 25 June 2012

Lindos Revisited

This year's trip to Lindos on the Greek island of Rhodes was a bit later in the year than last, and as a result meant I had missed a lot of the birds nesting, so despite actually making the effort to take my 7D and 100-400mm lens, the apartment complex was sadly lacking in wildlife, at least of the feathered variety. Even the kestrels, which seemed to fly overhead once every 30 seconds or so last year, were noticeably absent. The sparrows, doves and hooded crows were still present at least.

That said, the agama lizards were still abundant and up to their amusing antics, fighting, leaping, sun-bathing and breeding - well at least I assume that was what was going on, as several times we spotted much smaller lizards hitching a ride on the back of larger ones. 

Insects too provided interest with very large swallow-tail like butterflies gliding around, never perching anywhere near for a decent pic.

Of particular interest were the huge crickets over there. One afternoon when hanging her towels out to dry on her balcony, my sister spotted a huge insect, and shrieked thinking it was a spider. Her husband came to the rescue, but even with him shaking the table violently, the insect held on! Apparently it required a stick to prise it off! It then relocated to some rocks nearby, where it munched on something for several hours. 

We finally caught up with it again, as it was stuck to a wall of a staircase. I took the opportunity to photograph it, along with something to show the size. After some research (later back home) we think it's a predatory bush cricket. Certainly doesn't look like something you'd want to mess with!
With the wheatears not around, I decided I'd need to go find something to photograph, and on Monday morning, got up early and braved both the heat (was 30C in the shade at 8am) and the crowds to head to the Acropolis, where I hoped to photograph the kestrels nesting on the cliffs behind the ancient building. If only I'd asked a local before trying. Walked all the way up the hill to find it is closed on a Monday. D'oh!! 

Rather than waste the trip, I followed the path around the back, and found a wooden viewing platform, where I could photo the kestrels, albeit from beneath them. Got good views of course, but it wasn't the angle I was after. 

Further down towards the sea I did find a pair of black-eared wheatears, but they were as flighty as the UK birds, and wouldn't let me anywhere near. So I took a few scenic shots and yet more lizards! 
Tuesday brought masses of coaches, and took me once more, to the Acropolis. This time it was open, and after queueing for a while, I escaped the crowds and found a spot by the wall at the cliff-top, where I could see the kestrels flying around underneath. I think they were mostly lesser kestrels, but the females and juvenile birds seem to be remarkably similar to normal kestrels in their markings.

The males were clear though, with their clean colours, and on that sunny, hot morning, with the blue sky and sea beneath, it was heavenly to photo them as they zoomed to and from the cliffs, catching thermals, stooping to grab unwary insects, and occasionally having mid-air scuffles.

Sweat was a problem though, and made gripping the camera and lens quite tricky. And the inevitable heat haze off the cliffs affected focusing too, but to be there, with such breathtaking views and to be able to watch these fabulous birds of prey flying at eye-level with you was something quite special. Definitely worth the hike up there!

Occasionally, the juveniles would even choose to land nearby, allowing for much closer shots. That said, I missed several shots when the birds flew too close to focus on! You could definitely see them taking a look at me as they cruised past.

Eventually the heat got the better of me (I was told it was reaching 47C in the sunshine during the middle of the day) and for someone fair-skinned like me, it wasn't wise to be stood in the open at the top of a hill! The coolness of the pool and an iced glass of lager tempted me away, but not before I'd filled a card on these kestrels.

The next day I had planned to walk to the cliffs where the Guns Of Navarone had been filmed. However, by then not only was it staggeringly hot, but the humidity was extremely high too, and just walking half a mile nearly killed me. The cliffs would require a decent hike, and I just couldn't be bothered! So I headed to the bottom of the cliffs of the Acropolis, behind St Paul's Bay.

I tried in vain to photograph the Alpine swifts, but they stayed way too high, and the crag martins, while lower down (at head height) were so fast, it was nigh on impossible to focus, especially with sweaty hands again. That's my excuse anyway!

A few more close encounters with juvenile kestrels provided more images, but a beautiful bird song caught my attention. Wandering round the rocks, I spotted a blue rock thrush. I managed a couple of shots before it flew off, this time getting a bit better end-results than last year. Lovely looking birds.

By lunchtime, not only was my stomach reminding me it needed filling, but the heat and humidity was making it feel like being in a sauna. Even the breeze was hot. Back to the pool for cooling off, and one of their delicious egg & bacon baps (I know, not exactly Greek cuisine!).

The remainder of the break was spend relaxing and not lugging the camera bag around. And wondering if we'd get any aftershocks after experiencing a decent earthquake at the start of the break. Dad and I felt our chairs wobbling whilst sat on the balcony (I wondered if I'd had too much pop the night before for a moment) and we later found out that it had been centred just off the coast at Rhodes town, measuring about 6 on the Richter Scale.

We did see a few other different species of birds, including a crested lark (I think), a red-legged partridge (or maybe a rock partridge, though I am not sure we were in the right habitat) and on the last day, a family of ravens, cronking loudly to each other (and flying open-beaked to keep cool), echoing off the cliffs. The little owls were also around, though only late in the day, when the sun was behind them, and the peregrines stayed very high up. No sign of the long-legged buzzards or the falcons sadly.

As with the previous year, the break wasn't for wildlife photography, but once again, it provided a few decent opportunities to do so, and I was glad I'd made the effort to take better gear this time.

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