Crete 19 – 26 April 2017 *
Island birds and flowers in the cradle of civilisation.
Crete is a magical and mysterious island. Home of Europe's earliest civilisation, influenced by many nations, yet it retains its own identity and culture of which its people are justifiably proud.
The island's position in the Mediterranean has not only played a crucial role in its history but is an important migration route for birds on their way north in spring. Crete in April is free of crowds, the days can be warm and the hillsides are full of flowers.
This, the largest and most southerly of all the Greek islands, is dominated by a backbone of mountains through which cut many deep gorges. These are as spectacular as they are rich in wildlife, be it migrant birds, nesting vultures or endemic wild flowers.
Nature and history are difficult to separate on Crete, with wildlife close to important archeological sites. We shall sample Minoan ruins at Phaestos.
We are based at the small and friendly Sophia Hotel in Plakias on Crete's south coast, once a fishing village, now a small town. It is ideally placed for local walks and excursions and has an impressive backdrop of gorges and mountains.
Plakias Bay from the Gio Ma taverna (Ivan Nethercoat).
Crete's rich flora of 1600 native species includes 140 endemic to the island, such as Cretan cyclamen and Cretan ebony. In April many orchids are at their peak with Cretan bee, naked man, few-flowered, rainbow, four-spotted and bumblebee orchids among 20 or more species. Shrubs like Jerusalem sage and cistus contribute to colourful and aromatic hillsides.
The mountains and gorges of Crete are a stronghold for birds of prey, with the largest population of griffon vultures in Greece. Lammergeier, Bonelli's and golden eagles and buzzard all breed, as do crag martin, blue rock thrush, chough and raven. The hillsides and scrub support both Sardinian and the much rarer Rüppell's warbler. At this time of year many birds pass through on migration, pausing especially at wetlands, however small. These might include red-footed falcon, alpine swift, bee-eater, squacco heron, little bittern and various waders and warblers.
Even at this time of the year there are butterflies such as swallowtail, scarce swallowtail, Cleopatra and the endemic Cretan festoon. We often see freshwater crabs; reptiles can include Balkan (stripe-necked) terrapin and Balkan green lizard.
Freshwater – or land – crab
As well as local walks, our minibus trips this week include trips to Moní Préveli, Kourtaliótiko and Kotsiphou Gorges, Frangokastello, Spili, Ayia reservoir and, probably, the mountain plateau at Omalos.
Price: £1,390 per person in single or twin room, for a full week (Wednesday to Wednesday). There is no single single supplement on this holiday.
This includes taverna evening meals, with wine and coffee, plus picnics or an occasional taverna lunch.
En suite facilities
Flights: EasyJet ﬂights, Gatwick to Heraklion.
Maximum number: 14, with two leaders.
The lammergeier conservation project is run by the Hellenic Ornithological Society, BirdLife Greece. Crete has the only breeding population in south-east Europe (6-7 pairs in 2013, with four nests); the species is practically extinct in mainland Greece and elsewhere in the Balkans.
Alongside survey, monitoring and raising public awareness, the long-term survival of Europe's rarest vulture is being tackled by site protection, food provision and the encouragement of traditional grazing systems. More on lammergeiers and other conservation matters on Crete here.
Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes. He’s also a qualified soccer coach, for one son’s under 14 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.
Chris has regularly co-led Honeyguide's Crete holiday for many years. He also looks after the website for Flowers of Crete.
Co-leader is David Collins, Honeyguide leader on Crete in 2002 and 2003 and our regular leader on Fuerteventura, where you can read more about him.
Southern skimmer Orthetrum brunneum and swallowtail on lantana, both near Moni Préveli, spring 2016.