Crete 2024, part 5 (Malia, Koxare, Frati, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Preveli Beach, Preveli Bridge)

The next morning in Malia, on the island of Crete, dawned perfectly sunny. As I sipped my coffee on the balcony, with little effort, I managed to take photos of a couple of birds that often visited. They were a common blackbird (Turdus merula) and a Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto).

Common blackbird

Eurasian collared dove

Later, I joked with Saša that if I kept sitting on that balcony sipping coffee, according to the theory of probability, sooner or later, a bearded vulture would probably land there. Saša is a serious man and an ornithologist, and I don’t think he found it funny – namely, we had a few more days left in Crete and we had only seen one bearded vulture, and that was very briefly. We had to do better than that.

So, after breakfast, we all got into the cars and headed west towards the city of Rethymno. Although Rethymno is a beautiful place (see: and, it wasn’t planned as a stopover; soon we turned off the national motorway and continued south.

About 1 km after passing the village of Koxare, we turned off that road and parked there. From one spot on that local road, we could already see griffon vultures in the distance, as we were almost at the entrance to the famous Kourtaliotiko Gorge.

Vuk enumerated several different bird species here as well, while Ljilja drew my attention to a plant the relatives of which we had been talking about in the past few days. Here, we could see numerous specimens of the Crete arum (Arum concinnatum).

Crete arum

We didn’t stay here long; instead, we went to the village of Frati.

The sleepy village of Frati

Frati is situated on a hill from which parts of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge are clearly visible. Here, we even considered taking a dirt road to climb to an even higher elevation, but in the end, we decided to descend to the road that leads directly through the gorge.

However, while we were still in the area of the village and at a higher elevation, we stopped at a widening by the road because there was a very beautiful view of the gorge and the surrounding area from this spot.

View from the village of Frati (Kourtaliotiko Gorge is to the left)

Kourtaliotiko Gorge

While we were scouting the sky, again Vuk diligently enumerated various species he spotted here with the other ornithologists, but as far as I’m concerned, I wasn’t bad either. I went close to a tree where I heard the beautiful song of a bird. I stood there very patiently, trying to spot it until I finally succeeded. I even took photos of it, in a couple of places as it moved around. It was the Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala).

Sardinian warbler

Sardinian warbler

Sardinian warbler

There were, of course, various plants here as well, but I only took photos of one – the garland chrysanthemum (Glebionis coronaria). Interestingly, its leaves may be used in human diet.

Garland chrysanthemum

Now we started to descend to the main road in order to continue to the nearby Kourtaliotiko Gorge, but I briefly stopped at a couple of places to take nice pictures of the gorge and the surroundings. In the second photograph, you can also see the road leading through the gorge, which we planned to take.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Moreover, shortly after entering the gorge, one comes across a large parking lot, which is also an excellent spot for observing the surroundings.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge, a detail

By the way, a bit further along the road, you can walk from the road if you want to see a large waterfall that exists in this gorge, but that wasn’t part of our plan. However, I’m not sure how abundant the waterfall was in May 2024, considering the fairly dry winter, but even here, beautiful parts of the river flowing through the gorge could be seen. The river flows into the sea at Preveli Beach.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge, a detail

Kourtaliotiko Gorge, a detail

We came here to look at birds.

Bird watchers in the Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Indeed, the ornithologists in the group had information that bearded vultures were sighted at that location, in the Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Actually, this isn’t some secret information only for experts, as the cliffs of this gorge are known as a place where bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) come to roost for the night.

Griffon vultures were quickly spotted and there were also other birds closer to us, making it easier for me to take pictures.

Two western jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and a hooded crow (Corvus cornix)

Two hooded crows (Corvus cornix)

One hooded crow (Corvus cornix)

One western jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

At one point, a fierce battle unfolded in the sky. It involved a common raven (Corvus corax) and a lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni).

Raven and male lesser kestrel

Raven and male lesser kestrel

Raven and male lesser kestrel

Although we saw plenty of griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus), I didn't capture many of them this time. On the one hand, I had already photographed them in multiple locations and on the other hand, they were mostly visible above the highest parts of the gorge, making them difficult to photograph with my amateur camera.

In order to get you an idea of the distance and the difficulty of capturing them, the following photograph may help. I used zoom for it and while the trees are clearly visible, the bird is even further away, barely discernible.

Birds in the Kourtaliotiko Gorge

To our great fortune, after much patience, a bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) finally appeared and we were all extremely pleased.

Bearded vulture

Bearded vulture

It circled around here a couple of times before flying behind the cliff and we didn't see it anymore.

Bearded vulture

But since the mission was successful and we were all satisfied, it was only fitting that we took a group photo together.

Oliver, Saša, Vuk, Ćoba, Ljilja, Jelena, Irena, Sonja, Marko, Beba and me (squatting)

However, my favourite picture from this place, showing the group members, is one taken by Oliver Dimić, who kindly allowed me to publish it on my blog, for which I am very grateful. When he sent us this photo within the group, I joked that only Marko here “knows the secret,” while the rest of us are trying to spot something.

Saša, Sonja, Irena, me and Marko (Photo by: Oliver Dimić)

Now we continued further down the gorge, which soon transitioned into hilly terrain. Following one of the local roads, we went all the way to one of its ends, marked by a large parking lot at the end of a cliff overlooking the western side of Preveli Beach.

View from the height at Preveli beach (the one closer to me)

Several of us started to go down the path that leads to the beach. However, while a few group members decided to descend all the way to the beach, a couple of us opted to just briefly stay here, take photos of what we were interested in and then return by car along a short distance of about 3 km in order to join a few others from the group who had settled in a nice local restaurant there.

So, here, I managed to take a photo of an eastern black-eared wheatear (Oenanthe melanoleuca).

Male eastern black-eared wheatear

It seemed to me that there was a significant difference in elevation between the parking lot and Preveli Beach and I really wasn’t in the mood to climb back up later on. Afterwards, it turned out that the elevation difference was only a little over a hundred meters, but still, I didn’t regret my decision, although it is indeed a very beautiful place.

From what I’ve read and seen in photos from group members who went to Preveli Beach, this is a sandy beach marked by numerous native palm trees. You can reach the beach from the restaurant where we were sitting by following a path that runs parallel to the river that comes from the Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Additionally, you can also drive to the adjacent Drymiskiano Ammoudi beach, which is seen a bit further in the photo above with Preveli beach, and from there, a trail leads to Preveli Beach. All of this will have to wait for another visit to Crete. For now, I just took one more picture of the beach and then returned with the others I was with now to the parking lot and the car.

Preveli Beach

While driving towards the restaurant where the gathering was agreed, I simply had to stop at a roadside pull-off. The scenery was absolutely stunning.

Area between Preveli Beach and the Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Kourtaliotiko Gorge is to the left

In this area, there are a couple of well-known monasteries, but no visits were planned. It was time for lunch. Those of us who gathered at the restaurant near the Preveli Bridge sat at the same table and there were various delicacies ordered, but I decided to take a picture and post only a photo of some local bread with garlic and melted cheese. If I could get away with it, I would eat only such things.

Part of the lunch at a restaurant by the Preveli Bridge

One of the good aspects of this restaurant is the small river that flows nearby. During our visit, the water was exceptionally clean, although I believe it was also extremely cold. I didn’t check it, though.

River near the Preveli Bridge

River near the Preveli Bridge

But what makes this place particularly picturesque is a bridge that was built here in the early second half of the 19th century. Today, it is no longer in use and serves only to enhance photographs.

Preveli Bridge

It is often called the Venetian Bridge, but it was actually built by local residents using funds provided by the nearby monastery.

Preveli Bridge

Preveli Bridge

While walking around here after lunch, I could spot various other things, mostly birds.

Female Italian sparrow (Passer italiae)

There were also several Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata), which aren’t true wild ducks, but they are birds nonetheless. Here is a photo.

Muscovy duck

But the main birds in this area were the barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). First, I took photos of them on a wire where they were drying out and then I tried to photograph them as they flew into the water of the river. As I was told, swallows take water to mix it with mud, which they use in building their nests. Since they are not the type of birds meant for “bathing,” from time to time they need to dry off as well.

Barn swallows

Barn swallows

From what I could gather, they fly into the river, take water and then disappear somewhere – presumably flying back to their nests. Then they dry off and it all starts again. So, I waited until one stage of water-taking began, but it was quite challenging to capture this sharply. First, you don’t know exactly where they'll fly in and, second, they are extremely fast.

Barn swallows in the water-taking action

Barn swallows in the water-taking action

Barn swallows in the water-taking action

Barn swallows in the water-taking action

While walking around this “pond,” I spotted some birds in the sky and captured them. As I was later told by Vuk [Popić], to whom I am immensely grateful for all his help (I bothered him the most), they were most likely Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae), named after Queen Eleanor of Arborea. This is particularly important for me because we often saw this falcon species, but I had never managed to capture them anywhere. Except, perhaps, here, when I was alone and I accidentally captured them while sauntering idly.

Possible Eleonora’s falcons

I also spent some time standing by the water, waiting for a dragonfly to land somewhere so I could photograph it. It stubbornly refused. So, I captured it in flight. It was an emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator). Now it is up to those who read my stories to spot it in the next picture.

Emperor dragonfly in mid-flight

A little later, we all gathered again, but the agreement was for everyone to return to Malia at a pace that suited the drivers. There was also some reshuffling of passengers in the cars, as some decided to stop in Rethymno on the way back. I had already been there and it is truly a beautiful place, so I personally wasn’t interested, but I offered to Sonja and Beba, whom I was driving now, to go to Rethymno if they wanted.

In the end, we agreed not to stop in Rethymno after all, but to return directly to Malia, which we did while it was still daylight. Then we decided to take a stroll around Malia and have a drink. It was a good decision.

One of the typical restaurants in Malia

Drink in Malia

Here is also a reminder of where I stayed during this trip to Crete:

The next day dawned without a single cloud in the sky. And as I leisurely sipped my first morning coffee on the balcony, on top of a nearby tree where a common blackbird had stood a couple of days earlier, now a hooded crow (Corvus cornix) landed. Over the next two days, I will be able to observe both this bird and another hooded crow (presumably a pair) regularly flying in (just below the top) with twigs in their beaks, indicating that nest-building is underway.

The hooded crow observes to determine whether the top of this tree is suitable for it and its future offspring

After breakfast, as agreed, we all set off southwards via Heraklion. By chance, we opted for an excellent road that went a little around, but I was delighted when we passed by a couple of sites I had visited in 2022. However, this time, we didn’t make any stops in order to visit cultural monuments; instead, we continued south of the main road that connects settlements in the southern part of Crete, leading through the fertile Messara Plain. The reason for this was that we were heading towards the Asterousia Mountains that separate the Messara Plain from the Libyan Sea.

I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape, but I was driving, so I couldn’t look around much and I was also trying to keep the convoy together, as I was the driver of the third car. However, at one point, I had to stop, so I took a snapshot of the view of the Messara Plain that we had left behind.

View at the Messara Plain from the slopes of the Asterousia Mountains

There were probably many more beautiful spots for taking photos from, but I wasn’t alone here, so it didn’t make sense to stop too often and I also needed to catch up with the other two cars. This happened in the parking lot of a restaurant located right by the road when the road descended after crossing the first pass in the Asterousia Mountains. That was a place to take a break.

Verica Ristic

Born and lives in Serbia. Free-lance interpreter/translator for English, but also speaks other languages (this helps a LOT when travelling). Grateful to the Universe for everything.

Belgrade, Serbia

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