“Exploring Crete” is Peter Sommer Travels’ first scheduled tour in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
What do you make of this view? Is it eerie or inviting, mysterious or plain, strange or commonplace?
It's an upward view, taken from the archaeological site of Lato in Crete, an important ancient city that I have written about before. It is a truly fascinating place.
On day 3 of our tour in Crete, we have seen wonderful things: Lato, the Byzantine church of Panagia Kera with its wonderful frescoes and also the Minoan city of Gournia, preserved like no other - you can read about here.
But for many of our guests and for me, one the most wonderful things we saw is what this picture shows: a dozen or more enormous birds slowly circling far above us.
Crete is known for its diversity of large birds of prey. I am most certainly not an expert, but a bit of watching, a bit of taking pictures, a bit of zooming in and a bit of talking to knowledgeable guests has led to an identification: the birds we saw this morning are Cretan Vultures.
Cretan Vultures? That's what I have thought they are called for two decades or so, and on many occasions, people pointed them out to me by that term. Guess what - that wasn't quite right. They are vultures indeed, and they are one of only two species found in (or above) Crete, but our guests include bird people. By bird people, I do not mean people that are part bird and part human (we would welcome them as long as they don't shed feathers in the hotels we use), but people that are passionately interested in birds. In other words, birdwatchers, or amateur ornithologists - and they know better. Joking apart, my expertise is in archaeology, and my fellow guides/experts at Peter Sommer Travels also tend to be specialised in archaeology, history, iconography and such, and we don't know everything - although we try. Often, we have guests who know other matters than those better than we do, such as geology, botany or indeed birds, and we are immensely grateful for their input...
What we saw and took pictures of was a group of Griffon Vultures (also known as Eurasian Griffons), a reasonably rare species found in small parts of Mediterranean Europe and Northern Africa and larger parts of southern and central Asia. They qualify as the largest extant wild bird in Europe, with a wingspan reaching 2.8 metres (over 9 ft). As befits a vulture, they are scavengers and they may well have circled above us in the hope that at least one or two of us might expire sooner rather than later (we did not oblige them today). There are several hundred of them in Crete and they tend to appear in groups of up to twenty.
It is wonderful to show our guests the things we know. But it is also wonderful to discover things we don't know so well alongside them.