|Ground Beetle Licinus sp.|
I thought that this week we’d take a walk over to the neighbouring village of Koutsounari. It will give me the chance to point out a few things on the way. You don’t always need exotic locations like the Amazon jungle to find things of interest and beauty and you don’t necessarily have to travel great distances either. This Ground Beetle charging up the lane right on cue demonstrates the point.
Ferma is very quiet in February. You’d hardly believe that this is the main road between Ierapetra and Sitia, two of the largest towns in the east of the island. Cars are few and far between and you can still see an old man on a donkey trotting along occasionally. At the end of the village is a hairpin bend where a small seasonal stream runs into Ferma Bay. From this a track leads up into a valley where there is a delightful waterfall and endemic Cretan Water frogs can be found.
The greater part of the village of Koutsounari lies up the hill but down here a few hotels front the main road, their gardens stretching down to Long Beach and the sea. It’s not what you would call over developed and between the hotels are great tracts of ‘nowhere’ which, of course, is an absolute magnet for a naturalist. So let’s turn off the main road and take a road to nowhere. And what a glorious sight awaits us. In the short grass to the right of the track an absolute carpet of purple and white Anemones.
This tract of land to our left is a favourite bird watching spot where you can often find larks, pipits, finches, kestrels and buzzards. It’s a little quiet on the bird front today but we do have animal sounds. That rather high pitched chirruping is the call of the Green Toad, a rather beautiful little amphibian with a white belly, green eyes and green blotches on a rusty brown background. On the underside of the leaves of that Giant cane by the puddle we may even find some tree frogs. No luck today but there are quite a few rather snazzy Chocolate Banded Snails enjoying the damp weather.
We’ll walk down to the beach and have a look in the gardens of the hotel next door. I see that they haven’t emptied out their swimming pool again. A plea to all swimming pool owners, hotels or individuals: please empty your pools in the autumn. Animals are drawn to water and once in they can’t get out. Fortunately there are only dead insects on this one. Unfortunate for the insects of course but a veritable smorgasbord for this White Wagtail. We see these most of the year down here but they wisely tend to avoid the hotter months of July, August and September. They’re pretty well beach bums locally but they will move up into the olive groves in January and February.
There’s a little bit of waste ground round the back here which sometimes proves to be a good hunting ground and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms – I haven’t turned over a log all morning! A woodlouse. Not the most spectacular find you may think but they’re really quite colourful when you look at them closely. They are also crustaceans like lobsters, prawns and crabs and although they live on land their lungs, which are specially modified for land use, still have to be kept moist in order to function. This is why a) you find them in damp places and b) they don’t get pneumonia.
What have we under this bit of wood? An Ocellated Skink. As you can see he is quite alert so he’s not in deep hibernation. It’s about 18 Centigrade today and he seems quite happy about it. A couple of years ago I did monitor one which went into hibernation under a stone behind the house. He stayed there from early January to March 9th when the daytime temperature rose into the mid twenties. The night time temperatures had only just climbed into double figures by then whereas this year we haven’t had a night below 10 Centigrade.
Oh dear, now you’ve done it, you’ve got an Englishman talking about the weather. I’ll try and be brief. Since I started taking weather records in 2005 the mean temperature has risen by just under two degrees. It’s not a consistent rise; it tends to go in three year cycles and the main thing I’ve noticed is that the island isn’t cooling down so much at night. Every year the nights get warmer and warmer. And still on the subject of weather – it’s just started to rain so I think we’ll call it a day.
As always there’s plenty more on our facebook page: Steve's Naturalists Group
Until next week – good hunting.
for their help with the identification of the Ground Beetle Licinus sp. and
Matt Wilson at Manchester Metropolitan Universtiy for his perennial help in all matters herpetological.