Wednesday 9 April 2014

Electric Wetlands

Almyros River

Every once in a while I have to make a trip away from the south east coast and venture up to the big city. It’s a very pleasant drive with good roads interspersed with exciting mountain chicanes, bridges and tunnels and great views at every turn but cities are not my natural habitat and so I always try to visit a particular quiet place at the end of the journey – Heraklion Power Station. Or to be precise, the confluence of the power station canal and the Almyros river. This is an outstanding area of wetland where you can happily spend all day pottering about investigating the wildlife and this is where I thought I’d take you today.

German Chamomile
So here we are at the Electric wetlands. Even the little gravel car park is interesting as it’s rough edges are full of wild flowers such as mallow, squirting cucumber and borage. Right here by the car is a patch of German Chamomile. As with all flowers in the daisy family (Asteraceae) they are easily distinguishable by a central hub of disc florets usually surrounded by a circle of ray florets. You can identify this one by the disc florets which rise up in a hemisphere from the centre of the plant. A couple of teaspoons of dried flowers and some boiling water steeped for ten minutes and you have a lovely cup of chamomile tea. [There are some warnings about drinking chamomile tea for pregnant women and people on blood thinning tablets so check the latest.]

Mute Swan
Let’s take a walk over the wooden bridge and do a bit of bird spotting. This is a prime birding spot for warblers, shrikes and water birds such as coots and moorhens and, if my ears don’t deceive me, that whumf, whumf, splash is the sound of a swan landing. There he is, a handsome Mute Swan. These are quite rare passage migrants to Crete according to my field guide though I’ve been lucky enough to see them on a few occasions (once a single male buddied up with a lone pelican).  One year here I even found a pair of Black Swans. Goodness knows who’s collection they’d escaped from as they are antipodean birds.

Plain Tiger or African Monarch
As you can see the insects are busy around the plants with representatives from most groups but I’m particularly after a butterfly. It’s a bit overcast today and they’re not out in force – so far I’ve only seen a Small White and a Painted Lady but I’d dearly like to get a better photo of this chap I photographed a few years back. He’s a Plain Tiger or African Monarch and I’ve spotted him here on a couple of occasions (in August and November). Unfortunately not today though, perhaps it’s a bit early in the year.

Stripe-necked Terrapins
A word about ears. They are not just for ornithologists. Bill Oddie may be very adept at cupping one hand behind his lughole and saying Cetti’s Warbler but it’s a skill that takes years to learn. For us general naturalists a rustle in the undergrowth or a plip or a plop can point to something worthy of further investigation and I definitely just heard a plop. Not the plip of a frog jumping in the water but the heavier plop of a terrapin. If we creep quietly through the reeds here and try not to squelch – yes there they are, a group of Stripe-necked terrapins enjoying some spring sunshine. Make the most of it guys, looking up at the clouds it won’t be out for long.

But now I must leave you as my appointment calls. You stay here and continue and don’t forget to look at the beach. There are some good dunes there and being in the shadow of the power station it’s not much frequented by sunbathers and swimmers. I wish I could spend longer here with you, I really do. If you spot one of those Plain Tigers or anything else of interest then post it to the Naturalists Group so that I can enjoy them later. Until next week – good hunting.




  1. Terrapins! Well today I saw a lady carrying a tank with two tiny terrapins near Agios Nikolaos bus station and it crossed my mind what she would do with them once the novelty wore off. Much better to read this report of the creatures living naturally. I will think quite differently next time I pass by Herkalion power station.

    1. Two young brothers tried to sell me one that they'd found in the wetlands one year when I was there. Not wishing to encourage the trade in reptiles I pointed out that the animal would be much happier where he was and needed its parents nearby. "After all," I said to the elder, "you wouldn't sell your little brother would you?" Judging by the mercenary gleam in his eye I don't think it was quite the clinching argument I'd intended it to be.

  2. Something new every time! I'd never heard of the squirting cucumber. I wonder if they can be found here in Canada. (Possibly in nurseries, not wild, I think.)

  3. If you want to check it out it's scientific name is Ecballium elaterium. According to USDA it has been introduced into a few of the lower 48 but it is not present In Canada.

  4. It looks similar to something I've seen here; I can't remember where at the moment. A related species, maybe. I'll have to keep my eyes open.

  5. Hi Steve!
    I have just found your excellent blog.
    I am an Austrian naturalist and photographer. With my wife we are planning a trip to S/W Crete this mid May to mid June. To see what we are doing please go to and
    It would be great if we could see you in Crete and talk. Maybe you could show us a few good sites. We'll cause no costs and are prepared to pay for service.
    Best Regards, Herbert and Eva Bödendorfer, Austria


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