Wednesday 5 November 2014

The Waterfall of Milonas

Hiking boots are the order of the day today, or at least stout trainers. We’re off on a three and a half hour trek into the hills and valleys to find a waterfall. As you know, water is a scarce commodity here in south east Crete so after the autumn rains start falling in the Thriptis mountains it’s nice to go and find some.

The first Black Redstart of the year
And once again, before we’ve hardly moved out of the front gate, there’s something of interest. You see the bird on next door’s aerial, bobbing up and down and calling a solitary cheep? That is the first Black Redstart of the year. Time for a recording shot. Wildlife photography isn’t always about getting the best picture, sometimes it is a tool for simply recording an event. Recording the first Black Redstart is something I do every year as part of my phenological record (see Phenomenal Phenology for more on this fascinating subject). One would think that their arrival would coincide with worsening weather in central and eastern Europe where they breed but despite autumns being progressively warmer in these areas the Black Redstarts are arriving earlier each year. Curious; we’ll have to look into that.

Autumn Crocus
It’s beautiful to be walking in the early morning sun and now we’ve left the road behind us and started up the track it’s just us and the buzzards wheeling overhead. Do you know the story of Catherine Wilson? No? Well her story is connected with this little flower growing on the bank here. This is the Autumn Crocus and I always find it flowering in November. It contains the alkaloid colchicine which is used pharmaceutically to treat gout. Like most medicinal plants in the wrong hands it is a deadly poison. Catherine Wilson was a 19th century British nurse who is thought to have poisoned seven victims with colchinine from this flower after encouraging them to leave her money in their wills (the victims not the flowers). She was hanged of course.

Sea Squill and Tree Spurge
While we’re on the subject of flowers you’ll have noticed that apart from the Autumn Crocus there is not much in bloom at the moment so here’s a tip. Take photographs of the early growth stages and note in your field diary where the plants are. Keep coming back periodically and photograph the plants again when they are in flower. Then you can combine the pictures as I have with this Sea Squill (which you’ll remember was flowering last month on our way to visit the Octopus's Garden ) and this Tree Spurge which you’ll find in flower down here from January until March. You’ll be surprised how your plant identification skills improve when you don’t just concentrate on the pretty flowery bits.

Spot the Birdie
Brace yourselves, we’ve got a couple of short, sharp climbs now but I promise you that the views will be worth it. Here we are with a commanding panorama of the limestone cliffs and that massive bird over there would appear to be the legendary Roc. Oh no.. it’s a lichen covered rock. That’s the problem with two dimensional photographs, they just don’t convey the awe inspiring sense of perspective that we are enjoying up here, let alone all the rich smells and the chatter of bird song around us. 

Aquatic Snail
I’ll bet you’re glad that you changed out of your flip-flops but we’ve reached the little aqueduct that forms the last part of our walk to the waterfall and the going is easier now. If you’ve ever walked the vertiginous levadas of Madeira don’t worry, this aqueduct is nothing like those (I still shudder at some of the drops). Just around this bend and here is the waterfall… or rather, it isn’t. It’s as dry as a bone. I must admit that I haven’t been here at this time of year before but I would have expected at least a trickle by now. No matter, there’s still a small pool of water at the bottom so lets delve in and see what we can find. Apart from the inevitable mosquitoes we seem to have some aquatic snails here. You can tell a lot about aquatic snails from the direction in which their shells coil. (The University of Michigan has a great on-line snail key) and I think that this may well be Stagnicola palustris. [I have since been able to identify this as a member of the Melanopsidae, most probably Melanopsis buccinoidea which has been previously recorded on the island. SD 17/11/2014]. Any malacologists out there care to comment?

Southern Maidenhair Fern
I do believe that I can hear a steady drip, drip, drip. Yes, here we are. Not exactly a waterfall but at least it gives us a chance to see the stalactites forming. And here growing on the walls we have some Southern Maidenhair Ferns which brings us back to the plant kingdom. Generally when we look at plants we tend to go for the attractive flowering plants, the magnoliophytes, but there are many other types of plant as well such as mosses, liverworts, horsetails and ferns such as these all with different and fascinating methods of reproduction. Incidentally, did I ever tell you, I read somewhere that the Navajo smoke Maidenhair Ferns for insanity. Whether to cure it or promote it I can’t quite remember.

Until next week – happy hunting.

Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)


  1. I posted a comment about having seen a black redstart drinking from my pool at Pallailoni, Vamos. Are they resident here? Could you reply to ? Also saw a swift or swallow this am, too high for positive ID. Do they overwinter here? Ian

  2. I will reply to your email address Ian but also here for anyone else who is interested. Black Redstarts are winter visitors, down here on the south coast I generally see them between October and March. Swifts and Swallows are passage migrants and summer visitors: March to August for Common Swifts and March to November for European Barn Swallows from my personal observations.


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