Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Hidden Plateau

Irises and Chaffinches on the approach to the caves

If you remember, at the end of our investigation of The Secret Hollow last week we looked down from a high eminence and spotted some interesting looking caves so this week I thought we’d go and take a closer look at them. You’ll be pleased to hear that we don’t have such an arduous uphill trek to reach our destination this time so we can poke about and explore the undergrowth on our way up. It’s a delightful morning, the sun is just rising and the chaffinches are singing gaily in the pine trees all around us. And here’s our first flower of the day, an exquisite little iris. This particular species, Iris unguicularis, is the original from which the popular garden iris, Mary Barnard, was cultivated and is currently being investigated for its antidiabetic compounds. Beautiful and useful; a bit like me really. Harrumph! Onwards and upwards.
Signs of life inside and Golden Cassidony outside the caves

So here we are at the caves. Quite shallow, little more than rock niches really but we’ll investigate anyway. The rock appears to be sedimentary quartz conglomerate, pushed up from an ancient sea bed and here on the floor it seems that some small animal has brought bedding in from outside. There are no signs of parasites in the bedding so it doesn’t look as though it is very recent. If I shine my torch on this ledge up here I see we have a birds nest from last year as well. Not the most exciting cave we’ve ever been in (that honour must surely go to The Cave of the Two-toned Goat ) but that’s the thrill of caves – you never know what you might find. Did you notice that little bush outside? You can be forgiven for overlooking it but take a closer look at the flower heads under the lens. Its common name is Golden Cassidony and it is one of the Helichrysums which, if you’re into essential oils, is the genus responsible for ‘Everlasting’ and ‘Immortal’.

View from the summit with Fumana and Wall Brown

And now we have a bit of rock climbing to do because I fancy that there’s a lot more to see above these caves than inside them. Only fifteen metres or so but watch your handholds and footholds, bits of conglomerate have a tendency to come loose. There, not too difficult was it? And the view is quite stunning. All those hills and valleys waiting to be explored. Meanwhile we seem to have found a little plateau, seemingly untouched by man and in pristine condition. It’s simply covered in Fumana, those little yellow flowers with red buds and look, a Wall Brown butterfly. That’s the first one I’ve ever seen out here. I wonder what else we can find?

Dysdera spider holes up in a skull

Now this is interesting. I’ve just picked up this skull here and underneath I’ve found a spider in a silk cocoon. It’s one of the three Dysdera species to be found on Crete. They spend the day sleeping in their beds of finest silk like this, usually under stones or bark, and then come out at night using their speed to hunt down prey. Quite often you’ll find these spiders in caves but I didn’t see any when we were down below. Time for a bit of entomology I think. Enough of arachnids for the moment, let’s go and see what insects we can find. 

Mediterranean Slant-faced Grasshopper and Mirid Bug

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that insects don’t possess a sense of humour. I’ve just spent the past hour crawling about on my stomach, peering under rocks and bushes and the best I’ve come up with is one black and red Mirid bug. I come back to where I’ve left my collecting bag and who should be sitting here, grinning at me, but this Mediterranean Slant-faced Grasshopper. Sometimes wildlife just likes to take the proverbial Mickey. You know, there’s so much to see up here and we haven’t explored half of it yet. It’s clouding over a bit so what do you say we go back and have some lunch, compare our notes and come back again next week? We’ve got plenty of flower photographs to study (which you can see here ) and in the meantime we’ll see if we can find an easier route back down.

Until next week – happy hunting.

With special thanks this week to Despina Tsafetopoulou at Spiders of Greece and Cyprus for her help with Dysdera spiders and a whole bouquet of botanists from various groups who have taken the time to discuss the diverse flower species in detail.

Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)


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