Wednesday 20 May 2015


Ferma Bay
After last week’s somewhat strenuous hike through the Kritsa Gorge I promised you something a little more relaxing this week. I thought I’d bring you down here to Ferma Bay and we’d spend an hour or two wandering along the sands beachcombin’. An activity so laid back it’s too much of an effort to pronounce the end of the word.

Nest holes at Ferma Bay
So let us start at the western end with the early morning sun gently warming the rocks and reflecting off the cool, crystal clear water. And we start with a bit of a puzzle. If you look up above your head you will see a few holes in the rock with what appears to be nesting material hanging out of them. Who made them? There is no way an animal could run up and down the vertical walls so it must be a bird of some sort. From what I can see the nest appears to be too well constructed for one of the pigeons that inhabit these cliffs. Their idea of nest building is to throw a few sticks on a ledge, drop a couple of white eggs on top and hope they don’t roll off. Various martins use holes in rocks of course but they always fortify them with spittle and mud and there’s no evidence of that. No, my prime suspect is the White Wagtail, that ubiquitous beach bum that we met last year on the Road To Nowhere, but I’m open to alternative ideas.

A Fossilised Scallop and an Egyptian Grasshopper adorn the walls
If we look deeper inside this little recess you can see how the various sediments have been laid down as neatly as a loaf of sliced bread. Here, jutting out of the wall is a fossilized Scallop that’s been laying there, just like that, for tens of millions of years and further up, an Egyptian Grasshopper warming his muscles for the day ahead. These are our largest grasshoppers locally, as long and fat as your index finger. Their prime delight in life seems to be to give tourists a severe case of the jitters by flying into tavernas, low above their heads with a great whirring of wings, and land with a thud on the central umbrella pole. I’ve seen whole tables vacated in microseconds by an experienced grasshopper with a wicked sense of humour. Being vegetarian, they’re completely harmless of course, but can make serious inroads into your Greek salad.

A Mirid Bug on Cretan Ebony
We’ll leave the rocks now and stroll along the sands. We’ve spent a lot of time this year up in the Milonas valley and this is where it comes down to the sea. Many of the plants you’ll recognize from our previous excursions but these little shrubby patches of purple we’ve only mentioned in passing. This is Cretan Ebony, an endemic that you’ll only find on Crete. It is a chasmophyte, a plant that specializes in growing on cliffs, but as you can see it has extended its territory somewhat. To me, these flowers are the heralds of warm weather and wall-to-wall sunshine and they’re a great favourite with the local insect population. Nestling in the leaves of this one for instance we have a little Mirid Bug, with the almost unpronounceable name of Deraeocoris schach, busy extracting the sap from the stems.  He doesn’t seem to be particularly inclined to have his photograph taken so I’ll just pop him in the insect box a moment so we can have a better look at him. He's in full adult colouration having been through his various instars and is now ready to participate in the great mating game of life.

The architectural beauty of a Sponge
Now here’s an animal that will be familiar to almost everyone, it’s a sponge. Most natural bath sponges come from the Mediterranean and their skeletons consist of a fibrous, elastic collagen protein called spongin which, when looked at under the microscope, has an architectural beauty surpassing that of  any cathedral. They also have a far more ancient lineage dating back hundreds of millions of years. Sponges are very simple animals, having no internal organs as such, and most species absorb nutrients either directly from the seawater itself or from bacteria. So, here we have a dead animal that lived on bacteria – an interesting thought next time you’re in the bath with one.

A Mediterranean Yellow-legged Gull surveys the bay
So here we are at the east end of the bay where a series of rocks form a sort of lagoon, perfect for snorkelling and rock pooling, which we’ll investigate further in the coming weeks. Meanwhile out on the rocks is a Mediterranean Yellow-legged Gull, blissfully unaware of the fact that he and his relatives have thrown the ornithological world into heated debate over recent decades. Apart from having yellow, rather than pink, legs he’s virtually indistinguishable from the European Herring Gull of more northerly latitudes – in fact there are over two dozen gull species in the genus Larus to which this one belongs and sorting out who is related to whom is proving a major headache. The latest DNA research shows that he is more closely related to the Great Black-backed Gull and the Armenian Gull than any of the Herring Gulls of which he was treated as a subspecies as recently as the 1990s. Not that he’s in the least concerned of course, he’s just enjoying the sunshine and looking for lunch. Now doesn’t that seem like a good idea?

Until next week – happy hunting.

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  1. I missed an important link in this blog when that blog with beautiful curves was originally published in february 2014 -- Strange that curves can interest me. Do not laugh - I mean nightly curves. I am a minimalist camper loving to sleep in a small tent. The night temperature curve is highly interesting ;-)
    In Crete I always travel with a Fiat Panda ( old model "green") and my sleeping bag. During 10 years 1999 - 2009 I tested the optimum time for me to sleep outside: arrival in Crete in the later half of March and back home to the Scandinavian Midsummer. I rented the same old Fiat Panda from Georgios Abramakis in Sitea and systematically explored all the small roads of Crete - for exact 100 days every spring during ten wonderful years.

  2. love this blog. living in crete and every day is a fresh experience. who could ask for more? london is a long way away and far behind now. thank our stars. Kimon.

  3. My life is often dominated by things you can hear but can't see - chiff chaffs, grasshoppers, crickets...

  4. I love the Cretan Ebony too and have read that it used to be dried to fill mattresses. X

  5. I love the Cretan Ebony too and have read that it used to be dried to fill mattresses. X


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