Wednesday 4 November 2015

Entrapment in a Virgin’s Bower

Last week we investigated the valley mouth at Agios Fotia where it opens onto the sea so let’s continue our journey inland, along the river bed, before the forecast autumn rains put us in danger of a flash flood.

Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata
I see we’re being watched from that carob tree up there. It’s another of our Spotted Flycatcher friends that we met three weeks ago (Fruits of Autumn) on his way south to spend the winter in Africa below the equator. Being a small, insectivorous passerine you would think that he would be a perfect target for the cuckoo as he fits the victim profile perfectly but a bit of research back in the 1980’s found that this was not the case[1]. These canny little birds showed a strong ability to recognise and eject eggs that were not their own from the nest. Cuckoos, preferring more gullible hosts, leave them alone which rather goes to show that cuckoos have built up intelligence over the years about selecting suitable ‘marks’.

Bracket Fungus, Polyporaceae family
This little side track looks as though it will lead us down to the river bed. Hopefully there won’t be so many mosquitoes as last week – which reminds me, I made up that plane leaf insect bite salve and Pliny was right, instant relief. Ah, here we are and a nice fallen tree for starters. A bit too heavy and entangled to roll but I see we have some nice bracket fungi growing along it. When ever I see fungi like this, fan shaped with rings spreading outwards, I think Turkey Tail, the Trametes genus, but this one is a little different. Turn it over and you will see that it has gills and not pores which is most unusual for a bracket fungus. I think that it’s a Lenzites as the gills appear quite creamy white under the hand lens but it could be a Gloeophyllum. Hmm? No, you can’t eat it. There’s more to fungi than whether you can put it on your plate (although I’ll admit it’s the first thing I think about too).

Conglomerate rock
Did you ever see the film ‘Entrapment’ in which Catherine Zeta-Jones has to make her way through a gallery using various balletic postures to avoid setting off alarms linked to criss-crossing laser beams? It looks as though we have a similar task ahead of us with fallen giant cane as opposed to lasers. There are no alarm bells as such but we don’t want to go crashing through like a herd of elephants or we’ll disturb the wildlife. So, ballet shoes on…

OK, so we’ve discovered that I’m no Wayne Sleep but my attention was distracted by some interesting looking rocks. This bit of conglomerate with various greens, mauves and blacks embedded within it will make a nice paperweight. If you’ve ever walked into a Greek public building and spent time studying the multicoloured tiles on the floor during the inevitable periods of waiting your turn, then this is what you are looking at; conglomerate rock sliced through and polished up. Pretty isn’t it?

Pill Woodlouse, Armadillidium
Oh look, while we’re down here we’ve got a little Pill Woodlouse. Pill Woodlice differ from other woodlice in that they can roll themselves up into a tight ball like an armadillo (other woodlice half-heartedly perform this trick but leave bits sticking out). Both types are crustaceans and most crustaceans, like shrimps and  lobsters, live in the sea. It’s easy to imagine that a woodlouse is an adventurous shrimp that many years ago evolved lungs and wandered up onto the land and into a whole new world but it didn’t happen like that. Marine creatures developed air breathing lungs along with gills tens of millions of years before they ever ventured onto land and quite a number of fish are quite happy, when swimming in oxygen depleted water, to pop their heads above the surface and grab a quick breath of air. For the first land creatures, breathing air was already second nature long before they came ashore.[2]

Virgin's Bower, Clematis cirrhosa
And having navigated our way through the canes we find ourselves looking at a Virgin’s Bower. No, don’t get too excited it’s the common name for this delicately toned creeper that is taking advantage of the fallen canes, Clematis cirrhosa. It makes for a pretty bower but I don’t think that the rocky stream bed is conducive to any type of romantic activity. I fear that any virgin in this particular bower is very likely to remain so. Clematis is quite a popular garden plant of course but did you know that it is poisonous? Although it has medicinal properties in small quantities it contains essential oils that irritate the skin and mucous membranes and if taken internally in large enough amounts it can cause internal bleeding. Not exactly the flower you want to decorate your salad.

The hills await week
I think I’ve spotted a way out of this gully which is getting deeper the further we travel along it so I suggest we make our way up to higher ground. Plenty of butterflies and grasshoppers still about along with the occasional dragonfly and now that we’re higher up we can have a better view of this end of the valley. The hillsides look as though they hold quite a lot of interest so bring your climbing boots next week.

Until then – happy hunting.

[1] Davies, N. B.; Brooke, M. de L. (February 1989). "An Experimental Study of Co-Evolution Between the Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, and its Hosts. I. Host Egg Discriminatione". Journal of Animal Ecology 58 (1): 207–224. doi:10.2307/4995. (via Wikipedia)

[2] Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution: Dial, Kenneth P. Barnes & Noble July 2015 (via Science News 31.10.15)

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  1. For some reason think of Greece as being too warm and dry for fungi! Of course, this is nonsense.

    1. The fungi season is somewhat shorter than in northern Europe

  2. I like your style of 'hunting.' Interesting article.


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