Wednesday 25 November 2015

The End of Civilisation

Blue-winged Grasshopper, Oedipoda caerulescens

Here we are, back at the point where we regained the trail last week, and it looks as though we have a fairly easy stroll ahead of us today. I see that we have some grasshoppers for company. These are blue winged grasshoppers as you can see by the flash of their hind wings as they fly but watch as they land. Notice the way that they immediately turn to face the way they came? Both the red and blue winged grasshoppers do this and I think that the reason may be a classic case of misdirection as used by stage magicians throughout the centuries. The magician stands before you with an object in hand, closes and opens his fist and Hey Presto! The object has disappeared. He has, of course, thrown it over your head but as your attention is drawn towards him by his patter you fail to notice. Now the bright flash of the grasshopper wing is very followable with the eye and even though the camouflage of the grasshopper at rest makes it difficult to spot when it lands, a succession of jumps in roughly the same direction would make it easy for a predator to follow, predict and finally capture the insect. If, on the other hand, the grasshopper turns on landing and then jumps back over the predators head then there would be a flash of wing and Hey presto! No grasshopper. I’ve always thought they were rather magical creatures.
Sticky Fleabane, Dittrichia

Those of you with keen nostrils may have noticed a somewhat unpleasant smell pervading the locality. The culprit is this yellow flowered plant here called Sticky Fleabane amongst other names. The smell is due to a volatile oil that it produces and in North Africa they boil the branches in cooking oil and use it to treat sun stroke. Elsewhere various concoctions have been produced to counter everything from hangovers to malaria. 

Despite the smell, or possibly because of it, the Small White and Painted Lady butterflies seem to love it as do the Honey Bees and Hover Flies. The Hornets and the Blue Butterflies seem to prefer the Ivy just coming into flower over there.

Pomegranate with Orange, Tangerine and Lemon inset
Choices, choices. It seems that the main track crosses the stream bed at this point and leads up out of the valley but there appears to be an alternative path through this citrus grove. The reason we’ve been confined to either the track or the stream bed thus far on our travels is that this lower part of the valley is quite intensively farmed and most of the small plots have been fenced off which is unusual in these parts. This one however seems to allow us access (keep your paws off the fruit – I saw you) and what a beautiful display of oranges, tangerines, lemons and a magnificent pomegranate (not a citrus fruit incidentally but more closely related to the Myrtle which we were looking at last week). Even to my nose it smells a lot pleasanter here than by that sticky fleabane and those ripening citrus fruits means that marmalade making time is nearly upon us once again. I preserve mine with Metaxa brandy – delicious on crisply buttered toast with a cup of Lapsang Souchong on a cold winter’s day.

Darkling Beetle, Tenebrionidae
Interesting though orchards are I feel sure that more excitement awaits us further up the valley and it would appear that we have now reached the end of civilisation. The valley is narrowing into a ravine and the pomegranate was the last of the fruit trees. There is a face in the rocks up there that doesn’t look at all welcoming and the rocks are guarded by sinister Darkling Beetles. I think that we’re about to enter Indiana Jones territory – keep your bullwhip handy. Darkling Beetles, by the way, are one of the largest of the beetle families with an estimated twenty thousand species. They don’t look very friendly but they’re perfectly harmless and won’t nip you if you handle them gently.

Cup Fungi, Resupinatus
I’ve found a little stone aqueduct that will serve as a crossing to the other bank where I believe we’ll make more progress. Watch your step as there’s a cunningly placed rock in the centre ready to hurtle you to your doom below. Safely over? Good. Give me a hand with this rotting log and let’s see what we can find underneath. What  a beautiful expanse of cup fungi. These are saprotrophic (meaning that they feed upon dead matter) and they secrete digestive enzymes directly into the wood in order to do so. Their spores are formed on the surface of the cups so they feed from the bottom and reproduce from the top as it were. I think that they’re rather attractive although other members of the family are more colourful. We’ll cover them up again as I daresay that they’re somebody’s larder.

There isn’t an obvious path from here on in so we’ll leave it for this week and come back with stout walking gear next week. Until then – happy hunting.

See all the pictures including insets in detail on Flickr


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  1. I think you’ll need to share your marmalade recipe, the added metaxa sounds fabulous. X

  2. ...and an excellent preservative. I'm just finishing a pot from December 2013.

  3. I love the butterflies, Daniel. We're going to put our Nepali village back together, but with so many flowers we are going to have more butterflies than just about anywhere. Nepal is already known for its butterflies.

    You make me want to go to Greece.

  4. You must send us some pictures via the Naturalists facebook group:


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