Wednesday 9 December 2015

We’ll Tak’ The High Road

After last week’s debacle I thought about entitling this week’s adventure “Won’t Get Fooled Again” after the old Who song but decided upon a slightly modified line from the Scottish standard instead. The high track on which we finished may have meant a long walk home but it does provide us with access to the next part of the valley which we wish to explore and saves us having to cover old ground each week. So hop in the car and we’ll motor up to where we left off and start from there.

Crocus laevigatus
It seems that the track runs out soon after this point and leads us around a small side valley which should prove interesting, especially as the first flowers we come across are these delightful little crocuses. The bright stigmas of the crocus, in particular the species Crocus sativa, you’ll find in your kitchen cabinet in the jar marked Saffron of course but did you know that saffron was first harvested here on Crete thousands of years ago? Crocus sativa was developed from an endemic Cretan plant similar to this one (which is also a Cretan endemic) and saffron gathering is depicted in frescoes at the Minoan Palace of Knossos.

Ravens, Corvus corax corax
Last week, when we were down in the valley, we had the delightful company of blackbirds and robins. Up here with the gods I’ve heard the call of a buzzard and a definite kronking of ravens. We met some up on Katharo plain a few weeks back but I’ve only ever seen one down here on the south east coast. There they go look, a pair just disappearing over that ridge. As everybody knows ravens used to be white. No, honestly, they did – if you take Greek mythology as your ornithological reference guide. Apparently Apollo asked a raven to spy on his lover Coronis and when his faithful avian agent reported back that she was indeed being unfaithful he scorched his feathers. Now all ravens are black and refuse to work for EYP, the Greek Intelligence Service. You don’t believe me? Have a look at the EYP shield some time, it’s got a scorched raven hanging from a map of the world.

Rosemary Beetle, Chrysolina americana
It seems we’ve reached a bit of a gully. Let’s scramble up and see what’s lurking in the sage and cistus bushes. Ah, another Leaf beetle, that makes three different species we’ve found in recent weeks. This one, very shiny with green and purple stripes, is Chrysolina americana and despite its name is native to the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. It wandered into England in the 1990s (I presume it wandered as its wings are short and it cannot fly) and I believe it is now quite common around London. This particular species has a predilection for aromatic plants such as sage and rosemary and is commonly known as the Rosemary Beetle. Oh, he seems to have tumbled off his leaf, presumably no-one told him that he couldn’t fly. Ah well, he knows now.

Arachnids and Silver Y, Autographa gamma
I don’t know about you but I think I’ve reached the limit of my scrabbling capabilities. That rock face looks both sheer and crumbly. Let’s prod about at the base and see who’s about. A couple of arachnids which we’ve met before; the Thomasid Crab Spider you’ll remember from Black Witches Butter and Pixie Cups back in March and the Small Wood Scorpion from The Misty Thripti Mountains in October but the moth is a new one which I’d like to introduce to you. He’s one of the noctuid family called the Silver Y in English or scientifically, Autographa gamma. Very easy to recognise as he has his name etched on his wings, a policy I’d urge all moths to adopt as some of them can be a devil of a job to tell apart.  There are also an Autographa ni and an Autographa jota that are similarly helpful.

Slippery Jack, Suillus collinitus
Well, that’s our route back down into the valley, a mere two hundred and fifty metre descent over ankle twisting rocks, but I think we’ll leave that until next week. Meanwhile we have some Slippery Jack mushrooms at our feet and I think I’ll take some back with us as I’ve got a brilliant white cap at home that needs toning down a bit. Hmm? Oh, there’s more to mushrooms than whether they are edible or not – some, such as these, make excellent dyes. You can either extract the dye using a weak ammonia solution or simply leave them in the sun in a jar of water until it changes colour to the shade you want. These will probably give me a nicely camouflaged pale fawn which will be much more practical.

Until next week then – happy hunting.

See all the pictures including insets in detail on Flickr

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  1. Lovely to see a silver Y on Crete, there were loads of them on the Scottish seaside when I was there in October

  2. They are fairly common in the winter months here Simon..or maybe I should say that they were fairly common. My moth watching season usually begins in October: first the snout moths arrive, then the geometers and finally the noctuids but where are they all this year? I would estimate that 90% of the moths have not appeared this autumn. Have you noticed a decline in Scotland this year and does anyone else have any comments from elsewhere in Europe?


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