Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that we’ve made it safely through the Milonas Gorge. The bad news is that we have a flipping great waterfall ahead of us which means we’ll have to find a way around and down and there are no paths to follow.
No matter, the sun is shining and there’s a flying circus in the sky. In case that seems a bit odd, forget the tents, clowns and performing seals and think of the origin of the word. Circus comes from the Greek kirkos meaning a circle or ring and was applied to a place of entertainment where the seats were arranged in a circle around the performing area. It is also the generic name of the birds that circle as they hunt which we know as Harriers. There have been four species recorded on Crete: the Marsh; Hen (or Northern); Pallid; and Montagu’s. The last three are rare and the Marsh, although a frequent passage migrant in the spring, only overwinters here in small numbers. It’s a bit too high to make out details but it’s still an exciting start to the day as it’s the first Harrier of any type that I’ve seen in these parts.
This really is an impressive bit of landscape with the lower valley stretched out before us and the great towering limestone cliffs at our backs. Hard to imagine that this was once a sea bed. Look up to that patch of blue sky and try to visualise yourself looking up to the surface of the ocean instead. That it may also once have been a tropical beach is easier to imagine because the evidence is here at our feet. The thing about limestone is that it is good at preserving fossils and we’ve got a smashing fossilized palm fan here. Pity it’s too heavy to lift, it would have looked nice by my fireside at home. Palm trees aren’t entirely tropical, there is one species (Phoenix theophrastii) that is native to Europe but there is only one authentic palm lined beach on the whole continent. Where? Crete of course, at a little place called Vai on the east coast. Remind me to take you there some time.
The water here is pushing its way around the rocks, trying to get to the head of the waterfall, which means that there are some intriguing little pools around. Let’s get a sample under the field microscope and see if there’s anyone at home. That little patch of algae clinging to the rock looks promising. Ooh look, an aquatic worm. There are three types of worm that you can find in pools like these. There are nematodes which thrash about frantically (you may remember that we found some three years ago down at Ferma rock pools – see Rockin' All Over The Shore); flatworms which glide around rather gracefully; and oligochaetes like this one which are rather squirmy wormies related to the common earthworm.
We seem to be making our way steadily downwards with loads of lichens, masses of mosses and cascades of chasmophytes (rock loving plants) lining our route but I see that we also have some lovely little yellow fungi down near our feet. Do you see that milky droplet exuding from the stem? It looks like latex (but not the same latex that you find in plants) which is exuded by members of the milk cap family. However they exude latex from outside the mushroom not from the stem and there are no milk caps with this colour and habit so it’s a waxy cap like the ones we found in the gorge last week. Just when you thought fungi couldn’t get more confusing!
Hello, we’re into the jungle. It looks as though we’ll have to crawl through this bit. Still, while we’re down here we may as well have a look about and see what’s going on. How delightful, an ants’ nest, just what we need when we’re crawling along on our stomachs. But what’s this in the nest with them? You see the little orange insect trying to hide? It’s an Ant-loving Cricket (Myrmecophilus). Ants’ nests aren’t just for ants. They are like big cities and, just as with our cities, they have a diverse wildlife all of their own. Hundreds of different species have adapted to ant city life and this is just one of them. Absolutely tiny for a cricket, they never grow wings because they never leave the city, they’re deaf and mute and have very poor eyesight. They don’t have sex either, the females have virgin births, a process known as parthenogenesis. Doesn’t sound like much of a life but they seem to get by.
The Extra Bit
At last we’ve emerged into the open and even though we’re approaching midwinter a few of the flowers are beginning to emerge. We’ve got anemones, fumana, Cretan cistus and field marigolds all beginning to open their petals in the midwinter sun. If you look over there you can see the waterfall and that’s the direction in which we’ll be heading next week.
Thanks to JJ Wuilbaut at Mediterranean Fungi for educating me on the difference between Waxy Caps and Milk Caps and to various members of Crete Birding for chatting about the various Harriers on Crete.
Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures at http://www.inaturalist.org/login (search - people-stevedaniels-observations)
The Nature of Crete (Flipboard Magazine)