Wednesday 25 October 2017

Skordilo, Where God and the Devil Meet

As we wend our way from the village of Chrysopiggi around the base of Mt. Ornos I thought that we'd stop off about half way, admire the scenery and see what we can find along these seldom visited tracks that diverge from the road to who knows where. You can see the end of the Ornos range to our right and the end of the Thriptis range ahead. Between them runs a rough road from Chrysopiggi to Kavousi on the north coast. But turning our attention to the track at our feet, notice these little clumps of purple plants budding at our feet. It isn't always easy to tell what a plant will become at this stage of its development but if you're lucky enough to find the plant at different growth stages along the track, as we are here, then it's worth taking a couple of photographs so that you can recognise it the next time you see it. This one will grow up to be Galatella cretica whose flowers turn from yellow to mauve to purple as they age and whose leaves are decidedly green rather than purple (see Just When You Thought It Was Safe ). 

Glancing over our shoulders we could be forgiven for thinking that we have entered the War of the Worlds with the Martians advancing over the hill towards us. They are, of course, wind turbines and if you look up in the sky above them there is a very large bird (too distant to identify) who is possibly taking advantage of the updraughts that the turbines produce. We have exemplary conditions for wind and solar power here in Crete both of which will hopefully play an integral part in Greece's ongoing economic recovery as we export much needed power to less advantageously situated European states. Unfortunately birds and turbines do not make the best of bedfellows and although estimates vary wildly on the number of birds killed we need to find a way to reduce the impact on our avian friends. Surely it can't be too difficult to come up with some sort of sonic scarecrow? Any inventors out there fancy the challenge?

Acrotylus insubricus
Last week I introduced you to the lovers Eos and Tithonus and the story of the first grasshopper according to Greek mythology. Well, it would appear that Tithonus wasn't quite as devoted as Eos as she was to him because his offspring are jumping about all over the place. This little one here, trying to look more like a dead bit of grass than the dead grass itself, is one of the Band-winged Grasshoppers and although he is well camouflaged down here if, by any chance, he is spotted he has a clever method of defence: he turns into a butterfly. Well, he appears to at any rate. Beneath those bland brown forewings he has a pair of bright red hind wings. A quick leap, a bit of a seductive flutter and the would be predator is looking for the plant on which the “butterfly” has landed. Meanwhile he's back on the ground sitting very still doing his dead grass impersonation once more. 

Pelophylax cretensis
Here we are in the little village of Skordilo; two churches and no taverna. Very small and quaint (if not exactly coinciding with my priorities on a warm October lunchtime) and this little cottage has a cistern alongside it containing two frogs. Back in 2007 a failed entrepreneur released his stock of edible American Bullfrogs into lake Agia at the other end of the island. Given that they are bigger and different colours to the Cretan Frogs that we saw a couple of weeks ago in Orino my first rather frightening thought was that they had spread all this way in the intervening ten years. My froggy friends at iNaturalist assure me however that these are still Cretan Frogs which just goes to show that frogs, like us, can come in different colours and sizes and still belong to the same species.

Now there's something that you don't often see: God and the Devil in the same picture. God is very prominent in the form of His church but the Devil is a little harder to spot. Down there in those bushes look, a little male stonechat. The superstitious belief that the stonechat carries a drop of the Devil's blood is part of Scottish folklore, particularly around Galloway where the old rhyme warns:

Deevil tak!
They wha harry my nest
Will never rest
Will meet the pest!
De'il brack they lang back
Wha my eggs wad tak, tak!

Which, by my loose translation, means: the Devil take anyone who messes with my nest (you'll never rest and get the pestilence) and should you dare to take my eggs the Devil will either break your long back or possibly cause you misery for generations to come, depending on your interpretation of “De'il brack they lang back”. The “tak, tak!” at the end of the rhyme recalls the Stonechat's peculiar call which is often likened to two stones being chinked together. 

The Extra Bit

On my way out this morning I chanced to see a Red Shieldbug (Carpocoris mediterraneus) on the fennel by the gate.

What I, and he, failed to notice was a Mediterranean Mantis (Iris oratoria) hovering nearby.

The result was, I'm afraid, rather inevitable.

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so here's a quick rundown on the cameras used for each picture. For details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.

Picture 1 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 2 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 3 Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 4 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 5 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Extra Bit Canon EOS 1300D

Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.

Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures on Flickr
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete (Flipboard Magazine)
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


  1. Pedant in me would like to point out 'whose' rather than 'who's'.
    Keep up the excellent work.

    1. Absolutely correct Ricardo, thanks for pointing it out.

    2. I've now corrected the error.


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