Wednesday 20 December 2017

The Purple Ponds of Lithines

The purple ponds are teeming with microscopic life. 
We'll make our way back to the main Sitia-Makry Gialos road to Lithines where there are a few interesting ponds to the north west of the village that are worthy of investigation not least of all for their intriguing colour at this time of year. We are still awaiting significant rainfall and the ponds are very shallow at the moment but packed full of nutrients and it is these that are responsible for their unusual colour. If you check them out under the microscope they are absolutely teeming with microscopic life with nematodes, desmids and the like flitting about at tremendous speeds all over the place. But before we get down to them lets see what we can find on the way.

The first signs of the upcoming change of season are here by the track with these Wood Sorrels or Bermuda Buttercups which will soon be adorning every roadside and olive grove. You can make a nice warming winter soup with these; just bring a pot of chicken or vegetable broth up to the boil, chuck in a handful of cooked rice and a handful of wood sorrel leaves, simmer for about eight minutes. Finally stir in a dollop of cream, salt and pepper to taste and serve with a couple of the flowers floating on the top. (Obligatory word of caution: Wood sorrel contains oxalic acid so if you suffer from rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity then it may aggravate the complaint but for the rest of us the odd bowl or two is fine). You can also add flowers or leaves to salads for a sharp, lemony bite if you wish as well. As with all wild plants, wash them well, remove any bugs such as this Shield Bug nymph and pick away from roadsides or other contaminated areas.

There are the ponds down there which we have to find our way down to somehow but first a Small Copper has just landed nearby. They like to lay their eggs on Sorrel which is their caterpillar's food plant and you could be forgiven for thinking that this is rather handy as we have some wood sorrel nearby but not so. This is the old confusion of common names. The Wood Sorrel is Oxalis pes-carpe in the family Oxalidaceae; Sorrels (without the wood) are plants of the Rumex genus in the Polygonaceae family. The ambiguity arises because they are all acidic tasting and the word Sorrel reflects this being derived from the old French 'sorele' meaning sour.

Here we are, down at the ponds without too much difficulty and there doesn't seem to be too much activity on the surface but just take a look at this rainwater ditch nearby where the water is a little more free draining. The dragonflies are having a high old time, there must be six pairs here at least, flying along in tandem with the males clasping the females' necks with their special pincers. These little Darters stay together after copulation and then the female gently dips her abdomen into the water and lays an egg which, if we sit and watch them for a few moments we can witness. There she goes, and another, and another. These will hatch out into extremely predatory nymphs and providing that the ditch doesn't dry up they can spend up to three years in this stage before emerging as adults.

And finally the ponds themselves and what an unusual, attractive colour they are at this time of day. Not entirely devoid of life on the surface, I can see one small, white insect skating along on the surface but what precisely it is I cannot tell. No, I am not going to wade in and take a closer look. I have a strong suspicion that beneath this shallow water there lurks a good few inches or more of evil smelling sludge with which I have no desire to get better acquainted thank you. Well, that just about wraps it up for Autumn. Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice and if you'd care to join me in raising a glass to the shortest day of the year the the time of the solstice, when the Earth is at its furthest point from the sun, is 16.48 Universal Time or almost ten to five Greenwich Mean Time as us oldies prefer to call it. That's a most convivial time for a libation out here in Crete being about ten to seven in the evening. So, wherever you are and whatever you're celebrating, have a good one and we'll meet up again on January 3rd 2018. Cheers!

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so 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. Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.
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