Wednesday 26 September 2018

Snakeless in Sisi

I had two reasons for wanting to visit Sisi on the north coast of Crete; firstly I'd never been there, despite having been living on the island for 14 years and secondly I'd been promised that I would find Dice Snakes lounging in the rock pools just waiting to have their photographs taken. What better way to start my series of Sunday Strolls with an enthusiastic band of budding amateur naturalists in tow? Sisi is only a small village but somehow Betty managed to get lost in it before we had even started but after a slight delay whilst we phoned her with directions we descended upon the rock pools. I should point out at this juncture that to avoid confusion and boredom by introducing loads of names into these stories (to say nothing of potential ostracism and/or libel actions) all of the ladies will be referred to as Betty and the gentlemen as Bert.

We found plenty of life in the rock pools; everything from Peacock's Tails (see Creature's of the Blue Lagoon if you'd like to know where you put them on your body and why), a couple of nice anemones including the Beadlet that was just coming out to feed, a few young gobies and an intense ecological battle. On one side of the battlefield there were a goodly number of small but beautifully formed, Marble Crabs, which are a native Mediterranean species and, lurking half under a rock, a much larger Sally Lightfoot which is probably the most invasive crab in the Mediterranean. First reported simultaneously off Ibiza and Italy in 1999 and off Crete in 2006 they're eating the poor Marble Crabs out of house and home. Where I live, in Ferma on the south east coast, it's not unusual to see half a dozen or more on one short snorkeling session. The main culprit? Increased shipping in the Mediterranean.

Growing around the rock pools was a fair amount of Rock Samphire, an edible plant that one can pickle in vinegar or brine or use the leaves raw on salads. I handed a few leaves round and I think that we all agreed that we'd rather not. Whereas the unrelated Marsh Samphire has a pleasant, salty taste that goes well with fish dishes, Rock Samphire has a distinctly medicinal tang and could only accompany dental mouthwash in my opinion. As we continued on our leisurely way around the inlet, where ducks and geese lazed on the shore or honked across the water impersonating fog horns' Betty came upon a bush of black berries. As she correctly observed, they looked almost, but not quite, like blackberries.

Are they a close relative?” she asked.

Not remotely”, I replied, “and what is more, the berries are poisonous.”

You can't eat them then?” added Bert, just wanting to get everything absolutely clear in his mind (which is always a top idea when contemplating the consumption of anything in the wild).

Er, no,” I confirmed.

Betty gave Bert a look which, if she'd turned it on the plant, would have had the berries withering on the stalk but left Bert totally unfazed.

The plant in question was Common Lantana, also known as the Bacon and Egg Plant as its tricolour flowers, radiating from centre, are yellow, white and raw bacon pink.

Of more use around the home were the Chaste Trees that grew alongside the road. Although used in herbal medicine as supposedly fine tuning our circadian rhythms, its efficacy has yet to be proven scientifically. Their common name derives from the fact that it was considered an anaphrodisiac in ancient times and, according to Pliny, it was used by Athenian women to cool the heat of lust in their menfolk. Personally I use it as pot pourri because, even to my anosmic snozzle, it smells pleasantly like lavender.

Insects were a bit thin on the ground this week but as we passed through the Bougainvillea bedecked arbour that leads back down to the sea I managed to capture an Egyptian Grasshopper or Locust who seemed quite happy to swap his resting place on the side of a tree for a similar position on my index finger whilst Betty and Bert admired him.

What's the difference between a locust and a grasshopper?” asked Betty.

Scientifically, none,” I informed her, “but in common parlance, locusts usually refer to the larger, strong flying grasshoppers such as this fellow, that occasionally form migratory swarms and do significant damage to crops on their way.”

Returning said Grasshopper/Locust to a nearby tree where he promptly continued his siesta, we made our way down to the spit that protects the little harbour in search of birdies.

We were instantly rewarded by a group of about fifteen large birds flying in a somewhat ragged formation out to sea which I at first took to be a phalanx of storks but on closer inspection of the photograph back in the lab, turned out to be a flight of herons, possibly a mixture of grey and purple herons but that could be a trick of the light. On the spit itself we were entertained by a couple of kingfishers chasing each other around the rocks. Autumn is the season when Kingfishers begin their courtship with the male chasing the female, calling after her almost incessantly. Later she will accept presents of fish but they will not merge their territories until the spring as each bird needs to eat 60% of its body weight each day.

So, no snakes, but plenty of other wildlife and we meandered back to one of the many seafront tavernas where we played at being kingfishers and attempted to consume 60% of our bodyweight in gyros and chips. If you'd like to join Betty, Bert and I then details of the next two Sunday strolls are below. Otherwise just click on the 'G+ Follow' icon in the top left panel to keep abreast of our adventures. Until next week, when I let Betty and Bert loose in a wildlife refuge, enjoy your autumn wherever you are.

Diary Dates

Stroll #2
Sunday 30th September
11 am
Ag. Charalampos, Lassithi Plateau

A gentle walk around the lower slopes of the Plathini-Lagkada Wildlife Refuge where I hope that we shall see some Griffon Vultures (unless they see me coming and decamp like the Dice Snakes).

Stroll #3
Sunday 7th October
11 am
Kroustas Forest
(Details next week)

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.


Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels 

A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex. 

Kindle Edition 1.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).

Paperback edition will be available in time for Christmas.

Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


Recent Posts