Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Betty and Bert Go It Alone at Bramiana Reservoir



Hello, I’m a regular Betty on Steve’s Sunday strolls. We were just leaving home when I saw a message saying Steve was indisposed and unable to lead our planned Sunday Stroll. Undaunted, my Bert said, ‘Let’s go anyway, perhaps some of the others will miss the message and turn up.’
One of the reasons my Bert was so keen to continue with the stroll was to see just how low the water level in Bramiana Reservoir, near Ierapetra had fallen. This first photo was taken on our visit in January 2008, just before the winter rains set in.



As you can see from the second photo, the drought this year was, and still is causing concern. Last winter in East Crete only delivered 25% of the usual rainfall.





At the appointed meeting time another Bert and two Betties arrived, and like us said they still wanted to stroll. The first part of the track had that lovely sticky herb called Dittrichia  that to me is one of the scents of Crete. Tatty remains of caper plants edged the path interspersed with dried grasses waving in the breeze.



Bert (not mine) seemed quite impressed when I pointed out the very intact remains of a watermill. The water used to run along a channel in the top then drop down to turn a wheel. When we walked closer we paused and pondered over the other ruined buildings guessing they may have been grain/flour stores and miller’s homes.



Just after this, the three other strollers returned to their car while my Bert and I set off to walk right around the puddle that used to be a reservoir. 

"What are those birds on the water?" I asked my Bert.

Oh, now we missed Steve with his long focus camera and expertise. Our answer, unless anyone knows different, is a flock of black blobs. (I think that they are probably Coots - Steve) I can just imagine flocks of migrating wildfowl coming in to land where the water should be and circling around squawking at each other to check if they’d come to the right place. 



A bit further on and Bert whipped his binoculars out to see what bird had just landed – he said it was a heron. Looking at my photos when back home I got very excited to see the turtle – it is isn’t it?? On previous visits we have certainly seen turtles on exposed rocks basking in the sun. (Yes; two mallards, a turtle and a heron - Steve) Other birds spotted on our walk included a tuneful blue rock thrush, goldfinches, grey herons, mallards, a white goose, various gulls and falcons.

All being well, normal service will resume with Steve next week and by then I shall be back in the UK for a few months eager to get my fix of the Crete nature via this great blog.
Me? Oh, I’m a blogger too and you can find me at www.kritsayvonne.com


My greatest thank to Yvonne and Alan Payne for taking over and leading this Sunday Stroll and particularly to Yvonne for writing this week's blog. It is at this point that I usually bang on about my book, Not Just For... Twisted Women, but this week I think it only fair to highlight Yvonne's excellent historical novels Kritsotopoula and the recently released follow up Rodanthe's Gift...


Throughout her childhood exploits, the feisty daughter, Rodanthe, of Kritsa’s pappas (priest), yearns for her father’s approval without appreciating his efforts to keep her safe under Ottoman oppression.

Years later, the ruling Pasha orders Rodanthe’s kidnap intent on making her his wife. Determined not to yield, Rodanthe tricks the Pasha, and then flees to the mountains dressed as a young man. After joining rebels as Spanomanolis (Beardless Manolis), she draws on her unusual experiences and rare education to maintain her disguise throughout daring raids.

Now, honored as Kritsotopoula (Girl of Kritsa), villagers celebrate Rodanthe’s exploits annually in front of a poignant stone carving. This monument portrays the moment in 1823 when brave Rodanthe's secret was exposed – a point mirrored as this story culminates with a twist.


Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa - Yvonne Payne






In January 1823, four mourners stand over the shrouded body of the exceptional female rebel, Rodanthe. Each suffers the loss of a daughter, friend, lost love or valued ally.Her injured papa, Mathaios, kneels at her graveside, begging forgiveness for his sinful decision to keep her baptismal gold a secret. He later bequests the remaining coins to her young friend Petros. A gift with consequences beyond imagination.Kostas loved Rodanthe, but only realised this truth moments before her death. Now dependent on others for his mobility, he resolves to play a significant role in the continuing conflict.When rebel leader Captain Kazanis leaves the graveyard, his focus is on leading the local fight for freedom. However, betrayal and grief take him far beyond his beloved Crete.Such is the importance of Rodanthe and Kazanis, their home villages in Crete hold annual remembrance services for them, and on the Greek mainland, the place renamed The Sacred City of Missolonghi holds an annual re-enactment of the exodos in The Garden of Heroes. 'Yvonne Payne’s no-holds-barred historical adventure rips along at a breathless pace. I loved it.' - Richard Clark, acclaimed author of Eastern Crete – A Notebook and other Greek travel guides.



Diary Dates

Stroll #6

Sunday 28th October
11 am
Ha Canyon (lower part)










Stroll #7
Sunday 4th November
11 am
Tholos

(Details next week)




*********************************************************************
LINKS:
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


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Almyros Wetlands



Betty and Bert looked dashing with their multi pocketed jackets, thick trousers and wellington boots. They also looked somewhat incongruous, as all of our similarly attired group did, as we trudged along the sandy beach between two rows of scantily clad sunbathers on sun loungers. Magnanimously ignoring the stares and giggles we eventually crossed the little bridge at the end and squelched our way along a marshy path through the Giant Canes to the river bank. A Western Caspian Turtle, Mauremys rivulata, surprised at the sudden appearance of our motley crew, faltered in mid stroke and dived into the weeds at the bottom.



As we took it in turns to gain access to the river bank the remaining members of the party investigated the undergrowth. Bert suddenly dived in among a patch of smaller reeds and emerged triumphantly with a Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa.

Do they bite?” asked Betty.

They can take a male's head off during mating,” I informed her.

Betty paused to consider this, “Oh, I don't think that Bert's likely to do that with it,” she said.


I wonder about Betty sometimes.


Our next find among the reeds was a whole mass of Paper Wasps, (Polistes sp.) at the nest. There are over three hundred different species and subspecies of Paper Wasps around the world and hymenopterists (the bods who study Ants, Bees and Wasps) keep themselves endlessly amused trying to sort them all out. Currently, the name Polistes bucharensis is gaining favour for the predominantly Greek species but it has been noted1 that the Cretan Paper Wasps have slightly different features to those found on the mainland so, who knows, maybe an endemic subspecies is in the offing? They are not generally aggressive wasps but they will defend the nest if you annoy them.

What sort of things annoy them?” asked Betty.

Sticking a bloomin' great camera lens up their backsides for a start,” I replied as she wriggled in to get a closer shot.




Elated with our finds thus far we followed the trail towards the spring and pond that feeds this very short but amazingly wide river. (The river length from pond to sea is about 200m). Proceeding in crocodile fashion we came upon an obstacle. Somebody had extended their garden into the wetlands and obliterated the path.

Humph!” snorted Betty and squeezed through a gap in the ramshackle fencing.
But there was no way through and we had to reverse crocodile back to the beach but it gave us a chance to examine the wonderfully misnamed beach flora. Sea Lavender is not related to Lavender; Sea Daffodils are not true daffodils although they are, at least, in the same subfamily; and Sea Holly isn't even closely related to Holly. Which is why botanists use scientific names, they're not just trying to sound intelligent (not all of them anyway).




We trudged back through the sunbathers, liberally distributing wan smiles as we did so, and made our way to the pond via the main road. A kingfisher darted across the pond as we arrived and I distinctly heard a Greenfinch somewhere in the trees. Unusual at this time of year. But amidst the Muscovy Ducks, Mallards and Domestic Geese on the pond was a bird that I was pleased to see: a Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus. Common they may be, generally speaking, but I rarely see them down this end of the island.


The Taverna Bit


We headed south to the nearby village of Ammoudara for lunch and thanks to all at The Ammoudara Beach Taverna for providing an excellent lunch.






Diary Dates

Stroll #5

Sunday 21st October
11 am
Bramiana Reservoir, Ierapetra






A lovely place to see autumn birds and much more besides. See Bramiana In Winter and check out the water level in January 2014. It has dropped considerably since then as you will see on Sunday.





Stroll #6
Sunday 28th October
11 am
Ha Canyon (lower part)
(Details next week)

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.

Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books




*********************************************************************
LINKS:
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



Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Kroustas Forest



Last week we were looking for Griffon Vultures on the heights above Lasithi Plateau. We found some but they were flying very high. This week as we gathered on the forest road we were treated to the inspiring spectacle of nine of these magnificent birds not fifty feet above our heads. Standing half as tall as a man and with a nine foot wingspan they truly are awesome birds. Like all vultures they feed on carrion and will often circle around elderly animals that seem to have difficulty moving. As this accurately describes quite a number of our Sunday Strollers we considered it wise to move into the cover of the trees without further delay.


Kroustas is primarily a pine forest but it was the Juniper that caught the group's interest. Possibly because I informed them that a handful of juniper berries, when added to a bottle of the local moonshine and left to steep, gave a result that was (to paraphrase Douglas Adams) something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike gin. With Christmas not so far away they fell upon the bush like a swarm of locusts. Still on the Christmas theme, high above our heads Mistletoe was growing in large enticing balls. Although parasitic it does very little harm to the trees and is a net benefactor to the forest. Its berries attract birds, small mammals and insects which increases the biodiversity of the area. An American study showed that twice as many juniper bushes sprouted where mistletoe was present compared with areas where no mistletoe existed. The seeds of both plants being distributed via the digestive systems of birds and small mammals and mistletoe is better at marketing its presence than juniper.




We emerged from the forest onto a rocky outcrop with tremendous views over the lower forest and the Gulf of Mirabello. I placed three of our gentlemen on said outcrop in the hope of enticing the vultures back and went off to study butterflies. Last week we saw the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and this week it was her sister, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), who was following us about. So, if your name is Vanessa, you are named after a beautiful butterfly. After that, of course, you have a choice of being a burly Russian seaman or a Portsmouth lady of the night, so it's probably best to stop at butterfly.


We then moved off to a different part of the forest, the location of which I will not reveal. The reason being that Steve Lenton, our semi-resident botanist came across a small plant which looked as if it had been dreamed up by the makers of Dr. Who. This was the Cretan Biarum (Biarum davisii) a flower (honestly) that is on the IUCN list as 'near threatened'. The reason it is near threatened is because the major threat is from avaricious rare bulb collectors and hence the reason for not publishing its exact location as it has never been recorded in this area of Crete before. Rare bulb and rare animal collectors are the scourge of biodiversity and should be put up against the wall and shot in my opinion.


Dragonflies were also darting around us, which may seem odd in a habitat that had no rivers, streams or ponds, as dragonfly larvae are aquatic. But all dragonflies have different requirements. Some like to lay their eggs in running water and some in standing water. This particular dragonfly, the Red-veined Darter, lays its eggs in shallow puddles as do all in the genus Sympetrum and when it rains in a forest, shallow puddles become particularly abundant.



The Taverna Bit

Having completed two strolls in one morning we repaired to lunch at the Matraia taverna in Kroustas village to replace any calories which we may have inadvertently burnt off in the preceding couple of hours. A lovely liver in red wine sauce was the special of the day so quite few of us opted to top up our iron and antioxidant levels.




Diary Dates


Stroll #4
Sunday 14th October
11 am
Almyros Wetlands, south of Agios Nikolaos





A chance to see amphibians, dragonflies and migratory birds.








Stroll #5
Sunday 21st October
11 am
Bramiana Reservoir
(Details next week)

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.
Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books





*********************************************************************
LINKS:
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



Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Oldest Saint


As I dropped down onto the Lasithi Plateau a Buzzard launched itself from a telegraph pole, narrowly missed my windshield and crashed into the undergrowth to my left where it had obviously spotted its unwary breakfast. That was a good omen as I was taking my little group of intrepid strollers to the heights above Agios Charalampos to look for Grifon Vultures. The saint, after whom the village is named, was reputedly 114 years old when he was martyred for his Christian preaching in the 3rd century, thus making him the oldest saint and his claim to fame was that, whilst being tortured, one of his torturers arms miraculously fell off and another had his head put on backwards. I think that I am more inclined to believe in Betty's black snake but more of that later.



As our little band negotiated the steep, narrow alleyways through the village and emerged on the hillside above the plateau we did indeed see Grifon Vultures and other high flying birds but it was the smaller passerines that really brought the day alive, particularly the flocks of Goldfinch. These birds are resident here in Crete but in the autumn they gather in flocks, their numbers swollen by birds migrating south from eastern Europe. As we exited the top of the village however, it was domestic fowl that caught the ever observant Betty's eye.


Oh, look,” she said, looking up to where a group of birds were admonishing us from their pen on top of a house “turkeys!”

Actually,' I said, not wishing to dampen her enthusiasm, “I think you'll find that they are guinea fowl.”

They're too tall for guinea fowl,” Betty challenged.

They're standing on the roof,” I pointed out.



Meanwhile, back to the chaffinch. The tall plant upon which she is perched is a Wavyleaf Mullein and the landscape was littered with them in various stages of life. Apart from providing staging posts for the goldfinches, leaf warblers, stonechats and sparrows, all of which were gaily flitting about on this fine autumn morning, I noticed that one had also attracted a tachinid fly. Not the nicest of flies; their maggots chew their way into unsuspecting caterpillars and eat them slowly from the inside, making sure to keep them alive as they do so, until they are almost ready to leave their host. At this point they feed indiscriminately, the caterpillar dies and the maggot wanders off to pupate in the ground without so much as a by-your-leave.



Caterpillars that are not devoured from within eventually become butterflies, of course, and these were dancing around at our feet, enjoying the nectar rich Sweet Scabious that grew by the side of the track. The name of the plant derives from the fact that it was used to treat scabies (an itchy rash caused by a mite infestation under the skin) in the middle ages. The Small White butterfly is a male which has only one spot on each forewing whereas the female has two. The other butterfly is the amazing Painted Lady which, although resident here, occurs in larger numbers in autumn and winter like the Goldfinches and the reason is the same: they migrate. Over six generations they make an incredible 9,000 mile round trip from Africa to the Arctic and back (see Secrets of Painted Lady migration revealed ).




Noticing a sign at the side of the road pointing the way to the Cave of Charalampos, Bert decided to go and investigate. Seeing her loving husband peering into what appeared to be a very large hole in the ground Betty thought that she had better go and join him to 'make sure he doesn't fall in' (at least, I think that she said doesn't). I trailed on behind, pausing to take a photograph of an old friend, Chorthippus bornhalmi. The 'cave' turned out to be a rather unimpressive hole in the ground. Presumably the roof had caved in since the 18th century BC when it was a seven chambered ossuary. Besides the bones, archaeologists also found clay figurines and musical rattles called sistra about which, I expect, they got very excited.


Having quickly exhausted the thrill of the cave I took to my favourite hobby; rock flipping (there used to be an annual rock flipping day but it seems to have died a death in 2009) and discovered a lovely little Green Toad.

Amphibians and reptiles are often put together,” said Bert, getting down to take a closer look, “is that because they are closely related?”

The toad and Bert looked at each other with mutual interest whist I wracked my brains to remember who evolved when.

Yes,” I replied, “Amphibians evolved from the early fish and have both lungs and gills. Reptiles are an offshoot of Amphibians and have only lungs. Mammals, such as ourselves, and later, Birds, are offshoots of reptiles.”

Talking of reptiles,” interjected Betty, “I saw a huge black snake here on Crete once and I was told that it must have escaped from a private collection. What do you think?”

How big is huge?” I asked.

About two inches in diameter,” she indicated, joining thumb and forefinger together, “and it stretched all across the road with its head disappearing into the undergrowth on one side of the road and its tail out of sight on the other side.”

Not one of the four Cretan snakes,” I ventured “but I know what it sounds like.”

What?” asked Bert, carefully replacing the stone over the now disgruntled toad.

A black plastic water pipe.”

It wasn't a water pipe,” said Betty, indignantly, “it moved”.

They can be quite lively,” I explained, “if they get an air lock.”

Betty was not convinced and I had to confess that, not being familiar with all the snakes in the world, an escapee remained a plausible alternative.





The Taverna Bit



Thanks to all at Spani's Taverna in Charalampos who hastily rearranged their restaurant furniture when we descended upon them en masse and they also provided an excellent menu. The barbecued chicken and roast potatoes were beautiful.



Diary Dates


Stroll #3
Sunday 7th October
11 am
Kroustas Forest








A mushrooming we will go (and hopefully find many more interesting things besides). Here and above are the maps. Take the Kroustas - Prina road and look for the only yellow litter bin on that road. See you on Sunday










Stroll #4
Sunday 14th October
11 am
Almyros Wetlands
(Details next week)

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.

Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books





*********************************************************************
LINKS:
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