Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Water, Water, Everywhere

January has been a wet month in these parts. The average rainfall over the past ten years, according to my little rain gauge, has been 83mm. This year we have had over 150mm. It was particularly wet last week when some fool with a digger started terraforming the olive grove behind the house and unleashed a torrent that found its way, unerringly, to the small hole where the co-axial cable enters my lounge. My thanks to Demos Ierapetras (AKA the local council) who sorted the problem promptly and efficiently and limited my discomfort to mere paddling.

Out & About

Crocus-leaved Romulea (Romulea bulbocodium)
However, the sun has managed to break out this morning so let us walk along by the normally dry river beds and see and hear them gushing with exuberance. Alongside the Poppy Anemones, Mandrakes and Friar's Cowls that we saw in Toplou Gorge earlier this month the Broad-leaved Anemones, (Anemone hortensis) and Salad Rocket (Eruca sativa) have also started to come into flower. Not that I'm into making salads in this weather, it's more a time for hot soups – but more of that in Fieldcraft and Foraging. I see that we also have this delightful little Crocus-leaved Romulea (Romulea bulbocodium) down here by the side of the track. Named after Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome due to its preponderance in the Roman countryside apparently.

Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris ssp. suffriana)
Insects have been a bit scarce but the beetles are starting to make an appearance including a January favourite, The Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris ssp. suffriana). Photographing them when they are on the move is somewhat difficult as they can zoom along at over 20kph so it's best to catch them when they are otherwise, ahem, preoccupied. I think we'll leave them to it.

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Birds too have been a bit thin on the ground (and in the air for that matter) but I see that we are being accompanied by our old friends Huginn and Muninn, the Ravens from the nearby elevation of the 40 Saints. The other birds to look out for at this time of year are the Wagtails. As yet I've only seen the White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) but the Yellows, Greys and others will doubtless soon fly in during the next month or two.

I'll tell you what, there's a lot of fallen leaves about, beginning to rot down in the wet. You grab a handful while I try to find a resealable bag. We'll take them back to the lab later and see who's living down there.

Fieldcraft & Foraging

Now, you can't have helped but notice this little yellow flower, Wood Sorrel (Oxalis pes-caprae). Along with other Sorrels in the genus Oxalis it has been eaten around the world for millennia. It has a slightly lemony taste and the leaves are quite thirst quenching on a hot day. There have been concerns over its toxicity as it contains oxalic acid (but so too does broccoli, grapefruit and spinach) and the risks to people with normal kidney function are virtually non-existent. Personally, I like to use it is a garnish on soups, salads and that old 1970's favourite; the prawn cocktail. Which gives me a chance to introduce another new section: Steve's Wild Kitchen where I'll be posting original recipes using the food that we forage on our little walks. Enjoy.

In The Lab

Somewhere in my bag I should have that leaf litter sample that you collected earlier. The proper way to extract creepy crawlies from leaf litter is by using a Berlese Funnel (available from Watkins & Doncaster for about £170 pounds including VAT).

If, like me, your budget doesn't quite run to that at the moment you can knock up your own for under a quid until you've saved up enough for the real thing. 

Put a 60p funnel from your local market into an old jam jar, stuff a bit of old mosquito netting over the spout, cover the top with clingfilm and stick it under an angle poise lamp. (For the solar powered model put it outside in the sun with a sheet of glass on top).

We'll also need something to catch the critters when they fall through (which they will as they don't like the heat) and the professionals use industrial ethyl alcohol. Personally I use raki (the local moonshine) which has exactly the same effect but the insects die happier.

Right, we'll leave that for a day or two and then come back and see what we've got...

which is; a centipede, a couple of snakefly larvae (which are no more flies than butterflies are), another larva of indeterminate origin and a pair of very small beetles. A varied little haul.

And if you haven't had enough of me waffling on yet, and it's still raining outside, you can always snuggle down in the warm with an earlier series of #CreteNature using the catch-up links below.

Crete Nature Catch-up

And if you still haven't had enough...

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 4.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).. 

 Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books

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, 15 January 2019

Toplou Gorge

Welcome to the all new fortnightly Series 9 of the #CreteNature Blog with a host of new features to come.

Out & About

Winter is early and severe this year as the weather system 'Telemachos' comes marching through on the heels of weather system 'Sofia' and now we have storm Zeus. Not that that deters us naturalists of course and on January 7th I set off with amateur botanist Julia Cross and a small group of intrepid individuals to explore the Toplou Gorge on the north east coast of the island.

Flowers were few and far between but the Poppy Anemones (Anemone coronaria) were abundant and there were a fair few Mediterranean Mandrakes in flower (Mandragora officinarum) as well as a couple of Friar's Cowls (Arisarum vulgare). Pride of place however must be given to a small yellow job with a couple of black dots which Julia informed me was a Scorpion Violet (Viola scorpiuroides). This was originally a north African plant but can now be found in east and west Crete as well as on the islands of Kythera and Antikythera. Sorry about the quality of the photograph but the light shower in which we'd set off had now turned to freezing rain.

The rain turned to hail, we sheltered under a carob tree and I had an irresistible urge to cuddle up to one of the big, hairy goats nearby for warmth. These proved to be virtually the only animal life that we saw that day. I heard a few larks and a solitary raven but everything else had more sense than to be out in that weather. We waited until the hail had stopped bouncing off the goats and continued down past some caves that definitely looked worth exploring on a warmer day.

At the bottom of the gorge we came to some large pools where I found some Whirligig Beetles of the Gyrinidae family spinning around like tops which is fairly characteristic and some nice green algae of which I took a sample to look at under the microscope later. We didn't stop long at the pools as none of us had had the foresight to bring our swimming costumes but trekked back up the adjoining ravine which involved a short but somewhat steep climb of about 200m and made me realise that I was still carrying a fair few pounds of Christmas fayre. Still, thank you Julia & Co. for an interesting afternoon in good company.

Walking Notes

This would make a nice day trip from nearby Sitia (15mins by car), Makry Gialos (1 hour), Ierapetra (1 hour 30 mins) or even Agios Nilolaos (1 hour 45 mins). Use the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map for routes. The walk starts from the north side of the main road about 200m to the west of the Toplou monastery. There is a small route map on a post. Wear trainers, be prepared for a bit of scrambling, follow the splashes of red paint on the rocks and remember to tie the gate shut behind you about 100m from the start.

Fieldcraft & Foraging

This is one of the new sections I'm building into the blog which I hope will be of interest. This tip concerns using trees as compasses. Every area of the world has a prevailing wind direction. Here in Crete the prevailing wind comes from the north west (in England it is from the south west). Trees in exposed locations, like these at the end of the Toplou Gorge walk, point in the opposite direction from the prevailing wind, i.e. south east. If the location is not so exposed as to make the trees lean in any obvious direction take a look at the roots. The strongest and longest will point in the direction of the prevailing winds as this is where the tree needs the most support.

In The Lab

And another new section. Actually, a bit of a misnomer as the lab is still in the planning stage and bits of it are strewn all over the house and garden at the moment. However, the green algae that I sampled from the Toplou Gorge pools was duly placed under the microscope and looked like this at x1600 magnification. These are desmids of the genus Mougeotia who, rather than pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to get the carbon that they need for photosynthesis, extract it directly from the limestone. The little fish like organisms with the red eyes that you can see towards the top of the picture are single celled flagellates called Euglena.

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

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