The sun is shining and there's hardly a breath of wind. Drop everything, cancel all plans, we're going out! With all the rain we've had recently (and more forecast in the coming days) good walking weather is at a premium. A morning stroll by the Myrtos river followed by a spot of lunch in the town is definitely in order.
Out & About
The birds are certainly enjoying themselves. Apart from a murder of hooded crows mustering in that gum tree over there, discussing goodness knows what, I can hear the descending trills of chaffinches, a twittering of goldfinches, the long, drawn out 'dzeee' of a greenfinch and the sharp 'tak-tak' of a male stonechat. And sitting pretty as a picture on that bush to our left is a female stonechat cocking an ear to the male whilst keeping a beady eye on us.
It's nice to see a few more wildflowers coming into bloom. The Branched Asphodels are a sure sign that spring can't be too far away and the Common Lantana (or Bacon & Egg plant as it is also known) always adds a splash of colour. This is not a native Cretan plant but originates from Central and South America. Since being imported as an ornamental it has gaily spread itself around the world bullying out native species as it goes. There's a fair bit of Tree Medick about, easily differentiated from similar looking yellow bushes by its unusual disk-like seeds, and these are a great favourite of bumble bees. Finally, down by the wall, we have some delightfully named White Ramping Fumitory. Medicinally, it is used to treat conjunctivitis but only when laboratory prepared – otherwise you're likely to end up with a secondary eye infection and make things worse rather than better.
Fieldcraft & Foraging
Ah, we've reached the bridge and there's a church at the far end which gives us a chance to practise a little bit of fieldcraft which I think you'll find interesting. How do you find your place in space and time in a church without a clock?
Christian churches, of any denomination, are aligned east-west wherever conditions allow with the business end in the east (that's the end with the small doors for the priest as opposed to the big doors for the congregation). Therefore, if you stretch your arms out like this and line yourself up with the church and you can feel the sun behind you then you are pointing due north. Just to prove it I'll put my little compass down on the parapet. Look at that, magic. If you then put your stick (or anything else that comes to hand) in front of you you can estimate the time from the shadow it casts. The sun travels from east to west so if the shadow falls to the left it is morning, dead ahead it is noon, to the right it is afternoon. The further it diverges from north the earlier or later it is. When you get the knack of it, it's surprisingly accurate. Our shadow is very slightly to the left of north so it's probably about a quarter to twelve or thereabouts which means that by the time we've walked back along the other bank and wandered into town it will be just about lunchtime.
We haven't done any foraging on this particular outing but seeing these citrus trees on our right here reminds me that I have a rather nice recipe for very simple marmalade to share with you. Obviously you can't go pinching fruit from someone's trees unless you are under twelve (when it is known as scrumping – a minor felony) or over seventy (when it is known as being a cheeky old sod who thinks that life's rules no longer apply). However, if you do unexpectedly find yourself in possession of four decent sized oranges, a lemon and an apple, head over to Steve's Wild Kitchen and I'll show you how to turn them into two 680g jars of marmalade without all the fiddly mucking about usually associated with jams and preserves.
In The Lab – Forensic Entomology
Now here's an interesting little fellow that is out way past his bed time. He's a carrion beetle and this particular species, Ablattaria laevigata, likes to feed on snails at night. Those fierce jaws can pierce their shells. Female carion beetles like to lay their eggs in dead animals, including human cadavres. If you have a murder victim that has been gradually decomposing in the woods for some time then it is very difficult to estimate when the deadly deed took place using conventional forensics such as body temperature. Fly maggots can, and often do, help to extend this window but if you have young carrion beetles whizzing about all over the corpse you are on to a winner because their heads grow at a known rate. You simply get your calipers out, calculate their age, work out when the eggs were laid, subtract the average time it takes a female carrion beetle to find a corpse and Bob's your uncle. OK, not quite that simple but you get my drift. Just the sort of thing that Sherlock Holmes would have been into but unfortunately forensic entomology wasn't de rigeur in the late 19th century.
Talking of Sherlock Holmes, I deduce from the bulges in your coat pockets, that four oranges seem to have made their way about your person. As I happen to have an apple in my pack then you know what we need to find now? A lemon tree my dear Watson.
Crete Nature Catch-up
Steve's Books (well, just the one at the moment)
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