Wednesday 1 July 2020

Playing Favourites

Sardinian Warbler, Sylvia melanocephala
If all goes as planned, I shall be leaving Crete, for an extended stay in the UK, in two weeks time. During my 16 years on the island, I have uploaded 3,595 observations to the iNaturalist world database of life on this planet, covering 1,276 species. This includes 116 different species of bird, and choosing a favourite is difficult. For a start, I’m not particularly a ‘birdie’ person. I love to see and hear them, but I don’t go into raptures over a lesser spotted dinglewhotsit, just because it’s been daft enough to fly in bad weather and been blown off course, and turn up in Crete where it’s never been seen before. So, I’ve chosen for my favourite, quite a common local bird, the Sardinian Warbler. These pretty little birds flt around my garden on a daily basis throughout the year, have an interesting rattling song, and nest low in the olive trees and mastic bushes. When you get to know a bird intimately, by watching its day-to-day activities, you get a whole new perspective on life.

Common Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus
Mammals are not particularly well represented on Crete, and those that are here tend to be somewhat shy and elusive. Possibly, because people have a tendency to shoot them. As they haven’t hung around long enough to learn the difference between a gun and a camera, I have only managed to record 7 of them. Of these, I have chosen the Pipistrelle Bat. I’ve always wanted to have the ability to fly under my own steam, but bats are the only mammal to have the true power of flight. Which only goes to prove, that if God did have a hand in the Creation, then he has a warped sense of humour. Even so, I love to watch their nocturnal aerobatics, preferably sat in a taverna under a nearby street light.

Wild Carrot, Daucus carota

Plants, of which I have recorded 395 species, are interesting inasmuch as they are the great link between the soil and the animal kingdom. All animals either eat plants, eat animals that have eaten plants, or both. They are also the chief source of the majority of our modern medicines. I have chosen the Wild Carrot. Not only is it the ancestor of our supermarket carrots, but it is also a great food source for insects. What is more, it is the source of that great 20th century hoax: carrots help you see in the dark. Although they contain retinol, which is used in the production of rhodopsin, which is the pigment needed for low light vision, eating an excess has no effect whatsoever, apart from possibly turning your skin orange. The rumour was started by the Air Ministry in WWII, to fool the Germans into thinking that this was the reason that we were successfully countering their night raids. We fed them the false intelligence of a high carrot diet for our night pilots. Actually, we didn’t want them to know that we were using radar!

European Green Toad, Bufotes viridis

I have always had a soft spot for amphibians and reptiles. Frogs, toads, lizards and snakes repel a lot of people but I find them quite fascinating. Unfortunately, they are not so common on Crete due to its arid climate, and I have only found 11 species. To represent this group I have chosen the European Green Toad, mainly just to prove that toads can be beautiful, too. These are currently under study as they may prove to be a distinct species, or sub-species, as so much of Cretan wildlife has proved to be.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth, Macroglossum stellatarum

And now to the invertebrates. My passion for these creepy-crawlies really began here in Crete. I think it was the sheer quantity and diversity of the arthropods (insects, arachnids etc.), of which I have recorded 576 species, that has really drawn my interest. That, and the fact that they are reasonably easy to photograph and study, if you have the time and inclination. Picking a favourite is impossible, so I have gone for one of my favourite insect photographs, taken at a pit-stop cantina in the middle of the Lasithi Plateau. It’s a Hummingbird Hawk Moth, so called because its flight and size often lead to it being mistaken for a small hummingbird.

Katydid (nymph), Tettigoniidae family

That’s all from me for a while, as I shall be taking my summer break from blogging. I’ll be back in the autumn with a host of different plants and animals, from a wholly new location, the remoteness of north west Cumbria. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the news that Lady, the Huntsman spider is still with me, as is Gemima, the katydid cricket, who has taken to helping me in the kitchen by disposing of vegetable scraps. 

'Bye for now, Steve Daniels

See sample pages of all my books and latest blogs, and keep abreast of latest publications here:

All you need to know to identify any type of insect, spider, worm or snail very simply and find out more about it.
Yvonne: This was a gift for a family so that the children can understand what they see on days out. The second was for me. Logical and easy to use. If you know anyone who likes nature you can be confident that gifting this book will give years of pleasure.

The Eggs of Saramova
A science fiction novella for those who don't like science fiction. A fast-paced thriller that is, literally, out of this world (and it starts right here in Crete).
Too new for reviews yet!

A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Janet: If you are short on time but enjoy reading and are maybe not into long extended novels then Not Just For... Twisted Women provides readers with concise stories that stand alone and most certainly entertain with their ultimate twists. Loved it.
Helen: A very good read! Well written and entertaining!
Margaret: Each quick tale gives a glimpse into a character's life and has an often humorous twist at the end. I would love to read more.
Yvonne: These days many people find it hard to find the time to read a novel, so this book of short stories is ideal to dip into. It is also makes a good gift.

Crete Nature Catch-up
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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