Wednesday 24 June 2015

Here Comes Summer!

Ierapetra East Beach

Summer is here at last. It started with the summer solstice on Sunday in this part of the world and yesterday was Midsummer’s Day which always seems odd as by simple mathematical reasoning one could logically deduce that the end of summer must be on Friday (which, if my recollection of English summers of late is correct, may not be far from the truth).  The crux of the matter is that the solstice is an astronomical phenomenon, marking the point when Earth’s tilt is most inclined towards the sun, whereas Midsummer’s Day is a pagan festival celebrating the mid point of the year. Pagans observe the solstice as well of course but this is a solemn occasion so I guess you can think of Midsummer’s Day as a sort of ‘after show party’ but essentially they both mark the same event. 

Yellow Wagtail subspecies
But to return to our Cretan summer: as I’ve mentioned before our Spring has been very cool and wet this year and the little seasonal river to the east of Ierapetra is still running to the sea so I thought we’d head down there and see if there are any wagtails about. We’ve met the White Wagtail (Road to Nowhere) and the Grey Wagtail (Dawn by the Riverside) but today we’re looking for the Yellow Wagtail. I usually see them between March and May but I haven’t seen any this year so maybe they’re running late like the river. He’s a very distinctive bird with his bright yellow colouring and typical wagging tail but he’s a bird of many heads, each pattern denoting a different sub-species. The top one is a Grey-headed, the middle a Blue-headed and the plate at the bottom (from Collins Bird Field guide) shows all of the group. So, keep your peripheral vision on high alert for movement as we’re wandering about and we’ll go and have a look at the plant life.

Beach Flowers
This pink flowered job is Sea Rocket, one of the mustard family and related to the rocket that you put on your salads but I wouldn’t recommend it for human consumption.  The butter coloured lady up by the road is a Yellow Horned Poppy which has spread considerably around here in recent years and this rather inconspicuous plant, down here at our feet, makes good eating. It’s Nettle-leaved Goosefoot and the shoots, stalks, and leaves can be cooked like greens. On the other hand the one with little white flowers on the opposite bank is poisonous. It’s called European Turnsole and horses that eat too much of the stuff have a tendency to walk compulsively and unfortunately there is no known treatment.

Insect inhabitants of the wetland
Where we have plants then of course we have insects and I can see representatives of at least four different families as we push our way intrepidly through the giant reeds like jungle explorers of old. Our old friend the Southern Skimmer dragonfly is taking a breather on a bit of dead cane whilst a rather tatty Wave moth is doing likewise on the Goosefoot. I wonder who’s under this log? That’s a bit of a surprise, an early instar Southern Green Shield Bug. I’d have thought he would have been happier on a living plant – he’s either lost or a slow learner. Still, we’ll put him back as we found him and let him sort it out for himself. But who’s this fellow lunching in the algae? Obviously a large aquatic larva of some sort. Pass him up to me will you and we’ll have a look at him under the field lens. Yes I agree, algae are slimy and smelly, never mind, all part of the fun. Just rub your hands with some hot sand to dry them off – I expect the smell will go in a day or two. Meanwhile look how the head is pointed and sunk back into the thorax. The abdomen tapers to a point as well. This little gentleman is going to be an Aquatic Soldier Fly when he grows up. A bit of a misnomer as it is only the larva that lives in the water but this sort of general habitat will be perfect for him.

The rivulet finally reaches the sea
Shall we follow the stream down to the sea now? Oh dear, a casualty of nature. A little Cretan Water Frog who seems to have resigned from the game of life[1]. Catastrophic amphibian decline is, as you probably know, a worldwide issue of concern for all of us. Since the 1980’s amphibian extinctions have accelerated and are now thought to be running at over two hundred times the background extinction rate. As amphibians occupy both terrestrial and aquatic habitats and because their skins are particularly permeable they are very vulnerable to environmental changes. As such they are a bit like the canary in the coal mine and the implications for other animals (including ourselves) are somewhat dire. However, important as that is, we cannot end the day on such a serious note so let’s go and paddle in the shallows and watch the fish darting around the rocks. [1] A member of the Greek Herpetological Society, who is probably more experienced at identifying dead amphibians than I am, is of the opinion that it was a Green Toad.

Aestivating Snails
There is only one place to be in the height of the Cretan summer and that’s the sea. On land the grasses are turning golden brown, the snails are aestivating on the fence posts in pearly clusters and every other animal with any sense utilises the cool early mornings and late evenings to get their business done. I shall be doing the same – I’ve a host of observations to write up and for those of you who have asked if I have written any books the answer is no, not yet, but I may well do so this summer. What subject should I tackle do you think, a pictorial guide to the flora and fauna of Crete, a month by month country diary or should we all take an imaginary walk together from the mountain tops to the sea taking in the wildlife as we go? Tell you what, have a think about it and drop me a line at
So I shall love you and leave you, here by the sea, and we’ll get back together again sometime in September for more fun and frolics in the Crete countryside.

Until then you can still find me on Facebook (Naturalists) or you can tweet me @cretenaturalist
Enjoy your summer or winter (delete according to hemisphere)
All the best and happy hunting
Steve Daniels

See all the pictures including insets in detail on Flickr

Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)


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