Wednesday 1 March 2017

Into A Dark, Dark Place

The next obstacle on our route to the Milonas Waterfall would appear to be a densely wooded slope but before we venture down into the sylvan gloom just listen to the birds this morning. The descending trill of the chaffinch; the harsh dzeee of the greenfinch; the machine gun rattle of the Sardinian Warbler all coming from the trees and bushes around us whilst up above the ravens are cronking and a buzzard is mewing. What a lovely start to the day.

Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees as the saying goes but all too often we fail to see the trees for the wood so let’s take a closer look at the woodland make up. The majority of trees are the familiar needle leaved, cone bearing pines but we also some with thin branching, rather scaly leaves and cones that look a bit like footballs. These are cypress trees, named after Cyparissus, Apollo’s young boyfriend who’s grief was so strong after he accidentally killed his pet stag that he turned into a tree. These are both coniferous trees but we also have some Kermes Oaks in here which are deciduous and bear acorns rather than cones. All three are going to be invaluable in stopping us tumbling down this precipitous slope faster than we intend.

The majority of what we are walking on is pine litter and you can see great clumps of it wedged into crevices in the rocks. The good thing about these clumps is that you can wedge a stick underneath and lift them up in one go. Let’s see what’s underneath this one. A couple of mushrooms growing in total darkness and a julid millipede. The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the organism of course but by far the greatest mass of the fungus is the mycelium made up of white threads called hyphae which you can see working its way through the dead pine needles. These hyphae secrete enzymes which break down the litter and convert it into fungus food. They are also the reason that we could pull the clump off in one go.

This bank will give us a chance to have a look at the soil profile if I just scrape it back with my trowel. There are three distinct layers and we’ll take a sample and see what we can find. The top layer of recently fallen needles is home to this tiny Goblin Spider on the hunt for even smaller prey such as this Snout Mite that I’ve just liberated from the second partly decomposed layer called the acid mor, a slowly decaying  type of humus particular to coniferous woodlands and moorland. Snout mites are also predatory on things like springtails and nematode worms. The third, paler layer is called the leached horizon where most of the nutrients have been washed out. We’ll take some back to the lab and look at it more closely later.

We seem to have come into a clearing and it’s nice to see the sun again. You don’t see so many flowers in the depths of the conifer wood but up here we have a nice little Romulea, a flower that looks like a crocus but isn’t – they just evolved along similar lines. Have you noticed that many flowers have different coloured centres? This is thought to help guide the pollinating insects in to the food source. The same with those buttercups that we found in the gorge a couple of weeks back. Yes, I know that they look all yellow but that’s because you’re not an insect (not the last time I counted your legs anyway). Being human your colour spectrum only ranges from red to violet (see Inside The Rainbow) but if you were an insect you could see down into the ultraviolet and the buttercup would look something like this – give or take my lousy artwork. Our senses are rather dull compared with most animals and in nature you can’t always believe what you see.

I can hear the roar of the waterfall quite strongly now and I’m pretty sure that will be our destination next week. Unless we find something else to divert our attention on the way.

The Extra Bit

I’ve finally managed to get around to a project that I’ve been meaning to undertake for some time and that is to put all of our little walks onto an interactive map. By clicking on to any of the green hiker icons you can view the blog post for that particular location. Don’t forget that you can also use the search engine on the right hand side of each blog to search for anything in particular. For instance if orchids are your particular thing then just type ‘orchid’ into the search box and your browser will display all the blog posts that feature orchids. You can then use the map to find the exact location of that post. Neat huh? Interactive Hiking and Nature Map

Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures at  (search - people-stevedaniels-observations)
The Nature of Crete  (Flipboard Magazine)


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