Last week we were looking for Griffon Vultures on the heights above Lasithi Plateau. We found some but they were flying very high. This week as we gathered on the forest road we were treated to the inspiring spectacle of nine of these magnificent birds not fifty feet above our heads. Standing half as tall as a man and with a nine foot wingspan they truly are awesome birds. Like all vultures they feed on carrion and will often circle around elderly animals that seem to have difficulty moving. As this accurately describes quite a number of our Sunday Strollers we considered it wise to move into the cover of the trees without further delay.
Kroustas is primarily a pine forest but it was the Juniper that caught the group's interest. Possibly because I informed them that a handful of juniper berries, when added to a bottle of the local moonshine and left to steep, gave a result that was (to paraphrase Douglas Adams) something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike gin. With Christmas not so far away they fell upon the bush like a swarm of locusts. Still on the Christmas theme, high above our heads Mistletoe was growing in large enticing balls. Although parasitic it does very little harm to the trees and is a net benefactor to the forest. Its berries attract birds, small mammals and insects which increases the biodiversity of the area. An American study showed that twice as many juniper bushes sprouted where mistletoe was present compared with areas where no mistletoe existed. The seeds of both plants being distributed via the digestive systems of birds and small mammals and mistletoe is better at marketing its presence than juniper.
We emerged from the forest onto a rocky outcrop with tremendous views over the lower forest and the Gulf of Mirabello. I placed three of our gentlemen on said outcrop in the hope of enticing the vultures back and went off to study butterflies. Last week we saw the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and this week it was her sister, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), who was following us about. So, if your name is Vanessa, you are named after a beautiful butterfly. After that, of course, you have a choice of being a burly Russian seaman or a Portsmouth lady of the night, so it's probably best to stop at butterfly.
We then moved off to a different part of the forest, the location of which I will not reveal. The reason being that Steve Lenton, our semi-resident botanist came across a small plant which looked as if it had been dreamed up by the makers of Dr. Who. This was the Cretan Biarum (Biarum davisii) a flower (honestly) that is on the IUCN list as 'near threatened'. The reason it is near threatened is because the major threat is from avaricious rare bulb collectors and hence the reason for not publishing its exact location as it has never been recorded in this area of Crete before. Rare bulb and rare animal collectors are the scourge of biodiversity and should be put up against the wall and shot in my opinion.
Dragonflies were also darting around us, which may seem odd in a habitat that had no rivers, streams or ponds, as dragonfly larvae are aquatic. But all dragonflies have different requirements. Some like to lay their eggs in running water and some in standing water. This particular dragonfly, the Red-veined Darter, lays its eggs in shallow puddles as do all in the genus Sympetrum and when it rains in a forest, shallow puddles become particularly abundant.
The Taverna Bit
Having completed two strolls in one morning we repaired to lunch at the Matraia taverna in Kroustas village to replace any calories which we may have inadvertently burnt off in the preceding couple of hours. A lovely liver in red wine sauce was the special of the day so quite few of us opted to top up our iron and antioxidant levels.
Sunday 14th October
Almyros Wetlands, south of Agios Nikolaos
Sunday 21st October
(Details next week)
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 will be available in time for Christmas.
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