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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Steve's Nature Quiz #25

In this week's #CreteNature blog we were looking at herbs but which is the correct pronunciation of the word 'herb'?

a) herb

b) 'erb

c) both are correct.


It all rather depends on when and where you lived. 'erb used to be the accepted pronunciation in England and it is still the accepted pronunciation in America. It wasn't until the nineteenth century that the Brits decided that as the H was there it may as well be used and herb became the standard. So the answer is c) both are correct.

Not only were we discovering herbs or 'erbs this week but also butterflies, lizards and spiders with a bit of ancient history thrown in for good measure. Join us for our weekly wander around the idyllic Cretan countryside with this week's walk Further Back in Time to Praesos

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Further back in Time – to Praesos

Praesos archaeological site
A couple of weeks back we were overlooking the Venetian hill fort of Monte Forte and this week's little excursion takes us even further back in time to the Ancient town of Praesos. It's pretty well an old pile of stones now and nobody lives there but hopefully we'll find some wildlife. Well, here it is and it looks like we've got a hill to climb so I'll tell you what I know about the place on the way up. Two thousand two hundred years ago it was inhabited by the descendants of the Minoans and they were having a pretty hard time of it. This was because most of Crete had been taken over by the Dorians from mainland Greece and Praesos was one of the last outposts. These Dorians held Itanos to the north and Ierapetra to the south and Praesos finally fell to the Ierapetran Dorians in 155BC. Incidentally Praesos is also a genus of Geometer moths but as to why is a bit of a mystery as they are found in Australia I believe. 

When they weren't being attacked they lived pretty well. There were more animals about in those days including deer and boar which are no longer here and they farmed both livestock and crops. Roasted and stewed meats were both on the menu along with green vegetables and, looking around, they certainly seemed to have a wide variety of herbs to flavour things up with. Just in this small area I can see Sage, Fennel and even some Pot Marjoram. Such a redolent array is also very attractive to butterflies of course and I can see quite a number flitting about. Let's try to get on closer terms with some of them.

Wall Butterflies, Lasiommata megara
Hmm, voyeuristically close it would seem. These are a pair of Wall Butterflies,  doing what comes naturally. The female is underneath with her wings spread while the male is on top, facing backwards, with his wings closed (a position I doubt you'll find in the Kama Sutra). Often, when they are not mating, they hold their wings two thirds open on a flat surface (such as a wall which is how they got their common English name) in order to get the warmth from both direct and reflected sunlight. However, in the heat of the Cretan day you are as likely to find them sheltering in the shade.



Huntsman Spider, Eusparassus walckenaerius
Oh look, a little room. I wonder if there's anybody in? I've found someone under a stone in the corner – come and meet her. This lady (and I think that from her size we may assume that she's a lady) goes by the delightful name of Eusparassus walckenaerius and she and her kin are fairly common Huntsman Spiders here in Crete. I appreciate that if you are not fond of spiders then she may give you the heebie-jeebies and this is why you've just demonstrated the old stage direction 'exeunt omnes in divers alarums' (or something of that ilk) but she's an incredibly useful little predator. For one thing she'll take on some of the larger insects like cockroaches which none of us particularly want hanging about the house. Anyhow, I'll gently replace her stone and we'll see if we can find something a little cuter to have a look at.

Balkan Green Lizards, Lacerta trilineata
How about these fellows? You've got to love a lizard and they're darting about all over the place up here. These are Balkan Green Lizards and they are the largest lizards that you will find on Crete, or indeed, in Greece. Yes, I appreciate that they are rather small and brown but that is because they haven't grown up yet. When they do they will be big and bright green. Their scientific name is Lacerta trilineata, the trilineata bit referring to the three lines which you can clearly see when you look down upon them. When they mature and turn green you rather lose sight of these lines and the English name becomes more descriptive than the scientific one.

We are now at the top so it seems to be a good place to lounge with the lizards in the sunshine and admire the view. That's Sitia that you can see in the distance nestling on the shores of the Aegean.

The Extra Bit

It is about this time of the year that I start to feed the birds at home and this year I've set up the trailcam to record the various species and any other non avian visitors to the table. So far I've only had a trio of Great Tits and a handful of Italian Sparrows but it's early days yet. I'll keep you posted.

P.S. Iris the Mediterranean Mantis is still clinging to the Fennel by the gate.







Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so here's a quick rundown on the cameras used for each picture. For details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.

Picture 1 Canon EOS 1300D
Insets
Picture 2 Nikon COOLPIX S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 3 Canon EOS 1300D
Insets
Picture 4 Nikon COOLPIX S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 5 Nikon COOLPIX S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Extra Bit pictures Trail Camera RD1000

Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.




*********************************************************************
LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures on Flickr
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete (Flipboard Magazine)
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Steve's Nature Quiz #24

We are now well into the third season of the year but which is the most recent term for this period of the year?

a) harvest

b) autumn

c) fall

The Autumn Crocus, Colchicum pusillum
No trick question this week, if you said Fall then you'd be right (but it's a close run thing). Prior to the 1500s the term Harvest was used in England to mark the season between Summer and Winter and many European languages still use a variation of this word. Gradually in the 1500s Autumn, from the Latin autumnus took over in England and harvest began to change its meaning to the specific gathering in of crops. In the 1540s the phrase 'fall of leaves' also came into use but it wasn't until the 1660s that this was reduced to simply the Fall. Fall and Autumn battled it out and Autumn eventually won through in England. The colonists took both to America with them but Fall won through which is why the Americans refer to the season as the Fall whilst the English call it Autumn.

More Autumnal observations in this week's #CreteNature blog: Achladia (It's All Gone Pear Shaped)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Achladia (It's All Gone Pear Shaped)

Almond leaved Pear, Pyrus spinosa
From the springs of Paraspori it is a short hop to the village of Achladia which, in Greek, means pears which is as good a reason as any to stop by the side of the road and take a look at some wild ones. Now you may think that a pear is a pear is a pear but there are over twenty different species of wild pear to say nothing of the three thousand or so varieties that have been cultivated from just three of those species; Pyrus communis being the one we are most familiar with in Europe and America. This one however is not Pyrus communis but Pyrus spinosa, the Almond leaved Pear. One of the main differences between the two species, which I feel duty bound to point out before you finish filling your bag with them, is that these are not only inedible but toxic. Foraging is a delightful hobby but can be deadly. A golden rule should be Never assume that you can consume.

Grapevine, Vitis sp.
And now to a plant that is not only edible but deliciously quaffable when fermented and bottled. As far as I am aware there are no poisonous grapes but before you go a-snaffling have you checked that they haven't been sprayed with something unpleasant? Just a thought. We are now in the wine making area of Sitia where some of the best wines in Crete are produced (yes, we can try some later – in the spirit of research of course). Wine has been made on the island for maybe four thousand years [1] and Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos was fond of a glass or two with Dionysos and, seeing as he is the Greek God of wine, he should have known where to come for a good tipple. Everyone has a grapevine so lets take a closer look at this one straggling along the fence at the edge of the car park (grapevines are not fussy about where they grow).

Vine Hawkmoth, Hippotion celerio
Now here's a familiar face poking out from beneath this leaf, it's the caterpillar of a Vine Hawkmoth Hippotion celerio. At first glance one may think that this is a large eyed caterpillar with a ferocious stinger about to decimate the grape harvest but it's all smoke and mirrors. The eyespot is pure mimicry to confuse predators and has no physiological function at all. Similarly that stinger is purely decorative as well. Leastways no-one has found a function for it as far as I know – it certainly doesn't sting. In fact it is quite soft to the touch. All caterpillars of the hawkmoth family have them and in some countries they are known as hornworms (a misnomer as they are not worms at all of course). Finally, he's no great pest to the grapevine. If you remember I had one on my grapevine back in May which I named Jeremy. He ate seven leaves before he pupated and they soon grew back. Incidentally I promised to show him to you when he emerged but I'm not sure that I ever did so here he is. Splendid looking fellow isn't he?

Shield Bug egg cases




Now, what else do we have? This beautiful piece of geometric artwork on the underside of this leaf comes to us from our old friend the Shield bug. Each of these little cells contained a single egg with a provision of food from which emerged a miniature adult bug, albeit with different colouration to its final livery. I count about one hundred cases here, each with a tiny lid, and it would appear that about seventy of them hatched which isn't a bad success rate. I'll take them home and see if there are any late developers but don't hold your breath. I think that this clutch is done.






Hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
That seems to have exhausted the possibilities of this little vine so let's wander back through the village and have a quick look at the flowers. Many of the flowers that you see adorning the villages don't appear in Cretan flora guides for the simple reason that they are not native to the island. What you see here for instance (no, not the taverna) is an Hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis which is native to Africa and Asia. One of its more unusual local names in India and something similar in Indonesia is the Shoeblack plant as it is used by the street side shoe-shine boys in the pursuance of their trade. I must try it on my next annual shoe cleaning day. Meanwhile the taverna beckons and so I suppose we must go and research these local wines. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

The Extra Bit

I took those egg cases home but as I suspected no more shield bugs emerged. It did however give me a chance to examine them under the microscope and, as you can see, some of the bugs started to develop but didn't quite make it.









Meanwhile Iris is still clinging on to the fennel by the gate despite some wet and windy weather and managed to catch a hoverfly in mid air last week.



[1] History of Wine in Crete (with thanks to Dill Childs via Flowers of Crete for correcting my earlier assertion that wine had been produced on Crete for a mere 2000 years).



Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so here's a quick rundown on the cameras used for each picture. For details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.

Picture 1                   Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets                        Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 2                   Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets                        Konica Minolta
Picture 3                   Canon EOS 1300D, Konica Minolta
Insets
Picture 4                   Canon EOS 1300D
Insets
Picture 5                   Canon EOS 1300D
Insets
Extra Bit pictures       Brunel Light Microscope SP-20, Nikon Coolpix S33

Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.




*********************************************************************
LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures on Flickr
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete (Flipboard Magazine)
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map



Saturday, 4 November 2017

Steve's Nature Quiz #23

In last week's #CreteNature blog we found a beautiful ivy hedgerow buzzing with life. Ivy has been associated with the Winter solstice since pagan times but in Germany they traditionally tie it to the outside of a church. Is this to protect it against

a) the devil

b) lightning

c) witches


Somewhat surprisingly the answer is lightning. Why this should be is a matter of speculation; perhaps someone observed that ivy covered trees did not get struck by lightning so often as bare trees? A similar thought was held by the druids who believed that Ivy's Christmas counterpart, Holly, if self seeded near a dwelling, would protect the inhabitants from fire, nightmares and, once again, lightning.

More seasonal nature notes and other trivia in this week's #CreteNature blog: The Springs of Paraspori