Monday, 6 November 2017

Blue, Blue, Electric Blue...

 Our last three days in Crete began as it had from the beginning, cloud free, hot from the get go and a pleasure to be living in such a stress free environment.

We woke relatively early and enjoyed our breakfast in the open air of the hotel patio next to the restaurant and pool area. There isn't many times you can say you sat outside for breakfast through the year- well certainly not back in the UK - and it was a pleasure to do so.

Sarah was going to relax by the hotel pool today while I walked a circuit of the town in the morning.
The nearby church which was constructed only five years previous and stands like some grandiose blot on the landscape. I don't think it's ugly but it just seems a little misplaced and overly enthusiastic set against the backdrop of such a small town. It reminded me of some churches in Norfolk. A gesture more of the architects confidence rather than their taste.
I was going to venture into the building but my focus was on more pressing natural wonders.

The dusty street from the hotel heading towards the sea is bordered by smallholdings to the left with all sorts of crops and chickens and turkeys and houses and flats to the right.
There is also a large modern hotel at the end on the corner with the usual smattering of small supermarkets and places selling bike and car hire.
I took a left turn heading into town and to the harbour.
Outside one of the houses there were thick bushes full of flowers. In amongst these there were a few butterflies pinging around. I had found a Langs Short Tailed Blue at last... woohoo, I hear you cry!? It means a lot to me though. Not something I happen across too often.     

The Hummingbird Hawkmoth that I found so indolent the day before on the wall of the hotel was back to it's  busying best taking sustenance from the flowers. .
It is always a challenge to capture them mid feeding flight...


Their proboscis is reminiscent of refuelling tankers the RAF use to replenish aircraft mid flight...and what a proboscis it is as it unfurls and hits with pinpoint accuracy into every flower. You have to bear in mind they complete this task within a second and then move on to the next one.

Their moniker, Hummingbird is well named. The speed of their wings is obvious in the photos and their actions are synonymous with the actual bird.


It's so difficult to keep on them. They have a jabbing , darting flight pattern. If you blink, they are gone...


The Langs Short Tails are not so much of a problem however...





I headed further into town, through the main street where the sweet smells of the bakery washed deliciously with me down towards the harbour. I sat by the fishing boats and ordered a coffee from the Taverna.
I was sat next to a group of local fishermen drinking Greek coffee you could stand a spoon in and smoking endless cigarettes. I listened to their accentuated conversation as they chewed the fat, enthralled and just a little annoyed I couldn't make out the exact interpretation. That isn't always necessary however. You can still decipher many meanings from attitude and expressions. It wasn't 'All just Greek to me' as Elton John once sang.   
I paid up and sauntered down to the lowest taverna in the port. We had eaten here  two years ago which was superb and I had encountered one of those birds I dare not to be anyones' top 10 of must sees. I was hoping I would cross it's path once again... 
One of the fishermen was sorting his nets as I strolled past. This is the best place to eat fish. Straight from the boat to your plate via the Aegean Sea across the way. 
The harbour snakes around in an S shape and culminates by the curve of the hill. There are plenty of Muscovy Ducks here that breed in small numbers.
I sat  on the harbour wall by the Taverna and dangled my feet in the water hoping for a sight of electric blue.
I knew I wouldn't be disappointed as I heard the high pitched peeping call of the Kingfisher... !
This is a female. The best analogy to recognise this, is that the female has an orange lower mandible, a bit like wearing lipstick. That's how I remember them by.

They have many perching points along the edges of the harbour and from my position I knew I would be in with a good chance to capture them on camera but you have to be sharp with the trigger finger...



I walked to the very end of the harbour where there were many ducks. The female Muscovy was keeping an eye on her very cute chicks.



The Kingfishers kept on coming and going as I sat patiently ...






There were two around. The male here lacks the orange mandible.


Normally they find a perch from which to observe and catch a meal but occasionally they will hover to gain a better view before pouncing on a victim, or maybe missing one too?



Having had some inspiring views it was time to move on.
I ascended the hill at the end of the harbour and then took the path down to the shoreline on the other side.
My views of distant Purple Herons continued in that vein as one passed me by heading out to sea. 
I hooked up with the shore path. Many hotels border the sea here and eventually peter out leaving heathland and mountain as a natural backdrop until the next resort begins. It makes me wonder if it will be wall to wall hotels one day without such natural refuges.
Another moth caught my eye. I haven't found the name of this subtle gem yet.   
In the distance I could make out Malia Marsh where we were the day before. It would take about 45 minutes to walk from our accommodation. Something I could manage even in the heat but not for Sarah, so I turned to head inland for a circular route.
There weren't many birds of note along this stretch apart from a couple of preening Cormorant on the rocks.
Cats are a massive part of  Greek culture but in the last two years there has been a marked decrease in their numbers we felt. Either through neutering or by indifference to their fate or by other means I don't like to consider. Either way, they are discouraged from the restaurants more so than before and people are directed to a Cat Cafe to feed them. This is just a small piece of wasteland where a few gather to receive free food from whoever wanted to give. Obviously not all the cats in the district navigate to this place.
I found it by chance on my walk on the outskirts of town. A token gesture towards people who care about animals.

Distracted by a bird of prey high upon the rocks on the edge of town, I doubled back to get a little closer. The day before at Malia Marsh I had a fleeting glimpse of an Eleonoras Falcon as it zipped over my head and towards the rocks I now had my gaze upon. Maybe I had happened across this elegant bird of prey today ?
I couldn't be certain though. I needed to get closer so it meant a bit of rock climbing, not so easy in shorts and sandals, even if the sandals were decent walking ones.
The bird wasn't moving much as I adopted a scramble, stop, photograph technique on repeat.
Higher and higher I stumbled, edging ever closer. My legs were now bleeding from the sharp scrub and rocks, my feet filthy from the dry dusty red soil. I was nearly there as it began to move and then it jumped and  soared above me, I raised my camera letting rip with the shutter...at a Common or garden Buzzard !!! Now I shouldn't be so upset and blase at any living creature but I was certain this was a Falcon I was so intent on finding and I have to say I did mutter a few expletives. Herein lies the lesson of why I do what I do. Nothing ventured nothing gained and that is the draw to the thrill that is the natural world. It was a beautiful Buzzard and I try to remember that, especially on the descent from the mountain, gathering more scars to remind me of my folly.

Back on the coast path, I followed it to the other side of the harbour where the tavernas jut out by the entrance.


Then it was a right turn inland and back up to the hotel for lunch.
Odd patches of wasteland are common between varying types of accommodation which is good for different types of flora to proliferate such as this Opuntia. I have one of these in the conservatory back home but not nearly as large!

I had reached the hotel and relaxed by the pool nursing my sore legs and admiring the reflection in the water. That was quite enough exercise for one day.

I popped up to have a shower in our apartment and found another preying mantis on the steps.


It was away from human traffic so I left it alone. My refreshing shower beckoned. .

Our penultimate day was a trip to Aghios Nikolaos by bus.
Having eventually found the bus stop after directions from people who are yet up to speed with what is left or right, we clambered aboard a bus with air conditioning. That's a first for us in Greece!
The route takes in some breathtaking scenery of large mountain ranges and 45 minutes later we arrived at our destination.
Some lovely views down into the main harbour.
There are some people around that look after the local felines.
We sat by the harbour and cooled our feet in the water admiring the hundreds of fish.
The town was bustling with tourists and quite noisy.
We came across another modern church. This one is much more easy on the eye and in keeping with the surroundings.



Some of the back street buildings were in various states of repair, very reminiscent of some avenues of Havana.
We had lunch near the port and as you walk past all the waterside restaurants you are badgered into trying every eatery, even if you have just eaten, competition is fierce here.
Whilst a fairly pleasant excursion, we much preferred the more rural places to stay. Ag. Nik wasn't our cup of tea.
We arrived back in Sissi in time for a circuit of the patch. This was much more like it....

Down the road, it's a left turn to the beach. I decided on a right into the olive groves and some peace after the bustle of a large town.
Unfortunately some people aren't respectful enough of their environment. Fly tipping occurs even in the most idyllic of places. The inflatable dinghy is most bizarre!?
The sun was dropping and creating a lovely warm light through the groves.
In one area of dappled light I came across a few butterflies. Another Langs Short Tailed Blue, a Speckled Wood that refused to rest and another unidentified species that did the same which could have been a Wall Brown.

Even here in the middle of the trees were Red Veined Darters hunting.

Another creature I came across occasionally was this large insect. At least three inches long I have since found out it to be an Egyptian Locust (Anacridium aegyptium)
They are solitary insects that inhabit scrub and trees and are perfectly camouflaged. You only become aware of them when they ping off the ground as you walk and give you quite a start.

Many smells pervade the groves as you walk here. This plant being very strong scented. By the leaf pattern it looks like a member of the hemp family but I couldn't be sure. 
The sun was dropping further and the light gave some excellent scenes through the Olive trees. These shots looked reminiscent of a painting.


Rock thistles dotted the floor. I found a Small Copper on one of them.

I retraced my steps back to the main road and then took another further inland towards the ancient town of Sissi.

I wanted to take a look at the area I had seen Wall Brown and Clouded Yellow Butterflies from the other day.
First off I encountered another Hummingbird Hawkmoth..
And then a younger less tatty version than the other day of a Wall Brown which flitted around in the shade of the trees.

I lost it for a while but found it in the place that gave it it's name...
I leant over the wall to get some close up shots. It must roost here at night and keep warm from the heat radiating from the stones.

Time to head home, passing a few scolding Sardinian Warblers in the scrub.
As the sun moves west, the light changes and gives a whole new interpretation to the landscape.
Back almost at the hotel. Stunning Candelabra Cacti grew tall in front gardens. 

And our feline friends relaxed in the cool shade.
I relaxed by the pool bar with an ice cold beer :)


Another day done, and as we walked back to our apartment, the local dogs were getting in on the action, albeit from behind the gates of next doors house.
This Dalmation was very cute and friendly it has to be said, but it was dying to get out and say hello to the cats.


One of the tabby and whites had eye problems and was friends with another cat that seemed to be it's guide.

Our friend the Mantis was still prowling around the steps for an unsuspecting meal as we passed by on the way to get ready for our evening meal. 
Our last day before a late evening flight home.
As I left our apartment the tabby and white was keeping close to it's friend.  

One more circular walk into the olive groves and round to the Aegean Sea.
A single Spotted Flycatcher perched on the wires, occasionally flicking up taking insects and landing almost at the same spot.  
Bordering the fields, Sardinian Warblers scolded me one last time for invading their territory. 

The Flycatcher again. Some years they are difficult to find. This year, I seem to turn a corner and there they are. A case of right place at the right time...

The Clouded Yellow is another specimen in the same vein. I looked long and hard for them last year to no avail, prevalent as they were. It seems the less you try the more they appear. Just go with the flow, expect nothing and things appear when you least expect.
A case in point was this Long Tailed Blue. Similar to the Langs but with subtle differences. I found it in the Butterfly garden I had been so successful in by the Olive groves, nectaring on the Phacelia.

Still on the Lepidoptera as I wandered back. A Mallow Skipper tried a surreptitious game of hide and seek on the stones beneath my feet along the track. It wasn't going to escape my lens on this occasion.
Southern Skimmers had been another regular occurrence on my walks on the island and this one gave me the last views for a while no doubt.

My last views of the bay too.
We have had another wonderful time here in Crete. Catching up with some wonderful sights, sounds and smells of a beautiful island. Friendly faces and wildlife we knew, others new to us creating fresh memories to treasure.
I had tramped my way to the hotel one last time and reached the pool where Sarah was sat reading her book. She greeted me with a smile as I collapsed onto the lounger.
My attention was alert enough to spot a shield bug on the side of the pool. (Carpocoris Mediterraneus) and very pretty too.
Our last views of the pool with clouds this time as we counted down the minutes to our taxi arriving.

One week away from work in 52 was a week to remember. It might have seemed by my accounts on this blog that all I was doing was walking and taking pictures while Sarah relaxed on her own. That was far from the truth. We both enjoyed a fanatstic holiday together and I can't recommend this island strongly enough.
We have only touched on one small part of it. We hope to return one day soon to explore some more.
Nature wasn't done with us just yet though. A jumping spider was keen to explore under my sun lounger by my sandals. I switched on the camera one last time...

Last bug on the block was a ground bug (Spilostethus pandurus) I deftly avoided stepping on it as we gathered our belongings.
Our taxi arrived bang on time but it wasn't Manos who we had expected to take us to the airport as we had thought but his brother who was standing in for him.
Such as shame we thought. We love Manos.
Then in the distance, that sound so commonly associated with Greece, along with the Bouzouki and Cicadas...the long drawn out rasp of a moped...it was Manos. Clearly on his day off and dressed in his civvies and clearly out of breath. He wanted to wish us Bon Voyage before we left. Such a touching moment as we climbed into our carriage to the airport. We took a piece of Crete home with us in our hearts.

The title of this post is a lyric taken from the song, Sound and Vision by David Bowie