I Spy In My Back Garden

Feeling bored yet? If you’re missing the big wide world outside of your front door, go out of the back door instead. There’s another, even more wonderful world, in the back garden. Whether it’s a beautifully manicured lawn with regimented borders, or looks a bit like a bombsite, there’s a host of interesting creatures out there waiting to be investigated. Birds, bats, butterflies; molluscs, mice and moths; the list is almost endless. As I proved, from a hospital balcony a few years back, you can be a naturalist anywhere. See How To Be A Naturalist, Anywhere

Small mammals, amphibians and reptiles are great favourites and there are a number of ways in which you can observe these. A small garden pond will often attract frogs and toads, as well as providing a source of water for other creatures. A bird feeder will attract a host of garden birds, but if you can’t get out to buy wild bird seed at the moment, a simple platform with household scraps (fruit is a favourite) will bring them in. A small mammal trap is best for things like mice and shrews but an alternative is to bury a bucket in soft earth, bait it with something tasty, then cover it with wood, propped up about an inch at one end. You will probably also get a fair few snails. If your finances run to a camera trap, then you can get photos of some great nocturnal creatures as well, like this Stone Marten who visited my bird table one night.

My own personal passion is, as you probably know by now, the insect world. Did you know that there are about thirty different orders of insects and hundreds of different families making up those orders? About five years ago, I wrote a post giving a quick run-down on how and when those insect orders evolved. I ended the post with this picture of twelve of the most common orders that you are likely to find in your back garden. See Whiffling through the Woodpile – a short history of insects

This proved to be a very popular post and eventually led to me writing The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies which not only gives pictures and easy descriptions of twentytwo of those insect orders (in both their adult and juvenile states), but also pages of molluscs, myriapods, isopods and all the other creepy-crawlies that you are likely to find in your garden. Suitable for adults and children alike, I am putting it on special offer (a third off, except in the USA where a minimum price applies) until the end of April. So, order a copy, take your camera or phone out of the back door, photograph what you find, and identify them when the book arrives. Congratulations! You’ve just got yourself a new hobby!

Was £14.99 $17.31 €16.14

Now £10.00 $16.48 €11.52

Crete Nature Catch-up
Series 1 – Welcome to LasithiSeries 2 – The Rhythm Of LifeSeries 3 – A Journey Begins
Series 4 – The Milonas ValleySeries 5 – This Is FermaSeries 6 – Upland Villages
Series 7 – The Forty saintsSeries 8 – Sunday StrollsSeries 9 -Stormy Weather

Steve’s Books

The Eggs of Saramova

A science fiction novella for those who don’t like science fiction. A fast-paced thriller that is, literally, out of this world (and it starts right here in Crete).

The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies

All you need to know to identify any type of insect, spider, worm or snail very simply and find out more about it.

Not Just For Twisted Women

A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
See sample pages of all my books and latest blogs and keep abreast of latest publications here:

http://author.to/SteveDaniels

*********************************************************************

LINKS:

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

Cretan Flora Flowers of Crete BIRDS OF CRETE Crete Birding

Greek Butterflies and Moths Aquaworld Aquarium

Visit Greece (National Government Tourist Office)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It's A Small World

Life On Earth (from The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies)

Some of you may have noticed that there is a bit of a bug going around at the moment. It’s OK, I’m not going to bang on about coronovirus, which you’re all fed up to the back teeth reading about, but to have a more general look at the world of bacteria and viruses and try to answer the question, “what have they ever done for us?” The figure on the left (taken from my book The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies) shows how life on Earth is classified into three sections (called Domains). All of the animals and plants that you can see with the naked eye (and many too small to see) fit into the bottom section, the Eukaryotes. The microscopic bacteria and the archaea between them, form a group called the Prokaryotes.

Bacteria colonies on beetroot

Let’s look at bacteria first. You’re probably familiar with many of them: Escherichia coli (E. coli in common parlance), discovered by Theodore Escher in 1884 and the bane of butchers ever since; Staphylococcus aureus, the SA in MRSA that bedevils hospitals (the MR being multi-resistant [to antibiotics]); and Streptococcus pyogenes, the ‘strep’ in strep throat. But not all bacteria are bad. In fact, we couldn’t live without them, they synthesize all the Vitamin B12 in the world for a start. They are responsible for the breakdown of organic material that returns nutrients to the soil, as these colonies of bacteria are doing to this beetroot.There are also an awful lot of them: between them, they weigh more than every animal and plant on the planet combined.

Archaea providing a splash of colour

The other half of the Prokaryotes are the archaea, with which you are probably not so familiar. These differ from bacteria (and ourselves for that matter) in their cell structure and basically, they are good guys. For instance, we couldn’t digest our food without the help of an archaean with the zippy name of Methanobrevibacter smithii. When our gut bacteria have finished breaking down our meat and three veg. into stuff we can actually use to keep us alive, M. smithii mops up the bits that are left behind. They also bring a little colour into our lives as this picture of the of the Morning Glory Hot Spring in Yellowstone National Park, taken by ZYjacklin shows. The archaea are responsible for the bright yellow around the rim of the spring.

Coronavirus (Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM / Public domain)

So, where do viruses fit into all this? Awkwadly. Some say that they are a form of life (because they have genes and can reproduce) and some say that they are not (because they lack a cell structure). Personally, I go with Dr. Spock – “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.” They only come alive and reproduce when they are inside a host organism (plant, animal, bacteria or archaea), at all other times they exist as bits of genetic material in a protein coat floating about like teenagers looking for a party to crash. To continue the analogy, once they’ve found a party to crash, they trash the place by imparting a disease to the host (the SARS-CoV-2 virus currently spreading the COVID-19 disease around the world for example). They then move on to the next party through a variety of means; insects ferry them from plant to plant like Uber drivers; ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ is an old adage which was made for them; poor toilet hygene (in the case of norovirus and rotavirus); or through intimate contact (such as HIV). Whether you consider them as living entities or not, Earth wouldn’t be the same without them as they are the most numerous form of ‘biological entity’ on the planet. But what use are they?

Viruses spread most quickly when there is a high density of host organisms in one place and where there is a method of transportation between different groups of populations. This occurs most often when the population growth of a species spirals out of control. So, maybe we should consider viruses as nature’s population control mechanism. A bit like brakes on a car; they don’t make the car go any better, further or faster but they are a very necessary part of the over all design.


Talking of life, but not as we know it: I have a new novella out this week entitled The Eggs of Saramova which starts here in Greece and then moves somewhere further afield. It’s a fast paced thriller, only available on Kindle at the moment (the paperback will be published in time for the summer) and you can read the first couple of chapters for free (or the whole book if you’re enrolled with KDP Select) by following this link: http://viewbook.at/Saramova

Steve’s Books

The Eggs of Saramova A science fiction novella for those who don’t like science fiction. A fast-paced thriller that is, literally, out of this world (and it starts right here in Crete).
The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies All you need to know to identify any type of insect, spider, worm or snail very simply and find out more about it.
Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
See sample pages of all my books and latest blogs and keep abreast of latest publications here:
http://author.to/SteveDaniels
Crete Nature Catch-up
Series 1 – Welcome to LasithiSeries 2 – The Rhythm Of LifeSeries 3 – A Journey Begins
Series 4 – The Milonas ValleySeries 5 – This Is FermaSeries 6 – Upland Villages
Series 7 – The Forty saintsSeries 8 – Sunday StrollsSeries 9 -Stormy Weather
Posted in books, Crete, microbiology, nature | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Reminiscences II

This house for sale or rent

The topographer came yesterday to measure the house and grounds in case they had mysteriusly changed since the original contract of sale (they had; another storey had been added which the builder and architect had assured us that they would legalize but apparently… and a couple of metres of land behind the house had sort of atttaced itself to the new government Land Registry – nuffink to do wiv me guvn’r, me ‘and must of slipped when I was mappin’ it on Google Earf). So, with a bit of toing and froing with lawyers next week the house should be legal enough to sell. The topographer swarmed up and down walls and olive trees with his GPS on a stick, the real estate agent bumbled about trying to look useful and I weeded the garden. When they’d eventually beetled off I tidied the barbecue area, sat down to an al fresco luch and looked over the last five series of the Crete Nature Blog. What fun we had!

Orino: endemic Cretan Frog Pelophylax cretensis

Series six took us on a tour of the upland villages of eastern Crete. We went carob kibbling in Schinokapsala, communed with the endemic Cretan Frogs in Orino, explored the gypsum hills of Chrysopigi, learnt the explosive history of Santa Barbara (which wouldn’t be out of place in a Terry Paratchett Discworld Novel) in Sklavoi, and investgated the strange purple ponds of Lithines amongst other adventures en route.

The 40 Saints Route and view from a cave

Series 7 took us on a long, circular route around Agioi Saranta (The 40 Saints), a limestone massif above the village of Koutsounari. Here we tracked the progress of a pair of ravens which we named Huginn and Muninn and who eventually delighted us by producing a third raven which we named Loki. We also came across some goats that appeared to be experimenting with levitation and a whole host of orchids that, in some places around the Mediterranean, are being eaten to extinction by.. us humans!

By the time Series 8 came around the blog was getting to be pretty popular and people were asking if they could join me on my walks and I dutifully obliged with a programme of Sunday Strolls. These took us to places such as Bramiana reservoir, the delightful little village of Sisi on the north coast, the Almyros wetlands and Kroustas Forest where we were treated to a spectacular flypast of Griffon Vultures. We also enjoyed some fabulous lunches at village tavernas.

Rainbow over Toplou

When Series 9 came around it was time for a revamp. Although we hadn’t been everywhere and seen everything the places left to visit and the wildlife yet to be observed were taking on an all too familiar hue. A couple of new features were Walking Notes so that anyone can follow our adventures at a later date and In The Lab. Apart from loafing about the countryside and blogging about it you may be surprised to know that I am a Consulting Naturalist doing field research for various universties, monitoring various insect migrations such as the Painted Lady butterfly and the Marmalde Hoverfly. This often involves lab. work so I invited you into my home laboratory to see what I get up to when your not looking I am really looking forward to setting up a new laboratory when I get my new home in Cumbria).

Finally we started doing a bit of Fieldcraft and Foraging and following on from this, tasting the results which led to a spin-off blog, Steve’s Wild Kitchen with recipes including Chicken Chow Mein with Wood Sorrel Root, Simple Marmalade and the Great Cumbrian Breakfast with Garlic Mustard. This is something I hope to develop more when I start inflicting my blogs on you from Cumbria.

Steve’s Books

Apart from that I’ve written The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies which can be used anywhere in the world and is suitable for all ages. For this, and for other books I have written or have yet to write, you can follow me on Amazon or if you have a general interest in Greece and the Greek islands (as I know many of you have) I am currently pulling a group of bloggers and authors together under the banner Books & Blogs Authors and here you can find all your favourites: for all the latest publications from myself, Yvonne Payne, Janet Ellis, Kathryn Gauci, Richard Clark, Gabi Ancarola, Marjory McGinn, Chris Moorey, John Manuel, Suzi Stembridge, Ian Yates and Ruth Kozak with more to come.

Crete Nature Catch-up
Series 1 – Welcome to LasithiSeries 2 – The Rhythm Of LifeSeries 3 – A Journey Begins
Series 4 – The Milonas ValleySeries 5 – This Is FermaSeries 6 – Upland Villages
Series 7 – The Forty saintsSeries 8 – Sunday StrollsSeries 9 -Stormy Weather

LINKS:

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

Cretan Flora Flowers of Crete BIRDS OF CRETE Crete Birding

Greek Butterflies and Moths Aquaworld Aquarium

Visit Greece (National Government Tourist Office)

Posted in birds, Crete, flowers, hiking, nature, wildlife | Leave a comment

Reminiscences I

Ferma Harbour

As I sit here, surrounded by boxes to take to England and bags to take to the charity, I thought it would be nice to look back over the adventures we’ve shared over the past six years of The Crete Nature Blog. It all started in December 2013 with Welcome to Lasithi when I introduced you to my home in the village of Ferma on the south east coast of Crete and we climbed the hills, investigated the olive groves and went rock pooling down at the little village harbour.

When flowers bloom, insects soon follow.

In series two we moved on from merely observing the plants, insects, birds and myriad other life forms and started to look at The Rhythm Of Life including the flowering times of the plants, the appearance of insects in the Spring and migration patterns of birds. The study of when things happen in nature is called phenology which I explained in what turned out to be one of the most popular blog posts, Phenomenal Phenology.

The Guardian of the Ravine

In series three, A Journey Begins, the journey in question took us from the beach at Agios Fotia high up into the Thriptis mountains on unmarked paths where we inevitably got a little lost or, to be more accurate, we weren’t lost, we just couldn’t find a track going in our direction. But the great thing about blundering about in the wilderness is that you get to see so much more.

Milonas Waterfall

This journey took us up into the Thriptis mountains via the Eden Valley but, having got up there, we also had to come back. This we did via The Milonas Valley which was an incredibly beautiful sojourn and included another very popular blog post, The Milonas Waterfall in which we went wild swimming in early March (brrr). A nice underwater video at the end of that post from the pool beneath the waterfall.

The Butterfly Hills

Having undertaken two major expeditions it was time to re-examine home turf once more so series five took us on a circular walk (and snorkel) around the village in This Is Ferma including the Wildlife Hotel and The Sea Caves of Ferma, to say nothing of The Butterfly Hills.

It was about this time that I devised the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map with which you can click on any of the symbols and read the relevant blog post.

This covers the first half of the Crete nature Blogs and I’ll try to cover the second half before I leave to explore a new part of the world for me, Cumbria, where I expect we will have many more adventures.

Spring is just around the corner, the flowers are beginning to bud, and all sorts of litle arthropods will be busy. There are over thirty major groups of these creatures and identifying them is impossible without knowing to which group they belong. Help is at hand with The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies which can be used anywhere in the world and is suitable for all ages. For this, and for other books I have written or have yet to write, you can follow me on Amazon.

Steve’s Books

Crete Nature Catch-up
Series 1 – Welcome to LasithiSeries 2 – The Rhythm Of LifeSeries 3 – A Journey Begins
Series 4 – The Milonas ValleySeries 5 – This Is FermaSeries 6 – Upland Villages
Series 7 – The Forty saintsSeries 8 – Sunday StrollsSeries 9 -Stormy Weather

*********************************************************************

LINKS:

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

Cretan Flora Flowers of Crete BIRDS OF CRETE Crete Birding

Greek Butterflies and Moths Aquaworld Aquarium

Visit Greece (National Government Tourist Office)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Pastures New

This will be my final post from Cumbria for a bit as I am returning to Crete on Friday. Once there I shall be putting the little cottage that Christina and I lived and loved in for fourteen years on the market. Crete is a great place for two but rather lonely for one. This means that I shall have to find somewhere to live here in Cockermouth and with that in mind I thought we’d take a look at some chalets on the outskirts of town.
Certainly can’t fault the view and good walking country too. The River Cocker flows just beyond those trees down there but we’re high enough up to be out of the flood zone. In the distance lies Grisedale Pike, Grasmoor and Whinlatter Forest Park just waiting to be explored in the Spring.
The chalets, I have my doubts about. Many of them are holiday lets and, as it’s rather exposed up here, I think it may not be much fun in the winter and it will probably cost a fortune to keep warm. Anyhow, I’ll bear them in mind.
On a practical level let’s take a time check and see how long it takes to walk into town. The chalets are situated just off Simonscale Lane which we visited back in the summer. It looks very different today with just a few haws to provide a splash of colour.
If we cut through this little housing estate there should be a path leading through a wood…
…that will lead us down to the river…
…which will take us to the little lane that runs by Tom Rudd Beck where, in this hazel coppice where the catkins are ready to release their pollen to the wind, I’ve just seen a Red Squirrel.
Here we are at the top of town in a little under half an hour but I noticed that it was downhill all the way which means it would be uphill all the way home – most likely carrying shopping. I think we’ll look for a flat in town. Oh look, the snowdrops are out. How nice.
Meanwhile, if anyone is interested in buying a detached, two bedroomed cottage on the south east coast of Crete between Ierapetra and Makry Gialos please message me via facebook.
Book promo
Although insects and other creepy-crawlies are very thin on the ground still at the moment that’s no reason not to buy a book about them. Get to know them before they arrive in all their varied forms.
Crete Nature Catch-up
Posted in flowers, nature, wildlife | Leave a comment

Down by The Derwent

That Wordsworth was a romantic fellow: I wandered lonely as a cloud..” I mean, I ask you, has anyone seen a lonely cloud in Cumbria? Ever? Had he been of a more pragmatic turn of mind he may have come up with something like this…
But these are fair weather clouds so let us take a stroll together down by the Derwent, starting by its confluence with the Cocker where Jennings’ brewery nestles comfortably between. This magnificent old tree, dominating the foreground, has a large spherical growth larger than a football. This is a canker and is the tree’s reaction to an invasion by small sac fungi, probably Botryosphaeria stevensii.
 
 
At this point we must leave the river bank, climb a stile and take to the fields where a group of Corvids are feeding. More than a third of all birds in the family Corvidae are in the type genus Corvus which includes the rooks, crows, jackdaws and ravens which can be difficult to tell apart. Jackdaws have a grey nape, pale grey eyes and call ‘chack’; ravens are much bigger than the other three and call ‘cronk’; crows and rooks are all black and of similar size with a similar cawing cry. The easiest way to tell them apart is from their beaks: black:crow [bc] white: rook [wr] – [bc] are together at the beginning of the alphabet, [wr] are towards the end of the alphabet.
Here in the hedgerows holly and hawthorn provide berries and haws for birds such as this blue tit. There are also great tits, sparrows, chaffinches and goldfinches around and that whirring, brindled body that just scurried off in the field on the other side of the hedge was either a partridge or a hen pheasant.
Back by the riverside we have a welcome splash of yellow, the flowers of an Ulex bush, commonly known as gorse, whin or furze. I wonder if it has attracted any insects? In a word, no. Insects and other creepy-crawlies are very thin on the ground still at the moment.
This bit of ironmongery is a sluice gate and it has been here since at least 1700 and was used twice a year to allow the gote, or ditch, behind to be cleared. The gote was a fast running ditch, or race, used to power the mills that were built along side it. Hence its name; Gote Mills Race. Lurking behind the felled tree to the left is a beautiful colony of bracket fungi.
For those of you who have followed my blog regularly it will come as no great surprise that at the end of a good morning’s walk I like to suggest that we rest awhile at some local hostelry. Today is no exception so I suggest that we adjourn to my favourite hostelry on Cockermouth’s Main Street, The Bush.

Book promo

Although insects and other creepy-crawlies are very thin on the ground still at the moment that’s no reason not to buy a book about them. Get to know them before they arrive in all their varied forms.
 
 
Crete Nature Catch-up

Comments

  1. A nice stroll, thank you. I was always told a crow in a crowd is a rook – is that right? X

    REPLYDELETE

  2. The big london plane tree in a local park has those lumps, thanks for the knowledge

Posted in birds, flowers, mycology, nature, wildlife | Leave a comment

2O2O Vision

The Crete Nature Blog is back… but with a difference. It may not always be coming from Crete. So maybe it should be renamed The Crete Plus Nature Blog. Life is a-changing for me at the moment and this coming year is going to be a bit of an adventure, mainly because I haven’t got a clue what’s in store but I have a feeling that there may be some dramatic and abrupt changes. Watch this space!
But what better way to start the year than a walk in the English countryside on a bright and frosty morning?
This is Wordsworth country; Cockermouth in Cumbria and along the roadside verges a ‘host of golden daffodils’ are showing their first shoots through the frozen soil ready to burst forth in the first days of Spring.
The trees that will bring a shady green canopy against the hot summer sun show intricate patterns of denuded branches against a Forget-Me-Not sky.
This far north, 54.7°, the morning sun is very low in the sky and illuminates the moss on this branch overhanging Bitter Beck at an oblique angle.
Whereas here, in this little copse the sunlight hardly penetrates at all and eldritch faces grin down from the sylvan gloom.
But let us return now to a warm fire and a hot cup of tea and pause a while en route to look at two of the symbols of the Yuletide just passed. The holly in full berry sustaining the birds through the rest of the winter. They prefer sweeter berries but blackbirds, waxwings, thrushes and robins will all partake.
And talking of the Robin, a more recent symbol of Christmas as opposed to Yule, here is one perching in somebody’s front garden.
The daffodils, the trees, the birds and even the hot cup of tea that we are going home to drink wouldn’t be here without the insects and their allies. So this year let us look after our creepy-crawlies, as they have been looking after us throughout our entire existence. If they go, we go. It’s as simple as that and what better way to start than getting to know a little bit about the magnificent world of the very small? A complete overview of this often overlooked but vital part of our lives can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1694436756
Crete Nature Catch-up

Comments

  1. Welcome back. Have a fabulous 2020. X

    REPLYDELETE

  2. Thank you Jules, you too.

    DELETE

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