Symi:  A Taste of Honey and Dalliance with A Painted Lady

I stopped to chat with  friends in Lefteris’s kafenion at the top of the Kali Strata on the way back to the house from the restaurant close to midnight.  After a short while the owner started  hurriedly carrying the wooden chairs and tables inside.  We helped. Task complete I stepped out from under the canopy to resume the 10 minute walk just as the first large, heavy drops of rain started to fall, leaving dark spots an inch across on the ground.  Within seconds they coalesced until the stone-paved surface, dry for months, was shining wet.

By the time I reached the shoe shop barely 100 metres further up the Kali Strata I was wet to the skin.  As I turned right up the couple of steps through the arch at the top the whole width of the rough-paved alley was flowing with water.  The next right turn, more steeply and narrowly uphill, and the water was cascading ankle-deep.  I could have just about come down it in my kayak if it hadn’t been hanging in the garage at home in Wales, though I doubt I could have taken the tight bend at the bottom.  Back at the house  the avli (inner courtyard) was ponded at the lower edge, the drainage outlet unable to cope with the volume of water so it flowed out under the door to join the stream in the alley.

For 24 hours after that it was cloudy with thunder showers and longer periods of heavy rain.   That was nearly a week ago. Then the sky cleared and has been cloudless ever since.

Looking towards Turkey from the roof terrace of the house

Looking towards Turkey from the roof terrace of the house

Dramatic view the following evening

Dramatic view the following evening

Symbolically it marked the change from Summer to Autumn, from temperatures pushing 40 to a mere 28-30 in the day, plummeting to 20 overnight.  It also marked the beginning of growth in a landscape parched, crisped, straw-brown for nearly 4 months.  Hence the change of focus in the blog from pre-history to natural history.

Hillsides covered in oregano or sage are showing the start of fresh growth on dried-up twigs, the scents stirred up once again as you pass.  The prickly thyme is showing a second flush of flowers, albeit on a very small scale compared with the major flowering this year (honey should be good!).

But by far the most dramatic change is that sea squill is now in full flower.  It had started to push its alien-like flower heads through rock-hard bare soil, from fissures in the limestone, from shrivelled looking bulbs.

A mass of bulbs

A mass of bulbs

.... crammed in clefts in the limestone

…. crammed in clefts in the limestone

...and sometimes just a single bulb

…and sometimes just a single bulb

Now it has suddenly shot up to full height, mostly about a metre, some closer to 2 metres.  It dominates the landscape, million upon million of gleaming white spears, tall and erect, bent and contorted, tight white buds opening gradually in turn from the bottom to the tip of the flowerhead on finger-thick stems.  They stand like avenues along compacted, trodden paths and in swathes across hillsides.

On the rocky knoll with Turkey in the background

On the rocky knoll with Turkey in the background

Looking down from high-level kalderimi to the main harbour

Looking down from high-level kalderimi to the main harbour

On top of a limestone outcrop

On top of a limestone outcrop

waving gently above fresh green

waving gently above fresh green

... but standing up shows the extent of the dry soil

… but standing up shows the extent of the dry soil

Compacted path through an avenue of squill

Compacted path through an avenue of squill

Squill is by far the most prolific and dramatic but not the only flower to push naked out of the soil.  One small area of craggy limestone mountainside has tiny clusters of ‘Biarum marmarisense’ starting to show their shy heads, bowing down like tiny white-cowelled monks.  It doesn’t seem to have a common name in English but its Latin name  ‘Biarum’ because it’s related to Arum lilies, which indeed it looks like, and ‘marmarisense’ because it’s native to South West Turkey where lies the town of Marmaris.

Hardly surprising then that it’s found on Symi which is about the width of the Bristol Channel from Turkey and shares the same arid limestone mountainous landscape.  My guess is that it will become more prolific and larger over the coming week.  As far as I know it is only found in a very limited area on Symi but, very difficult to spot, it may be more widespread.

Some are suffused with delicate pink

Some are suffused with delicate pink

Some are pure creamy white

Some are pure creamy white

Two clumps close together

Two clumps close together

A bee shows the size of the diminutive cup-shaped flowers

A bee shows the size of the diminutive cup-shaped flowers

Seen for the first time (by me anyway) is the flower of what I think is a low growing thistle.  Flat to the ground in the middle of dead, crisped-up leaves the vivid purple eventually gives way to a fluffy-white cushioned seed-head, thistledown soft to the touch.

Vivid purple among the dead leaves

Vivid purple among the dead leaves

Thistledown soft seed head

Thistledown soft seed head

With an end to the blistering mid-day heat lizards are now to be seen everywhere, absorbing energy from the sun without overheating, rushing around almost manically.  I stopped for a bite of nutbar and found a pistachio embedded in it still in its shell so, not wanting to break a tooth, I put it on a rock alongside me.  Soon an Oertzeni lizard came and started to lick the honey of the shell.  Then ants homed in on the honey and chased off the lizard.  Answers one question anyway, lizards obviously don’t eat ants.  Perhaps formic acid isn’t to their taste.  I know honey is to the taste of ants, I found my jar of honey in a high wall-cupboard, lid screwed on tight, crusted in them.

Oertzeni lizard gets a taste of honey

Oertzeni lizard gets a taste of honey

Butterflies are back in profusion.  Mostly what I’m told are Meadow Browns but on a climb up the knoll on the ridge, now one of my regular tarmac-bypasses, a Painted Lady with which I had a dalliance as I followed it from squill to squill until it overcame its camera-shyness.  Like painted ladies everywhere it was flawed.  This one had a damaged wing.  But still looked good.

Painted lady settles on squill

Painted lady settles on squill

Painted lady opens her wings

…. and opens her wings

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5 Responses to Symi:  A Taste of Honey and Dalliance with A Painted Lady

  1. phillippa lee says:

    Hi Barry,
    back home – I was frozen the first day but have gradually got used to cool weather and today pouring with rain.
    the last couple of days on Symi I got over to Nimboureo (don’t know how to spell it). My favourite bit is the courtyard of the church with the Roman mosaic. In the grounds were lots of beautiful purple and pink crocus. I think that next time I visit Symi I will come a little bit later so I can see the flowers and it will be easier for me to walk in the hills. As you now know I am a soft southerner!
    I did also manage to get to Toli Beach – I didn’t walk but have found the start of the path so next time…….. I do also like the feeling of Pedi – when I last saw you with your family I went on my way to swim at the start of the path to Ag Marina beach. There were 2 Greek ladies bobbing in the water which is always to my mind a good sign.
    The last day I actually went to Ag Marina beach but it wasn’t my favorite. A bit too manicured for me. I would say that Nanou and Toli are my favorites now.

    I am now thinking about what to do next year. I would really like to go to Patmos – so may do a bit of island hopping. Now I have travelled alone I know I can do it.
    It was lovely meeting you and hopefully our paths will cross again.
    best wishes
    Phillippa

  2. phillippa lee says:

    p.s there were some caves?? near the church at Nimbouro – do you know anything about them?

    • BarryH says:

      Hi Phillippa

      Pleased that you enjoyed Symi. and pleased to meet up with you.

      As a Southern Jessie you should be toughening-up now you have moved to more civilized parts. Getting fit before you come out here helps I find. And coming out for longer periods so you can acclimatize to the heat.

      I like wild beaches that you have to walk to. Nanou is the exception as you can walk there and taxi-boat back, albeit a tough 6 miles. Toli and Ag Marina do nothing for me apart from the walk. The best beach is Lapathos, usually known as Ag Vasilios, which thankfully is beyond the resources of EU funding to access by bulldozed track.

      The ‘caves’ at Nimborio are known as the catacombs and were probably hiding places for early Christians. They are all barrel-arch stone construction and so very solidly built. The construction is very similar to the many hundreds of houses on Nisyros built under agricultural terraces to preserve rich farmland, many of which have small chapels in what were originally shallow caves now at the back of two or even three stone-built underground dwellings. At the front of some is an illicit still for hooch.

      Those at Nimborio are marked on the abysmally inaccurate SKAI map as ‘The 12 Caves’ …. but marked in the wrong place. There are 12 shallow ‘cells’ inside a single structure accessed by a side entrance and a hole in the collapsed roof.

      Have a good winter.

      Barry

  3. Stuart Newland says:

    Hi Barry, thanks for the photos of plants and wildlife – great photos and really interesting to see fauna and flora from a different part of the world. I hope you’re doing ok and coping with those low 20 degree night time temperatures!! All the best, Stu

  4. BarryH says:

    Hi Stu, flattered that you are keeping up with the blog.

    I find the seasonal changes in flora and fauna here fascinating, more marked than in Grey Britain where seasons seem to merge into each other too often. Very conscious now that new life is bursting out of the ground with cooler temperatures and a drop of rain.

    Managing to cope with the cooler evenings, though now, at 21.00 as I sit on the roof terrace, it would be described in the UK as a balmy summer’s evening. Very pleasant indeed.

    Best wishes and prayer for you and the family.

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