February/March 2007

Global warming affects Crete?

blooming almonds!The weather in January was lovely. We had only one bad storm and very little rain. Most days, the sky was blue and in spite of the chilly breeze, in sheltered spots the sun was warm - temperatures sometimes rose to 23˚C during the middle of the day. In the garden some of my pot plants started to droop and had to be watered, and several plants started to flower early.

This was all very nice for me, but not so good for the farmers. It was alright to have some settled weather for the olive harvest, but the soil became a bit too dry for planting spring vegetables, and some autumn sown crops started to die back. This was so unusual, it actually made international television news.

Crete’s main industries are agriculture and tourism, and about a third of the permanent population is employed in agriculture. So if the weather threatens agriculture, it threatens the economy.

And what about the summer to come? Water is also important to the tourist industry. From May to October, it rarely rains here: Crete’s water supply depends on heavy winter rains that fall as snow on the mountains. The rain wets the soil and replenishes the water table in the winter, and then the summer snow melt keeps the water supply going over the dry months. January is usually the wettest month of the winter, and there should be over 100mm of rain. A tiny proportion of this fell this January, the lowest recorded since 1989.

The population of Crete shoots up when the visitors arrive in summer. There are still more new tourist hotels being built on the north coast, so numbers are more likely to go up this year. Just as all those visitors are taking showers and flushing their toilets, the farmers are also using water to keep their crops going. Will Crete run out of water?

Crete is not the only part of Greece that experienced an exceptionally dry winter: some places have had only a third of their normal winter rain. The Environment Minister, Mr Souflias, announced that desalination plants will be built on eight of Greece’s more popular tourist islands to help cope with summer water demands. He said that there will be no problems with water supply in Greece this year in spite of the dry winter, “...but we should start to start saving water”. Start to start! What does that mean?

Crete in the rain

February did it’s best to make up for January’s drought. The rain came down in sheets with the lightning. It came down in bucket loads with the thunder. Then it came at us horizontally with a force 9 gale!

Visitors, who only see Crete in the warmth and sunshine of summer, may find it hard to imagine the island in the rain. In fact, some visitors do not think it rains here at all!

our raging torrent!Our friend (whose website this is), received a telephone call from a client in November. She asked the usual question, beloved of all Brits: “What’s the weather like?” When he replied that it was raining cats and dogs and that it had been for a good 12 hours, she thought he was joking. He had to go outside in the wet with the telephone, so that she could hear the rain hammering down on the road!

When it is cold and wet, our valley reminds me of Snowdonia on a rainy day. Every little hill sprouts its own stream; the roads become mini-rivers; and the river becomes a raging torrent, carrying all sorts of wonderful debris along with it.

snowy White MountainsTo complete the illusion of Snowdonia, the bare goat-grazed hills that surround the river gorge at the end of our road, are high enough to sport a sprinkling of snow. The White Mountains, which we can see from the top of our hill in the clear winter air, really live up to their name with a thick snow covering that sparkles when the sun comes out.

Cretan creepy-crawlies part 1

As soon as it starts to rain, there is a sudden loud croaking sound in our garden. The first time I heard this noise I wasn’t sure what kind of creature made it. From the volume, I thought it must be something fairly large. But on tracing the sound to its origin, I found a tiny, bright green frog staring at me from under a lemon tree leaf.

tree frog © http://www.cc.uoa.grI discovered that this is Hyla arborea, the common or European tree frog that lives all over south-east Europe. It is usually bright green, like the one I saw, with a dark stripe running through the eyes and down the sides of its body. Underneath it is yellow or white, but it has the ability to change its colour to blend in with the background. I disturbed one hiding under a plastic sack in my garden shed - it had become almost black.

The sub-species of this frog that lives on Crete is called, appropriately enough, Hyla arborea kretensis, although it also lives further north on the Peloponnese, and further east on Rhodes. It is found in a wide range of habitats such as woodland, stream banks, vineyards and gardens - anywhere that is well illuminated, because it preys on flying insects.

During the day, the frogs hide on the leaves and stems of broad leaved trees, bushes or big herbaceous plants. At night, they come down to the ground to rehydrate and forage for food.

They are excellent climbers and jumpers, with long, slender legs and sticky discs on their toes. These features enable them to cling to a variety of surfaces, and make long leaps to catch fast flying insects. On summer nights, we often see them stuck to our windows or the wall behind the open shutters, waiting to feed on insects attracted by the house lights.

Now, in March, the males of the species are down by our river - making a terrific noise at night, because it is the start of the breeding season. The male has a large vocal sac, which enables it to make a loud guttural noise completely out of proportion to its size. The females leave the fertilised eggs in small rounded clumps in the breeding pools; later in the year - up to about the end of May in our area - the deeper river pools left by the winter rains will be full of fat, wriggly tadpoles.

green toad © Jeroen SpeybroeckThe other creature that is very evident on damp evenings at the moment, is the green toad Bufo viridis. They come in a variety of sizes, and can grow up to 12 cms long. The male is a little smaller than the female, and is territorial - in spring, it makes a sort of trilling noise to keep other males away.

Some people don’t think much of toads for beauty, but I think this one is rather pretty. Its skin is bumpy like most toads, but coloured olive green, with patches of brighter green over the back and legs, and a row of orange spots down each side. They eat crawling insects like beetles, spiders, and sometimes ants.

Green toads are special amphibians, because they tolerate high temperatures (up to 40°C), and cope well with dehydration - that is how they survive the hot, dry Cretan summer.

But they would of course prefer a sheltered, shady spot during the day. I am lucky enough to have a couple hiding in my garden - they live quite contentedly alongside human beings (I found the female hopping around on our verandah), and both hunt for food together, beneath our street lights in the wee small hours.