SNAKES – the misunderstood

It’s that time of year again when you’re likely to encounter these reptiles of the suborder Serpentes. As it happens, I am researching with a view to writing a book on this subject. Should be published by next year.

None of them are dangerous unless provoked.  If you’re worried, buy a first aid kit from the pharmacy for 14 euros just in case. It has everything you need to stop the venom from travelling, then get to the Health Centre.

Of the Colubridae Rat Snake family we have two types on Skopelos; Leopard (Elephe situla) Spitofido and Four lined (Lafiatis). They are the largest and grow up to 2 meters. Beautifully coloured. Seldom hiss and are calm. The 4 Lined are excellent climbers and swimmers. Some tourists can vouch for the former. One recently came ashore at Panormos, made its way along the beach then went back into the sea. They eat small mammals, birds and lizards. Non venomous.

Eastern Montpellier Malpolon insignitus  ( Sapethis or Savrofido). They grow up to 2 meters. Mildly venomous rear-fanged. Variable colours (green, black, grey, green) depending upon juveniles or adults/male or female. Feeds mainly on lizards, rodents, birds, amphibians and other snakes. It will defend strongly if threatened by hissing loudly, raising its head, flattening the neck and pretending to attack. It will bite if caught. Pain, swelling and maybe fever are symptoms that may occur that usually relent in a few hours.

Large Whip Snake – possibly Hierophis jungularis (Dendrogalia) Whilst they don’t usually occur on the same island as the Four Lined snake, it is believed they are here. The common black snake. One of the longest reaching sometimes up to 300cm. Very swift. Non poisonous.

Nose-horned Viper (Oxia). It has connecting brown spots, surrounded by black. Body grey.  When disturbed they hiss loudly. Highly venomous. Image by Costas Andreou.

A Field Guide to the Insects of Skopelos

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I’m very proud to have sponsored the migration, printing and publication of this wonderful new edition.

First published in 2015 by Doctors Brian and Elizabeth Ridout, it could easily have fallen into the memory of time as it became out of print and thus no longer available.

Brian and Elizabeth are biologists who have specialized in the conservation of heritage buildings around the world. In 2003 they came to Skopelos to visit friends. They liked it so much they subsequently bought a house in town and later (now sold) kalivi in the once beautiful Moutero and ever since visit several times a year.

It soon became apparent to them that there were no reference works available to identify the insects commonly seen on their walks in the countryside and decided to write one themselves! The task took TEN YEARS of research and was originally a basic field guide.

Text and most images by Brian Ridout, the scenic images are by Lisa Manly and the design and cover photo is by Heather Parsons. It’s available on line here and at the following local shops: Hoharoupa (next to Vodafon), the old Kiosk old port, Ideas, Juices & Books and the kiosk in Glossa by the school.

The Ridout’s wish to thank Heather for turning the new edition into a work of art as well as of science.

Who cares?

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The last month’s have been spent removing cut down trees that have been abandoned thus blocking the trails. In this situation, we take pictures and GPS and send to the Forestry department. Not expecting a result I then tell them I will remove the blockage myself unless they contact me. I then get a message saying to go ahead. First all foliage is removed so we can see what we are dealing with. We remove with a chainsaw the branches facing upwards and outwards but leave the downward ones in case they are load-bearing. The owner is also contacted if possible to ascertain why the trees were cut in the first place and to inform them of the consequences of their actions. This has happened in Pera Karia, Potami, Vouno Glossa and Moutero.

Accounts for 2023

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Whether you’ve made a donation or not or are just wondering how monies are spent, here is a spreadsheet of expenditures for the year 2023. The majority expense was petrol to get us to the trails to be cleared plus food for the volunteers. I conducted several hikes, boosted by two Austrian groups, which helped cover the outgoings.

Expenses

Financial Support

Statistics for 2023

The number of volunteers I was able to host was greatly reduced throughout 2023 as I was unable to continue offering free accommodation. I withdrew using Rigas House as they were making more and more demands in return for their offer and other options simply dried up. So volunteers had to pay, albeit a small amount or I took advantage of other opportunities. Due to a bad experience, I stopped offering a room at my house but continued to prepare an evening meal on the days we worked plus I provided the tools and transport and worked along side our wonderful helpers. One good thing was that the municipality gave me the use of a place to store all my tools. This has made life so much easier.

I really hope the famous trails project happens this year. It’s been over 4 years since it’s inception when the study was carried out and accepted. The start date keeps being pushed back without explanation. In the meantime, two portions of routes contained in the study have been asphalted over and two have been fenced; both by foreign land owners.

VOLUNTEERS AND TRAILS CLEARED – 2023

6-11 January Baiba (Latvia) Robert (Canada) Polymistria Trail down to Kambos section I

13, 17,18 January section II to Petrovrissi (rain 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th)

19,22,23,24,25,28,29 = 120 hours Kalogeros through to coast

31 January Ypermachou

1 February Signing at Palouki

2,3 February B & R Pera Karia – to Analipsis

22,23,24 February Me, Peter & Nikos Loutraki waterfall

10,11,13,14,20,21,23,24,26 March Alex Wright (28th March) Pera Karia continuation

15 March Alex (UK) Pefkias

19,20 April Suzie (Australia) +1 day Opel & Anna Refuse tip down to Glysteri (Monks)

23,24,25 April+1,2 April Suzie (17 April-21 March) Potami calderimi

4 May Suzie Gateway maintenance

6,11,17,18,20 May Suzie + Christian + 2 Glysteri (Monks Trail)

8,11,12 May Suzie & Christian (Austria) Chickpea trail

14,15 May Christian Ag Reginos Pirgos Retsina trail (clearing power company damage)

10 October Madeleine & Liam (USA) Adventure Trail/Deer Park/mend gates

11 October M & L Improve Signs at Sendoukia

12 October M & L Moutero

16, 17,19 October M & L Monks Tzukala, Glysteri

22 November Chris & JP (Canada) Michalakis

2 December Amy (Canada) Retsina trail, Pirgos

13,14,15,18,19 Tim, Remco, Miranda (Holland) Retsina trail, Pirgos

23,24 Remco & Miranda Myli trail

TOTALS: 7 WORKAWAY VOLUNTEERS PLUS 6 OTHER HELPERS + 6 DAY HELPERS = 19

NATIONALITIES: Latvia 1, Canada 1, Australia 1, Austria 1, USA 2, UK 1 = 7 + Holland 3, Canada 3 + Peter (Holland), Nikos (Greek), 4 ladies = 19

To Drink or Not to Drink, That is the Question!

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With some 60 springs documented in my Walking Guide Book, most named after the land owner or area and many made visible by an attractive white painted stone arch, one can’t help wondering if the water is safe to drink. One regular summer visitor has actually been taking samples and testing the water. Her results conclude that in the majority of cases, it is indeed safe. Since the introduction of chlorine into our tap water, I’ve been collecting my drinking water from springs and I’m still alive. So if you’d like to follow suite, get yourself several large containers and get into the habit of driving to one the known safe springs, namely: Ag Marina, Kriavrissi Karia, Moutero, Platanakia Elios. Whilst hiking, if the water is running strongly, it will be OK to drink, eg. Ag Anna, E Mana tou Nero, Kozaniti Alikias, Neratrehumena Taxiarcon.

Happy New Year to all our followers and I look forward to our first hike of 2024 on Sunday 21 January.

The T Trails

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Some time prior to 2010, the local council obtained funding for:

  • to pave and sign seven trail heads
  • to install umpteen covered picnic areas with seating, a table and a small waste bin
  • a paved ‘platia’ in Djelili
  • the restoration of the Old Klima council office complete with air conditioning unit
  • a roof in the style of the picnic area over the Klima spring

The routes (all linear) were partially covered (some more than others) with rocks and in some places a small entrance wall erected. The trails’ surface were rendered uneven, uncomfortable and wobbly to walk on – most are downright dangerous in fact, of bad workmanship and a total waste of money as they weren’t needed in the first place.

Some walls and kiosks have fallen down and just left in a dilapidated condition, the bins are useless and in such remote areas there would never be a collection possible.

The council office doors have never opened.

The signs are not to EU standards.

The overview maps at the port were situated facing the car park and being under a roof, the area became a motorbike parking spot until recently when it became a seating area. The maps anyway became quickly faded and are now rendered useless.

The latest Terrain map doesn’t give them a mention and the poles will be removed as part of the famous Hiking Project. Pity the same can’t be said about the stones.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find out who sanctioned this white elephant of a project nor what criteria was used for choosing the routes, why the beach like stones were used when there was already a perfectly comfortable trail existing nor why a council building would be restored in, for the most part of the year, an uninhabited village.

iNaturalist

You don’t need me to tell you how many apps and publications exist that help us identify the flora around us. We all have our favorites. Ours is iNaturalist. It is based at the California Academy of Sciences and is an independent nonprofit platform. Skopelos Trails is a donor, contributor and supporter. Confirming contributions, iNaturalist is used as a reference by study groups from all over the world. They can now suggest an astounding 80,000 species of plants, animals and fungi. I log our flora even when I know what I’m looking at. I do this for our records, for the use of others as well identifying unknown species.

It is through this platform that we were contacted by Spain’s department of Biogeographical Eco Botanical facility at the university of Savile who invited us to contribute towards their project on the study of the cytinus rock rose paracite. Over a period of a month, we collected samples of the female and male flowers (inflorescences) and dried them in bags of salt before sending them off in the post. For our efforts, we received a surprise donation which was about the same amount as the donation we had already made to iNaturalist!

The Chiroptera population

In August, Ioannis Ekklisiarchos, an MSc student in the department of Biology, University of Crete together with Dr Panagiotis Georgiakakis of the Natural History Museum, Crete, conducted an official study of our bat population. Six different species were found, five being rare and on the endangered list. We were aware of the existence of these species as a member of the UK Bat Society takes her holiday in Moutero every year and brings her detector with her but to have an official study carried out is excellent news.

Bats were given protection in a number of Decrees from 1969 to 1980. It is forbidden to catch, kill, sell or transport bats or own them. However, bat roosts are not protected unless they are within national parks. No attempt has been made to implement this legislation and the public are unaware of the need for bat conservation.

I do offer the use of a bat detector if you are interested in this subject.

Here is the list:

Rhinolophus blasii (Horseshoe) – rare

Pipistrellus pipstrellus – fairly rare

Pipistrellus nathusii – very rare

Pipistrellus kuhli – very common

Pipistrellus savii – rare

Eptesicus serotinus – rare

What is Geocaching?

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noun: A hidden store of things for future use

An enthusiast has his own stamp!

My signature cache is an empty plastic tube that previously contained soluble supplements. The lid handily contains a sealed section of silicon balls that help keep dry the scroll of paper where cachers register their find. Every cache has a unique GPS location plus a few hints. Cachers also let me know of their find by way of a message via the Geocache platform which has a downloadable app for your phone or a website if you prefer. This is where you find the GPS location map of each cache. I have placed 17 caches all over the island and plan to add more.

I’ve already had to replace many of the caches as they keep going missing in some locations. We found one on the ground near the hiding place; the lid of which had teeth marks around the rim, so I’m wondering if rats might think them eatable. I’ve started taping a rock to the tube in an effort to make them too heavy for a rodent to carry away!

Geocaching is a fun way to explore the island, taking even seasoned tourists to spots they’ve never visited before. It’s also entertaining for children and a way of getting a reluctant child to go hiking. All you need is a GPS or smartphone, a pen and a sharp eye.

Geocaching is world wide so take a look at their website, http://www.geocaching.com and see if anyone has hidden any around your next destination.