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

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!

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.

The Terrain map pink routes

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I’d like to draw your attention to the box to be found on the top left of the map, titled A Note on the Hiking Trails on Skopelos. Basically, it’s telling hikers that these pink routes are IN DEVELOPMENT. Some routes or portions of them are already open and maintained if within our capabilities to do so, but others, for example the ravine route from Djelili to Kriavrissi, the Monks Trail from HTA landfill to Kalogeros and the old trail to the Gourouni lighthouse, will need earth moving equipment in order to be reinstated.

The famous Municipality of Skopelos Project for clearing and waymarking the trails on an official basis, as mentioned in the above box, has been in the pipeline for 4 years. It’s been hinted that work will started after the elections but don’t hold your breathe!

Whilst on the subject, it should also be noted that the numbering system on the Terrain map is not the same as those used in the Skopelos Trails guide book. I will be synchronizing them in the next edition.

Terrain Map

Spring 2023 in a big nutshell

The trail clearing season 2023 started in early January with the volunteers arriving on the island before I did. But primed with instructions, my dog sitter got them started, showing Baiba from Latvia and Robert from Canada, the trail head and which tools to use. By the time I arrived, a week later, they had finished the first section of the Polymistria trail and made an excellent job of it too. Together we continued down to Petrovrissi. Job done.

We then moved over to Kalogeros. I’ve always wondered where the water source for the village was. After asking around, we were taken to a sort of trail head and started to work our way into the jungle. I later thought it was wrong but was probably right! Whatever, we worked our socks off on reopening a trail that had been closed for over 25 years. Eventually, we emerged at the coast beside a beautiful, ruined kalivi. But no spring. We still haven’t found it but having spent 120 man hours on clearing a trail, we will not give up. We also had help from Kerasia for a couple of days.

Next up was a day’s maintenance at Ypermachou church, Potami. It hardly needed any work at all! What a lovely surprise.

Finally, we made a start at the hamlet of Pera Karia. There are four monasteries in this area (see previous post) and this trail used to link Ag Georgos and Analipsis. I had used it regularly some 20 years ago but it was now totally blocked with fallen trees and thickets of smilax. We worked there for two days before it was time for Baiba and Robert to leave. Excellent workers who are welcome back.

Then it snowed and became very cold indeed, so just as well I had a cancellation.

During that time, I had a call from Peter, a Dutch guy who had recently moved to Glossa. He asked me to help with the clearing of a path to a waterfall down in Loutraki. This lead to us also reopening an old calderimi that runs from beside the old Avra hotel, across the top of the waterfall and emerges at the bus stop on the asphalt road. I’d been wanting to get that reopened for ages. It was full of rubbish that a neighbour had chucked over from his property, not to mention trees and a landslip problem. Peter and a local guy called Nikos worked very hard on that project.

Alex Wright from the UK was the next volunteer to arrive. We worked 7 days between the 9th and 28th March. It rained the other days. However, we at least finished the Pera Karia trail that Baiba and Robert had started. The lower part starts on the EU Road on a bend leading to the Analipsis monastery. In the future it will link to the old trail in the valley between Djelili and Kriavrissi.

Next to arrive (17th April) was Suzie from Australia. Our first day (19th April) was to start on the Monks trail at the XTA (landfill) site. We collect bags and bags of rubbish that had blown over from the site onto the trail. Really disgusting. We were helped that day by Anna and Opel. Not wishing to frighten Suzie off, plus it was just the two of us, I switched work to a more pleasant environment in Potami. There’s a lovely portion of calderimi that cuts the corner of Diakopi for those wishing to head to the old spring. We worked there until 2nd May, On 4th May we did one day’s maintenance on the Gateway trail and inspected a newly erected illegal fence across the river at Lalaria (since removed). On 6th April we started at Glysteri (the other end of the Monks trail) but switched the next day on the Chickpea trail where we were joined by Christian from Austria on the 11th. He picked up the chainsaw as if it were a toy and got stuck in! We removed fallen trees and cut away vegetation and got the trail finished in three days, all the while trying to avoid stepping on the masses of orchids and other beautiful wild flowers growing there.

On the 14th May, disaster. After Ag Reginos, Pirgos, power lines run above the Retsina Trail. Throughout the winter, many trees were cut beside the main road if they were close to power lines. They went a bit overboard and the island looks somewhat denuded. But they also went into the forest and cut trees and just left them across the trail and blocked it entirely. Some huge trees were left, one on top of the other. Others one after the other along a straight stretch of trail. The matter has been reported to the Forestry department. Christian was able to chainsaw a small detour to avoid the pile of huge trunks and we were able to remove the rest of the trees beyond. We continued down to Platanakia, creating a tunnel and also cutting away lots of branches left hanging by the power company workmen. It’s a mess. That day we had help from tourist Martin Andrews. He was here with a Ramblers International walking group. Not a good introduction to the way things are done here. We were so fed up we retired to Captain Spiros at Elios and drowned our sorrows in tchipero. Martin didn’t realize one was supposed to sip it and he downed TWO bottles in a short time. Goodness knows what his wife thought when he returned that evening!

On the 17th March Suzie, Christian and I returned to Glysteri. We had a day’s help from Sally. Christian left on the 19th and Suzie and I ploughed on, finishing on the 20th. Suzie left on 21st. We didn’t manage to finish this trail but it is passable. The rockrose is pretty thick though. This will be my first job in September.

Thank You to all the above mentioned volunteers. Our trails would be totally closed without your hard work. It really is appreciated.

In between all the above, we also went round most of the Geocaches to check them out. Many were strangely missing. One newly placed one was found on the ground, it’s cap chewed. Perhaps they are being taken by animals? Who else would want to take them. Trouble is, I then have to replace them and think of a more secure way of keeping them put. Caches get very annoyed when they can’t find the hide.

We also helped with a study being carried out by the University of Saville in Spain on the cystus rock rose parasite. It involved taking samples and drying them in rock salt plus pressing others. Once dry, which took about ten days, we sent them off in the post.

Applications to volunteer for September have already arrived but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to a rest, then my next Camino; The Portuguese Way.

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Stats for 2022

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Below are details how we have spent the donated money and my pension! Plus the lovely volunteers who have given their time to helping me keep the trails open. I am very grateful to them. It just wouldn’t be possible to keep going without them.

List of Volunteers

Summary of Expenditure

Donations