Today was our first day on Amorgos, though we actually spent the whole day off the island hopping between nearby smaller islands surveying vegetation, invertebrates, lizards and sea birds as part of an ongoing project monitoring the eradication of rats from much of this area.
We got a nice early start hoping to get a good jump on the fieldwork before the heat of the day. We had to do three islands on Sunday so we knew it was going to be a long haul. We got up and out without a problem but our rental car turned out to be almost out of gas. We went to the nearest gas station and of course they were closed. We waited there until after 8:00 but still with no avail, it turns out most stores don’t open until about nine. Maybe. Often later. We then decided to wake up the man running the rental agency because it looked as though he had a small pump in the back of his shop. He came out at about 8:30 and promptly told us not to worry, that we had plenty of gas! A little unsure we set off again for the docks and the rendezvous.
The drive to the docks was beautiful. I was too busy trying to parse Greek signposts with the aid of our not too carefully drawn map to take pictures, but the whole ride was winding switchbacks between the mountains and the coast. After about an hour of that we made it to the very southern tip of Amorgos and began looking for the fishermen who would be taking us out to the islands. Because we don’t really speak Greek and these fishermen don’t speak English, we made the reservations through an intermediary. We expected the fishermen to immediately recognize us (we stick out outrageously here) and start the pantomime that is our universal language. Instead… Nothing. We did find one fisherman there but, without being able to talk and seemingly not recognizing us or any of the words we were saying, he soon went back to his business.
After a half hour of waiting for our fishermen to show up, we got the Greek-speaking PI on the phone to see if he could help. Our hope was to pass him off to the fisherman so he could ask if our ride had already come and gone. Much to our surprise the fisherman we passed the phone to, the one who’d next to ignored us earlier was indeed the fellow we’d hired but his son’d went to town to deliver the catch that morning so he was stalling waiting for the son’s return. Sigh.
Anyway, after another half hour of waiting the son came rolling back on a rusty old tractor and we were heading off to an island for a survey. One of the very frustrating things about this research is that most of the small islands we visited were within very easy sight of the main island we stay on, but just out of reach of swimming range, especially with gear. This fact makes this rigmarole of hiring fishermen for 5 minute boat rides all the more frustrating.
We made it to the first island and research progressed smoothly. As I said before the researcher I was shadowing was interested in the effects of rat extirpation efforts by the government on the flora and fauna of these small islands. We set up a number of vegetation plots, pitfall traps for invertebrates, seed traps for rats, and conducted a number of bird surveys and then, my favorite, lizard surveys. On all three of the islands there were a great number of small lacertid lizards named Podarcis erhardii, Erhard’s Wall Lizard. These little lizards are fast! The males especially were very colorful with green on their backs and orange on their neck and belly. Unfortunately too, they were very wary which meant observing them naturally for longer periods was tough, but still, it was great to get a good look at one of the key lizard players in the Peloponnese.
The vegetation on these islands is bushy and exceptionally thorny. Even wearing long pants the thorns find their way through to prick your legs. It makes for tough work and it’s hard to believe that the local goats can happily munch their way through entire islands worth of the stuff! Just under the vegetation and poking all around is lots and lots of rock. These islands are all built up on limestone and a rock very much like unmetamorphosed granites. They are also generally very steep and craggy so walking doing research is very much a balancing act among small lose rocks trying to avoid getting pinned by any of the numerous bushes. In case you thought all field work was fun and easy in Greece, I took a big fall at one point in the day and bloodied my hand pretty spectacularly. I staunched the bleeding pretty quickly with my handy (har har) first aid kit but not before I’d left my mark on some of the field equipment bags and the dusty soil. Ecology gods appeased by the sacrifice, the rest of the day was smooth and injury-free.
I won’t detail all of the day’s work – it was long and hot, but we finished up around 5:30 that evening and headed back to Amorgos for dinner and much needed sleep. I’m not sure how much google mapping I will be able to do when I post this, but I will try to see if I can point out the islands to you. For those who want to look it up the islands are called Gramvoussa, Psalida, and Kissiri though the spellings of the English translations vary and they are at the southern tip of Amorgos.