Sprinting through Amorgos

The end of field work is always about tying up loose ends, trying to get a few more samples, and wrapping up experiments in hopes that you’ll finish with enough data to keep you occupied for the many months back home. For me it meant grabbing more lizards from a few islands to try to increase sample size. That brought me back to Amorgos for a quick blitz to collect lizards from 5 islands. It wasn’t my best planned field excursion but we made it: 40 lizards from 5 islands in about 36 hours. Here’s how it went:

First step was getting to the island. This is usually a 5 hour ride on a small ferry running through the small cyclade islands, but with our schedules and the fact that I really didn’t want to be stuck on the little boat in rolling seas for that long, we opted to take the bigger, faster Blue Star ferry to Amorgos. The only problem being that that ferry didn’t leave Naxos until after midnight, arriving in Amorgos sometime around 2 am. Well, as luck would have it the Blue Star was running late on this particular night, so when we finally steamed into Amorgos and got to our hotel, 3:30 am had come and gone.

Now a late ferry is manageable, but to make matters worse, the ferry arrived at a port on the north end of the island and the next morning we were set to meet two fisherman to bring us to the small islands of interest all the way at the south tip of the island – over an hour’s drive away. We woke up early and set off to be there by 8:00. After a beautiful hour’s drive on switchbacks up steep cliffs overlooking the ocean, we made it! All would have been perfect if I’d not been so tired behind the wheel. I’m looking forward to doing more driving on Amorgos when I can really enjoy the scenery.

We visited 3 islands that morning with the help of our trusty captain and his first mate (son, seen here):

IMG_1536Normally the trip from boat to shore is a matter of a short leap onto boulders. Unfortunately, the edges of these islands are actually quite shallow, so the first mate rowed us to shore on a tiny dinghy; a somewhat touchy proposition with him in the middle, not-so-tiny me in the stern, and two others in the bow. I wish I’d taken a picture of the tiny rowboat!

The first island we visited hardly had any lizards at all, so we left them be, but after that, the catching on the next two was quick and exciting. We were done by noon and, after a quick and delicious lunch, headed to about the middle of Amorgos to visit another island just to the west.

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(I like embedding google maps, but this tablecloth on Amorgos from lunch is just too perfect. The long island to the east is Amorgos. You can see on the west coast is Nikouria – that was our afternoon destination. In the south and west you almost make out several small islands very close to shore. Those were our morning destinations.)

Catching on Nikouria was actually about the best and quickest catching of the day. Kinsey and I were calling out lizard numbers as we caught them in a race to get to 10. The boat didn’t even leave the beach where it dropped us off we caught so quickly! After the rush of catching on the small island where the lizards were hungry enough to investigate the pebbles we were throwing at bushes as lures, catching on Amorgos afterwards was an epic struggle.

There are some major behavioral differences between lizards on different sized islands in this ecosystem and those, in part, make catching on some large islands like Amorgos much more difficult. With a few hours to spare before sundown, Kinsey and I left Nikouria to start catching on Amorgos and we struggled mightily to get those last 10 lizards. Ultimately it was only through a joint effort of baiting and noosing simultaneously that we managed to get the numbers we needed for my dataset.

Finally, as the sun was dropping, we’d caught out lizards and it was time to call it quits, but our day wasn’t done yet! A friend and collaborator had just arrived on Amorgos to see us but, alas, he was staying in the southern port of the island. We trundled down there for dinner, bleary eyed but happy after our long day, had a delightful dinner and then drove the 45 minutes home to our hotel where we promptly fell sound asleep. Of course the sleep wasn’t meant to last – after only about 4 hours, we were back up and heading south again to the port where we’d had dinner, to catch the early morning ferry back to Naxos. After another extremely sleepy morning drive we made it to the ferry, and then to Naxos just as the Naxian coffee shops were opening.

Yes, the pace was grueling, but it saved a day of travel that I could ill afford in the final crunch to finish data collection. I spent the rest of the day processing all of the data we’d collected on our 36 hour sprint through Amorgos, and slept really well that night!

Here are a couple of panoramas from Amorgos:

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