Nestling a few kilometres to the North West of Ierapetra in South East Crete sits the reservoir of Bramiana, one of Crete’s biggest wetlands. This Europa 2000 Nature Reserve, known primarily for its bird life, is also a botanical wonderland.
After the first rains of autumn, as the mallard and pochard begin to arrive for their winter stopover, the levels are low and you can walk down to the water’s edge through a carpet of cockleburr. Clouds of violet dropwing and scarlet darter dragonflies emerge from the narrow-leaved asters and a group of wagtails scurry across the foreshore and take refuge in the autumn flowering tamarisk trees.
Slowly the winter rains fill the reservoir and flocks of coot and teal arrive jostling for space with the yellow-legged gull colony whilst egrets and heron stalk the shallows. You pick your way among the puddles searching for the first tadpoles of the year when you come upon a set of badger tracks. All around you the dry golden hues of summer and autumn have been replaced by the vibrant yellows of wood sorrel and thorny broom. You return to the road past the gum trees with their pale cream flowers and stop to inspect the cotton wool nests of the processionary pine moths liberally strewn among the branches of the brutia pines. Within, the brown and black striped caterpillars with their irritating hairs are preparing for their nose-to-tail journey.
Spring arrives early here in the South East of the island and soon the lakeside is alive with new colours as the purples, mauves and blues of thistles, storksbills and alkanets seduce the butterflies and bees. You stand among this humming cacophony of life and spot, snuggling in beside a patch of hop-trefoil, a young tongue orchid thrusting its head skywards and you realise that the orchid season is upon you. A milky orchid catches your eye and then a cluster of early spider orchids. Overwhelmed by the sheer abundance you sit for a while by a small brook and watch a squacco heron patrolling the bank. From somewhere behind you comes a soft ‘plop’ as a terrapin, sufficiently warmed by the May sunshine, slides into the cooling waters of the lake and you wish that you could join him.
Summer arrives and the heat becomes intense. The last rains have fallen some weeks ago and once again the banks become desiccated and sere. The little white vineyard snails aestivate on every conceivable surface and the water levels start to fall. A flash of brilliant emerald catches your eye as a pair of Balkan green wall lizards chase each other around the lentisc bushes and a swallowtail butterfly lazily glides by searching for a stand of fennel on which to lay her eggs. A few coots and gulls remain on the surface of the lake and all around you the cries of the cicadas remind you that summer is well and truly here once more.
How to get there:
From Ierapetra take the Myrtos road. Within 200m of the traffic lights with a small Champion supermarket on the corner turn right by a large white church. This is signposted to Bramiana Wetland. Follow this road for a few kilometres to the point where the road turns sharp left and you can see the large rock dam immediately in front of you. Continue to follow the road until you reach the viewing area on your right hand side. A few hundred metres further on a rough road leads off to the right. This encircles the lake rejoining the main road at the far side of the dam. The road is reasonable as far as the marked bird observatory but thereafter is driveable with care.
Steve Daniels is an amateur naturalist who has been studying the flora and fauna of south east Crete for the past ten years. You can follow him and enjoy more of the nature of south east Crete on his weekly Crete Nature Blog: http://cretenature.blogspot.co.uk/