Flowers and wildlife Walk and Cycle in Crete
At the end of the winter rain and snow the lower ground of Crete can be lush and green. Distant views of the mountains invariably look grey because the soil and plants are down between the limestone rock and boulders where pockets of soil support a rich vegetation.
There are over 1500 species of plant on the island with 130 species endemic to Crete. As the weather warms up in spring the flowers carpet the landscape and fill the air with their scent.
This happens slightly earlier near sea level while the flowers of the high mountains wait for the snows to melt.
These flower-covered hillsides are characterised by the numerous varieties of Iris, Orchid, Anemone and large Daisies. Areas of low scrub are bright with Cistus, Phlomis, Sage and Euphorbias.
The hot dry summer soon dries up the land and the flowers set seed and wither. Many species of plant such as the prominent Asphodels grow rapidly from bulbs and rhizomes in the spring, building up fresh reserves while moisture remains and then becoming dormant through the heat of the summer. The scents of summer are those of the aromatic foliage of herbs like Sage, Thyme and Marjoram which are gathered from the mountain sides for the tourist market. With the return of moisture in autumn the hillsides are covered with purple cyclamen.
Cretan ibex or kriki, badger, wild cat, weasel and a few lizards and snakes are native to the island. Wild animals are rarely seen near the tourist resorts but a wide variety can be seen on walks away from these resorts.
Bird life is much more varied with the rare Lamergeir vulture circling over isolated mountain slopes. Griffon vultures and Golden eagles are more common and Buzzards abundant. Flocks of migrant birds pass through in spring and autumn. Crete is a major stopping point for Swallows and White Storks. Other migrants to look out for are Squacco Heron, Booted Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Shrikes, Hoopoe and Golden Oriole. The bird song in the wooded valleys provides background music to walks in spring. In the summer this is replaced by the cicadas and the hum of insects.