Sunday, December 22, 2013

Buy a new pair of Binoculars!

December, before Christmas 2013

What's better a new pair of high quality binocs or the older top-listed Zeiss?

Ok, I have been using binoculars for over 30 years. But the fact is I know next to nothing about this technology-  and I just kept to an old pair of Zeiss 10x40 B GAT. My brother Kosta bought me the Zeiss in 1987. They've gone a long way. I have seen amazing things with them - from bears in Canada, dolphins in Mexico, endemic drab forestbirds on Hawaii, flocks of Socotras in Qatar, Monk Seals on Euboea's south-coast, woodpeckers in Amsterdam, etc etc etc. (...yes I would like to show-off like this for pages...). Of all the wry experiences, I never lost the binocs! However they were damaged on Mount Ochi in October 1999 when I got into a brawl with local terrorists (a long story). I got them fixed in Patras; an old deaf man near the Harbour did a great job. And they work fine and are beautiful, hard to part with.

This year I bought two pairs of Binocs for our lab since we are now going to do more wetland work... maybe and also for fishwatching (yes...from bridges you can watch fish with binocs!!!). They had to be waterproof... I chose the Nikon Monarch 7; 10 X 42.

The reason I am deliberating now is the following:

1) By comparison the 600 Euro Nikons 10 X 42 Monarch 7's are superior in many respects to the Old Zeiss! (Which 20 years ago were labeled to be the best-in-the-world and back then cost twice the money). The feel and wider field of vision, the clarity and light-gathering capacity are superior in the Nikons. The Nikons are amazingly comfortable, the ergonomics are smooth, perfect.

2) I highly recommend a good new binocular for anyone. Binocs have become underated since the digital revolution I think. Don't be cheep with this tool. Its more important to a naturalist than a  really expensive camera or smart phone. With a good binoc you learn to savour experiences and really study wildlife - not just collect it by shooting photos. Photos are great too but sometimes the camera gets in the way of really studying and enjoying wildlife moments.

I discovered that walking here in our Athens neighbourhood with the new binocs really got me re-enthused in wildlife watching. With the new binocs in hand I now study landscape and vegetation in-depth again. Much more than with any camera. I have started counting birds from our "backyard" at my workplace (HCMR) by the sea. How else can you really appreciate the sea's horizon?
And looking for a chirp in the dense curviture of pine trunks and in drop-like leaves of a Eucalypt's crown...there you really need a top-quality glass! ...And the glass brings out extreme beauty in a magpie or a house sparrow in the morning light. Everyday things sparkle again.

(But...Just look at the beauty of West German engineering in the Zeiss - techno-craft perfection - a collectors item. Thanks Kosta)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Butcher's shop in Samothraki - big fish trophy photos

Samothraki, Summer 2013

Have you ever noticed that many fish-shops show off "old photos" of prized trophies? A consturctive idea might be to try to collect photos such as these: of course most are gruesome or nearly disgusting. They show the noblest of the seas creatures dead and gutted. Yet this is testimony that the megafauna of the seas still somehow survives. And although these are not large-sized individuals for the particular species in question, they seem to have survived the catastrophic slaughter. Lets keep reminding ourselves that the living ones - in the seas- need our help.

These are shots of photos I took in one such fish mongers shop in Samothraki Harbour. Most of the photos are not that old. They show Blue Shark, Blue-Fin Tuna, Bull Ray, and Thresher Shark specimens all caught around Samothraki. 

 I guess a little Shakespeare, something I recall from highschool, does ring true here.....
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!

Antony from Julius Caesar; Shakespeare, act 3 scene 1. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

How many species of freshwater fishes in Greece?

A taxonomic collection of fishes from the Pineos River, Thessaly, Greece*

December 13th 2013

My colleagues at IMBRIW** in HCMR have for years worked to finish answering this question. Its not easy. And it is important; maybe urgent.

Firstly were talking about "species" - a supposedly solid taxonomic unit; is not that solid!
The concept of species has evolved. And now, following the Phylogenetic Species Concept (contra  the Biological Species Concept) a major revision of species entities has expanded. In Europe the 'revolution' crash-hit us when Maurice Kottelat and Jorg Freyhof published their "Handbook of European Freshwater Fish" (2007). This book provided a kind of whole-scale validation for many new species of inland fishes in Europe. All of a sudden we had many many new species (many of them formally known as subspecies). Following the new 'evolutionary' approach to species definition, the notion of sub-species is dead. So even if our country is already famously rich in fish species - what do you do when many of the former entities are split-up with new shiny names?

Now how many in Greece?

In 2007 my colleagues and I published an annotated list and conservatively defined the number as 161 species firmly following Maurice and Jorg. Our paper is not one to purport brevity - so if you do read it you will see that we do point to the controversies the new species concept has created.

The freshwater ichthyofauna of Greece-an update based on a hydrographic basin survey
AN Economou, S Giakoumi, L Vardakas, R Barbieri, M.Th. Stouboudi, S Zogaris
Mediterranean Marine Science 8 (1), 91-166. Available at:

In late 2012 my colleagues and I published an update to the list-paper and the number stood at 167 species.

Recent contributions to the distribution of the freshwater ichthyofauna in Greece
N Koutsikos, S Zogaris, L Vardakas, V Tachos, E Kalogianni, R Sanda, et al..
Mediterranean Marine Science 13 (2), 268-27. Available at:

Now how to keep track?

This is not easy for the following reasons:

a) Several species groups are poorly studied and need to be re-assessed; studies are in the pipeline that will certainly increase the species number where former clinal differences or former subspecies existed. So we expect to see at least another 10 species entities arise in the next decade - this is a conservative estimate I think.

b) Some species are not only created but may be "lumped" into others and re-assessed not as species but as local population units at best. This may be possible but I predict not many such changes will occur. Also the new taxonomic work may show that species that were considered to exist in this country are now proven not to exist since the Greek populations belong to other species. (We did "lose" two species in this way during the last list revision - Salmo dentex and Barbus rebeli where subtracted from the Greek fish list!).

c) The problem of marine fishes in fresh waters is important; surely the line is not black-and-white.Already many fish that breed solely in marine waters are included in the freshwater list (grey-mullets and eel for example); and this is commonplace in most country assessments worldwide. Some marine fish are common, widespread and often found in pure freshwater conditions not just the brackish river mouth extremes (a.k.a. transitional waters). Our 2007 estimate guesstimated that at least 55 'marine' species are frequent migrants or transients into fresh waters or transitional waters (river-mouths, coastal marshes etc). So we need to work on criteria to include the most frequent - pervasive marine transients in the inland waters list.

So its at 167. But do note, about 27 of these are non-indigenous species. And the list does not include the many marine transients, or the several "new species" that are being described by taxonomists and are currently still "in progress" or "in press"....

Exciting time to be a fish person in Greece!

I include some pretty snap-shots from just one expedition back in 2011....

A Cobitid Loach from the Pinios in Thessaly; the population from a spring-fed marsh in Thessaly was called Cobitis stephanidisi (it may be extinct!); this specimen is similar to Cobitis vardarensis.

A large Greek Barbel Luciobarbus graecus from a canal entry area of the Kifissos River next to Lake Yliki. This beautiful large-bodied fish (IUCN Endangered) is known to reach up to 110 cm length in the lake.

Big taxonomic changes are occurring with the Sprilins (Alburnoides sp) in the Balkans. These specimens are to be soon known as Alburnoides thessalicus - a name formerly attributed to a subspecies. Further south in the Sperchios a new species is now being described!

Europe's smallest freshwater fish; the Trichonis Goby Economidichthys trichonis. Known only from Lakes Trichonis and Lysimachia. The unique 'zebra-pattern' is distinctive.

The rare Strymon Minnow Phoxinus strymonicus, photographed in a cold-water spring near Drama. This group needs careful study since there may be another species or two in Greece! 

One of Greece's most famous endemics: Aristotles Catfish Silurus aristotelis. Photographed here in Lake Yliki where it has recently been transplanted (probably) accidentally by carp stocking.

One of Europe's rarest fishes, the Greek Stickleback Pungitius hellenicus, is not even mentioned as a "Species of Community Concern" in the Habitats Directive - a law that should protect all rare fishes in Europe.

* All photos taken during the September 2011 collecting expedition; a collaboration between HCMR and Prague National Museum.

** IMBRIW = Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters.