Saturday, June 20, 2015

National Museum Prague, Czech Republic

Τhe old building of the National Museum (now under renovation)

18-19 June: A night in Prague

Had a good meeting at the National Museum in Prague. Below I post some mobile phone snap-shots of the new exhibit in the National Museum, "Noah's Ark", which is a fantastic natural history extravaganza (especially good for children and families). I also post some shots from our workings in the Ichthyological Department Lab, and my first-time glimpse of the city.

Anyone in this tourist honey-pot city should find and visit the Noah's Ark exhibit!

Across the street the new building of the National Museum houses the Noah's Ark Exhibit.






Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Evrotas River Delta: Natura 2000 habitat mapping

Vivari Lagoon area, Evrotas Delta, South Peloponnese (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Evrotas Delta

Was down in the Delta plain of the Evrotas river, one of the southernmost river valleys on the European continent and a Natura 2000 site.

We aimed to monitor and map habitat types, as per the demands and application of the Habitats Directive in this country - so it was a fascinating learning experience. Especially so since I am involved in monitoring fishes also.

The whole concept of a habitat type, a phytosociological unit is fascinating to me. Its tough stuff if you are not habitually involved in this - as a professional. So most people don't follow. Of course any taxonomy wakes you up: you try to see the different nuances, the patterns.

We monitored 11 habitat types; I'm just placing my "thought-rush" here for open safe-keeping.

Some important discoveries...

State of wetlands: Basically over 70% of the delta wetlands have been drained. What remains is heavily modified due to the exhaustive water stress from agriculture. The most amazing wetlands in the area area the 'clear-water lotic waters' of the Evrotas and Vassilopotamos and the huge water meadows of the Asteri Marsh which practically drains in to Vivari Lagoon. Generally the area is so filled-up with orange orchards it could be anywhere in Florida (if you could hide the looming mass of the wonderful Peloponnesian mountains).

The most interesting habitats are not very well described on included in this Natura 2000 site. Water habitats - spring water habitats are fascinating here but again most in modified (channelized state). The dunes are good, but again a thin sliver behind the beach. At one area near Asteri Marsh the dune-dry grassland goes well beyond the beach inland and this is interesting. There are no saltmarshes.

a. Mugil cephalus and other Mugilids (Chelon sp.) were found 7.3 Km from the sea at the boundary of the Natura site.
b. Mugilids were found in the middle of the Asteri Marsh (along with dozens of Gambusia)
c. Gambusia are in very high numbers in the Asteri Marsh Canal (near Asteri village) and in the Vivari Lagoon (along with Mugilids in the lagoon).
d. We spotted to largish Sea Basses just upstream of the lowermost bridge of the Evrotas in waters that were full of Spartian Minnow-Roach. Fish were easily spotted and enjoyed through the use of binoculars. The waters gin-clear and very conducive to fish-watching.

Birds and other wildlife:

We were not birding, but the birdlife was disappointing. Few species breed compared to what one would expect in an area with so much water and rather varied landscape (well very dense agricultural landscape). Since orange and olive is expanding this may not have been the state 20 years ago. I feel there are very important special habitats missing and the orange plantations have heavily affected bird communities.

The following nesting species are important: Blackcap warbler (riparian woods etc of the Evrotas), Little Bittern (Vivari reeds), various other water birds (Reed warbler). Generally there were very few larger birds. Bee-eaters maintain a small colony. Raptors are few and far between (only Kestral and Buzzard).

In walking about 3 Km of beach area (the entire Nature site's beach is 13 Km long) we found only one crawl of a sea turtle. We found two dead Loggerhead Turtles. We found a very small turtle dead that we suspect may be a Green.

We spotted Beach Marten on two occasion both inside sizable towns.

In many areas frogs, terrapins, etc were evident. A single snake was seen near Vivari; one Glass lizard was seen dead on road. Typical herps include the beautiful Balkan Green Lizard.

Some of the snapshots and photos we took are posted here; soon you can read more at:

Also if you want to read (in Greek) some of our ecotourism writings about the Evrotas Valley see:
Evrotas_Valley_River_of_the_South_zogaris & vlami

I want to thank expert naturalist and co-traveler Dimitris Koutsogiannopoulos for all help in the field and of course for sharing his amazing photos with me (some posted here). Also, the Oasis Hotel at Skala for treating us nice.

A colourful scene at the Asteri Marsh.
Vivari Dunes and the 'old river channel' at the eastern side of the Delta.
Bush cricket on dunes.(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
At the river mouth of Vassilopotamos.(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Little Grebes breed at Vivari.(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
About 5 km before the river mouth. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Damselfly. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Darter. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Mugil cephalus 7.3 Km upstream from river mouth, with Gambusia and Tropidophoxinellus(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Mugilids, up river; at 7.3 Km upstream - at least 200 seen here with Squalius, Tropidophoxinellus. Gambusia.(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Chelon sp. in the middle of the Asteri Wetland (in artificial ponds) with Gambusia(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Little Egret, Evrotas main stem.(Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
The river at the Natura 2000 boundary 7.3 Km upstream of the river-mouth.

Protocol in the field. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Striped Terrapin. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Main stem of Evrotas "second bridge". (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Wet grasslands. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
In the savanna. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

Balkan Green Lizards flirting!. In the grasslands behind the dunes near Asteri Marsh. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Common buzzard along the river bluffs near Skala. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

In the Phrygana above Skala. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
In the Phrygana. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
In the 'grey dune' grasslands near Asteri Marsh (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).

In the Asteri Marsh. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
Wild garlic. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
In the east side of the Delta. (Photo: D. Koutsogiannopoulos).
An amazingly wet year at Europe's southernmost continental river!
The willow woods seem to be regenerating well in the channelized river. If only the embankments had been set back 50 m. more...
The Evrotas old river channel or distributary, about 1.5 km east of today's canalized river-mouth.
Grey dune habitats, these are stabilized dunes with grassland plant associations about 400 inland of the sea near Asteri Marsh.
This is a recently dead Sea Turtle; this was much much smaller than the other two we found along the beach. This one was at Vivari, can anyone please help ID it?
Ok guys did you expect this?....1.7 million euros for the so-called "bioclimatic reconstruction" of the Skala Springs Square. This also includes a bit of "river engineering" (see below).

Unimaginative but true: river engineering attempts at Skala Springs. I would love to help do some cheaper yet more important "biodiversity restoration approaches". Where are the naturalists? 
The brilliantly clear spring waters of the Vassilopotamos many kms downstream of the Skala Springs (and about 800 m from its river mouth).

The Evrotas at Skala Bridge. River of the south my friends!
The Natura site as it is today. The coastal strip is about 13 km long and the Natura 2000 site includes about 7.2 Km of the Evrotas river's canalized main-stem. Our recommendation is to extend the protected area upstream to include Vrondamas Gorge at least. Also I am interested in how to manage the expanding orange orchard plantations which I now consider a "plague" for the site. These cash-crop plantations are of absolutely NO biodiversity value and they will keep extracting waters and this will continue to have an over-riding water stress pressure on the landscape and the protected area. Many challenges ahead!