Kefalonia Nature and Wildlife

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Kefalonia's Flora and Fauna

Flowers abound in the spring from the ubiquitous Spanish broom, to the beautiful mauve lilies Paeonia mascula-russi and some species of rare wild orchids but the best time to see them is from late March through to April into May although the season persists longer around the top of Mount Ainos. This latter area is now a protected National Park and one of the species it seeks to protect is the endemic fir tree, Abies Cephalonia. Orchids are prominent amongst the spring flora and some 31 different species have been recorded so far and there are probably still more to find. Despite the heat and lack of water in the summer, there are always a few flowers to be seen like the beautiful sea daffodil, Pancratium maritimum and the mulleins. Autumn rains bring out the crocus and cyclamen in a new flush of flowers which help to keep winter colourful until spring gets in to its stride once again.

The Kefalonia Fir
There was a time when Mount Aenos was heavily forested with Abies cephalonia, the Kefalonian Fir Tree, which grows above altitudes of 800 metres (2,625 ft.). In mass the tree looks very dark which lead the Venetians to call the range Monte Nero (Black Mountain). Forest still exists today but it is much ravaged by timer demands and repeated forest fires. This tree is endemic to the area, not just to the island, and is also found on high ground in much of the southern Mainland of Greece. It is a much prized wood and was in demand as soon as man started building wooden ships. The columns of Knossos in Crete were made from the Kefalonian Fir tree and it is very possible that the source was the island. Kefalonia had a thriving Mycenean population at that time which was possibly trading with the Minoans of Crete. Throughout the ages a thriving lumber trade built up largely because Kefalonia's fir forests were accessible and close to the sea for shipping away. In later years the island's forest supplied boatyards in Kefalonia and Italy. Forest fires have also played a significant part over the centuries. In 1590 a great part of the forest was lost to fires but over the centuries it regenerated only to suffer an even worse fire in 1797.
In 1962 the area was declared a National Park in order to protect this species of fir which the island is rightly proud of.

The fauna is surprisingly good too and the island has a wide range of wild animals including foxes, hares, weasels, pine martens and hedgehogs. The latter is the one most likely to be seen since so many fail to cross the road safely. Wild horses are common on the sides of Mount Ainos but sightings are rare. Tortoises are around in great numbers too and are often seen on the road side. Greek drivers believe it is very unlucky to run over a tortoise so they go to great lengths to avoid them. Snakes are around too in numbers but are mostly harmless. A rare and protected species of the Mediterranean seal lives on the rugged and inaccessible shores. Of particular note are two peculiar phenomena about the animals of the island. Near the "Agia Dynati" mountain, some goats and rabbits have gilt, or silver-plated, teeth due to the make-up of the soil. Another rarity concerns the goats of the island - according to the ancient historian Claudius Aelianus, the goats could hold out without water for sixth months, living only on the humid breeze. This has been confirmed by modern-day shepherds.

The Monk Seal
The sea between Kefalonia and Ithaka is frequented by the rare and endangered monk seal – Monachus monachus which thrives in the warm waters of the Mediterranean and Atlantic off the coast of North Africa. Mentioned by Homer they were much more prolific in the ancient world but have been disturbed over recent centuries by the loss of breeding habits and by conflict with fishermen. This rare, shy animal takes refuge in caves and remote places out of sight of man to give birth to young which is usually just one pup. Tourist development along the coast and increased leisure activity around the sea shores have seriously interfered with the regular haunts of the species. The monk seal lives on fish and octopus but, with ever diminishing supplies, it has brought them into direct conflict with fishermen. Too many times in the past has the conflict been resolved simply by killing the seal, especially when they get caught up in nets. Now the emphasis is strictly on conservation with many groups supporting the project to conserve the small population that exist around Kefalonia, Ithaka and Lefkas.

Caretta Caretta
The Caretta Caretta or Loggerhead Turtle is a species which lives in the Mediterranean Sea and breeds along the coastlines of Kefalonia and Zakynthos. They can reach a considerable size, weighing up to 140 kg. Despite their size they can swim very fast thanks to their large anterior and stiff posterior fins. However, on dry land they become extremely vulnerableand slow, and unlike the tortoises they cannot shrink back to protect themselves in their shells. The Caretta Caretta always breeds on the same beach where it was born and for this reason it is important that the conditions on the nesting beaches are kept as unspoilt as possible. The nesting period is from June to August when the female of the species makes her way to the beach to lay her eggs. The female probes the ground checking the distance from the sea, the temperature and the quality of the sand to choose the proper place to lay her eggs. Once the choice is made she digs a hole with her fins around fifty centimetres deep where she will then lay her eggs. The eggs are small and soft and don't break when falling in to the hole. The nest contains around 120 eggs and they usually hatch 50 days after being laid. They are protected by the sand and kept warm by the sun. Usually around 60% of all eggs will hatch and the young turtles move towards the sea following the horizon and the moonlight reflected in the water. Only a small percentage survive - obstacles on the beach and lights coming from restaurants and bars often disorientate them. Once in the water there are still many dangers awaiting the tiny turtle with only one in a thousand making it to adulthood.
Some beaches around Kefalonia become protected environments during the turtle hatching season including Mounda Beach near Skala, Trapeazaki Beach and Minies Beach near the airport. There is a non-profit organistaion based in Katelios that works to preserve this endangered species.


Bird Watching In Kefalonia
Below is a list of over 200 birds that have been spotted on the island:

  • African Collared Dove, Alpine Swift, Aquatic Warbler, Avocet
  • Barn Swallow, Bittern, Blackbird, Blackcap, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Headed Bunting, Black-headed Gull, Black-headed Wagtail, Black Kite, Black-necked Grebe, Blue-headed Wagtail, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Stork, Black Tern, Black Winged Stilt, Black Woodpecker, Blue Rock Thrush, Blue Tit, Bonelli’s Eagle, Bonelli's Warbler, Broad-billed Sandpiper
  • Calandra Lark, Cattle Egret, Cetti’s Warbler, Chaffinch, Chiff-chaff, Cirl Bunting, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Collared Fly-catcher, Common Bittern, Common buzzard, Common Kestrel, Common Pheasant, Common Sandpiper, Common Stonechat, Common Swift, Common Wheateater, Common Whitethroat, Coot, Cormorant, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Crested Tit, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Cuckoo, Curlew Sandpiper
  • Dunlin
  • Eagle Owl, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Eleonora’s Falcon, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, European Bee-eater, Eurasian Tree Creeper, European Roller, European Serin
  • Fan-tailed Warbler, Feral Pigeon, Firecrest
  • Garden Warbler, Garganey, Glossy Ibis, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Golden Eagle, Golden Oriole, Goshawk, Great Grey Shrike, Great Reed Warbler, Great Snipe, Great Tit, Great White Egret, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Grey Plover, Grey Wagtail, Griffon Vulture, Gull-billed Tern
  • Hawfinch, Hobby, Honey Buzzard, Hooded Crow, Hoopoe, House Martin, House Sparrow
  • Icterine Warbler, Imperial Eagle
  • Jay
  • Kentish Plover, Kestrel, Kingfisher
  • Lanner Falcon, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Lesser Grey Shrike, Lesser Whitethroat, Levant Sparrowhawk, Levantine Shearwater, Linnet, Little Bittern, Little Crake, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Little Owl, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Long-legged Buzzard
  • Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Marsh Sandpiper, Meadow Pipit, Mediterranean Gull, Melodious Warbler, Minaculated Lark, Mistle Thrush, Montagu’s Harrier, Moorhen, Mute Swan
  • Nightingale, Nightjar, Night Heron, Northern Gannet, Northern Wheatear
  • Olivaceous Warbler, Olive Tree Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Osprey, Oystercatcher
  • Pallid Swift, Peregrine Falcon, Pied Flycatcher, Purple Heron
  • Raven, Red Knot, Red-backed Shrike, Red-footed Falcon, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-throated Pipit, Redstart, Reed Warbler, Ringed Plover, Robin, Rock Bunting, Rock Partridge, Rock Sparrow, Rock Thrush, Ruff, Rufous Bush Chat, Rufous Bush Robin
  • Saker Falcon, Sand Martin, Sandwich Tern, Sardinian Warbler, Scops Owl, Sedge Warbler, Shag, Short-toed Eagle, Short-toed Lark, Short-toed Treecreeper, Siberian Stonechat, Skylark, Sombre Tit, Song Thrush, Spanish Sparrow, Sparrowhawk, Spotted Flycatcher, Squacco Heron, Starling, Stonechat, Subalpine Warbler, Swallow
  • Tawny Owl, Tawny Pipit, Teal, Temminck's Stint, Tengmalm's Owl, Thrush Nightingale, Tree Creeper (Certhiabrachydactyla), Tree Pipit, Turnstone, Turtle Dove
  • Whiskered Tern, White-backed Woodpecker, Whitethroat, White Wagtail, White-winged Black Tern, Willow Warbler, Winchat, Woodchat Shrike, Wood Pigeon, Wood Sandpiper, Wood Warbler, Wren, Wryneck
  • Yellow-legged Gull, Yellow–legged Herring Gull, Yellow Wagtail
  • Zitting Cisticola

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