Wednesday, 17 August 2016


The nightjars are back. Well, I say nightjars plural, when it may be just the one. Or maybe a pair. I don't know. Last year we saw them for the first time and then they disappeared as mysteriously as they'd appeared and we wondered if we'd see them again. 

Throughout all of my almost fifty-two years living in the UK before we moved out here I'd never seen or heard a nightjar in the wild. It even took us the best part of ten years to see our first one here on Rhodes and when we did we had no idea at first what it was. If you've ever seen a nightjar on the ground you'll know how difficult they are to spot. They nestle on to the dusty ground, which in our vicinity means on the one kilometre of dirt track that leads from the road up the hillside to our home, and they do this after dark. 

So, the first time we saw one we were driving up the lane, taking it very slowly as we always do (we often come across hares, deer and even the occasional fox or badger has been known), when what looked like a gnarled piece of wood seemed to be laying in the lane in centre of one of the tyre tracks left by the sparse number of vehicles that pass up and down it. It was late in the evening and the headlamps picked up this object, which was big enough at least to make one wonder why we hadn't spotted it on our way down earlier that evening when it had still been light. I suppose I'd say it was about the size of a man's fist. It drew our attention sufficiently to make me slow the car almost to a stop, wth the intention of getting out of the car and throwing it into the tinder dry vegetation lining the edges of the lane.

No sooner had I stopped a couple of yards from this unexpected "object" than it moved. Huh? A piece of wood that could move? Only at that point did we realise that it was a bird. Indeed it was a nightjar. It took its time, with no hurry at all, but after a few seconds seemed to decide that a short flight low along the ground and eventually off to one side was the best course of action. Of course the moment we got into the house I was into my bird books and firing up Google and we knew that we'd definitely seen a nightjar. Quite why they seem to like to - as the Americans might say - "hunker down" on a dry and dusty lane was at first a mystery, but having read the blurb it seems that it's a nice leisurely way for them to catch bugs that move around on the surface of the dust during the dark hours.

Now we know that we have frogs in the area, toads too. Not that I can tell the difference. I do know how to ID specifically a Mediterranean Toad, because they have a habit of living in our hose reel. See this post for the proof. But there are also European tree frogs around these parts and we've seen them at very close quarters. They're truly beautiful, as this set of images shows. We often sit on the terrace at some friends' house and see these little beauts passing the daylight hours by sitting on top of their wall lamps ten feet above the ground. But at present we have a frog/toad inhabiting out plant pot holder, the one we set out with water in it for the local bird population to survive these long arid, baking hot summer weeks. I'm not sure what he is and, annoyingly, every time I try and get the iPod or the camera out to snap a shot, he quickly hops away under an air-con unit or behind the planter with our tomato plants in it. Seems he hasn't developed a good enough trust in us yet.

Anyway, I refer to the frogs because frequently when I'm not sleeping I'll go and stand out on the drive at 2.00am and listen to the noises of the night in the be-darkened valley below. Whilst standing out there I've been able to ID Scops Owls for starters (they sound a bit like a submarine's sonar, take a listen). But, here my ignorance has recently been brought to light because what I had concluded were tree frogs chirping away were nothing of the sort. Have a listen to this. That's a nightjar!! Seems I'd been listening to nightjars for a few years without ever realising what it was I was hearing. Why it took us so long to actually see one on the lane I've no idea, but during July and August this year we've had to stop on the lane in the dark on several occasions to allow one to take off and escape being run over. This, by the way, is what European tree frogs sound like.

For a little more info on these very odd birds, check out these links:
RSPB Nightjar page.
Wikipedea European Nightjar Page.

Changing the subject somewhat, you very often sit somewhere out here supping your drink and watching the world go by, when a piece of music playing totally incongruously will spring a surprise reminisce on you. I'm sure you know what I mean. If you've read chapter 15 of Feta Compli! you'll know how I heard about J.J. Cale. OK, so in that case I'd never heard of Cale before I heard him on that beach on Poros, but the incongruity principle still applies. I always say one should apply the incongruity principle don't I, yes. Where would we be without it, eh?

Anyway, sitting in a small bar on a tiny island you tend to expect that if there's going to be any music playing then it ought to be some jangly bouzouki or lyre plucking away enthusiastically, in keeping with your surroundings, right? Yet on quite a few occasions recently I've heard music that's not only totally unexpected in such an environment, but so eclectic that it's made me sit up and take notice. Eclectic eh? Boy am I outdoing myself with the fancy words today.

Example: One time when sitting in a small giros establishment in Makrigialos, a really small, I mean seriously small coastal "resort" on the south east coast of Crete, my ears registered that I was hearing Rory Gallagher. And not just any Rory Gallagher, but "Slumming Angel" from his album "Fresh Evidence," which is only one of my favourite blues rock albums ever. Synchronicity or what? 

Now just yesterday, sitting in the Odyssey Restaurant in Rhodes Old Town enjoying Halloumi salad and oven potatoes (again!)...

...I suddenly registered a sax line that I knew. Way back in the 1980's when we'd been living in Cardiff, Wales, we had a good friend called Harvey. I was totally into guitar blues rock, plus a bit of the old prog too of course, whereas Harvey was much more soul/jazz/R&B oriented with his tastes. Me and the better half, who used to be terminally bored on such occasions, used to spend a soirée round at Harvey's pad, while he regaled us with the kind of music he liked over the cheap white wine and a rather tasty Indian curry. It was Harvey who assisted me in widening out my taste quite considerably to take in the likes of Sade, Level 42 (in their earlier incarnations before they resorted to pop ditties) and the sax player Grover Washington Jr. Harvey had a particular album called "Winelight". Now, if you've never heard of that album I'll wager a penny to a pound that you do know its most famous track, albeit in its abridged-for-radio version.

That track is "Just the Two of Us" with vocals by the ever smooth Bill Withers. On the album the track stretches to a glorious 7 minutes and more. Sublime. Well, there I was yesterday, watching simultaneously a couple of buskers with bouzoukis trying to wring a few pence out of the diners at both the Odyssey and Romeo's across the way, when some snippets of sax from the restaurant's speakers fought their way through the buskers' flawed playing to reach my ears. It wasn't that track, "Just the Two of Us," but rather the title track, "Winelight"

Isn't the brain incredible? At that precise moment not only was I bemused to hear something that I hadn't heard in a couple of decades, but within milliseconds I could have described Harvey's old lounge in Fairwater, Cardiff to you in great detail. I could almost taste one of his curries.

If this kind of thing has happened once it's probably happened a dozen times. What's incredible is that the pieces of music I refer to aren't mainstream pop stuff, but rather more obscure tracks that I have liked through the years of my past. On one of the boats where I've worked doing the Bay-to-Bay excursion this year, the beautiful Triton...

...Captain Makis plays a collection of oldies that he likes. Among all the old UB40, Eric Clapton and Eagles tracks is something that I'm amazed that anyone's ever heard of in Greece, it's "Le Telefon" by a French singer from the 60's, Nino Ferrer. A classic (!!??***) that I heard while doing a school exchange to learn French back in the sixties.

Conclusion? Greek establishment owners must have exquisite musical taste. I got up in the night last night and opened iTunes. Then I found that Grover Washington Album "Winelight" and I downloaded it. Guess what, because it's a couple of decades old now it's only £4.99. A result. Thank you lads at the Odyssey. 

While it was downloading I went outside. No nightjars about last night. A few tree frogs maybe. But then, I might be wrong.

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