Flora and Fauna of Corfu

What can be said of the wildlife on Corfu which hasn’t already been superbly described in Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy? Quite simply, the animals and plants in Corfu are as curious and quirky as the island they inhabit. Each time we holiday in Corfu, we spot something new.

One of the most exciting discoveries was on our first night. As we walked back from dinner, my husband stopped outside the hotel and pointed at something in the bushes. I couldn’t see anything. He dragged me closer and to my utter delight, I spotted what he had seen. Meandering through the bushes were bright flashes of light. Fireflies! My husband had told me the story of the fireflies he saw on holidays to the Mediterranean as a child, whole areas of light, dancing and flashing at dusk. Granted, there weren’t millions or even hundreds of fireflies outside our hotel, but there were enough to make it a rather magical experience. At dusk each night, we would check the bushes, hoping for more but by halfway through our trip, they disappeared.

While this blog is named after the iconic Good Life sitcom from the 1970’s, recording the life and adventures of Barbara and Tom Goode, who attempt a sustainable life in Surbiton, the number of ridiculous animal incidents that have occurred on our allotment site wonderfully overlaps with the more dramatic stories from the Durrell’s adventures in Corfu. Which brings us rather neatly back to the animals in Corfu! In Gerald’s second book, he describes asking his long-suffering mother for a donkey to ride so he could explore more of the island. I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t read it, but needless to say, it was a spectacle! Today we hired a more modern mode of transport, a quad bike and headed across to the Corfu Donkey Rescue. Run by an Englishwoman who lives on the island, she began rescuing old, sickly or abandoned donkeys in 2004. Since then, they have bought land and built a large stable to house the animals. As if rescuing donkeys wasn’t enough, they also look after around thirty cats, four cockerels, several dogs and a rabbit! We walked around the Rescue and met many of its residents, some of whom are undergoing medical treatment or are on special diets. One large donkey had his two back legs bandaged. The volunteer told us that he struggles in the morning to get up, not because he is old or has an injury but due to his vast bulk! He goes around the other stalls and hogs the food before moving onto the next! Another very timid donkey in a separate paddock cautiously said hello and accepted a head scratch. The volunteer came over and asked us to be careful as she startled easily due to being blind. It was heartbreaking but she is definitely in the right place, with a beautiful forever home.

Another expedition led us to Corfu Aquarium. Specialising in the aquatic life around Corfu, the aquarium had many exciting fish, eels, crabs and lobsters. Our guide was fantastic and shared his enthusiasm for all the creatures as we walked around. My personal favourites included the hermit crabs, who swap shells as they grow. Much to my amusement, the guide described them as squatters, a description that is as accurate as it is hilarious. They had several of the hermit crabs in a touch tank. It was amazing to be able to pick them up and look at them so closely. In another tank, we found a stunning octopus swimming up and down the tank, swirling and twirling its many legs against the glass. It was mesmerising to watch. Usually when I visit zoos or aquariums, the octopi are sulking behind a rock, refusing to move.

But the other half of the Aquarium was completely different. Unbelievably, they also have an international section which houses a variety of lizards, snakes and several other strange and exciting creatures. While I cannot deny the deadly beauty of a snake, I see no reason why I would need to go anywhere near one. The guide took out a python, a small one apparently although it looked enormous to me, and asked if anyone wanted to hold it. As my husband stepped forward, I took several backwards. There are many ways in which one could choose to die and death by a snake is not a way I wish to consider! I rate death by snake alongside jumping out of an airplane, picking up a tarantula and slightly ahead of standing in front of a charging elephant. However, the chameleon was a different matter. I eagerly held my hand out to hold it. Deceptively light, its feet clamped onto my fingers firmly as it walked along with the tail occasionally curling around my wrist. It was an incredible experience and I have since added chameleons to the list of animals I would love to keep, much to the ongoing exasperation of my husband!

Another night, we were driving back from Kalami Bay, a stunning bay which contains The White House Restaurant. The top floor of the restaurant was lived in by Larry, the eldest of the Durrell children. Should you ever be in the vicinity of Kalami Bay, a visit to the restaurant is an absolute must – the food is incredible! But I digress. On the drive home, I spotted in the dark a pair of reflective eyes. These were too high up for a cat and the shadowy body seemed the wrong shape. As we got closer, we suddenly realised it was a fox. Neither of us were aware that Corfu had a fox population or that they were so unfazed by a quad bike roaring through a quiet road late at night. Well it was either that, or it froze in fear at my excited shriek of “It’s a fox!”. Unfortunately, when I tried to take a photo, it turned tail and ran off into the bushes. Even in the UK where foxes abound, I have never been so close to one.

Each evening, when we walked across to the main tourist street, we crossed a small bridge. There near-stagnant water drains towards the sea. This is not unusual or exciting in any way however, except that we heard a loud rasping sound coming from the algae beneath the bridge. Clearly it was an animal of some sort but try as we might, we couldn’t work out what sort of water loving animal would make such a racket. Just then, my husband spotted movement on the top of the algae raft. There, perfectly camouflaged, was a small green frog. His ribbit was enormously loud and he was trying to out compete the other males who were all joining in the din. I would imagine a female frog would have stuffed her fingers in her ears to save her hearing. I confess, I half considered doing that myself! But Corfu’s waters held another surprise for us. As I watched, I saw a long dark head peer slowly out of the water. Breathless with excitement, I nudged my husband and whispered that I had seen a terrapin. He came over and we watched it for several minutes. Even using the zoom on my camera, I couldn’t get a clear photo. But it was enough for the guide at the aquarium to identify it as a native breed rather than the invasive North American terrapin which has distinctive red stripes on the sides of its neck.

Our beach day was also an opportunity to discover more of the aquatic wildlife in Corfu. As we paddled in the sea after a picnic lunch outside the house used by the TV serialisation of The Durrells (definitely worth a watch!), my husband began turning over some of the rocks in the shallows. Either he has some talent for picking rocks with exciting wildlife under them, or every single rock in Corfu is home to any number of different creatures. The first rock had several dark purple spiky sea urchins clinging to its underside. Quite how my husband had managed to pick it up without stabbing himself on them I have no idea. The spikes looked razor sharp and we carefully avoided that area after we had finished looking at the sea urchins. The next rock had a small hole in it. As we watched, a small transparent creature crawled out. With one large pincer on the left side and a smaller one on the right, we wondered whether this could be a lobster? The body seemed to be the right shape and the claws did seem to support the idea. Our next discovery appeared on the third rock, two tiny crabs. Smaller than a fingernail,  they waved their huge claw in anger at us before jumping off the rock, back into the water.

The flora in Corfu is just as beautiful as its wide range of animal life. Due to the relatively wet winters, Corfu is one of the greener islands. Olive groves interspersed with numerous vines are everywhere. Tall dark conifer trees tower above the olive groves to survey the land whilst every terrace and garden is full of bright purple, pink and white flowers. These flowers festoon fences and terraces, casting a dappled, sweet smelling shade for those sheltering from the heat. At ground level, there are a myriad of scrub bushes, flowers and plants. We spotted some beautiful poppies in full bloom by the side of the dusty beach road to Roda. But by far my favourite, is the cacti which seem to grow all over the island. Some of these are flowers, the delicate bright yellow flowers perching on top of the uppermost segments.

The one insect I loathe on this island, and wherever it is found, is the mosquito. Thriving in stagnant puddles, ponds or waterways, these insects cause a nuisance to most. For the minority, who are allergic to their bites, they are a menace which may require a trip to the local clinic for a plethora of antihistamines, cortisone cream and antibiotics. I am sure, like jelly fish, they do probably have a purpose, a reason for existing that encompasses more than making my life an itchy misery on holiday. Probably. But I am not convinced! 

On this trip, we decided to visit AntiPaxos, a tiny island off the larger (albeit still tiny!) Paxos to the south of Corfu. The boat stopped in one of the blue water coves in the north east of AntiPaxos and we were able to swim off the boat. It was as I stood on the stern ramp waiting to jump into the water again, a crew member spotted a jellyfish.  Brainless, they drift on the currents, feeding on tiny microscopic flora, they can present a hazard to swimmers. These were relatively small, around six inches at most and a brownish colour. I waited until it had drifted out of the landing zone before jumping. Jellyfish can give a nasty sting and they are best avoided. Apparently, a simple salve for a sting involves equal parts of baking soda and water. Changes to sea temperatures has caused the jellyfish population in the Ionian Sea to dramatically increase over the past two years.

A final thought which was so beautifully painted on the wall of the Donkey Rescue…

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