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The Greek Islands: Rhodes

Rhodes (Dodecanese)

map rhodesThe largest of the Dodecanesian islands and fourth largest of all Greek islands, Rhodes has a very warm climate, and wildlife which includes species shared with Turkey, from which it is less than fifteen miles distant, as well as some endemics found only on the island.

Petaloudhes Valley

One of the most visited nature sites on the island is Petaloudhes Valley (Butterfly Valley), although it is millions of Jersey tiger moths, not butterflies, that are the attraction there. As has occurred in the similar Petaloudhes Valley on the Cycladic island of Paros, the large numbers of tourists who visit every year are believed to have caused decline in the moth populations, because their desire to see the moths fly up in a cloud, thus displaying their brightly colored undersides, achieved by clapping or making loud noises, butterflydetracts from the moths' need to conserve the last of their energy to reproduce, having eaten nothing preceding the mating phase of their lives, which is its last, as they die of starvation soon afterward. The trees on which they roost are trees whose range extends from nearby Anatolia (present-day Turkey) with this their westernmost point, the Liquidambar orientalis, whose colors are wonderful in autumn.

Quite a few other trees are found on this site, including Valonia oaks, beautiful white flowering storax, Aleppo pines, and an endemic bladder senna. There are also a number of species of orchids, some of them found primarily in present-day Turkey. Butterflies are also found here, but not nearly so many as the Jersey moths mistaken for them!

Profitis Ilias

map rhodesfloraThis second highest mountain of Rhodes, though not so high (798 meters, or 2617 feet), is found almost halfway down the island's west coast, near the town of Apollona. Mostly wooded with Calabrian pines and cypresses, it is very rich in flora, with many flowers on the woodland floor, including many cyclamens, an endemic and rare white peony, anemones, orchids of many kinds, among many other flowers; there are also many kinds of butterflies, lizards, and snakes. Birds include long legged buzzards, which breed more on this island than anywhere else in Greece, as well as common and honey buzzards, woodlarks and coocoos. Rough-legged buzzards come through during passage periods, but breed in Russian and Scandanavia.

Mt. Ataviros

great spotteddog onionThis is Rhodes highest mountain, at 1215 meters (3985 feet) and is about 9 km south of Profitis Ilias (above). A limestone mountain, its sheer south side is relatively bare, while the north side has remnant forest from the last ice age, which used to cover much of the island, consisting of a cypress species rare in Greece (Cupressus sempervirens, which is the same species found of Profitis Ilias), and pines (Pinus brutia). 333.5 acres (135 hectares) of this forest is designated a 'protected monument of nature', which seems to have put a stop to timber cutting, though grazing continues (or did just a few years ago).

The forest here is denser than on Profitis Ilias, which may account for there being less species, though there are some, including a rare orchid, and quite a variety of orchid species in the limestone habitat on the south side of the mountain. Some birds of prey are found here, and there is a rare butterfly which is an Aegean subspecies. Access to the mountain is by road west from Embonas or to the summit by path from the same town; there is a road going around most of the mountain perimeter as well.

Southern Rhodes

wetlands rhodesTo the south of Lindos, just about halfway down the east coast of Rhodes, nature is still quite wild, with good wildlife on the coast, with beaches, dunes, scrub and sandy areas, the latter two habitats good for orchids, and inland as well, with flowery garrigue, especially beautiful in April.

fire salamanderBird life is interesting in the far south, with small owls, woodlarks, and a long list of other birds, with more coming at passage times;waders visit marshy pools on the coast. A large, relatively unexplored and sparsely populated inland area farther north (between Lardhos and Laerma) has nice rolling hills and a mix of Calabrian pine woodlands with olive orchards, grassy areas, fields, garrigue, streams, and some wetlands (that dry up before summer).

A large variety of orchids are found in this area in marshy spots, as well as marsh frogs and green toads, and cultivated fields have interesting weeds; yet other kinds of flowers are found in the pine woods. Good roads give easy access to most of this area, with one of the rougher ones (from Kattavia to Messanagros) good for seeing some really nice wild nature.