Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tracking the Cami de Cavalls: III - Like a wren with tourettes!

By now the sun was just beginning to breach the horizon of the wine dark sea and I made out a gnarled and twisted pine rising some distance up the trail. Thinking that this would be a good place to look for raptor pellets I made my way to it and slowly crouched down to scan the floor. As I was looking amongst the dry needles the stillness was suddenly shattered by the noisy and very strident calls of a bird in the bush to my right. It sounded like a wren with Tourettes Syndrome had just woken up with a hang-over. I sat as still as a statue while this tirade of avian abuse rose from the shrubbery so close that it sounded as if the bird was on my shoulder. Turning my head to peer into the bush I tried to pin-point the bird when suddenly it darted out, flew round the pine tree under which I was crouching and on to another bush 10 meters away. In the dawn light all I saw was a flash of wings but stalking slowly towards the bush in which it settled I made out a small passerine bird with a grey body and a black head ticking noisily from the top of the bush.
Conditioned as I am to British wildlife my first thought was “Ah, a Blackcap!” but on returning home and consulting the web it seems more probable that this noisy one-bird dawn chorus was not the work of the Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) but the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), a common Mediterranean warbler that has been adopted as the logo of the Sociedad Ornothologica de Menorca. I watched the warbler for several minutes as it made a circuit of its territory, boasting and signaling loudly from bushes and rocks before I carried on up the trail.
By now the light had turned from cold grey to warm yellow and moving into a sheltered section of the path between enclosed scrub I found a small black pellet deposited singly on the sandy bank above the path. It was approximately 7.00am and the sun had not yet risen high enough to shine directly on the path. The pellet was still moist and glistened with a jet black colour. It was small, approximately 1cm long, and teardrop shape. I bagged it up and pocketed it for later inspection.
The Cami de Cavalls began to rise and in the distance I saw the Martello tower in the distance. A colony of rock doves roosting on the south facing sea cliffs lifted and flew inland and here and there the anvil stones of thrushes rose like graveystones amongst the pads of grey lichen that bubbled over the rocks. Not the springy stuff found in northern forests this lichen had grown tough, sharp and wiry and like the empty and broken snail shells it was bleached white in the strong southern sun
As I got to the massive tower at Moro d'Alcalfar overlooking the harbour at Cala d'Alcalfar a Blackbird was singing to the sun atop the cliffs and every Sardinian Warbler within a mile seemed to be awake and competing with it’s neighbour in a noisy display of clicks, ticks and tremolos. The thing about coastal paths is that unless one wants to undertake a lengthy detour inland you have to return by the same way you arrived so I turned and headed back along the trail to Punta Prima.
It was now 7.30am and the Cami de Cavalls was busier, the occasional jogger sweated over the hard ground and a fat middle aged local man walked in front of me holding a bottle of water. Anxious to have the place as much to myself as possible I stopped and watched the sea; already small pleasure boats were sailing out, the chug of their engines drifting up from the sea and over the cliff tops. I stood a while and watched the massive white cruise ships sailing far to the south of the island. With the path quieter I began again. The sun was rising steeply and it was now warm. The local rodent population seemed to be much more audible as well, walking back along the trail bushes to my left and right began to rustle with a distinctive scuttling sound that was markedly different to the softer slithering the lizards made. Stopping at a rustle that was closer than most I peered into the bush and saw a small golden coloured rodent, looking more like a school gerbil than anything else, and for a second we stared at each other - beady eyes shining and whiskers twitching before it was off in a rustle of leaves and undergrowth.
Picking my way off the path to take a photograph of the coastline I found a very interesting fresh scat on a small rock in the lea of a large bush. The scat was still moist and glossy black, a trail of dark liquid had dried on the rock showing where it had slid down and settled on the ground. This scat was too messy and sloppy to bag so I opted for a few quick photographs and a cursory inspection with a pointy stick. Breaking up it’s gooey body revealed it to be composed mainly of insect elytra and some small pieces of snail shell. Looking around the bush for tracks proved futile, whatever had left the dropping had left no tracks I could see in the hard gravelly substrate but on the other side of the bush a similar but smaller scat had been deposited, again on a rock. Too messy to collect I satisfied myself with a few photographs.

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