Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tracking the Cami de Cavalls: IV The Thekla Lark

At 7.40am the sun was beginning to warm the ground and lines of black ants streamed out of their holes making foraging runs into the bush. In the middle of the path some 20 meters away I saw a lark running quickly between the lines of ants, snapping them up as it went. The lark seemed unconcerned about my presence, although the erectile crest on it’s head did perk up, so I slowly inched forward, hands behind my back and face averted trying to keep the bird in my peripheral vision without startling it by staring it out. I was able to take several pictures of the lark feeding on the ants before a red-faced jogger, kitted out in a full Brazil football strip, lumbered up the trail and scared it away. However I noticed that the lark didn’t fly far and when our jogging friend had moved on I began to slowly work my way towards the place where it had settled. Moving through the thick scrub I became acutely aware that my outfit of shorts and flip-flops was not intended to hack through undergrowth that seemed to be the biological model for razor wire but when I finally got the bird back in view I was rewarded with a lengthy display as it sat on a rock and groomed itself after a breakfast of ants. I crouched in the prickly scrub, watching as it preened first the left wing then the right before settling down to comb carefully through the breast feathers. I managed to take more photographs, although with my wife’s £49.99 digital camera at maximum zoom the pictures are unlikely to win any awards. Using the information included on the website of the Socidedad Ornothologica de Menorca and some detective work I have identified the bird as most probably a Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae), a bird slightly smaller than the Skylark that breeds in dry open country in Iberia and North Africa. It was certainly a very rewarding encounter with a bird seldom seen in Britain. It was now almost time to lay the towels out on the beds by the pool so I made my way back to hotel. The House Martins were skimming the lawns and the gardeners were clipping the honeysuckle as the first lizards of the day soaked up the heat. In a walk of less than two hours along a path used daily by dozens of people I had managed to spot birds I had never seen before and find animal sign that would need a lot of detective work to unravel. The substrate may have been dry, hard and an unrewarding medium for finding tracks but its light sandy colour made finding scat and sign much easier than the leaf covered woodland floors of Britain. In hindsight maybe a pair of binoculars and field guides to the birds, mammals and flora of southern Europe would have come in handy, and perhaps my better camera and a tape measure but you make do with what you have to hand and I had packed for a family holiday not a natural history tour of the Balearics. I’ll know better next year. With the rest of the family still sleeping I crept back into the apartment and stowed my scat behind the complimentary bath robes, to be examined later at my leisure.

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