Followers of this blog, and I know there are many, will recall a post some while back describing a 2008 tracking trip I took up the ancient Cami de Cavalls coastal path on the island of Menorca – a trip notable for the discovery of a mysterious scat tentatively identified as that of the Menorcan Pine Marten (Martes Martes Minoriencis). This summer, having engineered another family holiday to the lovely resort of Punta Prima on the southern tip of the island, I took second look at the coastal forest and scrub that lies inland from the Cami de Cavalls with a view to looking for more signs of the marten.
Dawn in the Balerics in early August happens about 6.15am. However, those who are up early enough to take note of such things will know that dawn is not something that can be relied upon to arrive precisely as expected, especially when one is waiting for the sun to rise up from the sea. Rather dawn is a process of change, a gradual lightening of the world and dispelling of darkness that profoundly effects animal behaviour and our changes of witnessing that behaviour. To be up in time to see the world illuminated by a bright and fiery sun, it’s rays shining through the low clouds lying on the edge of the sea is a privileged and a joy beyond price.
The plan was to be up and out whilst it was still dark, to make my way into the forest along the coast and sit quietly, possessing my soul in patience as Holmes was keen on saying to Watson, and wait for the dawn to come. If I were there in good time, and if I could find a suitable vantage point to look out over the forest I reckoned, without any real evidence or experience to back up my theory, that I stood a fair chance of seeing something of the local fauna. It was 5.45am when I left the apartment and made my way to eastern edge of Insotel’s grounds. It was warm and cloudy, the day after a heavy day of un-seasonal rain I was dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, although I had taken the precaution of wearing my Haglofs Trail2 trainers rather than the flip-flops of the first expedition. In addition I had a cheap compact digital camera, my tracking kit (ziplock bags for collecting scat, ruler for scale, magnifying glass for looking at mammal hair), torch and my EDC Mauser folder. I was set, and in the spirit of trespass and knowing that Spaniards, even those that shoot, are not to be found abroad at this hour I climbed the wooded gate that marked the entrance of the Private Hunting Estate and set off into the night.
The night was slowly fading away. In the eastern sky the darkness was paling to pinks and oranges, greens and blues as the clouds began to stand out in darker shades against the sky. Crickets and the insects of the night chirped and called their last songs. The light breeze moved the leaves gently and I tramped as noisily as a giant through the stillness. A short way up the rough dirt road another gate barred the way and to my surprise I saw a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) sitting on top of it watching my approach. It must have been as astonished as I was and in mutual awe and confusion we watched each other from a few metres apart. Rare in Northern England but common in Southern Europe I had seen Hoopoe’s before on both Menorca and Lanzarote but never at such close quarters.
I stealthily slid the camera from my pocket and switched it on, cursing the Japanese perverts that make it necessary for electronics manufacturers to add warning bells and whistles to their products [there was a craze in the early days of the digital camera for men to take up-skirt pictures of women as they commuted on busy trains, hence the warning sounds)and hoped the bird would not fly before I snapped of a shot. Luckily it seemed as shocked and confused as I was but I knew that the hoopoe would not stick around for a second portrait once the flash had knocked the sleep out of its eyes so I brought the camera up to head height, zoomed as far as possible and hoped the wobble would not ruin the picture. The electronic sounds screeched out in the stillness and in the flash I saw the bird turn tail and fly off into the night, making a curious squeaking alarm call as it went. My arrival in the early morning forest was not going to be as covert as I had fancied.