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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

by José P Ribas

Saturday Afternoon Walks
(Ses Rutes d'es Falcó)


Ibiza Ecology

One of the most enjoyable, healthy and not too expensive activities that we can practice here on Ibiza at this time of the year is to take long walks through the countryside and forests, anywhere all over the island.

The weather conditions are ideal for this purpose; the afternoons are still long with the right temperature, clean, fresh air, and an excellent quality of light that helps to better appreciate our colourful landscapes. It's the perfect time for photography.

This is also the best way to get to know the island and its nature, devoting the time and effort that such a job deserves.

Little by little, just by being there and moving within it, one discovers - step by step - all the secrets of our geology, climate, flora and fauna, our people, our history and way of life.

It is especially true if you are lucky enough to share these walks with a group of close friends, some natives and/or long-time residents. But all, somehow, experts in things like botany, biology, ornithology, ecology and chemistry with a deep love and respect for both Ibiza and its nature. Some have a deep knowledge and university studies of all these sciences and disciplines, yet find it grows deeper and deeper with each walk.

They all love their jobs and really enjoy these walks (the pioneers have been doing it for twenty-five years) and, what is more important, they love to share all this knowledge with anybody who is prepared to learn.

So, every Saturday afternoon walk becomes an open air, easy-going class, with practical lessons, but without any examinations or tests to pass. It's a school were we can see young boys and girls, just coming out of university with their new degrees, willing to expand their knowledge by applying what they have already learned from books.

There are also amateur naturalists; photographers and just people that really appreciate a good, educational walk with the right company.

Nobody has to book to come and nobody has to apologise if they are not there when it is time to go. The rest will just leave without them at the usual time.

Let's take last Saturday as an example. The usual meeting place and time: Bar Madagascar, Plaza del Parque. Ibiza Town. From 3:30pm till 4:00pm. Only eight of us this time, two of the founders and real masters, Nestor Torres, and Mario Stafforini, have already decided where to go, according to the weather conditions and the season, what grows and blossoms at the time and where to find it.

We drive to "Benirras," North of the Island, always using the minimum number of cars possible. We leave the two cars by the side of the road, not far from the beach of "Benirras" and start walking up to one of the valleys, actually, the now dry bed of a mountain stream, that forms the cove and the beach.

This valley starts at the Western slope of the "Atalaya de San Juan" (400 metres high). It is well sheltered from most of the winds, so the bottom of the valley is very green, covered with newborn grass. Most is the common clover "Trifolium pratenses" menthe; "Mentha sativa" is also abundant, as well as other "Labiadae" and several small plants of the "Graminae" family. There are plenty of fruit trees, especially citrus, lemons and oranges, not ready to eat yet, cherry-trees losing their leaves by now, lovely, red pomegranates "Punica granatum", sweet, soft persimmons "Dyospyros kaki", both ripe at this time of year.

All along the valley there is a small trench in which the water of several fountains has been running non-stop for many centuries, ever since it was built by the Moors probably more then a thousand years ago. These fountains are now dry, for the first time ever.

If there is still water in the pools built by the side and running in the trenches, it is because it is being pumped out from artificial wells. They still use the old irrigation channels to water the fields. In them we can see common frogs "Rana perezi" and a rare little autochthonous black snail, with a difficult name to remember.

This whole area and the surrounding hills have suffered three forest fires within the last two decades. There is very little left of the ancient, deep forest. All the eco-systems have been altered, especially in the areas where the newborn pine-trees were burnt for a second time, before they could grow new cones. There were no new seeds for new trees to be born.

Without the trees and their roots, the soil gets washed away by the rain from the mountain slopes, so the erosion is growing fast and we can see the naked rock by the top of the hills where a thick green forest use to be. It will never be again. A lot of the usual species, flora and fauna, are now missing from these areas.

Even so we take a walk into the forest, or what's left of it, to see what we can find.

We soon realise that this is the time of year for forest spiders "Epeira diadema" (about one inch in size, a bit more with the legs expanded, dark-grey-brown, with a whitish cross drawn at the back of the abdomen) is the most common. It is the local spider that weaves the largest net of the lot: it can reach almost three meters wide altogether, normally with the spider in the middle. It is very difficult to move in the forest, at the present time without falling into one of these nets. When this happens, my whole body goes into shock, though even I know that this spider is practically harmless.

We also find one of the plants that we were looking for, two specimens of a protected, tiny and beautiful autochthonous orchid "Spirantes Spirales", and the only one (out of more than twenty local species) that grows and blossoms at this time of the year. We can't find the type of narcissus that used to grow in the surroundings. There are not many wild mushrooms either; the forest floor is still too dry. Only a few of the early boletus, edible, but not too good, "Suillus collinitus" and some "Inocibe fastigiata," a dangerous little mushroom full of "muscarine" and other neuro-toxins (some use the "inocibes" as a psychedelic drug). It is much better to leave it alone.

After more than two hours walking, the sun is going down fast. We heading back to the cars in the quiet of the twilight. The sounds of the forest come through very clearly. It is a real and proper country band. There is a blackbird "Turdus merula" showing itself on the very top of an almond-tree, giving us short saxo-jazz-notes and a nightingale "Luscinia megarhynchos" somewhere, playing a delightful flute concerto. As it is still hot, there are still two or three harvest flies "Cicada pebeja" still singing sssssccchhheeerrrrrreeng and chirping along with the rest of the choir. One by one, the crickets join in.

This is when you know you are in the right place at the right time.

José P Ribas