Black storks at the service station

October 15th, 2015 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

The Catalan coast is part of an avian migratory motorway, and Montjuïc a service station where birds pull over to have a feed or rest. A walk there in early autumn can bring surprises.

The wild part of the hill merges with the enormous cemetery. As I approached its walls, I noticed two large birds looking out across the port and ring road.  It was a strange image – I thought at first they might be an exotic species escaped from a zoo.  But the long red legs, long red bill and dark plumage meant only one thing, however unlikely: black storks.

black storks on migration in Barcelona

European black storks breed in the centre and east, with a small Spanish population in Extremadura and the frontier with Portugal, and they winter in Africa. Unlike the white stork, they are very wary of humans.  Yet there they were, an adult and juvenile, enjoying the early sunlight, quietly preening and surveying the view of heavy coastal development and transport infrastructure.

They must’ve noticed me, as they suddenly took to the air, circled slowly, and headed to the Llobregat Delta for breakfast.  The adult bird had been ringed in Germany, June 2014.

black stork flying over Barcelona's port



101 boars – well, 14 actually

September 19th, 2015 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

An hour before twilight, deep in Collserola, I was sitting at the side of a track, eating an apple. I lobbed the core behind me without a second thought. Some moments later, there were rustlings and quiet grunts, but nothing to see.  They then started emerging onto the track, small boars, more and more of them, like a version of 101 Dalmatians.  In fact there were 12, accompanied by two female adults.

track fills with young boars

One of the females stood protectively in front of the youngsters, planted squarely in the middle of the track, looking straight towards us.

female boar in collserola

The young ones, recently grown out of their baby stripes, were herded to the other side and up the opposite bank.

large number of young boars

Then I saw him, the proud owner of my apple core, trotting along, closely followed by a rival, whose short mane was bristling in frustration.

two young boars

Two of the frisky young boars came over to sample Stephanie’s walking sticks, before they all disappeared into the undergrowth again.  

curious young boars

Early signs of spring in Barcelona

April 11th, 2015 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The sound of serins pouring out their song means spring has arrived in Barcelona. This male was glowing from his tree top perch, almost as yellow as a canary, the serin’s close relative.

serin singing in Barcelona

In a corner of Montjuic’s botanical gardens, ruderal plants explode in flower: citadels of asphodel arise among lagoons of common borage.

flowers on montjuic

Montjuic’s cable cars are in motion, after their annual February check-up and clean, and long queues of tourists form again.  Starlings nest inside the metal towers, unbothered by the noise and moving machinery.

starling nesting in Montjuic cable car tower

In the few calcareous areas of Collserola, thyme flourishes, and when its first flowers appear in March, so does a diminutive blue butterfly. The Panoptes blue (Pseudophilotes panoptes), native to Iberia and north Africa, favours thyme as a food plant and source of nectar.

panoptes blue in Collserola

On the rocks: high altitude fauna in the eastern Pyrenees

November 14th, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

silhouette of mouflon in Vall de Nuria

Early on an October morning, the light among the ski installations of the Nuria valley was grey, and the sky overhead a cold blue.  As we walked up the steep Noucreus path, an invisible sun ignited the tall grass on the mountain crest. Stars flew in the firmament – seeds blown by a wind we couldn’t feel.

wind sends grass seeds soaring

On the crest of La Olla, where strong gusts sent vapours whirling, butterflies were on the wing, at 2,800 metres: Clouded yellow, Red admiral and Painted lady. Some males were waiting there to pick up a mate on migration.

The turn-off point was the Coll de l’Eina, and the low sun illuminated the herds of mouflon in the valley below.  It was their rutting season, and rams were gathering in large numbers, pursuing the ewes with gaping mouths.

a ram for each ewe

mouflon ram in the rutting season

On the way down, we startled some chamois – a young one ran after its mother.

young pyrenean chamois

Marmots were still whistling above ground, though they were layered up in fat and thick coats, ready for hibernation.

fat marmot with thick winter coat ready for hibernation

The most common birds still active in the mountains were Water pipits and Black redstarts. A flock of Citril finches foraged near the cremallera station. Among the vulture traffic were a pair of Lammergeiers, swooping close together. One clutched what looked like a jaw bone with teeth.

bearded vultures in the eastern pyrenees




Blue in the shade

September 21st, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

By a riera in Montseny, Southern white admirals were flying, flickering past in black and white.  One settled in the shade, among nettles and brambles, and at this angle it turned deep blue, a colour it usually conceals.

southern white admiral (Limenitis reducta) turning blue

Overlooking the stream, there were glints of metallic turquoise as Beautiful demoiselles displayed.

beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) in Montseny wings closedbeautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) on Montseny displaying

After a summer shower, rain drops and tiny tree frogs clustered on the waxy leaves of Montjuïc’s pond vegetation. One day I’ll find the elusive blue morph.

mediterranean tree frog on Montjuic after the rain

Viperine snake takes on large Water frog (and gives up)

June 22nd, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Walking along a hot, dusty track in the Alt Emporda, a woodchat shrike singing in a nearby tree and bee eaters dipping and diving over the olive groves, we heard a piteous crying sound.   It was coming from the long trough-like irrigation channel at the side of the track: a strongly protesting Iberian water frog (Pelophylax perezi) was in the grip of a Viperine snake (Natrix maura).

viperine  snake (Natrix maura) captures Iberian water frog

The aquatic snake had seized the frog by the leg and was swimming vigorously up and down the channel, the belly of its helpless prisoner flashing white in all the whirling.

viperine snake swims with captive water frog

The non-venomous snake next tried tightly knotting itself around its resistant prey, its mouth still gripping the leg.

viperine snake knots itself around iberian water frog

Suddenly it seemed to tire, released its coils and swam to the side of the channel.  The frog waited a moment, and then tried to swim away.  But its movement immediately triggered a reaction in the snake, which this time seized the amphibian by the back.

viperine snake (Natrix maura) biting iberian water frog (Pelophylax perezi)

Despite the considerable gape of the Viperine, it was clear the frog was too big for it to swallow. Eventually the frog was allowed to make a getaway, but fatally weakened, it didn’t survive the attack.

Zooming in on butterflies: mating

May 25th, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The female Cleopatra perched immobile on a sprig of rosemary, while the male hovered in close attendance. In courtship the male’s movements were less erratic than usual, and the orange glow on the forewing, which flashes so beguilingly in early spring sunshine, was captured.

male cleopatra butterfly (Gonepteryx cleopatra) upperwing

The female Brimstone was in the middle of the path, abdomen tilted upwards.  A sign of sexual receptivity?  On the contrary: it was a strong negative message for the sulphurous suitor trotting hopefully around her flattened wings. No doubt another male had got there first.

brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) mating and wing-walking

At last, love consummated. The two Common blues in the grass were locked in a lengthy back-to-back union. Even when disturbed, they flew off fused together.

mating common blues (Polyommatus icarus) fused together

Springtime in Barcelona: Montjuïc

April 23rd, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Poo-pooPoo-poo. Perched on one of the tall Cyprus trees that surround Montjuïc cemetery, a hoopoe is calling, a peaceful sound of spring. But a rival takes objection, and a bout of fierce hissing ensues, as the aggressor tries to claim the territory.  Feathers are spread wide – the wings, tail and crest – making the birds appear double in size.

hoopoes dispute territory on Montjuic

A common visitor to Barcelona on spring migration is the Willow warbler.  This one was thoroughly grooming a blossoming Judas tree.

willow warbler pausing on migration in Montjuic Barcelona

A much rarer migrant is the Vagrant emperor dragonfly. Like the Willow warbler, it had paused on Montjuïc to refuel, after probably beginning its journey in North Africa.  It was hunting by the ponds in the Jardins de Mossen Cinto, a male recognisable by its blue saddle.

Vagrant emperor dragonfly - Anax ephippiger - on Montjuic Barcelona

The discrete presence of pheasants has been detected on Montjuïc this winter, but spring is making them bolder. This one was strutting in full view along the cemetery wall.

pheasant on Montjuic

A jay in the park

February 28th, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

jay in the park

It was probably the number of oak trees in the park that attracted the jays in the first place. In autumn they tirelessly collect and cache acorns. One of them is uncommonly bold and has a passion for peanuts. He only eats about 10%. The rest are carefully buried in the ground or stuffed into pine cones. A roomy crop is useful for carrying away the booty.

jay with a peanut in its crop

The jay has meticulous habits.  After burying the peanut, he carefully camouflages the spot by rearranging leaf litter and bark.  This usually flummoxes the spying magpies.

He’s equally meticulous when eating the peanuts.  The shell is pierced, the first nut carefully put aside, and the second one retrieved. Before eating a nut, the thin red skin is also deftly removed.

jay shellling peanut

When excited, the jay raises his crest, momentarily transformed.

jay with its crest raised

Last spring, his crest was raised a lot – the stresses of parenthood.

jay pursued by fledgling


Montjuïc Castle: the importance of holes

January 1st, 2014 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

A young Montpellier snake, hatched in the walls of Montjuïc Castle, surveys the world outside.  The sandstone wall, mellowing through the centuries, is structurally sound but honeycombed with holes.

An exploring ant gets a foothold on the snake’s mouth, probing hesitantly with its antennae.  The tiny snake doesn’t move and observes cross-eyed.

There’s always lots to observe in an old sunny wall.  Fortunately, Galanthus, who work at promoting and preserving Barcelona’s biodiversity, have so far thwarted misguided attempts to fill the holes of Montjuïc Castle with concrete.

(NB. This photo is not upside-down.)