Viperine snake takes on large Water frog

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.)

How to spot a Praying Mantis

November 28th, 2013 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

One way is to look out for unusual portents, unnatural juxtapositions, something that just doesn’t feel right.  Like an immobile upside-down butterfly.

This butterfly was not responding to the other Large whites visiting the sticky fleabane on this warm October day. A closer look revealed it was firmly in the grip of a Praying mantis, who was eating it head-first, delicately picking off the proboscis, like a delicacy to be savoured.

The discarded white wings fluttered to the ground, and the mantis became invisible again, merging perfectly with the plant stem.

Zooming in on Montjuic (vi): autumn

October 25th, 2013 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

An old olive tree is creaking.  It’s not the wind, but the sound of a tree frog singing from somewhere inside the hollow trunk.  The warm humid October weather suits Mediterranean tree frogs, and they appear on the dew-saturated leaves, in bushes and flower beds.  Some had shimmied up the newly blooming Red hot pokers.

Migrating song thrushes have settled unobtrusively on the hill. You’re aware of them but they hide out of sight, communicating with low calls.  Other arrivals are chiffchaffs.  They’re far less shy, too small to fear the shotgun.

I’m going along the cobbled path to the Sot del Migdia, and feel watched.  Just above me, I see tall ears, and a prominent brown eye.  It’s a boom year for rabbits on Montjuic – newly excavated warrens are gaping. They’ll be glad summer’s over, and the arid slopes have turned green, not so much from rain, which has been scarce, but from the heavy dew.

Zooming in on Montjuic (v): gecko

August 28th, 2013 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The craggy old gecko lies fossilized on the stone wall, flattened against the warm rock. A bug comes briskly by, and the gecko comes to life, peering down.

The bug quickens its pace, but the gecko’s tongue is faster.

Nothing more to do but lick one’s lips, settle back down into the warm rock, and wait to see what else turns up.

Close encounter on Collserola: Dwarf mantis

August 14th, 2013 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Illyrian thistles (Onopordum illyricum) are magnificent, even when all dried up.  By mid-summer their heads are like wicker baskets brimming with seeds.  When I looked inside one, something rapidly scuttled out on long thin legs, spider-like.  Then I noticed the curled abdomen, and thought it was a tiny Cone-head Mantis. But once it had stopped darting round to the opposite side of the thistle, I found its head was heart-shaped.

This female Dwarf Mantis, an Ameles species, probably A. spallanzania, has a plump curled abdomen that makes it look like a tiny rocking horse.

The mantis was minute, but just like its larger relative, it avidly monitored its surroundings and it repeatedly swivelled its head and trained its antennae in my direction.  When a colourful stink beetle walked by (Eurydema ornata), it instantly sprung from one thistle stem to another to get a better view, using the spines like the rungs on a ladder.

I wanted to stay and watch the mantis hunt, but the sun was rapidly going down. Reluctantly I left it there, a perfectly camouflaged speck on the hillside.

Flight patterns across Barcelona

August 2nd, 2013 Written by Lucy Brzoska.

One of a series of extraordinary photos taken by Barcelona resident Laurent Godel, this captures the calm steady rhythm of a Grey heron crossing the city.  But what really inspires Laurent are swifts, and their exuberance as they wheel over the roof tops.

You can find more of his work here.