Archive for August, 2010

A changing Catalan landscape: the Mountain Pine

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The typical tree of the Pyrenees, Pinus uncinata, is spreading in Catalonia, as traditional agricultural and livestock activities decline.  In the last 50 years, the Mountain Pine population has grown by 16%, reports the  Centre Tecnològic Forestal de Catalunya (CTFC), after a comparative study of aerial photographs.  With income in mountain areas increasingly generated by tourism, the Mountain Pine has been free to colonise areas with good growing conditions, unlike the tree in the photo, surviving at the upper limit of its range in the natural park of Aiguestortes and Sant Maurici.

Bird data bank in Catalonia

Birders living or travelling in Catalonia can report their sightings on Ornitho.cat – a web page run by ICO, the Catalan Ornithological Institute.  While all reports contribute to a very useful data bank, it’s also fun to find out what people are seeing and where.  Access to precise data on the following species is restricted: Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus); Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis); Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus): Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus); Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus); Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos); Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor); Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus); Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata); Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) You can also decide to keep your own sightings hidden.  There’s a choice of languages – Catalan, Spanish and English – and an option to add comments and photos.

Walking on the edge

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Stepping off the Barcelona train in Sant Marti de Centelles, you can smell grass and hear House martin chatter.  If you’ve just escaped the coastal fug, you breathe in the summer morning freshness with relief.

In the woods outside the village the cicadas were still asleep and it felt almost spring-like.  Back in May these woods were starred with Junquillo Falso  (Aphyllanthes monspeliensis).  Now the long grass is full of Scabious and a leggy indigo flower – Cupid’s Dart (Catananche caerulea).

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Common centaury and oregano cluster about, and the air ripples with butterflies.  All day long, every step would disturb clouds of butterflies. Among the Marbled Whites and Ilex Hairstreaks were Provence Chalk-hill Blues (Polyommatus hispana).

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The easiest way to breach the cinglera is by the looping dusty track from Sant Marti. As you climb you hear the ravens in constant communication, a mix of low gravelly calls and high-pitched trumpeting, and best of all, the bill knocking.

Cingle means precipice in Catalan, and the Cingles de Berti are a long rippling cliff along one side of the Congost Valley.  The slopes are steep and wooded, with layers of bare rock, where a large raven colony is currently roosting.

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The slopes come to an abrupt halt on table-top flatlands, where swallows were skimming over stubbly fields. The rocky edge, gilded with stone crop, is partially hidden by a strip of woodland scrub.  Paths bring you out onto unexpected balconies, where the land falls away to unfettered views of Montseny on the other side of the valley, and the Pyrenees if the day’s clear.

Large dark brown butterflies were patrolling the path: Great Banded Graylings (Brintesia circe).  They were particularly drawn to the Lesser Burdock, nectaring at the thistle-like flowers or sucking the sap. If you dawdled on the overgrown path, the Greylings would treat you as a convenient perch.

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There was a moment of drama near the small reservoir.  A very large butterfly rushed at me from a tree.  After two intense fluttering attacks, targetting the back of my head, it returned to its high perch.  Though all over in a flash, I’m pretty sure the ambush had been staged by a Camberwell Beauty.

Red-veined Darters were flying in red and gold tandem.  Little Grebes ululated from the reeds and laughter and screams drifted over from the nearby farmhouse – the sounds of an open air swimming pool on a summer’s day.

I found the path that turns through the holm oaks onto a secluded balcony, directly opposite Tagamanent and other Montseny landmarks. Dragonflies were hunting at the edge of the precipice.  A Black-tailed Skimmer gorged on a large fly. A kestrel floated past, escorted by House martins.  The wild call of buzzards resonated, as two flew in unison. Swifts were flying overhead on a clear path south, leaving us already.

In a recent conversation, looking under rocks had been advocated, so out in a clearing I lifted one at random.  It was quite heavy and I had to put it down almost immediately.  The image of a pale scorpion lingered though, flat as a zodiac symbol.  Back among the butterflies, I found a small Pearly Heath (Coenonympha arcania), with a sparse clarity to its ocelli and a silvery edge to its underwings.

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I stopped to watch the ravens before going back downhill.  They were gathering in numbers, diving and swerving, and best of all, flipping onto their backs.  I saw them assembling by the antennae for a preliminary swirl – a warm up for the major swarm before twilight.

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