Articles in ‘Birds’

Black storks at the service station

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

 

 

Early signs of spring in Barcelona

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

Urban ravens

10553405_724644314276096_1549117052573987740_n Strongly associated with wilderness, when ravens turned up in the intensely urban environment of Barcelona this summer, it caused surprise and excitement. Two young ravens, still weak flyers, were rescued off the street, and set free after a couple of weeks in a wildlife recuperation centre. Regular observations of ravens have been made in the area of Park Ciutadella throughout the summer. By coincidence, ravens have also made an appearance in Manhattan this year. More photos and information from Galanthus.

Springtime in Barcelona: Montjuïc

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

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

 

Zooming in on Montjuic (vi): autumn

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.

Flight patterns across Barcelona

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.

Wood warbler spring

Five days of rain, rough seas, and a lowering dark sky. The strong easterly winds at the peak of spring migration swept many birds off their usual path, and some of the lucky ones made it ashore in Catalunya.

Observations of Wood warblers, which breed mainly north of Iberia, are usually scarce in Catalunya.  This year, by the end of April, Ornithocat had recorded more than 200. On one of these dark rainy afternoons, I found several on Montjuic, scouring the trees along with Willow warblers. This photo was taken when the weather improved, the Wood warbler’s lemon yellow throat reflecting light under a freshly grown canopy.

Even in the gloom, the male Pied flycatchers were sharply visible. They are regular transients through Barcelona, but rarely seen in such density as this year.

On the last night of the deluge, the rain stopped just at dawn. On Montjuic, everything was steaming as the sun rose. A tremendous concentration of migrants had built up.  In the pine woods, every tree seemed to harbour a flycatcher (mainly Pied, but also Spotted), sallying out at regular intervals, gorging on the thick clouds of flies on this almost tropical morning. You could hear nightingales and Golden orioles singing, and observe many other species you might not expect to find in Barcelona, including Woodchat shrikes, whinchats, whitethroats and Common redstarts.

Even before the bad weather, I’d come across a pair of Woodchat shrikes who’d stopped to replenish forces on Montjuic. While the male sang from the top of a tree, the female tugged at a lizard impaled on an acacia thorn.

On the Cami del Mar, the Black redstarts had moved on to their breeding grounds by the start of April. Briefly in their place appeared a resplendent Common redstart.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Wild couples in Barcelona

Written by Lucy Brzoska

In Barcelona, a sign that spring isn’t far away is an intensification of twig gathering by Monk parakeets (an activity they tend to do all year round). Away from their raucous nest colonies, built high up in the towering pines of Palau de Pedralbes park, a parakeet couple were snatching some quality time together.  Snuggled up close, they were taking it in turns to preen.

Another sign of incipient spring in the city is the sound of serins singing. The jangling, irrepressible song, delivered from a suitably high spot, can be traced to a small yellow-breasted bird – Europe’s smallest finch and close relation to the canary.

In a prelude to copulation, the more discretely coloured female serin leaned over to receive her mate’s gift of food.

On Montjuic, two large fuzzy black carpenter bees flew past in an embrace – the female had been seized by the male, recognisable by its smaller size and orange-tipped antennae. When they settled on a leaf, you could see another distinguishing feature: the male’s silvery grey mesosomal hairs.

It seems that carpenter bees are prone to overheating, as they fly slowly and are black, so the pale colour is thought to be useful in reflecting away sunlight. Males spend more time out in the open – territory patrolling, looking for females, and then feeding in the afternoons, when the females are back in their shelters. (See this study for more interesting info.)

Much of the private life of the Red squirrels in Palau de Pedralbes park goes on out of sight, very high up in the trees. They come down to earth to dig up their stashed autumnal loot or explore the rubbish bins. This one was pulling up dried grass.  With a very large mouthful, it ran up an Aleppo pine to furnish its drey, where it would soon be giving birth.

 

Strictly come raven dancing

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Trona means pulpit in Catalan. But the great rock bearing this name that thrusts out of the Cingles de Berti feels more like a throne. You can sit up there on great stone slabs and survey the land: the misty Valles plain stretching south towards Barcelona, the rounded peaks of Montseny across the Congost valley to the east, and the Pyrenees to the north. In winter there are Crag martins weaving around, ganging together to chase off a buzzard. Mediterranean heather is in mid-flower, droning with bees. The day I climbed up there I found ravens courting.

Ravens are a constant presence on the Cingles. At the end of the day, they sometimes assemble near the mobile mast above Aiguafreda, where they swirl round and round. On La Trona I watched a single pair: perhaps they were setting up a nest somewhere. I’d been listening to their calls as I climbed up, including bill-knocking and a low but resonant guttural sound. (Listen to a wide range of raven calls here.)

Though very large (bigger than buzzards), they are incredibly graceful birds in flight. They were completely focused on each other, moving in perfect synchrony, sometimes touching. They plummeted down and rose up again, and spun like barrels. I watched until they were swallowed up by the mist rolling from across the flat fields.