Articles in ‘Collserola’

How to spot a Praying Mantis

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.

Close encounter on Collserola: Dwarf mantis

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.

Pollen, this way . . .

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Wild weather of recent years has opened up Collserola’s woods, and one of the most rapid colonisers of the new clearings has been the rock rose, especially Sage-leaf Cistus.  This May everywhere you look, hundreds and hundreds of white flowers are shining in the sunlight.

The yellow base of each petal emphasizes the thick clump of stamen, creating a densely yellow heart.

Insects are drawn to the rich, easily accessible supplies of pollen. As well as bumblebees and white-spotted rose beetles I found this male Anthaxia hungarica, with enormous black eyes and green metallic sheen, dining in radiant surroundings.

Another member of the Rock rose family was in flower, Tuberaria guttata, with a strongly marked red-brown ring to guide pollinators to their target.

While holm oaks and pines predominate, in the north of Collserola there are many deciduous oaks. Here, under the shade of the new canopy, Granny’s Nightcaps (Aquilegia vulgaris) are blooming.  The elaborately structured flowers hang down, and the nectar is stowed deep within, at the end of narrow, neatly coiled spurs. Bumble bees were out foraging, but instead of disappearing inside the flower in search of their booty, and emerging dusted in pollen, they were settling on top.  Each spur had a small hole bitten out: the flowers were being cleaned out by backdoor thieves!

Close encounter with Charaxes jasius: the Two-tailed Pasha

Written by Lucy Brzoska

You don’t have to look for Two-tailed Pashas, they will find you.  A friend had described the exact scene of a very close encounter with this sultan of butterflies last year.  It was now late August, the heat had abated slightly, so I headed straight there.

A tiny Praying mantis was a distraction on the way, sitting on top of a seeding Matabou umbel.


When I reached the remote, unvisited location, deep within Collserola, nothing stirred except for a boar, who was trundling through the bushes, before emerging to cross the track and disappearing into an overgrown gully.  The habitat was perfect: shrubby open woodland on a high ridge, with lots of strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo – the Pasha’s food plant), so I decided to sit down, eat some breakfast and see what turned up.

Within minutes I’d been spotted.  The Pasha flew fast around my head, inspected the camera on my lap, and then stuck its proboscis into my sandwich.  It was immediately whipped out again, as if in distaste – uggh! So where’s my rum-soaked rotten banana?

The butterfly then flew up to its vantage point high up in a pine tree, where it remained a while, until giving chase to another Pasha. The rival had staked out an adjoining territory, which it surveyed from a small oak tree.


It sallied down to some faeces in a holly oak bush. It ignored me, absorbed in feeding, using a startlingly red proboscis, which I’ve never seen before (aren’t they usually black?). The beautiful tapestry of the underwings countered the pong of the food matter.


Still trespassing, I was subjected to another prolonged attack. Intensely beating butterfly wings can only tickle, but the determination with which the Pasha repeatedly charged towards me made me want to duck. Then it started sucking at the sweat on my arm, and sat on my shoulder for a while.  Who cared where it might’ve perched before.

Their fearless nature and love of alcohol can get the Two-tailed Pashas into trouble.  A video on Youtube shot by a holidaymaker somewhere on the Med shows one drinking spilt beer on the table, and then falling to the ground when attempting to fly.

Fungal finds in Collserola

Written by Lucy Brzoska

After a week of rainy nights, Collserola is damp and misty. The deciduous oaks bring a golden firelight into the sodden chill woods, and the early morning sunlight and mist entwine in flutes.  Everywhere you hear the winter ching of chaffinches.  Acorns drop, making you look over your shoulder.  The leaves drift down, unhurried, finding their niche on the carpet below.


Miniature flowerpots, covered in moss, have sprouted in the crack of a tree stump.  They’re Fluted Bird’s Nest Fungi (Cyathus striatus), whose spore-filled “eggs”  – or peridioles – are dislodged by raindrops channelled down the inner grooves of the pot.


In the dark undergrowth were clumps of Upright Coral fungi (Ramaria stricta), the colour of dead flesh.  Pallid limbs stretch upwards hoisting the spore away from the woodland floor.


Autumn colours in Collserola

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Though its woods are mainly evergreen, Collserola is livid with colour in the autumn. Blue-violet Rosemary flowers hum densely with bees, and yellow Mediterranean gorse shines against the rich blue sky of San Martín. As if decorated for Christmas, the Strawberry trees are hung with glowing red and orange fruit and clusters of bell-shaped flowers, creamy white like candles.


I found a Praying Mantis in almost exactly the same spot as last year, lightly clinging to a Narrow-leaved Cistus.  It had a contented post-meal air, probably having dined on the bees in the Rosemary bush next door. After cleaning them, it neatly folded its spiky “arms” and remained motionless.


Under the dense Holm oak canopy, in the dark, boar-raked mulch, knots of scarlet tentacles emerge:  Latticed Stinkhorns (Clathrus ruber), or in Catalan Guita de Bruixa – “Witch’s Vomit”. A fungal wonder, it attracts flies with its rotten stench to act as spore-dispersers.


From a fallen tree comes the sound of Pekin Robins – or Red-Billed Leiothrix – who are hiding among the dried branches and leaves. This escapee cagebird, native to the jungles of Southern Asia, feels at home in Collserola, with its overgrown gullies and impenetrable tangles of creepers and brambles.

When disturbed they can’t seem to control their curiosity. One by one, Pekin Robins begin emerging from the dead tree to get a closer look at the intruder, all the time scolding vigorously. I got a noisy close-up of coral-red bills, yellow throats and bright black eyes.   With a steadily expanding population, their colonisation of other areas in Catalonia is imminent.


Collserola, Spain’s newest natural park

After considerable procrastination, Collserola, often described as Barcelona’s lung, has been officially declared a natural park.  With an estimated 2 million visitors a year, Collserola becomes Spain’s second most visited natural park, after the Teide in the Canary Islands.  Maybe it’s also the most unusual, as its wildness exists among ubiquitous electricity pylons, a motorway, a cemetery, and the houses of 15,000 inhabitants. What changes will this new status bring?  An increased budget and size, as the park area is due to be extended by 700 hectares to a total of 8,295.  New rules for the metropolitan urbanites who escape to Collserola’s woods will be announced shortly.  Whooping, hollering, silence-shattering kamikaze mountain bikers, the bane of hikers, will apparently be subjected to stricter control. It will be interesting to see if the urbanising tentacles of the various municipalities that share Collserola will also be brought under control.

Collserola gothic: Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis

Written by Lucy Brzoska

In July the shadowy halls of Collserola’s shallow, trickling streams are filled with a spooky, fluttering presence.Groups of dark insects flicker in the half-light, or perch on isolated vantage points.


These are the male Copper Demoiselles, staking a claim for a stretch of stream. Their wings are black, and their bodies darkly iridescent, tinged purple like blackberries.When impressing the females, they kink their abdomens, revealing a red under-tip.This has saddled the species with the Latin name Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis

The common name, though, is inspired by the rich coppery tones of the female.She signals from a distance with white spots on sepia-coloured wings.


When a male, from his prominent lookout post, sees a female enter his zone, he’s immediately in attendance, serenading her in semaphore.The hovering wings form a cross, a performance being repeated up and down the stream.


After a successful courtship, the female is whisked up to a twig.


Eggs are deposited in a tangle of pink roots at the water’s edge.



Mediterranean autumn

Written by Lucy Brzoska

A Praying Mantis was ensconced in the Sticky Fleabane with a bee in its claws.  It was delicately eating a leg, still sprinkled with fresh pollen, before neatly detaching a wing.  Instead of bright green, like all the mantises I’ve ever seen, this one was a dull khaki colour.  As it chewed, its plump, segmented abdomen pulsed in a rippling movement.  The whole of the body seemed to be concentrated on digesting the bee.


While watching the Mantis, I could hear the liquid notes of robin song.  The woods and parks fill up with migrating robins in the autumn.  As the season moves on, they seem to disperse, but for a while the whole of Collserola vibrates with robins tic-ticking from every bush.

Bee eaten, the Mantis fastidiously cleaned its weapons.  Suspended between the Sticky Fleabane on one side and gorse on the other, it faced the sky as if lying in a hammock.  When I left, it was still absorbed in polishing its spiky forelegs.


Inside the woods, it was warm and humid.  After weeks of drought, a typically intense two-day downpour had washed away the summer dust. Seizing the moment, plants were regenerating their leaves. Boar mud-baths were restored. Bark had turned velvety with moss.  Stones at the side of the path were covered in lichen: a mass of goblets if you looked close.


A fresh crop of puffballs had sprouted in the middle of the path, tender, fragrant and good to eat.  Soon they will age, turn brown and let out a puff of spores.  They’ve been given some great names: the Devil’s Snuffbox and Wolf’s Fart.


Coming down the hill at dusk, the Praying Mantis was still in the same spot, eating the last bee of the day.

Wolf spider in Collserola – Hogna radiata

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Something scurried across the ground in fits and starts: a spider with a bristling brown back.  I approached and found the bristles were a cargo of spiderlings.  Their mother, a Wolf Spider, was moving her brood in broad daylight along a track in Collserola.


At first I thought it was a Mediterranean Tarantula (Lycosa tarantula), but the radial pattern on the thorax should have led me to Hogna radiata.  Another difference between the two species is that H. radiata doesn’t build a burrow, instead roaming to hunt its prey and using stones for shelter.

Looking at the tightly-packed brood, it was possible to make out rounded bodies and a tangle of spiky legs.


Wolf spiders are dutiful mothers who carry the egg sac attached to their spinnerets, quite a burden for an active hunter.  The abdomen has to be kept raised so the egg sac doesn’t drag on the ground.  The mother spider will sit in the sun to warm the eggs, and when the time is right, chew open the silk case to free her brood.  She’ll wait until all the spiderlings have climbed on board and are clinging to her bristles.

Maternal care doesn’t go as far as feeding the young (as in other species, like the Mothercare spider).  Wolf spiderlings survive on nutrients stored in their abdomens and usually after a week they moult and scatter.

Wolf spiders are among the largest spiders in Europe.  H. radiata is only slightly smaller than the Mediterranean Tarantula, the female measuring up to 2.5 cm long.  Out in the open, the spider struck me as vulnerable and defenceless.  But the view from the front was quite different.


The prominent dark eyes – which gleam in the dark if you go searching for it by torch-light – and strong hairy legs – the sprinting spider pounces on its prey like a wolf – warned me I was facing a formidable hunter.

Wolf spiders have far better eyesight than other spiders, and the eyes are arranged in a distinct pattern: a row of four at the bottom, two on top, and two enormous ones in the middle, all visible from the front.  Look at this fantastic close-up.