Written by Lucy Brzoska
On a trip to the Mediterranean, far from their Cantabrian mountain homes, Lisa and Teresa ventured into the big city to meet up with the Iberianature Barcelona contingent. Nick and I then accompanied them for a tour of some of the natural spaces that sustain the metropolitan populace.
The Garraf is an antidote to claustrophobic canyons, which is how Barcelona’s streets sometimes feel. It’s an airy expanse of garrigue-covered hills, open to the shining sea. We didn’t have to go far to find the Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius), top on Lisa and Teresa’s list along with the Autumn narcissus (Narcissus serotinus). While the Pashas chased each other around the fig trees near the visitors’ centre, Lisa and Teresa stalked them with their cameras.
Meanwhile, Nick and I followed a signposted botanical route, an excellent way to learn some of the plant species typical of the area: Kermes oak, Prickly juniper, and cistus. Nick spotted a solitary white flower, fragile among all the tough leathery leaves and spines. It was photographed and duly forgotten. We also discovered that the Garraf strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) produce some of the best arbutus cherries anywhere: sweet and acidic, unlike the bland fruit I’d tasted before. They clearly thrive on this sun-soaked limestone terrain.
The lonely white flower did turn out to be an Autumn narcissus, as was discovered much later in the car. It was too late to turn back, but Teresa forgave us and continued to share her extensive knowledge. So we were able to learn that the Tree heath (Erica arborea) familiar to everyone who walks in Collserola only grows in acidic soil, and here is replaced by the purple-flowering Mediterranean heath (Erica multiflora). An insect slipping its black segments across the fallen pine needles turned out to be a Glow worm larva (Lampyris noctiluca), with a voracious appetite for snails. A dirty clump of debris hanging on a guardrail was identified as the case of a Bagworm.
After some debate, we decided there was time for the Llobregat Delta. Back down at sea level and just after the turn-off for the reserve, something white caught our eye: an extensive patch of Autumn Narcissi.
After liberal applications of mosquito repellent and an osprey-sighting, we crossed the bridge into the reserve. Outside the hides, translucent herons fished in sparkling water, sandpipers bathed in the shallows, cattle egrets groomed the horses, kingfishers streaked here and there, and spoonbills tried to keep up with their restless spatula-shaped bills.
There was little time left, but Collserola could not be missed. Up by the Forat del Vent, suitably windy, a flock of Pekin robins (Leiothrix lutea) held our attention with their melodious Blackcap-like song. Unlike other exotic escapees that settle in more urban environments, these South Asian cage birds are breeding in woodlands. They’re being monitored but studies suggest their presence has so far had no harmful effect on the authoctonous species.
We’d run out of daylight. After dropping Nick and I off at the metro, Lisa and Teresa drove away for the next stage of their adventure.