Articles in ‘Mammals’

Humans invade boar territory

It’s a worldwide phenomenon – whether bears investigating trash cans in the US, coyotes roaming New York, or boars exploring Barcelona – wildlife and human territories are increasingly overlapping.

boars at the edge of Barcelona

Near Vallvidrera railway station, on the outskirts of Barcelona, a mother boar availed herself of the contents of a litter bin in broad daylight. While two of her rayones suckled, three others rummaged through the scattered rubbish, polishing off some olives left in a can.  

The bins are designed to be easily emptied.  Earlier that afternoon, a boar had expertly tilted it with its chin to dump the contents on the ground. They are a resourceful and adaptable species. 

boar empties litter bin

101 boars – well, 14 actually

Written by Lucy Brzoska

An hour before twilight, deep in Collserola, I was sitting at the side of a track, eating an apple. I lobbed the core behind me without a second thought. Some moments later, there were rustlings and quiet grunts, but nothing to see.  They then started emerging onto the track, small boars, more and more of them, like a version of 101 Dalmatians.  In fact there were 12, accompanied by two female adults.

track fills with young boars

One of the females stood protectively in front of the youngsters, planted squarely in the middle of the track, looking straight towards us.

female boar in collserola

The young ones, recently grown out of their baby stripes, were herded to the other side and up the opposite bank.

large number of young boars

Then I saw him, the proud owner of my apple core, trotting along, closely followed by a rival, whose short mane was bristling in frustration.

two young boars

Two of the frisky young boars came over to sample Stephanie’s walking sticks, before they all disappeared into the undergrowth again.  

curious young boars

Wolf sightings in Catalan Pyrenees in 2014

wolf in queralbs The photo is indistinct, but the animal unmistakable. It was taken last February by Ferran Jordà on a cold grey day near Queralbs in the Catalan Pyrenees. The wolf observed belongs to the subspecies Canis lupus italicus. Signs of lone wolves have been found in Catalunya in the last ten years, but such photos are rare. Then in July, a French family came across a wolf in the vicinity of Puig Mal, and, with camera equipment to hand, were able to record a brief but incredibly close encounter. wolf on Puig Mal  

On the rocks: high altitude fauna in the eastern Pyrenees

Written by Lucy Brzoska

silhouette of mouflon in Vall de Nuria

Early on an October morning, the light among the ski installations of the Nuria valley was grey, and the sky overhead a cold blue.  As we walked up the steep Noucreus path, an invisible sun ignited the tall grass on the mountain crest. Stars flew in the firmament – seeds blown by a wind we couldn’t feel.

wind sends grass seeds soaring

On the crest of La Olla, where strong gusts sent vapours whirling, butterflies were on the wing, at 2,800 metres: Clouded yellow, Red admiral and Painted lady. Some males were waiting there to pick up a mate on migration.

The turn-off point was the Coll de l’Eina, and the low sun illuminated the herds of mouflon in the valley below.  It was their rutting season, and rams were gathering in large numbers, pursuing the ewes with gaping mouths.

a ram for each ewe

mouflon ram in the rutting season

On the way down, we startled some chamois – a young one ran after its mother.

young pyrenean chamois

Marmots were still whistling above ground, though they were layered up in fat and thick coats, ready for hibernation.

fat marmot with thick winter coat ready for hibernation

The most common birds still active in the mountains were Water pipits and Black redstarts. A flock of Citril finches foraged near the cremallera station. Among the vulture traffic were a pair of Lammergeiers, swooping close together. One clutched what looked like a jaw bone with teeth.

bearded vultures in the eastern pyrenees

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Wild boars in the centre of Barcelona

boar-in-collserola The areas of Barcelona nearest to the Collserola hills are now quite used to visits from the natural park’s thriving boar population, particularly at the end of summer when the ground is rock-hard and food supplies scarce.  But on Saturday night a family of boars was seen trotting through Gràcia, a central barrio of the city, accessible only after crossing an extremely busy ring road.  The same family has been observed this August exploring Gaudí’s Güell Park.  There’s a video from TV3 showing the police herding the ungulates through the streets back to the hills.  The photo shows a not-so-wild boar of Collserola.

Cold days in the park

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The wind cuts like a knife and few brave the park. Benches stand empty and no one picnics on the grass. And strangely, there’s no sound coming out of the pine and cypress trees.  It turns out that the Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) have come to ground en masse and are foraging on the deserted lawns.

monk-parakeets-in-barcelona-park

Sometimes you can glimpse a Black rat (Rattus rattus) deep in an ornamental hedge, nibbling on berries.  But when the coast was clear, one cautiously ventured into the open, carefully reading the air for information.

black-rat

Without the lunch time regulars the litter bins offer lean pickings, but this triumphant Red squirrel had managed to procure a large wedge of bread.  It zipped up the tree before the magpies noticed.

red-squirrel-with-bread

Even in winter, life flickers in an old stone wall, as lizards (Podarcis hispanica) in a variety of sizes and shades come out to catch the noon rays.

sunbathing-wall-lizards

When a frayed Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) settled on one of the last leaves, it seemed to be surfing a wave.

speckled-wood-butterfly

Heavenly mud

Written by Lucy Brzoska

During the recent years of drought, in parched, dusty Collserola, life was more of a struggle for the boars.  Their long muscular snouts found the ground unyielding, and food supplies dwindled. And for an animal that can’t sweat, damp places to cool off were few and far between.

But the continuous rainfall this winter has restored streams that had run dry.  The water took a long time to seep through, but finally springs I’ve never seen working have woken up.  And for the boars, apart from making their ploughing a lot easier, there are now plenty of muddy puddles to bathe in.

Mud also makes walks in Collserola more interesting.  Signs conjure up nocturnal scenes we’re not privy to. We can see where the boars habitually rub their flanks on the rough pine trees after a satisfying wallow.

And two-toed hoof marks proliferate.

In a stream just below a narrow road in Vallvidrera, opposite a row of houses, a boar was satiating its thirst and rooting in the soft mud. Tiny eyes contrasted with large hairy ears and snout – reflecting weak sight but sharp senses of hearing and smell.

It was a typical Collserola periphery boar: used to living alongside people.  Hopefully, it wouldn’t venture too far across the boundary.  (See previous post for boar problems in Collserola.)

Birds in the bush

Written by Lucy Brzoska

There are two main parts to Pedralbes Park – an ornamental open space, divided by an avenue of lime trees, which leads to a wooded area further back. Bushes of Japanese spindle (Euonymus japonicus) – an oriental evergreen shrub – add symmetry to the triangular lawns. Gardeners find this unfussy and drought-resistant plant very useful, as do robins (Erithacus rubecula), who appreciate its dense cover. In January the berries attract Sardinian warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) at a time when insects are scarce.

It’s not only birds that enjoy the fruit. The Japanese spindle has been trimmed into an extensive hedge, enclosing the lawns. Protracted rustling from within attracted my attention.

Two Black rats (Rattus rattus) were feasting on the orange pulp. They looked clean and wholesome, with their pink paws and pale grey underparts.  Their ears are proportionally larger than those of their more urban cousins, the Brown rats, millions of whom are reported to live in Barcelona’s sewers.

Over in the bush near my bench, a robin had appeared in a gap, like a proprietor at the gate, on the lookout for a bit of lunch.

While retrieving a piece of apple, the robin tilted its head skywards, alerting me to the kestrel surveying the park. The parakeets soon drove the predator away.