Articles in ‘Montjuic’

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

Blue in the shade

Written by Lucy Brzoska

By a riera in Montseny, Southern white admirals were flying, flickering past in black and white.  One settled in the shade, among nettles and brambles, and at this angle it turned deep blue, a colour it usually conceals.

southern white admiral (Limenitis reducta) turning blue

Overlooking the stream, there were glints of metallic turquoise as Beautiful demoiselles displayed.

beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) in Montseny wings closedbeautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) on Montseny displaying

After a summer shower, rain drops and tiny tree frogs clustered on the waxy leaves of Montjuïc’s pond vegetation. One day I’ll find the elusive blue morph.

mediterranean tree frog on Montjuic after the rain

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

Montjuïc Castle: the importance of holes

Written by Lucy Brzoska

A young Montpellier snake, hatched in the walls of Montjuïc Castle, surveys the world outside.  The sandstone wall, mellowing through the centuries, is structurally sound but honeycombed with holes.

An exploring ant gets a foothold on the snake’s mouth, probing hesitantly with its antennae.  The tiny snake doesn’t move and observes cross-eyed.

There’s always lots to observe in an old sunny wall.  Fortunately, Galanthus, who work at promoting and preserving Barcelona’s biodiversity, have so far thwarted misguided attempts to fill the holes of Montjuïc Castle with concrete.

(NB. This photo is not upside-down.)

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.

Zooming in on Montjuic (v): gecko

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The craggy old gecko lies fossilized on the stone wall, flattened against the warm rock. A bug comes briskly by, and the gecko comes to life, peering down.

The bug quickens its pace, but the gecko’s tongue is faster.

Nothing more to do but lick one’s lips, settle back down into the warm rock, and wait to see what else turns up.

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

What do Barcelona’s parakeets eat in autumn?

Written by Lucy Brzoska

You could hear the sounds of contented chomping from a distance. The fig trees scattered around Montjuic were heavily laden this September, much to the delight of Monk parakeets and other birds.

In October Magnolia trees in the Jardins de Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer produce large pods of shiny red berries, which are particularly appreciated by Great tits and Ring-necked parakeets. Far less common than Monks in Barcelona – and far shyer – Ring-necks are distinguished by their long thin tails, and higher-pitched screech.

November sees the climax of the acorn crop in Palau Reial Park. Along with Wood pigeons, red squirrels and jays, Monk parakeets are to be found either foraging on the ground under the oaks, or up in the tree tops. No stashing away for the winter though, the acorns are gobbled up on the spot.

 

The Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) in Barcelona

 

Written by Lucy Brzoska

I half-glanced at the orange butterfly, expecting to see a Wall (Lasiommata megera), an abundant species on Montjuic. After a double-take, I realised it was something else altogether. Having looked wistfully at so many photographs of this species, recognition was instant. I was moving carefully forward with the camera, when a jogger pounded past, and the Plain Tiger was gone.

But a quick scramble up the slope, behind a bush of broom, revealed large clusters of Coronilla de Fraile (“Friar’s pate” – Globularia alypum), and there, feeding calmly, were three Plain Tigers.

D. chrysippus is an extremely common butterfly species in Africa and Asia, but a recent arrival in Iberia. A strong migrator, after emerging, each generation moves on.  Well-established in Andalucia, they have been recorded all along the Mediterranean coast as far north as Roses on the Costa Brava. JM Sesma of Biodiversidad Virtual suggests the ones I saw were the progeny of Tigers recorded in the Delta del Ebro two months previously.

The Plain Tiger is a cooperative butterfly to photograph.  Rather than erratic flight, or camouflage, it protects itself by toxicity, so readily displays its colours to potential  predators. The Tiger’s wings, with a range of tones – from orange to russet and brown – sharply outlined in black, are beautiful, but best of all, in my opinion, is the body and head, covered in striking white polka dots.  The males are distinguished by a prominent white spot on the  hind underwing, edged in black, which is a concentration of scent scales used for mating.

Interestingly, the spread of D. Chrysippus in Iberia has been abetted by the widespread invasion of a garden escapee, Gomphocarpus fruticosus, a member of the Milkweed family.  Danaid caterpillars feed on Milkweed plants, storing up the toxic alkaloids from their milky sap, enough to make an unwary predator vomit.