Articles in ‘Palau de Pedralbes park’

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

Black-tailed Skimmers at lunchtime

Written by Lucy Brzoska

With parallel worlds evolving in the park, it’s amazing what can be happening by your elbow, unnoticed.

I’ve seen squirrels hanging upside down on the tree trunks, looking down at oblivious heads only inches away.  Or Black rats bursting out of the hedge, flying straight into a litter bin, while people chat or have lunch nearby, none the wiser. And the other day it was the Black-tailed Skimmers.

A pair were trying to mate in the wide expanse of the palace forecourt, getting pestered by a lone marauding male.   The couple finally found some peace and quiet on the stone balustrade that runs behind the semi circle of benches.

black-tailed-skimmers-orthetrum-cancellatum

You could clearly see the way the male folds the darkened tip of his flexible abdomen over the head of the female, to secure her in position.  Or the way the female uses four legs to hold onto her partner, while the third pair gets tucked right back, neatly out of the way.

Perhaps I disturbed them, because the Skimmers flew over to a flowering bush, next to a woman absorbed in her newspaper. The dragonflies, their green eyes like aviator goggles, held on tight, as the twig swung in the breeze.

black-tailed-skimmers-in-wheel-position

After separating, the female rested on the ground for a while.  Female Black-tailed Skimmers emerge into the world bright yellow, but with age can change colour.  This one had an indeterminate grey green shimmer.

female-black-tailed-skimmer1

I saw her zipping over the ornamental fountain, dropping off eggs at a terrific speed.  The only pity is it wasn’t the pond, where chances of hatching are significantly higher.

A new generation of damselflies

Written by Lucy Brzoska

All round the pond, firmly stuck to the low concrete wall, were quantities of papery husks.  I immediately suspected what they might be, remembering the concentration of mating Western Willow Spreadwings (Lestes viridis) in the park last autumn.  It must have been a spectacular sight to see the nymphs emerge from the pond in such numbers and burst out of their unravelling skins.

One damselfly was still clinging to an exuvia, much smaller than itself. How could it fit inside?  Reading up, I found that once half out, they pause and inflate their wings and abdomen into shape with hemolymph, the insect equivalent of blood.

lestes-viridis-damselfly-with-exuvia

Looking closely at one of the exuvia, it appears like a Mutoid Waste sculpture. The long “snout” is the labial mask, or lower lip, which the nymph flips open to grab passing prey.

lestes-viridis-exuvia-showing-labial-mask

The nymphs do their work well. The two biology students who volunteer to keep algae levels at a  level acceptable for park authorities found no mosquito larvae in the pond at all.

After the mass metamorphosis, the damselflies had dispersed, but I did find one pristine young female clinging to a leaf.  Her wings had a pink shimmer and were still held close together, not at the 45 degree angle that gives the species its name.  With any luck, in a few weeks she would be laying eggs in the bamboo grove by the water’s edge.

lestes-viridis-damselfy-recently-emerged

Smug parakeets and resourceful magpies

Written by Lucy Brzoska

monk-parakeet-eats-bread

There was a strange crackling sound coming from above. The lime trees were filled with parakeets crunching on crusty pieces of bread, which they held securely in their claws.  They were releasing a fine shower of crumbs, which the pigeons below waddled after.

magpie-watching-parakeets

Magpies observed the scene, frustrated by their own innate caution, which won’t allow them to approach people scattering food for birds.  Instead, they resorted to chasing the smug-looking parakeets to make them drop their booty.

happy-monk-parakeet

But magpies have their own tricks.  They dare to disappear right inside the litter bins in their search for discarded sandwiches, throwing silver foil about.  They also keep a close eye on occupants of park benches.  The second someone gets up, they parachute down, tails held high, and quickly scour the area.

magpie-inspects-bin

A long, shimmering tail is a sign of a healthy bird and a desirable mate. Magpies with the most resplendent tails breed earlier and are more successful at rearing young, studies have found. Unusually, this magpie was using its tail as a handy prop while exploring holes in the wall.  In this case, a few worn and dishevelled feathers would only betray its owner’s resourcefulness.

magpie-explores-wall

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

October heat

Written by Lucy Brzoska

red-squirrel-in-pedralbes-park

The roast chestnut stands were raising the temperature of the city streets while people roasted in the October sun. In the park, where benches in the shade were at a premium, there were other reminders it was officially no longer summer: the rustling of squirrels picking acorns in the oaks, or the engrossed silence of parakeets gorging on berries and seeds. One day the grass was cut, and a flock of swallows paused to dip and dive and feast on the disturbed insects. Pedralbes Park is on the busy Diagonal road, a causeway for migrating hirundines, just like the coast.

monk-parakeet-eating-berries

A  new sign has appeared at the pond: “Urban diversity protection programme. Amphibian reproduction point.” Hopefully, pond life will be allowed to develop undisturbed and the bright spark who thought to drain and scrub it out mid-May will now be restrained. Sheltering from the heat, I sat down under the Buckthorn tree to watch the legion of Darters who’d gathered to mate.

One had set up his territory in front and hovered in a haze of just-discernable wing-movement. I was awestruck by this display of energy. It only allowed itself the briefest of rests on the ledge. These breaks would last all of 2 seconds before it zipped off in pursuit of a rival Darter, driving it into another part of the pond. As well as aerial pursuits, there was also a lot of ovipositing going on, the darters still in tandem as the female dipped into the water.

hovering-darter-sympetrum-sp

Even more copious, though much less conspicuous, were the Western Willow Spreadwings. They’ve been in the park throughout summer and autumn, barely noticeable except as a spindly insect presence, dangling off leaf tips.

western-willow-spreadwing-on-leaf

But if one lands nearby you notice their beautiful green and coppery colouring, and their astonishing eyes. Our eyes, set deep in sockets, are half hidden. These orbs are on full display.

western-willow-spreadwing-lestes-viridis

On this day there were couples of Spreadwings dangling all over the place, looking for a quiet spot. One pair alighted in the Buckthorn tree. The male clasped the branch and then his long straight abdomen began to fold. He slowly lifted the female, like a dancer raising his partner.

lestes-viridis-mating-female

She reciprocated by thrusting her abdomen up in the air, until they were linked together in a jagged heart. While he clung to the branch, she clasped her abdomen. They remained like this, rocking gently from side to side.

lestes-viridis-mating-damselflies

This year I’ve seen 5 Dragonfly species in the park: the Broad Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea), Blacktailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum), Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii), Desert Darter (Sympetrum sinaiticum) and the Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator).  On this occasion, despite clicking away, I somehow managed to avoid all the best ID angles!  They might have been Common Darters, but a positive ID is impossible.

 

Late July in the park

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Up in the pine trees, the hectic sawing of the cicadas almost drowns out the parakeets. The sprinklers are on in force, hissing curtains of recycled rain water. When puddles form on the paths, magpies and parakeets waddle over to bathe.  A Tree rat emerges from the undergrowth, spruce and bright-eyed, and wants to join in, but is driven off by a magpie.  Tail-pecking is a tried and trusted technique, often used on cats.

I get to see my first ever cicada.  It seems ludicrous that I’d never seen one before. Fixed quite low on the tree, its body vibrates without pause, long wings curved like sycamore seeds.

cicada-tibicen-plebejus

Over in the pond, an inevitable Red-eared slider swims ponderously past.    Someone’s also introduced shoals of small gold fish – several days hunting for any kingfisher passing by next autumn.  Dragonflies sunbathe on the stone slabs round the edge and I try to sneak up for a closer look.

broad-scarlet-dragonfly-crocothemis-erythraea

The Broad Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) is almost transluscent under the hot sun.  It’s saturated with colour, which spills over to the wings, where the veins near the body are like red netting.  The amber pterostygma at the tips are like small stained glass windows.

There’s another basking dragonfly – the Blacktailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) – stocky and powder blue.

black-tailed-skimmer-orthetrum-cancellatum

So many male dragonflies – where are the females? I spot two Scarlet Darters coupled up in the wheel position.  Once released, the beige-coloured female oviposits pogoing across the water, dangerously oblivious to the group of young mallards.  One lunges at her, but she’s away.

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.