Articles in ‘weather’

When winter turns to spring

Written by Lucy Brzoska

February 2012 will be remembered as one of the coldest on record in Catalunya. Waterfalls and rivers froze solid, and thin layers of ice even covered the ponds in Barcelona’s parks. The bitter Siberian air finally abated, and the sun felt warm again. One of the Montjuic castle sparrows was airing his feathers and singing non-stop in celebration.

A prize piece of territory on the Cami del Mar is the corner where people sit and look at the view, and quite often eat at the same time.  The robin that rules there looks sleek and smooth, no longer a ball of fluffy insulation.

Across the road from the Funicular station, there’s a tall row of shrubs, with glossy, laurel-like leaves (Ligustrum lucidum).  Rustling and squabbling sounds emanate, as blackcaps have taken up residence there.  They are coming to the end of a copious supply of berries.

On the Cingles de Berti, small tokens of spring are visible: the first grape hyacinths and liverwort.  A common toad surprised on the path tries to ward off attack by inflating itself and standing on tiptoe, before deciding to bury itself in the leaf mulch.  Then, spotted in the distance, a long strand of birds crosses the sky, forming an immense curve: a hundred cranes powering their way north.

 

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.

 

The Valley of Alinyà

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Butterflies were everywhere – congregating by the river, fluttering over rippling grass, courting by the road side.

mating-fritillaries-melitaea-sp

In the heat, they were busy “puddling”, looking for supplementary minerals wherever available, whether from sweaty skin, a metal rucksack zip . . .

fritillary-on-zip-melitaea-sp

. . . or from a pile of dung.

butterfly-on-dung

At the top of the valley, some of the terraced fields are still used to grow the knobbly and tasty “bufet” potatoes, shunned by restaurants for being too fiddly to peel. But most are now given up to broom and box, and grazing chamois, who run into the pine woods when disturbed.  Flowers that thrive in dry stony ground have divided up the land –  Junquillo Falso (Aphyllanthes monspeliensis), White Flax (Linum suffruticosum) or Hoary Rock Rose (Helianthemum oelandicum).

fields-in-alinya

Other flowers were found at the sides of paths and roads in stunning isolation – Sword-leaf and Red Helleborines, and Bee and Woodcock orchids.

woodcock-orchid-ophrys-scolopax1

Walking down from Alzina d’Alinyà one day, the highest village in the valley, a column of Griffon Vultures formed. Those at the top were mere specks, at some unguessable height, while the lowest were clearly visible. One preened a wing while soaring, and white woolly heads turned to scan the terrain.  Further back,  we’d passed a comedero, where stripped carcasses lay among heaps of feathers: signs of a competitive and tumultous lunch.

During the day, Cuckoos called continuously up and down the valley, while at three in the pitch-black morning there was the surreal sound of Nightingales through the bathroom window.  We found a Black Redstart nest inside a small chapel on a  window ledge.  Four white eggs lay on the soft downy lining.

Submerged in the hot butterfly-filled tranquility of Alinyà, it was easy to forget the world outside.  From the valley rim you had views of the Pyrenees, with a few lingering streaks of snow, the Sierras de Cadì and Boumort, or Coll de Nargo, down by the river Segre. The heat was kept in check by storms, which could be seen forming over the Pyrenees before rumbling south.   After the rain, mist would rise – small tufts at first, spun gold by the sun, and then in thick white clouds, mushrooming out of the ravine with incredible speed, and making me run for where I’d left my stuff while I could still find it.

mist-welling-up

More information on Alinyà here.

Note on Butterflies

After expert help from entomologist JM Sesma I can now identify the mating fritillaries as Mellicta deione, the Provençal Fritillary, and the one on the zip as Melitaea cinxia, the Glanville Fritillary.  The butterfly on the dung is a Ringlet, possibly Erebia triaria (Prunner’s Ringlet) but impossible to be sure without a view of its upperside.

Wild Wind

Written by Lucy Brzoska

 

The strongest winds in Catalonia are the Tramuntana in the north and Mistral in the south. Barcelona, halfway down the coast, usually escapes their full force, while enjoying sparking clear skies when they blow. But Saturday, January 25th was different.

For hours and hours, the wind tried to tear everything from its place. Lights dimmed, threatening to go out, and above the general din, sirens of firemen to the rescue were constant. Eventually the pauses between gusts grew longer, and their direction shifted from west to north, leaving people to face the consequences, in lives lost and property destroyed.

The next day, the force of the gale was writ large in Collserola. Nearly all the toppled trees were Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis Leer

Snowfall in Collserola

Written by Lucy Brzoska

On the rare occasion it snows in Collserola, you have to be quick. It has a tendency to fade before your eyes. When I got out at Mundet metro station, I searched between the buildings for a view of the transformed hills. Along the muddy path, small translucent patches began appearing at ever more regular intervals. The picnic tables were lightly powdered. I remembered summer nights, sitting there listening to crickets and midwife toads.

Higher up, flowering gorse wore the snow like epaulettes. The spiny leaves of holly oak pierced it. Strawberry trees bowed down under it, their leaves protecting the clusters of flowers. On other January days, you can sit on these slopes in a t-shirt.

At the top, among the umbrella pines, Collserola had turned monochrome.

In the woods on the other side it still seemed to be snowing. The air was powdery as trees spilled their loads. Through the mist you could sense a wintry island reflecting distant sunlight: Montseny. Bikes, dogs, boars and people had all been up before me, but there were still clean stretches to print and make that soft crunch, which you can distinctively feel through the soles of your boots, no matter how thick.

A couple had brought their little girl to witness it all. She rolled on the snow like a husky, and repeated with deep satisfaction: “Neu! Neu! Neu!”