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.
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.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
The three Honey buzzards soaring over Montjuic Castle run into a swarm of Alpine swifts, and start circling to gain height. When they are specks they continue southwards. They are the most notable of the raptors who take the Catalan coastal route.
Montjuic overflows with birds during autumn migration. Swallows are swooping low over freshly cut grass. The robin population has multiplied. One feisty individual is jostling other birds out of a stand of trees. The woods and parks become incredibly crowded with them: too many robins in the broth, so inevitably some have to keep moving further south or inland.
Another redbreast is in evidence, the Common redstart, far from common in Barcelona, and only glimpsed on spring and autumn passage. Unlike its not particularly close relative, the Black redstart, who arrives to spend the winter, its destination is tropical Africa.
Flycatchers – spotted and pied – make protracted stopovers in the city’s parks, breaking up the long haul south. The warm weather ensures plenty of insects so they can fatten up for the tough journey ahead: the sea followed by a desert that’s expanding year by year. Slim, sprightly birds, you notice them as they repeatedly launch themselves to scoop up prey and return to the same perch.
In the woods, firecrests are back, travelling with the tit flocks, always in the lowest branches, and last to move on. There was lots to eat in this holm oak infested with gall midge larvae.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
First thing in the morning, when it was still dark at street level, you could see the gulls overhead burnished with gold by the rising sun. When I reached the Cami del Mar they were pristine white, soaring in an intensely blue sky.
The sun had cast a blinding sheen on the sea, where cargo ships threatened to combust. The fierce light probed deep inside the crevices of the castle wall, revealing toasting Moorish geckos and Praying Mantis oothecas. A Painted Lady opened its brand new wings, glinting with copper dust, oblivious to the biting wind on the other side of the castle. Only a light breeze ruffled its silky fur.
More Black redstarts have been arriving: some were drinking from the leaking pipe, others perched on the Agave masts. These vanished, to be replaced by something stockier, with long yellow legs. I’ve never seen a Sparrowhawk on Montjuic before, the terrain of cliff-nesting Peregrine falcons and Kestrels. Accompanied by attentive magpies, the small raptor changed perch, and then took off, a soaring silhouette over the yellow cranes in the port.
Further along, an even more unusual sighting. A bird flew up to the castle in an unfamiliar series of shallow swoops. Tawny stipples on the breast, a yellow base to the bill and wings edged with white spots – it was an Alpine Accentor down at sea level. The last time I saw one was in the Pyrenees at about 2,000 metres.
Montjuic is a tempting stopover for birds on migration, a small green island on their coastal route, full of feeding opportunities.The records on www.ornitho.cat this autumn show redwing, siskins, Meadow pipits, Song thrushes, Cirl buntings, Common redstarts, Tree pipits, Subalpine warblers, a hawfinch, skylark and the tail feather of a nightjar.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
Bitterly cold winds keep people out of the park. In a low season atmosphere, the gardeners are cleaning the pond and cutting the hedges. The rows of lime trees are nearly bare, their last leaves flying across the grass. Only the Ginkgos are still in full flare, with a pool of fan-shaped leaves accumulating beneath.
Another source of intense colour, though much more condensed, are the firecrests, plentiful this season, and mixed up with assorted tits and the occasional goldcrest. Firecrests (Regulus ignicapillus) are very tolerant of people: they seem far too busy making inventories of every bush and tree to spare you any attention. You hear their high thin calls and realise you’re surrounded by tiny birds, whirring and hovering. You get quick glimpses of masked eyes, orange crests, and yellowy-green mantles.
Another energetic feeder, a Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), speedwalks on the grass, constantly changing direction. It sallies forth, tail bobbing, then veers to the left before suddenly taking off, only to land again and take a completely new route. Like the firecrest, it’s moved into town for the winter. Its more usual habitat of fast-flowing water is reflected in its Spanish and Catalan names: Lavandera cascadeña and Cuereta torrentera.
The round ornamental hedges have been claimed by robins, who stay vigilant inside their thick cover, planning their next move. Their numbers increase considerably in October, a month when more transient migrants also swell the park’s bird population. This year I saw Pied flycatchers and a kingfisher, as well as a Song thrush digging for worms – a common enough species in other parts but a rare visitor to Pedralbes park.
Going back to the regulars, in this cold season the Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) look round and well-fed. Watching these versatile feeders happily grazing on grass, you feel they could never go hungry. A group opposite my bench chew their way through endless stalks of the stuff, blinking placidly, as if they find the act of munching on grass calming.