Autumn colours in Collserola

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Though its woods are mainly evergreen, Collserola is livid with colour in the autumn. Blue-violet Rosemary flowers hum densely with bees, and yellow Mediterranean gorse shines against the rich blue sky of San Martín. As if decorated for Christmas, the Strawberry trees are hung with glowing red and orange fruit and clusters of bell-shaped flowers, creamy white like candles.

rosemary-bush-and-strawberry-tree

I found a Praying Mantis in almost exactly the same spot as last year, lightly clinging to a Narrow-leaved Cistus.  It had a contented post-meal air, probably having dined on the bees in the Rosemary bush next door. After cleaning them, it neatly folded its spiky “arms” and remained motionless.

praying-mantis-mantis-religiosa-cleans-itself

Under the dense Holm oak canopy, in the dark, boar-raked mulch, knots of scarlet tentacles emerge:  Latticed Stinkhorns (Clathrus ruber), or in Catalan Guita de Bruixa – “Witch’s Vomit”. A fungal wonder, it attracts flies with its rotten stench to act as spore-dispersers.

latticed-stinkhorn-clathrus-ruber

From a fallen tree comes the sound of Pekin Robins – or Red-Billed Leiothrix – who are hiding among the dried branches and leaves. This escapee cagebird, native to the jungles of Southern Asia, feels at home in Collserola, with its overgrown gullies and impenetrable tangles of creepers and brambles.

When disturbed they can’t seem to control their curiosity. One by one, Pekin Robins begin emerging from the dead tree to get a closer look at the intruder, all the time scolding vigorously. I got a noisy close-up of coral-red bills, yellow throats and bright black eyes.   With a steadily expanding population, their colonisation of other areas in Catalonia is imminent.

leiothrix-lutea-pekin-robin-in-collserola

Early birds on Montjuic

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Remains of last night’s storm were still strewn across the eastern sky this morning. But the sun struggled free just as I reached the castle and it turned into a cold but clear day.

Too early for tourists, the castle was alive with birds, who find unexpected sources of water to drink and bathe in. A leaking waterpipe has created a long damp streak on the wall, like a banner of blue silk unfurled from the ramparts, capturing the vividness of the sky. There was a constant movement of visitors clinging to the wet stones. Black redstarts, which congregate in Barcelona for the winter, flurried to and fro, chasing each other in between sips. A handsome Great tit stopped by for a while, waistcoat matching the yellow poplar leaves. A lilting flock of goldfinches arrived, sweetly calling. The House sparrows, residents of the castle walls, had their turn, as did serins, a couple of Coal tits and a Tree creeper.

Round the corner, water has collected in an old stone gutter, to which someone once hastily attached a plastic pipe. A Blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius) disappeared inside, emerging ruffled and damp. It dried off on the end of a canon.

This port-facing side of the castle is a haven in winter, secure from the north and westerly winds. The walls act like a storage heater, absorbing the sun all day. Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) has spread unchecked on the grassy slopes, its fragrance living up to its name. A faded, threadbare Red admiral sunbathed on the wall. High up near the battlements, a Painted lady (Vanessa cardui) spread its wings on a plant rooted between two stones. Crag martins turned circles over the dazzling sea, over the castle and the half-bare fig tree. They only come in winter, but their leisurely swoops remind you of summer.