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.

The Red Squirrels of Pedralbes

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) of Palau de Pedralbes park stream along the branches unobserved, and build their dreys out of sight in the towering Aleppo pines, somewhere among the parakeet nests.

But sometimes they come to ground, especially in the afternoon when the army of gardeners have gone home and stopped their pruning, spraying and sweeping. Tails undulate in the grass like plumes as squirrels forage. Litter bins are investigated too, though at the moment there are plenty of seeds and nuts to gather.

Red squirrels vary in colour: those in the park tend to be a russet-brown, set off by white breasts, and black tails. At the moment their pelts are particularly lustrous, topped off by lavish ear tufts, their winter adornment.

When two squirrels meet, a helter-skelter pursuit often ensues. They scrabble noisily round and around the tree trunks, loosening a shower of bark debris. Spread eagled on opposite sides of the tree, they await each other’s next move. When one’s nerve breaks, the manic chasing resumes.

This ensures they’ll be fit for next spring, when the females go on heat and lengthy chasing begins in earnest, a prelude to mating. If climate and food supplies permit, which is surely the case in this Barcelona park, the females go on heat twice a year: between January and April, and then again between the end of May and August.

Red squirrels seem weightless as they skim through fragile canopies: the larger males reach a mere 350 grams. Other interesting anatomical features of squirrels include double-jointed ankles and long claws, permitting secure vertical descents. Like all rodents, their chiselled incisors never stop growing – about 15cm in a year. This red squirrel looks set to wear them down a little on a hard green pine cone.