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.
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.
When excited, the jay raises his crest, momentarily transformed.
Last spring, his crest was raised a lot – the stresses of parenthood.
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
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.
Palau Reial park provides refuge from summer heat with its cool shade and water. But earlier this year, in a public display of water-saving, the fountains and pond were allowed to run dry. Gaudi’s tiny dragon drinking fountain, much loved by small birds, looked dusty and neglected. Bathing had to be done in temporary puddles or on rain-soaked leaves.
Happily, the reservoirs have reached acceptable levels again and the drought is officially over. As the pond slowly fills up, dragonflies are darting once more, and the birds are enjoying a new lido, before it gets too deep.
At midday, as the cicadas’ wall of sound intensifies, a pair of magpies (Pica pica) arrive for a dip. They’re quite tentative at first, paddling about in the shallow end, sipping the water. They seem distracted by their own reflections.
But soon they’re dunking their heads, tails tilted high. As they splash, they spread out their feathers, allowing the cool water to penetrate right to the skin. There are flashes of metallic blue among the spray.
Encouraged by the sight of splashing magpies, a pair of Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) decide to join in. I’ve never observed any friction between these two highly gregarious species, the most ubiquitous birds in the park. The magpies and blackbirds have a more prickly relationship, perhaps because blackbirds are often energetically rummaging through the dry leaves and pine needles on the ground, and the magpies fear they’ll uncover a buried stash.
The parakeets sit motionless, nestling side by side in the water, looking rather shy. At moments like this, you can almost forgive them all the screeching and forget about the destructive raids on crops. The pair gradually lose all inhibition. Just like the magpies, they ruffle their plumage and bathe head-first.
Two soggy green clumps of feathers surprisingly can still fly, and repair to the trees to dry off.