Zooming in on Montjuic (vi): autumn

Written by Lucy Brzoska

An old olive tree is creaking.  It’s not the wind, but the sound of a tree frog singing from somewhere inside the hollow trunk.  The warm humid October weather suits Mediterranean tree frogs, and they appear on the dew-saturated leaves, in bushes and flower beds.  Some had shimmied up the newly blooming Red hot pokers.

Migrating song thrushes have settled unobtrusively on the hill. You’re aware of them but they hide out of sight, communicating with low calls.  Other arrivals are chiffchaffs.  They’re far less shy, too small to fear the shotgun.

I’m going along the cobbled path to the Sot del Migdia, and feel watched.  Just above me, I see tall ears, and a prominent brown eye.  It’s a boom year for rabbits on Montjuic – newly excavated warrens are gaping. They’ll be glad summer’s over, and the arid slopes have turned green, not so much from rain, which has been scarce, but from the heavy dew.

Zooming in on Montjuic (iv): early insects

Written by Lucy Brzoska

It was the first really warm day in February and quantities of Hummingbird Hawkmoths (Macroglossum stellatarum) were restlessly hovering in front of the castle wall, as if searching for something. They engage in this mysterious activity every year when they reappear at the end of winter. I spotted one sitting quietly, something apparently rare, but who knows how many others there were, flattened on the wall, blending in with beige-grey wings and just a hint of iridescence.

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When a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeds, it slings in its lengthy proboscis from a distance.  Not so the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea), who hugs the flower close. These gentle giants were also out in numbers, bumping into each other around the Common Borage. Their wings are brown like old film negatives, until the light catches them and they turn blue. The males signal their sex with orange antennae tips.

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Judging by the constant rustle of Chiffchaffs in the small evergreen oaks by the castle, there were plenty of small bugs to feast on.  They were being deftly picked off the leaves or snapped up mid-flight as the restless birds forayed out of the trees to retrieve them.

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Natur-al-Andalus has an interesting post on Chiffchaffs, whose hovering skills allow them to exploit the nectar of extensions of introduced South African aloe that bloom in the mild Gibraltan winters.

Three winter birds in Barcelona

Written by Lucy Brzoska

These three insectivores find winter feeding opportunities in Barcelona’s sheltered urban environment on the Mediterranean coast.  They also share an ability to go about their business undisturbed by human proximity.

White wagtails are a common sight on the pavements and in the parks, careering after their prey.  One theory for the constant tail wagging is that it gives an impression of alertness to potential predators.  This Wagtail, zigzagging along the paths in Pedralbes Park, wears a winter plumage, with white throat and chin, and a faint yellow tinge to the face.  In summer they look much more pied.

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By the end of the winter the Black redstarts who’ve moved into town become quite approachable, though finding corners where they can stay aloof from the bustle and noise.  In comparison with the Wagtails, they’re often to be seen static on a vantage point, sharply scanning the vicinity for food.  A beautiful male was sitting on one of the fig trees of Montjuic, smoky grey plumage fluffed out on a crisp cold day.

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This Chiffchaff was one of several who had gathered around the park pond, snatching insects while hovering over the water or scooping them off the surrounding wall.  Small and inconspicuous, one regularly comes to the balcony to pick off the tiny bugs that always seem to infest my plants.

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