101 boars – well, 14 actually

Written by Lucy Brzoska

An hour before twilight, deep in Collserola, I was sitting at the side of a track, eating an apple. I lobbed the core behind me without a second thought. Some moments later, there were rustlings and quiet grunts, but nothing to see.  They then started emerging onto the track, small boars, more and more of them, like a version of 101 Dalmatians.  In fact there were 12, accompanied by two female adults.

track fills with young boars

One of the females stood protectively in front of the youngsters, planted squarely in the middle of the track, looking straight towards us.

female boar in collserola

The young ones, recently grown out of their baby stripes, were herded to the other side and up the opposite bank.

large number of young boars

Then I saw him, the proud owner of my apple core, trotting along, closely followed by a rival, whose short mane was bristling in frustration.

two young boars

Two of the frisky young boars came over to sample Stephanie’s walking sticks, before they all disappeared into the undergrowth again.  

curious young boars

Close encounter with Charaxes jasius: the Two-tailed Pasha

Written by Lucy Brzoska

You don’t have to look for Two-tailed Pashas, they will find you.  A friend had described the exact scene of a very close encounter with this sultan of butterflies last year.  It was now late August, the heat had abated slightly, so I headed straight there.

A tiny Praying mantis was a distraction on the way, sitting on top of a seeding Matabou umbel.

praying-mantis-nymph-sitting-on-shrubby-hares-ear-near-barcelona

When I reached the remote, unvisited location, deep within Collserola, nothing stirred except for a boar, who was trundling through the bushes, before emerging to cross the track and disappearing into an overgrown gully.  The habitat was perfect: shrubby open woodland on a high ridge, with lots of strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo – the Pasha’s food plant), so I decided to sit down, eat some breakfast and see what turned up.

Within minutes I’d been spotted.  The Pasha flew fast around my head, inspected the camera on my lap, and then stuck its proboscis into my sandwich.  It was immediately whipped out again, as if in distaste – uggh! So where’s my rum-soaked rotten banana?

The butterfly then flew up to its vantage point high up in a pine tree, where it remained a while, until giving chase to another Pasha. The rival had staked out an adjoining territory, which it surveyed from a small oak tree.

two-tailed-pasha-charaxes-jasius-guarding-its-territory

It sallied down to some faeces in a holly oak bush. It ignored me, absorbed in feeding, using a startlingly red proboscis, which I’ve never seen before (aren’t they usually black?). The beautiful tapestry of the underwings countered the pong of the food matter.

two-tailed-pasha-feeding-on-faeces-with-a-big-red-proboscis

Still trespassing, I was subjected to another prolonged attack. Intensely beating butterfly wings can only tickle, but the determination with which the Pasha repeatedly charged towards me made me want to duck. Then it started sucking at the sweat on my arm, and sat on my shoulder for a while.  Who cared where it might’ve perched before.

Their fearless nature and love of alcohol can get the Two-tailed Pashas into trouble.  A video on Youtube shot by a holidaymaker somewhere on the Med shows one drinking spilt beer on the table, and then falling to the ground when attempting to fly.

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

Collserola gothic: Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis

Written by Lucy Brzoska

In July the shadowy halls of Collserola’s shallow, trickling streams are filled with a spooky, fluttering presence.Groups of dark insects flicker in the half-light, or perch on isolated vantage points.

male-copper-demoiselle-calopteryx-haemorrhoidalis

These are the male Copper Demoiselles, staking a claim for a stretch of stream. Their wings are black, and their bodies darkly iridescent, tinged purple like blackberries.When impressing the females, they kink their abdomens, revealing a red under-tip.This has saddled the species with the Latin name Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis

The common name, though, is inspired by the rich coppery tones of the female.She signals from a distance with white spots on sepia-coloured wings.

copper-demoiselle-female-showing-wing-spots

When a male, from his prominent lookout post, sees a female enter his zone, he’s immediately in attendance, serenading her in semaphore.The hovering wings form a cross, a performance being repeated up and down the stream.

male-copper-demoiselle-courtship

After a successful courtship, the female is whisked up to a twig.

mating-copper-demoiselles-calopteryx-haemorrhoidalis

Eggs are deposited in a tangle of pink roots at the water’s edge.

copperdemoiselle-female-ovipositing

 

Sunday evening in sunny June

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Sometimes on a June evening Barcelona skies fall strangely silent because of an absence of swifts.  They go elsewhere for richer pickings, returning to the concrete sprawl at night.  Standing on the Collserola ridge at dusk, I watched hundreds pour down into the city.

I’d started walking late in the afternoon, skirting the small Vallvidrera reservoir, where families picnicked in the shade and dogs nosed among the algae, silencing the legions of frogs.  Climbing a steep path, where a meagre stream trickles down, I found Rampion Bellflowers and tiny tangy wild strawberries, which no one else had thought to pick.  Iberian Water Frogs (Pelophylax perezi) crouched invisibly in the grass around a small pool. Every time I moved, more would leap into the water and vanish, till it must’ve got quite crowded down there in the mud.

iberian-water-frog

Vallvidrera is posh, but some of the houses near the path were built when this was no man’s land, and the crowing of cockerels mingles with Golden oriole song.  A beautiful Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) was perched on a leaf, jagged as a jigsaw piece.  Perhaps it was the same one I’d seen a few days before, puddling on the wet stones, and giving me a glimpse of the neat white mark on its underwing to which it owes its name.

comma-butterfly-underwing-polygonia-c-album

As grass goes to seed, the slopes behind Sant Pere Martir are turning pale gold, the colour of summer.  The bright yellow flowers of broom have nearly gone, and now it’s time for Scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea).   Its frothy purple-pink blooms are everywhere, on waist-high stems, leaves hardly to be seen, and usually with a butterfly attached.

marbled-white-melanargia-lachesis

Down in the valley bottom, rabbits rustled among the new crop of fennel that’s already taller than me.  An insistent screeching made me think a new exotic bird had arrived in Collserola.  Something large and yellow moved in a pine tree – a Golden oriole.  Until then I’d only known their catchy whistles, which starlings love to mimic.

Nearly at the top of the ridge, as the sun dropped lower, I stopped to admire the spectacular Illyrian thistles (Onopordum illyricum) that have shot up like spiny candelabra. Hummingbird Hawk moths were zipping among the electric purple flower heads. I’d seen a man come armed with gloves, cut some selected stems and strip them of thorns with a knife. If the Devil grows them in his garden – in Spanish they’re called Cardo del Demonio – it’s because both stems and flower heads are edible.

illyrian-thistles-onopordum-illyricum

illyrian-thistle-head-onopordum-illyricum

Beyond the thistles a flock of bee eaters were on a late foraging swoop. The swifts were beginning to return. I noticed a Woodchat shrike (Lanius senator) on a dried up branch of old broom, its chestnut crown lowered as it dealt with its prey. It flew off with something pale in its bill, having left an egg shell spiked on a twig.

It was delicious to lie down on the track and feel the day’s heat stored there, in contrast with the cool evening air, and listen to the sound of swifts searing past. A rabbit popped out of the grass, and promptly jumped back again. A boar emerged, huffed indignantly and kicked up the dust.

Darkness was falling and the swifts were still swarming along the length of the ridge.

Collserola: Guided Walks

Close encounters in Collserola

Written by Lucy Brzoska

While out walking on a warm evening at the beginning of September, it was Nick who first spotted this tiny snake on the track, rippling as fast as it could, anxious to reach cover on the other side. Once caught, it remained still, except for the flickering of its tongue. We weren’t sure of its identity, so it paid to have the camera at hand. The photograph clearly shows a black coronet and an elusive blue shimmer: the marks of the non-venomous Southern smooth snake (Coronella girondica).

We were lucky to stumble on it, as they’re not common in Collserola. Shy and secretive night hunters, they search out geckos, skinks and grasshoppers and kill by constriction. A passing resemblance to the viper is thought to work as a defence. We found the snake in the more open southern part of Collserola, an area of grass, shrubs and scattered trees, a summer hunting ground for Short toed eagles.

At the opposite end of the park, not far from a spring, this dragonfly was captured clinging to a bush. I’d have described it as red, till I got home and saw its range of fairground colours: a horse from a devil’s carousel. The rows of spikes on the legs are impressive, ensuring a firm grip on prey. The dimensions of its eyes immediately suggest extraordinary powers of vision.

When identifying the dragonfly, the yellow stripe along the length of the legs pointed me to the Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum), which was confirmed when Sue put her shots up on the forum.

Finally, in the centre of Collserola, the most disturbed and built-up part, this creature was rescued from a busy track. A convoy of cars was driving away from a restaurant, coating us and everything around in dust. The Eyed hawk moth caterpillar (Smerinthus ocellata) was carried to a safer place on a notebook, hence the garish studio background for its portrait.

The caterpillar has a distinguishing blue horn, slanting white stripes (7 in all) and red spiracles (breathing holes).