Springtime in Barcelona: Montjuïc

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Poo-pooPoo-poo. Perched on one of the tall Cyprus trees that surround Montjuïc cemetery, a hoopoe is calling, a peaceful sound of spring. But a rival takes objection, and a bout of fierce hissing ensues, as the aggressor tries to claim the territory.  Feathers are spread wide – the wings, tail and crest – making the birds appear double in size.

hoopoes dispute territory on Montjuic

A common visitor to Barcelona on spring migration is the Willow warbler.  This one was thoroughly grooming a blossoming Judas tree.

willow warbler pausing on migration in Montjuic Barcelona

A much rarer migrant is the Vagrant emperor dragonfly. Like the Willow warbler, it had paused on Montjuïc to refuel, after probably beginning its journey in North Africa.  It was hunting by the ponds in the Jardins de Mossen Cinto, a male recognisable by its blue saddle.

Vagrant emperor dragonfly - Anax ephippiger - on Montjuic Barcelona

The discrete presence of pheasants has been detected on Montjuïc this winter, but spring is making them bolder. This one was strutting in full view along the cemetery wall.

pheasant on Montjuic

What do Barcelona’s parakeets eat in autumn?

Written by Lucy Brzoska

You could hear the sounds of contented chomping from a distance. The fig trees scattered around Montjuic were heavily laden this September, much to the delight of Monk parakeets and other birds.

In October Magnolia trees in the Jardins de Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer produce large pods of shiny red berries, which are particularly appreciated by Great tits and Ring-necked parakeets. Far less common than Monks in Barcelona – and far shyer – Ring-necks are distinguished by their long thin tails, and higher-pitched screech.

November sees the climax of the acorn crop in Palau Reial Park. Along with Wood pigeons, red squirrels and jays, Monk parakeets are to be found either foraging on the ground under the oaks, or up in the tree tops. No stashing away for the winter though, the acorns are gobbled up on the spot.

 

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.

white-wagtail-motacilla-alba-winter-plumage

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.

black-redstart-phoenicurus-ochruros-adult-male

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.

chiffchaff-phylloscopus-collybita

Smug parakeets and resourceful magpies

Written by Lucy Brzoska

monk-parakeet-eats-bread

There was a strange crackling sound coming from above. The lime trees were filled with parakeets crunching on crusty pieces of bread, which they held securely in their claws.  They were releasing a fine shower of crumbs, which the pigeons below waddled after.

magpie-watching-parakeets

Magpies observed the scene, frustrated by their own innate caution, which won’t allow them to approach people scattering food for birds.  Instead, they resorted to chasing the smug-looking parakeets to make them drop their booty.

happy-monk-parakeet

But magpies have their own tricks.  They dare to disappear right inside the litter bins in their search for discarded sandwiches, throwing silver foil about.  They also keep a close eye on occupants of park benches.  The second someone gets up, they parachute down, tails held high, and quickly scour the area.

magpie-inspects-bin

A long, shimmering tail is a sign of a healthy bird and a desirable mate. Magpies with the most resplendent tails breed earlier and are more successful at rearing young, studies have found. Unusually, this magpie was using its tail as a handy prop while exploring holes in the wall.  In this case, a few worn and dishevelled feathers would only betray its owner’s resourcefulness.

magpie-explores-wall

Birds in the bush

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.

Splash

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.