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.
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.
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.
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.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
I found a palette of colours as autumn turned to winter in Collserola. It’s at this time of year that the variety of trees is most visible: the darker green of holm oak (Quercus ilex), the silvery olives (Olea europaea), the broccoli-green of stone pines (Pinus pinea), and the yellow-brown of deciduous oaks (Quercus cerroides), who are in no hurry to shed their leaves.
The constant rainfall this autumn – not the usual torrential storms, but steady day-long rain – has made moss and lichen flourish. A startling rock by the path is encrusted with orange-yellow lichen on top, and emerald-green moss on the side. The ground is a constellation of moss and earth stars, most of which have already popped. A vivid dark red fungus (a species of Russula) has pushed up through the pine needles, like a mole tunnelling its way out the ground.
A plastic strip tied to a tree guides you up the overgrown terraces, long abandoned. Butcher’s broom grows in the gloom, hung with smooth red balls. A gang of Pekin robins (Leiothrix lutea) express their displeasure at my presence with angry rasping calls. I climb up to the ridge, where spiny Mediterranean gorse (Ulex parviflorus) flowers among the rocks. You can see that Montseny is still powdered with snow, while the Pyrenees are solid icing-sugar white.
Instead of following the ridge back to Vallvidrera, I decide to take the path that skirts the coolest, shadiest corners of the valley. With so few shopping days left before Christmas, it’s very quiet. Probably only a handful of mountain bikers have passed all day. The wings of chaffinches vibrate inside a wild olive. The smallest member of a roving mixed flock, a goldcrest (Regulus regulus), investigates the tip of an oak branch.
The path steepens and it’s almost impossible not to run down . . . straight into a tribe of boars, who scatter through the leaf litter. A male with visible tusks gallops up the slope, where he stands huffing and puffing among the trees, staring belligerently. Poor light and the excitement of the moment has resulted in a less than clear image.
After they finally disperse, I reassure myself that no one in Collserola has ever been attacked by a boar. Their population in the park is estimated at 650 and rising. This season, the hunting clubs of the Collserola region are on strike in retaliation to new restrictions on their activities. Their demands have been partly met: they can continue killing thrushes, for instance. But rabbit shooting is still not permitted in the woods, and the number of days when hunting is allowed in the park has not been increased. So the hunters are envisaging a Collserola so overrun with rampaging boars that the administrative powers will come on bended knee next year and grant them all they desire.
Meanwhile, the boar population is controlled to some extent by forest rangers, who shoot the ones that leave the park limits to explore urban areas. This upsets the residents, some of whom can’t resist feeding the inquisitive beasts and become fond of them. After taming the boars, they have the unpleasant surprise of coming home to a bloodstained street and bodies piled up by their front doors.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
On a trip to the Mediterranean, far from their Cantabrian mountain homes, Lisa and Teresa ventured into the big city to meet up with the Iberianature Barcelona contingent. Nick and I then accompanied them for a tour of some of the natural spaces that sustain the metropolitan populace.
The Garraf is an antidote to claustrophobic canyons, which is how Barcelona’s streets sometimes feel. It’s an airy expanse of garrigue-covered hills, open to the shining sea. We didn’t have to go far to find the Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius), top on Lisa and Teresa’s list along with the Autumn narcissus (Narcissus serotinus). While the Pashas chased each other around the fig trees near the visitors’ centre, Lisa and Teresa stalked them with their cameras.
Meanwhile, Nick and I followed a signposted botanical route, an excellent way to learn some of the plant species typical of the area: Kermes oak, Prickly juniper, and cistus. Nick spotted a solitary white flower, fragile among all the tough leathery leaves and spines. It was photographed and duly forgotten. We also discovered that the Garraf strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) produce some of the best arbutus cherries anywhere: sweet and acidic, unlike the bland fruit I’d tasted before. They clearly thrive on this sun-soaked limestone terrain.
The lonely white flower did turn out to be an Autumn narcissus, as was discovered much later in the car. It was too late to turn back, but Teresa forgave us and continued to share her extensive knowledge. So we were able to learn that the Tree heath (Erica arborea) familiar to everyone who walks in Collserola only grows in acidic soil, and here is replaced by the purple-flowering Mediterranean heath (Erica multiflora). An insect slipping its black segments across the fallen pine needles turned out to be a Glow worm larva (Lampyris noctiluca), with a voracious appetite for snails. A dirty clump of debris hanging on a guardrail was identified as the case of a Bagworm.
After some debate, we decided there was time for the Llobregat Delta. Back down at sea level and just after the turn-off for the reserve, something white caught our eye: an extensive patch of Autumn Narcissi.
After liberal applications of mosquito repellent and an osprey-sighting, we crossed the bridge into the reserve. Outside the hides, translucent herons fished in sparkling water, sandpipers bathed in the shallows, cattle egrets groomed the horses, kingfishers streaked here and there, and spoonbills tried to keep up with their restless spatula-shaped bills.
There was little time left, but Collserola could not be missed. Up by the Forat del Vent, suitably windy, a flock of Pekin robins (Leiothrix lutea) held our attention with their melodious Blackcap-like song. Unlike other exotic escapees that settle in more urban environments, these South Asian cage birds are breeding in woodlands. They’re being monitored but studies suggest their presence has so far had no harmful effect on the authoctonous species.
We’d run out of daylight. After dropping Nick and I off at the metro, Lisa and Teresa drove away for the next stage of their adventure.