The Catalan coast is part of an avian migratory motorway, and Montjuïc a service station where birds pull over to have a feed or rest. A walk there in early autumn can bring surprises.
The wild part of the hill merges with the enormous cemetery. As I approached its walls, I noticed two large birds looking out across the port and ring road. It was a strange image – I thought at first they might be an exotic species escaped from a zoo. But the long red legs, long red bill and dark plumage meant only one thing, however unlikely: black storks.
European black storks breed in the centre and east, with a small Spanish population in Extremadura and the frontier with Portugal, and they winter in Africa. Unlike the white stork, they are very wary of humans. Yet there they were, an adult and juvenile, enjoying the early sunlight, quietly preening and surveying the view of heavy coastal development and transport infrastructure.
They must’ve noticed me, as they suddenly took to the air, circled slowly, and headed to the Llobregat Delta for breakfast. The adult bird had been ringed in Germany, June 2014.
Five days of rain, rough seas, and a lowering dark sky. The strong easterly winds at the peak of spring migration swept many birds off their usual path, and some of the lucky ones made it ashore in Catalunya.
Observations of Wood warblers, which breed mainly north of Iberia, are usually scarce in Catalunya. This year, by the end of April, Ornithocat had recorded more than 200. On one of these dark rainy afternoons, I found several on Montjuic, scouring the trees along with Willow warblers. This photo was taken when the weather improved, the Wood warbler’s lemon yellow throat reflecting light under a freshly grown canopy.
Even in the gloom, the male Pied flycatchers were sharply visible. They are regular transients through Barcelona, but rarely seen in such density as this year.
On the last night of the deluge, the rain stopped just at dawn. On Montjuic, everything was steaming as the sun rose. A tremendous concentration of migrants had built up. In the pine woods, every tree seemed to harbour a flycatcher (mainly Pied, but also Spotted), sallying out at regular intervals, gorging on the thick clouds of flies on this almost tropical morning. You could hear nightingales and Golden orioles singing, and observe many other species you might not expect to find in Barcelona, including Woodchat shrikes, whinchats, whitethroats and Common redstarts.
Even before the bad weather, I’d come across a pair of Woodchat shrikes who’d stopped to replenish forces on Montjuic. While the male sang from the top of a tree, the female tugged at a lizard impaled on an acacia thorn.
On the Cami del Mar, the Black redstarts had moved on to their breeding grounds by the start of April. Briefly in their place appeared a resplendent Common redstart.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
The autumnal migration of cranes (Grus grus
) into Spain usually takes place inland, over the Pyrenees. On the last weekend of October there was an abrupt change in the weather, with temperatures plummeting and an extremely strong north wind. On Ornitho.cat
, someone in Sant Andreu de la Barca (near Barcelona) recorded hearing cranes passing at 3 in the morning. This was only the beginning.
While walking in Collserola on Sunday morning, an unmistakable trumpeting made me look up to see a group of 22 cranes, circling and orienting themselves in a SW direction. The observations on Ornitho.cat came thick and fast during the day. One entry from the Delta del Ebro recorded 1,300, the observer noting the whole sky covered with skeins. The map from Ornitho.cat
Oct, red = 29th)
reflects this remarkable event, when the weather conditions forced the cranes into an intense coastal passage, well to the east of their usual route, much to the delight of ground witnesses.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
February 2012 will be remembered as one of the coldest on record in Catalunya. Waterfalls and rivers froze solid, and thin layers of ice even covered the ponds in Barcelona’s parks. The bitter Siberian air finally abated, and the sun felt warm again. One of the Montjuic castle sparrows was airing his feathers and singing non-stop in celebration.
A prize piece of territory on the Cami del Mar is the corner where people sit and look at the view, and quite often eat at the same time. The robin that rules there looks sleek and smooth, no longer a ball of fluffy insulation.
Across the road from the Funicular station, there’s a tall row of shrubs, with glossy, laurel-like leaves (Ligustrum lucidum). Rustling and squabbling sounds emanate, as blackcaps have taken up residence there. They are coming to the end of a copious supply of berries.
On the Cingles de Berti, small tokens of spring are visible: the first grape hyacinths and liverwort. A common toad surprised on the path tries to ward off attack by inflating itself and standing on tiptoe, before deciding to bury itself in the leaf mulch. Then, spotted in the distance, a long strand of birds crosses the sky, forming an immense curve: a hundred cranes powering their way north.
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.