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.

Firecrest season

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Bitterly cold winds keep people out of the park. In a low season atmosphere, the gardeners are cleaning the pond and cutting the hedges. The rows of lime trees are nearly bare, their last leaves flying across the grass. Only the Ginkgos are still in full flare, with a pool of fan-shaped leaves accumulating beneath.

Another source of intense colour, though much more condensed, are the firecrests, plentiful this season, and mixed up with assorted tits and the occasional goldcrest. Firecrests (Regulus ignicapillus) are very tolerant of people: they seem far too busy making inventories of every bush and tree to spare you any attention. You hear their high thin calls and realise you’re surrounded by tiny birds, whirring and hovering. You get quick glimpses of masked eyes, orange crests, and yellowy-green mantles.

Another energetic feeder, a Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), speedwalks on the grass, constantly changing direction. It sallies forth, tail bobbing, then veers to the left before suddenly taking off, only to land again and take a completely new route. Like the firecrest, it’s moved into town for the winter. Its more usual habitat of fast-flowing water is reflected in its Spanish and Catalan names: Lavandera cascadeña and Cuereta torrentera.

The round ornamental hedges have been claimed by robins, who stay vigilant inside their thick cover, planning their next move. Their numbers increase considerably in October, a month when more transient migrants also swell the park’s bird population. This year I saw Pied flycatchers and a kingfisher, as well as a Song thrush digging for worms – a common enough species in other parts but a rare visitor to Pedralbes park.

Going back to the regulars, in this cold season the Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) look round and well-fed. Watching these versatile feeders happily grazing on grass, you feel they could never go hungry. A group opposite my bench chew their way through endless stalks of the stuff, blinking placidly, as if they find the act of munching on grass calming.

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.