October heat

Written by Lucy Brzoska

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The roast chestnut stands were raising the temperature of the city streets while people roasted in the October sun. In the park, where benches in the shade were at a premium, there were other reminders it was officially no longer summer: the rustling of squirrels picking acorns in the oaks, or the engrossed silence of parakeets gorging on berries and seeds. One day the grass was cut, and a flock of swallows paused to dip and dive and feast on the disturbed insects. Pedralbes Park is on the busy Diagonal road, a causeway for migrating hirundines, just like the coast.

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A  new sign has appeared at the pond: “Urban diversity protection programme. Amphibian reproduction point.” Hopefully, pond life will be allowed to develop undisturbed and the bright spark who thought to drain and scrub it out mid-May will now be restrained. Sheltering from the heat, I sat down under the Buckthorn tree to watch the legion of Darters who’d gathered to mate.

One had set up his territory in front and hovered in a haze of just-discernable wing-movement. I was awestruck by this display of energy. It only allowed itself the briefest of rests on the ledge. These breaks would last all of 2 seconds before it zipped off in pursuit of a rival Darter, driving it into another part of the pond. As well as aerial pursuits, there was also a lot of ovipositing going on, the darters still in tandem as the female dipped into the water.

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Even more copious, though much less conspicuous, were the Western Willow Spreadwings. They’ve been in the park throughout summer and autumn, barely noticeable except as a spindly insect presence, dangling off leaf tips.

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But if one lands nearby you notice their beautiful green and coppery colouring, and their astonishing eyes. Our eyes, set deep in sockets, are half hidden. These orbs are on full display.

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On this day there were couples of Spreadwings dangling all over the place, looking for a quiet spot. One pair alighted in the Buckthorn tree. The male clasped the branch and then his long straight abdomen began to fold. He slowly lifted the female, like a dancer raising his partner.

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She reciprocated by thrusting her abdomen up in the air, until they were linked together in a jagged heart. While he clung to the branch, she clasped her abdomen. They remained like this, rocking gently from side to side.

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This year I’ve seen 5 Dragonfly species in the park: the Broad Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea), Blacktailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum), Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii), Desert Darter (Sympetrum sinaiticum) and the Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator).  On this occasion, despite clicking away, I somehow managed to avoid all the best ID angles!  They might have been Common Darters, but a positive ID is impossible.

 

The Red Squirrels of Pedralbes

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) of Palau de Pedralbes park stream along the branches unobserved, and build their dreys out of sight in the towering Aleppo pines, somewhere among the parakeet nests.

But sometimes they come to ground, especially in the afternoon when the army of gardeners have gone home and stopped their pruning, spraying and sweeping. Tails undulate in the grass like plumes as squirrels forage. Litter bins are investigated too, though at the moment there are plenty of seeds and nuts to gather.

Red squirrels vary in colour: those in the park tend to be a russet-brown, set off by white breasts, and black tails. At the moment their pelts are particularly lustrous, topped off by lavish ear tufts, their winter adornment.

When two squirrels meet, a helter-skelter pursuit often ensues. They scrabble noisily round and around the tree trunks, loosening a shower of bark debris. Spread eagled on opposite sides of the tree, they await each other’s next move. When one’s nerve breaks, the manic chasing resumes.

This ensures they’ll be fit for next spring, when the females go on heat and lengthy chasing begins in earnest, a prelude to mating. If climate and food supplies permit, which is surely the case in this Barcelona park, the females go on heat twice a year: between January and April, and then again between the end of May and August.

Red squirrels seem weightless as they skim through fragile canopies: the larger males reach a mere 350 grams. Other interesting anatomical features of squirrels include double-jointed ankles and long claws, permitting secure vertical descents. Like all rodents, their chiselled incisors never stop growing – about 15cm in a year. This red squirrel looks set to wear them down a little on a hard green pine cone.