Written by Lucy Brzoska
Walking along a hot, dusty track in the Alt Emporda, a woodchat shrike singing in a nearby tree and bee eaters dipping and diving over the olive groves, we heard a piteous crying sound. It was coming from the long trough-like irrigation channel at the side of the track: a strongly protesting Iberian water frog (Pelophylax perezi) was in the grip of a Viperine snake (Natrix maura).
The aquatic snake had seized the frog by the leg and was swimming vigorously up and down the channel, the belly of its helpless prisoner flashing white in all the whirling.
The non-venomous snake next tried tightly knotting itself around its resistant prey, its mouth still gripping the leg.
Suddenly it seemed to tire, released its coils and swam to the side of the channel. The frog waited a moment, and then tried to swim away. But its movement immediately triggered a reaction in the snake, which this time seized the amphibian by the back.
Despite the considerable gape of the Viperine, it was clear the frog was too big for it to swallow. Eventually the frog was allowed to make a getaway, but fatally weakened, it didn’t survive the attack.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
What drew my attention was the lizard dropping off the wall.
I was on the Camí del mar, a path that circles Montjuic castle and overlooks the sea, which on this misty, warm day merged seamlessly into the sky. People were walking, running or cycling. An old man sunning himself on a bench had brought along a goldfinch, which sang in its cage. The fig trees were still green, but their large leaves had stiffened and occasionally one came clattering down.
From a distance, the castle looks a warm sandy colour, but close up each of the stone bricks is unique, the faded red and yellow patterns sometimes erupting into psychedelic swirls. The quarries of Montjuic have yielded a lot of sandstone for the city’s buildings.
In places the stones have been crudely patched up with cement, but fortunately plenty of cracks and holes remain. There’s no shortage of nesting sites for House sparrows, or refuges for ants, woodlice and spiders. The south-facing slopes of Montjuic are a suntrap, and as the wall heats up, it begins to flicker with lizards.
Approaching the spot where the lizard had made a sudden dive, I noticed a Moorish gecko (Tarentola mauritanica, Salamanquesa común) clinging on near the entrance of a tiny cave. Another step and it withdrew inside.
But there was something far more dangerous than me only two stones away.
The snake, long and slim, lay apparently lifeless, draped on a narrow ledge. When you spot a snake, there’s a tingle of excitement and you hold your breath, almost with disbelief. It came to life and slid into a crevice, keeping watch from within. When I moved, it stretched out its head to keep track of my position.
I didn’t know it was a Montpellier snake ((Malpolon monspessulanus – culebra bastarda) till I got home and checked. The ones I’d seen before were adult, much larger and darker than this slender, well-camouflaged specimen. The unforgettable photograph on Iberianature left no doubt. I recognised the penetrating stare, tapering head and white stripes, like war-paint, below the eyes, although I don’t know if this young one was quite ready to tackle a sparrow yet.
There was a wall-full of prey there, but the Montjuic Montpellier snakes have a reputation for reaching a fiercesome size on a diet of rats.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
While out walking on a warm evening at the beginning of September, it was Nick who first spotted this tiny snake on the track, rippling as fast as it could, anxious to reach cover on the other side. Once caught, it remained still, except for the flickering of its tongue. We weren’t sure of its identity, so it paid to have the camera at hand. The photograph clearly shows a black coronet and an elusive blue shimmer: the marks of the non-venomous Southern smooth snake (Coronella girondica).
We were lucky to stumble on it, as they’re not common in Collserola. Shy and secretive night hunters, they search out geckos, skinks and grasshoppers and kill by constriction. A passing resemblance to the viper is thought to work as a defence. We found the snake in the more open southern part of Collserola, an area of grass, shrubs and scattered trees, a summer hunting ground for Short toed eagles.
At the opposite end of the park, not far from a spring, this dragonfly was captured clinging to a bush. I’d have described it as red, till I got home and saw its range of fairground colours: a horse from a devil’s carousel. The rows of spikes on the legs are impressive, ensuring a firm grip on prey. The dimensions of its eyes immediately suggest extraordinary powers of vision.
When identifying the dragonfly, the yellow stripe along the length of the legs pointed me to the Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum), which was confirmed when Sue put her shots up on the forum.
Finally, in the centre of Collserola, the most disturbed and built-up part, this creature was rescued from a busy track. A convoy of cars was driving away from a restaurant, coating us and everything around in dust. The Eyed hawk moth caterpillar (Smerinthus ocellata) was carried to a safer place on a notebook, hence the garish studio background for its portrait.
The caterpillar has a distinguishing blue horn, slanting white stripes (7 in all) and red spiracles (breathing holes).