Written by Lucy Brzoska
An hour before twilight, deep in Collserola, I was sitting at the side of a track, eating an apple. I lobbed the core behind me without a second thought. Some moments later, there were rustlings and quiet grunts, but nothing to see. They then started emerging onto the track, small boars, more and more of them, like a version of 101 Dalmatians. In fact there were 12, accompanied by two female adults.
One of the females stood protectively in front of the youngsters, planted squarely in the middle of the track, looking straight towards us.
The young ones, recently grown out of their baby stripes, were herded to the other side and up the opposite bank.
Then I saw him, the proud owner of my apple core, trotting along, closely followed by a rival, whose short mane was bristling in frustration.
Two of the frisky young boars came over to sample Stephanie’s walking sticks, before they all disappeared into the undergrowth again.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
Swatting off scarlet and black mylabris beetles, I walked down to the horse paddocks. Summer’s hit us like a sledgehammer, and mornings have been too hot to go out and look for butterflies (or anything). In the mellow evening sun, among olive and carob trees, I looked around to see what was about. Behind me, horses snorted and a Golden Oriole was calling.
Most of the scabious has gone to seed already, and the only flowers were thistles and stonecrop. A Common Blue perched on a dried flower head, slowly turning in a semi-circle, as if to make sure all sections of the audience got a full view of its violet shimmer.
No sooner had the Common Blue flown, its place was immediately taken by a Long-tailed Blue. It shifted its wings, but kept them closed, a beige slip of a butterfly. In no hurry to move, it let me get close and see the “face” in the corner – the imitation antenna and eye spots.
When I got too close for comfort and the Long-tailed Blue moved on, I noticed something magnificent further up the slope, motionless on a wild carrot flower. I approached carefully, commando-style. After staring so long at the diminutive Longtailed Blue, the sheer size of the Swallowtail, boldly outlined in black, was impressive. Its abdomen hung down like a paper lantern.
One of the benefits of hunkering down quietly in the grass for ages is that you pass unnoticed. Over in the horse paddock, I watched a rabbit stop to scratch its back. It lost patience and rolled over to rub the elusive spot, legs in the air. All around sparrows were taking dust baths. The rabbit suddenly detected my presence and froze, white tum stretched out, before bounding off into the trees.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
The city doesn’t get more pristine than this. It’s the middle of July, typically a month of stagnant heat, when the sky is discoloured by smog. But in today’s diaphanous atmosphere, Barcelona is visible in intricate detail and the sea is like deep blue silk. After yesterday’s torrential storm, there’s a mountain freshness in the air that promises a good night’s sleep. The soaring swifts take your heart that little bit higher.
I’m in the southern part of Collserola, after catching the funicular to Vallvidrera, where rich Barcelona citizens used to retire for the summer, in the days when people didn’t travel far for their holidays. Once you leave the houses behind, you can follow the ridge to Sant Pere Màrtir, the last hill before the Sierra de Collserola drops down to the Llobregat river plain. There used to be an ermita here, before they tore it down in the 1930s and put up a red and white radio transmitter. Only the name remains, and the stunning views, as the hill falls abruptly away to the city.
I turn inland, where the slopes are more gradual and there’s a labyrinth of paths among pines, small holm oaks and broom. There’s a restlessness about the landscape. A considerable part of Barcelona’s swift population are also spending their Sunday evening on Collserola and the hillsides are swarming with them.
Mainly Common swifts (Apus apus), but the majestic Alpine swifts (Apus melba) stand out with their gleaming white breasts. Their wingspan approaches that of the approaching kestrel, who suddenly accelerates and takes a swoop at one of the house martins mingling in the crowd, making it yelp in alarm.
The path takes me to one of the deepest recesses, where Fragrant clematis (Clematis flammella) has run amok, smothering other plants and bushes with white flowers. The swifts are here too, swishing past, cutting the air to ribbons.
I start climbing up among oak trees, and the swifts cast their shadows on the path. There must be hordes of insects after yesterday’s rain, and they’re intent on hoovering the lot up. The only sound is the slash of their narrow, flexible wings, interrupted by the cheerful gossip of some passing swallows.
Up the grassy slopes, nearly back to the top of the ridge, the density of swifts is even greater. They pass very close, turning incredibly tight circles at relentless speed, weaving intricate flight paths. My camera can only capture them as flickering symbols.
Most of the city is now in shadow, as the sun sets. Only the part nearest the coast still glows. To the north, powerful storm clouds have risen, reflected in the sea.
When the sun has gone down, the swifts ease up, and begin to drift back towards the city. Perhaps some will be going back to their nest holes, even though the breeding season is virtually over. The Alpines are here till October but the Common swifts only stay for three months a year. Each one is linked to a particular barrio, street, unobtrusive hole.
The orange horizon behind them, the swifts float out into the dusk. It’s a vertiginous thought that they’ll be on the wing non-stop till next spring. And those who survive their first migration have 2 or 3 years of flight ahead.
Excellent website about swifts: