Archive for April, 2009

Sol y Sombra: Easter Monday in Collserola

Written by Lucy Brzoska

In summer this small stony field overlooking the valley of Sant Just turns into a fennel jungle.  In spring it’s a magic carpet of Sweet alyssum and Field marigolds, with scarlet poppies woven in. There’s a zest of fresh fennel as new sprigs sprout among the brittle sticks of last year’s crop.  Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) spread their wings on the flowers, as flat as mortarboards.

On the grassy slopes nearby, light is glancing off the Cleopatra butterflies (Gonepteryx cleopatra) that float among the Crimson peas.  I always hope that one will open up while feeding.  They never do, of course, but on this sunny April day the male’s orange blush is visible through translucent wings.

Grey-leaved cistus is in flower everywhere, liberally scattering pink petals. Lavender is blooming alongside the thyme.  Appropriately for Easter Monday, I find a Tassle Hyacinth (Muscari comosum).  They’re known as Nazarenos in Spanish, named after the cone-headed penitents that march in Easter processions, often in sombre purple gowns.

Down a narrow shady path, periwinkles star the ground, filling every available space. Common Smilax has shiny new leaves and fresh tentacles, itching to cling.  Glossy pale green leaves of Black spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigram) loom out of the shadows.  A wren scolds loudly, despite a beakful of nesting material.

Collserola: guided walks

Early Spring in Montgrony

We were leaving the coast behind, Pyrenean-bound. Back in Barcelona, the trees were wearing light new foliage, and through the train window, we could see spring spreading inland along the River Ter. House martins and swallows swooped over the rain-swollen water, set to be torrential when the thaw reaches the mountains.

Climbing out of Campdevanol, spring receded with every step to an earlier phase.  The way was spotted yellow with Cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana), unchecked by any competition. The woods were lit up with white and purple anemones (Anemone hepatica).  In a sheltered spot, Peacock butterflies (Inachis io) came out with the sun, their rich colours as warming as brandy.

In the Sierra above Montgrony, rising to 2,000 metres, spring would presumably have even less of a foothold. But there were surprises. A strong scent invaded a clearing, its source a small solitary bush of Common Mezereon (Daphne mezereum), all bare branch and florid pink blossom. Horses were hungrily tearing at the short grass where emphatically blue Spring Gentians had sprung up. Higher up, purple crocuses could hardly wait for the patches of snow to melt.

We stood near the top looking over at the high mountains on the French border, white under an iron-grey sky. A line of geese crossed the ridge, heading north.

Wearing every spare layer, we got out our lunch. The silence was broken by a kronk, as two Ravens materialised, settling near by. Sometimes they rose up and circled us, black feathers shining like oil. As soon as we moved on, they came and cleared up the leftovers. The mountains felt very remote that day, but the ravens were a reminder that other people come up and have picnics too.

Large outstretched wings passed above – a Red Kite. Below, we saw the brown backs of Griffon Vultures. The Gombrèn valley is a busy highway for raptors moving in and out of the Cadi-Moixeró area. The day before we’d seen a pair of Egyptian Vultures, a very easterly sighting.

Descending under a shower, we watched the outlines of the hills opposite gradually merge with the clouds, and it was our turn for the sun again.

The Hummingbird Hawkmoth and the Wood Spurge

Written by Lucy Brzoska

hummingbird hawkmoth

On a path in Collserola I came across a whir of wings near a Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides).  My camera caught the Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) uncoiling its lengthy proboscis to dip into the glistening nectar.

hummingbird hawkmoth uncoils proboscis

At rest, the moth is a non-descript brown, but in flight you can see its orange hindwings, albeit in a blur. So much movement requires copious quantities of nectar, so they are restless foragers. They are also strong migrators, crossing the Alps to reach central and northern Europe.

Though innately attracted to blue, Hummingbird Hawkmoths soon discover that flowers of other colours can be profitable too, including the inconspicuous yellow-green Wood Spurge. A long proboscis is not really necessary with this plant, which serves nectar up on a plate.

What the Wood Spurge lacks in colour it compensates with elegance. Each cyathium contains four nectar-secreting glands in the shape of half-moons. They encircle the male and female flowers, although young plants are sometimes male only, like this one.  The whole structure is about to be repeated as two pale green cyathia are poised to unfurl.

detail of wood spurge