Archive for October, 2009

October heat

Written by Lucy Brzoska


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


La Majua and beyond

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Two kilometres into the walk, we stop in La Majua where there’s a bar by the bridge.  Hens strut, builders fix pipes, villagers gossip, house martins feed their young, and a man goes back and forth in his madreños, wheeling rocks over the bridge in a barrow.


Not only the old folk wear these practical wooden clogs.  In El Puertu after the rain a strapping youth in track-suit bottoms pounded across the road in his.  They keep your feet warm and dry and raise them out of the dung and mud.


We head north to the Asturian border.  If the walk had a soundtrack, there’d be a crescendo when the track suddenly curves and you’re confronted with the river tumbling down in a series of falls.  The top of the valley is almost sealed off by rocks forming a narrow ravine – La Foz.


There’s an icy spring by the river where people converge for feasts.  A can of beer left in the water for 15 minutes tastes fresh out of the fridge.  I found an Apollo butterfly on a thistle, the first I’d ever seen.  It was so translucent you could see the purple flower through its wings.  It seemed fragile, as if you could blow the pigmentation away like dust.


Though worn around the edges, it was stunningly beautiful.


At the top of the ravine, the way is barred by a stone wall and wooden sticks.  You climb up and around, and you’re in a different world.


You’re cupped inside a circle of mountains.  It’s often cold and inhospitable in here, with an uneasy threat of descending mist that billows out of nowhere and fills up the cirque in an instance.  But today was calm and hot. A short-toed eagle was soaring, white against the blue sky.  The herd of chamois retreated to a slightly higher spot.  We lay on the grass observed by wheatears.  Later, we climbed to the rim of the cup and looked at the lunar landscape beyond.