Photo by Lucy Brzoska
Wild Barcelona: Summer Sounds home
Bee-eater in the Collserola
Like the city’s streets, Barcelona’s skies quieten down in August. The perpetual whistle of common swifts, a constant soundtrack of the last few months detectable even above the traffic din, has gone, not to be heard again until they return next April. After the turbulence of a summer storm, we can sometimes see streams of swifts overhead, as more northerly populations head south.
When the worst of the midday heat has abated, a walk in the slightly cooler air of the Collserola becomes viable. At twilight, the hillsides resonate with orchestras of crickets, and in certain places a strange, almost electronic, bleeping. This is the sound of midwife toads known for the mothering behaviour of the males. They bear the fertilised eggs on their backs, tipping them into the water only when the tadpoles are ready to break out and swim.
Mingling with the vast chorus of insects is a sound The Observer’s Book of Birds likens to the “purring of a sewing machine”. It’s the nightjar, a cryptically coloured bird that sings at dusk in prolonged reverberations. Their habit of swooping low over fields while hunting at night led to the belief they were stealing the milk of livestock, hence the alternative name of ‘goatsucker’, or chotacabras in Castilian.
Another layer of Collserola’s August soundtrack, and sometimes Montjuïc’s as well, is the unmistakable bubbling call of bee-eaters. Bands of this tropically-coloured bird—turquoise, red and yellow—are on the move, now that their breeding season is done, drifting south to Africa. They’re intensely sociable and call to each other all the while. They never seem in a hurry, hawking for insects as they go, with acrobatic flourishes. Unpopular with bee-keepers, they’re famous for adeptly knocking the stingers off bees before swallowing them whole.
Nick Lloyd and Lucy Brzoska write for www.iberianature.com and run nature tours in Barcelona.
First published August 2009.