Photo by Suzannah Larke
Enjoying an ecosafariEnjoying an eco-safari
When a cultural centre in the Eixample found something that looked like it had “dropped from Mars” on the patio, they called ornithologist Sergi García. He identified the alien as a becada, or woodcock, a highly-prized game bird, which had been expertly filleted and dropped mid-flight by one of Barcelona’s peregrine falcons. “These are highly prized by human gastronomes—these falcons are very intelligent,” commented García.
He told this tale as people watched the falcons of the Sagrada Familia tucking into a less gourmet meal—urban pigeon—during an ‘ecosafari’, a birdwatching bicycle tour of Barcelona’s avian hotspots. This is just one of the urban safaris organised by environmental education organisation BioDiverCiudad in Barcelona and Madrid. Though their programmes are mainly aimed at children aged eight to 12, the safaris are open to everyone and, what’s more, they’re free.
Activities on offer include explorations of the flora and fauna in the city’s parks, nights in the zoo observing ‘squatter’ animals such as hedgehogs and bats, and a discovery tour of medicinal plants to be found growing on Montjuïc, as well as the Bicivoladores birdwatching safari.
People might wonder what they can see on a birdwatching trip in the middle of the city. While they shouldn’t expect hummingbirds and golden eagles, it’s not all pigeons, either. And they are likely to see even the humblest and most common species in a different light after hearing Sergi García’s enthusiastically delivered insights.
At the Sagrada Familia, birders observed the falcons’ aerial hunting skills through a telescope (while they, in turn, were observed by curious tourists). They also noticed the local parakeets were unusually quiet. “They know the falcons use sound to hunt,” explained García.
At Plaça de Tetuan the parakeets were squawking more freely. “Many were bought as pets in the Seventies, but they’re so noisy most people just released them from their cages,” García said. “They’re seen as a bit of a pest, and have caused a lot of damage to crops in the Prat area. But they’re encouraged by the planting of palm trees in the city.” As the birders watch, pairs of parakeets sit and ‘chat’ like nosy neighbours in their big messy communal nests at the base of palm tree heads.
In the Ciutadella park, the screech of the jackdaw sounds—not a rare animal, people might think, but its population level in Catalunya is plummeting. It eats the bugs found in and around animal dung, which means that as the number of livestock farms decline, so do the numbers of jackdaws. It also means the closer to the zoo people get, the more likely they are to meet this intelligent and social member of the crow family. They also nest in the nooks and crannies of the church of Santa María del Mar, where García pointed out caper plants growing from the walls (good to know for anyone making pizza at home).
The tour ends down at the beach where the telescope comes out again to observe a pair of cormorants drying their wings on a post out at sea, and safari participants learn how to distinguish between black-headed and common gulls (not as easy as it sounds).
As BioDiverCiudad’s cartoon mascot Dr Roots says, “There’s plenty of biodiversity in the city, you just have to know how to look.”
The ecosafaris usually run at weekends for families. Start times and duration vary. All safaris are free, but places must be reserved. For more information see www.biodiverciudad.org (in Castilian and Catalan) or email firstname.lastname@example.org