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A naturalistic walk through our city

Jonathan Gil Muñoz

Director of Elguadaramista.com

Updated:07/06/2021 02:10h

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We have everything ready. In the backpack we carry: the corresponding guide, worn out from so much use; the canteen, which is already tightening the heat; and, among other things, our beloved notebook, the one we use as a field notebook. We tied our boots, we took a cap to avoid sunstroke, which would not be the first time, and we went out the door ready to explore our city in a different way. Our mission: to discover and record all that biodiversity with which we share our cities.

We go down the stairs of the building in which we live, to save energy and do some extra sports, and we realize that our naturalistic escape we have started without knowing it a couple of hours ago. Yes, during our morning walk through the bathroom we have again seen in a corner of the ceiling that spider that we have already named and that is responsible for eliminating those annoying mosquitoes that with the arrival of heat begin to do their thing . Well, this first contact with urban fauna remains in our notebook, although in this case it is also very domestic. The fact is that we go out into the street and the first thing we come across is the trees that grow in a few small tree pits. In this case, they are tall Indian bananas. It would be better if they were native trees, but it is what it is. In that same urban road is the building of a school in whose eaves the common airplanes build their mud nests, which, like swifts and swallows, return there every year faithfully to breed.

We turn the corner and peek through a fence at an undeveloped lot in the heart of the city. There have grown a thousand different species of plants of all sizes, and with flowers of all colors. It is a small urban botanical oasis used by butterflies, wild beasts and insects in general that are busy going from flower to flower in search of food and incidentally pollinating everything they land on. For years a huge billboard has announced the construction of an office block, but so far nothing at all. They may have already been ‘forgotten’, or they may not. Its urbanization threatens this vegetal redoubt like a sword of Damocles. We continue on our way. The next stop is at the foot of an imposing cedar of Lebanon in whose glass we can see a huge colony of Argentine parrot. The weight of the nests will end up damaging this tree which, as is also the case with urban birds, seems to have no choice but to assume the presence of the invasive species.

We now seek the refreshing shade of a park and sit on a bench to watch. Immediately we see the omnipresent sparrows and the intelligent magpies, we hear the blackbirds in the vicinity and we distinguish the wild pigeons, the Turkish turtledoves and the imposing wood doves, all of them safe there from the peregrine falcon, king of the skies of the city. But there are other small birds that, although common in cities, are a little more elusive; We note in our notebook the blue tit, the chickadee, the robin and the redstart, we are even lucky enough to see a real woodpecker and a nuthatch, as well as a nervous squirrel looking at us from the trunk of a pine tree. We get back on track and come to a bridge from which we can observe the inhabitants of a river that until recently was anything but.

There we see the mallard –which is better or worse but it has always been there–, which now shares a site with a myriad of species recently settled in this recovered natural environment. Egrets, kingfishers, gray herons, common redfish, wagtails, cormorants, even an otter has been seen there, a bioindicator of the quality of the aquatic area. Along with the birds, you can also guess the silhouette of fish that leave and enter the areas where riverside vegetation thrives that serves as a refuge for fauna and also purifies the waters in a natural way. And it is that the city has gone from belittling its river to looking for it. We stayed there, observing the strange picture formed by the flocks of laughing and somber gulls in flight when the nearest sea is hundreds of kilometers away. A few hours later, as the sun retreats, we see the bats arrive, circling in the air around the street lamps where they find their food in the form of moths and where another insectivore lives, the patient gecko.

The scops owl with its timid hooting seems to announce the end of our little naturalistic adventure. It is time to go home and clarify everything recorded in our notebook. All this information makes it clear how biodiverse our cities can become and all that we can (and must) do to make them more and more habitable, including for ourselves.

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