Rick Wright gives us another intriguing preview of one of the five “Birds & Art” tours he will lead for VENT in 2016: Spain: Birds & Art in Catalonia, April 14-22, 2016.
The monastery of Montserrat perches high on a saw-toothed mountain just north of Barcelona, beneath an eerie moonscape of eroded peaks dotted with chapels and ancient hermitages.
The flanks of the mountain are more densely vegetated, covered with maquis-like scrub that offers breeding sites to colorful and noisy Cirl Buntings and Subalpine Warblers.
One of the best places to bird here is the trailhead at the Camí de les Batalles, named for its role as a mustering place for the Catalan troops during the war of Spanish Liberation.
In the summer of 1808, Napoleon’s soldiers were twice rebuffed here, events claimed by the locals to be a turning point in the effort to expel the French. The whole thing is the stuff of patriotic legend: the story goes that when the patriots were badly outnumbered, a local drummer boy hit upon the idea of playing his drum from a deep cleft in the mountainside, the echoes of which convinced the wicked Frenchmen that they were surrounded by a vastly superior force—and like cowards they ran, all the way back to Paris.
Be that as it may or may not have been, the battle at El Bruc was a turning point in another story, the story of American ornithology.
Had the French occupiers prevailed, the usurper King Joseph would not have been forced to abdicate, and he would never have left Spain for England and then, eventually, for America, where his nephew and son-in-law Charles would come to live as well—on the banks of the Delaware River, in central New Jersey, where Charles collected the first Cooper’s Hawk known to science, where he figured out the color morphs of the Eastern Screech-Owl, and where he earned the respect and admiration of naturalist historians who would, for example, name a gull for him, Charles Bonaparte. The centuries and the miles fade away when you’re birding the landscapes of Catalonia.