The week of the flies

The amount of aerial wildlife is one of the lovely things about living in Tortosa, a regional town so close to the Delta Ebro wildlife reserve. I’m not saying I’m a twitcher, but in the immortal words of The Eels, I like…birds.

Pigeon house.
Classic pigeon house in Tortosa (pigeons MIA)

Pigeons, sparrows and swallows are ubiquitous of course, occupying the nooks and crannies in the old and abandoned buildings here. We’ve even started calling old, derelict structures ‘pigeon houses’, because they seem so at home. At sunset, swarms of swallows practise their flying acrobatics over the river, catching bugs, pulling shapes and generally having a wonderful time.

Evil seagulls surrounded by the feathers of their latest victim

Additionally, we have regular visits from water birds that travel up the Ebro from the Delta region. There is a white egret that greets me most days on my walk to work, as well as the occasional purple heron (I think), and tern. H even saw a kingfisher once! Two giant yellow-legged seagulls rule over a broken jetty near the university. These guys seem to be pure evil – I have seen them with the bloody corpses of at least four pigeons, and last week I watched one of them eat a whole snake! Maybe not ideal neighbours but they certainly make me walk faster.

Apart from feather friends, occasionally I also spy tiny microbats flitting about near dusk, looking for dinner bugs. They are magical little mammals, about the same size as swallows, and are apparently crucial for keeping insect numbers down. Butterflies and flies also buzz about, as you would expect, and yesterday I saw my first Catalonian dragonfly.

But not all flying things are fun, and not all wildlife is welcome. This week we met another member of the flying Tortosa family: the mosca negra, or black fly. These tiny little beasties have been around since about the mid 1990s, and have been ruining vueltas and sleeping with the window open ever since.

This article has a great quote comparing the mosca negra with a mosquito:

“If the mosquito is a neurosurgeon that bites with a probe, the black fly is a butcher that scratches the skin and makes you bleed,” said Raul Escosa, member of an Ebro river environmental board.

They love hanging around the river at dusk during the warm summer months, which is a real shame because going to the river at dusk is an official pastime here. Their bites are nasty and can cause very serious reactions in some people: swelling, days and days of itching, and general annoyance. Just writing about it makes me itch!

Recently there have been some chemicals dropped over the river to reduce the number of black flies, but I don’t know what effect it will have on the population (or the water quality for that matter).

The past week has seen record temperatures in the Tortosa region (subject to data verification of course, this is a science blog). As our apartment has no air conditioning and limited circulation, we are facing a nightly decision to sleep in suffocating heat with the windows closed, or sleep in constant fear of black fly attack with the windows open.

Fortunately, we have been let in on the secret solution to these nasty little flying hatchets. Natural Honey. Yep, this unassuming moisturiser contains traces of citronella, and keeps the black flies at bay while leaving your skin supple. This combined with some citronella candles at home have kept us relatively bite-free so far, which means more sunset bird-watching for me!

Natural Honey
Natural Honey – the unassuming hero in our war on mosca negra.

5 thoughts on “The week of the flies

  1. Lindo, this is so amazing, I love that you get to see egrets and herons each morning. Which are far more amazing than ol’ mosca negra. Luckily for you, honey is not only delicious on crumpets, it is a deliciously good fix for these little slashers! xxo


  2. Hi Linden! I think the black flies are not too active in the nighttime, and especially as you live away from any (damp) vegetation, I think you may be safe at night – though the mozzies will get you! The black fly seems to not travel far from where it lives/breeds, he says non-scientifically. If you want to see them “at work”, try the park on an evening – the bar-restaurant in the park provides a bottle of Natural Honey for customers on each table!


    1. Thanks for the reassurance Brian 🙂 I think we are being overly cautious because the mosca negra sound like such nasty critters. When we’re feeling brave we will go and observe them “in action”!


      1. Another new kid on the block is the “tiger mosquito”. It appeared in northern Catalonia a few years ago but apparently only reached our area last year officially – and this year they seem to be everywhere. One of their characteristics is that they are active 24/7 rather than “just” around dusk like standard mozzies. You’ll recognize them as they are bigger, fly a little more slowly and have sort-of striped legs. The joys of summer!


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