Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Birding Fanel

Last Sunday I visited the Fanel area on Lake Neuchatel, near the town of Cudrefin. This is usually considered to be the best place in Switzerland to go birding, and hardly a day goes by without at least one rare sighting. Arctic Terns even attempted nesting here once. I decided to try my luck and I was very satisfied with the results.

From the La Sauge visitor center, I walked to the end of the long jetty that sticks out into the lake. On the way I was surprised to find a Black-winged Stilt on a small pond surrounded by reeds. I was hoping for Whiskered Tern, but there were no terns on the wooden posts, so I kept walking to the very end of the jetty. I accidentally flushed four Ruddy Turnstones from the jetty, though luckily they landed on an adjacent rock island. They showed little fear of me as I photographed them as they foraged on the rocks. I walked back to the wooden posts and saw that two Common Terns had landed. I took a closer look to make sure they were not Arctic Terns, and as I was looking a Whiskered Tern appeared, chasing a Common Tern off its perch. Another appeared shortly after and the difference between Whiskered and Common Terns was very clear, with Whiskered being far darker and more robust. On the way back I found a Whimbrel on the opposite side of the river, another rare bird for Switzerland, and a singing Great Reed Warbler, one of my favourite birds.

Black-winged Stilt
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstones
Ruddy Turnstones
Ruddy Turnstones
Ruddy Turnstones
Ruddy Turnstones
Whiskered Tern - Note short tail, dark belly and pale wings
Two Whiskered Terns and a Common Tern
Common Tern (left) and Whiskered Tern (right)
Great Reed Warbler
Whimbrel

Monday, May 8, 2017

Birding Bolle di Magadino

A little over a week ago I visited one of the best birding areas in Switzerland, the Bolle di Magadino in Ticino, near the town of Locarno. Rare birds such as Pallid Harriers, Great Snipe, Woodchat Shrike and even a first record for Switzerland, the Vinous-throated Parrotbill, an exotic bird with a small population in northern Italy.

I took the train to the town of Sant Antonino and planned to bird my way to Gordola on my bike, aiming for Woodchat shrike, Ortolan bunting and Red-throated Pipit. I planned to stop and look for Vinous-throated Parrotbill but didn't expect to see them since they are apparently very hidden in the reeds.

I went to the Woodchat shrike location and eventually found it on a post not too far away. It exhibited typical shrike behaviour, flying from the perch to catch insects in the air and on the ground. This was my first time seeing the species in Switzerland, and it was a beautiful bird.
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike

Right behind the shrike was the area of reeds where the Vinous-throated Parrotbills had been reported. I walked into the reeds and sat down because I figured I'd be there a while. While I waited I listened to their calls on my phone. After 20 minutes or so, I heard the calls from the reeds but I was unable to find the Parrotbills and they soon vanished. I was happy I heard them at least but I wished I had gotten to see this extremely rare species.

I then biked to an area near an airfield where Ortolan buntings had been reported, but found only a few Pied flycatchers, although it was cool to bike through an area of a small country road labeled 'danger zone' because it was in the path of planes taking off and landing at the airfield. On the way back I discovered a confiding Tawny pipit at the side of the road, a cool bird to find yourself.

Yellow Wagtail and cow's head
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit


On my way to Gordola, I finally found an Ortolan bunting in a field. I was scanning the field when I noticed a small bird land on the field, quite close to where I was standing. I watched for around 30 seconds before it flew away, but I got a good view.

I took the train back to Bellinzona from Gordola after my successful birding trip.







Red-footed Falcons

Here in Switzerland, many interesting birds can be seen on spring migration. Ortolan buntings, Red-throated and Tawny pipits, Black-winged Stilts and a number of rare terns can be seen.

However possibly the most interesting of these is the distinctive Red-footed Falcon. I recently saw one at the Stille Reuss in Aargau and three in the Kaltbrunner Ried. It is a rare bird, but can be quite easily seen in late spring, from mid-April to mid-May, peaking in early May, and because of its so-called loop migration it is very rarely seen in fall, prefering to take a more southerly route. It breeds in Eastern Europe and Asia but wanders frequently into Western Europe on its way back from Africa. One even ended up in the US in 2004.

This bird is very sexually dimorphic, with males being a uniform blue-gray color with a reddish undertail and a striking orange-red bill, eye ring and feet, while females have an orange head and underparts, a gray patterned back and wings and a white face with a black eye stripe.

The photos of the female are from the Stille Reuss while the ones of the male are from the Kaltbrunner Ried.

Female Red-footed Falcon
Female Red-footed Falcon
Female Red-footed Falcon
Female Red-footed Falcon
Male Red-footed Falcon
Male Red-footed Falcon catching an insect
Male Red-footed Falcon

Bonus: Purple Heron

Black Stork

A week or so ago, I discovered a Black Stork in a field next to my house. It was my first time seeing one in Switzerland and I watched it for around 20 minutes before it flew away toward the woods. However, it came back the next day and fed alongside two White Storks. I saw it for two more days after that but it always stayed far away from the house, usually feeding next to the lake with White Storks, Gray Herons and once with a Little Egret. The Black Stork ties with Common Crane and Eurasian Hoopoe as the coolest bird I've seen at my house.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Birding Mallorca

I visited Mallorca for just five days with my family and birding was not our main focus. Nevertheless, I went birding twice, and I was very successful. I visited a wetland, Albufera, to try and track down wetland birds. My main target for the trip, however, was Balearic Warbler, as this bird is endemic to the Balearic islands.

I stayed in Pollensa in the north of the island, in a holiday house which was pretty good for birds itself. Late at night the day I arrived, after going into the town for dinner with my family, we saw a Barn Owl in the headlights of the car, sitting on a fence. I also saw a Black-crowned Night Heron on the small concrete, man-made pond in the backyard.

Audouin's Gull - 09/04/2017

I visited Albufera in the afternoon, and despite the many bicyclists and other birders, I managed to see many birds. The first notable birds were a flock of Audouin's Gulls bathing on the canal. As I was watching them I saw a Little Bittern flying diagonally across the canal, immediately identifiable by its striking wing patches. I looked for it in the reeds at the other side, but couldn't find it.

I was surprised by the size of the preserve, it had countless canals and ponds, some with hides. On the way to the two main hides I heard and saw many Cetti's Warblers, a lifer. They are very rare vagrants in Switzerland but seemed to be common here, with their 'explosive' songs, as described in my Collins Bird Guide, ringing out from all directions. They were very shy however, and only showed for a few seconds each time, so I was never fast enough to get a picture.

In the hides I saw many interesting birds as well. Kentish Plovers came very close to the hide, making for great pictures. Two Purple Swamphens were feeding out in the open, but quite far away from the hide. A pair of Marbled Ducks sat out on a rocky island preening and sometimes swimming around. A Red-knobbed Coot with an identification ring around its neck fed ridiculously close to the hide. Albufera reminded me of Doñana National Park in southern Spain where I went a few years back, and in fact I read that the Red-knobbed Coots were reintroduced here with birds from Doñana.

Marbled Ducks - 09/04/2017
Marbled Ducks - 09/04/2017
Kentish Plover - 09/04/2017
Kentish Plover - 09/04/2017
Little Ringed Plover - 09/04/2017
Purple Swamphen - 09/04/2017
Red-knobbed Coot - 09/04/2017
Red-knobbed Coot - 09/04/2017
Red-knobbed Coot - 09/04/2017
Black-winged Stilt - 09/04/2017

In another hide I got close views of common shorebirds such as Ruff, Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Common Avocet and Common Snipe as well as a pair of Garganeys.


Pied Avocet - 09/04/2017
Common Snipe - 09/04/2017
Black-winged Stilt - 09/04/2017
Garganeys - 09/04/2017
Spotted Redshank - 09/04/2017
Ruff - 09/04/2017
Mallard duckling - 09/04/2017

The next day I went to the island of Dragonera, my main goal being to find a Balearic Warbler. The island is reached by a short ferry from the town of Sant Elm, and it is popular with tourists, its main attraction being that it is literally crawling with Lilford's Wall Lizards. The species is endemic to the Balearics and extinct on the mainland, but extremely common on small, uninhabited islands like Dragonera.

Lilford's Wall Lizards - 10/04/2017

Lilford's Wall Lizard - 10/04/2017
It took a 2 hour trail, hoping to pass through good habitat for Balearic Warblers. It didn't take me long to find one, but I only saw it for a few seconds, which made me doubt my identification. After a while I learned to recognize its song, quite different from that of the Sardinian Warbler. I finally got a good view of one that was foraging in a small pine, right next to the trail. It was a challenge to photograph, but I got a few decent pictures. Its bright orange bill and feet were striking against the bluish-gray plumage and I thought it was a beautiful bird.


Balearic Warbler - 10/04/2017
Balearic Warbler - 10/04/2017
Balearic Warbler - 10/04/2017

Overall it was a very successful trip and I hope to visit again soon.

Sardinian Warbler