Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pine Bunting in Riazzino

Pine buntings are Siberian birds and are extremely rare in Switzerland, however during the past few weeks 1 to 4 individuals have been reported every day from the small town of Riazzino. The town is near Locarno in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

I took the train from Rotkreuz near my home to Bellinzona through the new Gotthard tunnel, the longest train tunnel in the world, and then took a small regional train to Riazzino. It was a 10-minute walk to the location the Pine Buntings had been reported and as soon as I got there I saw a large flock consisting of Tree sparrows, Yellowhammers and a few Reed buntings. The flock was scattered across an area of trees and shrubs on either side of a stream. Every now and then, the whole flock would fly across a field before scattering into the trees, meaning I had to start from scratch every time. I knew it would not be easy to find a Pine Bunting in these conditions.

After searching for around a half hour I started to give up on finding the Pine buntings. I had seen so many sparrows and yellowhammers that I thought I had seen every bird in the flock. It was getting cold and my camera was getting heavy, so I decided to go back to the station. Just as I was about to turn, though, I lifted my binoculars one last time at a bunting in a tree. I knew immediately it was an adult male Pine bunting, a striking and beautiful bird. I only saw it for a few seconds, but I was satisfied.

After a while, I saw the Pine bunting again and I was able to take some pictures. The best of the pictures was still not very good, but it was enough to be certain of my identification. Later I saw a Pine bunting through another birder's scope, which really revealed the beauty of this species with its chestnut head and white cheeks. The females are far more dull, and look like yellowhammers without the yellow.

Other than the bunting, I noticed that European robins and Hooded crows were far more abundant in this canton, the latter of which is nearly unheard of where I live.

Pine Bunting - 28-01-2017

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