Sunday, December 20, 2015


Mute Swan
I had hoped to see a few birds on this trip and that is what I saw – a few. Winter is not the best time for birding in the northern climes and birding was not the focus of this trip anyway. There were no specifically birding expeditions. We left the good binoculars and longest camera lens at home. I hoped that if necessary the 250mm on the small zoom lens we did bring would be good enough for identification pictures. What I managed to see were birds that happened to be in the same places we were. There were entire days when we would see no birds at all. Other days only the very common birds showed up: rock pigeons were everywhere; house sparrows were everywhere except Italy; gulls on the water of course; and several types of crows were also common. So in three months I am satisfied with the 31 total species and quite pleased with the fact that 12 of them are lifers. 

Black-headed Gull in winter plumage so no black head
I was a bit disappointed that we only saw one seabird on our cruise, the Yelkouan shearwater. The Mediterranean does not have a lot of seabirds, but I was hoping for more than one. The only other birds I saw on the cruise were a few on the island of Delos, but I was unable to identify any of the small, quick-moving little brown jobbies (LBJs in birder talk).

Common Buzzard. He was quite far away, but the camera did see this.
The second lifer showed up in Vernazza flying far above us. The common buzzard actually was quite common as we would see them in a couple more places. The only other bird we saw there was another common bird in the US: the Eurasian collared-dove. This bird has expanded all over the US in just a few years after first finding its way to southern Florida in 1982. 

Montepulciano was no better even though we spent several days driving around the countryside. We saw many pigeons and jackdaws (a kind of crow). Then as I was walking through town one day, I spied a new bird which sat for several minutes on a wire giving me good looks and a picture. I was able to identify him finally as a Chaffinch. 

Wallcreeper in flight. The camera caught the id marks.

The best birding was in Orvieto where we saw five new birds. The first was the most exciting. I have read on some blogs about the wallcreeper being a nemesis for some birders. As we walked out of the museum behind the cathedral, I saw this bird creeping high on the wall of the cathedral. No binoculars so we observed from a distance and took a bunch of pictures. I even managed to get a couple of shots of him flying a few feet across the wall. Since he was creeping on the wall, I had hopes that he might be this elusive wallcreeper and was excited to confirm that in the bird book that evening. 

European Goldfinch
Italian Sparrow
I had been hearing birds every morning in the farmyard of the house we were staying in, but the birds refused to stop within sight as I walked through the garden. Then a couple of days before we left, I looked out our second floor bedroom window and was delighted to have very good views of three different birds. All turned out to be lifers. The European Goldfinch and Sardinian Warbler were easily identified. The goldfinch has a distinctive face and the warbler is one of the few birds with dominant red eyes. The third bird I had assumed to be a common house sparrow like we have all over the US and Europe until I looked in the bird book and discovered that in Italy, the house sparrow is replaced by the similar, but different Italian Sparrow. 

Yellow-legged Gull
In Sorrento, I spent a couple of afternoons at the beach while Linda rested so I could focus on the gulls we had there. Gulls can be difficult not only because there are several similar species, but also because they change looks as they age. Some of the larger gulls take four years to get their adult look and each year they sport a different look. I was sure that I was seeing Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, but had hopes that there were more. All my closer inspection showed was those two gulls in different plumages. I was disappointed, but the effort was worth the time, especially since I had one of the best meals on the trip at a little beach restaurant while I was studying the gulls. An appetizer of seven different marinated fishes with bread was more than enough for lunch. The half carafe of wine only helped make the long afternoon more pleasant. 

Black Redstart


The other surprisingly good birding spot turned out to be Herculaneum, one of the sites destroyed by Vesuvius and now an excavation open for visitors. The Black Redstart and Chiffchaff joined the small list of new birds there. Again, it was the ability to get good pictures that confirmed the identifications. 

Mute Swan - a beautiful bird on shimmering Lake Lucerne
Red-crested Pochard

Linda spotted the final lifer while we cruised on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. She was looking out the other side of the boat and noticed a small group that looked different. Indeed they were. Red-crested Pochards are not uncommon, but the five we saw that afternoon on the lake are the only ones we  have seen. 

Perhaps another Redstart, but I don't think so.
For anyone interested here is the entire list, lifers in bold
Greek Isles: Yelkouan shearwater
Italy: Common Buzzard, Eurasian Collared-dove, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Pigeon, Italian Sparrow, Magpie, Robin, Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Chaffinch, European Starling, Eurasian Blackbird, Wallcreeper, Sardinian Warbler, European Goldfinch, Gray Wagtail, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Red Kite, Great Tit
Switzerland: Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Great-crested Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, Mallard, Great Cormorant
Holland: Eurasian Coot, Gray Heron

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