31 Jul 2007

"Ciao" A Week in Italy. 9 Lifers and some very shy birds.

177. Nuthatch ( Picchio muratore )
178. Spotted Flycatcher ( Pigliamosche )
179. Black Kite ( Nibbio Bruno )
180. Great White Egret ( Airone bianco maggiore )
181. Hoopoe ( Upupa )
182. Eurasian Bee-eater ( Gruccione )
183. Roller ( Ghiandaia marina )
184. Cattle Egret ( Airone guardabuoi )
185. Golden Oriole ( Rigogolo )
186. Lesser Grey Shrike ( Averla Cenerina )
187. Yellow Wagtail ( Cutrettola )

Peregrine's Bird Facts: There are a total of 25 National Parks, 89 Regional Parks, 270 Regional Reserves, 142 State Reserves, 47 Marsh Reserves and 7 Marine Reserves in Italy.

Penny, Jeremy, Charlie and I drove to Dublin and took a cheap flight on Ryanair to Ciampino in Rome. My god it was hot when we decamped from the plane 39'C or 102 F. Quite a difference from the 14'C that we had just been experiencing in Ireland.On the way to the hire car centre I spotted my first bird in Italy, a Hooded Crow (Cornacchia grigia). It was in the sun with its wings spread and panting.I knew how it felt after walking only a few hundred yards!!! The only other birds were house Sparrows and they were everywhere.We picked up the Ford C-Max from Hertz and headed Northwards to Orvieto about an hour and a half from Rome on the main route that goes all the way upto Milan.

As I was unused to driving on the wrong side of the road I wasnt really looking very hard for Birds but did see one Buzzard (Poiana) like bird soaring over the motorway. My son at that moment said that there was a man tailgating me and gesticulating! I hadnt even noticed.

We finally arrived at the Villa which we were sharing with some friends Naimbh and Eugene and their four children.

It was a lovely situation on a hill overlooking Orvieto. This was the view.

The property was called La Grande Quercia The Big Oak. There were three very big oak trees in the garden as well as elm , lime, and pines. It also had a very nice pool
During the week we quite regularly had swallows drinking from it.

On arrival the owners had cooked us a delicious meal and immediately afterwards we all headed for the pool to cool down.

The next morning I was up at about 7.30 and went to see what Birds there were in the garden. The first thing I heard was Green Woodpecker(Picchio Verde) and during the week they were everywhere but I only saw one in flight. Sometimes I could hear them calling twenty yards away but still couldnt see anything. I also heard another bird which I had never heard before and it took me three days to actually catch sight of it. A Nuthatch (Picchio muratore) There must have been a family of them as they called all around the property. There were also a number of tits. Blue, Longtail, Coal and Great. (Cinciarella,Codibugnolo,Cincia moro, Cinciallegra)

Beside the pool there was two patches of Lavender which attracted alot of bees and a few Butterflies of which I photographed a few. I am none the wiser to what they are.

As this was a family holiday I didnt do as much birding as I would have liked. One morning I went to Alviano about 15kms south of Orvieto. I was looking for a WWF site I found little signs and went down various tracks and eventually ended up by a reservoir and dam. Infact it wasnt a very nice spot and smelled dreadful . However I did see my first Black Kite (Nibbio Bruno) and what I presumed to be a Yellow Wagtail (Cutrettola). In the distance I could see some Great Egret (Airone bianco maggiore), and a possible Purple Heron (Airone rosso). While I was there I heard a sound from a warbler that sounded almost like churring of a nightjar but not so loud and had no idea what it was. It wasn't until I was back in Belfast and talking to another birder about it that he suggested it might be a Savi's Warbler (Salciaiola). I went home and listened to one on my Ipod and that is exactly what it was. Listen here. Penny was at this stage getting fairly hot and bored and so we headed back to the villa. Fortunately as we were leaving I saw a couple of Turtle Dove ( Tortora) on the track. Such a pretty dove.

When we arrived back at the villa and I was parking the car I noticed this lizard on the wall. Infact they were everywhere and would scuttle off as you approached them.

I decided that on one day that we would kill two birds with one stone. (Metaphorically speaking!!!!!) We would drive to the coast and go and have lunch at Il Gambero Rosso a lovely fish restaurant in Porto Ercole.

We had been there about seven years ago and had one of the best meals we'd ever had. Then after lunch I would go to the WWF Nature Reserve on the Orbetello Lagoon.

Well that was the plan anyway!! We drove about 100km to Porto Ercole and stopped off at La Parrina a few miles short of the coast. It is a wonderful farm estate which has a great shop where you can buy Wine, Olive Oil, Cheese, Honey, Fruit and Vegatables. So we stocked up for the meal we were going to make in the evening. As well as buying two of their 5 litre wine in a box for 9 Euro, £6 or $12US very good value!!! After stocking up we parked in Porto Ercole to find to our dismay that the restaurant was closed on Wednesdays!!!! So we went and found a small cafe on the seafront . I have one word to describe it "Dreadful" My children ordered Lasagne and the proprietor went to the freezer pulled out a frozen Dolmio Lasagne he then proceeded to put it in microwave and served it to the children still in its plastic container. So now my mood was not at its best when we went to the Nature Reserve. After a few mistaken turnings I found it and pulled up alongside one of the buildings. Thank goodness for the air conditioning as it was about 38 C outside.

I had been really looking forward to coming to this site as it is a brackish lagoon connected to the Argentario promontary by a tiny isthmus which divides the lagoon into two main areas : the western laggoon with the WWF Nature Reserve and the eastern where unfortunately shooting is allowed.It has a checklist of over 300 species with at least 70 of them breeding.This site was in my guide "A Birdwatcher's Guide to Italy" what it failed to tell me was that most of the Italian reserves are closed June, July and August !!!!!!!

I was getting out of the car when Pietro Labate the Reserve Manager appeared
fortunately he spoke good English and told me that the Reserve was closed for maintenance and Fire risk. My day wasn't going very well. However he told me that I was about the fourth person in a couple of weeks who had turned up with this guide and he took its details to inform the publishers Lynx Edicions about the policy of closing the reserves in the summer months. He then said that one of the wardens Joseph Crisalli

would show me to one of the hides closeby.

My day was getting better. As soon as we were in the hide we could see some Cattle Egret (Airone guardabuoi) and he pointed out a male and female Golden Oriole(Rigogolo) with one young in the tops of some poplars about a hundred yards away. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a Hoopoe (Upupa) fly away. There was a little pond with a Little Grebe (Tuffetto) on it. I then saw an otter swimming across the pond or I thought it was and Joseph whose English was not very good said it wasn't it turned out to be a Coypu (I think)

I was then watching this bee flying right in front of the hide and suddenly this Eurasian Bee-eater ( Gruccione) swooped up and grabbed it. A great way to see one's first Bee-eater.

When we left the hide Joseph pointed out a European Roller ( Ghiandaia marina) and a Beeeater sitting on a telephone line as well as in the distance a pair of Lesser Grey Shrike (Averla Cenerina). So six new lifers in half an hour wasn't too bad. I would have liked to go to the actual lagoon itself but such is life.

I will be back. Unfortunately photographic opportunities were few and far between. One day I would like to live in Italy.


19 Jul 2007

Swallows in Donegal and a Spoonbill two miles away on the Quoile.

176 Storm Petrel

Peregrine's Bird Facts Female Swallows prefer males with long tails, as these show that he is well fed and strong since extra nutrients are required to grow a longer tail.

Last week I was up in Donegal at my parents for a couple of nights. My mother and I went for a drive out to Melmore Head and as we were going over Lough Salt Mountain she said that she often sees Common Sandpiper up on this Lough. No sooner had she said it and I swerved to a halt as there was one right beside the road.

While we were out walking she wondered whether her sheepdog "Beth" and the Swallows

on the farm had a symbiotic relationship. We have had a number of swallows that have nested in a barn on the farm for years and years.

Beth is a rescue dog that we have never been able to rehome successfully, mainly due to the fact that she has a penchant for chasing cattle.(My mother is the treasurer and one of the founders of Donegal Pet Rescue and at any one time we may have two or three dogs that have been picked up and need to be rehomed.) Beth has now been around for quite a few years and I doubt whether my mother would rehome her now.

Well Beth absolutely loves the swallows she gets so excited when they return from Africa each spring. So much so that my mother knows by the tone of Beth's bark that they are back before she even sees one. When they start nesting in the upstairs barn Beth races to the doorway and barks at them.

They then fly out of the barn and over to the field beside the barn. Beth bounds down the steps and clears the fence into the field before chasing the swallows.

This can go on for nearly an hour by which time the dog is thoroughly exhausted. The theory about the symbiosis is that as she is chasing the swallows one can quite often see three or four swallows flying after her and feeding on the flies and bugs she has disturbed. So the Swallows get fed and the dog gets exercised!!!

While I was up in Donegal I went out to Glenveigh to see if I could see the Golden Eagles but to no avail again!!!!!!!

Back from Donegal and there was a report of a Spoonbill dropping into WWT Castle Espie, presumably the same one that I saw about a month ago 20 miles south of me, so I went there but it had flown. However yesterday afternoon it had brightened up considerably and I decided to pop out to The Castle Island Hide on the Quoile River a couple of miles from me and I walked into the hide and there it was on an island fifty yards in front of the hide.It was fast asleep but fortunately a heron flew low over it and woke it up so I could get a reasonable photo.

The Quoile River has been an absolute disaster this year but more about that in a later post.

I am off to Umbria in Italy in a couple of days time along with my camera, binoculars and so hope to add to my list of birds. You will get a trip report eventually on my return.