Abruzzo and Gran Sasso National Parks, Italy, July 2020
We spent 5 days in Abruzzo, a region in central Italy with three National Parks and a couple of regional ones. It also happened to be one of the areas in Italy that had been less affected by the COVID pandemic and thus presumably safer, although we weren’t planning to spend a lot of time in crowded places.
We had one avian target, White-Backed Woodpecker, hopes for the two great carnivores that inhabit these parts: Wolf and Brown Bear, and also expected to see the resident alpine species, such as Snowfinch, Alpine Accentor etc. We stayed in a small town just outside the Gran Sasso National Park and travelled twice to the Abruzzo NP in the south of the region, spending the remaining three days in the Gran Sasso area, where the scenery is truly breathtaking.
To cut a long story short, we dipped on both carnivores, despite having detailed inside information and not for lack of effort (including dawn jaunts in recommended sites). In the hamlet of Gioia Vecchio, in the Abruzzo NP, we also met two French birders who had seen a pack of 7 wolves a few hours before in a place which is usually recommended for bears and where we spent a couple of hours on two different days, seeing (twice) the only Golden Eagle of the trip and the only Raven.
We did see White-backed Woodpecker at the third attempt, thanks to the detailed information received by several of our fellow EBN-Italy members who know the area well.
The first day we tried twice in the same beech wood on the border with Lazio, the next region to the west, but it was fairly empty although we did hear Bullfinch.
We returned the next day and tried instead a trail departing from the town of Pescasseroli, the “hub” of the NP, in a gorge with huge beech trees and meadows full of wildflowers. We walked for a while along an almost dry stream with puddles full of tadpoles, marvelling at the scenery, at the carpet of wild strawberries underfoot and at the abundant birdlife (Red-backed Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Nuthatch, various Tits, and a fantastic male Bullfinch found by the teenager, a first for me in Italy). We first heard a White-backed Woodpecker without managing to see it but then it flew across the trail as we were heading back. Tick! 3 happy birders grinning all the way back to the car.
Other interesting sightings in the Park were Yellowhammer, a delicacy for us, 4 Griffon Vultures, a few Honey Buzzards, and Crag Martins in the splendid Sagittarius Gorges.
The Gran Sasso NP is completely different, a majestic plateau snaking for kilometres between rocky peaks going up to 3000 m., the access roads climbing through a landscape of grassy hillocks with mind-blowing views opening here and there.
The prize bird here was Snowfinch, with a few pairs nesting at the end of the road at 2000 metres around the ski station and the observatory buildings. Here we saw also Water Pipit, Wheatear (together with Red-backed Shrike probably the most abundant species of the trip), Black Redstart, House Martins (!) and White Wagtail. Along the plateau lots of Skylarks Linnets and Quail (which we also saw - it must have been 20 years since I had seen one!), more Wheatears and a large flock of Red-billed Choughs. Here we also had a couple of flyover Alpine Accentors.
Along the access roads and various tracks, the only interesting mammal of the trip, a Weasel, then more Wheatears, Red-backed Shrike, Yellowhammer, Rock Sparrow, Hoopoe, Cuckoo, brief views of Alpine Accentor, an unexpected Marsh Harrier, Kestrels, Sparrowhawk and, on the last day, a few Rock Buntings, which were a good way to end our brief holiday.
Unfortunately we dipped on Rock Thrush, despite looking in all the right places and again, not for lack of effort on our part: one reason to go back!
The full checklist:
2. Grey Heron
3. Great White Egret
4. Little Egret
6. Honey Buzzard
7. Black Kite
8. Griffon Vulture
9. Marsh Harrier
12. Golden Eagle
15. Peregrine Falcon
20. Yellow-legged Gull
22. Collared Dove
23. Turtle Dove
25. Scops Owl
28. Green Woodpecker
29. Great Spotted Woodpecker
30. White-backed Woodpecker
33. Crag Martin
35. House Martin
36. Tawny Pipit
37. Water Pipit
38. White Wagtail
39. Grey Wagtail
41. Alpine Accentor
44. Black Redstart
45. Common Redstart
47. Northern Wheatear
49. Mistle Thrush
50. Zitting Cisticola
53. Bonelli’s Warbler
55. Coal Tit
56. Blue Tit
57. Great Tit
59. Red-backed Shrike
62. Red-billed Chough
63. Hooded Crow
66. Italian Sparrow
67. Rock Sparrow
76. Rock Bunting
77. Cirl Bunting
78. Corn Bunting
Sounds like a nice trip but I’m surprised at the low diversity of warblers.
Nice locality, and very nice photos of Snow Finch 👍
I should probably add a few landscape pics!
Nice trip and photos. Looking forward to the landscape pictures. I like the idea of a visit to Abruzzo.
So that's where you went after all! My friend has been in Gran Sasso area and his photos were stunning, so that must have been great. I always thought that eventually there will be a chance to visit with work (considering the huge particle research lab in the Gran Sasso massive itself) but it never happened.
The snowfinches on flowering meadow are simply outrageous :)
And I promise to post landscape pics asap!
1) the valley of the wolves (which we didn't see) in the Gran Sasso area
2) the plateau at Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso NP
3) Looking for White-backed Woodpecker in Abruzzo NP
4) More of the same
5) The enchanted forest near Pescasseroli, Abruzzo NP
1 to 4: views from the approach roads to Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso NP
5) another view of the plateau
Great photos of the scenery.
Stunning landscapes, thanks for posting.
Great photo`s, really taken me back, I was there in 2006, really enjoyed Campo Imperatore seeing Golden Eagle after climbing out of Castel Del Monte, was in Pescasseroli in a thunder storm.
Looks a stunning place!
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