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Birding in The Alps

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Old Thursday 3rd August 2017, 16:37   #1
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Birding in The Alps

I've got a question about birding in The Alps (not only Switzerland) in September.

I'm going on a holiday for 2 weeks in September. We are planning to make a large round trip by car through the Alps. We haven't booked anything yet nor decide on the route, but it will be in multiple countries.

I am a dutch birder, my girlfriend likes nature and walking, but we will not be doing whole days of birding or long, hard hikes. We will just be driving around, getting out of the car to see the views, visit villages and nature and see as much of the mountains as we can. We will be making short walks, look around at easy accessible viewpoints in the mountains and maybe take a few cable cars up the mountains. Of course I will be keeping a sharp eye on birds and take my binoculars with me, so some light birdwatching is definitely planned but not like you would do when birding is the main priority.

- What I really would like to know is which species of birds you will come across in 2 weeks, after driving around in the alps a lot, without extensive searching and twitching them for hours on specific locations?

- And if more effort is necessary, do you know great locations with a high chance of encountering these species or locations with a larger amount of those species, possibly with multiple species on the same location?

- what height (above sealevel, or below/above the treeline etc.) or biotope do I have to look for which species?

- For species that can only be found higher in the mountains, is it possible to to get to a good location and travel high enough with a car or by cable car?

My absolute must-see targets are:
- Rock Ptarmigan
- Bearded Vulture
- Golden Eagle
- Alpine Swift (still possible in September?)
- Eurasian Crag Martin (still possible in September?)
- Alpine Accentor
- Spotted Nutcracker
- Alpine Chough
- Citril Finch
- Rock Dove (when are they considered wild and pure?)
- White-winged Snowfinch
- Italian/Iberian Yellow Wagtail (cinereocapilla)

What I also would like to see or hear but may be too difficult in the Alps in September(?):
- Western Capercaillie
- Hazel Grouse
- Rock Partridge (are the reintroductions considered wild?)
- Tengmalm's Owl
- Grey-headed Woodpecker
- Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker
- White-backed Woodpecker
- Cirl Bunting
- Rock Bunting

Hope you can help me out!
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Old Friday 11th August 2017, 12:05   #2
Johnnie Lee
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I have just come back from a birding weekend in Switzerland (Leuk / Leukerbad in Valais). I would advise that you take the cable car to higher ground locations for the montane species such as Lammergeier, Ptarmigan, accentor, Alpine Chough etc. I took the Gemmi Pass cable car up to the higher ground and there is a noticeable difference in species at altitude and above the tree line. I have picked up nearly all the alpine specialties (accentor, chough, ptarmigan and snow-finch) while skiing over the years in the French / Austrian Alps so the high ground is good. So I think that you can reasonably pick these up if you go high - also Golden Eagle.

The lower elevations are better for the arboreal species. the tree-line particularly for Citril Finch but also Nutcracker - you should have a good chance of picking them up in the right areas. As for the Woodpeckers, I think Grey-headed may well be possible as an incidental bird but three-toed & white-backed, you will definitely need specific site information. Let me know if you get some as I still need both! I think yellow wag and Alpine Swift will be pretty much gone by September.

I can recommend Leukerbad as a lovely place to go with your girl-friend and has good birding nearby with nice walks etc. The Wildstrubel hotel at the Gemmi pass is really nice too and means that you can get onto the high mountain plateau early before it gets busy. Hope this helps!

Have a good trip

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Old Monday 14th August 2017, 17:18   #3
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Hi John,
Thank you very much! I have been reading about Leukerfeld/Leukerbad/Gemmi pass and am much excited about your experience. Especially those alpine species can be hard, so next to a cable car to Karwendelspitze (German-Austrian border) I definitely want to go to Leukerbad and Gemmi with cable car as well.

How easy are Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor, Snow Finch and Rock Ptarmigan and Bearded Vulture there?

Where did you see them? Near the cable car exit on Gemmi Pass? already along the way up? Or did it take a hike?

Will this be high enough outside of winter season?

Are Citril Finch and Nutcracker easiest exactly on top of the tree line, or also lower? What kind of areas/trees do I have to look for? I heard about noisettes/hazel nut trees for Nutcracker and Spruce for Citril Finch.

Did you maybe see or hear a Rock Partridge as well?

Kind regards,

Last edited by DutchSparrow : Monday 14th August 2017 at 18:59.
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Old Wednesday 16th August 2017, 16:13   #4
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John, glad to hear you've done well in Leuk. I have to go there as well, never managed so far (I live in Eastern Switzerland, so usually go the the mountains here).

Theo, to your last questions:
- Chough are hard to miss
- Alpine accentor, Snow Finch and Ptarmigan are not easy, but doable, either with some luck or spending enough time in the right habitats. A lot of hiking helps. For snow finch and ptarmigan really high up (e.g. Gemmipass and above), for the Accentor anywhere above the tree line.
- Gemmi and Leukerbad are one of the best locations for Bearded Vulture in Switzerland.
- Citril Finch is indeed best around the tree line, or in bushes above the tree line. They move around in nervous flocks and tend to sit in the tree tops.
- Nutcracker are also lower down, anywhere in montane forest. They are most abundant in stone pine forest (Pinus cembra). If you go to Leuk, you could also add a day or more in Riederalp or nearby, to visit the famous Aletsch forest. The scenery is simply stunning and Nutcracker is certain there. They have a characteristic call, that will help.

General advice for alpine birds is to spend as much time as possible in suitable habitat. Not necessarly long and hard hikes needed, but you need time to find the birds. Spending 2 weeks in 2-3 locations in a good area like Vallis and do a lot of walking there is better for finding many birds than a "large round trip by car through the Alps. (...) in multiple countries".

Last edited by dalat : Wednesday 16th August 2017 at 16:16.
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Old Friday 18th August 2017, 23:29   #5
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Thank you for your advice, dalat!
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Old Friday 6th October 2017, 16:26   #6
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I wanna thank you for your help. We had a wonderful time in the Alps with 9 of 10 targets seen and 1 bonus!

Species I saw:

- Alpine Accentor: Säntis and Gornergrat
- Snow Finch: Säntis, we loved this mountain. fog was thick as soup when we ascended, but the clouds broke after 2 hours when we were on the top and the views of the clouds rolling against the mountains with the late afternoon sun were magnificent!
- Alpine Chough: Everywhere
- Golden Eagle: Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse
- Nutcracker: Ebenalp and lots at Riederalp/Aletsch forest
- Citril Finch: Riederalp
- Rock Ptarmigan: 2, after searching for hours at Karwendelspitze, 2 of them came very close and I got one of them on a photo, flapping its wings!
- Eurasian Crag-Martin: A few different places
- Alpine Swift: A lot above the city of Bern

We missed Bearded Vulture on Gemmi because the weather was bad and foggy.

- But Grey-headed Woodpecker at Ebenalp and Grindelwald was a bonus!

Next to that we also saw Alpine Chamois and Alpine Ibex

Kind regards,

Last edited by DutchSparrow : Friday 6th October 2017 at 16:29.
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