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A weekend in the Po Delta NP, Italy (1 Viewer)


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We spent a long weekend in the Po Delta National Park. This wasn't our first visit to the area (nor it will be the last) but somehow we always tend to stick around the places we know best, rather than exploring new ones. Also, we only had two full days and we had to spend part of them in meetings with fellow birders at the Po Delta Birdwatching Fair. We usually stay around the Comacchio area, that is the part of the Park south of the Po river. We visited three dedicated conservation areas, the Sacca di Bellocchio at Lido di Spina, the Valle Zavalea reserve and the Valle Mandriole observation tower, plus two ponds near the town of Ostellato (a new site for us) and then we drove around the roads connecting all these places. Just a few of our target species didn't show up (but were seen by other birders), but mostly it was a very successful weekend, with some unexpected birds.

The first morning we walked down the road that, skirting the Sacca di Bellocchio wetland area, leads to the beach from the Spina Camping Village, (where we were staying - in one of their excellent bungalows). It was full of Slender-billed Gulls, a few Mediterranean Gulls, then Sandwich Terns, Common Terns, Flamingoes, Shelducks, Greenshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks, Cormorants, Black-headed Gulls. On the beach, groups of Sanderlings went back and forth just a few metres from us.

We then drove through Comacchio and proceeded to explore the back roads that lead to the Valle Zavalea reserve seeing a flock of Cattle Herons. At Valle Zavalea lots of birdlife in the distance but we decided to come back later and drove south along the western edge of the lagoon, until we found a flock of Whiskered Terns hunting on some ponds, together with a Pygmy Cormorant and a Hobby. We ate our lunch in a lay-by overlooking the ponds and then headed back to Valle Zavalea. Along the way we saw the first Purple Heron of the trip, another Hobby, lots of Bee-eaters, a couple of Marsh Harriers, and heard lots of Great Reed Warblers. At Valle Zavalea hundreds of Spotted Redshanks in full breeding plumage, a few Caspian Terns, then Ruff, Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilts, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Grey Plover. Also a Little Tern and a Little Gull.

Driving back to Comacchio a couple of Montagu's Harriers and another of Kestrels. We spent a couple of hours at the fair then stopped at the Comacchio Saltpans for a quick look before dinner: Flamingoes everywhere, a Spoonbill and Whiskered and Common Terns flying overhead.

The next day we drove first thing to the Valle Mandriole observation tower (and saw a group of Pygmy Cormorants just outside the campsite), a well-known spot for Red-crested Pochard, but we didn't see any. Loads of Great Crested Grebes, more Pygmy Cormorants, a few Greylag Geese, Gadwall, Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey, Purple and Squacco Herons, Mute Swans with chicks, Avocets, Marsh Harriers, Shovelers and Pochards.

The central hours were spent at the Fair and then we headed inland, towards Ostellato, a site recommended by local birders. As soon as we got to the ponds we had a brief view of a Gull-billed Tern, then a Hobby flew by. Three Squacco Herons pretended to be invisible at the edge of the first pond, while hundreds of Wood Sandpipers pecked away at the mud everywhere. In the air Whiskered Terns, Swallows, a Yellow Wagtail, Sand Martins and Swifts. A Sparrowhawk flew low over the second pond but had no luck. At the deeper end of the second pond a Garganey, lots of Little Grebes, more Mute Swans, while Lapwings and Little Ringed Plovers waded in the mud. The two surprises came as we were getting ready to leave as a cold easterly wind was becoming a bit too much to bear: a White-winged Tern among the Whiskereds, and a splendid Collared Pratincole!

We made the usual stop at the saltpans before heading back to the campsite, and were delighted by the huge numbers of Flamingoes (made even redder by the setting sun, an astonishing sight) and Black-winged Stilts just a few metres away.

On Sunday morning it was pouring, so we spent a couple of hours at the fair and then headed home after a pit stop for a delicious local "piadina" (a sort of flatbread) lunch.

All in all a very satisfactory weekend, despite the few raptors and passerines (but then we didn't visit passerine-friendly sites), and having missed out on the Red-crested Pochards, and the Rollers and Red-footed Falcons, but we'll see both closer to home in a couple of weeks' time. The Delta remains by far Italy's best birding destination. We'll go back.

Full list:

1. Great Crested Grebe
2. Little Grebe
3. Cormorant
4. Pygmy Cormorant
5. Squacco Heron
6. Little Egret
7. Great White Egret
8. Grey Heron
9. Purple Heron
10. Cattle Heron
11. Glossy Heron
12. Sacred Ibis
13. Spoonbill
14. Flamingo
15. Mute Swan
16. Greylag Goose
17. Shelduck
18. Gadwall
19. Garganey
20. Shoveler
21. Pochard
22. Mallard
23. Kestrel
24. Marsh Harrier
25. Montagu's Harrier
26. Sparrowhawk
27. Hobby
28. Pheasant
29. Water Rail
30. Moorhen
31. Coot
32. Balck-winged Stilt
33. Oystercatcher
34. Avocet
35. Collared Pratincole
36. Little Ringed Plover
37. Grey Plover
38. Lapwing
39. Curlew Sandpiper
40. Sanderling
41. Little Stint
42. Ruff
43. Redshank
44. Spotted Redshank
45. Greenshank
46. Common Sandpiper
47. Wood Sandpiper
48. Mediterranean Gull
49. Black-headed Gull
50. Slender-billed Gull
51. Yellow-legged Gull
52. Little Gull
53. Gull-billed Tern
54. Caspian Tern
55. Common Tern
56. Sandwich Tern
57. Little Tern
58. Whiskered Tern
59. White-winged Tern
60. Wood Pigeon
61. Collared Dove
62. Turtle Dove
63. Cuckoo
64. Scops Owl
65. Swift
66. Bee-eater
67. Hoopoe
68. Great Spotted Woodpecker
69. Sand Martin
70. Barn Swallow
71. Yellow Wagtail
72. Nightingale
73. Blackbird
74. Zitting Cisticola
75. Great Reed Warbler
76. Magpie
77. Jackdaw
78. Hooded Crow
79. Starling
80. Italian Sparrow
81. Goldfinch

A few pics:


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