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Birding halfway up the Alps (1 Viewer)

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Thanks for the kind words folks :t:
Hares clearly are a bit bonkers in March, one just bumbled past the back door, did a circuit around the house and wandered next door, all nonchalant in the midday sun (should perhaps change the words of the old Noel Coward song to "Mad hares and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"!).
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Keeping it green

15 March
Another first for the year here early on, a Chiffchaff briefly behind the house equalled my earliest ever up here, it was frantically trying to catch something for its breakfast so apparently too hungry to sing (could have been a female of course!) and a smart adult male Black Redstart was singing its ‘static electricity’ song on the neighbours’ roof. Whilst watching the increasing numbers of Buzzards displaying in the sunny afternoon sky I saw one swoop down on a much bigger bird, not the expected Golden Eagle but a Lammergeier, a dark immature bird circling over the valley before drifting back to the higher mountains where I normally see them. Twenty minutes later, the same scenario, but this time an adult bird. With the snow melting so fast by now, I suspect they wander to some of the mid-altitude mountains nearby to see what gets uncovered by the thaw.
As if to reassure me that things were back to normal, the next day saw an adult Goldie being buzzed by the err, Buzzards. A Fieldfare was alarm calling by the trees in which a pair or two breed each spring so I must keep an ear out for song from now on.
The French government introduced confinement rules on 16th, meaning anyone leaving their house/garden was obliged to carry id. and a self-signed attestation giving a justified reason for being out. One of the valid reasons was for “physical exercise near your home” and it was evident on this first day that people were stretching this a long way, a paraglider flew overhead on one occasion(!) and I could see people way up on the mountains on cross-country skis. We walked up from our house through the forest for an hour on the 17th to the ski resort about 3kms away but this was to be our last long walk for a while. The Police had fined people who had driven to country car parks and then mountain walked, although we had been on foot directly from the house it struck me (especially when my sister in law slipped on a pine cone and stumbled) that the restrictions were there not just to reduce social contact and the spread of the virus but also to reduce the pressure on the whole health and emergency services. I did get lucky on our walk with my first Ring Ousel of the year up at the highest point of the hike at1400m. Back home the first Chiffchaff song started, a couple of weeks earlier than usual for here.
So from then on, apart from one 10 minute drive down to Thônes for food shopping I have been no further than 2kms from the house (now to be restricted to 1km and only one sortie per day!) as the government rightly decided to toughen up as too many people were not taking things seriously, despite the horrendous increase in cases and deaths.
The gradual arrival of spring has meant seeing the first Cowslips out, three Hares in the field at the same time one morning, a Wall Lizard and, thanks to the mountains being less disturbed I was even able to watch a Chamois on the nearest peak (the Sulens) which is directly across the valley from us. The 18th saw the first Blackcap return and Crag Martins were checking under the eaves of our house and the nearly rebuilt chalet next door. On 21st one of the local Goldcrests finally came close to the house, followed by a newly arrived Firecrest the next day. Unusually, the Brambling numbers built up again to at least 60 over the weekend, dropping off to around a dozen by 25th. The 22nd was a six raptor day as I’ve mentioned already on the Garden/Yard List 2020 thread with the bird of the spring so far, a male Merlin, taking the honours, with Peregrine, Goshawk, Red Kite (much earlier than in previous years), Sparrowhawk and Buzzard completing the half dozen. Ones that got away: pretty sure I heard a passing Alpine Accentor on 24th but couldn’t be certain as the call is not that dissimilar to Skylark to my ear, unless the forecast snow brings one here in the next few days it’s going to be next winter before I see one, similar situation with a single brief flight call that sounded Citril Finch- like one day but again, couldn’t clinch it.
Ropey photos (apologies) of Lammer, Goldie, Martin and Brambling male attached.
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Creeping springwards

As I mentioned at the start of this thread, most of my birding is on foot with occasional forays in the car to lower lying areas and occasionally higher mountain passes. The Covid 19 restrictions introduced on 16 March and then tightened further have put paid to the car trips though in this latest period medical reasons took me as far as Annecy on one occasion. So I feel I have been joined by thousands of birders not just in France, but all over the world in the local patch birding club!:t:
As Birdforum members are no doubt aware, each country has adopted different degrees of severity re. lockdown measures, but it’s still feels strange for me to see all the bird observations/reports from so close by in Switzerland on the Swiss www.ornitho.ch birding site, compared to the French ones, but I’m not bitter………………:C

Unlike the town and city dwellers who have commented on how quiet their surroundings have become, up here in the valley around Manigod we’re actually seeing more people walking up our lane as those fortunate enough to have second homes around here have chosen to sit out the lockdown, often with grown up offspring who would otherwise be cooped up in tiny flats in the cities. As our place doesn’t have a fence around it I’ve been entertained by having a mountain biker, fell runners and a football all careering down the field and past the house recently, no wonder the Roe Deer are making themselves scarce! There’s a distinct increase in chainsaw activity too, it’s traditionally a busy time for this as farmers tidy up fallen trees and replace fence posts before the cows, sheep and goats refind their fields after the winter months indoors in their own version of lockdown. But this spring there’s a lot more tidying and long overdue maintenance taking place as many people have a lot of time on their hands due to office and factory closures.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the long dry and sunny spell spring migrants have been as rare as hens’ teeth in this past three weeks, I think I’ve added just a measly 6 species for the year which seems ridiculous for the last week of March and first two weeks of April. Three of the four additions seen from the house or garden were expected arrivals, Black Kite, Barn Swallow and Linnet, all of which breed around Manigod but the other one was not on my radar, sitting inside with the window open on April 1st I heard a call with which I’m very familiar when down around Annecy or Geneva but not up here, I even ignored it at first because it’s such a common sound, but hang on, not up here!
Sure enough, there on the trunk of our old apple tree was a Treecreeper, not the usual Common, but a Short-toed treecreeper!! Number 99 for the Garden/House list here! They are occasionally recorded up to 1,000m but normally the Common replaces them from a round 750m, a nice surprise. Needless to say it was not around for long and like the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was presumably just prospecting a bit higher than is usual.
Speaking of woodpeckers, two days later I heard and then saw a Wryneck on my way back from the bakers, it actually flew ahead of me, stopping in the various trees as I headed home, calling each time but it never reached our place, I have had the species near the house in two of our four years here so far, I assumed this one had also redescended to lower altitude so was pleasantly surprised to refind it six days later, just 200m from the first sighting. Two very smart Water Pipits were in the fields beside the footpath and I honed my Treecreeper song skills(!) on the same walk when I came across a singing male of the Common variety.
On the 7th as the infected cyst on my neck still hadn’t cleared despite antibiotics my doctor wangled me an emergency local op at Annecy just 4 hours after visiting her:eek!:, as well as noting the Alpine Choughs STILL enjoying their low altitude winter holidays in Thônes (one seemed to be singing away to itself on the Lidl supermarket roof!) I saw my first House Martin of the year outside the Clinique Generale after going under the knife, cheered me up no end!
Despite the fine weather, our wintering Brambling seemed reluctant to leave, there were still c100 present on 1 April, dropping to 20 by the 4th and then just ones and twos until 13th at least. Hoping the migration floodgates will finally open soon though some bad weather would help, I get the feeling that interesting migrants are probably sailing way overhead in the vapour trail-free skies!
Poor photo of my 99th garden tick plus other recent arrivals attached.
 

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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Nice stuff indeed :t:

Hopefully Wrynecks will be back here some time soon, not holding my breath for an Alpine Chough onthe local Lidl :)
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Even more local

Second half of April (Weeks 5 and 6 of French confinement)

I’m tempted to title this latest fortnightly update ‘Nothing to see here, move along please’ but perhaps the crumbs of sightings and other reflections will be of some interest to somebody…
The weather was dry and sunny for the whole two weeks, finally breaking on 30th and May has begun with constant rain - flood and landslide warnings issued! The static nature of the weather was reflected in the largely unchanging observations day after day punctuated by the slow arrival of some of our summer visitors in particularly low numbers, i.e., no obvious ‘migration days’ noted! There was the usual contrast for this time of the year of fruit trees blossoming to a backdrop of snow still on the mountains.

14 April Although the movement restrictions limited us to physical exercise no more than 1km from the house, another valid reason for going out is for shopping for necessities, this meant I could justify going a bit further on foot, as far as the village, as that’s where we buy our bread:t:! This enabled me to see that the first House Martins (just two in fact) were back at the nest site by the school, a Grey Wagtail by the stream behind the bakery, Linnets returned around the cemetery and a Barn Swallow near one of the farms. I also heard crickets for the first time. Nearer home I was pleased to refind the Willow Tits which I had assumed had gone further into the forest to breed and later in the vegetable garden there was a pair of Crested Tits collecting nest material.
16 April First sortie by car since my hospital trip as I boldly drove to Thônes for a supermarket shop, unknown to me they had changed their opening hours during the confinement so I arrived 40 minutes too early:-C! Luckily I was able to sit on the shop doorstep as I was the first customer and had flyby Goosander, Grey, and White Wags, Serin, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow and Raven to keep me entertained as I waited(plus the lingering Alpine Chough of course). I checked out the area below the cliff opposite afterwards and was pleased to find a singing Bonelli’s Warbler had returned there. Back home a Fieldfare was alarm calling suggesting they’re breeding nearby again this year, a pair of Linnet also seemed to be settling in (normally they breed not far away in the village cemetery) and a female Brambling was present till dusk.
17th No sign of the Brambling, nor for the rest of the month, it seems to have been the last one seen in Haute-Savoie this spring. A nice garden year tick was a Wryneck calling (around midday only unfortunately).
19th Another bread provision walk yielded the original Wryneck in the same area as previously and my first Common Redstart of the year was singing from an old orchard. Despite my best efforts I failed to see it, even though it sounded really close.
On the 20th we drove up into another part of the forest around Manigod to start work on preparing Mother in law’s veg garden at Les Frasses (alt 1350m), the old summer pasture farmhouse where my father in law was born during the Second World War (the midwife was led up there on a horse at the time and fell off on the way down after the birth I’m told:eek!:!). As a dutiful(!) son in law I have taken on the responsibility to undertake the necessary fence repairs each April ready for when a local farmer puts a dozen or so heifers in the field in May. The Tree Pipits had returned and two males were parachute song-flighting, but unlike last year no Ring Ousel or Crossbill up there.

A pair of Black Kites seemed to be investigating the forest as a possible nesting site on the 21st and a Red Kite was
briefly flying around with them. A Common Kestrel was competing with the neighbours’ cats in the vole catching contest behind the house.

23rd A pair of Blue Tits have chosen to use a nestbox under the eaves of our terrace so no coffee and lounging out there for me for a few weeks (I should have thought of that potential problem and hung the box up further away but it’s too late now). They are feisty characters, not just seeing off Marsh and Coal Tits that come too close but engaging in a real punch up with an intruding Great Tit too! With such warm nights the bedroom window was left ajar so sometimes I heard the dawn chorus begin, usually as the Tawny Owl stops either the Song Thrush or Black Redstart begin the day. A pausing Willow Warbler sang for a while during the morning (they don’t breed here so it’s touch and go whether I get to hear one in spring).
25th and 26th were notable for singing Bonelli’s Warbler in trees near the house, I suspect two different migrating individuals as one sang just twice at 06h30 on 25th whereas there was one around all day the next day, unlike the Willow, Bonelli’s Warbler does breed not too far away,4kms further up the valley.
The 27th saw us up at Les Frasses again, sawing branches off a tree which had fallen on the fence during the winter and then replacing the sections of barbed wire it had damaged. While trying to find a safe place to store the various strands of barbed wire in the barn afterwards I made a macabre discovery, the remains of a bird which appeared to have been eaten by a mammal (feather bases chewed rather than plucked). Thanks to two Birdforum contributors and a closer look after their suggestions as to the species I found the claws which I had carelessly stuffed into a rubbish bag for disposal with other debris, the unfortunate bird was a Tengmalm’s Owl! Whether it had got into the barn two years ago whilst the place was open during repair work and got closed in afterwards, or killed by a predator and consumed in the barn I’ll never know.
On 29th we found that some nice orchids had appeared nearby, Bird’s Nest, Early Purple and my favourite, Lady Orchid( thanks to Colin Conroy for the id.). Although the Brambling had gone, we were still getting half a dozen Yellowhammer coming to feed daily throughout.
On the 28th the French Government had announced a relaxation of confinement from May 11th which will end 8 weeks of the no further than 1km rule from the house which has frustrated many a French birder (especially the poor souls that live in towns), so I might catch the tail end of migration if I visit a couple of sites at lower altitude straight afterwards!
Photos of blossom looking east from the house, approach to Les Frasses, Tengmalm’s feathers, Yellowhammer and Lady Orchid.
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
May in Manigod

1 May The rainy start to the month raised my hopes for a few mountain breeders to be displaced temporarily down to our level, in previous years such conditions have resulted in sightings of Ring Ousel, Northern Wheatear, Alpine Accentor, Citril Finch and Water Pipits near the house, but as the snow/rain limit was higher than forecast only the latter species made an appearance, a nice flock of at least 16 behind the farmhouse up the road.
The rain and gloom lasted a few days but fortunately stopped in time for lambing, the sheep farmer to whom we loan our field each May as an outdoor sheep maternity ward was mighty relieved as in 2018 and 2019 there was snow in the first week of May with the consequent losses. So there was plenty of activity and drama for about ten days although the Caucasian-style sheepdog (see in the background of the lamb picture) tended to bark loudly in the middle of the night at real or imagined intruders! Being still a puppy(!) she hadn’t quite got the hang of the role she was supposed to play, preferring to stay outside rather than inside the field and wandering the local area each night, often stealing shoes, boots (or even my gardening shirt that I’d left outside) from various doorsteps!
2 May Being in a valley which narrows as it climbs, ending in a ‘wall’ of mountains over 2000m high, we don’t see raptor, stork, waterfowl or wader migration (3 Honey Buzzards the biggest ‘flock’ of migrating ‘biggies’ in four years so far:-C) so I nearly dropped my trowel when I looked up from some weeding to see 11 Cormorant circling further up the valley round midday! They wisely thought better of the idea of trying to ascend into the thick cloud to cross the mountains and did a u-turn, sailing directly over the house and on down the valley back towards Annecy and the lowland, my first species with webbed feet here:t:
3 May Actually got to see the Common Redstart male on my way back from the village with the bread, plus my first Whinchat of the year, a species I’ve still to see from home (despite me putting poles and fence posts in the field to tempt one to tarry). The Wryneck was still audible though calling more faintly than before. Back home another Wryneck was calling as was another Bonelli’s Warbler and the first Common Swifts passed over later on. A brief view of two Swallow sp had me puzzled as one called like a sparrow, I’ve heard Red-rumped do this but unfortunately, they were against the light in their short visit and the photo doesn’t help any in the identification.
4 May A very hot day and amazingly another new species for the Garden List, Bee Eaters called as they migrated high and beyond my eyes’ capabilities mid-morning. I read later that there had been a significant arrival in Switzerland on this day and that’s the direction the sounds were headed, it would have been brilliant to see them as well of course.
6 to 12 May A Serin reappeared on 6th as did another Bonelli’s Warbler, the latter seem to be like Willow Warbler in that they sing each time they stop somewhere on migration at this time of year, neither species stays to breed in any case. On the 9th a Tawny Owl was calling at 2pm in bright sunlight up at Les Frasses, two days later we found a displaying Tree Pipit just 1km away from home in a cleared area of forest, also a very pretty white flower which my botanist pal Colin identified as a White Helliborene. On the 12th I was pleased to discover that Fieldfare is breeding just down the road, one acting agitatedly by the bridge, in previous years they have nested within sight of home so I was worried they weren’t around anymore this year. The Blue Tit pair were meanwhile wearing themselves out fetching food to the nestbox overhanging the patio, Marsh Tits likewise in a fissure in a tree in the neighbours’ garden and Black Redstart and White Wagtails also breeding, the latter in an old saucepan I had wedged under the roof over our patio, so no sitting outside with a glass of something for me for a while (see photo of Blue Tit nestbox with the saucepan in the background).
The end of the French lockdown came and went with no real change of birding habits for me, partly because of family commitments, niece minding and gardening on several days, but also because I couldn’t find any enthusiasm for getting into the car and driving to the May migration traps further afield in the region. Others were straight out of the starting blocks though as I noticed from observations posted on haute-savoie.lpo.fr, a Lesser Grey Shrike was found on the first day after restrictions were relaxed and plenty of Red - footed Falcons at the same site (Passy) in the valley towards Chamonix. Even after four years at this address there are lots of footpaths we’ve not yet explored so I suspect my birding outings to spots more than half an hour away will be fewer than I’ve been on in the past. Looking back I see that the last time I actually went out specifically to go birding (as opposed to close to home walks or observing while doing other things) was my Wallcreeper jaunt on St. Valentine’s Day!
16 May As if to reward me for staying local I had some cracking wildlife sightings on this day. A very dark brown Red Squirrel from the house was a good start . As my wife needed the Yeti for going to work I couldn’t drive up the track to Les Frasses so walked it (about half an hour usually). On the way up a superb dog Fox stopped his trot across a field to stare me out, Crested, Coal and an angry Willow Tit were busy in the forest and a Goldcrest was singing along with the usual thrush species. As I started my potato planting marathon (I planted 150 !) in the veg garden I got that feeling I was being watched, sure enough the young male Roe Deer that seems to be hanging around the spot this spring was watching me from between two trees, looking pretty tatty as he sheds his winter coat. The gardening took about two and a half hours and after my bread and cheese lunch I set about going around the perimeter of the two fields to check our previous fence repairs and, more importantly, attacking all the brambles and wild raspberries that were invading the edges. Not a lot of birdlife where the boundaries are alongside the gloomy conifer forest but in the bottom corner of the lower field I got the nicest surprise as I got up from my knees after removing a particularly stubborn section of bramble runners – a whirring of wings directly over my head from a wild cherry tree as out flew a Hazel Hen, across the ride and into the next bit of mixed forest! Apart from one we flushed once while walking about 2km from home all my lifetime sightings of this species have been at Les Frasses and although I’m up there about 15 times a year it’s five years since my last one (I was beginning to convince myself that some local poachers had eliminated them but it’s more likely down to my incompetence and the species discreet nature). My celebratory cup of tea later was even embellished by my first Cuckoo of the year zooming over, 18 Barn Swallows appeared to be a migrating group. ‘Someone up there’ must like me because on the way back home I spied two pale raptors over the other side of the valley, I assumed the first Honey Buzzards initially but then realised they dwarfed a nearby Common Buzzard, out with the bins and hey presto - Short-toed Eagles, a pair flying close together. This is still a rare breeding bird in Haute-Savoie and observations are not published apart from migrating individuals so I have no idea whether that area is a local pair’s territory but they were a great sight to see (and perhaps will be visible from home so I will keep an eye out). The final cerise sur le gateau (pretentious?Moi?)was a fine male Red-backed Shrike back on territory between the village and our place so my aches and pains were soothed by these avian rewards for my 7 hours’ labours!
May 17 was a bit of a blur as I was seriously pooped as the Americans say but I heard a Red-backed Shrike from the house, confirmation of a multiple arrival came the next day when I saw or heard five more on my walk back from the bakers.
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
I can’t believe it’s not Stork (for our more mature members)

A thoroughly good read Richard.
Thanks Paul, I'll take that as one of those 'likey' things on yer actual soshull meedja;)

May 19
Not just the weather, but the birding started to have that summer feel about it with the first of this year’s summering Griffon Vulture arriving, three cruising over the ridge to our east separating Haute -Savoie from Savoie départements, lucky for them the flocks of sheep (and some goats) had been taken up to the high pastures just a few days before:t:. Raptor action from the 2nd year Golden Eagle and later the Short-toed Eagle pair were hunting together on the Sulens mountain across the valley from the house. The numerous Common Swift were briefly joined by two Alpine Swift early evening, so three ‘garden ticks’ for the year in one day! When I totted up my day total I found I had managed 40 species without leaving home at all, the first time I’ve managed that I think.
May 20
When we were working in Lebanon researching potential IBAs and raptor/soaring bird bottleneck sites it became almost a standing joke that while watching a bird or flock through the ‘scope something otherwise invisible would appear (Levant Sparrowhawks at 20,000ft usually ), this afternoon while scoping one of the Short-toed Eagles an even bigger bird hove into view above it, momentarily thinking “Oh it must be the female therefore I’ve been watching the male” I very soon twigged it was nothing of the sort and realised I was looking at a stork sp! It was at least 3000m up and flying strongly northwards but luckily I could keep it in the telescope view as it approached and passed almost overhead, soon showing itself to be a Black Stork, rare enough but more likely than a White Stork at our altitude. Haute - Savoie gets about 15 sightings each spring these days but it certainly wasn’t on my radar as a potential species for here. So, after the Great Cormorants earlier in May and the regular Grey Heron I think I should apply to have our place designated a Ramsar site! Four new species for the garden list in 2020 so far, after only two last year, a real purple patch of a spring this year.
The LPO had asked me if I could keep an eye on the Eagle Owl breeding in Thônes so that evening I made my first visit to the site, the nest cave is not actually visible so last year it was a case of waiting for the adults to go off hunting just after dark and later in the summer listening out for the young calling. Although I had not a sniff of Bubo bubo activity I had some nice dusk views of a Chamois clambering about the cliff, which I need to point out is almost in the town (I have even seen them munching the grass on the roundabout twice late at night:eek!:). Lots of Crag Martins there, pipistrelle sp and after dark flybys of Grey Heron and a Goosander pair broke the monotony of staring at rock for an hour.
May 21/22
More raptor action with my first Honey Buzzard of the year, a wing shivering male in display mode, as was the adult male Golden Eagle more distantly. Its antics were not to the taste of a pair of Raven that pursued it for a few minutes (and several kms!) until it cleverly banked round and started chasing one of them before calm returned. I realised that our nesting Blue Tit pair had stopped their food visits about two days before and my worst suspicions were confirmed when I opened the nestbox to find five dead half-grown nestlings inside, I’d seen the local male Sparrowhawk carrying Blue Tit - sized prey at about the time feeding stopped so it (or one of the countless cats) was probably the cause of the failure. On a happier note I saw my first juvenile Greenfinch, Marsh Tit, Great Tit, Starling and White Wagtail in the vicinity over these two days. A male Goshawk was a nice sight on 22nd, unusually slipping by before the c40 non breeder Carrion Crow flock spotted it and it was well past their trees before they started alarming and chasing in a half-hearted fashion. The Short-toed Eagles pair seemed settled in on the Sulens opposite and even came on a wander over the house one day.
May 24
My walk to the village and back for bread yielded little on the outward leg (it was chilly and before 7am) but coming back I found the male Common Redstart had now a mate and a second male was singing about 600m away. However they were eclipsed by the number of Red-backed Shrike around, between the village and our house I saw five males, one female and heard another male calling out of sight. The next day I walked in the other direction up from the house and found 4 more within 1km so it looks as though they had a good survival rate last winter. Quite close, but just out of earshot of home I confirmed that there’s a pair of Garden Warbler back to the spot they bred last year and a late Siskin was feeding in the elm tree next door, the first May record I have had here.
Photos of Stork, Shrike, Short-toed Eagle, Chamois and Vulture (honest, it is!) (Must try harder with the camera.................)
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
3:) You certainly could! No webbed feet from this mountain home, although we do have Moorhen, imitation-Mallard ducks and sometimes a Grey Heron at our local pond.

The only other ‘watery possibles’ I suppose are Yellow - legged Gull or Goosander if I’m lucky.I have enjoyed reading your “In the time of coronavirus” thread and like you made my first ‘post confinement expedition’ last week (since mid-February in fact), all of 30 minutes away.
Watch out for the next instalment!
 
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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
First post lockdown expedition

May 25/6 saw me busy around the garden and I didn’t note anything in particular, apart from the Short-toed Eagle pair each early evening hunting just the other side of the valley, in itself a real treat as prior to this year sightings of the species have been less often and usually consisting of telescope views a long way off.
But I was finally due to spread my wings for the first time since February and on May 27 I did a very early morning visit to one of the best French Alpine birding sites, the Col de la Colombière, just 30 minutes’ drive from home. The road up and over the Col is typically closed from end November to end May, it’s at 1600 m altitude and the snow and rocks block the road well into spring. My plan was to get there around dawn to have yet another try to hear or see Rock Partridge, have a decent birding walk and get back home for 8.30 before my wife returned from her night shift. In the recently published Where to Watch Birds in France it states that this is the easiest place in the northern Alps for Rock Partridge :eek!: but to be fair it also points out that the species is notorious for hiding away or retreating high up as soon as it gets light or as soon as the first human has passed through their territory. I visit the Col about three or four times a year but still have yet to connect visually with the species though in 2019 I finally heard one! I got there at 5.15 but on reflection 20 minutes earlier might have been better as to my dismay I found two cars already parked up and Black Redstart already singing. Nevertheless I had a great 3 hours’ early morning mountain nature experience even if my bogey bird eluded me for the umpteenth time. The evocative bubbling call of lekking Black Grouse was coming from the southern side of the Col but my walk was to be on the northern side on the footpath which runs along the slopes before climbing up to a well-known Wallcreeper breeding site. I didn’t have enough time to pay my respects to the Wallcreeper or its Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor neighbours higher up but all the other usual suspects were present, except the larger birds of prey that tend to appear later on in the mornings when the air warms up. In fact a couple of Common Kestrel were the only raptors I saw, two territory holding Red-backed Shrike males were keeping other passerines on their toes though and the first Alpine Chough woke up at around 7 o’clock. One, possibly two Cuckoo were calling constantly. As the sun started to shine on the trees and bushes more and more birdsong began, testing my rusty mountain species song id. skills. With a bit of patience I managed to see all the songsters I was hearing except Blackcap and Garden Warbler which were tucked into thicker foliaged trees below the footpath, but I manged to winkle out an elusive Lesser Whitethroat (very much an upland species here) as well as having some cracking views of squabbling Ring Ousel, three Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush males, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Dunnock, White Wagtail, many Water Pipit and one Tree Pipit, Chaffinch, Linnet and Citril Finch plus the two local Bunting species, Rock and Yellow(hammer). As I got back to the car the Black Grouse were still audible and the first Crag and House Martins were up and about. A few Ibex were present and three Marmottes close together, one even coming boldly towards me to check me out. Back home for 8.40 and a second breakfast!
Photos: Track (showing the Wallcreeper site in distance) Whinchat, Rock Thrush, Red-backed Shrike and Water Pipit
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
More from my first post confinement sortie, note how the male Wheatear up here are particularly monochrome, giving me happy memories of Lebanon breeders!
 

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rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Great bouquetin!

I should be able to see them from my garden l, through scope, but have failed...
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Cheers folks, I'm sure you'll get a Bouquetin from home eventually Charles, it took me three years to spot a Chamois from our garden!
 

Scridifer

Registered User
Supporter
Bulgaria
Great stuff Richard! With Gi on the Rock Thrush, I'd take a Citril Finch and Black Grouse too! Keep it coming please!

Chris
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Living the high life

On May 29 we should have been in Armenia climbing the slopes of Mount Aragats with its Radde’s Accentors and Crimson-winged Finches, so to cheer me up my wife suggested we pack up a picnic and do the climb up from the Col de la Colombière to the Pointe Blanche ridge 700m higher up. It proved an inspired suggestion, we’ve only done it twice before, each time in autumn so the flowers on display were totally different and there were still some patches of snow to negotiate (not to mention the ridge from Pointe Blanche to the Pointe du Midi which is not for the faint - hearted or vertigo sufferer!).
The mountain pansies were flowering and the first gentians were also out and at just above the little lake (Lac de Peyre) halfway up we saw our first Snowfinch, three adults collecting food and flying off up to their nests on the massive Pointe Blanche (2438m). There were plenty of song -flighting Wheatear and Water Pipit around plus some high altitude White Wagtails, one male using a lot of energy trying to see off a second male whilst the female watched the fighting and chasing from her perch beside the rapidly melting snow, a lot of frog/toad activity despite the snow surrounding the water and a great view south-eastwards to the Mt Blanc massif.
After picking our way through some slippy snow we regained the steep path up to the ridge and looking northwards down into the gully belowwe immediately saw a dark shadow moving across the distant cliff face, a Bearded Vulture, then a second, both adults. There are two nest sites, one on each side of the range and it’s a complicated set up as there is a pair on one side and a trio on the other, both nests were successful in 2019, the numbers are increasing so to my mind this population should soon surely be considered self-supporting:t:. The Snowfinch were flying past our noses and sometimes directly over our heads, brilliant black and white against the blue sky.
There were a pair of Alpine Accentors as we gingerly reached the highest point of the tricky ridge path, the male singing in flight but I couldn’t really admire them through my binoculars as I was concentrating on not slipping and falling either to my left or my right, there being a several hundred metre drop on either side of us:eek!:
Fortunately our picnic stop on the gentler slopes going back down produced a cooperative adult collecting food for nearby nestlings and inevitably the moment we got out our bread and cheese a couple of Alpine Chough appeared as if by magic to try and scrounge some lunch for themselves (although it’s tempting to feed the Chough as they will almost come to your hand for food it’s not a good idea, studies have shown that they fledge more young in areas where people feed them which of course causes an imbalance, smaller birds like Snowfinch suffering more nestling losses as the Choughs numbers increase).
The first Griffon Vultures had appeared at around 11o’clock, we counted a group of ten and later another six, but no sign of the Black/Monk/Cinereous/Whatever it’s called this month Vulture which had been in the area earlier in the week. Naturally I hadn’t taken my camera and heavy lens with us on such a long hike so as Murphy’s Law would have it a Bearded Vulture flew right past our noses when we got back to the car 7 hours after we’d set off, I take the liberty of attaching a photo I took of one the last time we did this excellent hike.

Photos of scrounging Alpine Chough, Bearded Vulture, Lac du Peyre (showing the ridge we climbed to in the right hand corner of the image), the Snowfinch nesting habitat by the ridge itself and the view across to Mt Blanc.
 

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