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Birding halfway up the Alps (1 Viewer)

Selsey Birder

Well-known member
Rich,

Are we expecting an update soon from The Alps?

I have spent a week on Scilly and been back for a month with nothing added!

Hope to see you again one day.

Ian
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Rich,

Are we expecting an update soon from The Alps?

I have spent a week on Scilly and been back for a month with nothing added!

Hope to see you again one day.

Ian

Now a year since I was last in Blighty so missing the family and you reprobates too (naughty boys, swearing on video of the Nighthawk ( in front of the vicar too, Sam I suspect!))
Ah, err, yes, update, it will be titled “Nothing to see here” Ian!
Well, a few bits and pieces that might interest some, will get onto it.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
October

So as mentioned in an earlier post, instead of hiking around the plateaux and gorges of the Causses we therefore remained home based for our ‘holiday’, the first week of October. The 2nd was forecast to be rainy from around midday so an early start saw us drive all of 3kms to the end of the road up the Fier valley, from where we walked up to the source of the river. Up to 20 Griffon Vulture were heading high south and an immature Lammergeier was circling around the ‘Manigod Needle’ rock above the car parking area as we set off. Although the weather was feeling a bit wintry there were still a few summer visitors hanging on, single Northern Wheatear and Ring Ousel would turn out to be the last of the year for me. There were also lots of Black Redstart beside the river (which is really more of a stream at this point) and around the boulders littering the Alpine pasture, groups of Water Pipit were moving through or feeding. Overhead we had close views of both an adult, then the 2nd year female Golden Eagle which in the end seems to have been tolerated by its parents despite remaining in their territory all year, presumably the fact that they failed to breed this year is an explanation for this? A smart adult Lammergeier was also patrolling the crags above us while we had our bread and cheese and hot drink from the thermos in the lee of a huge boulder. It appeared that we were not welcome there judging by the irate whistling of a clearly annoyed Marmot which seemed more concentrated on us rather than on the nearby eagles. As always seems to happen in the Alps, within minutes of us starting our chilly picnic a group of Alpine Chough appeared to check us out in the hope of scrounging some scraps, but they soon gave up. But a bonus soon appeared, first I heard that unmistakeable ‘chiarrr’, then tumbling through the sky came two Red-billed Chough, my first ones this year. Though they breed near our picnic stop they quit the mountains to winter just south of Lake Annecy so I was pleased to find they hadn’t all left yet. There were good numbers of Kestrel still up there and Raven already starting to pair up it seemed. The cold rain set in just as we got back down to the car but a final reminder of summer was the sight of c15 House Martin feeding under the cliffs.

The next few days saw groups of Water Pipit and White Wagtail heading south past our place, 28 of the former in one flock on the 7th and Yellowhammer numbers started building up thanks to me putting down the magic ‘Pine Bunting’ birdseed (well it worked last year so you never know…).

We splashed out on some shrubs and three trees from a nursery in Le Petit Bornand, whilst loading up the car with all this greenery two Lesser Redpoll flew over, my first for two years, this cheered me up after the shock of discovering how much a few bits of greenery can cost. Duly planted over the following days, the trees proved an instant hit with our garden birds, making up a little for the loss of the three big trees felled next door this year (one of which had a Bluethroat perched on top of it one morning in our first autumn here, one of the oddest avian visitors we have had so far).

On the 8th we helped the local sheep farmer take down his fencing way up beside the L’Etale mountain, I did this in 2019 and was pleased that he asked for our help again as it’s a lovely place which takes a good two hours walk to, but with Yves we get driven up there in his pick-up and after the four hours or so of freezing cold work the six of us involved sit around the table in the tiny chalet (see photo) for a hearty meal with probably more wine than is good for me. Not many birds around though I was concentrating on not losing my footing on the slippy, steep grass slopes, 9 Griffon Vulture had clearly roosted on the cliff face opposite and waited till the sun shone on that side before taking off and there were a couple of Red-billed Chough loafing about too (like London buses you see?). Back home tired and (just a little) merry I am shurr I shaw the firshht Hawfinch of the autumn, honesht.

Mid October and the valley was resounding to the sound of cowbells (and sheep/goat bells too!) as the herds descended from their summer pasture to the fields around their home farms for a few weeks’ grazing before they are shut up in their barns until the spring. A couple of good birds on 15th as I walked to the village, a Skylark (only my second ever here in 4 years!) in the fields with c50 Water Pipits and White Wagtails, and a Dipper in a small stream, the closest I’ve seen one to home. Another rare sight was a Grey Wagtail past the house (also a second ever), at this time of year it regularly comes up from the river to feed around the straw mucked out from the cows at the nearest farm but we are off to the side of its habitual trajectory it seems. A Red Kite on 16th was perhaps a migrating bird as I hadn’t seen one for some time before. Unsurprisingly with the absence of livestock on the mountains the number of Griffon Vultures rapidly diminished, the last ones seen on 25th. ‘Scope scanning the mountain crags from then on was slim pickings for me too, the Kestrels having gone as well, so the only species regularly visible were Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Raven (already displaying in pairs) and Alpine Chough. Other ‘farewell’ dates were Blackcap 22nd, Chiffchaff 24th (though the odd one could still appear into December) White Wagtail 25th, ‘our’ male Black Redstart 26th (still singing on 19th though!), a group of distant hirundines on the 20th were too far away and too briefly seen to be assigned to species but Crag Martin the most likely.

At least one Meadow Pipit passed on 21st, only my third here.

Colder days saw higher numbers at the feeders and the magic bunting seed did the trick on 24th, pulling in two Rock Bunting to (all too briefly) join the Yellowhammers that built up to at least 43 individuals on the same date. Despite good numbers of Siskin and Hawfinch arriving the Brambling were late on parade, the first singleton not arriving until 26th.

The wintering group of c50 Alpine Chough were already back in the town centre of Thônes on 27th, a typical date despite the generally fair and mild weather continuing, another flock were still visible up on the mountains well into November. Staying on the corvidae theme, Raven were almost exclusively now paired up it seemed, some spectacular dives and victory rolls witnessed. Meanwhile the Nutcracker activity tailed off, from August through to the end of October we have daily ‘hazelnut raiding parties’ of this species that swoop down like Rafale fighter jets from the forests to the field edges and broadleaved woodland in the valley in the morning to fill up their crops with their bounty. When they reascend they fly much slower, stopping every 200m or so for a rest and to continue the aircraft comparison, they resemble the old Hercules (C130?) transporter rather than a supersonic flyer😮

Not many photos of birds recently so we’ll have to make do with a couple from the sheep fencing day (I am somewhere visible hard at work in the first photo).
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
November

November 2019 saw the arrival of a Pine Bunting here, three days after one turned up in a regular spot for the species in Switzerland. Unlike last year though, there were no sudden snow storms (which had preceded the PB’s appearance in the garden), just day after day of sunny weather with light overnight frosts. I remained optimistic for an exotic bunting of some sort though as the numbers of Yellowhammer feeding around the house grew and grew, peaking at c80 on 24th. The second lockdown had come into force, restricting me to outings of a maximum one hour and no further than 1km from home, but as I’m in the over 65s camp I was not unhappy about this, though feeling guilty at living in such a nature-filled place. I think I would have gone stir crazy if we were still living on the Swiss/France border as we were on returning from Lebanon in 2006 as there are no wild places within 1km of the flat we inhabited then!

Although our adult male had long since departed, single Black Redstart turned up on 4th and 15th on next door’s roof but the only other ‘summer stragglers’ seen were occasional Water Pipit still heading down from the mountains to their lowland winter quarters. Resident raptor activity continued with the Golden Eagle pair displaying and hunting together and occasionally wandering down from their territory to fly over the house, as did a young male Goshawk on three occasions. It was in a playful mood one day and decided to follow a young Common Buzzard, occasionally diving at it, the Buzzard seemed to enjoy the game and then started trying to pursue the Gos. Strangely I had hardly any Sparrowhawk sightings despite the good numbers of passerines around the feeders, a typical day watching around the house yielded between 25 and 30 species, I put my sightings on eBird if anyone is interested, the bar chart here gives you a good idea of what my little corner of the Alps can produce over a year (Hotspot Crêt de Lachat Manigod): https://ebird.org/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2020&bmo=1&emo=12&r=L8567686&personal=true . Perhaps the presence of the energetic Goshawk persuaded the Sparrowhawks to keep their heads down. A 1st year male Peregrine on 18th was a nice surprise being my first November record here.

The fine weather was the likely reason for the total lack of winter thrush sightings and a Song Thrush on 1st was a bit late (they are a summer visitor here), finch numbers fluctuated, suggesting some arrivals, especially on 18th when at least 1500 Brambling flew out of the valley in a ten minute period as the sun began to go down, a magnificent spectacle, it was also a treat to get morning visits by Hawfinch to the feeder outside the kitchen window. The two main highlights for November were appearances by both Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, only the third ever MSW, the Lesser Spotted almost as rare up here but a pattern of single birds wintering seems to be establishing itself. Both species don’t breed at our altitude normally, though like the Short-toed Treecreeper from last spring the warming climate seems to be prompting a slow expansion to higher areas. So that meant I saw five species of woodpecker in the same month and six for the year when I add the Wryneck (Three-toed is present in very small numbers in Haute-Savoie but Wilson’s Petrel is probably more likely here than that one!). To celebrate the relaxation of lockdown outdoor exercise limits from one hour/one km to 3hours/20kms we took my Mother in Law up to the Plateau de Beauregard on the last day of the month for a walk in the sunshine, looking down on the ‘sea’ of cloud which had us in a gloomy fog for two days, a good choice as we found at least six Fieldfare with a single Redwing, feeding on the still snow-free pasture, the Redwing was my first one anywhere in 2020, bringing my species total for the year to a paltry 150 (still it’s quality not quantity that counts I always say;) ). Photos of over the house flybys of the local Golden Eagle and young Goshawk plus the view from above the clouds.
 

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KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
United States
You've really had a quite a bit of travelling under your belt and it sure looks like you made the most of it.
 

rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Great reading and interesting! What was the altitude of your Lesser Spot? The highest I have had here is about 950m and Middle a bit lower maybe 750m... As for Short Toed Treecreeper the cross over seems to be about 900m, I think this is the Short Toed coming up rather than Common descending...

I specifically went Goshawk hunting the other day and failed - glad you got one! No I'm getting inspired to go again...
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Great reading and interesting! What was the altitude of your Lesser Spot? The highest I have had here is about 950m and Middle a bit lower maybe 750m... As for Short Toed Treecreeper the cross over seems to be about 900m, I think this is the Short Toed coming up rather than Common descending...

I specifically went Goshawk hunting the other day and failed - glad you got one! No I'm getting inspired to go again...
Merci Rosbifs and KC F! What with official lockdowns and my self- imposed social separation ( my wife is a nurse so she’s enough to deal with without her ageing(!) husband becoming a patient as well) my occasional reports seem to be lacking in bird variety as the year progresses so I am encouraged by the kind comments. Rosbifs, we are at exactly 1000m altitude so as you find in your area, right on the upper limit for Lesser spotted ( there was only one higher than ours last year in the whole département, at Chamonix I think ( 1100m if I recall correctly ). Middle Spotted is on the increase in the Geneva area and spreading more in Haute Savoie too, another birder has them year round at his place also at 1000m but that’s still considered unusually high so 750m is about right for here too. I agree about the Short toed Treecreeper gradually ‘coming uphill’ in recent years, Stonechat is another lowland species that, if not colonising, is prospecting higher too, I had a singing male for a few days in early June at 1250m.
Goshawk are really tricky beggars aren’t they, resident in the nearby forest I’m sure, but I can have as few as three sightings a year some years. November saw quite a few reported around H - Savoie, nearly all immature males. Good luck in your search.
I clicked on the eBird link in my previous post and it opened up the bar charts for here, I even tried via my mobile phone( which I have never used for eBird so it was as if I was a non user) and it opened OK on that device too. To see the various checklists you could go to Explore - Hotspots-France-Rhône-Alpes- Crêt de Lachat ( Manigod).
 

rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Thanks Richard

I did head out today and again failed with Gos but I did have its smaller cousin. Had a Ring Ouzel a couple of days ago so super late...

We regularly have Stonechat higher and breeding at similar altitudes to Whinchat if not a tad higher. I can think of of pairs in the 1850m region... Again interesting to compare. I think we have Red Backed Shrikes a little higher than you aswell - highest breeding here again in the 1750m region.
 

bittern

Well-known member
Great report Richard, you are certainly seeing a lot more up there than I am in Geneva. Other than a couple of Zitting Cisticolas and a solitary Red-throated Loon nothing to report from the Geneva area. However a couple of Snow Buntings reported in the Jura and a Black-winged Kite in central Switzerland. The Oriental Turtle Dove is back at the site where it spent last winter. A Brent Goose is an unusual visitor in addition to the more regular Tundra Bean Geese.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Cheers All,
Some good birds in nearby Switzerland currently then, if my ‘bunting food’ provision doesn’t bring back last year’s Pine B I would settle for one of those Snow Buntings!
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
A few altitude stats on some species from the 2016 winter to 2017 breeding season in Haute Savoie which might be of interest, especially to compare with Rosbifs’ Pyrenees records:
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: only two observations above 1000m all year
Stonechat: Highest pair, 1273m, odd singing males late May to July as high as 1584m
Nightingale: Highest 910m
Long tailed Tit: Winter highest 1564m,
Short toed Treecreeper: Just 11 of the 1800 observations were above 1000m
Red-backed Shrike: Highest breeding record 1722m. 26% of observations were above 1000m
Starling,: Highest breeding record at 1250m
Yellowhammer: Highest breeding 1810m
Cirl Bunting: Just one singing male above 1000m, breeds lower down

This month has seen our first decent snowfall, around shin deep, frosts followed but a milder than normal week has ensued so it’s melting fast. We have fewer places to hang feeders now as our neighbours felled two big trees that were useful for feeding points. Result - too many feeders too close together which has provoked an outbreak of salmonella with the onset of the thaw (2 Greenfinch and 1 Chaffinch casualties plus probably a Goldfinch ) So all feeders now taken down for cleaning and I’ve suspended feeding for the past three days apart from the fatballs for the tits. A flock of 11 Long-tailed Tits have been visiting each afternoon which is great entertainment and the first winter decent winter thrush group passed through before the snow started to melt, 32 Fieldfare with 3 Redwing, the latter not at all common here.
 

KenM

Well-known member
A few altitude stats 32 Fieldfare with 3 Redwing, the latter not at all common here.
I suppose 70m elevation is kinda altitude here Richard?
No Fieldfare here apart from one flock of circa a dozen about a month ago.
However...Redwings over the last two days have been streaming low from the East in their hordes...and we are talking hundreds. Mostly in pods of 7-8, 20-30’s, 70’s and 100+, might be moving ahead of colder weather expected in the South East over Xmas? 😮
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
No more winter movement of thrushes or anything else for that matter as the mild conditions continued up until last night when the snow started falling again, giving us a White Christmas scene this morning (see photo taken just after dawn). Perhaps summing up this year, my third lifer of 2020 found yesterday was yet again a dead creature (following the Tengmalm's Owl and Edible Dormouse earlier in 2020), a vehicle squashed Fire Salamander on the lane leading to the village. As the song goes "Things can only get better".(y)
A very Merry Christmas to you all!🎄
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Well, adieu 2020, no rarity headlines from me this year but I’ve done my bit for ‘Citizen Science’ by contributing regularly to the Haute-Savoie LPO site and also to EBird, see photos attached:
 

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rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Looking forward to some updates...

You may have seen we have 2 Lammys on eggs and another couple that were seen mating last week and now sat on a nest. This is super late. The other interesting one was the Golden Eagles playing with a big branch - pre nesting, pre mating / post mating I don't know but would be interested in knowing whats happening over there?

I have started hearing Green Woodpeckers and this is now the next thing on my mind - when to start the woodpecker prospections? Are you hearing anything over there yet?
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Thanks for the New Year best wishes Ian, we’re doing well, say hello to the old Selsey gang for me (if you’re allowed to see them currently) and Rosbifs, yes our Green Woodpeckers started a’yaffling last week too but no Black Woody male calls so far. But crumbs, January’s already over, where did it go I ask myself? And why is my 2021 total of bird species seen/heard a paltry 40? Well, a combination of factors (helping family young and old plus trying to limit social contacts to the max) limited all my birding to a radius of 5kms from home and with deep snow lying for most of the month even local walks were more like Arctic exploration. As is often the case here in mid-winter, the further one strays from our neighbourhood (a little group of four houses, feeders up in the gardens of three of them) the fewer birds are to be seen. Highlights were few, best sightings I suppose were a male Goshawk being shouted at by c40 Carrion Crows as I trudged back from the village on 4th, the presence of up to 3 Alpine Accentors on and around the house for most of the month and rarest of all (for this part of France anyway) several Redwing at the start of the month. The local Golden Eagle pair must have found hunting up on their territory too difficult with the depth of snow so occasionally wandered down into the valley to see if they could catch anything less ‘eagle aware’. Bird of the year so far was a heard only Pygmy Owl, I’m very jealous of Owen up there in Finland where he’s got one in the garden in daylight (I didn’t know they had daylight up there in January!!). Fox and Roe Deer regularly seen, singles of a Red Deer stag and Brown Hare, and on the mountainside across the valley I managed a personal record 16 Chamois feeding one afternoon. Two outbreaks of salmonella meant feeding was suspended twice, the Yellowhammers seem to be the most vulnerable species so by the end of the month they had mostly cleared off which I was relieved to see to be honest, from a selfish point of view it reduced my chances of a second Pine Bunting to follow the 2019 bird but once I’m sure there are no sickly lingerers (just one Chaffinch still declining as of yesterday) I can start Operation Piney 2021.
 

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