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Birding halfway up the Alps (1 Viewer)

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
No chores or looking after people today so I finally spread my wings and had a half day around Annecy, with the continuing thaw after days of heavy rain the lake was higher than I’ve ever seen it -Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls grazing on the flooded green in the town which normally has people jogging and cycling through it! I thought I’d try my luck and have a look around the Chateau as the wintering Wallcreeper had been reported on and off during the winter, usually ‘off’ whenever I go AWOL from shopping visits to try and find it ;) . But today I was in luck, no sign on it’s preferred tower when I arrived so I walked up the hill and did a full tour around the outside of the buildings before returning for a second look at the tower. I was just about to give up when it flew into view, the tower as you see in the photo has a pretty good resemblance to a natural mountain cliff face so its choice of this site is understandable. At the nearby port of Sevrier I set up the ‘scope beside the lake shore, the Great Crested Grebes were already displaying, it was a balmy 9C and one (fool)hardy gent stripped off to his boxers and waded in for a (brief, or should I say briefs?) swim😮. This unfortunately discouraged my target birds ( two wintering Black-throated Divers) from coming closer but it was nice to see them on the glassy surface, an adult and a 2nd year (I think). Divers are less than annual on the lake ( unlike on Lake Geneva/Lac Leman) so it’s quite an event this winter as there is a Red-throated being seen as well. My first Chiffchaff and primroses of the year were a nice foretaste of spring, which at home is still quite a long way off.
 

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rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Awesome Richard

I have struggled with Wallcreeper all winter despite numerous efforts to find them!

The fact is I have no idea whether to search high or low and the end result is that despite searching high and low I've dipped (had them until October so I guess I got my quota in early)...
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
We're certainly spoilt for them around here in winter, real tourist's ticks in Annecy and on the Napoleonic fort overlooking the Rhône at Chevrier, a lot more effort required in summer of course but they look very smart then so worth it! Very mild here today so perhaps not a surprise to break three 'earliest ever' dates on my walk back from the village bakery. First a lone male Starling singing by a barn, then a distant Chaffinch in song and lastly in the woods, a Song Thrush male. A pair of Crossbill made it three new species for the year so my Pain aux raisins tasted extra bon!
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Feb 22

The lone Starling pulled in another six but they left him to sing all alone until a second bird arrived, I have seen them on and off since, usually feeding with the big Fieldfare (75 to 100 birds) flock on the sunny side of the valley below us. The Starling, in common with a few other species this month, was my earliest ever here, other ‘earliests’ included the aforementioned Song Thrush (though it was 19th before I heard subsequent ones) and the following species which started singing earlier than I have recorded before: Chaffinch 5th, Greenfinch 13th, Robin 18th, Blackbird and Yellowhammer 20th, Goldfinch and Wren 21st.

I also had a Fieldfare doing a sort of subsong alongside a second bird on 18th but too early to tell if it’s a pair that will breed or just wintering birds that will move off, the same probably applies to the male Siskin that did a very fancy song flight in a Greenfinch/Serin fashion on 21st! I thought I briefly heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on 10th and was pleased to confirm my thoughts when it (a male) showed nicely (if a bit distantly) on 13th and called again a week later. Last year there was one calling in late February so I have a challenge there to try and find them breeding at what is the very upper altitude limit for the species in our region. Once I started the feeding again the Yellowhammers reappeared in force, up to 36 in one small pear tree one late afternoon, but in common with the finch species, numbers dropped off as the very mild weather set in, I now see pairs in various spots around the village.It has been a Siskin winter rather than a Brambling one for us, I attach a photo of an odd Brambling from two years ago which some may not have seen before. Likewise the Long-tailed Tit group of 11 which were visiting every day, by the 20th we were down to just a pair. Other tit species are busy pairing up and nest site prospecting now, a pair of Willow Tit wandered down close to the house doing just that before retiring to the forest again.

I did a couple of dawn hikes up to the Pygmy Owl spot but as Rosbifs has done in the Pyrenees I’ll try at nightfall in the next couple of weeks, plenty of Tawny Owl activity though, I could hear three males at the same time the other morning before daybreak. The curfew from 18h makes prospecting for the Thônes town centre Eagle Owls a no-no but I tried to see if I could spot them sunbathing at midday last week on my way back from a shopping trip (which yielded me my first Rook, Collared Dove, Grey Heron and White Wagtail of the year, the first two I will probably never see here at home, the air must be too thin for them!). As you might expect, I couldn’t find any sleepy owls on the cliff face but a brief glimpse of something dark moving high up at a cave entrance made me think “Black Redstart” – when I raised my bins I found I was looking at a smart Wallcreeper! It flicked its scarlet wings and dived out of sight to re-emerge chasing…….. another Wallcreeper! I suspect a dispute over wintering feeding territory rather than early courtship activity as it chased the second bird way out from the cliff face, giving me cracking views of them against the blue sky before they passed out of sight around the bend in the rocks. It’s the first time I’ve found a Wallcreeper at a site where they aren’t regularly reported so a real ‘plume in my chapeau’ as it were.

I finally managed to find a Lammergeier last week whilst watching the male Golden Eagle display flying over their nesting site, then two adult Lammy together on 20th , I would have thought that incubating is well underway so to see two adults is perhaps not a good sign (unless they’re sub adults, they were 4kms away to be fair. Both adult eagles were up together briefly on 21st, just after a big female immature drifted past their eyrie. Other raptor activity a bit thin but Common Buzzard are settling back in (most seem to leave us in winter), a pair of Sparrowhawk were displaying on 20th and a female Kestrel was back near the village mid month.

The settled anticyclone with warmer than average temperatures is forecast till at least 7 March I see, so a few early migrants might arrive, a Hoopoe already reported this morning near Annecy…….
 

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KenM

Well-known member
The leucistic 2019 Brambling looks interesting Richard, thankfully you couldn’t quite snap the crimson black grey and white butterfly....😮👍
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
The leucistic 2019 Brambling looks interesting Richard, thankfully you couldn’t quite snap the crimson black grey and white butterfly....😮👍
Yes that’ll teach me to go out shopping without a camera , trouble is on my return home it would be like the character in TheFast Show, my wife « Did you get the bananas and coffee dear? Me « No, much better than that, I took this lovely photo of a bird »;)
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
End of February and into March

It was spring meeting winter at the Thônes ‘Rock’ on 24th on a brief after-supermarket stop, one of the Wallcreeper showed immediately and c40 Alpine Chough were wheeling over the summit of the cliffs when a Crag Martin sailed into view, a day earlier than my first ones here in 2020. Several pairs nest on the cliffs so more will arrive in March, it will be interesting to see how long the Wallcreeper stay on (assuming I haven’t just overlooked them breeding here in the past of course…). The extremely mild weather (18.5C on 26th for example) prompted the departure of most of the wintering finches locally, daily regulars such as Hawfinch and Brambling absent from 21st and 24th respectively and Goldfinch and Siskin restricted to a pair of the former and single figures of the latter, nice to see a male Siskin display flying so perhaps some may stay to breed. Another effect of the warm weather was an earlier than usual arrival of White Wagtail, my fancy Excel spreadsheet on which I’ve recorded arrival dates in March each year since 2007 looking a bit silly with a Feb 25th pioneer:mad:. The rapid thaw meant it was possible on 27th to walk with Mum in Law up to Les Frasses (the old chalet/farmhouse at 1330m asl) without snow shoes etc. By the parking spot (1100m asl) it was good to see the Kestrel back on the barn where they breed each year and the forest was resounding to the song of Mistle and Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Wren, Robin and Green Woodpecker calling. Some good birds up at the top, displaying Buzzard, Nutcracker, Crossbill, the young female Golden Eagle (she certainly gets about!), Coal and Crested Tit and a lot of Mistle Thrush disputes going on. Best bird was as we were eating so my bins were not too hand (typical!), I glanced out of the window to see a round shape walking briskly across some remaining snow and into the forest, is it a hedgehog? No it’s a bird - aargh, a Hazel Grouse, just 100m from where I saw one last autumn! While the ladies were having a post indoor picnic chat I dutifully rinsed our cups/plates in the spring water outside and heard a Tawny Owl keewicking, not the first time I’ve heard them in the middle of the day up there (yet never at home where we have plenty..). I checked the Hazel Grouse's footprints in the snow just to be sure and got scolded by a Willow Tit for my trouble.

28th saw me doing some serious sky watching as Red Kite should be arriving now but no sign of migration to be honest, though an adult Lammergeier cruising just above the trees behind the village was a fine sight, they are usually further away up in the area in the photo attached.

So March 1st arrived with a fine frosty morning and I had another look at the cliff in Thônes while having a puncture fixed, No Wallcreeper seen this time but at least three Crag Martin, a pair already visiting a wooden barn by the road and while watching a Chamois I jammed onto two Rock Bunting, one a very handsome male. It’s a real strain on the neck birding at the base of the mountain (photo attached taken from the approach to Thônes to give an idea of its size, a pair of Grey Wagtail were in the stream beside the road where I stopped to take the photo).
 

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rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
In our annual bird report one Wallcreeper nest was reported at 900m...

I was sent a study of the Wallcreeper for the South West corner of 'Suisse' - from what I can make out around Martigny. It was very interesting and showed a reasonable concentration seemingly quite low. I tried to Google earth one of the pictures to see if I could pinpoint the area - I failed. I wasn't serious on finding the nesting area other than to get a better idea of altitude - not seemingly covered in the study.

The lowest nest 'I' found was c.1300m with two others at 1750m and about 1700m.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Thanks for that, looking through the three most recent annual reports for Haute Savoie, i read that potential (but not proven) breeding was recorded from c1200 up, nothing below 1450m one year so the Thônes birds are almost certainly just wintering (the area they frequent is c800m). One fascinating fact in the 2015 report concerned territorial defence behaviour by one Wallcreeper which flew out from a cliff face to 'attack' a Lammergeier which was cruising past at least 200m from the face, shades of David and Goliath!
In the recovery postion at the mo after an 06.15 to 08.30 walk from home up to 1300m, no Pygmy or Tengmalm's but a couple of Tawny Owl and I finally saw my first Goldcrest of 2021, four together, I don't know where they've been hiding up to now (he said, trying to divert attention from his birding incompetence:rolleyes:
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
In our annual bird report one Wallcreeper nest was reported at 900m...

I was sent a study of the Wallcreeper for the South West corner of 'Suisse' - from what I can make out around Martigny. It was very interesting and showed a reasonable concentration seemingly quite low. I tried to Google earth one of the pictures to see if I could pinpoint the area - I failed. I wasn't serious on finding the nesting area other than to get a better idea of altitude - not seemingly covered in the study.

The lowest nest 'I' found was c.1300m with two others at 1750m and about 1700m.

Thanks for that, looking through the three most recent annual reports for Haute Savoie, i read that potential (but not proven) breeding was recorded from c1200 up, nothing below 1450m one year so the Thônes birds are almost certainly just wintering (the area they frequent is c800m). One fascinating fact in the 2015 report concerned territorial defence behaviour by one Wallcreeper which flew out from a cliff face to 'attack' a Lammergeier which was cruising past at least 200m from the face, shades of David and Goliath!

Interesting obs. I have never bothered for breeding Wallcreeper - have not seen the point for me personally since they have been fairly easy to connect with at lower altitudes in October for me (in Haute-Pyrenees above Gavarnie and in the Polish Tatras above Zakopane) however, breeding altitude seems to depend on height of the localised mountain range, with breeding at lower altitudes in lower ranges - you may find this study interesting
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Many thanks for the study link Debs, there must be some skilled mountaineer/birders in Slovakia to have managed to colour ring a few Wallcreepers!!

Re your comment: I have never bothered for breeding Wallcreeper - have not seen the point for me personally since they have been fairly easy to connect with at lower altitudes in October for me (in Haute-Pyrenees above Gavarnie and in the Polish Tatras above Zakopane). We all bird in different ways I suppose, I can guarantee to see Wallcreeper at easy to access wintering spots in but for me it's always been a real thrill (and a reward for the physical effort!) to hike up to a breeding site and hear that sweet song and see the bird in its summer finery. Vive la difference! (y)
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
We all bird in different ways I suppose
Lol Richard, if I lived in the Alps or Pyrenees (or back in Poland), I would have done just that but many of my Spring trips to Europe in the past have been migration surveys, so there’s not been the time to make dedicated hikes or in the Autumn (October) for ‘leisure’ birding trips where breeders have already moved down. I haven’t had the luxury of taking extra annual leave in the summer (as well as Spring and Autumn) and sadly, even though I now have the time and money due to working less, and conceivably could be bothered, ironically, my days of long steep treks up mountains came to a halt a few years ago due to auto-immune induced fatigue and pain.🙁
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Sorry to hear that your mountain hiking birding is halted Debs, I’m pretty sure that I speak for the great majority here in saying your advice and contributions to the Birdforum community are much appreciated, our health is so precious but we often don’t appreciate what we have till we lose it!
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Richard, what are the differences of young Golden Eagle female and male?
Hi Wari, when you see them together the female is noticeably bigger, particularly wingspan (in all ages of course), I have to admit that when I see this local 3rd year on its own distantly I hesitate to report its sex though, even though her twin brother seemed to have moved away last spring. There were no young fledged from the local nest in 2020 which also reduces the confusion risk trying to age this individual !
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Sorry to hear that your mountain hiking birding is halted Debs, I’m pretty sure that I speak for the great majority here in saying your advice and contributions to the Birdforum community are much appreciated, our health is so precious but we often don’t appreciate what we have till we lose it!
Thanks Richard - still plenty of trips left in me yet just probably not of the ‘Birdquest’ fitness level 😉
 

KenM

Well-known member
Thanks for that, looking through the three most recent annual reports for Haute Savoie, i read that potential (but not proven) breeding was recorded from c1200 up, nothing below 1450m one year so the Thônes birds are almost certainly just wintering (the area they frequent is c800m). One fascinating fact in the 2015 report concerned territorial defence behaviour by one Wallcreeper which flew out from a cliff face to 'attack' a Lammergeier which was cruising past at least 200m from the face, shades of David and Goliath!
In the recovery postion at the mo after an 06.15 to 08.30 walk from home up to 1300m, no Pygmy or Tengmalm's but a couple of Tawny Owl and I finally saw my first Goldcrest of 2021, four together, I don't know where they've been hiding up to now (he said, trying to divert attention from his birding incompetence

A good quality video clip of the above encounter Richard, would have been worth it's weight in Wallcreepers!...especially to us lowlanders. :)

Interestingly I too encountered ''only'' my 2nd yard Goldcrest of the year a couple of days ago....perhaps not such a good breeding season last year?
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
A good quality video clip of the above encounter Richard, would have been worth it's weight in Wallcreepers!...especially to us lowlanders. :)

Interestingly I too encountered ''only'' my 2nd yard Goldcrest of the year a couple of days ago....perhaps not such a good breeding season last year?
They've been avoiding me because I'm still not vaccinated Ken, simple as that!
 

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