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Birding the Italian extremities in early Autumn: September - October 2022 (1 Viewer)


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Part 1: Sicily, September 19-24

In the summer, for various reasons, we hadn’t been able to get away, so we jumped at the chance to join a guided 5-day trip in Sicily, exploring the wetlands of the western coast and a mountain area in the interior. Then, less than two weeks after we came back we decided to go to the by now customary EBN-Italy Autumn weekend in the Dolomites (this is the third year).

What we didn’t expect from the two trips is that we would see several of the same species in places roughly 1500 Km apart!

One of the main targets of both expeditions was Rock Partridge, which we heard very well in 2 or 3 different places in Sicily but failed to contact up north. Sicily also got us good views of Bonelli’s Eagle, good numbers of migrating passerines and waders, but was disappointing as for birds of prey (apart from BE obvs). Best moments were an early morning on a hill behind Trapani, with several Rock Sparrow, Cirl Bunting, Tawny Pipit, Linnet, Blue Rock Thrush, Whinchat, Stonechat, Cetti’s Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Corn Bunting and Woodlark. Here we also heard Rock Partridge. Closer to the coast we added Wheatear, more Tawny Pipits, a Little Owl, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine and Bonelli’s Eagle, while Crag Martins and Jackdaws circled around the cliffs.

Back inland, after having added a few Bee-eaters to the list, we went looking for more Bonelli’s but instead we found Serin, Tree Sparrow, Subalpine Warbler, Hobby, Cirl Bunting, Kestrel and Peregrine. Also more Crag and House Martins, Swallows, Buzzard, Blue Rock Thrush, Spotless Starling, Cetti’s Warbler and Nightingale.The highlights for us were a fantastic flock of ten or so Alpine Swifts passing low overhead and at least three maddening Rock Partridges calling from not far away, which nobody managed to see, despite the three scopes and the several pairs of binoculars picking apart the scrubby hillside in front of us.

The following day, from the hotel balcony we saw 5 Honey Buzzards and a Marsh Harrier, plus a mixed flock of Common and Pallid Swifts. We then headed to the Trapani and Paceco saltpans, where the best sights were an astounding Short-eared Owl flying in from the sea and a migrating family group of Caspian Terns, the adult calling and the young following and answering: the two completely different calls, which we had never heard, were amazing. Quite a few waders were around too: Avocet, Dunlin, Curlew and Green Sandpiper, Ringed and Little ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Grey and Kentish Plover, and Curlew. Other stuff included: Osprey, Marsh Harrier, a migrating Tree Pipit, Greater Flamingo, Black-headed Gull, Great Crested Grebe, Slender-billed Gull, Spoonbill, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, Little and Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Crested Lark and Kingfisher.

We then drove to the glorious town of Erice, built on a spectacular cliff 750 metres above Trapani, with mind-boggling 360° views and paving stones studded with fossils (there were two geologists in the group). Here we also added two new species: Pied and Mediterranean Flycatcher.

Driving back towards our lodgings a Booted Eagle flew across the road and to finish off the day, after dinner in the hotel garden a Scops Owl called just above our heads.

The next day was to be mostly a travelling one, driving from the west coast to the Madonie central mountain range, but we went a little further east before turning back, to visit the only Griffon Vulture colony in Sicily in the Nebrodi mountains, which has hosted for the past few years a lone individual of Rüppel’s Vulture. Indeed Griffons were plentiful, it almost felt like being in Spain, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot the foreign visitor, which was seen by a friend of ours a few days later. At the lookout in front of the cliff we also had a Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Swallow, House and Crag Martin, Sardinian Warbler, Raven, Blue Rock Thrush, Marsh Harrier and a Buzzard. In the same area also a Hoopoe, a stunning Black Stork and a Booted Eagle.

September 23, our last full day in Sicily, dawned chilly in our mountain hotel up above the town of Castelbuono and we went for a pre-breakfast walk in the neighbouring woods, adding to the tally some woodland species: Robin, Short-toed Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Sparrowhawk and Blackcap, Up above Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and two Golden Eagles. The rest of the day was spent driving around the Madonie park, stopping here and there to look for birdlife and visiting some of the area’s quaint towns which sported more fossils in the paving stones. The final tally of the day included Firecrest, Nuthatch, Chiffchaff, Coal, Blue and Great Tit, Mistle Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, Raven and a couple of Wheatears high up in a ski resort.

The final day we travelled back westwards, stopping first in the nearby town of Castelbuono, where Crag Martins flew around the ancient buildings and then in Cefalù, on the coast where we had lunch but failed to contact any new species.

Below a few bird photos and some landscape ones.


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The Trapani saltpans, the Madonie mountains, the coast near Trapani, Belemnite, Ammonite, the view from Erice, the Nebrodi mountains, more fossils


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Part 2: the Dolomites, October 7-9

Two weeks later we left at 4am on a Friday morning, driving north for 6 hours to reach our usual haunt in the Dolomites. Along the way we clocked more or less the usual species: Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Pygmy Cormorant, and the first Carrion Crows when we were close to our destination. Having dropped our bags at the hotel, we drove further along the Tamers valley aiming for the restaurant at the end of the road, stopping in a few places to have a look around and doing the same on the way back to town. At the end of the day we had a suitable collection of mountain species with some more common ones: Yellow-billed Chough, Chaffinch, White Wagtail, Dipper, Nutcracker, Sparrowhawk, Goldcrest, Black Redstart, Song Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal, Crested and Willow Tit, 2 Golden Eagles, Crag Martin and Raven; the last three species among the ones we had seen in Sicily just two weeks earlier!

On the Saturday we went with the group on an excursion in the next valley. Perfect weather and a long winding trail up to 2000 metres, where a fantastic mountain restaurant was awaiting us. On the way up we had more of the same species of the previous day, plus Green Woodpecker, Siskin, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Crossbill. Nutcrackers were everywhere and we also heard a Black Woodpecker. But the real surprises came later, after lunch, when we climbed a little further past the restaurant, to the top of the next hillock and, while trying to find Rock Partridges on the slope in front of us (and failing badly), we got a Golden Eagle, a Kestrel and a few interesting migrants: Red Kite, Marsh Harrier and a much unexpected Griffon Vulture!

The Sunday morning started drizzly, but the forecast looked promising, so we headed again to the next valley, where we climbed gently through woodland, hearing a couple of Pygmy Owls while it was still dark and adding Mistle Thrush to the other usual species. Again, Nutcrackers were everywhere and we looked in vain for Three-toed Woodpecker, as lots of trees bore the unmistakable signs of its passage. But fate had other ideas for us: Capercaillie!!!! Not one, not two, but THREE awesome beasts, all females, that first flew on a larch tree and then one by one retreated in the thick of the forest - a few minutes later G had a glimpse of another, possibly a male, but we were unable to locate it. it was in high spirits that we climbed further, past the treeline, where we added a Meadow Pipit to the list, and then out of the gorse flew 9 Black Grouse, passing in front of us and landing to our left. 10 minutes later, on the way to the mountain restaurant just above the treeline we flushed them again - a fantastic sight. Unfortunately, as with the Capers, only fleeting record shots were possible and I have to thank our friend Mauro who supplied a couple of his for this report. We celebrated with an hot chocolate and cake and then reluctantly made our way downhill, to pick up the car and head home.


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I've birded Trapani a couple of times as there were cheap flights from the UK. From memory the best things I saw you haven't mentioned were Lanner and Ferruginous Ducks but not sure of their status now.
Been a few times to Sicily, mostly in the Siracusa area, but would like to do a trip specifically targetting Rock Partridge, Bonelli's Eagle and Lanner. My impression is that the area around Trapani is the most reliable for these species right?
I've birded Trapani a couple of times as there were cheap flights from the UK. From memory the best things I saw you haven't mentioned were Lanner and Ferruginous Ducks but not sure of their status now.

Lanner numbers are crashing in Sicily, as in the rest of Italy 😞, and apparently is now very difficult to see it in the Trapani area. I don't know about Ferruginous Ducks...

Been a few times to Sicily, mostly in the Siracusa area, but would like to do a trip specifically targetting Rock Partridge, Bonelli's Eagle and Lanner. My impression is that the area around Trapani is the most reliable for these species right?
As an occasional visitor to Sicily I don't know if the Trapani area is THE best. We did hear Rock Partridge in two different places and Bonelli's can be seen, albeit with luck. As for Lanner, see above. Actually, seeing a feldeggii Lanner anywhere is becoming harder with each passing year.
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