Italy – July – August 2018

 

We drove down to Italy this summer for the first time on a family holiday. Naturally (nice pun) I was hoping to find some time to look for wildlife and luckily, in between the gorgeous Tuscan towns and swimming pools, I managed to see some great stuff.

In the run up to leaving however, I was really surprised at the lack of information on Italian wildlife watching, especially birding. I found some really helpful folk on birdforum and a couple other blogs which helped me piece together enough for a few key morning trips out, mostly before the family awoke and hit the pool.

This account covers the whole road-trip, from arriving in Calais all the way down to Tuscany and the day trips we did here and there. Get in touch if you’d like more info on the sites and the wildlife.

Overall, quite a challenging country mid-summer to see much, but with a bit of patience, and luck, there are some real gems.

The Drive South

We spent a good three days driving down to Tuscany, stopping for two nights in Dijon and Courmayeur, just outside the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Not much on the drive but a stop in the hills around Lake Geneva was fun. Tons of black redstarts, white wagtails, willow tits and black kites and some wonderful Apollo butterflies putting on their displays. A brief stop in Courmayeur gave more black redstarts but not much else. Was hoping to see some of the alpine species but didn’t even see a ring ouzel let alone a nutcracker.

Once we entered Italy proper on the third day, things started getting interesting. A drive through the marsh areas south of Turin gave views of great egrets, cattle egrets and a purple heron, all from the motorway. The real surprise came from a sacred ibis flying across the road, one of many of the introduced species that have made Italy their home.

Pescia Villa Tuscany 

Our first villa was near a nice little town called Pescia, chosen for its satellite locale for many of the go-to towns and sights: Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Cinque Terra. Nestled within a vast olive grove on the edge of a huge forest, I thought the place would be teeming with birds. Basically, before 8 am, it was. After 8 am, nah.

From the villa I did have a couple lifers though, including one of my bogey birds. One the second day I got up early and found two families of redstarts near the villa, skitting in between the olive trees. Brilliant to finally see them after years of missing them. We also had fantastic  views of honey buzzard on a couple mornings, dodging the common buzzards as they glided out of the valley into the lowlands below. We also had cirl bunting, turtle dove, spotted flycatcher, firecrest, willow tit, wood warbler, blackcap, Sardinian warbler, black redstart, bee-eater, serin, dipper and crag martin all around the villa. Each evening we would sip wine to a lone nightjar churring away on the top of the ridge, competing for airtime with what seemed like several pairs of tawny owl. 

One of the highlights there however was finding another of the sought-after “introduced species”: the Peking robin or red-billed leiothrix. After mornings of hearing several birds I didn’t recognise, I finally got solid views of my first Peking robins in the woods around the villa. And they seemed to be in good numbers and relatively easy to approach. I have mixed opinions about escaped/introduced species like this, but they won me over. A true treat.

Other bits of wildlife around the villa: wall lizard; red deer; moorish gecko; hummingbird hawkmoth; swallowtail; wild boar (heard)

Trips from Pescia

Bocca di Serchio and Lake Massacuocolli

Having read quite a few posts on the Bocca Di Serchio area and neighbouring Lake Massacuocolli, I planned to head out there one morning. Arriving early at the small car park at the Bocca Di Serchio (take coins for parking, doesn’t take cards – around 3 Euros) it was me and the fisherman, many who wanted to chat about the camera lens I was carrying. Tested my Italian 😉

On the walk from the car park to the beach I had good views of hoopoe, fan-tailed warbler and one nightingale on the path. A tree full of swallows had a good number of sand martins sitting with them.

There were good numbers of turtle doves purring in the trees next the beach but I was after two species here and after some searching at the northern end of the beach scrub (near the first big car park you come across) I found both: Moltoni’s warbler and subalpine warbler. The two very similar species (Moltoni’s broke away from subalpine) can be seen side by side here and were relatively approachable.

Other than these, the site didn’t have much going on wildlife-wise at this point in the year – it was incredibly hot. I had also hoped to find sand lizards and green lizards at this site but failed. I did however see some beautiful red deer on leaving the site.

Lake Massacuocolli

Leaving Bocca around 9 am I made my way to Lake Massacuocolli, first heading to a road south of the lake which is pretty rugged but sometimes gives good views of herons etc. After turning onto the country road, was pretty surprised to see tons of prostitutes hanging out for business…in the middle of nowhere. Guess birdwatching might have a different meaning here amongst husbands and wives.

The drive didn’t give much – turtle doves, marsh harrier being the most notable. I did see wild boar in the long grass here though which was fantastic.

I managed to make a quick visit to the Lake’s nature reserve but it was pretty damn hot by then so didn’t expect much. I did get great views of bee-eater here as well as more Peking robin in the wooded area near the raised wooden observation tower. Also saw kingfisher, tree sparrow, marsh harrier and hoopoe but not much else on this occasion.

Both are very promising sites that I hope to visit early spring one year as think there will be tons more around.

Fucecchio Marsh

This site rocked. I only wish I’d had more time there.

Parking just before the little bridge before entering the marsh, the very linear path runs down to several hides. They were shut when I was there (too early?) but even without them, the site was brimming with life. Black-crowned night herons were everywhere, particularly the young who seemed intent on flight practice. Purple heron, cattle egrets and a squacco heron all gave fly pasts. The first glossy ibis of the trip also showed up with four flying metres above my head.

Another introduced species made a surprising appearance here too. A pair of red avadat showed very well in the reeds alongside my first great reed warbler. Other species of note included: peregrine falcon; cuckoo; black kite; bee-eater and marsh harrier.

Arezzo Villa

We moved to a villa near Arezzo for our second week in Tuscany. The terrain surrounding the villa was a little more promising with a mix of more rugged olive groves and forest but once again, the birds proved tough to find.

We were greeted by four hoopoes at the villa which I took as a very good sign. Birds around the villa included firecrest, black redstart, spotted flycatcher, green woodpecker, golden oriole, bee-eater, serin, Scop’s owl, little owl, hobby, short-toed eagle and one evening, a fly by from a northern goshawk. Of course it was when I didn’t have a camera with me.

The star species for me was my first smooth snake. Having found a couple full shed skins on the edge of the villa’s garden, I caught a quick glimpse of the snake one morning as it dropped down an embankment into a little gully when I got too close. Made my  week.

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Other bits of wildlife here included: white admiral; grizzled skipper; swallowtail and scarce swallowtail; scorpion; wall lizard; European mantis; stick insect; fallow deer; tarantula wolf spider

Despite being told porcupines and wild boar were around at night, we didn’t manage to get any sightings. Next time.Image may contain: plant, flower and outdoor

Lake Trasimeno

My one proper bird watch int he final week was Lake Trasimeno. I really hoped to get good views of squacco heron here and low and behold, stopping briefly in a lay-by south of the lake, the place was teeming with them alongside purple heron and great egret. 

We also visited the reserve (4 Euros per adult – make sure you take cash) – a small site but one of the best visited for biodiversity. Turtle doves gave incredible views from the hides as did squacco heron and purple heron. We had our first black-winged stilt of the trip as well as around three wood sandpipers. Other species included: golden oriole; hoopoe; kingfisher; little egret; great reed warbler; reed warbler.

Well worth a visit.

The Drive Back Home

We chose to drive up to Como for one night and then on to a site near Metz. Unfortunately, due to weather and car break downs, we didn’t get any substantial birdwatching done on the way back but I did see my first golden eagles in the Swiss Alps, during a toilet stop. A quick scan of the mountains gave great views of two nearby before drifting higher up, still allowing the kids and wife to see them through the scope.

Other birds of note on way back: white stork; grey wagtail; yellow wagtail; honey buzzard; goosander.

Italy is now on of my favourite countries, perhaps not for birds but for its incredible beauty and culture. I’d love to explore the fauna more on my next visit.

 

Birds seen (or heard where indicated by h)

  1. Great tit
  2. Blue tit
  3. Coal tit
  4. Firecrest
  5. Redstart
  6. Black redstart
  7. Cirl bunting
  8. Italian sparrow
  9. House sparrow
  10. Chiff chaff
  11. Willow warbler
  12. Hoopoe
  13. Swallow
  14. House Martin
  15. Crag Martin
  16. Swift
  17. Nightjar (h)
  18. Tawny Owl (h)
  19. Grey heron
  20. Great white egret
  21. Little egret
  22. Sacred ibis
  23. Red-billed leiothrix / Peking robin
  24. Starling
  25. Spotted flycatcher
  26. Buzzard
  27. Sparrowhawk
  28. Black kite
  29. Red Kite
  30. Raven
  31. Black bird
  32. Song thrush
  33. White Wagtail
  34. Pied wagtail
  35. Magpie
  36. Carrion Crow
  37. Hooded crow
  38. Cormorant
  39. Jackdaw
  40. Long tailed tit
  41. Green woodpecker
  42. Jay
  43. Pheasant
  44. Willow tit
  45. Collared dove
  46. Wood pigeon
  47. Stock dove
  48. Rock dove
  49. Honey buzzard
  50. Wood warbler
  51. Goldfinch
  52. Serin
  53. Herring gull
  54. Black headed gull
  55. Great Black-backed Gull
  56. Lesser black-backed gull
  57. Yellow legged gull
  58. Turtle dove
  59. Whitethroat
  60. Greenfinch
  61. Bullfinch
  62. Dipper
  63. Moltani’s Warbler
  64. Subalpine Warbler
  65. Marsh Harrier
  66. Bee-eater
  67. Sand Martin
  68. Kingfisher
  69. Tree sparrow
  70. Nightingale
  71. Fan tailed warbler
  72. Great spotted woodpecker
  73. Red Avadavat
  74. Great reed warbler
  75. Glossy Ibis
  76. Peregrine Falcon
  77. Squacco Heron
  78. Cetti’s Warbler
  79. Cuckoo
  80. Common Sandpiper
  81. Cattle Egret
  82. Short toed treecreeper
  83. Med Gull
  84. Scop’s Owl
  85. Golden oriole
  86. Hobby
  87. Black winged stilt
  88. Wood sandpiper
  89. Mute swan
  90. Great crested grebe
  91. Goshawk
  92. Crested lark
  93. Garganey
  94. Coot
  95. Moorhen
  96. Little Grebe
  97. Little Owl (h)
  98. Ring necked parakeet
  99. Sardinian Warbler
  100. Mallard
  101. Short toed eagle
  102. Goosander
  103. Alpine swift
  104. Golden eagle
  105. Yellow wagtail
  106. Wren
  107. Nuthatch
  108. White stork
  109. Rook
  110. Grey Wagtail

Butterfly Species

  1. Appolo
  2. Swallowtail
  3. Scarce swallowtail
  4. White Admiral
  5. Red admiral
  6. Marbled white
  7. Large tortoiseshell
  8. Comma
  9. Large white
  10. Small white
  11. Brimstone
  12. Small copper
  13. Southern gatekeeper
  14. Brown argus
  15. Common blue
  16. Short-tailed blue
  17. Amanda’s blue
  18. Chapman’s blue
  19. Long-tailed blue
  20. Scotch argus
  21. Small copper
  22. Spotted Fritillary
  23. Tree grayling
  24. Speckled wood
  25. Gatekeeper
  26. Large wall brown
  27. Wall brown
  28. Meadow brown
  29. Grizzled Skipper
  30. Oberthur’s Grizzled Skipper

Reptile and Amphibians

  1. Wall lizard
  2. Moorish gecko
  3. Smooth snake
  4. Italian pond frog
  5. Marsh frog
  6. Common toad

Mammals

  1. Red deer
  2. Fallow deer
  3. Muntjac
  4. Coypu
  5. Wild boar

Invertebrates of note

  1. European mantis
  2. Scorpion
  3. Stick insect
  4. Minstrel beetle
  5. Great green bush cricket

 

#featured

 

 

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