Saturday, 8 December 2012

A trip to Germany and Italy, 27th November to 5th December 2012

Heading up to Heathrow airport by train on the 27th November and there was no sign of any whooper swan at Exminster Marsh this time but I did see at least 12 red kites between Westbury and London and 4 roe deer in a field somewhere in flooded Somerset.

Munich was cold and grey but on heading out on a day trip by train to nearby Ulm on the 29th November (to visit the worlds tallest church spire) the countryside increasingly turned white as snow began to fall. Birds seen from the train included grey heron, coot and kestrel but surprise birds were at least 2 great white egrets flying over, the large size and ponderous looking flight giving them away.

I wish I had one of these! - interesting painting on the wall of a Christmas market stall in Ulm

The only other birds of note were a nuthatch and a treecreeper feeding with a group of great tits in a park in Munich on the 30th November. Unfortunately I did not have my binoculars on me at the time and the treecreeper was silent so I not sure if it was a treecreeper or a short-toed treecreeper.

Heading off to Italy by train on the 1st December via The Bremmer Pass was initially a snowless journey until we climbed up into The Alps after leaving Innsbruck in Austria. Near Innsbruck I saw 3 large raptors, probably golden eagles, soaring high up in the mountains on the cloud line, brief and distant views only as they appeared and disappeared amongst the clouds, while a large flock of corvids nearby were doing the same with some birds being larger than others, maybe Alpine choughs with carrion crows?

Snowscape from the train to Italy
Heading down in to Italy and hooded crows appeared instead of carrion crows although I did see both species over the next few days. Some large gulls were seen flying over - herring, yellow legged or Caspian? They did not appear to be particularly dark backed in the bright sunshine.

Turin was very different to Munich, I had forgotten the quirky Italian ways such as not being able to buy a bus ticket on a bus and having to order and pay for a coffee in a cafe before presenting the receipt to somebody else to make it! The city was very interesting and would have warranted a much longer visit and The Egyptian Museum, the main purpose of our visit, was amazing.  Bird wise I saw a peregrine flying around The Mole Tower in the city centre and a pair of confiding but very active black redstarts.

 Falcon capstone in The Egyptian Museum, Turin
 Horus the hobby, The Egyptian Museum in Turin
The Egyptian Museum, Turin

The Mole Tower, Turin

Male Black Redstart, Turin

A day trip (by train) to the nearby ski resort of Sauze D'Oulx was very beautiful in the snow and interesting to visit as it prepared to open for the skiing season, being almost deserted. We had a very cold chair lift ride up in to the mountains where we had stunning views before enjoying a warming mulled wine and a pizza in a ski lodge. Birds seen included goldcrest, coal tit, bullfinch and mistle thrush along with finally good views of Italian sparrows, a race (or distinct species?) of house sparrow, the males with chestnut crowns and whiter cheeks than the usual house sparrows.

Male Italian Sparrow, Sauze D'Oulx

 Chair lift view at Sauze D'Oulx
Chair lift view, Sauze D'Oulx

Heading to Milan (by train again!) on the 4th December and I saw at least 4 great white egrets flying over, much briefer views than those in Germany as we sped through the countryside on the Frecciarossa fast train.

Milan provided good views of more Italian sparrows but no other new birds and was again a very interesting city, warranting a much longer visit than the 24 hours we spent there before having to fly back to the UK on the 5th December. The last birds I saw before taking off in the plane were 2 buzzards skirmishing together over the runway.

 Male Italian Sparrow, Milan

Male Italian Sparrow, Milan
And so it had been a great trip - Christmas markets, lots of snow, lots of train trips, too much food and drink, some great sightseeing especially The Egyptian Museum in Turin, and a few interesting bird sightings along the way. Now I just need a holiday to get over it!

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