I was in Italy for business from Sept. 13th to 20th and had time to do some birding during part of each day. I had work in Tirrenia, which is conveniently located near a heavily wooded area. Based on suggestions from Alberto Marcone and Finn Jensen, I visited the Oasi di Massaciuccoli and the mountains in the vicinity of Aulla.
On the drive from Milan to my hotel in Lerici, I saw COLLARED DOVE, GRAY HERON, HOODED CROW, SWALLOW, and MAGPIE. I saw ITALIAN SPARROW, GREAT TIT, BLACKBIRD, and COMMON GULL near the hotel. I visited the vicinity of Torre on the 14th. I stopped by the west side of the lake and saw BLACK-HEADED GULL and COMMON TERN. I checked out a wooded area on the south side of the road between Torre and the lake and found a singing ROBIN. I drove south from this area and entered the Parco Naturale. I saw a warbler in an open area with shrubs and thick brush that I could not identify. Based on the well defined black and white streaking on the back, it might have been a MOUSTACHED WARBLER, but it wasn't near water. I entered the woods and heard a JAY, which I briefly saw flying from directly below. I really wanted to see this bird but ended up having to work very hard just to get a halfway decent look. I was surprised that such a large, noisy, and common bird could be so difficult to see. I stood near a ditch and saw a REED WARBLER (which was easy to identify by its song), a KINGFISHER (which flew by and flashed its spectacular blue rump several times), and a GREEN WOODPECKER. I spent the rest of the day walking through the woods to the north of the road that runs between the Autostrada and Torre. I heard several Jays and got another glimpse at one. I also saw BLUE TIT, LONG-TAILED TIT, SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, NUTHATCH, BUZZARD, HOUSE MARTIN, and a large marijuana plant (fortunately, I didn't get attacked by the grower).
Early on the 15th, I saw a FIRECREST at the hotel and drove up into the mountains above Carrara, where I saw SISKINS but nothing else new. Early on the 16th, I made a brief stop back in the woods near Torre hoping to get a good look at a Jay but had no luck. After getting lost looking for American Beach, where I was to participate in an ocean acoustics experiment, I stopped at the mouth of a river just south of Tirrenia and saw a BAR-TAILED GODWIT. It was the only bird on this heavily littered part of the coast. Upon arriving at American Beach, I immediately found a NORTHERN WHEATEAR. This was a stroke of luck because I never saw another bird anywhere near this biological wasteland. I ate lunch at Camp Darby, where I saw TREE SPARROWS. Late that afternoon, I visited the woods just north of the road that runs along the north side of Camp Darby. Since these woods contain miles of trails and excellent habitat and are within a few miles of American Beach, I birded them each morning and afternoon on the 17th, 18th, and 19th. I saw GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, PIED FLYCATCHER, SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, PALLID SWIFT, NIGHTINGALE, WOOD PIGEON, and WREN. I finally managed to get fairly good (but brief) looks at two Jays. I noticed that the white wing bars and white edges of the primaries of the Pied Flycatcher forms a striking pattern when viewed from behind. On the morning of the 17th, I saw RINGED PLOVERS, STARLINGS (I was excited to see them where they belong for the first time), and WHITE WAGTAIL on the lawns at Camp Darby. I could not see the Ringed Plovers well enough to positively rule out Little Ringed Plovers and foolishly decided to wait till lunch to get a closer look (they were gone by then). On the 20th, I visited the mountains near Aulla. I took a long walk up from Equi Terme and saw a MARSH TIT and an immature GOLDEN EAGLE. I stopped at a few places near Paseo di Cerreto but was not able to turn up anything new. Other birds I saw during the trip include ROCK DOVE and MALLARD.
It took a lot of work to see just 40 species. The day after I got home, I saw about 50 species in an hour or so at Huntley Meadows (a park nestled in the suburbs of Washington, DC). If the Italians (and other southern Europeans) would abandon the barbaric practice of shooting everything with feathers (I tripped over lots of shotgun shells in Italy but not nearly as many as in Crete, where I saw only 15 species), there might be some hope for birds in the small amount of habitat that remains in Italy. One of the participants in the experiment told me about an incident on a ship off the coast of Africa. When an exhausted small bird landed on the deck, the Italian cook ran and got a shotgun and blew it away. Based on this trip, I would not recommend Italy for birding until there are some reforms. The birds are extremely wary of humans. Blackbirds fly off in such a fright that it's as if you had just shot at them (I never got a good look at one in the woods). This trip was a real eye-opener of how environmentally ignorant people can be. Although I had visited Italy more than a dozen times, it didn't occur to me how little undisturbed habitat remains until I became interested in birds. It was depressing to see so much habitat destruction and disturbance, but the situation suddenly seemed less urgent one evening when I saw a report on the burning of the rainforests in Indonesia. I saw deer on the grounds of both Camp Darby and an Italian military base to the north. These populations are apparently imprisoned by fences. I also saw wild pigs and some nice butterflies. The woods north of Camp Darby were humming with the buzz of bees, but I didn't see the hoped-for Bee-Eater!
On the flight home, I got a bird's eye view of Cape May. The visibility was so good that you could see nearly all of New Jersey at once. The tapering of the land down the peninsula was very impressive (I was fortunate to fly over Point Pelee on a previous trip).
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