Trip Report: Switzerland and Vienna, August 9-25,
Urs Geiser, Woodridge, IL, USA;
This trip was a vacation of my American family (wife and teenage
step-daughter) with my Swiss family (parents, siblings, and other
relatives). We made many day trips where I kept my eyes open for
birds, but with a few exceptions, I couldn't call it birding. I birded
alone twice, an afternoon along the Aare River near Bern (between
the zoo and the Elfenau nature preserve) and several hours at Fanel
on the shore of Lake Neuchatel. In the company of my wife, I
birded a small preserve (artificial island) on the Aare River near
Walliswil (canton Bern). The birds from Vienna were almost
entirely from the gardens of Schoenbrunn palace.
Thanks for those of you who responded to my request with helpful
suggestions and exceptionally detailed instructions for finding
places. You all convinced me that Fanel was the one place in
Switzerland that I couldn't miss. That was a truly exceptional
location, and my only regret is that I didn't own a scope, since there
were thousands of water birds visible in the far distance, too far for
binoculars. I also would have enjoyed the company of an expert for
all the warblers that I caught quick glimpses of and couldn't identify
with much confidence. Even in breeding plumage, old world
warblers just about all look the same, and in many cases can only be
distinguished by song. Not much luck in August and the middle of
the day... Birding at Fanel involves a half-mile hike on a wide trail
along the Broye canal from the parking lot to the lake-side reed
beds. There is one large trail on a dike through the reeds with
occasional views onto ponds and the lake front. Willows and
shrubs flank the trail. There are some observation towers, but I
didn't have the necessary keys. My wife and daughter spent the
time at the live tropical butterfly exhibit in nearby Marin, which is
one of several recommended alternatives for non-birding
companions. [Note added later: the butterfly house burned down on
New Year's day 1995 and may not reopen for some time to
Thanks especially for your suggestions about the Wallcreeper. I
went to one of the suggested places, the Aare Gorge near Meiringen
(Bernese Oberland). It was a spectacular location which my
companions enjoyed very much, too, but I just couldn't find any
Wallcreepers. Maybe next time...
Rather than giving a day-by-day report (the most abundant bird
would repeat too often), I'll group it by species, with some
comments as appropriate. Asterisks (*) denote life birds and
question marks indicate uncertain identification. The abbreviation B
E is used for the Canton (state) of Bern.
The total of ca. 66 species is obviously nothing to brag about. The
next time, I'm going to bring a
scope to Fanel and try to find somebody who knows warblers to
come along. Volunteers?
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus). A few of these
birds were found in several locations along the Aare River where its
flow was slow, as well as on Lakes Thun and Zurich (from the
moving train). At Fanel, there were large numbers (hundreds).
GREAT CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo). Good numbers at
Fanel and on Lake Constance near Kreuzlingen.
LITTLE BITTERN * (Ixobrychus minutus). On several occasions,
at Fanel, a bird flew up from the reeds, displayed its striking cream-
and-black wing pattern, and disappear again. I don't know if it was
the same bird or several individuals.
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea). This species is becoming common
again, and we saw some almost every day. Most birds were seen in
flight from the car or train. Wading birds were seen at the Aare
River near Walliswil (BE), at the Elfenau preserve (BE), and at
WHITE STORK (Ciconia ciconia). We didn't see any truly wild
birds, but we visited the re-introduction center in Altreu near
Solothurn. The storks fly freely, and many have nests on nearby
farm houses, but despite a long-going effort, they don't seem to
spread yet. There are also Black Storks and Wood Ibis, but these
are not allowed to fly away.
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor). Swans are common on many lakes
and larger rivers, especially in tourist places (handouts!) such as
Lucerne. At Fanel, there were hundreds. A few carried their necks
somewhat straighter, but the distance was too large to check on the
possibility of whoopers.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos). This is by far the most common
duck and seen on most lakes and rivers. Of the thousands of ducks
off the lake shore at Fanel, most were probably Mallards.
GADWALL * (Anas strepera). This nondescript duck was
surprisingly abundant at Fanel.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula). This is the second-most
widespread summer duck in Switzerland, seen on larger rivers and
lakes, including at Fanel.
COMMON MERGANSER / GOOSANDER (Mergus merganser).
A female (or eclipse male?) and two juveniles were swimming on
the Broye canal adjacent to Fanel.
BLACK KITE (Milvus migrans) and RED KITE (Milvus milvus).
Both kites were seen soaring in several locations in the midlands and
in the updrafts over the first Jura chain (Bernese Oberaargau). The
depth of the notch in the tail was not always distinctive enough to
determine the species in flight profile. One individual was seen in
low flight crossing the road near Kirchberg (BE), and it clearly had
a red tail.
BUZZARD (Buteo buteo). This is by far the most common raptor,
seen several times daily, except in the high mountains.
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos). We spotted an eagle while
driving up the steep road to Furka Pass. Unfortunately, by the time
I could pull over, the bird had disappeared around a corner.
KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus). This is the most commonly seen
falcon. I remember greater numbers from previous visits, and we
didn't see one until the third day, from the road over the
Schallenberg (Emmenthal). While looking for the Eagle on Furka
Pass, we found a hunting Kestrel in the valley below us.
? HOBBY * (Falco subbuteo). At Fanel, a falcon that clearly wasn't
a Kestrel made a couple sweeps over the reed beds. I could see
black-and-white marks on the cheek and a dark cap, but the legs
which would have clinched the ID were unfortunately not in the line
of sight. The flight pattern and the size seemed to match a Hobby
rather than a rare Peregrine.
COOT (Fulica atra). Coots were commonly seen on large, slow-
flowing rivers (Aare), lakes (Lake Thun, Lake Neuchatel at Fanel),
and ponds (Elfenau, Fanel).
MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus). I found an immature Moorhen
in a secluded pond at the Elfenau preserve near Bern.
COMMON SANDPIPER * (Actitis hypoleucos). A medium-size
sandpiper with white wing stripe flew away along the Broye canal at
COMMON BLACK-HEADED GULL (Larus ridibundus). This is
the most abundant gull in Switzerland, seen near open water. Large
numbers were at Fanel and along Lake Constance. None of the
birds seen had the black head of the breeding plumage.
[COMMON / MEW GULL * (Larus canus)]. Some of the gulls at
Fanel were a bit larger than the black-heads and looked overall very
similar to North American ring-bills, except for the bill which lacked
the black ring. Mew Gull is the most likely candidate. [Note added
later: It was pointed out to me that these birds were most likely
YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (Larus cachinans). That species, a
recent split from Herring Gull, was not listed in my Peterson field
COMMON TERN * (Sterna hirundo). Good numbers of terns were
seen at Fanel.
WOODPIGEON * (Columba palumbus). These large doves were
seen on several occasions from the car or train, flying over fields,
where they were flushed from feeding. I saw a perched pair from
close distance at the Elfenau preserve near Bern.
ROCK DOVE (Columba livia). Pigeons are just as common in
Switzerland as they are in the U.S. in urban locations.
COLLARED DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto). I noticed these doves
(and their incessant cooing) in my home town of Herzogenbuchsee
(BE), but probably overlooked them elsewhere.
KINGFISHER * (Alcedo atthis). For me, the sighting of two
Kingfishers at Fanel was the highlight of birding in Switzerland.
These jewels of quiet waters are becoming increasingly rare because
of habitat destruction. I was watching one perched individual when
another flew over me and sat down a small distance further away,
both on a branch hanging over a pond.
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopus major). I was
disappointed not to see any more woodpecker species. This one I
found in two locations: Elfenau near Bern, and Fanel, along the
ALPINE SWIFT * (Apus melba). The large swifts have found
steeples and abandoned buildings in the midlands to be satisfactory
substitutes to cliff-side nesting sites. Colonies are found in several
locations. I saw them feeding in the evening hours in Roggwil and
Langenthal (both BE).
COMMON SWIFT * (Apus apus). These smaller, dark swifts were
mixed with alpines in Langenthal, and were also seen along the Aare
River near Walliswil (BE) and near Bern.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica). Barn swallows were seen
daily in many locations, except at high altitude.
HOUSE MARTIN (Delichon urbica). Martins are somewhat less
abundant than Barn Swallows, but may expected in most populated
areas. We saw them in Erlach (BE), near Walliswil (BE), and near
WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba). This most common of
wagtails was seen almost daily, often from the car in open country.
Also at Fanel.
GREY WAGTAIL * (Motacilla cinerea). This wagtail is more
restricted to subalpine and alpine locations near water. We saw
several individuals along the Emme River near Kemmeribodenbad
(BE) and had excellent looks at a pair in the Aare Gorge near
ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula). We saw this well-loved little bird in
several locations: in the woods near Herzogenbuchsee (BE), on a
fence post near Walliswil (BE), and at the Elfenau preserve near
? WHINCHAT * (Saxicola rubetra). At Fanel, along the Broye
canal, there were these smallish brown birds which moved from tree
branches to the ground and back, always just a little too far for a
good view. I think they were Whinchats in non-breeding or
BLACK REDSTART (Phoenicurus ochrurus). These tame birds
nested earlier in the year at my parents' vacation house in Farnern
(BE). While they weren't at the nest anymore, I could still find an
adult male in the neighborhood. Immatures of one of the two
species (probably Black R.) were also seen at a barn in
Herzogenbuchsee (BE) and surprisingly, at an altitude of 6000 feet,
on the Schynige Platte mountain (Bernese Oberland), on a cow
REDSTART * (Phoenicurus phoenicurus). The only confirmed
individual of this species was an adult male in the trees along the
Broye canal at Fanel.
BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula). This abundant thrush fills the
ecological niche of the American Robin. We saw it in many parks
and woods, although in smaller numbers than what I remember
from years past.
FIELDFARE * (Turdus pilaris). A Fieldfare fed on the lawn by the
parking lot to the Neuhaus inn in Unterseen (Lake Thun, Bernese
MISTLE THRUSH * (Turdus viscivorus). I found one individual
of this species in dense underbrush at the Elfenau preserve near
? Swamp Warblers (Genus Acrocephalus). This genus is one of the
most difficult to identify. At Fanel, numerous birds of this type kept
popping up from the reeds and disappearing again. I'm pretty
confident that I saw REED WARBLER * (A. scirpaceus) and the
more olive MARSH WARBLER * (A. palustris) there. In addition,
one bird looked somewhat larger and could possibly have been a
GREAT REED WARBLER * (A. arundinaceus).
? Leaf Warblers (Genus Phylloscopus). This genus is just as bad.
Birds seen in the trees at Fanel and along the Aare River near Bern
could have been either WILLOW WARBLER * (P. trochilus) or
CHIFFCHAFF (P. collybia).
BLACKCAP (Sylvia atricapilla). One of these scolded us from a
tree top on a walk near Herzogenbuchsee. I saw another one in the
? GARDEN WARBLER (Sylvia borin). One of the drab birds in
the trees along the Broye canal at Fanel looked like it could have
been a Garden Warbler.
DIPPER (Cinclus cinclus). We all had fun watching this lively bird
work the edge of the Giessbach Falls (Bernese Oberland).
? SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER * (Certhia brachydactyla). One
of the two possible treecreepers was in a mixed tit flock in the
woods near Herzogenbuchsee (BE). I didn't get a look at its belly
color, and the species is assumed because of the low altitude
(1500 feet) elevation.
NUTHATCH (Sitta europaea). Two locations were especially
productive for this species: The park of Schoenbrunn Palace in
Vienna, and Elfenau preserve near Bern, where they were gorging
themselves on bread crumbs which somebody had left in several
along the trail. Tits were also concentrated in those places.
? PIED FLYCATCHER * (Ficedula hypoleuca). There was a
concentration of juvenile flycatchers on top of the beech trees along
the forest edge near Herzogenbuchsee (BE). I meant to return to the
spot for a better look and identification but never found the time for
SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (Muscicapa striata). I had a good look
at one of these at Fanel.
RED-BACKED SHRIKE (Lanius collurio). While riding the slow-
moving cog rail train down from the Schynige Platte mountain
(Bernese Oberland), I spotted a medium-sized bird with a chestnut
back, grey head, and some black and white on top of a shrub. This
could only be this relatively common shrike.
GREAT TIT (Parus major). This was by far the most commonly
found tit, seen almost daily in woods and trees.
COAL TIT (Parus ater). One bird of this species was seen in some
willows along a stream near Graben (BE).
BLUE TIT (Parus caerulens). This is probably the second most
common tit species in the summer. I saw several in the woods near
Herzogenbuchsee (BE), at the Elfenau preserve, and at Fanel.
MARSH TIT (Paurs palustris). I was able to identify one bird of
this species at Fanel. A few others could have been either this or the
very similar Willow Tit (Parus montanus).
LONG-TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus). One bird of this
species was following a mixed flock of tits, chaffinches, and
nuthatches around the Elfenau preserve.
BEARDED TIT (Panurus biarmicus) *. Fanel is said to be one of
the few reliable places for this species. Sure enough, one of the
birds flitting through the shrubs lining the trail through the reeds
was an apparently immaturee Bearded Tit.
(BLACK-BILLED) MAGPIE (Pica pica). This bird is commonly
seen in fields.
STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris). Even though seen daily in good
numbers, this species doesn't appear as quite a nuisance on its
native territory as it does in North America.
ALPINE CHOUGH (Pyrrhocorax graculus). A frequent visitor to
populated mountain tops (handouts!), numerous choughs were seen
from the restaurant terrace on the Schynige Platte mountain.
JAY (Garrulus glandularius). I found one member of this species in
the trees near the Giessbach Falls (Bernese Oberland) and heard
many more in several forests.
CARRION CROW (Corvus corone corone) and HOODED CROW
(C. c. cornix). Carrion Crows are commonly found throughout
Switzerland and easily seen even from the moving car or train. On
the way to Vienna, I noticed from the train that the Hooded race was
becoming more prevalent towards the east of Austria. In the park of
Schoenbrunn Palace, Hooded Crows outnumbered Carrion Crows
at least 2:1, but intermediates were also common.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax). Ravens were seen from the
Schynige Platte mountain. Unlike the choughs which flew mostly
over the top, the ravens were flying below us, near the tree line.
CHAFFINCH (Fringilla colebs). I found the first of this common
finch species near the entrance to the Aare gorge. Subsequent
individuals were seen near the Neuhaus restaurant along Lake Thun,
at the Elfenau preserve, and at Fanel.
GREENFINCH (Carduelis chloris). A single bird (unusual for this
species) was in the garden of my sister in Worblaufen (BE). Others
were in the parking lot of the Neuhaus restaurant on Lake Thun and
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus). At least as common near
human population as in North America.
TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus). In Vienna, this sparrow
replaced about half the House Sparrows.
REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus). A flock of Reed
Buntings was feeding on the trail at Fanel.
Return to trip reports.
Urs Geiser; email@example.com; June 2,