Trip Report: Switzerland, May 12-17, 1995

Urs Geiser, Woodridge, IL, USA;

Birds Seen

(* life bird; + abundant, not always mentioned):

Little Grebe              Tachybabtus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe       Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant           Phalacrocorax carbo
Gray Heron                Ardea cinerea
White Stork               Ciconia ciconia
Mute Swan                 Cygnus olor
Barnacle Goose(*)         Branta leucopsis     !!!!!!!!!
Mallard(+)                Anas platyrhynchos
Garganey(*)               Anas querquedula
Gadwall                   Anas strepera
Eurasian Wigeon(*)        Anas penelope
Tufted Duck               Aythya fuligula
Pochard                   Aythya ferina
Red-crested Pochard(*)    Netta rufina
Common Merganser          Mergus merganser
Red Kite                  Milvus milvus
Black Kite                Milvus migrans
Common Kestrel            Falco tinnunculus
Common Buzzard            Buteo buteo
Peregrine Falcon          Falco peregrinus
Common Moorhen            Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot             Fulica atra
Common Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus
Yellow-legged Gull        Larus cachinnans
Common Tern               Sterna hirundo
Kingfisher                Alcedo atthis
Wood Pigeon               Columba palumbus
Rock Dove(+)              Columba livia
Collared Dove             Streptopelia decaocto
Common Cuckoo             Cuculus canorus
Common Swift              Apus apus
Skylark(*)                Alauda arvensis
Barn Swallow              Hirundo rustica
House Martin              Delichon urbica
Bank Swallow              Riparia riparia
Eurasian Jay              Garrulus glandularius
Black-billed Magpie       Pica pica
Carrion Crow(+)           Corvus corone
Common Raven              Corvus corax
Golden Oriole(*)          Oriolus oriolus
Great Tit                 Parus major
Blue Tit                  Parus caerulens
Marsh Tit                 Parus palustris
Bearded Tit               Panurus biarmicus
Eurasian Nuthatch         Sitta europaea
Short-toed Treecreeper    Certhia brachydactyla
Winter Wren               Troglodytes troglodytes
Blackcap                  Sylvia atricapilla
Garden Warbler            Sylvia borin
Chiffchaff                Phylloscopus collybia
Reed Warbler              Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Great Reed Warbler        Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Black Redstart            Phoenicurus ochrurus
Whinchat                  Saxicola rubetra
European Robin            Erithacus rubecula
Mistle Thrush             Turdus viscivorus
Fieldfare                 Turdus pilaris
Eurasian Blackbird(+)     Turdus merula
Spotted Flycatcher        Muscicapa striata
Pied Flycatcher           Ficedula hypoleuca
White Wagtail             Motacilla alba
Yellow Wagtail(*)         Motacilla flava (subsp. flava)
European Starling(+)      Sturnus vulgaris
Chaffinch                 Fringilla colebs
Reed Bunting              Emberiza schoeniclus
European Greenfinch       Carduelis chloris
Serin(*)                  Serinus serinus
House Sparrow(+)          Passer domesticus
European Tree Sparrow     Passer montanus

General Remarks

The purpose of this trip was a high school class reunion, combined with family visits. Unlike my previous trip of August 1994, I didn't have my wife and daughter along, and constraints restricted the time to one week. Bird identification was easier compared to August mainly because many more birds were singing (essential for warbler identification) and there were no immatures around to cope with. On the other hand, the total number of birds seen was smaller. The season was more advanced than in the Chicago area at the same time (where, incidentally, I missed the prime migration week because of the trip) by approximately two weeks. The leaves were fully out, making it difficult to find birds in the trees.

Daily Accounts

May 12, 1995

After arriving jet-lagged at the rainy Zürich airport, I took the train to Bern. From the train, I was able to spot some of the more common species: BLACKBIRD, PIGEONS, CARRION CROWS, HOUSE SPARROWS, STARLINGS, HOUSE MARTIN, and BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE. While the weather gradually improved, a look from my sister's garden in Worblaufen, a suburb of Bern, yielded GREAT TITS, GREENFINCHES, WOOD PIGEONS, a female BLACK REDSTART, COLLARD DOVES, and several circling BLACK KITES. In the afternoon, we took a walk with kids and dog along the nearby Aare river and through the wooded Enge peninsula formed by a loop of the river. Several NUTHATCHES, a JAY, a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, and several MALLARD could be added to the list. Upon our return, a BUZZARD had joined the kites.

A short nap during the drive to my parents' empty house in Herzogenbuchsee, my base for the remainder of the stay, refreshed me enough that I felt like some more birding during the last evening hours. I chose the nearby Burgäschi Lake, where I parked at the beach restaurant. In the adjacent garden, a pair of SERINS and several GREENFINCHES flitted around, while CUCKOOS could be heard, but not well seen in the trees. In the field leading to the nature preserve were some WHITE WAGTAILS and FIELDFARES. BARN SWALLOWS and BLACK SWIFTS were catching insects in the sky, occasionally joined by a BLACK KITE. A scan over the lake yielded GREAT CRESTED GREBE, COOT, MALLARD, and a distant pair of EURASIAN WIGEON, while REED WARBLERS made a racket in the cattails. In the woods surrounding the lake, I observed a PIED FLYCATCHER singing near its nest. Nesting GREAT and BLUE TITS were also evident. On the other side of the woods was a freshly planted field, where WOOD PIGEONS, FIELDFARES, and a couple MISTLE THRUSHES ate seeds. A raptor, probably a BUZZARD, devoured some prey in a more distant field.

May 14, 1995

The previous, cold and rainy day had been spent mainly at a class reunion, and I was ready for more birds, especially since the weather was improving. In the afternoon I dragged my parents, who in the mean time had returned from a vacation, to a walk along the Aare River, at the hamlet Berken near the two towns both called Walliswil. On the river were several GREAT CRESTED GREBES, MUTE SWANS, and MALLARD, whereas EURASIAN COOT stayed closer to the shore. Several Coot pairs had tiny black, red-headed babies with them. Two or three MOORHENS worked the shore of an island (bird sanctuary). BLACK KITES and BUZZARDS circled in the sky, and BLACK SWIFTS, BARN SWALLOWS, HOUSE MARTINS, and BANK SWALLOWS hunted for insects. In the woods along the river, many warblers were singing. Among those identified and actually seen were BLACKCAP and CHIFFCHAFF. REED WARBLERS were heard out of the cattails along the river. Other passerines in the woods were GREAT TIT, JAY, and a CHAFFINCH. Near the road bridge was a WHITE WAGTAIL, and I caught a glimpse (unfortunately the only one on this trip) of a KINGFISHER flying away.

Subsequently, we drove to another small lake, near the village of Inkwil. In addition to Great Crested Grebes, there was also a LITTLE GREBE on the water. With the Mallards were also several TUFTED DUCKS, and again COOT. The same swallow species as at the previous location were present, and one of the kites turned out to be a RED KITE. Back in Herzogenbuchsee, I recorded the presence of another nuisance bird, COLLARED DOVE.

May 15, 1995

My mother and I started early in order to reach Fanel, on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel, by sunrise. This was overly optimistic since thick fog lingered for the first two hours. After that, the weather was sunny. Initially, we were only able to see nearby birds, such as the GREAT CRESTED GREBE, MALLARD, and COMMON MERGANSER (GOSANDER) on the Broye Canal or the occasional gull (COMMON BLACK-HEADED and YELLOW-LEGGED) fly by. Along the trail, we could also distinguish WHITE WAGTAILS, GREENFINCHES, CHAFFINCH, and GREAT TITS. In the cattails, REED WARBLERS and GREAT REED WARBLERS were heard. Once the fog lifted, the latter was clearly visible, much more so than his smaller cousin. Among the ducks there was a surprisingly large number (100?) of RED-CRESTED POCHARDS and smaller numbers of TUFTED DUCK, common POCHARD, more mergansers, and a few GADWALL. MUTE SWANS and many more grebes swam on the lake. On the off-shore islands were many gulls, and a flock of COMMON TERN had their own island.

The biggest surprise of the day was the discovery of two BARNACLE GEESE on one of the islands. This species is considered accidental in Switzerland (fewer than 15 records since 1900), but the possibility of escapees cannot be ruled out. Whatever their origin, the two birds were grazing on two opposite ends of the island, and their necks with the distinct black and white head pattern were clearly visible through the scope. Occasionally, an entire bird would show itself. Birders we met on the way out told us that these geese had been there for some time.

We spent most of the morning on a small observation hill overlooking the cattail marsh and giving a clear view to the lake scanning for whatever flew or swam by. Among the birds not yet mentioned were a few GRAY HERONS, CORMORANTS, several BLACK KITES, a BUZZARD, many COOT, BLACK SWIFTS, and BARN SWALLOWS. A WHINCHAT popped up on a post, and a GARDEN WARBLER sang in the shrubs surrounding our observation mound. He was close enough to get an excellent recording of his song on a cheap microcassette recorder, which served as the identification clincher as it was impossible to get a decent look at the bird (as if that would have helped any). A small flock of BEARDED TITS flew around the cattails, and REED BUNTINGS could be seen in several places. Along the trail on the way out, we added BLUE TIT, a pair of KESTREL, and several FIELDFARES to the list. A CUCKOO was mostly heard, but I was able to briefly see it as well. Other birds heard were CHIFFCHAFF and GOLDEN ORIOLE. Among the sparrows near the parking lot were some EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS.

Our next stop was along the remnant of what was once the Aare River (part of a massive drainage project, most of the water of that river now flows through a series of canals and through Lake Biel) near the village of Dotzigen. A hiking trail, which I soon abandoned in favor of a smaller, unmarked trail closer to the old river bed, leads through dense woods. There, I was able to actually see a singing GOLDEN ORIOLE. Among the many singers were numerous BLACKCAPS, CHIFFCHAFF, CHAFFINCH, several ROBINS, MARSH and GREAT TITS, and a (WINTER) WREN. Another CUCKOO worked its way through the trees. More in the open were MAGPIE, WHITE WAGTAIL, BLACK SWIFT, and a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER.

Another fine birding place along the old Aare River bed is at the Häftli preserve near the town of Büren, where there is a wooden observation tower. While we didn't see many new birds of the day, we enjoyed the GRAY HERONS, MUTE SWANS, ducks (MALLARD, a POCHARD, a COMMON MERGANSER, TUFTED DUCK), GREAT CRESTED GREBES, and COOT in the water, and the REED BUNTING and REED WARBLER in the cattails. One of the coot was approaching a nest in the cattails when a snake (English name? German: Ringelnatter) uncoiled from the nest and scared the coot away. Two TREECREEPERS (probably the SHORT- TOED species, we didn't get a look at the underparts) crawled around a big tree. Several FIELDFARES foraged in a flooded meadow. At a nearby farm, a WHITE STORK stood on a roof, indicating the proximity of the stork reintroduction center of Altreu (near Solothurn).

Another stork was seen near the town of Grenchen, where the area between the town and the Aare River is supposed to be an important shorebird resting area. Apparently, mid- May was not the right time for spring migration, or the area is only a resting place in the fall, as we found neither shorebirds nor suitable habitat. However, we flushed a SKYLARK out of a meadow.

May 17, 1995

After another day and a half of family visits, I decided to spend the last afternoon birding. I decided to check if the Peregrine Falcons were still at a place that I remembered from years ago and drove up the road toward the town of Farnern on the first Jura range directly north of Herzogenbuchsee. However, I didn't follow the road all the way to Farnern, but turned right on a smaller road to the hamlet of Schoren. Where the road entered the forest, I had to park the car because of traffic restrictions. On foot, I followed the road all the way to the gap through the ridge top (Hinteregg). I heard many birds, but had a much harder time actually seeing any. BLACKCAP, CHAFFINCH, NUTHATCH, and WOOD PIGEON were among them, whereas I never got a good look at any of the tits that I kept hearing. Because of the woods, I didn't get a good look at the sky, but I could see one BUZZARD, a RAVEN, and at one time an apparent falcon shape. Once on top of the ridge, I crossed the cow pasture (WHITE WAGTAIL, CHIFFCHAFF along the forest edge) to an exposed place on top of the prominent cliff, where the falcons used to nest. After some waiting around in a strong wind, finally a PEREGRINE FALCON flew across below my vantage point, only to disappear around a corner. It (or its mate?) showed up again a few minutes later, performing some wonderful aerobatics in the wind!

On the way back to Herzogenbuchsee, I stopped at the small Erlimoos nature preserve outside the town of Wiedlisbach, mainly a big pond with marshy borders. The pond held several LITTLE GREBES, COOT (many with babies), several MALLARD, and a pair each of TUFTED DUCK and GARGANEY. A GRAY HERON worked the shore, while BLACK SWIFT, BARN SWALLOWS, and HOUSE MARTINS caught insects over the water. A BUZZARD and both KITE species were hunting in the area. In the surrounding fields were WHITE WAGTAILS and a flock of YELLOW WAGTAIL (blue-headed race).

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Urs Geiser;; June 15, 1995; corrected July 1, 1999