Once again, I took the opportunity of a family visit to my native Switzerland to include some birding. Until January 2, 1999, I was joined by my non-birding wife and stepdaughter, which required some creative balancing of other activities and birding time. I am thankful to them for putting up with my hobby. I am also grateful to my mother for accommodating us and lending me her car for the entire period.
This wasn't my first birding trip to Switzerland (earlier ones are described in my summer 1994 and spring 1995 reports), but the first in winter since I became a birder. I traveled with a checklist of ca. 140 seasonally possible species and expected to see about 60. To my great surprise, I ended up with 92! This number is indicative of Switzerland being an important wintering area of waterfowl. It helped that the weather was for the most part mild, with daily highs well above freezing, and except for the mountains there was little or no snow. Most days were largely sunny.
I used mainly Jonsson's Birds of Europe ... as a field guide, and Alain Chappuis's biweekly summaries of Swiss observations (posted to EuroBirdNet) to guide me to profitable birding locations. In this report, I employ the common names according to American usage but make an effort to at least mention the alternate names as well.
Arrival in Europe via Paris-Charles De Gaulle. Some common birds from plane and train. Stay at my mother's house in Herzogenbuchsee BE for the entire period.
Afternoon visit to family weekend house in Farnern BE on the front slope of the first Jura range (near Solothurn). Short afternoon hike. Upon return trip quick twilight stop to scan the Aare River near the Vogelraupfi Preserve (Berken BE). The biggest surprise was a male Ruddy Duck (native to North America) that appeared to be wild and probably a member of the introduced population that is spreading through Europe from the British Isles. This bird was seen on every visit.
Morning: more extended visit to Vogelraupfi Preserve. Afternoon spent with family.
Morning walk through the Löliwald (forest) near Herzogenbuchsee. Afternoon sightseeing visits to Solothurn and Büren a. A. with some sightings of water birds along the Aare River.
Family trip to Niederhorn (mountain) near Beatenberg (Bernese Oberland). Along the way several birding stops along the shores of Lake Thun. The rest area near Hünibach is a great place to see and photograph ducks (e.g., Red-crested Pochard) at close range since they are frequently fed there. The Niederhorn, reached by gondola, is one of the best scenic places in the Bernese Oberland for great views over both the high Alps and the lowlands. From the top, and with the help of someone else's spotting scope, I was able to see Ibex (Capra ibex) and Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) at great distance. Only two bird species were observed on top of the mountain, both feeding on crumbs and handouts on the restaurant terrace: Alpine Chough and Alpine Accentor.
In the morning, a drive on side roads through the Wasseramt region of Solothurn with birding stops at Burgäschi Lake (Smew!) and several other places (woods and fields). Afternoon, family obligations.
Sightseeing drive through the canton of Aargau. We tried to visit Lenzburg Castle (Jackdaw flock), but it was closed for the season. In scenic Bremgarten, we were on an overlook over the Reuss River when a Sparrowhawk flew in and landed a few meters in front of us after pursuing some sparrows. Then it looked up, saw us, and took off quickly. Further sightseeing stops in Mellingen, Windisch (Roman ruins), and Brugg. There was some daylight left for a birding stop at the Klingnau Reservoir, near the Aare River's confluence with the Rhine. Access was from the town of Gippingen on the west shore. This was one of the best birding places visited during the entire trip, and I ran out of daylight long before I ran out of birds.
On this unfortunately rather foggy day we visited Lake Neuchatel. In the morning, I was able to bird the Fanel preserve near Witzwil on the eastern end of the lake while the family visited the Papillorama/Nocturama (exhibit of butterflies and nocturnal animals) in Marin NE. As indicated in earlier trip reports from 1994 and 1995, Fanel absolutely requires a spotting scope as most of the birds are distant. Luckily, there were people there who had the key to the observation tower. In order to obtain a key, one must be a member of the Berner Ala, the Bernese Society for Ornithology and Bird Protection. With a paid receipt, keys may be checked out at the nearby Ins train station ticket counter. There is also a lower observation mound that doesn't require a key, but for most variety both should be visited.
After lunch and a quick walk in picturesque Estavayer-le-Lac, I dropped the family off at the baths (naturally hot sulfur-containing water) in Yverdon and birded the west end of the lake. A small boat harbor in Yverdon was quite productive. It even contained a few Barnacle Geese, but I doubt that these were of wild origin. The fog prevented any significant view onto the open lake for diving or sea ducks. A visit to the Champ-Pittet nature center proved unproductive but should be interesting during other seasons. A quick check of the Yvonand boat harbor (again, too much fog for distance views) concluded the afternoon.
Scenic drive through the Simmental (valley) of the Bernese Oberland and over the Jaunpass to picturesque Gruyères, where the castle was open to visitors.
Morning birding at the Vogelraupfi Preserve near Berken BE. By lunch time, the new year list stood at 42 species. No birding in the afternoon.
In the morning, we dropped my wife and stepdaughter off at the airport for their flight back to the USA. Afterwards, my mother and I drove to the Klingnau Reservoir, where we spent the afternoon birding. We discovered the other access point at the west end of the Döttingen bridge. This access point leads along more extensive reed beds, where we had super looks at a stalking Great Bittern. However, we also checked out the view from Gippingen, where the lake is deeper and more open, for variety. Given enough time, it should be possible to walk the entire length of the lake (ca. 4 km, 2 1/2 miles). I also checked the swampy area northwest of the reservoir where the Green Sandpipers were seen a few days earlier, but without success.
All day birding trip, first to the reservoirs of the Aare River west of Bern (Wohlen and Niederried Reservoirs). A small flock of Wood Ducks (American species) on Wohlen Reservoir near a farm house were dimissed as aviary birds, although swimming freely. Bag lunch at the harbor of Cudrefin along windy Lake Neuchatel, where there were lots of gulls and some distant Great Egrets. Then another visit to Fanel, where this time the view was better, but it started raining during the lengthy walk back to the car. Again, there were people with the key to the observation tower, and it was rather crowded. However, a male Common Eider and the only male Smew of the trip made it worthwhile. I made a few more stops along the southeast shore of Lake Biel. A Common Sandpiper in Lüscherz was the only new bird there.
Trip to the alpine resort of Grindelwald. The weather was great and the scenery stupendous. I also had somewhat better looks at Ibex (among them several bucks with huge horns) and Chamois, but the birding was mediocre, except for one mixed tit-treecreeper-goldcrest flock, where I was able to identify Common Treecreeper with reasonable certainty. I was wishing for Snowfinch and took a hiking trail that brought me close to the cliffs of the Mettenberg (mountain) in the vain hope of seeing Wallcreeper. Along the way, between Wilderswil and Zweilütschinen there are several pullouts to scan the river edge for wagtails and dippers. Waterfowl stops in Iseltwald (Lake Brienz - unproductive) and Faulensee (Lake Thun - much better) ended the day.
This was the last birding day with a trip to Lake Constance (Bodensee), which is known to host loons in the winter. I arrived in Romanshorn mid-morning, then found access to the bay in Egnach (after a tip for Scaup and Lesser Black-backed Gull from some German birders - not found). In Egnach, I saw several White Storks, birds which should be thousands of miles further south in winter. Is there a release station nearby, and are these birds semi-tame? There were also two Ruddy Shelducks among the other ducks on the lake. I was told by another birder that these were considered wild by the locals and the remnants of a large flock that visited Switzerland in the fall of 1998.
Lake scans in Uttwill and Güttingen (I skipped Kesswil which lies in between because time was marching on and therefore missed the Red-throated Loon/Diver) proved productive, and I saw several Arctic Loons in the distance, and many grebes and ducks, even a few Greylag Geese. A pair of Greater Scaup proved to be difficult to pick out from a large flock of sleeping Pochards, but I finally succeeded.
While driving west of Kreuzlingen late afternoon, I noticed huge concentrations of ducks and swans on the Untersee (lake) but didn't find convenient access. Eventually, I reached the boat dock in Ermatingen (hundreds of Eared/Black-necked Grebes), where a local birder told me how I should have found my way to the lake in Triboltingen, but by that time it was too late to go back. Lake Constance is definitely worth a trip in the winter and requires at least a full day's time, even just concentrating on the Swiss shore.
This day was mainly spent with shopping and packing, but I found time for another walk throught the woods in Herzogenbuchsee to pad at least the 1999 year list with a few more species; also a confirmation look at some Short-toed Treecreepers.
Travel day with intent to fly back to the U.S. after a stopover at Paris's Charles-de-Gaulle airport, but due to a technical problem our flight was canceled, and I was forced to spend a night in nearby Roissy-en-France.
I took a bird walk through the dumpy town which is surrounded on three sides by airport facilities and contains numerous ugly waste lots. Nevertheless, I found 20-plus species of birds, including a life bird (Dunnock) and another trip bird (a lovely Firecrest). Starlings were noticeably more numerous than in Switzerland. A Phylloscopus warbler moved very fast from tree to tree, and while I was close, it was in an evergreen where it was very difficult to see. However, Chiffchaff is the most likely choice.
* = Life bird
# = New for Western Palearctic
+ = Several
++ = Many
In many cases, only the first occurrence on each day was recorded.
*Arctic Loon (Black-throated Diver) - Gavia arctica 6 1/5/99 Uttwil, TG 4 1/5/99 Güttingen, TG Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis 1 12/23/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 2 12/26/98 Neuhaus, Unterseen, BE + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 1 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG 1 1/7/99 from train, ZH *Red-necked Grebe - Podiceps grisegena 1 1/5/99 Güttingen, TG Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus Common on lakes and larger rivers #Eared Grebe (Black-necked Grebe) - Podiceps nigricollis 1 1/4/99 Faulensee, BE 5 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG 100 1/5/99 Ermatingen, TG Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo Common on lakes and larger rivers *Great Bittern - Botaurus stellaris 1 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG Gray Heron - Ardea cinerea Common along water. Singles also seen in fields. #Great Egret - Ardea alba 2 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 5 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 12 1/3/99 Cudrefin, VD + 1/3/99 Fanel, BE 3 1/3/99 Hagneck, BE White Stork - Ciconia ciconia 4 1/5/99 Egnach, TG Are these "countable"? *Bean Goose - Anser fabalis + 12/30/98 Fanel, BE + 1/3/99 Fanel, BE *Greylag Goose - Anser anser 20 12/30/98 Fanel, BE + 1/3/99 Fanel, BE Total geese (Bean + Greylag): ca. 100 3 1/5/99 Güttingen, TG Mute Swan - Cygnus olor Common on lakes and larger rivers #Tundra Swan (Bewick's Swan) - Cygnus columbianus 2 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 2 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG *Whooper Swan - Cygnus cygnus 2 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 3 1/3/99 Fanel, BE *Ruddy Shelduck - Tadorna ferruginea 2 1/5/99 Egnach, TG probably wild *Common Shelduck - Tadorna tadorna 10 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 9 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG Gadwall - Anas strepera + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 2 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE + 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/3/99 Wohlen Reservoir, BE + 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG Eurasian Wigeon - Anas penelope 2 12/22/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 2 12/23/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 1 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 2 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE + 1/3/99 Fanel, BE Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos Common on water #Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE + 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG #Northern Pintail - Anas acuta + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG Green-winged Teal (Common Teal) - Anas crecca 5 12/23/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 12 12/27/98 Burgäschi, SO + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG ++ 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE + 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/3/99 Niederried Reservoir, BE 5 1/5/99 Güttingen, TG Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina 2 12/26/98 Lake Thun, Hnibach, BE + 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 1 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG female 10 1/3/99 Fanel, BE 1 1/5/99 Egnach, TG 1 1/5/99 Güttingen, TG Common Pochard - Aythya ferina Common on lakes and larger rivers Tufted Duck - Aythya fuligula Common on lakes and larger rivers #Greater Scaup - Aythya marila 2 1/5/99 Gttingen, TG pair *Common Eider - Somateria mollissima 1 1/3/99 Fanel, BE male #Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula 3 12/25/98 Niederried Reservoir, BE 3 12/26/98 Neuhaus, Unterseen, BE + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 12/30/98 Fanel, BE + 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/3/99 Fanel, BE + 1/3/99 Lüscherz, BE + 1/3/99 Hagneck, BE 30 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG + 1/5/99 Egnach, TG *Smew - Mergellus albellus 2 12/27/98 Burgäschi, SO females 5 12/30/98 Fanel, BE females 14 1/3/99 Fanel, BE including one male 1 1/5/99 Egnach, TG female #Red-breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator 1 12/30/98 Fanel, BE female 1 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE female 1 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG female 2 1/5/99 Egnach, TG pair Common Merganser (Gosander) - Mergus merganser Seen at most concentrations of ducks - rivers and lakes. #Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis 1 12/22/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 1 12/23/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE male 1 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE male Red Kite - Milvus milvus 1 1/2/99 along road, Schöflisdorf, ZH *Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus 1 12/22/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 1 12/29/98 Bremgarten, AG 1 1/3/99 Fanel, BE 1 1/5/99 Uttwil, TG #Northern Goshawk - Accipiter gentilis 1 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 1 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo Common roadside bird. Eurasian Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus Fairly common roadside bird. *Water Rail - Rallus aquaticus 1 12/30/98 Fanel, BE Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus 2 1/1/99 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 1 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 1 1/3/99 Niederried Reservoir, BE Eurasian Coot - Fulica atra Common on lakes and larger rivers Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus 4 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 3 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos 1 1/3/99 Lüscherz, BE *Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata 21 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus Common along lakes and larger rivers *Common Gull (Mew Gull) - Larus canus 3 12/26/98 Lake Thun, Faulensee, BE + 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 2 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/3/99 Witzwil, BE + 1/3/99 Cudrefin, VD 8 1/4/99 Faulensee, BE ++ 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG Yellow-legged Gull - Larus cachinnans 5 12/26/98 Lake Thun, Faulensee, BE 1 12/29/98 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 12/30/98 Fanel, BE 2 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG 1 1/4/99 Faulensee, BE 3 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG also, an immature that might have been a Herring Gull Rock Dove (feral) - Columba livia Common around large buildings. Common Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus 20 12/31/98 Seeberg, BE 2 1/3/99 along road, Bern, BE ++ 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France Eurasian Collared-Dove - Streptopelia decaocto 1 12/23/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 1 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE + 1/3/99 Kerzers, FR ++ 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis 1 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major Small numbers seen almost daily in woods and gardens. Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius Fairly common in woods and tree rows. Yellow-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax graculus + 12/26/98 Niederhorn, BE Black-billed Magpie - Pica pica Common roadside bird. Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula + 12/29/98 Lenzburg Castle, AG 2 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France *Rook - Corvus frugileus 1 1/3/99 along road, Kirchberg, BE probably overlooked elsewhere Carrion Crow - Corvus corone Common roadside bird. Common Raven - Corvus corax 2 12/31/98 Jaunpass, BE Marsh Tit - Parus palustris Common in woods and gardens (mainly lowlands). Willow Tit - Parus montanus 1/4/99 Grindelwald, BE Coal Tit - Parus ater 1 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 1 12/26/98 Beatenberg, BE 1 12/28/98 Farnern, BE + 1/4/99 Grindelwald, BE 1 1/6/99 Herzogenbuchsee, BE Crested Tit - Parus cristatus 1 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 1 12/26/98 Beatenberg, BE 1 12/31/98 Jaunpass, BE + 1/4/99 Grindelwald, BE Great Tit - Parus major Common in woods and gardens. Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus Common in woods and gardens. Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus 4 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 2 12/26/98 Beatenberg, BE 3 12/27/98 Burgäschi, SO 7 1/4/99 Grindelwald, BE 13 1/6/99 Herzogenbuchsee, BE Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea Fairly common in woods and parks. *Eurasian Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris + 1/4/99 Grindelwald, BE Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla + 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE many Certhia sp., but never a diagnostic look 3 1/6/99 Herzogenbuchsee, BE confirmed, as much as possible Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes 1 12/23/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 2 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 1 12/26/98 Beatenbucht, BE 2 12/27/98 Burgäschi, SO 1 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG White-throated Dipper - Cinclus cinclus 1 12/22/98 Vogelraupfi, Berken, BE 1 1/4/99 Zweilütschinen, BE *Goldcrest - Regulus regulus 2 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE + 12/27/98 Hersiwil, SO 3 12/30/98 Champ Pittet, Yverdon, VD + 12/31/98 Jaunpass, BE + 1/4/99 Grindelwald, BE 1 1/5/99 Egnach, TG Firecrest - Regulus ignicapillus 1 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France Common Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita 1 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France only identified as Phylloscopus sp., but P. collybita is most likely. Also agrees with observed dusky flanks. European Robin - Erithacus rubecula Fairly common in woods and gardens. Eurasian Blackbird - Turdus merula Very common in woods and gardens. Fieldfare - Turdus pilaris 20 12/22/98 Farnern, BE 10 12/25/98 Niederried Reservoir, BE 1 12/28/98 Farnern, BE 5 1/2/99 Klingnau Reservoir, AG + 1/3/99 Niederried, BE Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus 1 12/30/98 Yvonand, VD European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris + 12/21/98 Charles De Gaulle Airport, France 2 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE ++ 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France *Alpine Accentor - Prunella collaris 4 12/26/98 Niederhorn, BE *Dunnock - Prunella modularis 1 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France Gray Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea 1 12/25/98 Büren a. A., BE 1 12/30/98 Champ Pittet, Yverdon, VD 1 1/3/99 Niederried Reservoir, BE White Wagtail - Motacilla alba 1 12/25/98 Büren a. A., BE 1 12/27/98 Hüniken, SO 2 12/30/98 Yverdon, VD 1 1/4/99 Wilderswil, BE 1 1/5/99 Romanshorn, TG 2 1/5/99 Ermatingen, TG 1 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France *Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta 1 12/30/98 Yverdon, VD *Yellowhammer - Emberiza citrinella + 12/22/98 Farnern, BE + 12/27/98 Hersiwil, SO + 12/28/98 Farnern, BE + 1/3/99 Wohlen Reservoir, BE ++ 1/3/99 Fanel, BE Reed Bunting - Emberiza schoeniclus 1 12/30/98 Fanel, BE Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs Common in woods and gardens. *Brambling - Fringilla montifringilla 6 12/25/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE + 12/27/98 Hersiwil, SO European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris Fairly common in gardens. *Eurasian Siskin - Carduelis spinus + 12/23/98 Worblaufen, BE European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis + 12/22/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE + 12/24/98 Herzogenbuchsee, BE 6 1/8/99 Roissy-en-France, France House Sparrow - Passer domesticus Common around buildings. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus Fairly common in gardens and around farms.
* = Potential life bird
# = Potentially new for Western Palearctic
#Red-throated Loon/Diver: One was seen in Kesswil, TG, on the day I visited Lake Constance. I skipped Kesswil because time was marching on...
Herring Gull: One first winter bird tentatively identified as Yellow-legged Gull looked like it could have been a Herring Gull, but I did not have access to the appropriate literature. I didn't count it.
Lesser Black-backed Gull: One was seen in Egnach, TG, on the day of my visit.
*Green Sandpiper and #Common Snipe: Both were seen near Klingnau Reservoir on the day of my first visit.
Expected, but missed species: #Northern Harrier, Golden Eagle (habitat not visited), any gallinaceous birds (some *), #Dunlin, any owls (most *), any woodpecker (other than Great Spotted, some *), Skylark, *Redwing, Bearded Tit (expected at Fanel), *Wallcreeper, #Northern (Great Gray) Shrike, Nutcracker (habitat not visited), *Serin, *Linnet, #Common Redpoll, Bullfinch (used to be fairly common), #Hawfinch, *Corn Bunting.
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