Anyone who has ever visited Switzerland, seen a Swiss calendar or a Swiss travel brochure, knows that this small country is endowed with extraordinary beauty regardless of the season. And, there are great delights for the birder as well because of Switzerland's varied terrain, its central location in Europe and its excellent transportation options. The Alps dominate most of the landscape (70%) but there are great forests, deciduous and coniferous, that cover over a quarter of the land. And there are many rivers such as the Rhine, Rhone and Ticino, many lakes including Geneva and Lucerne, and numerous ponds, marshes and vast farming land. And birders can go from lush valleys up to the alpine regions. Because of this variety of habitat, over 380 birds are listed for Switzerland.
When we birded in Switzerland a number of years ago, our two target birds were Wallcreeper and Black Woodpecker. The latter we tried for unsuccessfully in Belgium two years earlier so were not too optimistic we would see one. Our friend, Martin Spiess, from Zurich is an ornithological field researcher, and he offered to help us with both. He confirmed our odds on the woodpecker but felt we had a reasonable chance to see the Wallcreeper in Burgdorf, some 10 miles north of Bern where we stayed. Why Burgdorf? In November, several of a number of Wallcreepers that come down from the Alps to spend the winter, probe the tall sandstone cliffs (at least 46 meters or 150 feet high) that form the backdrop of one side of the town. You are separated from the cliffs by a stream, and to your back is a large, open grassy field with a 12th Century castle on a hill high above. Horses for riding are located just below the cliffs near where we scanned along the dirt foot-horse-bike path.
Our first visit to Burgdorf was in early February 1998. We stopped en route home from a trip in India (Ranthambhor, Keoladeo, and Jim Corbett National Parks) and Nepal (Royal Chitwan N.P.) and spent the better part of one day (3 Feb.) at the cliffs plus a few hours the following day with an old friend, Bill Grant, a biology prof from Williams College, and Martin. It was all in vain for the Wallcreeper although Margot and Bill did catch a fleeting glance of a bird or something diving down the face of the cliff that was quickly obscured by trees. It was probably the bird but not a sighting one would want to use for a life list. We also knew that late November to early Jan. is a more optimal time to look for it. But we did manage to see other birds and to visit several other areas including a direct run to Lake Neuchatel to pick up two standing Yellow-legged Gulls (southern race) at fairly close range and in good light. While scanning the wall on 3 Feb., two seemingly knowledgeable locals on their lunch break said they had seen the Wallcreeper on the castle tower but two trips there by car produced no Wallcreeper.
We returned "to the scene of the crime" for birding on 12 and 13 December 1998 after leading a college alumnae (non-birding) trip to southern Africa. It soon became obvious that the Wallcreeper was not at the Burgdorf cliffs nor at the castle. The castle did produce three Hawfinches and several other passerines. We then decided to head a few miles outside Burgdorf into the countryside near the small village of Krauchtal where large cliffs appear on both sides of the road. Compared to the cliffs back at Burgdorf, they appeared longer and larger. They were also further away from the road with the exception of one cliff face. We had stopped there in February, but at that time the rocky faces seemed more daunting and we were running out of time.
The morning was overcast, but Tom picked up a bird in his scope on the Krauchtal cliffs but initially thought it was a Jackdaw. It turned out to be the dark head of a Wallcreeper coming out of a hole. It was the next day when we were joined by Martin's wife that Martin, and then all of us, picked it up again on the cliffs opposite side of the road from the previous day. It was in the early afternoon on a delightful sunny day, and the Wallcreeper was on the one cliff face you could drive right up to via a short spur road. All our efforts were rewarded for we watched it -- scope and binocs -- with the sun at our backs for about an hour while it probed, flew in short spurts, flashed its wings or rested. It was still there when we finally left to go to the town of Ins for more birds.
Early that morning before seeing the Wallcreeper in sunlight, we had gone to several forest areas because Martin's uncle had seen a Black Woodpecker a day or so earlier. It was near Gümligen (outside Bern). We drove into one nearby forest to make periodic listening stops but with no luck. So we soon decided to walk to another forest across the valley. While walking (and made easier with little snow in the woods) we soon heard a Black Woodpecker for they often call while flying. It flew nearby. We watched its path and soon saw a female in the open on a tree. Bingo -- our two target birds!
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus (one) Mute Swan Cygnus olor Gadwall Anas strepera (female) Common Teal Anas crecca Common Pochard Aythya ferina Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula (many males, some females) Common Merganser Mergus merganser Burgdorf (two females) Gray Heron Ardea cinerea (8-10) Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus Burgdorf (pair on cliff on 3 Feb.; 1 on 4 Feb.) Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Mew Gull Larus canus F Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans Lake Neuchatel (2 standing; super views) Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius (four) Black-billed Magpie Pica pica Carrion Crow Corvus corone Common Raven Corvus corax Burgdorf (several) White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus Burgdorf (1 on 3 Feb.; pair on 4 Feb.) Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula European Robin Erithacus rubecula Burgdorf (one) Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Burgdorf (three) Coal Tit Periparus ater Burgdorf (three) Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus Burgdorf (one) Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra Burgdorf (four)26 Species
Gray Heron Ardea cinerea (six) Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Ins (one soaring) Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Ins (at least eight) Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Ins (one sitting, flying and hovering) Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus Burgdorf (pair); near Krauchtal (one) Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto Ins (three) F Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius Gümligen (female flying, calling and on tree) Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Black-billed Magpie Pica pica Carrion Crow Corvus corone Common Raven Corvus corax (seven) White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus Burgdorf (pair) Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula Fieldfare Turdus pilaris Ins (4 or 5 in tree) Redwing Turdus iliacus Ins (one in tree with Fiedfares) Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea Gümligen (two) F Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria Krauchtal (1 on 12 Dec.; 1 on 13 Dec.) Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris Gümligen (one) Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Ins (one) Great Tit Parus major (four) House Sparrow Passer domesticus Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Ins (male) Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Burgdorf (one); Ins (five) Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula Gümligen (two males and a female) Hawfinch C. coccothraustes Burgdorf (three) Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Ins (one) Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus Ins (10 feeding and sitting)28 Species
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