Archive for the ‘Matterhorn’ Tag

2015 – That was the year that was   Leave a comment

With 2015 over this post looks back over the year at some of the places we have been, birds we have seen, music we have heard and people we have met.

Of course, much more detailed accounts can be found clicking on the relevant month from the list on the left of the screen (or sometimes the month after if the post was uploaded a while after the event).

IMG_4325 Purps

The year started with the traditional New Year’s Day bird boat, kindly arranged by Mark and Mo Constantine for Dorset birders. These Purple Sandpipers were photographed on the Sandbanks side of the chain ferry on 1/1/15 . Also in early January I took part in the annual winter bird race, recording an amazing 126 species in Dorset in 12 hours.

IMG_0533 Lear's Macaws

The first foreign trip was to NE Brazil which lasted more than three weeks but resulted in me seeing over 70 life birds – by far the most of any trip of the year. There were many highlights, one being cracking views of the wonderful Lear’s Macaw in a very dramatic setting.

IMG_1818 rainbow

Here I photographed the nearby town through a rainbow whilst staying at the lovely and very birdy Serra Bonita reserve.

IMG_2550 Rick Wakeman

As well as travelling we both have a keen interest in music – be it old favourites from my past like Rick Wakeman, whose keyboard skills in the band Yes were much appreciated in my youth ….

IMG_0315 Paloma Faith

…. to more modern acts like Paloma Faith. We saw Rick Wakeman in February and Paloma about a month later in Poole and Bournemouth respectively.

IMG_2841 North Cape

In early March we took advantage of a charter flight to Tromso in arctic Norway where we boarded the Hutigruten coastal steamer and journeyed around North Cape at the top of Norway in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis ….

IMG_2713 aurora (best)

…. which indeed we did on four nights out of five. We were lucky as some do this trip yet come away disappointed, but if we had gone about 10 days later we might have had a truly spectacular display as the aurora was seen as far south as Norfolk.

IMG_3665 Sandhills

We booked on the Birdquest tour to Colorado that started on April 1st but we spent the last week of March on our own touring Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The main reason for this visit was to see the incredible gathering of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River. We also visited the Badlands of South Dakota ….

IMG_3987 Mt Rushmore

…. saw the Presidents heads at Mount Rushmore, the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and even drove into Montana to look for the ‘dental floss bushes’.

IMG_4439 WT Ptarmigan

For one reason or another I never got round to editing all my photos of Colorado nor did I post any on the blog but it was a superb trip and one of the highlights was finding these almost invisible White-tailed Ptarmigan at 12500 ft in the Rockies. Perhaps I can find time this year to sort out the Colorado pics.

IMG_7191 The Matterhorn

Early May saw us taking a fortnight in the Alps and southern France, seeing such wonders as the Matterhorn (above), Mont Blanc and the Eiger. I also saw what was probably the last regularly occurring European bird that I needed, the elusive Rock Partridge.

IMG_8055 Elizabeth and Marc

The whole trip was a prelude to attending Margaret’s nephew’s Mark’s wedding to Elizabeth in Donbirn in western Austria. The only downside to the trip was that I found out whilst there that my next tour, a cruise in far North-east Russia had been cancelled as the necessary permit hadn’t been issued by the Russians.

IMG_8656 WW Black Tern

Late spring brought some great birds to the Poole Harbour area, such as the Red-footed Falcon that hung around the Wareham water meadows or this White-winged Tern at Swineham gravel pits.

IMG_8606 Margaret

In June Margaret had the privilege of being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It was the centenary of the WI and each one of the 8000 or so WI groups across the UK was invited to send one representative.

IMG_8696 Moody Blues

Back to music again: we went to a very entertaining concert by the Moody Blues in June. Some great old songs with a great visual effects, the three founder members and four new ones all performed very well.

IMG_6213-Nightjar-fem-for-email

During the summer our group was asked to undertake an intensive radio tracking study on Eurasian Nightjars on one of the local heaths. The data is still being analysed but the initial results seem very interesting.

IMG_8786 Amber and Kara

At the end of the spring term our granddaughter Kara (R) left school to attend a sixth form college. During the summer she and a friend visited relatives in the Caribbean. Her sister Amber (L) left Dorset to study and work in Cornwall.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Staying on the subject of family; during late June and early July Margaret and I visited her daughter in Essex and my brother in Derby. We also visited several sets of friends including Jennie, a friend from university days, seen here with Margaret at Wicken Fen reserve in Suffolk.

IMG_9006 Leds Town Hall

We continued on to Leeds where we spent time with Nigel, another friend from school and university days.

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

Much of July and August (and indeed the rest of the autumn) was spent in our ongoing ornithological research at Lytchett Bay and Durlston. We were able to start ringing at a new and highly productive site at the north end of Lytchett Bay where this photo was taken soon after dawn.

IMG_9121 Hen Harrier Day Poster_edited-1

One issue that featured heavily during the summer was the campaign to save England’s remaining Hen Harriers. Although this has highlighted before on the blog it deserves repeating. All the evidence points to a systematic, ruthless and totally illegal program of raptor extermination in Britain’s uplands by a small number of people in an attempt to raise grouse stocks to hugely inflated numbers. The loss of these beautiful raptors is a national disgrace and the campaign for their protection will continue unabated in 2016.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

We met many old friends at the Bird Fair in Augustand attended a number of talks. Without doubt the most inspiring was vetran birder Ian Wallace’s account of his best ever day’s birding. His contribution to ornithology and birding is immense. Here he is seen talking to another birding legend, Killian Mullarney fro Ireland.

IMG_6430 Wryneck DCP

Ringing continued on a regular basis throughout the autumn producing many interesting recoveries and useful data. The most unusual aspect was the enormous influx of Goldcrests in late October and November, but I suppose the individual bird that gave me the most pleasure was this Wryneck that I trapped at Durlston in September.

IMG_6437 Guy & Lila

It’s always good to stay in contact with old friends and it was good to see Guy Dutson in early September, back for a short visit from Australia with his daughter Lila.

IMG_0585 dawn Laguna Blanca

In late September/early October I went on a tour to Paraguay. The birding was excellent and the company good but it was very hot, particularly in the first week and the mammal sightings were disappointing. Compared the mountainous parts of South America, the scenery wasn’t that awe-inspiring, but the mists over Laguna Blanca at dawn were most photogenic.

IMG_0328 WW Nightjar

We saw some wonderful birds, non more so than these two species: White-winged Nightjar ….

SW Nightjar J Newman

…. and Sickle-winged Nightjar. The latter was of particular importance to me as it was the 8000th species I have seen. The bird was trapped by the tour leader as he is taking part in a research program on this threatened species and he wanted to see if it was one of the individuals he had already ringed. In my photo the bird has closed its eyes which looks less appealing so I have used one taken by my friend Jonathon Newman.

IMG_1444 Hagia Spohia

The last trip of the year was in late November to Turkey. It was a cultural, rather than a birding trip and we visited some great sites in Istanbul such as the magnificent Hagi Sophia ….

IMG_1769 calcite formations

…. and some natural one too like the beautiful calcite formations at Pamukkale.

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

Also in the latter part of the year we went to a couple more musical performances, veteran folk singer Judy Collins in Wimborne and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra at the BIC.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

And the year ended, as all years should with get togethers with family and friends at Christmas time.

As I said at the start each picture above is taken from a blog post during the year. If you wish to see more photos from that event then cloick on the relevant month on the side bar.

Well, may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy 2016, if you are a birder like me, may the year bring you lots of excellent sightings, if you are not perhaps you ought to give it ago, buying a pair of binoculars and a field guide back in 1977 was one of the best decisions I ever made.

10th – 12th May 2015: Alps trip part 4 – Chamonix and southern Switzerland   Leave a comment

IMG_7531 Chamonix

Having left Italy and briefly driven through Switzerland, we re-entered France and headed for the lovely town of Chamonix.

IMG_7515 view of Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix

The town is dominated by the mountains of the Aiguilles Rouges, the most impressive of which is the Aiguille du Midi which has an observation platform at 3842m. This photo was taken from the town some 2,800m lower down.

IMG_7522 Margaret at Chamonix hotel

We had a spectacular view from our hotel room ….

IMG_7528 view from hotel Chamonix

…. and after dark the view just got better. The dot of light on the mountain to the right of centre is from the observatory on Aiguille du Midi, shown in the photo above.

IMG_6110 Chamonix from cable car

Margaret, who hates cable cars, stayed behind to do some shopping, whilst I took the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world (2807m) to the top of Aiguille du Midi.

IMG_6120 Aiguille du Midi

The cable car on the ascent and descent was packed. I was interested to see how many Asian tourists were visiting this area, I’m pleased that tourism is now a global affair and not just the domain of westerners.

IMG_7548 view from Aiguille du Midi

From the observation platform the views of the valley to the west ….

IMG_7546 view from Aiguille du Midi

…. and the east, were spectacular.

IMG_7545 Step into the void

Unfortunately the upper observation deck, which gives the best view of Mont Blanc, was closed for renovation until June. On the side they have fixed a glass skywalk (a perspex box) known as ‘step into the void’. If you step into it you have an unbroken 1035m drop under your feet. I’d love to have tried it although I know I would have been scared.

IMG_7581 view from Aiguille du Midi

With every step …..

IMG_7569 view from Aiguille du Midi

…. more and more magnificent panoramas unfolded ….

IMG_7570 view from Aiguille du Midi

….  in the distance the peaks of Monte Rosa, at 4634m the second highest in Europe (excluding the Caucasus) can be seen.

IMG_7580 Monta Rosa

…. and zooming in, here it is in more detail.

IMG_7552 view from Aiguille du Midi

To the south the highest peak in Europe (again, excluding the 5000m mountains in the Caucasus) can just be seen, the 4810m rounded peak of Mont Blanc.

IMG_7614 Hang-gliders

Aiguille du Midi wasn’t just used by sightseers and skiers, large numbers of hang gliders were using it to make their near 3000m descent.

IMG_7624 painting on house Chamonix

As I walked back through Chamonix I came across this building. All the balconies, windows and people are painted on. The balconies look so three-dimensional, but if you look at the shadows cast by the real balconies on the front you can see that are thrown in a different direction. Nice to see they have painted a Lammergeier on there as well.

IMG_7494 Martigny

The following day we re-entered Switzerland and obtained this spectacular view over the town of Martigny in the Rhone Valley.

IMG_7497 Martigny

Zooming in revealed a fascinating pattern of parallel lines.

IMG_7633 the Matterhorn from Zermatt

Although we had wonderful views of the Matterhorn from the Italian side, the most dramatic view is from Zermatt to the north. Fortunately we missed the sign that said you weren’t allowed to drive into Zermatt without a permit (and we really didn’t have the time to catch the train) but once in the town we got caught up with a load of lorries involved in delivering material for construction, so I just hopped out of the car, snapped this photo of the Matterhorn and retreated.

IMG_7641 Munster

We stayed the night in a quaint little town called Munster but we learnt that all the mountain passes between there and our destination of Interlaken were closed due to snow and/or road works. It looked like we would have a five-hour drive back to Martigny, and then north to Montreux and Bern before we reached Interlaken until we found out that we could take our car on the train.

IMG_6137 car train

So the next morning we turned up at the station at nearby Oberwald, drove onto this train and spent 20 minutes going through a tunnel ….

IMG_6133 car train

…. and then drove off again at Realp at the eastern side of the Furkapass. We still had to make a detour as far north as Lucerne before we could get to Interlaken, but it was a lot better than going via Montreux.

IMG_7661 Furkanpass

We were able to drive part the way up the Furkapass before we reached the road barrier and continued the search for high altitude species. As well as Alpine Choughs, we found some Snowfinches and Water Pipits and had brief views of an Alpine Accentor.

7th – 10th May 2015 – The Alps trip part 3 – the Italian Alps   Leave a comment

The last post dealt with our time in southern France. From there we crossed into Italy and then turned north towards Assendria and then on to Aosta in the Italian Alps.

IMG_6083 Ovada Italy

On the 7th we stopped for the night at a hotel near the town of Ovada in Italy. My reason for taking this route north to the Italian Alps was that I hoped to find Moltoni’s Warbler, a recent split from Subalpine Warbler. I think I have seen this species before, but the identification lies wholly on geographical grounds and I wanted to see and hear one well to be absolutely sure. This area is at the northern edge of its range and in spite of searching areas of scrub, field margins and waterside vegetation we drew a blank. The valley was narrow and held a six lane motorway, a railway line and the minor road we were travelling on, so noise levels were high – which didn’t help, but I did add a number of species to the trip list.

IMG_7099 Gr Paradiso NP

We arrived in Aosta in the mid-afternoon. A short distance west of Aosta a minor road entered the Gran Paradiso National Park from the north. The weather had deteriorated and there was light rain.

IMG_7181 Corbe Gr Paradiso NP

At the end of the road we stopped at the small town of Corbe.

IMG_7076 Gr Paradiso NP Corbe

Fortunately the rain eased off although we didn’t get to see the 4000m peak of Gran Paradiso.

IMG_7123 Dippers

The river that flows through the town gave us great views of a pair of Dippers.

IMG_7167 Dipper

I have seen this species many times but usually they fly off at your approach or are seen distantly. On this occasion I could spend as long as I wanted photographing them

IMG_7178 Dipper

Note the white ‘third eyelid’ or nicitating membrane that protects the eye when they are underwater.

IMG_7191 The Matterhorn

The following morning we drove east to the town of Breuil-Cervinia. On route we had great views of the mighty Matterhorn, at 4478m one of the highest of the Alpine peaks. Note the ‘banner clouds’ just below the summit. This is caused by winds blowing across the summit causing an area low pressure in the lee (just like an aerofoil does) this in turn pulls warmer, damp air up from below which turns to cloud as it cools.

IMG_7204 Cervinia

The pretty town of Breuil-Cervinia is dominated by views of the Matterhorn.

IMG_7195 Willow Tit

Woodland on the edge of the town held a number of Willow Tits, a species that I use to see here in Dorset but it has been extirpated from much of southern England for some time now.

IMG_7308 Whinchat

Just north of the town near the ski lift we came across a number of nice birds such as Fieldfare, Water Pipit, another Dipper, Grey Wagtails and this Whinchat.

IMG_7314 Citril Finches

I was particularly pleased to see several Citril Finches as I have only seen this European endemic a couple of times before. Surprisingly two days after I took this photo Britain’s twitching fraternity were watching the UK’s second ever Citril Finch in Norfolk.

IMG_7368 House x Italian Sparrow

Since we arrived in Italy the familiar House Sparrow had been replaced by the newly recognised Italian Sparrow. Italian Sparrows occur as far north as Aosta but here at Cervinia, just a few Km from Switzerland a range of intermediates occur.

IMG_7375 House x Italian Sparrow

The white cheeks, supercilium and heavily spotted breast are all features of Italian Sparrow but the grey feathering on the crown indicates that it has House Sparrow genes in there as well.

IMG_2136-Italian-Sparrow

For comparison, here is a photo of a pure Italian Sparrow taken by Lake Garda, Italy in 2013

IMG_7266 Cervinia

I took the cable car up above the snow line in hope of finding some high altitude birds ….

IMG_7244 Alpine Chough

….clearly the local Alpine Choughs were nest-building.

IMG_7219 The Matterhorn

I also had a brief view of an Alpine Accentor plus a pair of Snowfinches. The area was full of skiers taking advantage of the fact that they could still ski as late in the year as mid-May.

IMG_7263 Marmot

Whilst waiting to come down the ski lift I watched the antics of several Alpine Marmots.

IMG_7254 Gr Paradiso Mt

I asked a skier who was waiting to descend if he knew what this distant peak was, the answer was Gran Paradiso, the one that had been shrouded in cloud yesterday ….

IMG_7272 Alpine Ibex

…. but more importantly the skier told me there were many ‘mountain goats’ around when he arrived earlier that morning. With the ski lift on its way I just had a couple of minutes to see if I could locate an Alpine Ibex before it was time to descend. They clearly had moved some way from the ski lift but I found a group of three about half a mile away just before I had to board the ski lift. A new mammal for my list which means that I had three ‘lifers’ on this trip: one bird, one mammal and one country.

IMG_7386 nr Aosta

Later in the day we explored several areas closer to Aosta, seeing nice birds like Crested Tit ….

IMG_7392 ST Eagle

…. and this Short-toed Eagle.

IMG_7381 Cervinia area

The following day it was time to head northwest towards Chamonix in the French Alps.

IMG_7409 St Bernard Pass

Rather than go through the long (and expensive) Mont Blanc tunnel we decided to cross into Switzerland via the Gt St Bernard Pass and take the old road that climbs to the top of the pass before descending into Switzerland and then doubling back on ourselves to get to Chamonix.

IMG_7408 Golden Eagle

Unfortunately we found that this road was closed but we drove as far up it as we were allowed. Birding was good as we had the road to ourselves, and we found Firecrest, Black Woodpecker and this immature Golden Eagle.

IMG_7448 Valle de Ferret

We crossed into Switzerland via the St Bernard tunnel then took a side road into the scenic Valle de Ferret.

IMG_7427 Lammergeier

We saw quite a few birds here but the star of the show was this immature Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, part of a reintroduction program to the Alps. The bird is clearly in wing moult but strangely the replaced feathers on the right-wing are white.

IMG_7456 Lammergeier

The bird reappeared after a while carrying a huge stick. I would have thought that it was too young a bird to be nest-building. Lammergeier’s are known to feed on the marrow of long bones by dropping them from a height to crack them open. Perhaps it was getting in some practice in with this stick.

From the Valle de Ferret we continued south to the town of Martigny then westwards and crossed back into France. We stayed the night in the beautiful town of Chamonix in the shadow of Mont Blanc. This will be the subject of the next post.