One of the real surprises during our visit to Switzerland was the variety, if not necessarily the abundance, of bird species present, especially once we started to push into higher altitudes. I should have guessed that we were going to be in for some treats after spotting my first ever White Stork flying across the runway at Zurich airport. Sadly I was stuck in a bus being transported from our plane to the terminal so couldn’t get my camera out, a failure repeated on the drive through Switzerland where Black Kites were soaring in ones and twos above the lowland farms. More usual species such as Buzzard, Kestrel, Swallow and Swift were quickly added along with White Wagtail and the ubiquitous Chaffinch, all before we had actually arrived at our final destination. Once settled in it was time to start looking for the ‘good stuff’, starting off with three Mallards and a pair of Coots. Now you’re probably thinking that such ordinary fare is a strange thing to mention, but you are forgetting that this was the first time I have seen both species in Europe. As such they count as new life ticks and yes I agree, I am a bit sad.
Of course we weren’t going to be satisfied sticking to the common species all holiday and I had a few key targets that I really wanted to see. Chief amongst these was the Alpine Chough, a close relative of our own Choughs and a bird that although rare has a few strongholds in the Swiss Alps. As it turned out we only had to wait until our second day to find some in the shape of a family group at Kleine Scheidegg. The lighting was terrible though, something which definitely wasn’t a problem up at the Jungfraujoch. Here a flock of around thirty Alpine Choughs have become so tame that it is now possible to feed them by hand. An amazing experience and a great opportunity to get up close and personal with what would normally be a distant black dot.
Amazing though the Jungfraujoch Choughs were they pale into insignificance when compared with the huge flock that gathers around the restaurant at First. Here they seemed less interested in the leftovers from people and more concerned with the extra heat given out from the building and its ideal positioning as a perch from which to launch themselves into the abyss.
Our other must see bird was the Crested Tit, our best views of which came during a thunderstorm half way up a mountain. As the rain lashed down one hopped around a tree barely two meters in front of us, though I resisted the urge to chance my camera’s life with several days of the holiday still to go. As a result the next species I have to share is an Alpine Accentor, a bird I hadn’t even considered stumbling across. This very approachable individual was feeding on moths during our walk from Schynige Platte.
Next up is a pair of Black Redstarts, by far the most numerous bird we saw all holiday. Whether we were walking through towns or up on the mountains we were almost guaranteed to bump into at least one family group if not more. Here in Wales we are limited to a small population around the coast so to see such numbers was a real treat.
Another species I am used to seeing seldom or from afar is the Goosander, something which certainly wasn’t a problem during our brief visit to Thun. On the river through the city centre a flock of twenty or so birds were lounging about and on occasion even competing with the Mallards for thrown bread. Typically wild behaviour it may not have been, but they were certainly the best views of Goosander that I’ve ever had.
Even waiting for our morning train at Interlaken wasn’t without its avian attraction with the station roof housing a sizeable population of House Martins. Many of the nests had young peeking out which are hard to resist at the best of times.
The final bird I want to share is probably also the worst of my photographs but conversely the species that got us most excited. It turned up way beneath us whilst we were photographing the glacier at the Jungfraujoch, and at first we didn’t know what to make of it. Initial thoughts were that it was definitely a finch of some sort but which one we couldn’t decide. Being surrounded by so much snow the answer should have been obvious. A Snow Finch, one of two having a dust bath at an altitude of 3,500 meters.
Of course we also saw many other species that never made it onto my memory card including Nutcrackers, a female Red Crested Pochard, Yellow-legged Gulls, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtails, a magnificent Golden Eagle, Ravens and even a Hobby. Considering it wasn’t a birding holiday that’s a mighty haul.