27/09/2007

Tuscany 2007


Thursday 16th to Saturday 25th August 2007
Here is my birding (and other wildlife) report of my recent holiday in Italy. The birding was mainly incidental, but we made a couple of trips to specific bird 'hotspots' thrown in. The weather was hot and sunny for the first few days, in the low 30's Celsius, but from the Monday we had quite a bit of rain, though mainly in the mornings with improvement in the afternoons. The weather got better from Wednesday and the last couple of days saw a return to normal Mediterranean August weather - scorchio!

Day 1 - Thursday 16th August
We arrived in Pisa for our two-night stay there around midday after the two-hour flight from Gatwick, picked up the hire car and headed for Hotel Verdi. Flights (BA), hire car (Avis) and airport parking (BCP) were all booked online with Expedia. The hotel is quite centrally situated in a quiet part of the city and within easy walking distance of the main 'sights'. Not too many bird species on the first day, just Feral Pigeons, and numerous House Martins and Swallows especially over the river. A very loud Cricket sp. sang opposite the hotel that evening with a couple of bats for company.

Day 2 - Friday 17th August
A Hooded Crow was calling near the hotel in the morning, and an adult and juvenile Yellow-legged Gull were on the Arno river. A Blackcap was singing near La Torre (leaning tower of Pisa to you and me). Returning to the hotel later, an Italian Sparrow nearby was the first of a great many seen throughout the holiday. These sparrows, a fertile hybrid of House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow, are very common, and by far the most numerous passerine seen. Some familiar 'faces' in the form of Collared Doves, three Goldfinches and two Greenfinches were noted around the town early evening.

Day 3 - Saturday 18th August
In the morning, before breakfast I noticed a Spotted Flycatcher (left) opposite the hotel, an unexpected sight in the middle of a city, also two Blackbirds and nearby a Hooded Crow again. I then went for a walk up-river and found a Zitting Cisticola noisily proclaiming its presence with its eponymous call around a weedy area by the side of the river, a nice life-tick. Nearby were more Italian Sparrows, and a Magpie. A large number of Swallows and House Martins were feeding over the river again. Later, a Blackcap was near the Piazza del Duomo, and several Starlings. Some very tame Italian Sparrows (below) were near the entrance to the Museo Opera near La Torre. We set off soon after lunch for our 7-night stay in the villa at Casetta, near Casole D'Elsa, a picturesque hill-town in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. The villa, which was superb and I would highly recommend, was booked online with Tuscan Villas. The highlight that evening, apart from a nice bottle of red, was two Bee-eaters over the villa. Also seen were 18 Hooded Crows, at least 50 Italian Sparrows, three Pheasants, several Goldfinches, a Wood Pigeon, a calling Stock Dove, and at dusk, a Brown Hare in the garden.

Day 4 - Sunday 19th August
This was a lazy day after the bustle of Pisa, spent mainly by the pool. In the morning more Bee-eaters with flocks of eight and 35+ seen. I heard a Green Woodpecker calling, saw two Buzzards, and several Hooded Crows, Swallows and House Martins. In the afternoon I went for a walk around the local environs which produced a juvenile Stonechat, 20+ Bee-eaters (left), a White Wagtail, a distant Eagle sp, possibly Short-toed, the ubiquitous Italian Sparrows and a Jay. I photographed a small butterfly in the garden of our villa, a species that I had also seen in Pisa, and identified it as a Geranium Bronze (below left). Italian Wall Lizards were numerous, basking around the edges of the gravel drive (below centre).
Later a Wall butterfly was in the town.

Day 5 - Monday 20th August
The good weather broke overnight with thunderstorms and heavy showers. Around the villa area there was a Little Owl, a Blue Tit, a pair of Stonechats, several Hooded Crows, a calling Nightingale, several Starlings and Wall, Small Heath and Clouded Yellow butterflies. I added Jackdaw to my Italian tally (try saying that after three glasses of Chianti) later when we visited the beautiful town of Siena (above).

Day 6 - Tuesday 21st August
A morning walk along a farm track from the villa complex towards the town produced 3-4 Short-toed Larks, several Bee-eaters, a large flock of at least 60 Italian Sparrows, a Turtle Dove, two Stock Doves, a Green Woodpecker, several Jays and Hooded Crows and a Red Admiral butterfly. In the afternoon we visited the stunning hill-town of San Gimignano (above), the wildlife highlights being a Scarce Swallowtail butterfly in an Olive grove near the car park and a Rose-ringed Parakeet over the centre of the town. That evening I recorded the largest Bee-eater flock of 110 around the villa.

Day 7 - Wednesday 22nd August

We headed out for the Parco Naturale della Maremma, situated on the coast near Grossetto. After early showers, some heavy, the day eventually turned warm and sunny. A Hobby was seen on the way. Another lifer was on the approach road to the reserve - 20+ Cattle Egrets around a herd of Long-horn cattle (above). We parked at Marina d’Alberese and after a swim in the Med set out on the A7 trail to the Brocca D'Ombrone (Ombrone river-mouth). A good lsit of birds here: a Greenshank (bottom left), a Long-tailed Tit, a Blue Tit, a Grey Plover, five Grey Herons, six little Egrets, three Sanderlings, two Ringed Plovers, three Common Sandpipers, a Turnstone, a Black-headed Gull, 30 Sandwich Terns, 10+ Yellow-legged Gulls (below centre), three Jays, c15 Mallard, and on the return leg, three Black-winged Stilts. A beautifully-patterned Common Wall Lizard (above right) was along the boardwalk near the river. Back near the car park there were five young Wild Boar (below right) digging around the Stone Pines. Scarlet Dragonfly (above left) and Ruddy Darter were near the main path.
That evening we found a striking-looking bush cricket in the villa with very long hind legs, which, after much searching through books and the internet since, I have identified as Platycleis sepium (below left). Earlier, I photographed a massive-jawed worker harvester ant of the species Messor Structor (below right) which were abundant along the tracks near the villa.








Day 8 - Thursday 23rd August

Another day of heavy showers developing in the morning, clearing to a fine, sunny afternoon and evening. In the morning, over 50 Bee-eaters were seen in flight near the villa, and a male Stonechat was nearby. Later that morning we headed for Florence for the day. We parked a little way out of the centre, in a side-street near the Boboli Gardens and walked from there - about a 15-minute walk to the centre - if you don't get lost that is! I ticked Nuthatch on the way but the best birding that day was in central Florence on the Arno river near the Ponte Vecchio (right). Three Squacco Herons (above, and in flight below) provided a life tick, with other birds being a Night Heron, a Great White Egret, five Little Egrets, a Kingfisher, plus a few Muscovy Ducks and scruffy Mallard type domestic birds and four Greylag Geese. A surprise was three Coypu (left) looking completely at home. On the way back we went around the earlier-mentioned and very beautiful Boboli Gardens, giving superb panoramic views of the city (see title photo), though not many birds, just a Robin (the only one I saw in Italy), three calling Nuthatches, a calling Green Woodpecker and a Great Tit. These gardens must be alive with birdsong in the spring. That evening at around 10.15pm, a Barn Owl passed within feet of my head as I stood near the villa listening to Crickets.

Day 9 - Friday 24th August
A misty start to the day, making the town of San Gimignano look magical to the north (left) with some light rain in the morning giving way to a lovely warm and sunny afternoon. We didn't stray far that day and so I went for a went for a morning walk around the immediate area. A large flock of 100+ Bee-eaters was hunting the skies for insects, a flock of 40+ Goldfinches flew over, a Nightingale was heard calling, a Hobby sailed quite low overhead, 25 Hooded Crows, four Stonechats, three Turtle Doves, 4-5 Long-tailed Tits, a Blue Tit, a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling, Green Woodpeckers calling and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. A trip into Casole D'Elsa later turned up several Common Blue butterflies near the town walls (right). Lounging by the pool later still more Bee-eaters were flying around, and a Zitting Cisticola flew over. A Little Owl was heard calling across the fields. Here are some more Bee-eater photos:











Day 10 - Saturday 25th August

Our last day and another misty start with a few spots of rain early on, but soon turning into a hot sunny day. The flight back from Pisa wasn't until late evening so we were able to make the most of the day after leaving the villa just after 9.00am. After stopping off at Pisa, to collect some clothes my daughters had left in their room (!) and a bit of lunch, we headed for Massaciuccoli (don't ask me to pronounce it) in the afternoon. The east side of Massaciuccoli Lake, part of the Parco di Migliarino, San Rossore, Massaciuccoli has a series of board-walks and hides (with no seats!) accessed from the village of Massaciuccoli giving good views of the reed-beds and the edge of the lake, not to mention some very scenic landscape with the Apennine Mountains as a backdrop (above). No doubt this is also a brilliant spring-time spot for warblers. Lots of House Martins and Swallows and a few Bee-eaters were in the skies, whilst from the hides there were two juvenile Black Terns (right), an adult Common Tern, a Cormorant, several Mallard, a Moorhen calling, a Kingfisher, a Buzzard, several Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls plus, near the car park, a Common Swallowtail butterfly, and a Clouded Yellow.
The rest of the afternoon, before the flight home in the evening, was spent at Marina Di Pisa, with notable birds being four Sandwich Terns, and several Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls around the mouth of the Arno river. Here there are a number of retoni, the traditional hanging square fishing nets (below) looking very picturesque, again backed by the Apennines - a nice place to spend the final hours of our holiday.


From Tuscany Augus...

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