Friday, September 16, 2016

Das Bird


You may have noticed that it has been almost 6 months since my last post.  This isn’t because I haven’t been birding. No way!  If anything, it's because I've been birding too much. In fact I’m in the middle of the biggest birding year of my life (1200+ species, more on that later).

No, what’s been happening is that... how do I say this... writing this blog is a routine. It's something I do regularly and habitually and that I make time for in a normal life schedule.

The problem, though not really a problem at all, is that life has been anything but ‘normal’ or ‘routine.’ Here are some quick highlights of the past 6 months:

-I graduated and earned a PhD
-I got engaged (to Natalia, my birding partner and best friend)
-I bought a house
-I sold my car
-I moved to Switzerland

On top of all that, I’ve been travelling, often in places without much infrastructure, for about 2 of those 6 months.  In fact, as I type this I’m sitting in the Zurich airport about to depart to Singapore for a ~1 month trip to Indonesia—my first time visiting Asia.

But you came here for birds, right? To keep this on topic here’s a bird:

Red Crossbill crush, Lucerne, Switzerland

It’s been a bit of a hectic transition with moving flats, assembling furniture and trying to figure out how transportation and waste management work in this organized little country called Switzerland. I did manage to get out on a couple outings in the 10 days I’ve been here.

Natalia’s work group had a paid hike to Entlebuch a UNESCO world-heritage area and RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance) in the forearc of the Swiss Alps. It features a huge karst formation, bogs and beautiful views of the Swiss countryside. 

Karst slope at Entlebuch - we were hoping to find Rock Ptarmingans here, but they all hid from us

Though we didn’t realize it, we had signed up for a 16 km trek up and down steep grades.  The Swiss are serious about their hiking.  It’s the default hobby here and with lots of mandatory paid vacation time, the modal Swiss person is a super-fit alpine enthusiast. This meant that the pace was a bit too fast for birding. 

Nice view from our picnic spot photo-bombed by a wing-suit diver


Nevertheless we managed to spot a few birds.  My favorite was the Alpine Chough.

Alpine Chough, apparently this is a borderline trashy bird, but it was new for me, so I wasn't complaining

A flock of 50 or so of these nice-looking corvids came cruising along the ridgeline while we ate a picnic lunch. A few stopped close to check us out, probably because they’ve learned that people can be an easy source of food.

Other than that and the crossbill (above) birds were pretty few and far between.  I’ve been told that 16 birds is not a bad number for birding in non-aquatic areas of Europe. This will take some getting used to.

Yesterday I went out with Florian (the same guy who led our Entlebuch hike) out to Neracherried, a Birdlife Switzerland reserve on a remnant wetland near Zurich.  There’s not much to the place: a little visitor’s center and modest-sized patch of reeds with some open water, but it attracts the birds well enough. What it seems to attract best though is photographers.  We showed up during prime sun on a Wednesday evening and could barely wedge ourselves in among the bazooka-sized lenses.

A normal Wednesday afternoon at the Neeracherried photo blinds

I picked up 6 lifers in fairly short order: Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common Ringed Plover, Stock Dove and Marsh Harrier.

Marsh Harrier, Zurich, Switzerland. K├╝hl!


The birds were kinda far off, so it was mostly scope work. Enjoy these shanks, three green and one spotted red


Common Ringed Plover. Now I'm prepared to find one in North Carolina 

It was great to see some of these European shorebirds. They’re the kinds of birds I always had half an eye out for showing up somewhere in North Carolina.  Now that I’ve seen them in the field, hopefully I’ll have an easier time spotting and identifying one out of range.

The rarest bird of the day ended up being an Osprey, of all things. They’re an uncommon migrant in Switzerland and this was only Florian’s fourth he had ever seen.  All the shutterflies went a bit giddy over this one, even the ones who had no idea what they were shooting picked up on the excitement and rushed outside to get shots as it passed over the blind.

Next post should be about birds in East Kalimantan, or depending on how the flights goes, perhaps an account of some of the cools stuff I’ve been meaning to share from the hiatus.  So we could end up in the Grand Canyon, or somewhere in South America. Who knows!