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A Report from

A short trip to Albania; 28 May to 3 June 2003,

Robert Butlin

A University friend is now working for the European Commission in Tirana extended an invitation to me to travel to Albania to see him. This note is a short resumé of the bird life seen in Albania. I am a competent amateur birder with relatively limited experience of Mediterranean wildlife. I spent four nights in his house towards the outskirts of Tirana, one night in a hotel in Fieri when en route to Dhermi in the South of Albania, one night in Dhermi itself. I also spent a few hours mid afternoon one day in a National Park to the east of Tirana (altitude c 800m). My host is married and with a seven month old baby. All my excursions were made either en famille or with my host's wife and child, something that necessarily limited opportunities for exclusive birding. Nevertheless I was able to see a good numbers of the more visible birds (for example hirundines).

Tirana lies towards the Eastern edge of the Albanian coastal plain, about 110 metres above sea level. Fieri is also on the coastal plain, with the road from there to Tirana, which passes by way of Durrėsi being broadly flat, though for some distance just to the West of a low ridge of, I think sandstone. South of Fieri the road continues to be relatively flat until some 20kms after the port town of Vlora. The road then climbs up to the 1000 metre summit of Llogara pass. The climb up is latterly in conifers, mostly I think in pine. The 900 metre descent (ie. not quite to the sea) is through an open landscape of small trees. The views over the Ionian sea (the summit of the pass is about 10km as the crow flies from the sea) are absolutely stupendous. The road ascends towards the village of Dhermi, though we stayed in what would be in French terms known as Dhermi Plage. Returning north we had intended to visit Karavasta on the coast, but the baby's unhappiness meant that we only managed a short detour to an orthodox monastery set on a hill north of Fieri, above a village called Ardenica.

Bird species seen

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). One seen soaring in the national park above Tirana C 1000m. One probably seen sitting on a tree at c700m on south slope of Llogora pass.

Short toed snake eagle (Circeatus gallicus). Two birds that probably were this species seen soaring high over Dhermi village. Wing span approx third as much again as accompanying pair of ravens.

Grey plover (Pluvialis Squatarola). Bizarrely a full breeding plumage bird (it really could not be anything else) was seen on the stony beach at Dhermi.

Yellow legged Gull (Larus cachinans). Medium to large gull seen on a couple of occasions to the south of Vlora assigned to this species.

Rock Dove (Columba livia). Feral pigeons were seen in Tirana and other towns. Quite possibly being kept in dovecotes for food.

Collared Dove (Steptopelia decaoto). A visible and widespread member of the Albanian birdlife, both in towns, cities, Tirana itself and the countryside.

Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur). One heard in macquis/rather decayed olive grove along the coast at Dhermi.

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). One very faintly heard in National Park above Tirana. Difficult to tell if it was coming from more mature trees of the less than three metre height trees in which we were at the time.

Scops Owl (Otus scops). Fieri had a small patch of trees surrounding the Greek orthodox church. A relatively long, and pointed winged bird flew into a tree, perched (vertically, hence not a large bat) and then flew, with some glides away to the banks of a very dirty stream. An owl was probably heard in the Olive groves near Dhermi the next day. Identification as Scops obviously not conclusive!

Little owl (Athene nocturna). Three see on wires in open country south of Durrėsi at about 18.30.

Common Swift (Apus apus). Significant numbers in Tirana appearing to nest in old communist buildings. Did not appear as common as House Martin and Barn Swallow (see below).

Hoopoe (Upupa epops). One seen, and then heard at monastery.

Woodpecker (dendrocopus sp). Either Great Spotted or Syrian seen in Tirana park.

Crested Lark (Galerida christata). A few seen on roadside between Llogorra pass and Vlora.

Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris). Seen in from a bridge over a ravine at southern end of Llogora pass.

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia). Probably seen in sandstone cliffs between Fieri and Durrės.

Red Rumped Swallow (Hirundo duarica). Relatively common especially outside urban areas, though still present so long as land had cliffs/promontories for breeding. One nest seen in road overhand just South of Vlora, others at Dhermi were seen gathering mud. Watching red rumped swallows gathering mud and feeding as the sun set over the Ionian sea will be the ornithological highlight of my stay.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Again common over all parts of Albania that I saw. To be seen in rural areas, suburban ones and some that seemed purely urban. To an extent replaced by red-rumped swallow in areas without access to artificial nest sights, for example not seen on the beach at Dhermi but in the village itself shared the airspace with the red rumped. Seen heading into structures to feed young.

House Martin (Delichon urbica). Perhaps the commonest of the hirundines, being very common in cities, town and villages. Showed an attraction for more modern buildings; in Fieri one ten storey building had at least one nest on each floor. Seemed very unconcerned by human activity, even nocturnal disco music. One nest had been partially whitewashed, showing bird's tolerance of.  Some birds seen in rocky territory at some distance from habitation, suggesting natural sights may still be used.

White wagtail (motacilla alba). Possible young bird seen in Tirana, adult birds definitely seen at Dhermi beach.

Yellow/Grey wagtail (motacilla sp). A single yellow bodied wagtail was seen near the beach at Dhermi flying out of degraded olive grove towards the sea. Habitat does not, at least to me seem familiar to either bird in breeding season.

Stonechat (Saxicola Torquata). Pair of birds of nominate race seen at c150m on north slope of Llogorba pass.

Black eared wheatear (Oenanthe. Male bird of melanoleuca subspecies seen with food in beak at Dhermi beach, perched on telegraph wire. Bird had pale throat. Female bird seen at same location.

Blackbird (Turdus merula). At 20.00 the olive groves and maquis of Dhermi beach sounded like an English suburban garden, with singing blackbird predominant. Earlier in the day the birds had not been heard, or seen. Birds heard elsewhere with deciduous woodland, eg national park above Tirana.

Cetti's warbler (Cettia cetti). One heard in damp woodland on edge of Tirana lake, one also heard calling from c3m dry scrub in National Park overlooking Tirana. I have previously heard Cetti's warbler in similar habitat when with a birding colleague who is a Mediterranean specialist.

Subalpine warbler (Sylvia cantillans). A Sylvia warbler was heard in most maquis type scrub. This species was conclusively identified when in 3m emergent woodland. Pair also seen carrying food to nest at very close quarters. Bird seemed pretty common, c. one calling bird per 50m in deciduous habitat.

Great Tit (Parus major). Heard in woodland

Woodchat shrike (Lanius serrator). Bird seen hunting from telegraph wires at Dhermi beach

Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio). Bird seen within Dhermi beach complex using TV aerial. Also seen hunting from very small patch of vegetation with Dhermi village itself.

Black-billed magpie (Pica pica). Seen in Tirana and in countryside, but never more than two together.

Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix). Occasional birds/pairs in all places.

Raven (Corvus corvax). Pair seen high above Dhermi village.

House sparrow (Passer domesticus). Ubiquitous in all inhabited places, with even isolated building serving the purpose. Loud sparrow roost in Fieri. Loud roosts heard in roadside eucalyptus trees (planted by Italians?) may be this species or Spanish Sparrow.

Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis). Only conclusively identified in a tall thin conifer just by monastery at Ardenica. Loud sparrow roosts in roadside may be this species or house sparrow.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Heard and seen in woodland and olive groves. Rarely more than one bird heard at a time.

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris). As per chaffinch, though also heard from trees in centre of Tirana

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). The most common (visible?) of the finches, with 3-6 seen at one time.

Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra). Seen and heard near cornfields in north slope of Llogra pass, though not in national park itself. 

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