Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Italy: 8th - 9th April 2006,


Richard Bonser


Three of us – Andy Clifton, Mark Lopez and I – had long been keen to see one of the few true European endemics, Rock Partridge, and this formed the basis for what was to turn out to be one of the most enjoyable birding weekends that I’ve had in a long while. Flights from the UK to the continent have become more and more affordable in recent years and as such took advantage of the affordable flights that Ryanair offer from London Stansted to Rome Ciampino airport.

We flew from London Stansted at 6.20am on the morning of Saturday 8th April and arrived in Rome two and a half hours later (and ten minutes or so ahead of schedule). Being a relatively small airport, baggage reclaim and car hire at Rome Ciampino was extremely efficient and, from entering the airport building to driving off in our Avis rented Fiat Panda, this took no longer than half an hour. Our return flight at 9.55pm on Sunday 9th April got us back to London Stansted just after midnight but, with the increasing popularity of this airport, passport control and baggage reclaim were not quite as quick as we had experienced the previous morning in Rome.

Literature and acknowledgements

Chris Bell, Stewart Hinley and Luciano Ruggieri provided invaluable information that contributed greatly to the success of my trip. Although an eternal sceptic of the more general guide books to birding in a certain country, the recently published ‘A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Italy’ by Luciano Ruggieri and Igor Festari does not fit this mould at all. As well as providing the prerequisite information on sites to go birding, the most interesting part of this book is the detailed listings of the important species that can be found in Italy (and the useful cross referencing to sites) as well as a specific section on the endemic and near-endemic subspecies of particular species that occur in the country. A Michelin Tourist and Motoring Atlas of Italy (2006 Edition) proved perfectly adequate for navigating.

8th APRIL 2006

Having negotiated ourselves out of the airport and quickly become used to the Italian way of driving, we headed east from Rome on the A24 and then, just to the east of Avezzano, headed off the A25 (Rome to Pescara road) and into the mountains to the north of Aielli. Here, we quickly rose in altitude and started birding in the Parco Regionale Sirente Velino.

Parco Regionale Sirente Velino, Aielli, Abruzzo

Heading up through a pleasant landscape of orchards and rolling hills, where the song of Serins provided a pleasant soundtrack throughout, with the additional bonuses of Woodlark and a handful of Cirl Buntings, we arrived at the scree slopes above the alpine meadow habitat in the Parco Regionale Sirente Velino. Scanning from the track for a while for our target species, Rock Partridge, proved rather hard work and a combination of beautiful sunshine and an early rise meant that I ended up flat on my back catching some sleep for a brief period before a more energetic member of the party summoned me to my feet. And so, off we went, walking across the scree and remarkably, no more than a few hundred yards from where we had left our car, the shout went up and I observed two Rock Partridges at close range flying away and settling below a coniferous tree on the scree slope. Over the next hour or two, we observed this species at close range with decent views ‘on the deck obtained’ whilst further distractions here included a male Lesser Kestrel that flew strongly through the valley, a superb sub-adult Golden Eagle that glided over the jagged ridge as well as a couple of Rock Buntings, a handful of Black Redstarts and a calling Wryneck.

Once back at the car, and feeling wholly satisfied that we had encountered one of Europe’s rarer birds with relative ease, we headed up slightly to view an area at higher elevation. 3 Griffon Vultures were immediately found here as they made use of the early afternoon thermals and, below them, a group of corvids that largely comprised of Hooded Crows was scrutinised with c.25 Red-billed Chough and 8 Alpine Choughs being our rewards. As we gently headed back down the 8 kilometres or so of rough track, taking regular stops on the way down, further mid altitude breeders such as Ring Ouzel, Stonechat and Wheatear were noted.

Drive from Avezzano to the Mediterranean coast

Feeling rather peckish and with a drive of a couple of hours ahead of us, we stopped in Avezzano to get some supplies from a supermarket. The fact that none of us knew more than a couple of words in Italian proved somewhat problematic, with the amusement factor that my Spanish fell on deaf ears increasing the entertainment value – that is, until a pleasant looking checkout lady helped us out and then in fact offered us some free cake! Armed with bread, fruit juice, cheese and Italian cured ham we headed in the direction of Terracina (via a loo stop where Sardinian Warbler was seen and Nightingale heard) where it was decided we’d get some accommodation for the night.

Hotel Villa dei Principi, Lido di Fondi, Lazio

For once, we managed to find accommodation at the first attempt – a really decent hotel in the bay just to the east of the town of Terracina and the room for the three of us (including breakfast) cost €100. A half hour seawatch just before the light faded produced a couple of Scopoli’s Shearwaters, 3 Audouin’s Gulls and a group of 7 Garganey. The grounds of the hotel itself provided us with the ever numerous Serins, the odd Italian Sparrow and a Sardinian Warbler whilst above us, numerous Swallows and Swifts were present. A decent pasta dish and a beer were had in the hotel restaurant with the evening entertainment being provided by one of our team managing to lock himself in the bathroom and having to be rescued by the hotel manager. In a typical Italian voice, the manager exclaimed in pigeon English ‘this is first time happen in 10 year!’ and that was that – time to get some sleep.

9th APRIL 2006

Hotel Villa dei Principi, Lido di Fondi, Lazio

Rising at a civilised 7am, we had a quick look at the sea before breakfast where a couple of Slender-billed Gulls flying south were the highlight. Yesterdays Garganey had presumably migrated north at first light whilst the odd Great-crested Grebe was present as were several Western Yellow-legged Gulls. After a continental breakfast we quickly packed our stuff and headed the twenty minutes or so down the road to Circeo National Park.

Circeo National Park, Lazio

In my quest to finally catch up with Yelkouan Shearwater, Luciano Ruggieri advised me that the whole of the Lazio coast can produce sightings and that this national park would provide as good a bet as anywhere else. So it was that, after fuelling up in San Felice Circeo, we headed uphill to the promontory and started looking out to sea from the car park at the faro (lighthouse) di Torre Cervia. With the light behind us, excellent views were had of the 50 or so Scopoli’s Shearwaters lingering offshore in amongst the numerous Western Yellow-legged Gulls whilst, after about half an hour, the first of a total of 5 Yelkouan Shearwaters were seen. Other birds noted off the lighthouse included an Arctic Skua, 3 Sandwich Terns and a handful of Audouin’s Gulls. Whilst watching out to sea, it was obvious there was a bit of landbird movement and the diagnostic call of Bee-eater bubbled over us (although we could not see it/them) with a couple of Peregrines, lots of hirundines, 4 Sardinian Warblers and a Long-tailed Tit also seen here.

Hugging the coast to the north-west of the lighthouse, a series of lakes around the town of Sabaudia provide a haven for birdlife. Although the lakes themselves were devoid of birds, the muddy margins and adjacent marshes provided us with some excellent birding from mid morning to mid afternoon. Our first stop, to view the coast at the south end of Paola Lake, provided us with a Gannet as well as several more Scopoli’s Shearwaters. Then, heading gradually north along the coast road, we noticed 5 Spoonbills circling just inland of the north-west end of Paola Lake. Although we couldn’t relocate these birds, having taken a minor road inland towards Cantoniera Cerasella, an area of juncus and marshy ground adjacent to a small bridge over a canal provided us with close views of a superb Squacco as well as several Cetti’s Warblers, Nightingales and a couple of Fan-tailed Warblers.

Again back on the coast road, and between Paola Lake and Caprolace Lake, you will notice a rather large pull in on the landward side of the road that overlooks an area of marshland where at the south end (the right hand side if you are facing with your back to the sea) of this pull in is a track that heads off downhill initially into a small copse and then allows you to walk out across the marshland. In brief, although not initially expecting much that special, this area was truly amazing. After noticing 3 Black-winged Stilts from the car as well as a couple of Little Egrets, we decided to walk down and gain a closer look. After a couple of hundred yards of walking down the path (with coniferous trees and coastal scrub on your right), the track will bend round to the right and this deciduous copse was extremely productive on our visit. After nipping to the loo, I was a fair few yards behind the other two, when all of a sudden a stunning male Collared Flycatcher popped into view. After shouting Andy and Mark back, this bird promptly disappeared for the next twenty minutes, though a further female was found as was a Wood Warbler, a few Whitethroats, at least 5 Subalpine Warblers and a couple of Sardinian Warblers. Eventually, the male flycatcher was relocated and we all obtained quality views before walking on… that is just after a male Pied Flycatcher joined the pair of Collared Flycatchers in this area! The fenceposts in front of us and on either side of the footpath produced a smart Black-eared Wheatear amongst a fall of a dozen or so Northern Wheatears whilst a male Redstart was also present and 4 Garganey were seen on the adjacent pool and a Marsh Harrier quartered over the area. Fan-tailed Warbler, Blackcap, Cetti’s Warbler, Cuckoo, Hoopoe and Nightingale all provided a pleasant supporting cast.

Leaving this area, and again heading towards Nettuno, we took the turning ‘strada sacramento’ and this allowed us to view the muddy margins at the east end of Caprolace Lake. Amongst the 25 Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Ruff and 4 Little Stint were present, and further waders here included 12 Avocet and 2 Common Sandpipers. A Yellow Wagtail flew over avoiding sub-species identification whilst the ever vocal Fan-tailed Warblers were ‘zitting’ from the roadside reeds and juncus. By now it was mid afternoon, and a stop off at the west end of Fogliano Lake allowed us to study a load of Italian Sparrows as they perched prominently on a barbed wire fence whilst a couple of Tree Sparrows and a Crested Lark were also located here.

We continued up the coast from Circeo NP in the direction of Rome looking for further suitable areas to bird. However shortly after Nettuno things become a little bit more built up and there is a severe absence of decent coastal habitat. With this fact, and the need to ensure we were back at the airport for mid evening, we grabbed some food and chilled out for the rest of the afternoon. We headed as far north on the coast as Lido di Ostia and found that the traffic was horrendous here so I’d advise anyone wanting to get back to Rome to head inland at Anzio and then pick up the R148 into Rome – that is, if you want to miss out on the stunning local talent that seemed abundant in both Tor Vaianica and Lido di Ostia!

Species list – 93 species recorded

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Garganey Anas querquedula

Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus

Scopoli’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea diomedea

Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus

Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus

Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

Little Stint Calidris minuta

Ruff Philomachus pugnax

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos

Common Redshank Tringa totanus

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus

Slender-billed Gull Larus genei

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus

Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii

Western Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis

Woodpigeon Columba palumbus

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

Common Swift Apus apus

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops

Wryneck Jynx torquilla

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocops major italiae

Crested Lark Galerida cristata neumanni

Woodlark Lullula arborea

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

House Martin Delichon urbicum

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava ssp.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba

Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

Dunnock Prunella modularis

European Robin Erithacus rubecula

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus alpestris

Blackbird Turdus merula

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus

Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti

Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans ssp.

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita

Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis

Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus italiae

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus

Great Tit Parus major

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius albipectus

Eurasian Magpie Pica pica

Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus

Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax

Jackdaw Corvus monedula

Hooded Crow Corvus cornix

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Italian Sparrow Passer domesticus italiae

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs

Serin Serinus serinus

Greenfinch Chloris chloris

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Linnet Carduelis cannabina

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

Rock Bunting Emberiza cia


Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?