Saturday, 12 June 2010

Land of Nightingales and Turtle Doves

Just back from a holiday in eastern Italy, taking in the limestone hills of San Marino and the marshlands of the Po delta. And lots of castles, cathedrals and museums to keep cool.
The bird life was generally not too abundant (and mostly hidden) but what was available was interesting and different.
It was difficult to walk far without hearing a chorus of nightingales and turtle doves, even if they couldn't be seen. Serins, however, were both heard and seen.
The delta of the river Po is dotted with eel fishermen, but is also surprisingly well provided with nature trails, hides and towers over the extensive wetlands.
We stayed near Punte Albarete, which combines a large area of swamps and marshes with a huge shallow lake giving food and shelter to a variety of species - egrets, herons (including purple, night and squacco), spoonbills, reed warblers, cuckoos, glossy ibises and even a flock of about 40 flamingos.
An immediate (and unexpected) favourite was the pygmy cormorant, and not only because of its pleasing habit of perching within shooting distance. They are threatened in their more usual area of the eastern Mediterranean, but have a breeding colony on the delta.

Also patrolling the mudflats were terns including gull-billed and whiskered, Audouin's gulls and black-winged stilts (more welcome firsts).

In the main, however, passerines were hidden and often unidentified - a song outside our window was tantalising until the singer came into view and announced itself as a black redstart. He and a nightingale sang through much of the night.

Nearby in the pinewoods, nightjars churred, and a Scops-owl uttered its "monotonous sonar-blip call".

I've always wanted to see a Golden Oriole, ever since I had a stamp with a picture of the beautiful bird on it. On a walk through the woods, one was calling (against a backdrop of nightingales and turtle doves) and then I saw a movement high in the poplars - the binoculars managed to find it briefly, giving wonderful clear views until it flew away.
I read a book (Pietro's Book) about a Tuscan peasant describing life in the country in the first half of the 20th Century (little different from the centuries that went before):

The orioles always used to fly into the fig trees. The male would wait on the bank and call: "E' pronto il fico?" "is the figtree ready?" and the female would reply "Che, che, che!". Then the male would ask "C'è pericolo?""is there any danger?" and the female would reply "Che, che, che!".
Then the peasant would shoot at them and they would both fly off crying "C'è pericolo, c'è pericolo!” It really sounds as if they are saying these words. Now you hardly ever see an oriole - they have all been killed by the poison farmers put in the fields. The hoopoe used to be common too, and nowadays we see only a few of them every season.


Warren Baker said...

same old Farmers the world over - what a despised occupation ( by me anyway ).

Sounds like a nice holiday though steve :-)

Anonymous said...

Thought by the title of the post this might have been a Sussex report :).

Is there anything better than looking out on a Mediterranean wetland and seeing a dozen different things that would be sheer twitchery here? Brings back good holiday memories of making my mum and dad divert from the sandy beaches to the muddy estuaries.

Greenie said...

Steve ,
Great read as usual . Can see why you liked the Pigmy Cormorants .
Never realised that Golden Orioles spoke Italian !
Glad you obviously had a good time .