La Clusaz, France, 23rd April - 1st May 2000

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


"winter birding - alpine style"

by Martin Birch

The holiday started with a weekend visit to friends now living in Zurich where Alpine Swifts zoomed around the cathedral and a few 'plastic' Red-crested Pochards drifted along the lakeshore. A great week's ski-ing, hiking and birding then folllowed.

Arriving in La Clusaz, via a pair of 'tumbling' Red Kites over famland at Murtens, good birds followed daily as this alpine resort revealed its birding 'goodies'. The bird of the week, in rarity terms, was the Lammergeier that drifted around the rocky outcrop to the north of La Clusaz for an hour or so during the late afternoon of Easter Monday. Despite further searching this bird was not seen again - perhaps it was simply prospecting for possible nest sites.

On the ski slopes Alpine Chough were common. Where the snow had receeded and the bare fields and streams were now evident, Water Pipits (a stray Tree Pipit amongst them) and Ring Ouzels were abundant, presumably supplemented by many passage birds. These birds were of the distinctive 'alpinestris' race of Ring Ouzel with bold white chevrons on the underparts.

At La Balma the end of the ski-slope produced a very smart Alpine Accentor feeding with the ouzels, pipits and finches which had settled into a boulder strewn flooded field. At least three Citril Finches were pinned down amongst the flighty Goldfinches.

The town of La Clusaz had many pairs of Crag Martins preparing to nest-build in the eaves of the houses, whilst the chalets on the edge of town yielded 'garden' Black Redstarts, Crested Tits, Fieldfares, Siskins and Redpolls, a returning Serin and a pair of Marsh Tits. Just outside La Clusaz, on the road to Avignon, Thones held a very smart Bonelli's Warbler in song and a pair of Golden Eagles overhead. A further Golden Eagle drifted over the slopes at Cote 2000 where at least two pairs of Crossbill were defending territory in pines bordering the 'run'.

The late snow this year enabled ski-ing in May (!) supplemented with a fine mixture of passage migrants. All in all a superb week of ski-ing amongst a great selection of alpine birds

Trip list:

1. Great-crested Grebe - common on the larger lakes
2. Red-crested Pochard - up to ten at Avignon and Zurich
3. Tufted Duck - one at Avignon
4. Goosander - drake at Avignon
5. Lammergeier - adult drifting around the rocky outcrop to the north of La Clusaz on the afternoon of Easter Monday.
6. Black Kite - many
7. Red Kite - 2 at Murtens, Switzerland
8. Common Buzzard - many
9. Golden Eagle - a pair at Thones and a single bird over the slopes at Cote 2000.
10. Kestrel - many
11. Hobby - one over La Clusaz
12. Common Tern - 6 at Zurich
13. Alpine Swift - many in Zurich
14. Crag Martin - 40+ at La Clusaz
15. Tree Pipit - one amongst Water Pipits at the end of the ski-slope at La Balma
16. Water Pipit - 40+, common in flooded fields
17. White Wagtail - common
18. Dipper - two birds along the stream in La Clusaz.
19. Alpine Accentor - one at the end of the ski-slope at La Balma
20. Black Redstart - common
21. Whinchat - up to six around La Clusaz
22. Wheatear - one around La Clusaz
23. Ring Ouzel - common, with as many as 30 birds seen in and around La Clusaz
24 .Fieldfare - common, with as many as 30 birds seen in and around La Clusaz
25. Reed Warbler - two at Avignon
26. Bonelli's Warbler - one in song at Thones
27. Chiffchaff - 4 birds in and around La Clusaz
28. Blackcap - 3 birds at Thones
29. Firecrest - up to 8 birds in the pine woods around La Clusaz
30. Marsh Tit - 2 birds at the chalet
31. Willow Tit - 1 bird along the edge of the pine woods
32. Crested Tit - common around the chalets
33. Common Treecreeper - 2 birds in the pine woods around La Clusaz
34. Alpine Chough - 60+ - common around the higher slopes
35. Serin - 1 bird singing with "gusto" near the chalet on the last day.
36. Citril Finch - three birds with Goldfinches at La Balma
37. Crossbill - perhaps as many as six birds at Cote 2000.
38. Siskin - two birds at the chalet one morning
39. Redpoll - one bird in flight over the chalets.