Switzerland, August 2003

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(including parts of Liechtenstein, Austria & Germany)

Justin Jansen, Blitterswijckseweg 3, 5871 CD Broekhuizenvorst, the Netherlands

From 1st to 3rd August 2003 I undertook a short trip to Switzerland. Without the guiding of my personal guide (Jan Bisschop) and his site descriptions all this would not have been possible - a big thanks to him! Also a big thanks to Mathias Ritschard for his help in writing down site details.

1st August

Drove over the border from Germany at Venlo and drove via Mönchen-Gladback, Erfttal (A1, A 61, E31), Hockenheim (A6, E50), Wallsdorf (A5, E 35), to Rheinfelden (A3, E60) and then to Zurich (679 km in total). During driving only a Red Kite and at a parking spot I located a Honey Buzzard!

At Jan Bisschop's place (Langenwiesestrasse at Zurich-Oerlikon) we soon located a flock of no less then 30 Alpine Swifts.

2nd August

Up at 7am and after hearing and seeing a group of 25 Alpine Swifts flying around and after breakfast we left Zurich at 8am. Also recording Black Redstart, Serin and few other first in Switzerland species for me. We drove via Luzern to Andermatt and from there up to the Furkapass (Zurich to here ± 130 km). During driving we recorded several Crag Martins and a third-year Golden Eagle. At the highest point of the Fukapass at 2431 m we recorded near the hotel/restaurant on the left hand side a nice Snow Finch which was feeding on the opposite of the restaurant between some small houses and was feeding young. A bit further we had a coffee at a restaurant at Gletsch near the Rhonegletcher. Also several Water Pipits at both locations and at the last one a Grey Wagtail. Also a Common Chaffinch was busy in his attempt to become Switzerland highest ever recorded finch!

From the Furkapass we drove to Leuk in search of some further goodies (± 100+ km). From Leuk we took the road to the village Erschmatt, after about 4 km from Leuk you will pass the Feschelbach Gorge. From the bridge (or the old stone bridge adjacent to the road) we looked down into the gorge to see a fantastic Wallcreeper (very low just above the waters edge on a steep wall just above it straight under the bridge) and a few Crag Martins were also flying around. On our way up we noted a few Rock Buntings.
From here we continued to the village Erschmatt. We followed the signs all the way to Jetzinen. In Jetzinen we continued along the road for about 2 kms until we found ourself in 'Untere Fasilalp'. This place is not indicated by signs, so ask local people for precise directions. It's just before a sort of parking spot near some houses. The last part is gravel. Citril Finches can be found in the fields around the houses at Oben Fasilalp. We recorded them (2 birds) just past the ski-lift (chair-lift) in some trees. The Citril Finches normally perch regularly on the lift wire and on the barbed wire. Also we recorded a few birds at the parking spot. I almost stepped on a Black Grouse there while climbing the steep rocks. Also recorded here were 2 adult and one first year Golden Eagle, Common Crossbill, Raven, Crag Martins, Nutcrackers, a female Rock Trush, Water Pipits and a few Common Buzzards. Also the streams here with butterflies and dragonflies and fantastic flora are worth looking at! Many Marmots here!

Because everything went well so far we tried another spot at Sion (50 km from Leuk). We drove to Conthey, just west of Sion in Wallis, and turned to the north, up to the village Erde. We continued, and crossed Aven and we followed the road into the Dérborence valley. We drove the whole length of this road through this savage and very beautiful valley, which is really worth visiting! The road is tight and the slopes are very steep, drive carefully (many blind curves and tunnels). At the end of the valley there are some houses and a restaurant (the restaurant is signposted as a T-junction to the right). We drove to the restaurant (near a reservoir) and scanned from here the massive mountains to the left and right of us. Also we drove to the T-junction and scanned uphill everything again. We recorded an adult Lammergeier here and several flocks of Alpine Choughs. Also recorded here a Chamois (few) and Ibex (1) here.

You could also drive as far as you are permitted to, and then continue for some minutes on foot along the broad track, which turns slightly to the right. Soon you'll see a huge rock face on your left hand side, which is probably several hundred metres high and very long. The Choughs breed in the rock face. It is quite distant from the track, but you'll be able to pick out the red-billed ones from the yellow-billed with your scope. This is one of the few spots in Switzerland where Chough is possible! But we dipped them because the distant was too far to get a positive ID!

From here we drove back to Zurich not before consulting the local McDonalds at Sion. (Drove about 520 km today!). Around 11pm we were enjoying the calling Alpine Swifts and a cool beer again at Jan's apartment!

3rd August

After a short nights sleep we drove around 8am to Bucks and after a small detour via Schaan at the Kingdom of Liechtenstein (only House Martin, Goldfinch and Barn Swallow recorded) we arrived at the spot. During driving recorded a few trip species and our only Swiss Red Kite of this trip.

At the spot mentioned below we recorded Hazelhen, Three-toed Woodpecker (2 birds), Black Woodpecker, Willow Tit, Nutcrackers and several other birds. Also there was a small chance of seeing Pygmy Owl and Capercaillie but we missed as we expected! Also a fly over Citril Finch when we left the forested area!

At the Reindelta at Bregenz we recorded a hybrid flock of Long-tailed Tits, juvenile Night Heron, a juvenile Mediterranean Gull, 100+ Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 Caspian Gulls, 1 adult Herring Gull, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, a few Common and Black-headed Gulls, a single Dunlin, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plovers and several other species.

Via Bregenz, Ulm, Stuttgart, Karsruhe, Koblentz, Monchengladbach to Venlo and back around 11 o'clock after we left Austria at 3 o'clock!

Site description for Hazelhen

What follows is a description of the spot at Obertoggenburg, a reliable spot for Hazelhen, Three-toed Woodpecker and if you're lucky Pygmy Owl (altough owling at night could produce them and by daytime you could find them with the very noisy youngsters around them in the right time of year (during the daytime should be easier)). Jan recorded Hazelhen on 4 out of 5 visits, Three-toed Woodpecker on 3 of 5 visits and Pygmy Owl on one visit during the day! Also a reliable spot for Black Woodpecker and Ring Ouzel (alpestris ssp).

The whole area is in principle good for Hazelhen, you have to walk around a lot to increase your chances (it's a hard area to walk around, be careful).

Drive to Voralp/Voralpsee and park the car. Continue by walking. It's about a 1 hour walk from the Voralpsee to the spot. There is a road from Voralp to Wildhaus. At the start of the road there is a sign with 'Berggasthaus Voralp' and 'ski-haus Gamperfin'. The road is officially forbidden to access by car (there is a sign for this here). However, I think it's not a big problem to go by car, most birders do it without any problem. In that case you can park the car at the first parking lot a few metres before the junction to 'ski-haus Gamperfin' and 'ski-club Grabseberg'. Continue to the sign 'Hinter Witi, 1380m' . There is a house and a stable here. Continue in the direction Wildhaus for about 150 metres, until you have a small isolated bush on your left hand. Behind the bush a clear track starts into the woods .

Follow the track for about 200-300 metres uphill. Just after passing a small fence, you go left to a clearing of about 20x20 meters in the forest. You can go north from here to a large clearing that starts about 200 metres further. Immediately right (east) of the track we flushed a Hazelhen. You can also go uphill (over the fence) and search the woods on top of the hill (very suitable habitat). You can also follow the track to the west. The path is still obvious at this point and there is a large yellow cross on one of the trees on your left hand side. The path goes uphill with strongly curved bends. In the first or second curve a 5m high rocky cliff starts - this is where Jan also flushed Hazelhen. Continue along the track for about 10 minutes untill the track seems to disappear (I am not sure whether this is really the case...). The area to the north of the track is also good for Hazelhen and we recorded Three-toed Woopecker over here. This is where Jan once flushed a group of 10 birds (when you walk around here in the woods you will encounter some nesting boxes for owls in trees). From the open part of the forest you have a nice view to the east into the Rhine Valley. Jan had the Pygmy Owl here (however only once in his 5 visits here...). Also he has lured Three-toed woodpecker here by nocking on a tree with a pocket knife. It is the area immediately east of the obvious 10m high rocky cliff (about 100m south of the track).

If you would like a hand-drawn map of the area please contact me.

Species List


A = Austria

G = Germany

L = Liechtenstein

S = Switzerland

1. Great-crested Grebe (A)
2. Great Cormorant (A)
3. Night Heron (A)
4. Mute Swan (A)
5. Mallard (A)
6. Red-crested Pochard (A)
7. Tufted Duck (A)
8. Goosander (A)
9. Honey Buzzard (G)
10. Red Kite (G, S)
11. Bearded Vulture (S)
12. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (G, S)
13. Common Buzzard (G, S)
14. Golden Eagle (S)
15. European Kestrel(S)
16. Black Grouse(S)
17. Hazelhen(S)
18. Common Coot (A)
19. Common Ringed Plover(A)
20. Dunlin(A)
21. Ruff(A)
22. Common Redshank(A)
23. Wood Sandpiper(A)
24. Common sandpiper(A)
25. Mediterranean Gull(A)
26. Yellow-legged Gull(A)
27. Caspian Gull(A)
28. Black-headed Gull(A)
29. Herring Gull(A)
30. Lesser Black-backed Gull(A)
31. Common tern(A)
32. Black tern(A)
33. Wood Pigeon(S)
34. Turtle Dove(S)
35. Common Swift(S)
36. Alpine Swift(S)
37. Green Woodpecker(S)
38. Black woodpecker(S)
39. Three-toed Woodpecker (S)
40. Great spotted Woodpecker (S)
41. House Martin
42. Crag Martin(S)
43. Barn Swallow
44. Water Pipit(S)
45. Yellow Wagtail
46. White Wagtail
47. Grey Wagtail(S)
48. Wren(S)
49. Robin(S)
50. Black Redstart(S)
51. Northern Wheatear(S)
52. Rock Trush(S)
53. Blackbird(S)
54. Mistle Trush(S)
55. Blackcap(S)
56. Willow Warbler(S)
57. Goldcrest(S)
58. Long-tailed Tit (A)
59. Coal Tit(S)
60. Marsh Tit(S)
61. Willow Tit(S)
62. Crested Tit(S)
63. Blue Tit(S)
64. Great Tit(S)
65. Nuthatch(S)
66. Wallcreeper(S)
67. Short-toed Treecreeper(S)
68. Jay(S)
69. Nutcracker (S)
70. Alpine Cough (S)
71. Jackdaw (S, A)
72. Carrion Crow (S)
73. Hooded Crow (S)
74. Raven (S)
75. Starling (A, L, S)
76. House Sparrow (G, A, L, S)
77. Snow Finch (S)
78. Common Chaffinch (S)
79. Serin (S, L, A)
80. Citril Finch (S)
81. Common Goldfinch (S, A, L)
82. Bullfinch (S)
83. Lesser Redpoll (S, A)
84. Linnet (S)
85. Crossbill (S)
86. Rock Bunting (S)
87. Reed Bunting (A)

Mammals observed

1. Red Deer Cervus elaphus
2. Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris
3. Marmot Marmota marmota
4. Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra
5. Ibex Capra ibex