Monte Argentario Almanach: Natur > Birdwatching
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Patanella und die
Lagune von Orbetello
Tools and toys
Birdwatching an der Lagune von Orbetello.
| Interview with a Birdwatcher
James Champion (*1963) is a language teacher born in Scotland. He is a birdwatcher and has been travelling the world east to west and north to south. We met him at Patanella in January 2002 where he helped us to spot a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) for the first time.
Question: For people who do not have the pleasure to live on the British Islands, birdwatching may sound a little alien. Just like train spotting, monarchy and Loch Ness. Was it invented by the British?
James: Yes, Brits did found the concept of birdwatching, just as they did many other popular leisure activities including football, tennis and golf, which I dont think anyone could describe as alien(!). Birdwatching became popular in the UK in the early years of the 20th century, and the RSPB, or Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, now has around 1.2 million members.
Question: Who are birdwatchers? Old ladies in the park?
James: Birdwatching, or at least bird protection, was indeed started by a group of ladies who were disgusted at the indescriminate slaughter of birds, especially Egrets (Airone Bianco Maggiore, Casmerodius alba, NdR) and Great Crested Grebes (Svasso Maggiore, Podiceps cristatus), whose feathers were used for making hats. Most birdwatchers nowadays are very normal people, from all walks of life, who are fascinated by the migration, breeding habits and behaviour of birds, and who simply enjoy the challenge of finding something unusual or out of place, or just enjoying the beauty of birds.
Question: What do birdwatchers do? Spot birds and tick them off in a list?
James: There are different types of birdwatchers, some more serious than others, but the ones that are most like train-spotters are known as Twitchers! These people try to see as many rare species as possible in the UK or a particular continent, or the World, and they spend large amounts of money travelling to remote islands off the coasts of Scotland, for example, in the hope of seeing a lost North American bird that has been blown across the Atlantic before it either flies off or dies! They are alerted to the presence of these birds by telephoning Bird-lines or by receiving messages on their pagers. People who have seen more than 400 species in their lives in the British Isles are eligible to join the UK-400 Club!
Question: Is birdwatching known in other parts of the world?
James: Birdwatching is also extremely popular in North America, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglo-Saxon countries, as well as in Sweden and The Netherlands. It is even growing in popularity in France, Spain and Japan. One of the few areas where it does not seem to catch on is Germany, where I am always astonished to find wonderful nature reserves, but nobody watching the birds within them! In the UK or The Netherlands, you can always find people watching birds in such places, and it is easy to find someone who will tell you whats about, but in Germany this is rare. Most people seem to enjoy looking at the birds, if indeed they see them at all, but they dont seem to know, or care, what kind of birds they are! I would say that attitude is a little alien! Birdwatchers in Germany tend to be professional biologists or ecologists, and do it as a part of their jobs, and hobby-birders are rare. I think Germans dont know what they are missing!!!
Question: And how about Italian birdwatchers?
James: I have met a few Italian birdwatchers, both around the Orbetello lagoons, where there are some really wonderful reserves run by WWF, and abroad. The LIPU, or Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli, is a growing organisation, with around 42000 members. They are very active in campaigning against the trapping of hunting of birds, as well as in creating reserves where birds may rest or breed in peace. I would strongly advise anyone with an interest in protecting birds to join this excellent organisation.
Question: Is birdwatching something you preferably do in organized groups or is it mostly singlehanded?
James: This is a question of taste! Some people prefer to do their birdwatching in groups, and indeed organisations such as the RSPB have many local branches which offer excursions or set up monitoring of populations of rare species. Many countries have also produced atlases of breeding birds or wintering birds, for which every 10 km square in the country has to be visited several times in a season in order to find out what and how many birds are there. This kind of activity is definitely organised. However, a lot of people also prefer to do their watching by themselves as a form of relaxation.
Being outside in Nature, enjoying the fresh air and seeing the natural world birdwatching provides all these sensations, with the added pleasure of knowing that you have not killed or harmed anything.
Question: How do birdwatchers keep informed?
James: This can be very informal. When birdwatchers arrive at a well-known bird place, they always approach each other to ask if theres anything interesting around. There is a very friendly attitude among birdwatchers, and most of them are keen to help each other, although there is of course a small minority of people who see their hobby as a competitive thing, and do not want to share information. Other than this, there are numerous more formal channels of communication. Firstly, there are the telephone birdlines I have already mentioned. Many birdwatchers phone in their sightings to a central number, and these are then collated and in some cases verified before being put onto a recorded message, which is updated several times per day, and tells what birds have been seen where, often with precise directions and map coordinates. The pager system works in a similar way, with alerts being sent out immediately to subscribers. This can be frustrating if you are in a boring but important meeting, and your pager tells you that a mega-rarity has appeared in your area, and you cant go! There was even one famous case of a fanatical twitcher leaving his own wedding party to hurry to a recently-arrived rarity!!! Luckily, the bride was also a birdwatcher, and she went with her new husband! Much information is also spread through publications such as magazines, and almost all the major bird protection organisations have regular publications in which interesting articles about bird population trends, etc, are published. LIPU has also produced an excellent book: Where to Watch Birds in Italy, detailing major and minor sites throughout Italy.
Question: How important is the touristic aspect of birdwatching?
James: At least in the UK, USA and The Netherlands, the travelling birdwatcher market is quite large, although it will always remain a specialised niche segment. The UK boasts a number of specialised tour operators such as Sunbird, Ornitholidays, Bird Quest, The Travelling Naturalist, Naturetrek, etc, and these offer highly intensive trips for small groups with expert guides to the bird hotspots of the World. There are similar companies in the USA and The Netherlands, and even a few in Germany (!), such as Dr. Kochs Reisen. In addition, a lot of birdwatchers prefer to travel independently, organising their own accommodation and itineraries, and these people base their holidays around visits to places that are attractive to birds. There are many sources of information for this kind of tourism, including books such as "Where to Watch Birds in ...... It is also easy to obtain trip reports written by birdwatchers who have visited particular areas themselves.
Question: Our region is rich in vegetation and wildlife. What do birdwatchers think about Italy, the European sunshine state?
James: Unfortunately, Italy has a rather poor reputation among birdwatchers, of course due to the large numbers of macho hunters, who are considered rightly or wrongly to shoot, net, snare, lime and generally slaughter vast numbers of migrating and wintering birds. Northern Europeans who are involved in bird protection find it particularly sad when the birds that they have nurtured and have managed to successfully rear their young, are then massacred in Italy or other southern European countries! One of the most notorious places is the Straits of Messina, where many birds of prey cross on their way to or from Sicily, and are shot at by hunters, even though they are protected. There are now organised camps for volunteer Italian and foreign birdwatchers, who monitor the numbers of birds crossing, and those being killed, and sometimes get into fights with Italian hunters. All this sounds very negative, but there are encouraging signs, and Italy has some wonderful areas for birds, and I wish the Italian conservation organisations every success in their campaigns.
Where to Watch
Birds in Italy,
A & C Black, London,
con elenco di oltre
Question: From November to February an extraordinary number of species gather on Monte Argentario and still this is not your favourite season to visit Italy. Why is that so?
James: I wouldnt say that I dont like to come then, but I find it difficult because of the heavy toll that hunters take on the birds during those months. For me the best time is in the Spring migration, from March to May, when hunting is not allowed and you can watch birds peacefully, without hearing the constant sound of gunfire and wondering whether the birds that you are seeing are going to be killed or wounded as soon as they leave the reserve areas!
Question: Whats your relationship with hunters?
James: I know a lot of hunters, and I am not opposed at all to every form of hunting. What I do not like is the indiscriminate slaughter of migratory birds by trigger-happy hunters who in many cases do not know what they have killed until after they have killed it, if then. I in no way believe that all hunters are like that. However, it must be said that there are some particularly horrifying cases involving Italian hunters. There are organised trips for Italian hunters, rather like the organised trips for birdwatchers I have already mentioned, to places where the enforcement of rules is less strict, and some of them even advertise the possibility of killing protected species. The authorities in Hungary, for example, have sometimes caught Italian hunters in trucks heading back to Italy with vast numbers of dead birds, in one case 14.000 individual birds, including some very rare species, destined for restaurants in southern Italy. This is, to my mind, completely unacceptable.
Question: England and Scotland have a long tradition of hunting. What is the difference between the United Kingdom and the Italian peninsula?
James: It is true that there is a long tradition of shooting and hunting in the UK, but the number of species which may be shot is very low, and other methods of killing such as netting, trapping or liming of birds is completely unknown. In Britain many shooters belong to a syndicate who may breed such birds as Pheasants (Fagiano Phasianus colchicus, Ndr) or Partridges (Starna, Perdix perdix), which are then released at the beginning of the shooting season and shot on various days through the winter. In Scotland there is the famous Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus, Moorschneehuhn, Ndr) shooting, where groups of beaters walk in a line making a lot of noise and drive the birds over the guns. Although many birdwatchers are opposed to this kind of activity, it is true that the shooters do a very important job in maintaining the moorland habitats which are essential for the Grouse, and in areas where shooting has stopped, the Grouse have disappeared! So, the main difference is in the number of species that may be shot or killed, and the methods used. In Italy, and also in France, where there is a strict examination in order to obtain the shooting licence which includes identification of birds, in practice very few shooters have any idea of the differences between many similar species, and they tend to shoot first and ask questions later, if at all.
Question: I know a couple of amateur hunters in Tuscany who have been converted to nature guards. Do you think birdwatching could be a more civilized alternative or an evolutionary leap for amateur hunting?
James: Yes, certainly. Many hunters are already expert in how to approach birds quietly, and some of them know a lot about the movements of birds. They may find that they miss the thrill of the hunt, and in that case they can take up photography, which in these days of digital cameras has become a lot easier, and will allow them to come home with plenty of trophies in the form of photographs. Many hunters also say that what they really enjoy about hunting is simply the sensation of being outside in Nature, enjoying the fresh air and seeing the natural World. Birdwatching provides all these sensations, with the added pleasure of knowing that you have not killed or harmed anything.
Patanella an der Laguna di Ponente
Hier gibt es einen botanischen Lehrpfad und mehrere Beobachtungs-Unterstände. Im Januar haben wir wir hier mühelos Eisvögel, große Brachvögel, Silberreiher, eine geschwätzige Kolonie von Flamingos und eine verschwiegene Waldohreule beobachten können. Im Sommer sollten Sie sich vor Mücken schützen.
Anfahrt: Strada Statale 1 Aurelia in südliche Richtung fahren. Ausfahrt Patanella ausgeschildert bei Kilometer 149.
Klein und gemein
Der Monte Argentario
Tools and toys for birdwatching
The most important thing, of course, is a good pair of binoculars. Many people think that the more powerful the binoculars, the better the viewing will be. This is in fact not the case. The most important thing is to find a good balance between magnification, field of view and light gathering capacity. Binoculars with high magnifications tend to have a narrow field of view, making it more difficult to find the birds; in addition, they tend to give a dark image and every movement of your hands is increased, so it is difficult to hold them still. On every pair of binoculars you will 2 numbers, for example 8x30. This means that they magnify 8 times and that the field of view is 30 degrees. These are perfectly adequate, but many birdwatchers now prefer 10x42. Prices vary greatly, with the best models (usually produced by Leica and Zeiss) costing up to 1000 Euros. However, it is perfectly possible to find a satisfactory pair for 200 300 Euros.
The other popular item is a telescope, or spotting scope and a tripod. These are especially useful for watching birds at longer distances, and observing waterbirds is particularly improved by using a scope. Popular makes are again Leica and Zeiss, with Swarowski, Kowa and Nikon also producing excellent models. Until recently many scopes had interchangeable eyepieces of 20x, 30x and even up to 60x magnification, but these days most telescopes have zoom functions, allowing you to use a low magnification to locate the bird, and then zoom in on it.
Another very popular new activity is digiscoping. This means using your telescope as a telephoto lens for your digital camera, which can produce amazing results. Most manufacturers produce adapters which allow you to attach your camera to the objective lens of the scope. Not all cameras are suitable for this, and they should ideally have an internal rather than an external zoom, and a screw thread which will allow the attachment to be screwed onto the camera. The most popular camera among digiscopers currently is the Nikon Coolpix 4500.
Other than these items, it is advisable not to wear too brightly coloured clothes!
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