Spring is coming fast here in the Alps. So say the birds, at any rate.
This whole spring bird community change thing fascinates me to the very core. Everyewhere I have lived has had some form of spring change where the world seems to come alive a little bit more, the trees come in to bud, the birds sing and find mates (as do the university students) and there is a tangible buzz in the air.
But nowhere have I experienced that change and buzz in such an extreme way as here. To palearctic and neoarctic birders, that must seem like a silly statement, because you have all experienced that your entire lives and might never have known anything different, but while there is a difference between the seasons on the Peninsula de Osa (Costa Rica), it is nothing compared to here. Well, how can it be if the only two seasons are "the wet season" and "the very wet season".
Yesterday, I dragged my sleepy hindquarters out of bed at 3am. Hot tea. Muesli. Warm clothes. Car.
I was in Kühtai before 4am. 1.5m of snow. snowshoes. off. Ptarmigan and Black Grouse, here I come!
The moon was stunning, and the cool mountain air a pleasure to breath.
But by 4:30 I reached a rather large snowy slope, famous for its large avalanches. And, to my utter disgust, the snow just smelt unstable and the whole idea of "fording" this huge snow slope alone and before dawn on unstable snow just sounded like a silly idea.
Grudgingly, I schlepped myself back to the car to come up with a better idea for finding grouse without getting stuck under a big pile of snow. (which is not cool, to say the least)
So, I headed back down the Sellraintal to Sankt Sigmund, and headed up the valley there to the edge of the forest line. And waited.
An hour later, the first birds started to sing. First the Blackbirds, then a few Song Thrushes and a Ring Ouzel.
Tits, Spotted Nutcrackers, and of course, Chaffinches...
The sounds were wonderful.
And there is such an incredible beauty to experiencing the world wake up and having nothing to do but appreciate.
No sign of grouse, but one of the Thrushes kept on getting my ears pricking with its imitations of Pygmy Owl and Tengmalms Owl. No sign of the original composers though.
A rough 360º panorama taken at about 1950m asl. Deep snow on shady slope, already some land patches showing on sunny slope, between surprisingly deep snow flows.
A little later, I headed back up to Kühtai to see what I could find.
The white-winged snowfinches have all but gone already, with only a couple still hanging around town. A nice flock of Alpine Choughs were being rather sociable, and I picked up my first Black Redstarts of the season in the high mountains.
What was most interesting was to see how the Water Pipits had already carefully laid out their territories across the great white expanse of snow. Every 100 meters or so, was another black speck. Displaying and singing, the water pipits were already in to spring over-drive mode.
List of species establishing territories/singing at or above 1900m so far (in rough order of appearance):
Blackbird, Song Thrush, Ring Ouzel
Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Crested Tit
Raven, Carrion Crow, Magpie*
*seen at 2000m
Spring really is a special time to watch birds in the Alps!