Of the buntings, it is only really the Yellow Hammer (Goldammer) that has any real level of abundance in Tirol. The Ortolan Buntings are hanging on by the skin of their teeth (teeth ?) in the Silz area and I had heard rumours of a few Rock Buntings (Zippammer) about on the "hot", rocky northern slopes of the Inn Valley. So I started to ask about, and it seemed that they had been seen by a few different people right by my house, on the slopes above the winefarm in Zirl.
Sunday morning I hauled my still sleepy legs out of the house just before sunrise and headed first up to Ehnbachklamm to look for the Wallcreeper on my way to looking for the Rock Buntings [kill two metaphoric birds with one stone]. As I was about to enter the Ehnbachklamm (a very tight little gorge), I heard my first Rock Bunting singing in the trees above me.
To say the least.
I have been here innumerable times and never picked up the Rock Bunting!
Still no wallcreepers. grrrr. they are a figment of photoshop's imagination!
So I headed back down the hill and up the other side of the gorge, towards Martinswand and the Zirler Steinbruch (quarry). It did not take me long to find the next pair to Rock Buntings, doing just what rock buntings do: sitting on a dead tree, right on a cliff, singing. Wonderful.
Racing up the road to try to get a better position, I got to the quarry edge and heard another two Rock Bunting (territory three and counting!), but I carried on up to the little bridge over the rocky channel where I had seen the second pair. Poor photographs ensued, and maniacal climbing of cliffs with telescopes. I still didn't get a great photo, but at least I got to watch the pair feeding on the cliff. As the pair flew up from the cliff, it was interesting to see how the female would fly to the lower branches of an exposed tree, and the male would fly directly to the top of the tree/bush/snag to sing his merry little heart out.
The Bonelli's Warblers (Berglaubsänger) were back in full force with at least 20 individuals calling across the mountain slope. Good to have them back!
Heading out towards the Kaiser Max Grotte (a cave overlooking Innsbruck in the Martinswand), I picked up yet another Rock Bunting. It was ridiculous to see how many I was finding of a lifer that has, for all this time, lived just a few minutes walk behind my house. I blame at least part of this on the "I did not expect it so did not find it" psychology. The other part is, quite clearly, my incompetance ;-)
In terms of habitat preference, it seems the Rock Buntings in Tirol prefer steeper slopes that are: South-facing (warmer), rocky with exposed rock sections/cliff areas, steep but not vertical, low canopy cover (fairly open woodland flanking open rocky areas), and the vegetation is dominated by small/stunted Austrian Black Pine (Pinus nigra, Waldkiefer). Conversations with other local ornithologists have revealed that they occasionally move out on to the valley floor, particularly in areas adjacent to their typical habitat, and will also utilize more closed pine woodland flanking the open rocky areas. These woodlands are typically great for picking up Bonelli's Warbler.
A Black Redstart alit briefly when I was in "hunting" position. the green in the background is from the distant fields.
You see, it does help to know what you are looking for in order to find it - pyschologists have been telling us for years, and it finally makes sense.