The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Italy Trip - Days 6 - 8


We were to take to the sea today, heading two hours off the coast to the island of Ventotene.

We'd only just left port, when an Audouin's Gull flew past.  I knew they were in the area, but had no idea they'd be this easy!

Just as we were leaving the bay, a fantastic Cory's Shearwater was flushed from the front of the boat and I got good views.  Miles better than those I'd got off The Camargue two weeks ago.  By this time the Audouin's count was three, but we then suddenly hit a dry patch.

In fact, apart from the odd Yellow-legged Gull, and oddly, a Pallid Swift flying about way out at sea, I didn't spot any other birds till we got close to the island .

Shearwaters presumably nest on the island, so it wasn't much of a surprise to see one or two Yelkouan Shearwater briefly.

Once on the island, we headed for the far end and highest point.  The place was tiny, smaller than Portland in fact.  Imagine my delight when I discovered there was a Bird Observatory there!  I had no idea!  I soon realised that an island in this location was bound to be a migration hotspot.

My suspicions were solidified by finding Spotted Flycatcher and Reed Warbler in quick succession, neither in breeding habitat.  Clearly migration was still occurring.  What else might be around?

Plenty of great insects as to be expected now from this region, such as this female Rhinoceros Beetle Oryctes nasicornis.

And the black and red Shieldbug Graphosoma lineatum (similar to G. italicum that I saw in France)

We did come across the Bird Observatory eventually, though it turned out to be more of an interpretive visitor centre than the UK version, and you had to pay to get in, so we gave it a miss.

Not long after passing the centre, I flushed a large warbler from some roadside bushes.  I watched it for ages into the sun, as it preened on an exposed branch.  It had a large bill, and I was thinking it must be a Hippolais, but it's plumage seemed rather brown.  I never got enough on it frustratingly, but I wonder whether it could have been an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (a late migrant, and they breed due north on the Adriatic coast).  One that got away!

We made it to the far end of the island, which was a mass of Broom scrub

The butterflies were particularly impressive here, with plenty of Swallowtail, as well as this mating pair of Long-tailed Blue.

There were also Hummingbird Hawk-moth absolutely everywhere!  Clearly the precursor to the mass migration occurring in the UK at the time of writing.

We made our way back to the tiny harbour after our lunch. 

A Peregrine soared overhead, and a large passerine calling like a Tawny Pipit heading out to sea towards the adjacent islet of San Stefano, was probably a Short-toed Lark.

After a refreshing swim in the sea (lots of interesting fish seen, as well as a bizarre Sea Cucumber!) , we caught the Ferry back (Ventotene on right, San Stefano on left).

On the trip back, I saw way more Shearwaters than on the trip out, with brilliant views of both species.

Towards the end, one of the local Audouin's Gull followed us into port.

The evening was one of the only calm ones of the week, and I was able to sit out in the garden and hear both Nightjar and Scops Owl calling from the other side of the valley.


The plan today was to head back up into the Monti Aurunci mountains.  As it turned out, we went very close to where I went walking before.  As a result, I ended up seeing much of the same as that walk, though I tried my best to seek out different habitats where possible, keeping to dry grassland and woodland.

Plants were top quality here, with familiar Nottingham Catchfly,

The wonderfully-named Bastard Balm,

And, at last, a few Orchids, including the familiar Pyramidal, the very unfamiliar Bug,

plus both Violet and Common Bird's-nest Orchid.

The Golden Oriole I'd heard last time was singing much closer on this walk, and I think I came very close to catching a glimpse, but not quite!

Short-toed Eagle were around, along with Cirl Bunting, both Treecreeper, and my first Redstart and Stonechat of the trip.

The highest point again gave great views.

The Lepidoptera again featured highly, with more Spotted Fritillary (a male this time),

The brightly-coloured Scarce Forester,

And, I finally managed to get a shot of the hyper-active Scarce Swallowtail.

A few more familiar 'leps' included a Cream-spot Tiger,


And Meadow Brown, though the ones around here seem to have larger secondary eye-spots on the hindwing.

The best bird turned out to be a single singing Western Bonelli's Warbler, a species I expected to be commoner.

A few more interesting insect finds included this unidentified large Scarab Beetle.

a caterpillar of the Burnet moth Zygaena cynarae.

and the large Assassin-bug Rhynocoris iracundus.  Red and black seems to be a common theme among the insects round here!

A short trip to the nearby village of Maranola, produced yet another Blue Rock Thrush.

In the evening, I again saw two Falcon soaring on the nearby mountainside.  One drifted towards the house, and gave me great views circling right over the garden.  I was expecting to see the ginger crown, barred rump, and dark underwing covert bar of a Lanner.  I didn't, it was a Peregrine!  Had all the Falcons I'd seen up to now been Peregrine?  Not sure, but I think it's highly probable.  Shame.


This morning, we made the trip back to Rome airport, with a little visit to the famous monastery of Montecassino in between.

From the car, I saw Black Kite and a very close Honey Buzzard before we reached the end of the line.

A shame I didn't get the opportunity to get out to a wetland, but I had a great week.  With that in mind, the bird total of 75 is really very good.  However, it was all the incredible insects, and particularly butterflies and moths, which made it for me.

In the end, it was a brilliant trip with a loads more wildlife than I was expecting.  There doesn't seem to be quite the ecological tradition of other countries, with only a small number of nature reserves.  The people don't seem to be quite so interested in wildlife than elsewhere either   The reserves we visited, including the national park, were virtually deserted.  But, where there is wildlife, it is special.

The likes of southern France and Spain probably have more bird species and in greater numbers than Italy, which is why it's not really mentioned as a birding destination.  But, with all the wonderful non-birding places to visit (Pompei, Montecassino, Rome etc.), I think it's an ideal location for a holiday with non-birding relatives. 

If you do go, I'll give you just one head up, Italian drivers are maniacs!

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