Sunday 22 February 2009

Birds seen while skiing in France

My week in France in February 2009 was not intended to be anything birdy, but the Alps came up trumps with a few lifers. As soon as we arrived I saw two or three alpine accentors on the balcony. A first for me but they turned out to be very common. At first they look like dunnocks, but when you see them first hand, you notice the rufous flanks, the distinctive bib and the much more marked back and sides. Altogether a much more handsome bird than a dunnock. These differences do not always come out in the field guides.

Alpine accentor

There were also blue, coal, great and willow tits, jay, great spotted woodpecker, blackbird, raven and buzzard visible from the chalet.

A trip to Tignes would assure us of some snow buntings according to our host. The 'snow buntings' turned out to be much larger than expected and the colouration wasn't right at all. These were no snow buntings! I took a few photos with my wife's Canon point-and-shoot so I could look at them later. I wish I'd had my camera but it is heavier and, after all, this was a skiing holiday, right? Also I had no binoculars or scope.

After our refreshment stop I noticed two large black birds on the roof of the restaurant. Closer inspection showed they had yellow decurved bills, so they were alpine choughs. Thank goodness for the large image magnification on the camera to see such details as the bill. I still haven't seen the 'normal' chough with the red bill, which are rarer!

Alpine chough, Tignes.

Back at the chalet, the 'snow buntings' turned out to be snow finches, as my friend, David Campbell, had correctly guessed. Both the alpine chough and snow finch were lifers for me.

Snow finch, Tignes, France.

On the final day I went for a walk in the woods. I'd heard there were crested tits about but the first nice surprise was some treecreepers which were surprisingly tame. I hoped they might be short toed treecreepers but I can't really tell. Any experts at telling these two species apart are very welcome to comment on this photo. I thought that the slightly creamy belly and the slightly more marked white wing bar might be distinctive.

Treecreeper - Short-toed??

Just as the light was fading the crested tits appeared (another lifer). They were not so tame however and I managed to get only one distant record shot before having to go back to finish my packing before leaving for the return trip, ten hours overnight on the Eurostar, not good even First Class!

Crested tit, France.

Anyway, four lifers on a non birdwatching trip without binoculars, telescope or my digital SLR is not a bad haul.


  1. looks like a short toed 2 me.the differences are very small between them.but the main difference is that they have even'steps' on edge of the wing bar giving an upside down v shape while normal creepers have uneven steps.other ays to tell them apart is by the long bill and distinct white spots on the primarys(yellowish on british creeper)it also shows a brown tinge to the flanks.this bird is a typicle s t creeper

  2. Thanks, midlands. That confirms what others have said on Birdforum. It's a nice lifer then. Shame it's not in the UK, but very nice anyway. Thanks for looking.



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