Saturday, October 27, 2012

Birdin' The Boot

Last week I found myself in Rome. While admiring the spectacle of the ancient sites, the renaissance sites, and the baroque sites, as well as the modern sites (and modern cuisine!), I snuck a little bit of birding in too. Unfortunately, the one excursion I made exclusively for birding was rained out almost immediately, but during this wonderful sojourn abroad I did see some new and interesting species. 

Old, New, and in's all crammed together in Rome

To be honest, my birding enthusiasm wanes a bit when I head out of the country, at least regarding listing and finding new species. Part of it is an anxiety about opening the flood gates too wide. The quest to see every North American species is reasonable. Opening myself up to European or South American birding is...dangerous, with so many new species to see, so many of which I've never even heard. At any rate, it was nice to also find a few species that also turn up or have small populations in the U.S.

In lieu of Chickadees, the European canopies are adorned with Tits. Yes, there's not really a less awkward way to say it. The Great Tits are the most visible (obviously) but Eurasian Blues and Long-tailed can turn up as well.

The Tits' cheery and chittery companion is the European Robin. They're all over the Italian Peninsula (and Europe at large). I saw them at every single site we visited outside of Rome, including up high in Orvieto and Assisi as well as the ancient ruins of Ostia.

White Wagtails are another fairly common sight in the urban greenery. Without ever compromising their excellent posture, they run around the freshly mowed park lawns and gardens, murdering many insects and staying wary of the camera.

The Hooded Crows are the corvid creme de la creme around the Ancient City. Larger and meaner than Jackdaws, they boss the garbage cans and gutters in superlative fashion. Perhaps their success is in large part due to their ability to stand up very tall.

Though corvids are regarded as very intelligent birds, these Hooded Crows had moments when they seemed to exude profound unintelligence. To be fair, I have those moments too.

However, the creepy blank stare of a Muscovy Duck is no more reassuring. These funny-faced birds have established colonies in Texas and other parts of the U.S., and are now spreading into Europe as well. If I had to pick one species that possibility germinated the avian pox and/or bird flu, I'd vote Muscovy Duck. Look at this sinister thing...

As in the U.S., Mallards still comprise 85% of the waterfowl around urban Roman ponds. Also like the U.S., there are some interesting, colorful varieties and hybrids around the urban ponds. This crusty-eyebrowed fella here, only half exposed to the light, was the size of a goose.

Luckily the manky Mallards and un-listable Muscovy Ducks weren't the only waterfowl around. Ruddy Shelducks occasionally turn up in North America. From what I've read, no one has definitively confirmed they are of wild origin, and even in their native Eurasia their populations are declining. As such, I considered myself lucky to find a pair at the Borghese Villa park in north central Rome. 

The Shelducks were probably my favorite birds of the trip. There's just something so satisfying about seeing big and new Waterfowl (and they're a mercifully straightforward lot to identify).

Perhaps the most fitting sighting of the trip was this Monk Parakeet outside of St. Paul's Cathedral. The Monk Parakeets were actually all over Rome, but always streaking by at considerable speed and with awful shrieking. 

The Rome birds were nice--a great bonus to an awesome trip. But I am really looking forward to North American birding again, particularly because it's waterfowl and sparrow season now. Yee-haw!