Sunday, 19 April 2015

Tuscany, Italy - 10th-15th April

After a number of birding trips of late it was time for a laid back family holiday and so Sarah, Tobias and I were heading for Tuscany for a long weekend's break. I have previously only been to Italy once before when Sarah and I visited Rome and Pompeii in 2008. Italy has a reputation for being birdless but I had hopes for a few padders even if there were no lifers readily available.

We flew with British Airways from Heathrow at 08:50 to Pisa landing at 12:00, Italy being one hour ahead of the UK. We stayed at Castello di Castole to the west of Siena between Casole d'Elsa and Pievescole, not for any bird reason in particular but because the hotel is of good quality, child friendly and has grounds of 4,500 acres which may hold a few birds - okay, so there was a bit of a bird slant to the choice. I had looked at hiring a bird guide for a morning but in hindsight decided not to do this due to limited time and the desire to spend time with Sarah and Tobias and to relax. I contacted Marco Valtriani at 'Birding in Italy' he was very responsive and helpful and I would certainly recommend his services if you are planning a trip although, of course, I did not bird with him. We hired a car from Avis and based our entire holiday not too far from the hotel. Our return flight was at 13:05 from Pisa landing in Heathrow at 14:30.

  • Day 1 (10th) - Flight Heathrow-Pisa (08:50-12:00) followed by drive to Castello di Castole arriving at around 15:00 spent the afternoon relaxing.
  • Day 2 (11th) - After a leisurely start spent the late morning and the afternoon relaxing in the town of Siena.
  • Day 3 (12th) - Spent the day walking the tracks around the hotel grounds.
  • Day 4 (13th) - Drove to Florence (approximately one hour) and spent the day in the city.
  • Day 5 (14th) - Spent the morning walking within the grounds of the hotel and headed to the beautiful town of San Gimignano
  • Day 6 (15th) - Left hotel at 09:30 for the 1.5 hour drive to Pisa and our flight home at 13:05, flight delayed until 13:30 landing in the UK at 14:40.
Throughout our stay the weather was warm and spring like with temperatures ranging from 19-23c and light winds.


10th April
After a very early start (04:00) we landed in Pisa on schedule and after vast amount of faffing at the Avis car hire centre we were on our way to our hotel. The drive went smoothly, Tobias asleep and the sat-nav guiding us smoothly along. We saw little, a few sparrows which I took to be Italian Sparrow but we didn't stop. A quick stop for some roadside orchids along the road to the hotel produced a nice group of Early Spider Orchid. We got to the hotel checked in ordered a bottle of Champagne and relaxed on the veranda of our room enjoying the view of the Tuscan landscape and a few birds. We saw Cirl Bunting, Firecrest, abundant Serin, Woodlark, Black RedstartFirecrest, Swift, Swallow and House Martin. Italian Wall Lizards were abundant and scuttled around the flower beds near to the door of our room.

Early Spider Orchid

Italian Wall Lizard

Italian Wall Lizard

View from our balcony at the Hotel Castello di Castole

11th April
We spent the day relaxing in the town of Siena today and didn't really see any birds to speak of. The usual species were visible from the balcony plus we added Short-toed Treecreeper and three Scop's Owl calling at night.

12th April
We spent the day relaxing in the hotel with a nice walk through the grounds of the hotel. The walk was not as relaxing as we had anticipated mainly due to the tracks around the grounds being very steep in places, this meant that I spent much time pushing a push-chair uphill or controlling it as it went down. The birds we saw were much as we had seen from the balcony, we added Hare to the list and saw a range of plants although it appeared that we were a little early in the season for most species to be flowering. Butterflies included Orange-tip, Wood White, Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail and Brimstone.

Italian Wall Lizard

Purple Milk-vetch

Scarce Swallowtail

St. Bernard's Lily

Green Lizard

Wood White

13th April
Today was another day spent in a town, this time Florence around one hour to the north-east of our hotel. I have to say that I was not fond of Florence, very crowded and not especially attractive. We added Mallard to the list and there were a few Swallow, House Martin and Italian Sparrow in the town.

14th April
I decided to get up early today and do a little birding. I birded an area of grassland and scrub plus into some pretty birdless mixed woodland in the hotel grounds. Hare were abundant this early in the morning before people were around and there were also many Roe Deer. I added Redstart, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Garden Warbler and Sardinian Warbler to the trip list but otherwise it was relatively slow going and birds were pretty unapproachable in general although I had nice views of Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper.






Short-toed Treecreeper

 Wall Brown

Speckled Wood


After breakfast we went for a short walk around the hotel grounds, this time staying on roads that were a little flatter. We added a few nice butterflies to the list including, Pearl-bordered FritillaryGreen-underside Blue and Southern Festoon the latter two of which were new for me.  

Green-underside Blue

Green-underside Blue

Southern Festoon

Edible Frog

Bumblebee species on Bugle

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the fantastic town of San Gimignano where we had views of Italian Sparrow and I enjoyed a lovely lunchtime glass of Chianti.

Italian Sparrow

15th April
Our final day consisted of driving back to the airport at Pisa for our 13:05 flight back to the UK.

Bird Species List
Common Pheasant
Rock Dove
Common Woodpigeon
Eurasian Collared-dove
Common Swift
Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Yellow-legged Gull 
Little Owl 
Eurasian Scops-owl
Tawny Owl
Eurasian Buzzard
Eurasian Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Common Kestrel 
Eurasian Skylark
Barn Swallow
Northern House Martin
White Wagtail
Northern Wren
Common Blackbird
Common Nightingale
European Robin 
Black Redstart
Common Redstart
Common Firecrest
Common Chiffchaff
Garden Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Common Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit 
Eurasian Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Eurasian Jay
Common Magpie
Eurasian Jackdaw
Hooded Crow
Common Starling
Italian Sparrow
Common Chaffinch
European Serin
European Goldfinch
Cirl Bunting

Total = 48 species