The Po Delta Park is a legacy of unique beauty with its fresh and brackish waters and its diverse flora, but more so for its rich birdlife. It hosts 317 known species of birds, of which 154 come to nest and 176 are wintering. It is therefore not surprising that during periods of migration a magical atmosphere pervades our valleys. The best time to experience this is during the spring and autumn periods of migration when nature is awakening in all her beauty, or when the yellow and brown hues of autumn come together to perform an enchanting dance of color. The best time by far for observation is from late summer to late winter. It is in this period one can observe the largest variety of species. There are, of course, exceptions: in spring and summer, many males are more visible while they engage in their mating ritual and are therefore easier to observe, whereas they are more difficult to catch sight of during other seasons.
THE COASTAL AREA
As well as being dependant on the cycle of night and day for their survival, as are all birds, the existence of the birds in the coastal zone also depends on the rise and fall of the tide. Many feed during low tide in order to rest when the tide is high; others behave in the opposite way.
In general, low tide is perfect for the birdwatcher because the birds are intent on seeking food on beaches and mud shoals. In this environment we can identify three groups:
- Gulls: For a beginner it may be difficult to distinguish one type of gull from another. On the other hand, gulls are quite confident and can therefore be observed closely.
- Wading birds: These are diffident and almost always gather in large flocks. The flocks often include different species, which makes identification difficult.
- Pelagic birds: These are the most difficult to recognize among the three groups as they mainly live in the open sea and also because different species have very similar plumage.
The car can be an excellent vantage point in open areas, as birds gather at the edges of roads and on overhead cables. Often it is the most effective venue from where to observe various species which inhabit large hunting areas, such as birds of prey during the winter and corn buntings which tend to gather on roadside fences during the summer. Other favorable vantage points are newly plowed fields; the birds being attracted by the insects and larvae on the soil.
You are advised to proceed along hedgerows or the edge of woodland and to park your car in a location you can use as an observation point, or just to walk among the trees and shrubs.
No special equipment is needed in the summer a good pair of binoculars and a hat will do.
The wetlands are one of the most important areas for birdwatching as these also serve as areas of passage and wintering for a large number of species.
The ecosystem of these areas allows for the coexistence of a large variety of birds. Depending on the different physical characteristics of the birds – for example if they have longer or shorter claws – they will choose to occupy the deeper or more shallow sections of the territory. This shows how the distribution of different species is far from random and how, in fact, they live in rigorously structured communities.
Foto: D. Pansecchi
IN THE WOODS
The woods are home to numerous species of birds, and although the presence of leaves makes watching difficult, you can hear them singing!
Wintering birds gather in flocks of diverse varieties who wander about in search of food. Although you can observe a good number of birds in the winter, there is a much larger concentration in spring and summer when the greater availability of food attracts them from their winter habitat in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore the most propitious moments for birdwatching are during the spring and autumn periods of migration or, more specifically, from April to May and August through October.
Walk quietly, not just to avoid making noise but to try to recognize and distinguish the particular song of a bird. Another piece of advice is to sit still, so as so as not to worry the birds and drive them away. This way they are more likely to accept your presence.
In this type of terrain it may be easier to get closer to waterfowl by canoe or by boat. Alternatively you can follow the trails and riverbanks on foot or by bicycle and scan the surroundings with binoculars or a telescope.
A good pair of rubber boots, or at least heavier trekking shoes, will prove useful – especially in wet weather. And don’t forget to bring some insect repellant.