Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Where to go birding around Venice

Venice (Venezia) is one of the most known and popular destinations of the world: everybody knows its amazing canals and boats instead than streets and cars, as well as the widespread richness of medioeval and Renaissance people that decided to build, on tiny lagoon islands, unbelievable residences and palaces, plenty of unreapetable works of Titian, Tintoretto or Canaletto.

But arround the city, if not even side by side with these wonders, the naturalists and birdwatchers might find some very interesting birdwatching sites, inside de Venice lagoon or just a little bit more inland.

I’m going to list a number of these sites, giving a short decription and telling what you might find there.

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Riva degli Schiavoni-Giardini della Biennale

If the famous “Piazza San Marco” is usually home of a pair of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus), some other very busy places in the Venice main center, like the “Riva degli Schiavoni” promenade and the “Giardini della Biennale” gardens, can offer, not rarely, some surprisely good observations.

The promenade faces into the San Marco basin, where all Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica), Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus), Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Common Gull (Larus canus), Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus), Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) and Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) are not uncommon, but very rare birds, like Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarens) and Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), have been reported as well on the gondola poles, expecially in winter time.

The Biennale gardens hosts a good population of breeding Scops Owls (Otus scops), Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae) and European Serin (Serinus serinus), while the close S. Elena island might be the home of a family of Common Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna). During the migration times and in winter some more passerines can be spotted here, going from Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) to Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes).

Parco di San Giuliano

This is a recently established urban park of about 140 ha that can be easily reached by pubblic transports. A lot of paths allow to explore most of it, reaching the lagoon front on one side, with a good view to Venice, or to skirt the freshwater lakes, rich in reedbeds, or the Osellino canal. Breeding species include Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis), Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) and Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus).

But the best time to visit the area is during migrations, whene many rarities can be observed: Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Little Crake (Porzana parva), Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana), Black Tern (Chlidonia niger), Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica) and Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) are only some of the regular presences.

Palude di Cona

It is one of the few sides the Venice lagoon easy to be reached from inland: an high bank allows to face to a tidal plain that, in low tide, hosts usually big numbers of water birds, expecially during migrations. Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), Great Egret (Ardea alba), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) are regular presences, but also flocks of hundreds of Garganeys (Anas querquedula), Teals (Anas crecca), Ruffs (Calidris pugnax), Curlews (Numenius arquata), Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus), Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola) and Dunlins (Calidris alpina) are not rare, as well as small numbers of Marsh Sandpipers (Tringa stagnatilis), Little Gulls (Hydrocoloeus minumus), Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) and White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus).

Breeding birds include Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) and Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus).

Lio Piccolo

Very small and picturesque village in the middle of the lagoon that you can reach by car or renting a bike in Cavallino-Treporti. The road to reach Lio Piccolo crosses tidal plains, brackish water ponds and salty grounds rich in avian presences: Common Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), Pygmy Cormorants (Microcarbo pygmaeus), Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus), Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), Common Redshanks (Tringa totanus), Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) and European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) are some of the commonest species, but a lot of ducks, waders, gulls and terns are also abundant in winter and migration time.

San Niccolò

This is the northern top of the Lido islands, where a very long breakwater penetrate deeply in the Adriatic sea. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) all breed in the area, but is the sea to host the best species, going from Tern (Sterna sanvicensis), to Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) and Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca).

Interesting birds like Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), Common Eider (Somateria mollissima), Gannet (Morus bassanus), Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus), Hume’s Warbler (Phylloscopus humei) and Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) are not rarely reported in the area.

Biotopo degli Alberoni

An interesting WWF oasis (160 ha) that protects fragments of Mediterranean maquis and pinewood on the southern top of Lido island. 9 species of orchids have been reported here, including Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra), Dark Red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens), Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris), Common Bee-orchid (Ophrys apifera) and Autumn Lady’s-tresses  (Spiranthes spiralis).

Birding can be productive as well: Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) nests on the beach with some pairs, while Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) and Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) occurs in the maquis and Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii), Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) and Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica) can be spotted offshore.

Oasi di Ca’ Roman

It’s a small oasis (48 ha) of the LIPU, the Italian partner of Birdlife International, placed on the southern top  of the very long island of Pellestrina. It has maintained some very natural sand dunes and Mediterranean garigue that host breeding birds like Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Little Tern (Sternula albifrons), Scops Owl (Otus scops), European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) and Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) are all present.

By winter many more sea birds occurs on the beach and off shore, going from divers to grebes, waders and gulls, including Caspian and Herring (Larus cachinnans & L. argentatus).

Valli di Brenta

A series of lookout that face to condolidated islands were waders, gulls and terns come to roost and rest during high tides. Usually they place pretty far from the road road that coast the southern edge of the lagoon, so a telescope is recomanded.

Among thousands of Dunlins, Yellow-legged and Black-headed gulls, recently were spotted rare species of birds like Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva), Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus), Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus), Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis) and Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis).

Eco-centro of Chioggia

This center composts big loads of garbage and, in the cold season, attracts hundreds of gulls. The commonest species are Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and Common Gull (Larus canus), but also Mediterranean Gull (Ichtyaetus melanocephalus), Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans), Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) regularly occur, with other rarities always possible.

Valle Vecchia of Caorle

It’s a not so known, but surprisingly interesting birdwatching hot spot, maybe the best in the Veneto region. In a protected area of 150 ha has been recently started a project of environmental restoration with the digging of a number of ponds and wetlands, the planting of new woodlands and the good management of one of the biggest coastal pinewood of the region. Have been placed some birding hides and towers as well

Wide reedbeds are now populated, in summer, by Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina), Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Little Crake (Porzana parva) and Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides). In winter, instead, Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Moustached Warbler (Acrocephalus melanopogon), Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) and Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) are all encountered.

The pinewood is home of Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis), Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops), Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta), Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis sicula) and Common Viper (Viper aspis).

The surrounding lagoons and estuaries are perfect grounds where to look for waders, grebes, ducks and terns, while the inland cultivated fields host, in winter, big flocks of geese and single individuals of Great Spotted and White-tailed eagles (Aquila clanga & Haliaeetus albicilla).

Po delta

Maybe the best known Italian wetland, is still one of the best places for birdwatching, but I suggest to visit the area far from the hunting season (between September and January), when shooting can be heavy. Most of the brackish water ponds, like in the Venice lagoon, are in fact managed here in order to attract the biggest number of waterfowl possible for hunting: this means that, on one hand, the wild ducks are heavily feeded (that’s why their number has incresed strongly in the last 20 years) and hunted, but also that the apparently natural (but totally artificial!) habitats from ponds, to mudflats,to little islands, to reedbeds, can be maintained with the income of hunting and be suitable not only for waterfowl, but also for big numbers of other birds during the other months of the year.

So you will see here tens of thousands of Eurasian Wigeons (Anas penelope), Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Eurasian Teals (Anas crecca) and Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) in autumn and winter, but also hundreds of breeding pairs of Black-winged Stilts (Himanopus himantopus), Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Mediterranean Gulls (Ichtyaetus melanocephalus), Little Terns (Sternula albifrons) and Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica) in spring and summer.

Luca Boscain

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