Birdwatching in the Lago Maggiore

I went to the Lago Maggiore (“Larger lake”), the second largest lake in Italy, in order to twitch a Pied Wagtail observed along the shore in Arona. In the area I observed a number of interesting gulls and birds in the superb scenary of the lake, with its chain of moutains, towns, castles, palaces and islands.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) is the British Isles subspecies of White Wagtail: common in UK, it’s on the contrary a rare bird in Italy, with just a couple of observations reported almost every year.

When I arrived in Arona, the morning was cold and sunny, but the light was rather bad for the observations, being on the western shore of the lake.

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I started to check the few wagtails: there were only a couple in good light, the others were very far in back light. I had 1 Grey and 2 White Wagtails.

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

More interesting were gulls, with good numbers of Black-headed Gulls and few large gulls. In Italy the commonest species is Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis), that usually constitutes more than 99% of large gulls, but I was lucky in finding an higher percentage of “rare individuals”.

Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)

To spot something different is always a challenge, being large gull often very similar one to the other, expecially in the distance. But with some experience the typical shape of a Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans), with flat forehead, slender long bill, neck streaks, thin long legs, diagonal posture, etc emerges.

2 Caspian Gulls (Larus cachinnans) among Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis)
2 Caspian Gulls (Larus cachinnans) among Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis)

One or two individuals flew pretty close, allowing good flight pictures.

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)

Usually the best feature to tell if it is a Caspian or a Yellow-legged Gull is the tip of wings, with big white spots on primaries and obvious grey tongues that penetrate in the black  on Caspian ones.

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)

I found also an adult Lesser-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) that showed very well.

Lesser-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
Lesser-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
Lesser-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
Lesser-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

At the end I counted at least 3 Caspian Gulls and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull among about only 35 Yellow-legged Gulls!

In the gardens of the lakeside I had some interesting passerines: Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Italian Sparrow, Siskin and Hawfinch. But the most cooperative were Robins (Erithacus rubecula).

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

In the lake other birds I observed were: Black-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Grey heron, Mallard, Coot and 7 stunning Goosanders (Mergus merganser).

Goosander (Mergus merganser)
Goosander (Mergus merganser)

Among the Black-headed Gulls I spotted also an adult of Common Gull (Larus canus).

Common Gull (Larus canus)
Common Gull (Larus canus)

But the target of my visit was the Pied Wagtail… I scanned tirelessly all the wagtails, but they were seeming all white ones… untill I found a very far one perched on a boat…

I managed to take a record shot when it took off. From that picture I noticed, the extended dark flanks and the blackish wings with obvious white wing bars: it was the Pied Wagtail, a female!

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Luca Boscain

2 thoughts on “Birdwatching in the Lago Maggiore

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