A Birdwatcher's Guide to Italy
A Birdwatcher's Guide to Italy
This is the second birdwatching guide for Italy to be written in English, the first being Where to Watch Birds in Italy, published by Christopher Helm in 1994. The latest site guide to the country is the work of two northern Italian birdwatchers, one of whom, Luciano Ruggieri, is also founder and current President of Eurobirdnet (EBN) Italia, the Italian section of the EBN network.
Compared to the previous guide, the main selling point of this new book is that, as welll as describing the top 100 or so birdwatching sites in Italy, it also includes a highly informative section offering some background on the most interesting birds to be found. Information in the guide is very up to date, and this is particularly important in a country where there are still several gaps in ornithological knowledge, and where many changes have occurred in recent years due to climate change, reduced hunting pressures, habitat changes and so on.
After some useful introductory pages on Italy in general (covering travel accommodation, culture and climate), and a brief chapter describing a dozen or so of the endemic, sub-endemic and localised Italian subspecies, the first main section of the guide gives detailed information on some 119 of the most ‘important’ Italian species (those that are rare locally or at a European level, or that are particularly sought after by foreign birdwatchers).
For each species, European and Italian distribution and population estimates are given, along with a description of typical habitat and full taxonomic details, where necessary. Finally, for each species helpful cross-reference numbers are given to the sites where it may be found. This will benefit visiting birdwatchers who already know which species they are after, as they can quickly pinpoint the best locations for seeing them.
The second section describes 100 of the best birdwatching sites in Italy, with brief notes on another 40 locations that are close to main areas. Each site is broken down into a ‘how-to- get-there’ description (maps are provided where necessary), a list of the most interesting birds to be found (those among the 119 species described in the first section), the best season in which to observe them (winter, migratory or breeding seasons) and an indication of the chances of seeing them (capital letters for the more readily observable birds). Other commoner species that are typical for each site are also given.
I am particularly interested in mountain and woodland species in central Italy, so I focused my attention on the information concerning the species and sites I know best. It was refreshing to read in the species section that the presence of Lilford’s Woodpecker (the Mediterranean form of White-backed Woodpecker) in the Gargano peninsula is only “probable”. Previous literature had always listed this as a certain species for this site in south-eastern Italy, while in reality over recent decades there have been very few reliable observations – it may still be present, but if so it is certainly rare and hard to observe there. This example indicates that the authors have reviewed all historical literature systematically, updating it when required.
Another important point to make is that the authors have put considerable work into making the guide as up to date as possible. Thanks also to the ever-increasing number of observations submitted by Italian EBN birdwatchers, all recent relevant data has been gathered. As an example of this thoroughness, I was pleasantly surprised to find that an unusual encounter I had with a migrating Marmora’s Warbler near Rome was reported in the ‘rarities’ section of the Tolfa Hills site entry.
However, it is important to realise that although birdwatching is on the increase in Italy, and nature protection in general is improving constantly in the country, there are still plenty of areas and species that are underwatched, and bird distribution and occurrences are much less well known than in most other west European countries.
Therefore, while this guide very successfully brings together as much available information as possible, it cannot cover all the gaps of knowledge for species and sites that are yet to be discovered.
The only illustrations in the book are site maps – there are no bird illustrations or photographs – and this helps keep the price down. However, there is a fine front cover illustration of Rock Partridge, one of the ‘top 18 species’ sought by foreign birders.
The level of English is more than acceptable. There are a few minor misprints here and there, but in general the guide is very readable and clearly laid out. I believe it likely that in future we may be seeing new Italian guides that specialise in certain areas or regions, as with Helm’s Where to Watch Birds in . . . series in England.
One final comment is that despite Italy having been rightly criticised in the past for its serious hunting and poaching problems, the situation is much better now, and continues to improve. The famous Honey Buzzard massacre that used to take place in southern Italy has been virtually eliminated, and now observation camps are organised there each year instead. Hunting is slowly but steadily decreasing, there are several nature reserves, and wildlife protection and awareness is generally improving. Italy’s amazing habitat diversity offers spectacular mountain scenery and beautiful islands, and if one knows where to go there is plenty to be seen. The fact that there are several yet-to-be-explored sites and species to be found is what makes birdwatching in Italy so challenging – there is always a good chance of stumbling upon relatively rare and unexpected birds if one looks hard enough and is lucky!
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone visiting Italy who wishes to include birdwatching in their journey. There is certainly no better guide available at the moment.
• A Birdwatcher's Guide to Italy by Luciano Ruggieri and Igor Festari (Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2005).