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Italy | Lombardy Alps & Apennines

An 8-day 'Birds & Butterflies' tour to Northern Italy, focusing on the Alps and Oltrepo Pavese

This delightful ‘Birds & Butterflies’ tour to Northern Italy will take you from the beautiful Apennine foothills that lie to the south of Milan, north across the Po plain of Lombardy and high into the Italian Alps, close to the border with Switzerland. After Moltoni’s Warbler, Black-headed Bunting and Lesser Grey Shrike in the rolling hills, it's the turn of Lammergeier, Nutcracker and Snowfinch amid the superb alpine landscapes of scenic Stelvio National Park. Add a host of wonderful butterflies - including the lovely Southern White Admiral, Escher’s Blue and Great Banded Grayling - and join us for our fourth visit to this superb destination. Designed and led exclusively for Limosa by Italian bird and wildlife guide Michele Viganò, who lives in Lombardy.

Tour Dates

2018

  • Available

Leaders
Colin Bushell
Michele Viganò

Max Group Size: 12
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1795*

inc flights from London Heathrow-Milan Linate, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £130*
Land Only: £1645

* Prices Provisional (tba)

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W Bonelli's Warbler 1 Italy 2015

The mountains and valleys of Stelvio National Park in northern Italy are famous for their wild and dramatic landscapes, and home to some wonderful birdlife - including the lovely Western Bonelli's Warbler © Brian Small, Limosa

Limosa has travelled to Italy on many occasions, but this summer trip to northern Italy offers something different - taking you to the scenic Lombardy region, from the vineyards and fields of the rolling Oltrepò Pavese to the south-facing slopes of the high Italian Alps. With just one change of hotel during the week, our tour will explore these two beautiful but contrasting areas for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

To the south of Milan lies the River Po, that rises close to the French border and heads east to Venice. After crossing the river, the Apennine foothills of the Oltrepò Pavese region gradually appear - and will be our home for a three-night stay near Varzi, where we stay in one of Italy's delightful agriturismi. The landscape here is soft and rolling, characterised by hilltop settlements and home to the likes of Ortolan Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Melodious Warbler, Roller and other species typical of the Mediterranean region. Numerous Nightingales sing through the night and one special bird that inhabits Lombardy's high bramble hedgerows is the localised Moltoni’s Warbler –here right by our hotel. We hope to see and hear them, plus Black-headed Bunting, too.

Having explored the foothills, we swing north via the rice fields and scattered wetlands along the Po River valley. With local help, we will again hope to find one of the last breeding pairs of Lesser Grey Shrikes in Italy. Gravel islands on the Po River are nesting sites for Little Terns - a long way from the sea. Here we visit one of the large heronries of the region, with hundreds of nesting birds, including Cattle Egrets, Squacco and Purple Herons, Little Bittern and a surprisingly large population of Sacred Ibis. Reed-fringed pools hold Ferruginous Ducks and Great Reed and Marsh Warblers.

The mountains and valleys of the Stelvio National Park are rightly famous for their wild and dramatic landscapes. Perched on the borders of Lombardy, Trentino Alto Adige and Switzerland, the park was founded in 1935 and is the largest in Italy. Sculpted by glaciers and numerous post-glacial streams, the landscape at the time of our visit in early June will be busy with breeding alpine birds.

Although rising to an altitude of 3900m (12,795 feet), we will be spending most of our time here birding between 2000 and 2800m (6,500-9,100 feet), where key alpine specialities include Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Ptarmigan, Alpine Chough, Ring Ouzel, Water Pipit, Citril Finch and Snowfinch. Early summer is the best time to visit the Alps, with the prospect of fine weather, majestic scenery and wildflower meadows.

If the spring weather has been good, the upland pastures around Lago di Cancano and the Gavia Pass can be a carpet of alpine flowers - with Globeflowers and a variety of deep blue gentians and primroses; Alpine Pasque-flowers often cover the slopes. Tumbling streams hold Dippers and Grey Wagtails, and the woods echo to the calls of chacking Fieldfares, chattering Common Redpolls and chipping Common Crossbills.

This tour to a wonderful part of Europe will introduce you to some breath-taking Italian scenery and wildlife. Throughout our stay, we will be treated to some delicious Italian cooking - and will doubtless be tempted to sample one or two of the local wines! Limosa has managed to find some truly amazing spots in Italy with super birds, wildlife and food, and with the help of Michele Viganò, our local expert, whose home is in Lombardy, we think you'll agree we are on to another winner with this delightful tour! 

Purple Heron 2 Peter Farren Italy June 2015

Wetlands in the Po Plain offer an opportunity to see almost all the European species of breeding herons - including Purple Heron trailing its 'bundle of twigs' feet © tour participant Peter Farren

Day 1
FLY MILAN, SOUTH TO VARZI

Our birdwatching tour to Northern Italy begins with a British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Milan Linate airport. We will be met by our local guide Michele and make the two-hour transfer south across Italy's scenic Po Valley to our welcoming hotel in Varzi. We'll stop along the way for lunch and maybe take a first look for Lesser Grey Shrike. Small stands of poplar are home to the last few birds left in the region – our 2017 group had cracking views of two pairs!

Our destination this evening is one of Italy's delightful agriturismi, situated in the rolling hills near Varzi. Here the climate is warm, with the Mediterranean influence having a huge effect on the region's fauna and flora, allowing the cultivation of a variety of different grapes that give birth to some fine local wines. Night near Varzi

Days 2-3
OLTREPÒ
PAVESE & APENNINE FOOTHILLS

During some pleasant walks amid beautiful countryside, an excellent range of Mediterranean bird specialities awaits. The localised and recently split Moltoni's Warbler is found here, easily identified in summer by its salmon-pink underparts and unique and rattling Wren-like call. These can be common in hedges close to our hotel!

In June, the bushy hillsides are the haunt of breeding Cirl and Ortolan Buntings, Red-backed Shrike and Melodious Warbler, while in the skies high above we may be treated to the tell tale 'wing clapping' display of Honey Buzzard. On top of a beautiful small hill, we may find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of hunting Common Swifts as we search for the exotic Black-headed Bunting and, with much luck, Woodchat Shrike - two of Italy's rarest breeding species.

A visit to the hills of Momperone, which lie partly in the neighbouring region of Piedmont, adds the possibility of Quail, Western Bonelli's Warbler and Stonechat along with nesting Bee-eaters, Rollers and Hoopoes, too. Moving to a drier area, we will hope to find Tawny Pipit scurrying about on the open ground, and the air can be filled with the songs of Woodlark and Skylark. Italian Three-toed Skink and Southern Smooth Snake occur - and are attractive to the local Short-toed Snake Eagles, which spend the summer here.

The butterflies of the region are superb and we will check warm sunny spots for the lovely Southern White Admiral, Spotted and Queen of Spain Fritillaries, and Pearly Heath. Great Banded Graylings should just be appearing and may alight on the road to gain warmth. Brilliant Escher’s and Adonis Blues inhabit the Montalto Pavese, as well as many Marbled Whites. Tall stands of Lizard Orchid can be found in scrubby patches, as can various Ophrys species including Ophrys dinarica.

Throughout our stay in Oltrepò Pavese, we will be based in a charming rural hotel, set amidst the beautiful Oltrepò hills, forests and farms above Varzi. Delicious homemade evening meals featuring local produce and classic Lombardy dishes are a feature of this delightful Italian agriturismo. Two further nights near Varzi

Day 4
PO PLAIN WETLANDS

We have a fair bit of ground to cover today as we swap the gentle, rolling countryside of the Apennine foothills for the majestic high mountains of the Italian Alps. But there's plenty to see along the way! So with breakfast inside us, we will make a relatively early start, dropping down from the hills and journeying north towards Milan, crossing the Po River en route to one of the largest heronries in the region.

As the Apennine foothills of Oltrepò Pavese fade to our south, we will notice the large numbers of birds flying to and from the trees - like bees round a hive: Little and Cattle Egrets, Squacco, Night and Purple Herons, and surprisingly even Sacred Ibises breed in good numbers. Reedy fringes host a plethora of other wetland species, including Marsh and Great Reed Warblers, Cuckoo and Marsh Harrier.

Brightly coloured Italian Yellow Wagtails breed on open pools nearby, where we also hope to find handsome Red-crested Pochard, white-eyed Ferruginous Duck and elegant Garganey, while Hobbies hunt for dragonflies that are numerous here, cruising low over the water.

Skirting round Milan, we will plan to have lunch near one of the lakes beyond the city – perhaps famous Lake Como, before completing the last leg of our journey east into the Italian Alps.

Standing a little over 4,000 ft above sea level, Bormio is a small alpine town situated at the edge of the stunning Stelvio National Park, and our base for the next four nights. We may arrive in time to enjoy some initial birding in the valley, where summer residents include Black and Common Redstarts, Serin and Crag Martin. In the evening, we can look forward to a super home-cooked Italian meal made from local produce. Night Bormio

Days 5 - 7
THE ALPS: STELVIO NATIONAL PARK

From our base in scenic Bormio, we will travel out to explore different valleys in this sublime national park. Visiting sites up to 3000m (9800 feet) in altitude at the Stelvio and Gavia Passes, we will enjoy a landscape that is constantly changing - from snow-capped mountains and barren 'moonscapes', to tranquil alpine forests and cascading streams. If the spring weather has been warm, in early June the upland meadows are transformed by wildflowers, especially around the picturesque shores of Lago di Cancano, where Alpine Ibex and Chamois can also be found. Michele has even seen Brown Bear on the slopes above the lake!

Stelvio's birdlife is rich and varied, and home in summer to the full gamut of alpine specialists. Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Alpine Chough and Rock Thrush frequent the open areas above the treeline, with Citril Finch, Nutcracker, Crested and Willow Tits, Firecrest and Lesser Redpoll in the pine forests lower down. We may be lucky to see a Goshawk soaring overhead, while babbling streams hold bobbing Dippers.

Come June, snow is often restricted to the highest mountain peaks. In the wild rocky places, we have a great chance of seeing the 'hoar-frosted' alpine race of Ring Ouzel, pale Northern Wheatears, Water Pipits, Whinchats and Rock Buntings. Playful schools of Alpine Choughs sail across the blue upland skies as we scour the boulder-strewn slopes for a glimpse of the secretive but confiding Ptarmigan, with its 'creaking door' voice. Crag Martins are often to be seen, zapping around the park's bridges, bluffs and alpine villages. In the highest places, Snowfinches and Alpine Accentors will be nesting, too.

In such a rich environment there is much to look for beyond the birds. On sunny days in early June, the first butterflies can be out and about – Alpine Grayling, Berger’s Clouded Yellow and bright Adonis Blues are often on the lower slopes. In small ponds and vegetated lakes, we will look for a number of special dragonflies - including the very rare Northern Emerald, a relict from the last period of glaciation - as well as Alpine Newt. Golden Eagles quarter the slopes and we will no doubt hear the bird-like whistling alarm calls of Alpine Marmots and find them lolloping about their upland home. And if the season is right this year, Stelvio's alpine meadows can be truly spectacular with wildflowers. Three further nights Bormio

Day 8
RETURN TO MILAN, FLY LONDON

An early breakfast and departure from our hotel sees us heading back south along the autostrada today, past the romantic Italian lakes to Milan.

Bidding farewell to Michele here, we catch an afternoon flight to London Heathrow, where our birdwatching tour of northern Italy concludes.

Snow Finch 3 Peter Farren Italy June 2015

Better than having House Sparrows in the eaves... the Snowfinch is a high alpine specialist to look for at upper elevations in Stelvio National Park © tour participant Peter Farren

What To Expect

An 8-day, two-centre ‘Birds and Butterflies’ tour to northern Italy taking in the high alpine landscapes of Stelvio National Park, close to the border with Switzerland; the Po plain of Lombardy and the beautiful Apennine foothills.

After Moltoni’s Warbler, Black-headed Bunting and Lesser Grey Shrike in the rolling hills, it's the turn of Lammergeier, Nutcracker and Snowfinch amid the superb alpine landscapes of scenic Stelvio National Park. Add a host of wonderful butterflies - including the lovely Southern White Admiral, Escher’s Blue and Great Banded Grayling - and join us for our fourth visit to this superb destination. Designed and co-led exclusively for Limosa by Italian bird and wildlife expert Michele Viganò, who lives in Lombardy.

In early June, expect largely sunshine but perhaps some showers, with temperatures in the highlands being cooler. Weather in all high mountain areas is unpredictable of course, but by early June conditions in the Italian Alps are usually settled.

In the Oltrepò foothills, summer weather is typically warm and sunny with temperatures set fair at around 20-25°C (68-77F).

For the second part of our holiday, in the mountains around Bormio, daytime temperatures at this time average around 15°C (59F), and on sunny days it can feel much warmer than this. Conversely, it can be much colder at Stelvio so please come prepared for the possibility of cool or even cold conditions with some rain (occasionally even snow) in the High Alps and pack warm and weatherproof clothing, just in case.

Good photographic opportunities on this tour - birds, wildflowers, butterflies and other wildlife, plus some fine landscapes and scenery, too.

Birds

120-150 species.

Given fine weather, there should be good numbers of summer butterflies and dragonflies about, especially in the lower and warmer Oltrepò Pavese region to the south. Good all-round wildlife interest on this tour, with a wealth of wildflowers to enjoy.

Mammals

5-10 species

Butterflies

40-60 species (weather permitting)

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation in Italy, based at two different but equally charming hotels- family run and each serving delicious home-cooked meals. All rooms are en suite.

Our tour begins with a three-night stay at a comfortable Italian Agriturismo amid the rolling hills above Varzi, in the lovely Oltrepò Pavese region, south of Pavia. This peaceful former farmhouse has a great restaurant known for its good food.

We spend the next four nights at the spa town of Bormio, in a super little hotel set among fantastic scenery - high in the Italian Alps (1225m/4,000ft above sea level), at the gateway to the famous Gavia and Stelvio Passes.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch in the Po Valley on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 8.

Each morning will start with a continental breakfast of fresh homemade products from the hotel. Dinners at the hotels feature delicious nostrano (homemade) foods. There's also a good selection of locally grown wines to tempt you (please note some wine at Varzi is included, but at Bormio it is not included in the tour price). Lunches will usually be picnics made with tasty local cheeses and cured meats, fresh fruit and tomatoes.

Walking

Easy. Short walks over mainly easy terrain. Comfy waterproof walking shoes with stout corrugated soles for grip are advised. Much of the Stelvio National Park is accessible by road and we will reach a maximum elevation of ca. 2900m (9500ft) and take short walks up there.

Travel

We fly from London Heathrow to Milan Linate Airport with British Airways.

Ground Transport   By minibus.

Alpine Blue 1 Italy 2015

As well as a host of great birds, our June tour to Lombardy has recorded up to 67 species of butterfly, including the petite Alpine Blue © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

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