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Switzerland Swiss Alps in Summer

An 8-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching & butterflies tour to Switzerland

Switzerland Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Now in its 17th season, this immensely scenic summer birdwatching tour to Switzerland focuses on the glorious Valais region - and boasts everything from Lammergeier, Nutcracker and Alpine Accentor through to a journey by Swiss mountain railway to Zermatt and the Gornergrat at 3100m - for lunch with the Alpine Choughs, Snowfinch and (if it is clear!) spectacular views to the iconic Matterhorn. As well as great birding, many butterflies are seen on this remarkable tour – with up to 100 different species possible in the best years! With our June 2020 birding tour to Switzerland being already fully booked, we’ve added a SECOND DEPARTURE in early July.

Tour Dates

2020

Full
Available

Leaders
Brian Small
Mike Crewe

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1995

inc return flights London Heathrow-Geneva, with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £195
Land Only: £1875

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Alpine Chough and view Switzerland Brian Small Jun 2012 P1080140

Alpine Chough in grand surroundings on our June tour to the Swiss Alps © Brian Small, Limosa

Switzerland is rightly famous for its stupendous upland scenery and crisp mountain air. The southern Valais region that borders with Italy is one of the most beautiful of all - and a prime location for alpine birding. Crested Tits and Western Bonelli's Warblers frequent the forests, boldly spotted Nutcrackers conceal themselves amongst the Arolla Pines and the trills of richly coloured, ‘rosy-red’ Lesser Redpolls rise above flower-filled alpine meadows.

From Geneva, we follow the valley of the mighty Rhône river eastwards to reach our base in the picturesque Val d’Hérens, which is both a Parc Regional and a Biosphere Reserve. With no changes of hotel to worry about during our stay, we shall be free to devote ourselves to some of the most spectacular birding and landscapes in all Switzerland: from the glaciers at the head of the lovely Val d’Hérens itself, east to the famous Gornergrat with its majestic views of the Matterhorn. From mid June through July, the weather in the Swiss Alps is typically warm with plenty of sunshine - and our aim will certainly be to make the most of this!
    
The woods and mountains around about our hotel are the perfect place to start. Red-backed Shrike, Fieldfare and Serin are to be found in the gardens and meadows around town, and Dippers bob beside the mountain streams as we listen for the buzzing chatter of both Black and Common Redstarts, which nest in the town.
    
On one day, we will travel to Zermatt and take the mountain railway up to the Gornergrat. If visibility is good, we shall enjoy uninterrupted views across the glaciers towards the iconic chiselled peak of the Matterhorn - one of the most spectacular views in the world. Here, at an elevation of around 3100m (9800ft), we’ll watch for Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor, while playful Alpine Choughs may even feed from our hands!

Even if visibility on the high tops let us down, then we will find birding along the floor of the Rhône Valley is equally rewarding. Bee-eaters now breed here and Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Great Reed and Marsh Warblers, Nightingale and Golden Oriole all await our discovery.

We'll also pay a visit to the stupendous Grande Dixence dam. Travelling up via a short cable car ride, we’ll descend again on foot and can expect stupendous views plus chances of some great plants and birds along the way. Golden Eagle, Alpine Accentor, Ring Ouzel, and Water Pipits in pastel blue summer plumage are possible, while plants can include Snowdon Lily, a variety of primroses and a good chance of Edelweiss.
    
Birdwatching in the Swiss Alps is full of surprises... Our June 2019 tour enjoyed brilliant views of Ptarmigan, Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor (from the same spot at the Gornergrat) and other ‘purple patches’ included Wryneck, Rock Thrush and Black Woodpecker all within half an hour at Leuk, ‘scope views of Nutcrackers in the pines at Arolla and, to finish, a fabulous pair of Lammergeiers soaring high above the Derborence valley.

As well great birding, the excitement of seeing so many butterflies on the wing - from Mazarine, Adonis and Amanda’s Blues, through Mountain Dappled White and Clouded Apollo to Niobe and Alpine Marsh Fritillaries - all add to the ingredients for a wonderful wildlife holiday.  
    
With relaxed, easy-paced walks and plenty of invigorating Swiss mountain air, this tour offers an unbeatable introduction to alpine birds and butterflies. Limosa has been operating tours to Switzerland since 2002 and our holidays in June and July 2020 will be our 17th and 18th visits to the Swiss Alps in summer. It's a trip that's both designed and led for us by Limosa guide Brian Small, returning now for his 14th and 15th visits to the region. Co-leaders David Walsh (June) and Mike Crewe (July) share Brian's passion for birds and butterflies and have both led this tour with him before.

Nutcracker (1) Switzerland Gordon Small Jun 2010 EPV0099

With a penchant for Arolla Pine, the boldly-spotted Nutcracker can be quite common in the alpine forests - including those at Arolla itself! © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Day 1
FLY GENEVA, DRIVE VAL D’HERENS

Our birdwatching tours to Switzerland begin with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Geneva. We drive east along the Rhône valley to Sion, then swing south into the chocolate-box landscape of the glorious Val d’Hérens. Along the way, we should see our first Black Kites beside the banks of Lake Geneva. A stop at a lake has produced Little Bittern in the past.

In the late afternoon we arrive at our quaint but comfortable and characterful little hotel at Evolène, in the beautiful Val d’Hérens, which will be our base throughout the week. Night Evolène

Days 2 - 7                        
THE VAL D’HERENS, RHONE VALLEY & THE GORNERGRAT
Waking to the crisp mountain air, Crested Tits in the hotel garden and the ‘gravel-gargling’ song of Black Redstarts from the rooftops, our daily plans will depend a little on the local weather - which, incidentally, is usually at its best in Switzerland during June and July. Much of our time will be spent exploring the woods and mountains of the Val d’Hérens itself (which is both a Parc Regional and a Biosphere Reserve), with its heady mix of stunning scenery, alpine scents and sounds, and alluring montane birds. The very rare Lammergeier is once again to be looked for in the skies over this fabulous region - our last seven groups have all been lucky!
 
Serins gabble away like speeded-up Corn Buntings, and Dippers and Grey Wagtails haunt the river at Evolène. This lovely valley is also home to feisty Firecrests and Fieldfares, Crag Martin, Rock Bunting and Red-backed Shrikes hunting for bees; Golden Eagles sweep the skies and as we scan for them above the slopes, we’ll watch for parties of nimble Alpine Chamois, too.

Taking a walk above the tree-line to the high alpine meadows and the Tsijiore Nouve glacier, Water Pipits sing and we may be lucky to hear the ‘creaking door’ call of perfectly-camouflaged Rock Ptarmigan. The timid and rarely seen Rock Partridge also occurs here; though we should indeed be very fortunate to find one, we live in hope and have been treated to fantastic views on two or three of our tours... come to think of it, we're about overdue for another one now!

Arolla is best known as a climbing centre. With few visitors in early summer, for the birdwatcher dappled Nutcrackers screech from the tops of pines that are the haunt of Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Firecrest, and Crested and ‘Alpine’ Willow Tits. In summer, we have occasionally found Griffon Vulture and Citril Finch here too, along with the superb Rock Thrush. The upper slopes are the haunt of Alpine Chamois and the heftier Alpine Ibex. And with a splendid array of alpine butterflies to look for - including such delights as Cranberry, Alpine, Mazarine and Amanda’s Blues, Alpine Heath, Alpine Grayling, Almond-eyed and Swiss Brassy Ringlets, Alpine Marsh and Shepherd’s Fritillaries, Mountain Clouded Yellow and Alpine Grizzled Skipper - this is a place destined to linger long in the memory.

On one of our days, after a circuitous drive east to Zermatt, we plan to take the mountain railway high up to the Gornergrat. Set at around 3100m (10,170ft), if visibility is good, stunning views across the glacier towards the Matterhorn will tempt our eyes away from the schools of playful Alpine Choughs, which jostle for visitors’ left-over food - and were close enough to stroke last time! Endearing Snowfinches sometimes breed in the observatory, but the less demonstrative Alpine Accentors are much more easily overlooked as they shuffle quietly about. Two special butterflies to watch out for at this altitude are the Peak White and Sooty Ringlet.
 
Up a side valley from the Val d’Hérens we will pay a visit to the immense Grande Dixence dam, taking the cable car up to the top and walking slowly back down. If the dam's vital statistics are impressive - 285m (935 feet) high and 200m (656 feet) wide at the base - so too is the birding! We often see Golden Eagles cruising above the slopes, with Lammergeier, Alpine Accentor and singing Water Pipit possible, too. Nowadays, this site also offers our best chance of Wallcreeper, although sadly this species can no longer be guaranteed (due to global warming they are now breeding earlier than before and moving up to higher elevations). Switzerland's national flower, the Edelweiss, may be in bloom amongst many interesting plants on the slopes and we are also likely to encounter a few ‘alpine’ Ring Ouzels, here of the ‘frosted’ central European race alpestris.

Promising a whole new suite of birds, our visit to the floor of the Rhône Valley will be equally rewarding. Here, at a special site of towering cliffs, remarkably, we might even find the ‘Mediterranean’ Blue Rock Thrush, along with Melodious Warbler in the bushes below. At a small area of reed-fringed lakes, the songs of Nightingales, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers greet us, before we seek out Wryneck and listen for the tell-tale voices of other valley dwellers such as Quail, Whinchat and Golden Oriole. Marsh and Great Reed Warblers also nest here. Overhead we could see Peregrine or perhaps a dashing Hobby. Common and Honey Buzzards are quick to take advantage of thermals as the day begins to warm and small parties of 'sub-' Alpine Swifts cruise the valleysides. Best of all though is the colony of colourful Bee-eaters that now nest in the bank in front of a hide!

As well as its birds, the warmer Rhône Valley is especially good for butterflies, too. Possibilities include Niobe and High Brown Fritillaries, Blue-spot Hairstreak, Purple Emperor, Rock Grayling and both White and Southern White Admirals. Six further nights Evolène

Day 8                            
RETURN TO GENEVA, FLY LONDON
Bidding a reluctant farewell both to our friendly hotel and the lovely Val d’Hérens after breakfast this morning, we make our way back west along the Rhône Valley. If travel time permits, we will make a short stop at Les Grangettes, where the river flows into the eastern end of Lake Geneva. The Eider breeds only in Northern Europe and is a most surprising bird to find on the lake - but is regular nowadays here in summer! An array of other wetland birds is also possible, with Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, Red-crested Pochard and Yellow-legged Gull among species we've seen here in the past.

Our birding over, we continue on to Geneva and board our afternoon flight to London, where our summer tours to the Swiss Alps conclude.

 

alpine accentor gornergrat suisse 0619 BS resized

Once found, the fiery-flanked Alpine Accentor can be very confiding - like this one on our June 2019 tour! © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

Now in its 17th season, our immensely scenic summer birdwatching tour to Switzerland focuses on the glorious Valais region - and boasts everything from Lammergeier, Nutcracker and Alpine Accentor through to a journey by Swiss mountain railway up to Zermatt and the Gornergrat at 3100m - for lunch with the Alpine Choughs, Snowfinch and (if it is clear!) spectacular views to the iconic Matterhorn.

As well as great birding, many butterflies are seen on this remarkable tour – with up to 100 different species possible in the best years!

With our June 2020 birding tour to Switzerland being already fully booked, we’ve added a SECOND DEPARTURE in early July.

Excursions include ascent by cable car to the stupendous Grande Dixence dam and a journey by Swiss mountain railway to Zermatt and the Gornergrat at 3100m (10,170ft) - for lunch with the Alpine Choughs, Snowfinch and spectacular views to the Matterhorn!

The weather in the Swiss Alps is typically at its best in early summer (June and July), usually warm with plenty of sunshine. In the mountains of course, cloudy conditions with some rainfall are always possible - but we have found it’s often possible to dodge poor weather locally by moving higher up or lower down the valleys. Temperature also varies according to altitude. In the Rhone Valley in June and early July, it can reach 32C (90F), but up at Evolène is typically a much cooler and fresher 16-20C (61-68F); higher, at Arolla, it is often 8-16C (46-61F).

Good-excellent incidental photo opportunities, including birds, butterflies, alpine flowers and glorious mountain scenery.

Birds

90-115 species

Butterflies

More than 70 species are possible, depending upon the weather. Each year is different, but we’ve now recorded the incredible total of more than 120 different species of butterfly on this quite remarkable holiday - with our ‘trip record’ to date being an astonishing total of 100 species seen on our June 2017 tour!

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation in the Swiss Alps, where our hotel for 19 years on this tour has been a small, quaint and very friendly, family-run establishment in the quiet rural town of Evolène – right at the heart of the picturesque Val d’Hérens. Hotels are few and far between in this gorgeous spot and while the rooms at our charming little 2-star hotel are quite modest, that’s all part of the appeal. All rooms have en suite facilities.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at Evolène on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 8.

Breakfasts are Continental-style and served at the hotel. Note that our dinners will be taken at local restaurants, all within a short stroll of our hotel in Evolène. Lunches are usually taken as picnics, with the occasional sit-down meal at a local Gasthof.

Walking

The floor of the Rhône Valley is relatively flat and the going is easy. Elsewhere, our walks are not strenuous, but this is the Alps of course, so expect some uphill stretches - all taken at a gentle pace, with our itinerary being carefully planned to avoid arduous hikes. Swiss alpine trails are well marked and generally in good condition.

For our visit to Grande Dixence, we make the short ascent by cable car and walk back down. Stout walking shoes or lightweight boots with sturdy corrugated soles for grip are recommended for this tour.

Maximum elevation on this tour: ca. 3100m (10,170 feet) for a few hours at the Gornergrat.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow-Geneva, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport  By minibus.

2EUR butterfly Swallowtail & Mazarine Blues Switzerland Gordon Small Jun 2010 0213

Swallowtail and Mazarine Blues crowd together at a mineral lick in the Swiss Alps © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

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1 T&SW, Switzerland tour Just back from the Swiss Alps and wanted to say, straight away, thanks for your help early on when we were deciding whether or not to book. We're pleased we did... The trip was of course fabulous, packed with butterflies, flowers, birds, mammals and sensational views around every corner. Brian and Gary were completely brilliant with the whole group. [empty string]
2 MR, Switzerland tour This trip was as promised - and more. As well as fantastic flora and fauna, we had excellent leaders, knowledgeable and friendly companions, wonderful weather and scenery, a comfortable hotel, great food and fun! [empty string]
3 AM, Switzerland tour Brian and Robin worked extremely hard, not only in making sure everybody saw as many of the birds, plants, butterflies and mammals as possible, but also that everyone was safe, comfortable and extremely well fed. The picnic lunches were marvellous ... [empty string]
4 MC, Switzerland tour It was wonderful to be in the Swiss Alps. The scenery was magnificent and the birds, flowers and butterflies an interesting mixture. It was a great trip. The food at the hotel and restaurants was excellent too ... [empty string]
5 SG, Switzerland tour Leaders were excellent and nothing was too much trouble for them. [empty string]
6 RT, Switzerland tour “Both Nadine and I had a marvellous experience on this tour. I tallied seven life birds, oodles of butterflies and wildflowers, and best of all, many, many wonderful memories of stunning alpine scenery. The ability to stay and relax at one lodge for the entire week rather than rush from hotel to hotel was a real plus... Your tour leaders were superb - friendly, witty, accommodating to needs of various participants and above all were exceptional at finding and working to ensure everyone saw all the animals and plants around at that time of year. This trip was very good value for money and I am glad I had the opportunity to enjoy it ...” [empty string]
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