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.