Recently, I was in Austria with a bunch of other birders from around the world to check out Swarovski's amazing BTX. One of the things that I love about these trips is that it's a fun birder camp and I get to hang out with colleagues from publications, conservation organizations and tour companies. This trip was a real treat because I got to go birding with Jesse Barrie who is the Program Manager for the Macaulay Library and the Merlin Project Leader as well as Chris Wood Assistant Director at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The group consisted of birders all over the world and because the way the prices for flights worked out, all of us who came from the United States for the event got to stay an extra day. For many of us that meant getting a chance to catch up on missed European lifers like black woodpecker and for me--wallcreeper. But Chris Wood planted a delightful idea on our first night in Austria when we were settling into some schnapps:
"You know, there are only a few checklists in eBird in Liechtenstein. If we went in there, we could be the top eBirders there..."
As we know, I'm not much of a lister. There really aren't any birds I could get in Liechtenstein that I haven't already seen in Austria. However, the idea of visiting the tiny principality was too irresistible for me. It's equal parts birding and adventure. And given my tax bracket, I don't see myself living or vacationing in Liechtenstein in the foreseeable future.
Our plan in the morning was to visit a castle in Austria where we had a good shot at wallcreeper and then driving into Liechtenstein after lunch. Yes, we got wallcreeper (another post for another day).
Liechtenstein is a 62 square mile principality right between Austria and Switzerland. It's a popular winter sports destination. Our driver checked in at the border and we were sent through without having to show our passports.
Many in our tiny group needed alpine accentor, snowfinch and alpine chough.
The birders in the vehicle included not only staff from Cornell, but our guide Leander Khil and friends like Jeff Gordon who is the president of the American Birding Association, Clay Taylor from Swarovski, Corey Finger from 10,000 Birds and Bill Thompson from Bird Watcher's Digest. All of us were scanning out the windows to pick up common birds for our lists like European blackbird and great tit--we were going to pad those lists with anything we could find.
The ski town was really cool. It has a few hotels, restaurants and cabins for people to use when they are not on the slopes above. The skiers didn't seem to mind us but we did have to keep watch as we looked for birds and they would frequently be zooming down from the mountains. What was really cool was seeing how many children were playing in the snow, completely unsupervised by parents. Many were on sleds and a couple were building their own snow hill so they could sled down a window from their cabin. We had distant alpine choughs circling overhead but not too much in the way of birds. Then we heard the singing of an alpine accentor!
We didn't get a lot of diversity of species, but that is to be expected in winter in the Alps. As our guide Leander was trying to herd us back to the van so our driver could finish his shift on time, we encountered a fabulous marching band called Wildmandli Guggamusik. According their website they take contemporary songs and make them into marching band music. Here they are doing what I think is Masterpiece:
What a weird and wonderful way to wrap up our day! They also did Hot Fudge and as I was recording that, you can hear Leander in the background really trying to get us to wrap up our day. Poor Leander, herding birders is worse then herding cats.
Our driver really seemed intrigued by our excitement of adding bird sightings to different countries so as a treat, he took us through Switzerland on the way back into Austria! It was all birding by 55 mph but we managed a few new species for the trip like rook and jackdaw. As we crossed back into Austria, I managed to slip one of my Pokemon into a gym on the border and it stayed there for six weeks. Ah, for a month and a half I was international in Pokemon Go.
And so here we have it, proof that for a time I was one of the top eBirders in the Principality of Liechtenstein. And what's great is that even though I didn't get the stamps in my passport for the two other countries we visited, I do have new colors on my eBird map in my profile and that's just as fun as my passport. And this is what I love about life. Saying yes to a weird little adventure leaves me with great memories I'll never forget.