25th - 30th MARCH 2010

Penny & I had six days in Rome, enjoying the company of Brenton & Robina from Australia, and celebrating a "significant" wedding anniversary. This account covers the wildlife we encountered along the way!

Near the top of one of Rome's seven hills, the Quirinal, is a small public garden called unsurprisingly the Giardini Quirinale. We passed through this on several occasions on the way to other places. On the first vist, several green Parakeets were noisily laying in to the fruit on one of the trees. It's good to know it's not just the Surrey-London borders that suffer from these annoyingly raucus, attractive to watch, somewhat anthropomorphic immigrants!

We saw our first Roman Blackbirds in the Quirinal Gardens, and they were not a pretty sight. This was one of the worst examples, with diseased eyes and her feathers in poor condition. Most of the Blackbirds we saw during the week seemed to be suffering from one thing or another.

From out first arrival in Rome, every tree seemed to contain a bird with a strident warble rather like a hovering skylark's. Each warble lasted about two seconds, immediately followed by another until the bird flew off to another tree. After patient watching, I eventually concluded that it was a "little brown job" and its was always either singing directly at a nearby potential mate, or singing in competition with a singer in another tree. They didn't let me get close enough for a decent photograph, but by magnifying some of the distant shots I found that they were ..... yellow! Yellowhammers, I think. A bit of a surprise! This picture provided my first tentative identification, but there were more to come.

Also in the Quirinal Gardens were several Firecrests flitting through the trees. In England this would have been relatively uncommon, but in Rome they are on home ground!

In one of our walks, we crossed the Riber Tiber (Fiume Tevere) by the Ponte Cestio, Isola Tiberina, and Ponte Fabricio. Tiber Island had riverside walks attracting large numbers of people on the warm, sunny afternoon we were there. The large building on the island turned out to be the maternity hospital, with its own ancient legend explaining why it was originally located there.

Under the second bridge, Ponte Fabricio, a large Gull was standing on a rock by the fast-flowing water.

Suddenly he leapt into the water....

...and struggled out carrying a large live fish!

As the fish lay thrashing on the ground, the Gull seemed to be wondering what to do next, and pecked at it half-heartedly. Perhaps he'd never caught one before.

We didn't wait to see the final outcome for the fish, but his prospects were not good and presumably he was slowly pecked apart by the Gull.

In the main Forum (Foro Romano), the Blackbirds were busy foraging in the areas not accessible to the public.

The Yellowhammers were also very much in evidence, both through their song and occasionally by sight. This is a female....

...and the two pictured below are male.

While we were on the southern ramparts of the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Circo Massimo, a Kestrel flew past, was joined by another, and they circled a few times and headed for the city.

On one of the Palatine buildings, a Crow was busy showing off to one of his peers, with a lot of noise, posturing, and erection of head feathers. All Crows seen in Rome were of the grey Hooded variety.

The Colosseum provides a safe resting place for a good number of Feral Pigeons. This one seems to be waking up from a doze.

The roof and domes of St Peter's basilica were remarkably clear of birds of any description. This Gull was the exception.

During a walk in the Villa Borghese gardens (Giardini Borghese) in Rome, we came across a family of Gulls on a boating lake. The first-year Gulls (those with most brown feathers) were playing a game of diving for sunken leaves. They would fly vertically up to between five and twenty feet, then dive into the water and come back to the surface with an old waterlogged leaf, showing it off for a while, then discarding it. None of the more mature Gulls got involved. (Perhaps they considered themselves already expert divers and children's games were beneath their dignity?) Presumably as well as a game it was practice for catching food in the future.

These were Yellow-Legged Gulls Larus cachinnans michahellis, the south European equivalent of the Herring Gull. Like the Herring Gull, it takes up to four years for them to attain their full adult plumage.

Note that although the above pictures have been arranged as if they show a single dive, they were taken over a period of about five minutes of separate dives by various birds.

The humble House Sparrow was notable for its absence in much of the city of Rome. I heard a few, but they kept well away from humans, in the gutters and on the high ledges of the buildings. However the Villa Borghese gardens are used by the Romans for walks and picnics, so the Sparrows have learnt that there is food to be had.

No collection of Roman birds would be complete without a street-pigeon (piccione). This one is showing his provenance by posing over the letters SPQR: Senatus Populusque Romanus (The senate and the Roman people), an abbreviation dating back to ancient Rome and still used today to mark anything municipal from drain-covers to buildings.

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