My wife and I have been casually serious birders for 30 years. We have each accumulated around 250 species on our life list, most from within the borders of the contiguous United States. Two of our most remarkable birding experiences occurred during visits to Alaska in 2008, and last year in Ecuador and on the Galapagos Islands.
The Alaska trip exposed us to several species known to migrate 5,000 to 7,000 miles each way, from their nesting to summer habitats to numerous pelagic species, those who only come to land to nest.
We also saw our first puffins as we sailed the harbor of Seward. The Galapagos Island visit is self-explanatory for its abundance of species found only on this archipelago, including Darwin’s famous finches and the Galapagos penguin. Some of these species are located on one island alone.
Our daughter recently visited Belize on a yoga retreat and returned with stories and photos of numerous exotic tropical birds. Though having little interest in birds and birding other than the starling that nested in her drier vent this past spring, she came back from her journey amazed at the variety of colors and species she saw simply hiking through the forests.
This summer my wife and I opted for a journey unlike our usual adventure packed travels. We chose a 10-day cruise around the western Mediterranean Sea with our focus on the different cultures of Italy, Monaco, Spain (and Mallorca), and Tunisia. With this in mind, birding didn’t even make the back burner of our preparations.
The untold variety of cultures among these nations remained the quintessential focus of our shore visits. The similarity of life in these nations, especially North African Tunisia, was an unforeseen surprise. But most unanticipated were the birds. Being longtime admirers of our winged friends, we should not have been so startled at their presence everywhere. We were delighted at each shore stopover to be greeted by their tweets (not on our laptops) and chirps. We felt very much at home in these foreign lands with our avian companions.
A universal resident in cities, pigeons hopped, flitted, and cooed around the streets and piazzas of every setting; Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Napoli, Roma, Palermo in Sicily, and even Tunis, the crowded port of Tunisia.
Also present were huge populations of finches and sparrows. The common English sparrow flew among the trees in Barcelona, Napoli, and Palermo. Stopping in port cities, the family of gulls was well represented including the herring, black backed, and Napoleon varieties. A few unfamiliar species of ducks and shore birds were unexpectedly added to our life lists.
On our day trip in Mallorca a couple varieties of herons waded, fishing along the beaches and marshes and several gulls accompanied our catamaran. In Tunisia, we were hailed by our common American feathered mates the common swift and the barn swallow. Also spotted were cousins to familiar North American birds, the Eurasian and laughing doves.
While strolling back to the Noordam, our ship, through Barcelona’s lineal park we were suddenly serenaded by a chorus of high pitched chirps. We could only see hidden shadows of the birds flittering through the trees. The songs seemed to follow us along the path within the entire length of the park.
Finally frustrated by not being able to identify the source of the warbling we paused at a handsome, hand engraved wooden bench determined to unearth the source of the serenade. We could follow the sound as it shifted from branch to branch but the birds reallocated too quickly to get a positive identification. At long last they alit as a group on a branch hanging over a fountain. To our total wonder we were being entertained by a congregation of bright green parakeets, not what we expected in city center Barcelona.
Though people, culture, and geography differ across our planet, no matter where you visit, even the isolated continent of Antarctica you will always encounter our feathered companions. Birds have inhabited our planet long before we Homo sapiens were no more than a gene waiting to alter. Fossils of dinosaurs have been uncovered with early formations of wings and hollow bones common to modern fliers.
Though species vary drastically from continent to continent and habitat to habitat, there are always the worldly few that seem to show up everywhere: the pigeon, the gull, the finch, the sparrow, the blackbird, the owl, the hawk, and shorebirds like herons and sandpipers. As our ship pulled into each port in each country in each city we were greeted by a feathered welcoming committee. And returning home seeing our everyday visitors at our birdfeeders reminded us of our wonderful journey around the Mediterranean.