Italy and Somerset

The man in question

The man in question


Most visitors to the Italian city of Pisa only come for one thing: the famous leaning tower. But on a family visit to Italy during half-term, I sought out another monument: a statue, in the quiet, leafy surroundings of the Botanical Gardens, to Paolo Savi. 

Birders know the name Savi as the name of one of our rarest and most elusive warblers, which coincidentally appeared on our local patch for three years running, until this year it sadly failed to return. Savi was an early 19th-century scientist, who first identified his eponymous warbler in 1821 – making it one of the very last of Europe’s regular breeding birds to be named. 

To be fair, Savi’s warbler is one of the trickiest of all Europe’s birds to see, let alone identify. Instead, we rely on its peculiar song: a deep, mechanical whirring, rather like a fishing-reel.  

Savi’s warbler may no longer be on our patch, but there are plenty more birds to enjoy. This morning, Graeme and I took a slow walk round, pushing our way through the reeds that are now growing over the path, and flushing four-spotted and scarce chaser dragonflies en route.  

Apart from the usual birdsong it was fairly quiet. But all that changed when, within a few minutes, we first saw a great white egret flying past, followed by the extraordinary sight of a female sparrowhawk perched on top of a bare tree. Graeme noticed a reed bunting on a nearby branch, clearly flustered by the hawk’s presence, and then a grey heron flew right up into the tree and landed close by. 

Behind us, we heard the call of a cuckoo, and then the bird itself flew past us and towards the very same tree. As it approached, the sparrowhawk gave chase – and very nearly caught the cuckoo. As if that weren’t enough, a bittern then emerged from the reeds and gave us fantastic views.  

As Graeme noted, “it’s mornings like this that make you glad you made the effort to go out birding!” That’s the beauty of the Avalon marshes – you never quite know what you will see! So, why not join us on one of our tours, to see warblers, egrets, bitterns, cuckoos, the famous winter starling roost – and who knows what else? 


PS A huge thanks to the lovely Bel Mooney for her article about her holiday with us in the Daily Mail!  





Graeme Mitchell