The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Tag: ornitho

the right time, the right place

Not quite believing that yesterday’s Black Stork was a Black Stork, I had dropped an email to B, who knows about these things. In part of his reply he said that the Black Stork is “a rare migrant that is flying through Switzerland every year, but hard to see. That’s some being in the right time at the right place.”

Seeing the Black Stork was a highlight of the walk yesterday, a bit of wow in an otherwise pleasant day. But it was just a few seconds, as B says, of being at the right time in the right place.

And so to today, when Mtoto and I went for what turned out to be a 12-mile hike in the Geneva countryside. It was a good walk, taking up a great chunk of the day. And we had another few seconds of wow, of being in the right time at the right place.

We saw a Black Woodpecker. I’ve seen Green Woodpeckers and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers before. I might even have seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker now and then, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it. I had never seen a Black Woodpecker. Until today. I was walking along a track, pushing the buggy. A bird, which at first I thought was a crow, in a hedgerow to our right was disturbed by our presence and made a fuss. It flew out almost in front of us and I immediately realised it was a Black Woodpecker. I only just had presence of mind to take a couple of photos in its general direction as it flew away from us. Undeniably, though, this was my first Black Woodpecker spot.

Keeping up the Black- theme, we also saw a Black Necked Grebe today, as well as a Little Grebe, young Great Crested Grebes, an Oystercatcher and several birds that I haven’t identified yet. We talked a lot Mtoto and I. We sang a lot too. We played word games and we worked on our counting. Today it was the right time and the right place.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.



Black Stork down

Today, we were answering a challenge. A friend had invited me on a walk, at some date hence, but she said that it wasn’t buggy-friendly. We have a great carrier, an Osprey. And we also have a great buggy, a Mountain Buggy. Mtoto loves the carrier with its high vantage but it is a pain on my back after a while. Mtoto loves the buggy with his front-first vantage but it is a pain on my hand after a while. But the great advantage of the buggy is that walking companions will offer to push a buggy whereas they rarely offer to take the carrier. So Mtoto, Edward and I took the buggy out to Gland to test out the Toblerone Walk.

Sadly, the Toblerone Walk has nothing to do with chocolate. It’s a visual thing. Fearing invasion, the Swiss built this anti-tank defence in the 1930s. It probably should have been demolished long ago, but the story goes that some folk wanted the next generations to know what life was like way back then, so they left the barriers in place, as well as a soldiers’ canteen from 1944 and raised funds to keep them and make a walk alongside them. It’s not as bad as it could be, thanks to the walk also being next to a river and often not next to the Toblerone at all. But could it be done with a buggy?

The answer is that yes it can be done with a buggy, but my friend was also right. It is hard going at times and there are probably about 10 times in the walk when it becomes necessary to carry the buggy, though not for long. There’s the odd flight of steps up or down, a couple of places where the path goes between the pyramids where the gap is rather narrow and the odd bit where tree routes or rocks in the ground make for slopes that even the Mountain Buggy struggles.

The walk starts close to the lake, but as we were coming at it by public transport from Geneva we took the train from Gland and walked to the path from the station. We crossed the road opposite the Mr Bull English pub and turned left past a smart bakery and into an industrial zone. There were diggers, there were cranes, there was dodgy car lots, there were skips. But best of all for Mtoto there was a Post Bus depot. Woo! He’s only been on a Post Bus once, but it has become legendary in our family, so seeing a whole fleet of these buses was something special. We didn’t dwell though and were soon in sight of the Toblerones and turned right to follow the path and the river.

One of the awesome things about going for walks in Switzerland is that as long as you know where you want to go, you can rely on the footpath signs to take you there. As long as you look out for the occasional yellow diamonds and signposts, you don’t really need a map. We had one anyway, the Swiss National Map 1:25,000 Nyon (number 1261). And I had a print out from the Toblerone Line website, so we were well-covered.

The past few months have been tough on us for bird sightings – the dense foliage has made spotting birds difficult and the intense heat has stopped us from going out beyond the Bains des Paquis, the library and the parks in Geneva. But today we had some special moments, though notably they all came when we had gone above the village of Begnins and had left the Toblerones behind.

The first great sighting was when we heard the call of a Common Buzzard but couldn’t see it. Then it came again and again and eventually we saw a buzzard fly off from a tree on the other side of the valley. I could make out a small amount of movement under the tree and with my camera I identified an animal. At first I thought it was a dog, then perhaps a fox. Examining photos later on, we discovered that it was a deer.

Then, a couple of minutes later, Edward saw a bird in the sky. Usually, it’s a black kite or a common buzzard. I’ve got hundreds of photos of them from the last year and there’s rarely anything special about them. But I looked up anyway, focussed my camera and shot away. And then realised that I was watching something different. Edward shot it too and called it there and then as a stork. Consultation with a bird book when we got home suggested a Black Stork because of its size and shape and the colours underneath. But its sightings suggested that it this wasn’t a common location for a Black Stork and especially not until autumn at least. So I sent a photo to B, who introduced me to the Ornitho website and he confirmed it as a Black Stork. So we got a Black Stork down on the list for 2015 and I got a play on words for the post title today, hurrah!

The third great sighting was of butterflies. Lots of them. Several different species. Dragonflies and bees too. I’m not at all good at identification of these creatures so I can’t tell you what we saw. But it was fantastic nonetheless.


At last, after lunch, we got up to Bassins station on the Nyon to St Cergue line. To Mtoto’s great excitement he got to press a button at the station to let the train driver know that we were there and wanted to get on. He also got his ticket validated. We got a train back down to Nyon and another to Geneva.

All in all a good day out. We walked 10.2km in 3 hours 15 minutes, with an elevation of 385 metres. We had a picnic lunch sat upon some logs and looking at two parked tractors. According to Mtoto, a Gruffalo and some bears walked with us for most of the way. But neither Edward nor I were lucky enough to see them.

Birding exchange

Today we went down to the Pro Natura nature reserve at Point de la Bise. It’s about 4 miles from us but still within the canton of Geneva, on the lake. La Bise is the name of one of the local winds, so La Bise is a place where you can go and experience it! The reserve opens at 10 and we were there about 9:30am so we had time to mess about in the neighbouring campsite. Mtoto made good use of the small playground and we also went for a walk around the site, particularly to reach the lake. Mtoto wanted to throw stones in the lake but, unfortunately, some ducks decided that people throwing things in the water were probably throwing food so came to investigate. So no stone throwing any more Mtoto!

A Grey Heron on top of a caravan at La Bise

A Grey Heron on top of a caravan at La Bise

We enjoyed seeing herons in trees and one that flew off and landed on a caravan. Mtoto and L saw a kingfisher at the campsite when they were there on a walk last week, but we didn’t see it today. It was probably next door in the nature reserve until we got there. We have plans to use the campsite for Mtoto’s first outdoor camping adventure later this year, as it is close to home but is a beautiful setting.

Ducks among the reeds at La Bise

Ducks among the reeds at La Bise

After the nature reserve opened we went straight to Mtoto’s favourite feature, the tree house, which is really a hide. But what a hide! It’s got two storeys. On the first level all the windows are permanently open. On the second floor there’s a child gate and there are openings at adult level and at toddler level. It’s simply a brilliant idea and is the only hide that I’ve come across so far that has been designed with toddlers in mind as well as adults or older children.

A Mute Swan landing in Lake Geneva at Baby Plage

A Mute Swan landing in Lake Geneva at Baby Plage

While we were in the hide there was a chap, B, there with a telescope. I asked what he had been looking at and he said there was possibly an unusual gull because of its tail markings and beak. From there we got talking and he recommended another place to go looking at birds on the lake and a website to check out which birds have been recorded where. The birding exchange site,, allows registered users to record what birds they’ve seen, how many, and where they’ve seen them. It looks like a great resource for Mtoto and me as we’ll be able to see what birds we might expect to see in a place, rather than just knowing what sort of things might be seen in a given season.

Goosander arriving at Baby Plage at Lake Geneva

Goosander arriving at Baby Plage at Lake Geneva

This afternoon we were back on Baby Plage and while Mtoto and L played transport games in the sand, I was off getting in some practice at counting birds so I can contribute to Ornitho! I have made my first entry and even this was a learning experience. I entered my sighting of a Pied Wagtail, only to discover that this would be reported to the “Swiss Rarities Committee”. I deleted my entry and revisited my bird book. There, I learned that the Pied Wagtail shares an entry with the White Wagtail. And it is the latter that I have been seeing around Geneva, including today. As they say, every day’s a school day!

Janathon: Another resting day, with a cold hour-long walk in Mtoto’s quiet time.