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Alpine Bird-Migrations

Autumn is a great time to enjoy the natural beauty of the Alps. Before the snow sets in there is a period of calm and quiet, with cool mountain air perfectly suited to walking the mountains cols.

View from the ridge, along from the Col de Bretolet

View from the ridge, along from the Col de Bretolet

One such col on the French-Swiss border is the Col de Bretolet, a quiet and secluded pass along the ridge from the popular Col de Cou. It is easily accessible from Morzine on the French side, or Champéry on the Swiss, and offers fantastic views of Alpine glades and snow capped peaks.

A Robin caught in the Mist Net on its migration path
A Robin, or Rouge-Gorge literally meaning ‘red throat’, caught in a Mist Net

Less well known than the good views and pleasant terrain is the ‘observatoire biologique du col de Bretolet’, a bird ringing station operated by the Swiss Ornithological Institute. The Col de Bretolet is situated on a key migration route,  and during the Autumn months thousands of birds pass over the Col. Ever since 1958, a bird-ringing program has been in place to measure migration patterns, among other things. The birds are caught in ‘mist nets’, as shown above.

Researchers remove a robin from a mist net to take measurements

Researchers remove a robin from a mist net to take measurements

The birds are then removed from the nets and released after any relevant measurements are taken, and rings applied if they do not already have one. Having data spanning over half a century allows detailed analyses of migration patterns, and changes to them which can often be attributed to climate change.

The self-sufficient research center, nestled into the mountain side,  overlooking the Swiss Alps

The self-sufficient research centre, nestled into the mountain side overlooking the Swiss Alps

A whole host of measurements are made for each bird caught: the ring number, species, sex, age, date and time of capture, moult, fat score, muscle score, wing length, and body mass are all recorded. Since many of the species migrate at night, this centre facilitates the reporting of rare birds as well as the more common ones, providing a useful insight for the wider ornithological community.

For more information on the centre, visit the Swiss Ornithological Institute’s website.

Release is Imminent

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