"A mountain valley with flowers, butterflies, mammals and birds."
I recommend the European Mountain Explorer (premium link) activity.
My favourite sites were Val Roseg (premium link) for easy access to a variety of habitats, Val da Fain (premium link) for a walk where I saw both ibex and chamois and Alp Grum (premium link) which is generally popular for seeing flowers and butterflies.
Pontresina is at the bottom of a long valley in south-east Switzerland. This location description is based on my visit in summer 2016 when I used my own vehicle to reach all the sites although there were buses and a train all the way up the valley making access to the different walks easy. Being able to reach elevations of 2000m or more before starting a walk means you can enjoy more of your day seeing mountain wildlife. There are also more challenging hikes if you want to try them.
- The forested valley at Val Roseg (site 1) (premium link) has a relatively easy ascent that you can walk, cycle or be carried up by horse-drawn carriage. (GPS coords 46.4800N 09.8917E)
- Val Languard (site 2) is a high-elevation valley reached via a steep walk or cable car. There are wildflowers in the valley, Nutcracker in the woodland and in June/July alpine flowers towards the top. (GPS coords 46.4909N 09.9068E)
- The Pontresina East Walk (site 3) begins with the cable car to Alp Languard. Then a relatively flat walk runs north-west to the top of the Muottas Muragl cable car. You can then take the cable car back to Pontresina. This is a popular general tourist route with the chance to see flowers and other wildlife. (GPS coords 46.4800N 09.8917E)
- At Morteratsch (site 4) (premium link) you can hike along a forested footpath towards the glacier. To me this feels like a nice contrast to the rest of the Pontresina location. (GPS coords 46.4506N 09.9405E)
- Val da Fain (site 5) (premium link) is a relatively secluded valley with good flowers at the start and end. Other wildlife is possible including ibex. (GPS coords 46.4421N 09.9819E)
- Diavolezza (site 6) is an easily accessible area of higher elevation habitat. Simply take the Diavolezza cable car and then explore the top. Others report that this is a particularly easy way to see specialist mountain wildlife at Pontresina. (GPS coords 46.4421N 09.9819E)
- There is a relatively flat walk around Lago Bianco (site 7) (premium link) with wildlife including flowers and marmots. There are some scree/snow crossings, depending on the recent weather, if you follow the western side. (GPS coords 46.4197N 10.0040E)
- Val Minor (site 8) (premium link) is perhaps one of the best circular walks at Pontresina because it is well away from roads. There are some awkward, angled sections of footpath with the reward of a wide variety of flowers at the different elevations. (GPS coords 46.4365N 09.9948E)
- The remote Alp Grum (site 9) (premium link) can be reached by hiking or taking the train. This is popular with general tourists and also naturalists with good flowers, butterflies and birds to be seen in this mixed-habitat area. (GPS coords 46.3741N 10.0322E)
- I have particularly enjoyed seeing the mountain species of butterflies in Pontresina (premium link), particularly in the areas with lots of wildflowers.
- I saw 34 different species of bird during 5 days during the summer at Pontresina (premium link).
Longer Distance Walk Possibilities
(1) You could do the Val Roseg walk (site 1) but go up Mount Arlas then catch the cable car from the top to return to Pontresina via public transport. Alternatively you could walk back to Pontresina using the footpath on the Saint Moritz side of the ridge. This gives a variety of elevations and hence lots of different flower species.
(2) You could walk up Val da Fain (site 5) and then turn left to go up Piz Albris. This takes you into Val Languard (site 2). This would give a wide variety of elevations and a good variety of flowers, particularly in July.
(3) Lago Bianco (site 7), Val Minor (site 8) and Alp Grum (site 9) can be combined into a large walk. It does not have to be circular as you could get public transport, perhaps to Alp Grum, and then hike back down the Pontresina valley.
A Wildlife Timetable in the Alps (summer)
6-8am Chamois and ibex are out grazing in the quiet before humans get too active.
8-10am Marmots get up and start warming themselves on the rocks. Many of them will stay out all day, even near busy paths, but in general I get the best views at this time.
10am onwards On a sunny day the flowers are starting to look their best and photograph better with the sun more overhead. Butterflies are out and on cloudier (not rainy) days they often move around less and are easier to observe.
Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) was introduced to the east of Pontresina and is now seen regularly.
The Redpoll can be seen on the tops of the mountains and also feeding for scraps at the campsites in Pontresina.
Wheatear are a common mountain bird with a distinctive white bottom as they fly away.
- more unusual birds possible at this location: Lammergeier/Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Snowfinch, Alpine Accentor, Rock Ptarmigan, Rock Partridge
- total number of different species of bird seen during 5 days (summer): 33 species
- average number of different species of bird seen during 1 day (summer): 12 species
- birds most often seen on a 5 day visit (summer): (starting with the most common) Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 31x2 (m3), Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) 18x2 (m3), Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 13x1 (m1), Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) 10x2 (m3), Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 9x2 (m3), Blackbird (Turdus merula) 8x1 (m1), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 8x2 (m2), Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) 7x2 (m3), Song Thrush (Thurdus philomelos) 6x2 (m2), Raven (Corvus corax) 4x2 (m2), Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) 4x3 (m5), Common Crossbill (Loxia Curvirostra) 3x5 (m8), White Wagtail/Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 3x1 (m1), Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) 3x2 (m2), Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis) 3x1 (m1), Swift (Apus apus) 2x2 (m2), Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 2x1 (m1), Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 2x2 (m2), Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) 2x2 (m2), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 2x2 (m2), Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) 2x5 (m6), Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2x2 (m3), Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) 2x2 (m2)
On a visit in summer 2016 I saw Wheatear, Water Pipit, Black Redstart and Alpine Chough higher in the mountains. The Nutcracker, Willow Tit and most other species were more common at lower elevations in the valley and also in the forests where they extended higher, such as at Val Roseg and Morteratsch. To see Lammergeier/Bearded Vulture and Golden Eagle I found scanning the sky above the cliffs, particularly looking just above the horizon, was a good strategy. I also saw Ravens in the sky but because I often heard them croaking I did not need to keep speculatively scanning for them.
- more unusual mammals possible at this location: Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex), Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus)
- mammals more likely: Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota), Alpine Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Red Deer (Cervus elaphus, can be difficult to see), Bats (various species can be seen on dry evenings at lower elevations)
- mammals seen in 8 days at Pontresina (summer): marmot 18x2 (m6), chamois 4x3 (m10), Red Squirrel 2x1 (m1), ibex 1x8 (m8)
In general I find that mammals are more difficult to see compared to other wildlife. For example, they are often shy, particularly running away from humans. Here at Pontresina in summer 2016 I saw many marmots sat very still watching people walk past: but they would often then run away if they thought they had been seen. I found it was good to look ahead and try to see the marmots before I get too close and disturbed them. To find ibex and chamois I looked ahead on the path and also scanned with binoculars on the sides of valleys and on the grassy areas at the tops of the mountains. I found that the chamois looked brown and the ibex looked more grey with much larger horns.
I photographed this view of snow and mountains from the southern end of the Val Minor walk in July 2016.
This small river is winding its way down the high-elevation Languard valley.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on October 19th 2018.
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