Animals, crystals, stars, archosaurs: four activities to feed your curiosity

Long-distance migratory birds

Every year, hundreds of millions of migratory birds fly over Switzerland. While some species stop in our lands to nest in the summer, others only fly over them, but all follow airways familiar to bird experts. All you have to do is go to strategic locations, wearing binoculars around your neck, to observe the first migrants this summer – mainly insectivores – heading back south to their winter quarters. And what could be better than joining specialists to learn more about the lives of these long-distance travelers.

Read: Bird migration? A question about stomach

For thirty years, at the Col de Jaman, above Montreux, volunteer ornithologists have followed the migration by setting up nets from August to October to capture, ring and release between 8,000 and 12,000 birds depending on the year. This team of experienced ringers stay on the pass in shifts to lift the nets, day and night, when conditions are good, and unhook the small birds caught in the net as quickly as possible. Data on each bird is collected – age, weight, sex and general health. Finally, the bird is ringed with a unique numbered ring issued by the Swiss ornithological station Sempach. Valuable information to help detect possible problems in the sites of origin and to monitor the evolution of populations in accordance with climate change.

At the Jaman pas hut, ornithologists are happy to answer questions from hikers who can take a closer look at the captured birds. Warblers, flycatchers and warblers may be part of the sightings this summer. The Jaman pass can be reached by car or by train from Jaman station, after a 30-45 minute walk.

The Binntal, a crystal setting

The Binn Valley, known worldwide for its richness and diversity in crystals, is a setting for minerals embedded in rock formations erected in the mountains millions of years ago. The crystals come from processes of transformation and deformation of so-called metamorphic rocks at a depth of 30 kilometers and at a temperature of around 550°C, linked to the uplift of the Alps. More than 300 mineral species have been recorded in the Binntal, ten of which are found only in this valley. The Lengenbach deposit is the richest, with 150 listed minerals, and it even gave its name to a crystal, lengenbachite.

A geological discovery trail connects Fäld with the Lengenbach Mine over a distance of 1.25 kilometers and an elevation gain of 150 meters. Along the route we find serpentinite (a rock that consists of olivine crystals and is the result of the transformation of peridotite, raw material of the ocean crust), gneiss (cousin of granite with large crystals of quartz, feldspar and black mica) or even metagabbros (rare , hard and compact mineral with crystals of hornblende and feldspar).

Excavations for scientific purposes take place every summer in the Lengenbach area. The cuttings from these excavations, which may still contain interesting minerals, are deposited at the entrance to the mine. Amateurs can freely search for minerals in this stony material with a small hammer. With a little luck, you can take home a beautiful rock crystal. Otherwise, the towns of Binn and Fäld house museums and crystal shops to assuage frustrations and view the finest specimens that have been found in the region. Several crystal hunters also offer guided tours.

Read: The man who risked his life for stone

Cool your head in the stars

The night is an oasis of welcome freshness and an open door to the stars. As every year, from the end of July to the end of August, a swarm of meteors, the Perseids, from the debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle crosses our planet, which, when they cross the Earth’s atmosphere, cause a shower of shooting stars. The phenomenon begins around July 20 and ends at the end of August, with a peak on the night of August 12-13 with almost 100 shooting stars observed per hour. The best thing is to be able to find a place without too much light pollution to get the most out of the show. Several French-speaking municipalities that are partners in the project of the association Perséides – municipalities mainly based in the canton of Vaud, at the foot of the Jura and in Gros-de-Vaud – have announced that they will turn off their public lighting to offer complete darkness.

The Gantrisch nature park in the Bernese Alps boasts a firmament far from the light pollution of big cities. The preservation of the night sky is one of the obligations of this park, and it is on the top of the Gurnigel pass located at an altitude of 1610 meters, accessible by car, that astronomy enthusiasts meet to put their telescope and observe the stars. . But there is no need for instruments to enjoy the starscape, the Perseids, the Milky Way and constellations are visible to the naked eye. The park hosts a Star Party on the night of 26 and 27 August.

Also read: The history of our universe revealed by the James Webb telescope

In Valais, the François-Xavier Bagnoud Observatory, located 220 meters above sea level on the heights of the village of Saint-Luc, also welcomes visitors interested in the starry sky during several astronomical evenings at the end of July.

In the footsteps of 240 million year old archosaurs

In summer, the snow leaves the heights of the Emosson region of the Valais Alps. The bare rocks are exposed at more than 2000 meters above sea level and reveal the moving testimony of the passage of animals more than 240 million years old. Two places allow you to see traces of these primitive reptiles called archosaurs, ancestors of the dinosaurs, kind of crocodiles that are about 1.50 meters long and stand on their four legs. Getting there is worth it, you have to start a mountain hike, put on your shoes, to go back in time and tread the ancient petrified sandy beaches.

The first site, located at an altitude of 2,400 meters above the Lac du Vieux-Emosson, was discovered in 1976 and has attracted the interest of scientists ever since, because it is the oldest fossil traces of vertebrates in Switzerland. An educational trail that starts from the parking lot at the Emosson dam leads to the traces of archosaurs, where geologists and guides from the end of July welcome curious hikers for three weeks. They tell about the geological events that made it possible to preserve these animal tracks that are visible today in the Alps. It takes five hours to walk round trip for a total of 825 meters of elevation gain.

In the Emaney valley, a few kilometers away as the crow flies from Lake Emosson, another site was recently discovered in 2011 and studied by paleontologists and geologists from the Geneva Museum of Natural History. Scientists assume that the tracks revealed in the rocks of the Emaney Falls and in the Emosson Falls, which follow the same direction, formed a travel route for the archosaurs. To reach the site, it takes 2h30 to walk one way (5 kilometers and 400 meters of elevation gain) from the arrival of the Marécottes cable car in La Creusaz. At the bottom of the Emaney valley surrounded by its high rocky cliffs, the path climbs towards the Col de Barberine. Just downstream the pass at 2200 meters above sea level, on a flat and smooth wall, after the passage of the waterfall, the tracks are visible on the rock, for some surrounded by outlines of white paint. On the way back, a stop at the Emaney mountain grass to taste cheese and cool off will reward brave hikers.

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