I had been asked and was keen to organise a birding tour of Corsica for a group of friends from NCOS (D and B Dine, K Wills, D Pearce, G Watson, M and Jo Jones, A Jayne). I think I had better join the elite and will send off a membership form soon. The trip was put together with the endemic specialities in mind. My investigations led my to encourage a visit via Sardinia as it was only really possible to go to Corsica on charter flights, a week at a time. It seemed a good way to do it and take in both these Italian and French governed islands although both islands are very independently minded. This way I could put together a shorter trip, take in N. Sardinia and have two ferry crossings to seawatch from. I booked flights from London Luton to Alghero and hired a minivan for us to travel in. We arrived in the evening in Sardinia and were soon at Villa Barbarina near Fertilia where we were to stay for the night. AJ picked up on a calling Scop’s Owl and we also added Nightingale. After checking in and settling down with a drink. Some of us were up a bit later ‘unwinding’ and it was a pleasant place to be in evening.
25 May 2012
We woke to a misty start but the sun burnt through rapidly. The hotel grounds provided a variety of habitats from weedy fields, vineyards and olive groves so a variety of birds were enjoyed. Italian, Spanish and even Tree Sparrows showed off on the lawn or rooftops, not a House Sparrow in sight! Hooded Crows were much in evidence, a common bird here as well as in Corsica but not so densely populated on the latter island. Woodlarks sang and those that strolled around returned with a list of Mediterranea birds. The Spotted or (unspotted) Flycatchers were very bold. After breakfast we loaded up and headed to Lago di Baratz, a natural lake set in the hills. Wandering around here we saw many emerged dragonflies and butterflies, a flyover Purple Heron, distant Tawny Pipit, Sardinian Warblers, Cirl Buntings, Firecrest and more. On the lake a pair each of Black-necked, Little and Great Crested Grebes. A party of four Ferruginous Duck were also notable, a male with three females. Everyone looked closley at the Lizards, Gecko’s, plants and insects at this site, endemic species are always on offer on such an island.
Cirl Bunting MJMcGill
Moving on from here with the sun warming things up we set off for the fery port at Santa Theresa de Gallura for a 1500 departure. We arrived in good time and caught the supermarket before it closed. The deli counter sorted out fresh bread rolls and cheese for us and we took it to the harbour to eat on the wall. After boarding the ferry we got into a seawatch position at the back of the boat away from the noise and so we had a good view. A Mediterannean Shag flew by close and began fishing, it was a juvenile and appeared so pale, white necked like a grebe. Duncan Dine spotted a Blue-rock Thrush as we left the natural harbour mouth and we were soon seeing Yelkouan Shearwaters. A party of 25 dispersed from the surface as the boat moved into open water.
Juvenile Mediterranean Shag (desmarestii)
During the crossing more Yelkouan Shearwaters were seen and I saw at least one Cory’s (Scopoli’s) Shearwater, I think more were seen by the others. It was difficult to communicate sightings to each other when spread out searching and the wind and engine noise drowned us out. Only 40 minutes later and we approached the waved limestone cliffs of Bonafacio, Corsica. Again we were road mobile and I set off for the Etang du Urbino to fit a little more birding in. I dropped the gang off for a stroll along a lane to the shore where Shelduck, Quail, Bee Eaters, Sardinian Warbler, Turtle and Collared Dove, Yellow-legged Gulls, Little Egret and Red Kite were seen/heard. Another short drive and the seaside scrub adjacent to Etang du Diane was searched, a Woodchat Shrike, Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers and Stonechat were all seen and heard. We ran out of time here and did not reach the lake shore as we needed to reach our hotel in the Restonica Valley. After less than an hour we arrived, unpacked and searched the stream next to the hotel, Grey Wagtail and Dipper were seen and heard. I drove everyone to Corte to my favourite restuarant U Museu. The grub here was a hit as were the friendly, helpful and tolerant staff, as ever we made things hard for them to understand but Becky Dine got us sorted and kindly took the lead on ordering in French for all. Thank you for all your help Becky. We all relaxed and enjoyed the rather showery evening under cover of awnings and remained warm. After the meal we heard Scop’s Owl calling in the town, the shower had stopped. Back to the hotel for bed.
26 May 2012
0800 start for an excellent breakfast and out birding by 0900 to head high up the Restonica Valley. Most of the group headed out earlier to birdwatch around the hotel so had a few extra sightings to add to the list. We stopped at one site I have seen a pair of Corsican Nuthatch before but it was very quiet so we moved the the end of the valley, paid and parked and set off on foot to climb up to a good viewing area close to Lac de Melo. Setting up our ‘viewing camp’ here everyone was soon chipping in with sightings, Water Pipits singing and carrying food, more Grey Wagtails, Mistle Thrush, Kestrel, Buzzard and then the smashing Corsican Finches. A male performed display flutters showing off yellow flashes as the four moved about the rocks, bushes and trees giving us good views. Parties of Alpine Chough remained stubbornly high above the peaks and crags although a few came to scope distance. The views and scenery were excellent. A couple of hours passed by and we descended back to the cafe for lunch with Chaffinches for company.
Heading back to the forested zone I dropped everyone for a wander through the forest downhill to the next parking spot where I would wait and wander back up toward them. As soon as I got out the van I could hear a Corsican Nuthtach calling. I followed the sound up the slopes and located a bird which dissapeared again. After a fifteen minute wait I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and then three of the endemic Nuthatches repsonding. The ‘pecker’ arrived in a reaby tree followed by one of the Nuthatches, it was shadowing the pied intruder. I tripped back down the slope to get near the road and keep an eye out for the group who arrived as the Nuthatches were calling again. Singles were calling either side of us so those on the road could hear and see one below the road and others hearing one above the road in the canopy. We waited 40 minutes but not more calls were heard and no sightings made so I used short and reduced sound playback. Nothing responded or appeared. We stopped and searched more areas but did not locate any ‘hatches’. Back for a change and out to the restaurant again for another great meal.
27 May 2012
A pre-breakfast start at 0700 to try for the Corsican Nuthatches was arranged, we arrived at the sunny spot and waited for a sound. Nothing came our way but the Firecrests and commoner passerines in song. A short playback and an instant repsonse from the Nuthatch who appeared in the canopy overhead, it flitted between trees and dissapeared again. Back at the van Keith spotted a party Alpine Swifts as we watched a Buzzard lift on the rising thermals. We watched these white-bellied boomerangs visit the cliff and chase an scream over the valley. Time for breakfast.
After our morning meal I took everyone off to Vivario to a spot where I have seen plenty of good birds before. Driving along we saw many Red Kites floating above the villages. We arrived at a decent spot and looked out across the valley and to the distant cloud covered peaks and soon spotted Golden Eagle. On the Maquis below everyone was seeing Marmora’s and Dartford Warblers pop up on the low bushes every so often. Duncan, Graham, Jo and Mick made their way down the track and saw Corsican Swallowtail and had great views of the birds. We also saw Corsican Finches, heard Woodlark, Great Spotted Woodpecker and enjoyed the butterflies too. I led everyone to where I had breeding Red-backed Shrikes before and AJ spotted a female on the slope in the bracken and brambles. We got into a better position to view the area and watched the pair.
Female Red-backed Shrike
After enjoying these class birds we headed back to the viewpoint to search for raptors, another Golden Eagle was seen but the highlight was seeing a young Bearded Vulture soar out of the cloud, circle mountain before flying along the cliff and was lost to view. Plenty of Red Kites were seen on the wing too. We also had Alpine Swift blast low overhead, Crag Martins and I saw a single Red-rumped Swallow with the House Martins. Moving up the mountain to a side road that takes you to the Col de Sorba we stopped for butterflies, Scarce Swallowtail was watched and a Cuckoo (we saw it on the way down too). A walk along a track to another familiar spot for me we saw Corsican Finches (a male landed very close), Corsican Nuthatch, good views and heard a Scop’s Owl call four times in the middle of the day!
Time for a lunch stop and then more mountain birding. We stopped in the town of Porto Vecchio and had a snack and drink, then move on to try the Tortoise re-introduction centre on the way to Asco, it was shut and opened on 29 May! Moving on we drove all the way to the Haut Asco ski station and were soon watching Red Crossbills, a party of c8. Another climb up the slope to settle for a search and DP picked up two Mouflon feeding on the cliffs high above.
Birding Haut Asco
KW spotted a Golden Eagle crusing through the clouds. A coffee at the cafe and further searching of the peaks did not reveal the hoped for adult Bearded Vulture. A long descent back down the valley for a final stop in some likely scrub gave us Woodlarks and a roost of at least 27 Red Kites.
Back to change and head out again to a restaurant, a wander around Corte to look at the bulidings, statues and a bit of history and the excellent viewpoint was enjoyed. The Swifts were magic as they chased about the town. We had to eat at a different place as U Museu was closed, the service at the adjacent retstuarant was not great here but it did provide two Nightjars that DP heard first then discovered flying just above the buildings. They were using the clock tower to perch upon and were seen mating in the lights. Just wonderful birding and we were so pleased that a few folk had brough their bins.
28 May 2012
Up, packed and on the road by 0745, I needed to get to Bonafacio for the midday ferry and time was tight, we breakfasted en-route, I was looking for a seaside hotel or cafe and found one at Solenzara. In the harbour Med Shags fished, I spotted a gorgeous Audouin’s Gull and KW picked up on a close pod of 4+ Bottle nosed Dolphin. After bread roll, croissant and coffee/tea we once again loaded up and reached the ferry at 1120. Back on the boat for another seawatch a Peregrine flew along the cliff as we left Corsica, more Yelkouan Shearwaters were seen c6 in total and a few Cory’ (Scopoli’s) Shearwaters. One followed the boat and allowed great views as did the mob of Yellow-legged Gulls.
Back on Sardinia we made a lunch stop and then headed for Stagno di Pilo, a brackish coastal lake on the N coast. Birds seen here included Great White Egret, Little Egret, Shelduck with a brood, Coot, 2 Purple Heron, Cetti’s Warbler, Nightingale, Sardinian Warbler, five noisy squabbling Stone Curlews, 2 Turtle Doves, Marsh Harrier and displaying Tawny Pipit.
A further stop on the way to the airport gave us great views of 3-6 Lesser Kestrels, I was trying to explain the differences when a female Common Kestrel landed on wires next to them for comparison. A couple of Marsh Harriers floated about the area. We were soon at the airport where we bid goodbye the Becky and Dunc who were staying on to continue their holiday. The rest of us flew home, we said bye to Keith at Luton and arrived in Gloucestershire in the early hours.
Thanks to all of you on the trip, I really enjoyed your company and you were all so helpful, understanding and flexible to make it easier for me to plan and evolve each day, the birding and of course meals. You were all so sharp in the field and everyone made a discovery or two.
The following compilation of images are from Graham Watson, thanks GW. Spotless Starling, Spanish Sparrow, Purple Heron, Corsican Finch and Corsican Nuthatch x 2.