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Corfu, Greece, July 2020 (1 Viewer)


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We visited Corfu for a family holiday for seven days in late July. I managed to get a couple of hours’ birding every morning at first light, and also, once the family were comfortable on a beach I was usually able to escape for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

I'm aware that it wasn't the best time of year to see birds in Corfu. The situation was quite strange in that this was the first week that tourism was allowed from the UK to Greece after the pandemic lockdown. There were very few tourists around. We were lucky to have a car for the full week, so we were able to cover most of the island.

I ended up with a species list of 47, which wasn't bad considering I didn't go after any wildfowl or waders. This was my first time birding in the Eastern Mediterranean so I did expect to see some new species. In the end I saw eight, and possibly nine, which was more than I expected. People have said that finding birds in Corfu is difficult, that the birds are very wary. But in reality, for the time of year, it didn't feel any more difficult than finding birds in say France, and it felt easier than Italy.

We stayed in an appartment block how about 1km back from the sea at Ipsos. The area lots of scrubland, gardens and olive groves. Five minutes drive and we were already heading into the mountains, so the location was a good one.

Local to the appartment, I saw Olivaceous Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Woodchat Shrike, Red-Rumped Swallows close by on the wires and Golden Oriole, amongst the more common birds. We also had a couple of Scops Owl pinging like submarines every night, one of favourite sounds in the universe.

My favourite place was Mount Pantokrator, at 900m the highest point on the island. The best area was the road between the village of Petalia and the point just below the summit where the road kicks up. A small boggy area to the north side of the road was full of warblers and what looks like an old quarry on the south side just below the summit also had many species. These included Subalpine Warbler, Great Tit, Black-Eared-Wheatear, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Cirl Bunting, Stonechat and Olivaceous Warbler. I came up here three times. On one occasion Chukar Partridge waddled across the road one hairpin below the summit. On another, we had fantastic views of a Short Toed Eagle hunting at eye level and below us from the summit. And walking a little way down the Corfu Trail on the north side of the road I quickly found a pair of Rock Nuthatches. They were very noisy and showy, completely the opposite of their woodland cousins. It was really strange to see such a familiar looking bird in such an alien habitat.

I found a great spot on the last day of our trip. Just to the south of the Dassia there is a small track going down to the White Anchor restaurant at Dafnila Beach. Behind here is an area of scrubland, meadow and tall Eucalyptus trees, amongst half built apartment blocks. I guess they were abandoned after the financial crash in 2008. Here I found the usual warblers, with the addition of Sardinian Warblers in the meadow and a single Wood Warbler. There was also a Woodchat Shrike feeding its young on the wires. Most vegetation in Corfu is dense, so the eucalyptus was terrific for letting me see what was actually in the tree. There was also a small reed bed at the mouth of the river there. I tried to sound baiting for Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler, with no success. But when I tried Savi’s Warbler a small brown bird immediately flew out of the tall reeds and perched in cover in an overhanging tree on the opposite bank of the river. Frustratingly I couldn't get a positive ID. By colour and flight it was either a Reed Warbler or Savi’s. I guess Reed Warbler is more common in Corfu but I will never know. There were also Sand Martins here amongst the House Martins.

I did manage a brief walk at Lefkimmi salt pans, but not long enough to cover much ground. It was pretty quiet. There were plenty off Grey Herons and Little Egrets along with Mediterranean, Black-Headed, and Yellow-Legged Gulls. The only excitement came from a very obliging Zitting Cisticola and a very pale thrush-like bird which flew into the dunes a couple of hundred metres away. I hear Tawny Pipit breed here but it didn't really feel right for that. I have no idea what it was though.

Other highlights included a pair of squabbling Golden Orioles that flashed in front of our car near Sidari. We took a boat trip from Dassia to Kassiopi and back. I was on the lookout for Cory’s Shearwaters, particularly where the straits narrowed at the closest point to Albania. But after a seven hour trip it was only when we were half a mile from our journey’s end that one finally showed up, skimming 100m in front of our boat. One morning my wife and I headed up to Agii Deka, the radar-topped high point in the south of the island. The usual warblers were found around the monastery up there. We sensed there was much more but it wasn't showing. We chose a really sketchy road down and just when we were really regretting it we turned a corner and saw three Eleonora's Falcons circling below an inland cliff a few hundred metres away. The tails were unmistakably long and their flight too elegant for Peregrines.

So all in all, a very rewarding trip, and certainly beyond expectation. I was sad to miss Black-Headed Bunting. Apparently they have migrated by the end of July. I was sad not to see any Turtle Doves. I really have no luck with this bird but the way things are going that will be the story for everyone soon enough. It would have been great to see a Wryneck, a bird I have not seen anywhere despite going looking for it on countless occasions. I had hundreds of photographs of bits of bird wing, tail and back, glimpsed in bushes. I hoped careful examination of these might have revealed an Olive Tree Warbler or something else more interesting but sadly not. They were all either Blue Tits, Subalpine or Olivaceous Warblers.
Great to see a family holiday report - especially one which includes Rock Nuthatch and Eleanora's Falcon!

It would be great to see any pix of the birds, or even the habitats, as there's no prospect of getting out for a holiday anytime soon ...

Great to get some Eastern Med.birding news Dave! I can remember my first Eleanora’s, very long tailed and “rakish” looking...quite unlike Peregrine and Hobby. :t:
I saw the mention of Kassiopi above which was a sleepy, fishing village when I first visited in the early 80's.

On my first visit, I'd been delighted to find numerous Hermann's Tortoises on the walk down to the beach. Sadly, on my next visit, the only place I could find the tortoises, was in a tourist shop, they had been killed and crudely taxidermed. Also for sale in the same shop, was another, crudely stuffed speciemen, a Night Heron. The place was never the same for me after that.
Somewhere I feel I should visit due to my whole life being altered from reading Gerald Durrell books as a kid and being so envious of his childhood in Corfu.
The first time I went abroad as an adult, back in 1983, I went to Corfu for that very reason. It wasn't a birding holiday, and we stayed in Kavos, on the southern tip of the island, which was rather a sleepy resort in those days. I don't think that is the case now. Even in his lifetime, Durrell came to have doubts about the part he had played in attracting the tourist hordes to the island.

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