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Corsica Autumn 2009 (19-24th October): (1 Viewer)

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
Hello one and all,

This topic charts my birding experiences on my holiday to Corsica in October 2009. There were will be at total of 5 entries, but these won't be charted all in one post, they will be divided into seperate posts. Pictures from the holiday are unfortunately only clickable links, but nonetheless, they are worth looking at and set the scene!

19th October (Day 1):

For my October break, it was time to leave Britain, and to head to Corsica. I would be spending a week in Corsica, just with my Mum, who isn't a birder, so I'd be birding alone. For those of you that don't know, Corsica is an island located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland and to the north of Sardinia. I would be getting to the island via a flight from London Gatwick to Marseille, then from Marseille to the town of Calvi. Calvi is a town in the north-west of Corsica. It is circled in the map linked below. The report of my birding here doesn't just hope to give you a good idea of the birdlife of Corsica, but also hopes to show you what the island was like in an interesting and informative way.


Overall, if I hadn't have had to wait for 4 hours at Marseille Airport for the flight to Calvi, the journey would have been just a few hours long. However this wait increased it to 7, and by the time we arrived at Calvi Airport it was dark. Once we had landed we got our hire car, a rather nice Renault Scenic, and set off to our apartment in a hotel called Residence Le Padro. Residence Le Padro was a hotel situated just inland from Calvi (10 minutes from the Airport), and consisted of many, self-catering holiday apartments in the countryside. We chose a yellow apartment at the back of the hotel. Obviously, when we first arrived there we were unable to see the countryside surrounding the hotel, so that night we simply just unpacked. As I lay in bed that night, I became very excited. I was in a foreign country, and tomorrow I would start exploring it and its birdlife! What, in the next week, would Corsica hold? I was well informed on the birds of the island, and the best places to see these birds, so how was I going to do?

The next morning I was woken up at 7:30am, and the first thing I did was open the doors to have a look at my surroundings. The view was just beautiful. The countryside view from this part the hotel consisted of low-lying, Mediterranean bush and fields, and all this was encompassed by rocky, jagged and high mountains. Here are a few links to some pictures to give you an idea of what the view was like:




The bushes were teeming with birds and calls that I didn't recognise, and I was keen to have a look at what was down there. So, after some breakfast, I headed down to the nearby bushes, finding a convienient place to sit and watch for any birds in them. Unfortunately I couldn't deep into the them, as there was a fence, but this wouldn't prove to be much of a hassle. When I got down there, I noticed that the bushes were alive with warblers; they were calling constantly, and I occasionally saw them flitting from one bush to another. At this point in time, I wasn't sure what species a majority of them were, as I was by no means familiar with the birds of the area and thus wasn't able to make ID's of any of the warblers, although I did come to the conclusion that most of them were Sylvias. I did also manage to find a male Blackcap. As I was trying to figure out what species the warblers were, I had a pleasant surprise; a Black Redstart. This bird was first seen and identified in flight, when I saw the flash of its prominent, rusty red tail. It then proceeded to land on a wall, giving me a chance to put a gender to it (it was a female) and to examine its behaviour. This Black Redstart seemed full of life, perched upright on the wall, constantly vibrating its red tail and flitting up and down off the wall (presumably in anxiety). I had been watching it for some time when I was distracted from a loud, high-pitched, piping call. I took my bins off the Black Redstart, and looked up to find a big,bird of prey flying towards the hotel. It was a Red Kite. Up in Scotland, I have only seen a few Red Kites; so seeing one in Corsica was quite an exciting experience for me. An adult, it flew on very long wings in a buoyant and leisurely fashion, almost like a crow, as it constantly twisted its rufous, forked tail and continued to fly towards me. Eventually, some Hooded Crows, which seemed to be the common corvids, rose from the ground, and started mobbing it. At this point the Kite's flight changed from slow and leisurely to fast and urgent, wanting to get the crows off its back as they as they harrassed it. The Kite and its harrassers eventually flew right over my head (which was a beautiful sight) and then dipped behind the hotel. This was one of another 6 or 7 Red Kites I would see in that hour or so, thus proving themselves to be the common raptor. Common Kestrel and Buzzard were also seen in that period of time, but they hardly seemed as common as the Red Kites. After seeing the first Red Kite I had a look at the wall where the Black Redstart had been, but it had gone. As I was doing this, a sizeable (but not big) flock of Starlings flew past and then landed on the fields. I was happy to find that they were Spotless Starlings. A lot of them were winter plumage birds, and I was able to distinguish them from winter plumage European Starling from the distinct lack of spots and much darker plumage (the winter plumage starling is very spotty and has hints of brown on by the wing). They called constantly in communication with one another, sounding very similar to European Starling but with a sharper tone to their calls and stronger and more rolling trills. Spotless Starling has a restricted range in Europe; Corsica is one of very few places in Europe you can see them. However, at the turn of new year I had been in the Iberian Peninsula, where they also occured and I first saw them, so this species wasn't new to me. I stayed out there for around an hour and a half, as my Mum got us ready for a trip to Calvi. Once my time was up, I noted down the species I had seen, and we headed off to Calvi. Here is a picture from where the area of bush that I was primarily looking at that morning.


Before having look round Calvi itself, we stopped off at Calvi beach. The beach was like no other that I had been to. It was long and stretching with silver sand, with views of the mountains to the east, and a view of the town and its 13th century citadel to the west. Fringing this beach was a few kilometeres of beautiful pine. From this pine, you could enter the beach. Here are a couple of pictures taken from the beach (notice the Citadel in the right of the first picture, and the emptiness of the beach due to it being 'out of season'):



Whilst on the beach, a brisk wind was present, and I had a look out at sea for any mediterranean sea-birds. There seemed to be nothing going past, however, apart from one Shag, this bird of the mediterranean subspecies. A few Yellow-legged Gulls were also present, my first for the holiday. The wind on the beach became a tad annoying after a while, and we eventually headed into the pine forests, deciding to have our lunch in it. Here a few Goldcrests were calling, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen, some Collared Doves were present, and I heard the explosive and abrupt call of a Cetti's Warbler in the reedbeds towards the back of the forest. I also managed to have a couple of seconds view of a definite Phylloscopus warbler, but I didn't have time to ID the bird as it very quickly disappeared from view.

So, after this pleasant trip to the beach we headed into Calvi. Calvi is a port which was particularly busy in the Roman era. Its most famous for the Citadel, a thirteenth century fortress situated at the far end of the town. My mum and I were going to visit the Citadel and also have a look at the rest of Calvi. By wintibird (Andre) of Birdforum, I was advised to check out every gull in Calvi for an Audouins Gull, which are a scarce but not rare gull in Corsica. As we were walking through Calvi and up to the Citadel, I did just as wintibird had told me, and checked each gull I saw. However, I was surprised to find that even Yellow-legged Gulls weren't exactly ubiquitous in Calvi, so this made me think it would be pretty tricky trying to find one. However, I wasn't too bothered, as I was enjoying the town, its culture and its architecture. From where we had parked it was about 20 minutes walk to the Citadel. Here is a picture I took of it from Calvi's lovely marina.


Once we were within Citadel walls, we climbed up the cobbled roads, tightly packed with archetypal Mediterranean houses, towards the top. When we got there, there were some brilliant views, with a magnificent backdrop for the red-tiled town below and its palm-tree planted harbour, with the tall, rocky mountains looming above it. Also at the top of Citadel , there was a big cathedral named La Cathédrale Saint Jean-Baptiste (the cathedral of St. John the Baptist, see last picture).




Up here bird-wise parties of Town Pigeon/Rock Dove occasionally flew over, quite a good number of Yellow-legged Gulls circled over it, and House Sparrows were common. The House Sparrows in Corsica are interesting as they are said to either be a subspecies of Spanish Sparrow or a hybrid between the two species, the latter of which I suspect is accurate. After a visit to a cathedral and a full wonder round the top of the Citadel, we headed back down to the town, where I fell upon yet another Black Redstart, this time a beautiful male perching on a the edge of one of the many houses and acting very much like the female I had seen earlier that day. This was the last bird I saw in the town.

It was around 5:00pm when we arrived back from Calvi, and there were a couple of hours of daylight remaining. Now, if you go to the otherside of the hotel from where I was looking that morning, you get an entirely different view of things. Of course, you can still see the mountains, but instead of the countryside being fields with occasionally bushes scattered amongst them, here its basically just low-lying bush. This low-lying bush is called maquis, and when I woke up that morning and saw it I was very happy. The maquis in Corsica is a great place to see warblers and migrant passerines, and I thought that my chances of having it right outside the hotel were minimal and that as a result I would have less chance of seeing warblers such as: Sardinian, Dartford, Cetti's and the scarce breeding Marmora's. But the fact that there was maquis meant that I had good chances of seeing all those species! So, after something to eat, I alone headed out into the maquis for my first look for some warblers. I planned to regularly check this maquis on my trip. I entered the maquis via a small track that presumably went down to someone's house. Here are some pictures of the maquis:



I spent a good hour and a half searching through the maquis, walking through it trying to flush up any warblers. There were plenty of them in there, they were calling regularly. However, I didn't recognise these calls at this point so I didn't actually know what I was hearing, although I knew that Sardinian and Dartford Warbler were probably present. In my look through the maquis though, I wasn't able to identify these species. I was pretty sure that they were the birds I was flushing up, and I wished that they would show themselves. But unfortunately they didn't. However, despite not seeing these two species, I did find loads Stonechats, a Grey Wagtail, another Blackcap (this time a female), and there were tons more Spotless Starlings. I was also very surprised to flush up a Cetti's Warbler, which I was able to identify when it briefly perched itself on the top of some maquis, its tail cocked and its warm-brown plumage its giveaway feature. 10 seconds later it dipped out of sight. Besides passerines, there were several Red Kites quartering the maquis, as well as a Kestrel and two Ravens.

It was getting dark when I finished looking in the maquis, so I gave up birding for the day, the mountains gradually become silhoutted as sunset took place and then disappearing when it finally became dark. Overall, I had a really lovely day; not just getting to know the birds of the areas I was checking, but also getting to know the actual areas themselves. I may not have seen a huge deal, but nonetheless, I was happy, and I would have plenty of time to see more birds!

Thanks for reading the first entry,


Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
On my first day in Corsica, I had really enjoyed myself. I had seen some lovely sights and some nice birds. By the end of the second day (the day in which I will now write about) I would be feeling much the same. Just like on the previous morning, very quickly after I woke up I was checking the bushes just outside the apartment for birdlife. That morning there were a similar variety of birds out there as there had been on the second day, a good number of Red Kites, plenty of Spotless Starlings and many warbler calls of which I was still unable to identify (as well as warblers flitting from bush to bush that I didn't have time to identify), but no Black Redstarts. I also managed to get a Cetti's Warbler on call, two Blackcaps, and a party of finches flew over that I didn't recognise. My suspicsion was that they were Serins, but this was by no means a certain ID, so I just let them escape me. A brief check from the otherside of the hotel produced a Grey Heron at sea. Grey Herons can be seen on migration in Corsica, so this was quite an interesting spot for me. All the mentioned species were seen within the space of half an hour. After this brief birdwatch I had breakfast, and then my Mum and I set out for a day in the heart of the Corsican mountains.


Saying 'The Heart of the Corsican Mountains', however, is rather vague, as Corsica is covered in mountains (in fact it is the most mountainous island in the whole of the Mediterranean). We would be spending a day out in the Regino Valley. As you can see in the map above, I have circled a place called L'Ile-Rousse. Going just a little south from L'Ile Rousse, you will see a small red dot. This is roughly where the Regino Valley is. To get it to it, we would have to take the N197 all the way up to L'Ile Rousse then take a small road inland. The idea of going to Regino Valley came from wintibird (Andre) of Birdforum, not because we had heard about it. In one of his pms to me discussing the birds of Corsica, he told me that the Regino Valley was a good place to go, stating that it takes you through a variety of different habitats and gives you good chances of many of the islands passerines, mentioning in particular that I had good chances of Marmora's Warbler and Rock Sparrow . I was obviously tempted by this, so I asked my Mum if I could go there. She, luckily for me, obliged. So, at around 9:30am that morning we set out in the direction of the Regino Valley. However, we wouldn't be heading straight there. We would first make a visit to L'Ile Rousse, which was a goodish drive from where we staying (maybe half an hour). And on the way to L'Ile Rousse we stopped at the little village of Lumio, which had a nice viewpoint down towards Calvi from it (see picture). In the foliage around this viewpoint, my only two Woodpigeons were seen, and there were a good number of Jays both calling and flying about, as well as the calls of those ubiquitous warblers that I was still unable to identify. The fact I wasn't seeing any of these warblers was really starting to get on my nerves now, and that day I determined to at least be able to identify one of the mystery species. I knew roughly the species of warblers that were in there from having looked up what warblers you get in Corsica, its just I couldn't see them and I didn't know any of their calls.


L'Ile Rousse, like Calvi, is built on a bay. Its name (The Red Isle) refeea to the rocky islets of red porphyry, a type of rock, that are bounded slightly to the north west of the town. Most people visit the town to see these red rocks. However, we didn't visit them, as we were only hoping to visit the town briefly and get some food/money there. To the south of the rocks is an immaculate, white sand beach similar to the beach in the Calvi (but with no pine forests), of which we did visit. Birdwise on the beach there was nothing; just a few Yellow-legged Gulls. I guess this is explainable, as the beach at L'Ile Rousse is literally right in by the town, whilst Calvi Beach is more extensive and continues quite a few kilometeres out of the town. Here is a pictures I took at L'Ile Rousse Beach.


It overall doesn't quite have the beauty of Calvi Beach, and the same can be said about the town. L'Ile Rousse was by no means as nice as Calvi. It didn't have the same feel to it. The town has an old and new part of it; the new town towards the east and the old town in the west. Between these two different areas of the town there is square called Le Place Paoli, named after the founder of the town Pasquale Paoli, a Corsican patriot and leader. This square was arguably the nicest part of L'Ile Rousse, very close to the beach and with some nice architecture and a very typical French market.

So, after a little exploration of both the old and new town, we headed towards the Regino Valley. The change in scene from the town to the mountainside was quick and drastic. Very soon after we left Ile Rousse we started to climb, driving up the foothills on very twisty and narrow roads. We were now in the heart of the mountains that we were seeing from our apartment at Residence Le Padro. As we made our way upwards, I had a very brief stop in search of any mountain bird life. In this stop I saw several flock Red Kites as well as 4 Ravens. We kept climbing and climbing, going through many a typical Corsican mountainside village, when we eventually reached the village of Santa Reparata. Looking down from here we could see just what were we'd be spending the rest of the day; the Regino Valley itself, covered in a mass of beautiful meditarreanean flora that was mostly dominated by chesnut, olive and oak trees, and surrounding it all, high, jagged and rocky mountains, the highest of which were snowcapped. Also from here you could see a big lake and some vineyards, both of which we would be paying a visit to, as reccomended by wintibird and the latter of which we would be visiting first. The prospect of spending time in this beautiful area of countryside was a lovely and exciting thought, so without further ado, we made our way into the valley, creeping down the narrow roads slowly and surely until eventually we were in the heart of the flora. On the way to the Clos Regino Vineyards, as they were called, we took several stops. I obviously seized the chance to have a look for birds on these stops. The first of these stops was the most frutiful. Parking the car on a little layby, we took a walk right into the trees. On this walk I saw around 30 Red Kites, all in one massive flock basically just circling the mountains and the surrounding area. I had never seen so many birds of prey together in the sky before, let alone Red Kites! It was a beautiful spectacle! In the trees and bushes themselves were plenty of warblers, and to my relief and delight I was finally able to see and identify one. My first Sardinian Warbler of the holiday! It first caught my attention when I heard it calling (a loud trilling call, trr-trr-trr-trr-trrr-trrr) nearby, and after a scan through the bins, I found it scurrying about in a bush; It was a beautiful male that was instantly identified with its fully jet black head and red eyes! The view was brief as after about 10 seconds it went out of sight, but it was enough to ensure instant identification. I must say, I was really happy and relieved about seeing this Sardinian Warbler, as from that point onwards I would know its call from having heard it call before seeing it. No doubt there were many more of them in there, and lots of other species of passerines! The area was virtually teeming with bird calls (lots of Sardinians were calling), much more so than anywhere on the island I had been thus far. During the other stops on the way to the vineyards, I didn't see anything new, just a similar variety of birds. Here's a picture of me watching the Red Kites:


So, after all the stops on the way, we finally arrived at the Clos Regino Vineyards. As we were going up the road to the vineyards, we were blissed by the closest view of a Red Kite yet. It was sitting on a post, and I managed to get a picture of it. The fact it was so close gave me the chance to study its beautiful plumage. When my Mum turned on the engine again to drive on it took off on very long wings. Previous to this it had been sitting there proudly with its head turned in our direction, as you can see in the picture. In the picture, you can't see its features so well, but from its outline you should be able to tell its one.


Soon after this pleasant experince we parked up and I alone had a look around the vineyards. Wintibird, in one of his pms to me, had mentioned that Rock Sparrow occured in the vineyards, and this is what I had come to look for. The vineyards weren't looking exactly pretty, as they weren't in season, but the views from the vineyards were the most breathtaking I had experienced yet. It may not look hugely exciting from the picture, but trust me, being there was a different story, it was hard not to admire it!


I searched for Rock Sparrow for about 20 minutes, but wasn't able to find one in the end. But I did have two possibles, which I flushed up from the vines but was unable to identify. They weren't calling and looked Rock Sparrow-sized, but I couldn't guarentee that that was what they were as the light was quite poor. However, there were plenty of other birds here, with several Sardinian Warblers calling, a good number of Goldcrests, a few Jays, and lots of Coal Tits and Blue Tits, as well as a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a few more Red Kites and a Kestrel. I also still had chances of seeing Rock Sparrow elsewhere, so I wasn't too annoyed. After looking for the Rock Sparrows, we then aimed to head down to the lake which wintibird had mentioned was good for all sorts of things, including 5 species of warbler (Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Marmora's Warbler and Cetti' s Warbler), Rock Sparrow, several species of finch and Corn and Cirl Bunting. However, we got lost when trying to find the road to the lake, taking a big detour further into the mountains. We took a late lunch (at around 2:30pm) on our detour. A picture is below from where we had it. Here bird wise Jays were shrieking, there were several Ravens and another male Sardinian Warbler showed itself in a beautiful fashion, found without the aid of it calling.


After lunch and a good look at the map of the area, we soon discovered that we had quite obviously gone some way off course, so we set back in the direction we had originally come from in hope that we would find the road to the lake. We did, and it was hardly any distance from the vineyards, so how we had come to miss it was a mystery! Going down this road took us deeper into the valley and more amongst the flora. Eventually, the lake came into view, and we parked in a little area convieniently close to it. When I got out, I was instantly enchanted by the bird life. As soon as I got out, I could see and hear loads of birds. Sardinian and other warblers were calling incessantly, with the occasional Cetti's Warbler bursting into song, as well as many other strange bird calls and familiar British ones such as Robins, Stonechats flew from bush top to bush top (the occcasional pair seen together), and Red Kites were everywhere! It was at the lake in particular that I discovered the sheer abundnance of the Red Kite in Corsica. At one point, I had 12 birds in view at once, with half of them in flight and half proudly perched on tree tops, and this was without scan. I could see silhouttes of other birds of prey in the distance that were presumably also Red Kites. I thought their commonness was so enchanting and so delightful; it really was a lovely sight to see some of the loveliest birds (in my opinion) in such plenitude! And their, high pitched whistling call was really nice too! They were so common that I managed to video a few birds in flight. You can see the video now on this link to Birdforum TV. Apologies though, the camera shakes about A LOT! And also the program I am using doesn't have amazing quality, so apologies for that too.


We planned to spend the rest of the afternoon in this area, with my Mum just being left to take in the beautiful scenery whilst I searched the flora and the lake for birds. Considering how much time I had to search the area, I didn't head straight down to the lake. Instead I took a look in the trees and bushes on the other side of the road from the lake. Here the variety of birds there was a distinct variety of passerines; almost all the passerines I mentioned I am sure were present, but I didn't know all their calls and simply didn't see quite a few of the species! However, I did managed to see 4 more Sardinian Warblers, 3 being males (with two males seen together at once) and one female. Stonechats and the birds also common in Britain continued to be abundant, and I had a flock of Long-tailed Tits as well. Looking in the bushes round the lake produced much the same (I had another 6 Sardinians from this side). Of course, I would have liked to know all the unidentified bird calls and seen those birds, but what can you expect from a young, British guy that doesn't have a good deal of experience on identifing bird calls in foreign countries? When my Mum had a walk down by the lake however, I was given a nice surprise. A flock of about 20 Eurasian Crag Martins were flying about the lake, dipping low over the water every now and then after circling in the air. They were identifiable from their very plain, brown plumage, and the fact that they didn't have any white at all on their belly whatsoever. They called as they constantly flew around the lake, their call sounding almost House Martin like (a single noted 'treet'). I continued to see them as we walked. The other reason how I knew they were Eurasian Crag Martins is because they are the only type of Martin you can see in Corsica during that time of year (Sand Martins do summer). This species, however, wasn't a life tick for me. Like with the Spotless Starling, I had seen a good number of Eurasian Crag Martin on my holiday to the Iberian Peninsula at the end of 2008. This didn't stop my enjoyment of seeing them though. Also on the lake itself was a single Cormorant, and two Grey Herons, presumably stopping on migration. Whilst at the lake I took a few pictures. The first two pictures are of the lake itself, whilst the third is a view if you turn away from the lake, and the fourth is a picture of a Red Kite flying over it.





By the time we had finished the walk round the lake, evening light was creeping in, so we decided it would be best to leave so as to avoid driving on the high mountain roads in the dark. On the road back, we took a stop where the view was just amazing. I have yet another Youtube video link for you to watch so you can see just what I mean! Notice there are some Ravens in this video. Apologies again, the quality isn't brilliant.


So, overall I really enjoyed the day. I saw some really lovely birds, and got to know the countryside in the heart of the Corsican Mountains. I thought the Regino Valley was absolutely lovely, and if I was given choice to go back there I most certainly would! The highlight species was I guess was Crag Martin, but you could leave it down to the amount of Red Kites or the first Sardinian Warbler I saw. Regardless of the most noteworthy bird I saw, the fact is that I had a lovely day! We arrived back at the apartment at Residence La Padro at around 6:30pm, by which time the lunch was setting. That night, I wrote down all the new birds I saw, and decided to have a look into the calls of the Dartford and Marmora's Warbler. Having read what the Collin's Guide said about their calls, I would set out the next day to see if I could find them. Find out if I saw them in my next entry. Thank you for reading.


Allen S. Moore

Well-known member
Isle of Man
Thanks for posting your interesting account. I, for one, never fail to enjoy seeing crag martins, and I have seen them on more than 12 holidays in Spain. I've never seen more than a few red kites at once, though, and rock sparrows were my bogey birds for long enough!


Leading a life of quiet desperation
A nice report so far Joseph-have always wanted to visit Corsica-hope Santa brought you a birdsong CD for future foreign trips ;)

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
You're Thanks you two. Mark, I believe you have already read the entry I just posted :-O, but nonetheless thanks for reading it again. The next entry will be posted in a couple of days time. Crag Martins are indeed very beautiful birds, I've seen them in Spain too. If I happen to come across them again, which I'm sure I will, then I will still be happy. ;)

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
Day 3

My day in the Regino Valley had provided me with an achievement of sorts. This achievement was seeing my first Sardinian Warbler on the island. This sighting meant I was able to identify Sardinian Warbler on call and was now able to make comparisons with the other warblers present on the island. As you know, I checked the calls of Dartford and Marmora's Warbler in the Collins Guide that night, and the next day I would attempt to see both those other species. With my comparison with Sardinian Warbler intact, would I suceed? Well, this entry will tell you if I do or not, as well as a number of other things.

That morning I woke earlier than I had done before because my Mum planned to have a typical French breakfast in the nearest mountainside village to us, Calenzana. Calenzana was about the same distance from our hotel as Calvi, and about a 10 minutes drive. After a cup of tea to wake us up and me taking the briefest of looks in the area of bush in front of the apartment that I had made my patch, we headed out to Calenzana. In my brief look I was lucky to get some close and cracking views of two male Sardinian Warblers, which was a gorgeous sight.

Calenzana is a charming, traditional little village with a very mediterranean feel to it. It is embraced by the high Corsican mountains and has many winding, paved alleys and squares. Its basically the closest settlement to Calvi at just 12.5km south east of it, but despite this short distance, it feels like you are in a whole different world from the seaside glitz of Calvi with its yachts and beaches. Calenzana feels much more rugged, remote, but in its way more charming than Calvi, more traditional; more unspoiled. You get a better feel of Corsica at Calenzana than in Calvi. The other thing about Calenzana is that a lot of tourists tend to bypass it, which allows a wider appreciation of its traditional, untouched quality. We spent a couple of hours in Calenzana, having a delcious breakfast of croissants and baguettes before exploring the village itself. Here is some pictures I got of the village. The last picture is of the view down to the coast from Calenzana, and the second last is the church tower in the town square. Bird-wise in Calenzana there wasn't much apart from the commoner suspects (Spotless Starling, Great, Blue and Coal Tit).




After our exploration of Calenzana, we came to the conclusion that we'd spend the morning exploring a few of the other mountainside villages within the arrondissement of Calvi, and then spend the afternoon doing things around the hotel. Our main port of call village wise was Sant Antonino. However, we planned to see some of the villages on the way to San Antonino. So we made our way into the beautiful, lush Corsican countryside, entering the steep, winding roads with astounding panoramic views once again. Our first village stop was at a place called Montegrosso, a village quite similar to Calenzana. However, Montegrosso was perched on a hill, had better views than Calenzana, had bell tower as its defining feature and looked slightly more rugged than Calenzana. Montegrosso wasn't bad for birds either; zipping around the bell tower (see pictures below) were loads of Eurasian Crag Martins, maybe about 50 birds in all. Some were constantly zipping round and round the bell tower, whilst others decided to sit on the bell tower itself. Also sitting on the bell tower were up to 10 Spotless Starlings. Meanwhile, in the trees round the village there was a small party of Long-tailed Tits amongst the common Blue and Great Tits, and a single Sardinian Warbler was heard calling. Surprisingly no Red Kites were seen from the viewpoint at Montegrosso or flying over the village itself. Here are a few pictures of Montegrosso (one is from the viewpoint).




From Montegrosso we slowly made our way towards Sant Antonino. What interested me as we made our way there was that there we no villages between Montegrosso and San Antonino, and it was basically just countryside. We took stops where we could to admire the countryside between Montegrosso and Sant Antonino, although the roads were steep and dangerous. One stop was particularly intriguing bird-wise. It was the first stop, and at this point we weren't as high as we would be on later stops; low enough to bear warblers, which is why I thought it would be a good idea to stop at that particular place. When I got out of the car to have a look for these warblers, my eye was instantly attracted to a sparrow/bunting sized bird sitting on a telephone wire not very far away from me. Looking at it through the bins, it wasn't anything I instantly recognised. Quietly, I creeped closer towards it, trying to get good views of the bird; however poorish light disabled me from making a positive ID. It was a very brown bird, with very apparent streaks all over its body. It lacked bulk, which bunting wise ruled out Corn Bunting, so as I was watching the bird I was thinking it could have been either a juvenile Cirl Bunting or a Rock Sparrow. It wasn't small enough for any finch you could get on the island, far to small for Corsican Citril Finch or European Serin. Eventually I got too close to the bird and a result it flew off, not calling as it flew. I was annoyed that I wasn't able to make the ID, but there are always birds that escape you and bamboozle you in this world. Its something we have to put up with. ID wise I was generally leaning towards juvenile Cirl Bunting, but as I checked the Collins Guide when I got back into the car I couldn't be certain. I continued to think about the bird for a while, and eventually decided to let it escape me. Also during this stop, I interestingly saw up to 10 Kestrels flying together at once (I had never seen so many falcons together at once, let alone . Kestrels), and a few Red Kites were present.

After about 20 minutes of driving, we arrived at Sant Antonino itself. Perched atop a 500m hill, it is known, according to various sources, to be one of the most beautiful villages in France and is the oldest in Corsica. You can't drive through Sant Antonino, as it is strictly forbidden to do so. This, for me, was one of its great advantages. We had to park in a car park just below the village. The views from the car park itself were lovely and very steep, you could see for literally miles and the mountains seemed more embracing than they had ever been before. By the car park was a baroque church, and behind this some heather-like bush, from which I could loads of birds. Before heading up into the village itself I decided to have a look in the heathery area for any birds whilst my Mum had a look in the church. I did so for around 10 minutes. During this 10 minutes I discovered what species of bird was primarily calling in the heather. This species turned out to be Goldfinch. The place was teeming with them, with well over a hundred birds present in just that one little area. There were also a lot of Spotless Starlings, I could hear several Sardinian Warblers calling (one female was seen), and 10 Stonechats in total were seen perching on the tops of the heather. There may have not been any birds that I hadn't seen there before, but the sheer multitude of birds in that one area was astonishing and satisfying. After my mum returned from looking in the church we stopped in a cafe at the very start of the village. If you want to go into the village, you have to walk up it or go by donkey. However we hardly had to walk far from the car park to get to this cafe. Here are a few pictures of San Antonino. I would have taken more, but unfortunately my camera failed me and ran out of battery whilst at the cafe! The first picture is of San Antonino from a distance, to give you an idea of its altitude, the second is from the heather where most of the birds were, the third is a winding street and the fourth is from the cafe. From the cafe I sat and drunk some tea whilst at the same time watching up to 6 Red Kites quartering the hills. It was lovely to see the Kites at this height as from where I was sitting I was basically level with them. One of these Kites was a juvenile; which was interesting as I hadn't seen any juvenile Red Kites up until that point.





San Antonino, as you can see, is the cluster of many ancient houses clustered at the top of the hill. These ancient houses border a maze of narrow cobbled streets that ascend to the very top of the village. After our stop at the cafe we walked all the way to the top of the village, passing through those lovely streets. From the top, which is at a great altitude, the views are just astounding, far better than from the car park, you could see a very long way, right down to the coast which was further away than it had been in Montegrosso, as well as all the way down to Calvi, which was a good 25km away, and round the corner to parts of the island you couldn't see from other viewpoints. I wish I had got pictures from there, as it was so beautiful. We stayed up there and admired the view for a good 15 minutes, and then made our way slowly down to the car park again. We were quite tired when we reached the bottom again, as the climb was taxing in its way! After a little rest, we decided it was time to make our way back to the hotel for some lunch, and we did so.

We spent most of that afternoon playing tennis and swimming in the hotel outdoor swimming. However, by the time we had finished both these activities, there was still a couple of hours before sunset. In this couple of hours I set out into the maquis in search for more warblers, as I had been aiming to do. Like before, the maquis was full of warblers. But unlike when the first time I went into the maquis, I now knew the call of the Sardinian Warbler, so any warbler that wasn't a Sardinian I had a good chance of tracking down, although, having checked the Bird Guide the previous night I had found that the alarm call of the Dartford Warbler was very similar to the Sardinian Warblers but just higher in pitch, and I found that the warblers were constantly using their alarm calls, (presumably because my presence was making them worried), so it was going to be harder than I thought. Whilst walking down the path, I could hear that most of the warblers were either Sardinian or Dartford Warblers, as I wasn't hearing the croaky call of the Marmora's Warbler which I had read about. After walking some way down the path and not getting great views of any warblers from it (although I could see lots of them flitting about all the time, a good number of which I could see were Sardinians), I decided to walk into the maquis itself. Here I would maximise my chances of seeing any warbler that wasn't a Sardinian. I walked a long way into the maquis, far enough to not be visible from the path. As I walked through I totalled a number of 15 Sardinian Warblers seen flitting from one piece of maquis to the next. As I kept on going though, I was wondering why I wasn't seeing anything else apart from Sardinian Warblers. And it was then that I saw it. Just as I started walking back towards the path, I flushed up a warbler with a clear wine-red breast. This was my first Dartford Warbler of the holiday! This warbler didn't move far, but just from that one flash of wine-red I could tell it was a Dartford Warbler. When it disappeared out of view, I headed towards where it had landed, and to my joy, managed to flush it up again. Yet again it didn't move far, and even better, this time it briefly perched itself on a piece of maquis. Absolute definite Dartford. As it perched itself on the maquis top its long, tail was cocked, archetypal of a Dartford Warbler, and I could see its wine red breast clearly. It looked generally darker in appearance than Sardinian Warbler. It sat there for about 10 seconds, looking around excitedly, before eventually flying off again as I tried to get closer to it, and this time out of view completely. This Dartford Warbler was a source of great joy for me, it meant I had seen two of three warbler species I aimed to see on the holiday! Not only this, but I love Dartford Warblers, I think they're beautiful birds, and I like they're wine red breasts in particular. And furthermore, this was only my second Dartford Warbler ever (my first was seen in 2006, North Warren, Suffolk). So in the end, I was overjoyed with my spotting of this warbler.

I left the maquis that evening with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that now it was just Marmora's Warbler that I had to see. Obviously this would prove difficult as during that session in the maquis I didn't hear anything that sounded like a Marmora's. However, I would still have plenty of time to find Marmora's Warbler in the coming few days. Overall, it had been a nice day for me. Exploring the mountainside villages was lovely, and the birds I saw whilst I was in these places were very nice, especially the 50 or so Crag Martins at Montegrosso, and seeing the Dartford Warbler was great! Of course, there was the strange passerine species that managed to elude me whilst on the way to Sant Antonino, but these things happen!

Now, the next day would be the most important day birding-wise of all. It would be the day in which I went to the Asco Valley in search of Lammegeiers, Golden Eagles, and the two endemics; Corsican Citrl Finch and Corsican Nuthatch! Would I see any of these birds? Find out in my next entry, which will chart my birding experiences in the Asco Valley.



Richard Klim

Hi Joseph.

You obviously enjoyed Corsica, and your reports really capture the beauty of the island. But those Sylvias sure can be a tease! They certainly had us cursing more than once...

Richard :t:

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
Hi Richard,

Thanks for your kind words. It really was enjoyable in Corsica, and I'm glad that I'm creating a vivid image of the area's beauty in people's heads. And yes, those Sylvias were rather annoying! However now I've got a grip with Sardinian Warbler I should be able to differentiate it from other warblers when I next go abroad. I'll post the next entry shortly.

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
Before I left for Corsica, I was determined to find out what speciality species you could get on the island. With the help of people on Birdforum, I found out there were a few birds I could see there. The list of these birds is seen below, and these were the birds I would be aiming to see during my holiday.

Corsican Nuthatch - A species of Nuthatch endemic to the Corsican Pines in Corsica (c.2000 pairs)

Corsican Citril Finch - Once an endemic subspecies of the Citril Finch, it is now regarded as a seperate species as its vocalizations and morphology from that of the Citril Finch. They can be seen in the Corsican Pines and at high levels all around the island.

Lammergeier - With just 8 or 9 pairs on the island, this massive vulture can only be seen on the very highest mountain tops. That is if you are patient enough!

Golden Eagle - A rare bird on the island that too can only really be seen at very high altitude

When I found out these birds were present on the island I asked on Birdforum where the best place to go to have good chances of seeing the above four species would be. The area they reccomended to me was the Asco valley and Haut'Asco.


This map depicts the route we took to get to the Haut'Asco area. The route is actually rather annoying, as if you venture south east of Calvi Haut'Asco, our main destination, isn't actually a huge distance away from where we were staying. Just one problem; there's no road heading in that direction! Instead you have to take the N197 past L'Ile Rousse, and continue on it for some 90km before arriving at Ponte Leccia (circled in green). Just as you reach Ponte Leccia you take a right, and down that yellow coloured road going off from Ponte Leccia is the Asco Valley, with the skii station of Haut'Asco at the highest point and dead end of the road (marked in red). It is very beautiful and montainous, as you'll see in the pictures I put on this blog entry. Birdwise the Asco Valley and Haut'Asco are really the only places in the north-west of Corsica that you have any chance of seeing Corsican Nuthatch (which is of course endemic), Lammergeiers, and Golden Eagle. The main reason for me going to this area obviously was to see if I could see the three aforementioned species, as well as Corsican Citrl Finch. Wintibird of Birdforum also mentioned that in Asco village itself, which is about halfway through the valley, there is a good chance of seeing Cirl Bunting. With knowledge of these birds being in Asco I thought it only right to make them target birds for the holiday. So, which of these species would I see, if any? Please read on if you want to know how I did.

That morning (22/10/09) we drove to the Asco Valley, both excited about what we would experience and see in the hours to come. The journey to Ponte Leccia and the start of the Asco Valley was about an hour and a half, so having set out at around 9:30 we arrived at about 11:00am. Hitherto I'd been birding in coastal maquis shrubs and the chesnuts and oaks of the Regino Valley. However that day we would be much further inland, our surroundings would be entirely different. When we first turned off onto the Asco Valley road the land seemed quite soft, with low-lying and gentle green fields and the typical Corsican bushes still remaining, but we could see the very high mountains ahead of us, and as I looked at the mountains I felt a feeling of exhiliration; the fact that it was in these mountains that I'd spend the day and possibly be seeing Golden Eagle and Lammergeier on their peaks was an exciting prospect. Here is a picture taken from the very start of the Asco Valley. As I took this picture 3 Red Kites were circling behind me.


We continued to drive along beside the lush, low lying fields and bushes for a good 10 minutes. The road seemed to be positively straight, and we were wondering when we'd start to ascend. Eventually we came to a bend, and round this bend our surroundings changed completely. We crossed a small bridge, and all of a sudden the lush countryside disappeared, to make way for a steep sided rocky gorge cutting in towards the mountains. At the same time the road narrowed considerably and we started climbing, being pressed up right close to the sides of the gorge. As we climbed and twisted round the many sharp bends of the narrow road, the drop to the other side of us,down into the gorge and the river below, became increasingly steep. This drop was nerve-wracking as, despite us not being at great altitude thus far, it was very sheer and to exacerbate our anxiety there were no road barriers to protect vehicles from falling off the edge and very few passing places, so whenver an oncoming car passed there was barely room to get passed. We had to reverse to let a few cars through and there was always the sense that an accident was waiting to happen (especially my Mum)! However, we managed to let those cars we did meet pass. A good way through our climb up the gorge we took a stop where there was a place to park, and I carefully took a scan of the peaks for any birds of prey. I focused mainly on the highest peaks, and to my excitement I managed to instantly catch my eye on a bird of prey raising up into the sky. However, no sooner had it caught my eye than it dipped out of sight, not coming up again for the entirety of the stop. For the split second that I saw it I must say it wasn't looking awfully big, definitely not a Lammergeier and it probably wasn't even high enough altitude for Golden Eagle. However, my view was brief and I didn't see the bird circling, so you never know. I was annoyed that it had managed to elude me, and I wished that I had seen more of it, but it was a sign of hope and possible things to come.... On the stop I also had a look for any higher altitude birds such as Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Sparrow, but no such luck; just a few Coal Tits and a party of Long-tailed Tits. Here are a couple of pictures from where we stopped. You can see that there is a road barrier in the first picture, but it is, as you can see, very small and although there is a line down the middle of the road there was no way room for two vehicles!



There were no other places to stop as we drove through the gorge, so I wasn't really able to look for any raptors. Luckily there wasn't any that I could see; if there had been we wouldn't have been able to stop for them due to the narrowness of the road! After a good 15km or so we emerged from the gorge, and we entered the small village of Asco. The scenery round it was lovely, but Asco itself was a remote village which seemed kind of closed up. It didn't seem to have any life to it; very few people seemed to live there, although we did see a few peasants tending to a litter of cats and a cow was left to wander on the road. Asco didn't even seem to have any shops; I asked the peasants if there was a boulangerie anywhere and what I understood from the reply was that a van goes all the way up the valley to deliver bread to the locals. That's how little contact the village had with elsewhere! Here is a picture of the view down towards the gorge from Asco and a couple of pictures of the village itself.




As we were heading back to the car after an exploration of the village, I found an area of bush that was full of birds. They were calling strangely; a call I wasn't familiar with at all. I scanned the bushes to see if I could clap eyes on any of the birds. I did, and oh my I was absolutely delighted! There, sitting on a bush, was a superb, adult summer CIRL BUNTING. This was the first Cirl Bunting I had ever seen, a life tick for me! I had been told by wintibird of Birdforum that I had a chance of seeing them in the village, and now I had seen one! It had a beautiful plumage, a lovely contrast of yellow, black and russety brown. The top of its head was mostly grey, and it had a wee crest. Its breast was a lemon yellow. Its face too was mostly yellow, but with a black neck and a black stripe right through its eye. The rest of its body was a russety brown/reddy colour. It was later joined by another bird of the same gender. Watching the two birds together was an experience I would never forget, not just the feeling of happiness I had from seeing them for the first time, but they were such gorgeous birds; the colour of their plumages were so defined, so perfect! The two birds eventually flew off, and that was the last I saw of any Cirl Buntings. I was almost positive there were more Cirl Buntings flying about in those bushes, but I didn't have time to look for any more as my Mum was waiting in the car, ready to take the final leg of the journey up to the skii station at Haut'Asco. Now we had gone through Asco village we were at a much higher altitude than we had been when we were driving through the gorge. A little way after Asco we took ta brief stop to take a picture of a beautiful view ahead of us, where you could see a high mountain covered in snow white cloud in front of us. I looked for a flock of birds that I had seen take off from the road. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track down these birds. However, a male Sardinian Warbler and a pair of stonechats were seen in the bushes on the slopes, 2 Red Kites were circling above me, and a couple of Ravens flew by.


5 kilometres or so after leaving Asco we started climbing a lot higher, and the road considerably widened. Still following the river, we soon entered the beautiful Corsican Pine forest known to you or I as Le Foret de Carrozzica, one of the few places that the endemic Corsican Nuthatch has made its home. Not long after we entered the forest, we parked up, and I entered the forest in search of this endemic species. I knew it wasn't going to be easy at all. I had been told on Birdforum that Corsican Nuthatches were very hard to see in the late Autumn months. Not only that, but I was told that if I was to have any goodish chance of seeing a Corsican Nuthatch I must have a playback the Corsican Nuthatch's call on my camera, but unfortunately I didn't have this, so this again lessened my chances. But I was still hopeful, so I stood there patiently, watching for any bird that scuttered up the many tall pines that surrounded me. As I waited Coal Tits were constantly calling, I heard a single Common Crossbill (I didn't add this to the 'Holiday List' though as any bird I added had to be seen), there were at least 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling and one, maybe one of the two birds I had heard, was seen in flight. However, for the entirety of the 45 minutes that I scoured that particular area of forest, there was no Corsican Nuthatch to be seen. Climbing up the constantly winding road towards Haut'Asco a good way, we stopped again for another look for Nuthatches. This stop wasn't as long, maybe around 20 minutes. Much the same birds I have mentioned were present again, with the addition of a Dipper darting through the river. Yet again though there were no Corsican Nuthatches. I now realised how dependent a lot of birders were on the playback of its call, and I was starting to think that I had very little chance of seeing one at this point, despite the possibility of seeing them at Haut'Asco itself and on the way back down. Of course, I was a little disappointed, but I knew my chances were minimal. Having given the forest a good look, we then continued our journey. Here are a few pictures taken whilst climing through Le Foret de Carozzicca. Just from the forest iself the views were astounding.





At the time I took the last of the last picture the road was winding incredibly high, and all of a sudden, just a couple of kilometres later, there was a man made clearing and the road came to a stop. We had arrived at Haut'Asco! It was an absolutely beautiful location; I had never been anywhere so high or with such brilliant views in my life. We were right up amongst the rocky and jagged peaks of the mountains. It was like being a bowl, we were completely surrounded by them and from the car park we could see absolutely miles down the valley towards the gorge. The mountains felt overwhelmingly huge, wherever you looked they seemed to be looming over you. Some peaks were higher than others, and some even had snow on them, this was due to the much colder weather, which was understandable at an altitude of 1422m (4665ft)! One thing for sure, this was the perfect location for Lammergeier and Golden Eagle! I'll let the pictures show you just how spectacular it was up there! The following are taken from the car park at the skii station, which was pretty much abandoned due to the time of year.





After getting use to the sheer beauty of our surroundings we headed away from the skii station in order to find a place to sit and scan the mountains for any bird of prey that decides to venture above the mountains. We didn't have to walk far when we came to a clearing, with closer and greater views of the peaks than we had before. It was here that my Mum and I would spend the afternoon looking for Lammergeier, Golden Eagle and Corsican Nuthatch. Here are some more pictures taken from the clearing, and a link to a video I took of the landscape.





http://www.birdforum.tv/members/action/viewvideo/1777/Haut_Asco/ - Video

Once we got all set up, I started to scan the peaks. My mum had a book to keep herself occupied. I sat there patiently for a good hour, unfortunately with the result of no birds of prey seen, despite me looking as carefully and keenly as I could. A party of 4 Ravens did fly over however, croaking in that typical Raven way as they went, and a Great-spotted Woodpecker was present, its call reverberating throughout the mountains and the only sound to be heard in the deadly silence of the place. The area seemed annoyingly devoid of birdlife, nothing was calling at all apart from the Great-spotted Woodpecker every now and then. So once that hour had passed I decided I was going to have one last look for Corsican Nuthatch, my Mum coming with me and us walking and climbing a little higher than we had been for the first hour. We went a good way, yet there were no signs of any bird whatsoever, let alone any Corsican Nuthatches. Another hour or so had passed with my final search for the Corsican Nuthatch, and we arrived back at the clearance in the forest. I was now starting to think that I had little hope of seeing any of the target species for the day.... I spent a total of two more hours scanning the peaks patiently. I had tried my utmost, but there was nothing I could do.... No majestic raptors rising above the mountains and no little bird scuttling up the great Corsican pines. Evening light was creeping in, and it was time for us to leave....

If I had to be frank with you, Haut'Asco could have been better. That was my reflection of the place as we drove back through the forest, Asco village and the beautiful gorge. I spent many hours of meticulous searching up there, yet with literally no results and barely any birds apart from the Ravens and Great-Spotted Woodpecker near the beginning, and I had been denied of seeing any of the target species apart from the beautiful Cirl Bunting in Asco village, not out of inpatience, its just the way it was. I guess it really highlights the challenges of searching for such birds. But it was very understandable why I didn't see any raptors or endemics. I mean, Corsican Nuthatches have 2000 pairs in the whole of Corsica and are hard to see in October, whilst with the Lammergeier is extremely hard to see in Corsica with a maximum of 8 pairs on the island. The Golden Eagle is too a rare resident on Corsica. So I guess I shouldn't feel too disappointed about the day, my chances were fairly low anyway of seeing the target species,. Anyway, it was beautiful being in the Asco Valley and at Haut Asco anyway. I had seen some beautiful sights of which will stay forever fresh in my mind, and the general experience of being up there was very pleasing and lovely! Seeing the two Cirl Buntings was also a memorable experience for me too, and the fact that I'd never seen them before made me ever more proud and happy about my sighting.

And so the day ended... it had been a tiring one, and I slept well that night. My birding in Corsica wasn't completely over either, I still had a couple days left on the island. Thanks very much for reading!


Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
Thank you wolfbirder. Birding is so unpredictable. Sometimes the birds are there for, and sometimes (as you said) they're nowhere to be seen. Its just the way it is. I was quite disappointed but just being in the area was truly breath-taking, and the Cirl Buntings were really nice. ;)


André Weiss
Opus Editor
Hi Joseph,
Very nice report. For your target birds: well, that's Corsica in autumn. Much more difficult to find them than in spring... But Cirl Bunting is a nice bird too, isn't it.
I've been to India recently and I have failed with some target species too. It will always happen and it's a good reminder that we don't go birding in a zoo... (Even if some Indian reserves look like one;)).

Greetings from snowy Switzerland

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
Hello wintibrid,

I must say without your directions and information on birding in Corsica I would have been clueless as to where to go and what to do, so countless thanks for your help. Also thank you for your kind words on my trip report. It was difficult to see all the target species and I suspected it would be difficult at first. However as you say Cirl Buntings are cracking birds and it was brilliant to see two of them at Asco. Hopefully I'll go back to Corsica and will have chances of seeing those target birds I didn't see again. Don't know when I'll go back. Don't really mind how long it is really, but I would love to go back. ;)
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Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
When I first woke up the morning after my day in the Asco Valley the blinds were still drawn. But I could hear a sound; a sound which disappointed me... The sound of heavy rain... the first rain I had seen on the whole of the trip. As my Mum opened the blinds I looked at the mountains surrounding the hotel. Huge batches of cloud loomed over them, and as I looked at my surroundings disappointedly, I knew the clouds weren't going to shift in a hurry; and they didn't. It poured with rain for the majority of that morning, and my Mum and I were confined to staying in our apartment, where the wasn't a great deal to do. When you are in a foreign country you have this desire to want to explore it; to see its beauties, and in my case, its avifauna. But with this desire, you know that you have limited time to explore, and that weather is always a potential obstacle. It certainly was an obstacle that morning! However, at midday the rain stopped for the first time, and it became a little brighter. We took advantage of this change in weather, and set out.

We planned to spend the afternoon in Le Foret de Bonifato, one of the most well known areas of forest in Corsica, popular especially amongst walkers. We knew that going to the forest even if it did start raining again wouldn't be so bad as we would be to a degree protected from the rain, so that's why decided to go anywhere else rather than anywhere else. Before going to Le Foret de Bonifato though, we decided to get some lunch, heading to the nearest supermarket. We ate this lunch (which consisted of baguette and chocolate) down at Calvi Beach. This was my second visit of the holiday to the beach, and I was eager to see if the rain had managed to bring in some seabirds. So after lunch, we went for a walk down by the sea. The sea was rough, just perfect for a wandering Cory's or Great Shearwater, but despite a good 10 minutes seawatching, no luck of such birds. A few gulls were present not far offshore, but these were just Yellow-leggeds, not Audouins, my target coastline bird. A Cetti's Warbler, however, was seen briefly flying above the reedbeds in the shoreline forest however, and a Sardinian Warbler called. There were also plenty of Hooded Crows and a couple of Red Kites. We then headed to Bonifato, arriving at around 2:00pm.

There were loads of walks you could take from the parking area at Bonfato. We took the shortest, which was actually quite long. The route was called the Boucle du Calatoghiu, and was supposed to take 1hr 30mins if you walked at a good pace. But were we really going to walk so quickly? No! Other walks were between 3-6 hours long, which of course we were never going to take. The countryside surrounding Bonifato was quite like the forest part of the Asco Valley, but at a lower alititude. The mountains were hardly as high, but they shared that more rocky and jagged appearance, and pine forests were dotted on them, presumably Corsican Pines. The walk we took was basically a climb through these beautiful pines. Eventually you'd reach a clearing with fantastic, expansive views looking down towards Calvi, and then, after a small traverse across the top, starting to descend, eventually ending up where you start. The walk was very pleasant and refreshing, and it was lovely to experience the views at the top and be amongst the Corsican Pines. Unfortunately, there weren't any birds seen on the walk, due to the weather. For the majority of the walk, it was raining lightly, enough to have to use the lens cover on the bins and put them under my waterproof. I did hear a good number of species though. There were at least two Great-Spotted Woodpecker calling, plenty of Goldcrests, and a weird call which I later found out in the Collins Guide was that of a Corsican Citril Finch! It was pity that it was raining, otherwise I may have been able to see Corsican Citril Finch, which would have been another target bird seen and my second life tick of the holiday! But alas, I wasn't able to see one and the rain didn't push off... Here are some pictures I managed to take on the walk. The first couple are on the way up, and the very last is of when we're descending. The pictures in between of course are of the views from the highest point, which would have been a lot better if the weather hadn't been so bad!






And really, our walk at Le Foret de Bonifato was our main activity of the day; a day annoyingly deprived of birdwatching because of the weather. There was now only one day to go before we would leave Corsica altogether, and on the morning of that day (24/10/09) I knew that if I was going to see any of the target bird species that were still within reach, namely Audouin's Gull and Marmora's Warbler, then it would have to be then. The weather had very much improved from the previous day, with the sun shining and blues skies. Before breakfast, which we would have in Calvi, I took a brief trip into the maquis at the other end of the department, as I knew that I would have to be persistent with the maquis if I was to have any chance of Marmora's Warbler. Whilst I was out there the maquis was teeming with Sardinian Warblers (I saw a total of 5 birds in that brief stop), and I spotted a small group of 3 Corn Bunting sitting on a bush when I heard one of the birds calling. There were also Dartford Warblers calling, but no Marmora's. After this brief look in the maquis, we headed to Calvi for breakfast, eating at a typical French cafe which had the most beautiful tasting croissants and baguettes. In Calvi I had another look for Audouin's Gull, but despite looking thoroughly for them once again on my third visit to the town, there was none. However, I got a pleasant surprise in the form of 2 female Black Redstarts together down by the marina, making it a total of 4 birds that I had seen on the holiday.

We planned to spend the rest of our last day in Corsica just relaxing at the hotel. However, I needed to give the maquis one last thorough search before the day came to a close. After a game of tennis and a swim in the morning, that afternoon my Mum and I took a different path into the maquis than we had done previously, heading a bit further away from the apartment. It just so happened that this different route and particular adventure into the maquis was the best yet. In the space of the hour and a half that I spent searching the maquis, I managed to total a number of 13 Sardinian Warblers, 6 Stonechat, a single (and my only) Meadow Pipit, 7 Red Kites, 1 Grey Wagtail and 3 Dartford Warblers. I was particularly pleased by the number of the latter species that I saw, and the views I got of them. It seemed that the Dartford Warbler I had seen on my previous adventure into the maquis had got me familiar with the species, and having learnt its call was a big help too. The three birds I saw were all seen at different times, with my best view of one being the first bird I saw, a cracking which was down to 20 feet and was perched on top of some maquis, its tail cocked in that characteristic way. The last of the three birds seen was spotted in flight, whilst the second was seen from quite a distance away also perched on top of some maquis. But still Marmora's Warbler wasn't present; I hadn't even heard one on the holiday! I had lost all hope of seeing the species, until all of a sudden I heard a fairly quiet, croaky, monotone call coming from the maquis as I was on the way back to the apartment. When I heard that call, I knew it was a Marmora's Warbler, and now I just had to track the bird down and try and flush up. It wasn't coming from very far away, and was coming from the maquis heading westwards towards Calvi. I was determined, excited and eager to see the bird, so I headed straight into the maquis to roughly where I thought I had heard it. It called again once I was some way into the maquis. The call seemed louder now, and it felt much nearer. I continued, eventually arriving to where roughly I had heard it the second time. I then stopped, and looked around me, waiting for the bird to call again.... But it didn't.... All hope was now lost. Either it had flown when I wasn't looking, or it was just keeping very quiet. Whatever stopped it from calling, it didn't call again, and thus I wasn't able to get any closer to tracking it down. Exasperated, I gave up and rejoined my Mum, and together we walked back to the hotel... I was so close to seeing a Marmora's Warbler, but in the end, not quite! My time for birding was now up.... That was the last bit of birding I did in Corsica. The next day we would take an early flight from Calvi Aiport to Marseille, and from Marseille to Gatwick. From Gatwick we would then drive up to Aberdeen, taking a stop in Durham overnight (where a couple of days earlier an Eastern Crowned Warbler had been spotted, but by that time it had disappeared!).

Overall, if I had to reflect on my birding experiences in Corsica, I'd say they were overall beneficial. I learnt a lot from my experiences; I learnt of the challenges that foreign birdwatching hosts and how persistence and dedication can get you a long way, but there are some birds that always escape you, such as the Golden Eagle, Corsican Nuthatch and Corsican Citril Finch in the Asco Valley, and of course the Marmora's Warbler, Rock Sparrow and Audouin's Gull. I also became more experienced with mediterranean warblers when in Corsica. When I go to the mediterranean again, I will now know how to fully identify a Sardinian Warbler and be able to differentiate them from any different species of warblers. Yet despite the trip highlighting the difficulties of seeing foreign birds and me failing to see most of the real target birds and specialities of the island, I really, really enjoyed what I did see. I particularly admired the abundancy of the Red Kites as it allowed me to see them really well for the first time, to study their beautiful plumages and every other aspect and feature of them. The two Cirl Buntings I saw in Asco probably come second to Red Kites in terms of the most enjoyable birds of the holiday. They were my only life tick of the holiday, and were such exquisite birds too, with absolutely beautiful plumages. The few Dartford Warblers I saw were lovely too, as prior to the Corsica trip I had only had brief views of one in Dunwich Heath, Suffolk. As for the places I went in Corsica, they were all lovely. Calvi is a great town, with great things to see, a beautiful beach, and scrumptious food. I also admired Calenzana and the many other villages in Corsica such as Montegrosso and Asco for their continuity of tradition and how they seemed relatively untouched by tourism. As for the countryside itself, I will never forget the height and beauty of the mountains, whether they aren't so high such as in the lush Regino Valley or are hugely high such as the jaw-dropping Haut'Asco. And, on top of all the birds and sights I saw in Corsica, there was my very productive and enjoyable day in Norfolk. In all honesty, I couldn't have hoped for a nice couple of weeks birding and holiday! Thank you very much for reading about my two weeks away during my October break, I hope you've enjoyed reading about it, and I will nowleave you with the full list of birds I saw in Corsica. Once again, thank you.

Yellow legged Gull, Black Redstart (x4), Red Kite (many), Hooded Crow, Spotless Starling, Cetti's Warbler (a couple seen and heard), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Collared Dove, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, House Sparrow, Town Pigeon, Goldfinch, Linnet, Greenfinch, Robin, Grey Heron (on migration), Jay, Blackcap, Wood Piegon, Buzzard, Kestrel, Great Tit, Raven, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler (many seen and heard), Eurasian Crag Martin, Blue Tit, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler (x4 seen and several heard), Coal Tit, Cirl Bunting (x2 at Asco), Long-tailed Tit, Meadow Pipit, Shag, Corn Bunting

Total = 38 species


Joseph N
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Well-known member
Looks beautiful. Somewhere I've always wanted to visit.

You must go!
The scenery is outstanding
We went in May and the birdwatching was outstanding.
Most memorable was the sheer number of Red Kites.
Only problem is the horrendous cost of meals out.Go self catering as th supermarkets are the only way you can afford to eat.

Joseph N

Lothian Young Birder
You must go!
The scenery is outstanding
We went in May and the birdwatching was outstanding.
Most memorable was the sheer number of Red Kites.
Only problem is the horrendous cost of meals out.Go self catering as th supermarkets are the only way you can afford to eat.

Yes I would really reccomend it, and as pranticol says, the number of Red Kites is just astonishing. There are hundreds of them! ;)
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