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A Report from

Corsica, 2nd - 9th May 2010,

Chris Hall

An afternoon stroll at the Etang de Biguglia, where this huge lagoon meets the sea, netted hundreds of Swallows, 21 Bee-eaters in the same tree, a dozen Marsh Harriers overhead and a fall of Yellow Wagtails including flava, thunbergi and cinereocapilla races, as well as a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and a Zitting Cisticola.

After yesterday's overcast sky with heavy showers, it was a lovely sunny morning with a gentle breeze and so perfect for exploring Cap Corse. In fact, David was so eager to get going, he did a parachute jump out of the vehicle and crash landed on the road! Once we stopped the bleeding and patched him up, we set off through the maquis to find Subalpine, Sardinian and eventually Marmora's Warblers, along with close ups of Tawny Pipit, Corsican Finch and a singing Woodlark, while passing raptors included Kestrel, Peregrine and two Ospreys. This migration hotspot was swarming with hundreds and hundreds of Swallows, all heading north with a purpose, along with wave after wave of higher flying Bee-eaters with that lovely fruity call, and we also had Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. At Barcaggio, the beach had Common Sand, with Ringed, Grey and Kentish Plovers, plus several Cory's Shearwaters out at sea and Whinchat, Wood Warbler, Corn Bunting and a black-headed Yellow Wagtail in the scrub behind the beach.

With pouring rain first thing, prospects were not good, especially with tattered windscreen wipers, so we stopped to get replacements. On the road southwest towards the central mountains, we pulled over to scope a Red Kite drying out on a rock as the sun began to poke through. Along the impressive Scala di Santa Régina gorge, we had a close encounter with Crag Martins coming down to collect mud for their nests from roadside puddles, followed by great views of a smart male Blue Rock Thrush, perching on various rocky outcrops. At Calacuccia, we walked the perimeter of the reservoir and as the weather steadily improved, there were lots of songs including Blackcap, Nightingale and Serin. Along the walk we enjoyed good views of a very pink flushed Linnet, and an incredibly bright Greenfinch as well as Cirl Bunting, Whinchat, a singing Serin, a magnificent Woodchat Shrike and a tree full of handsome Italian Sparrows. Beyond the Col de Vergio, we explored the forest of towering pines for Corsican Nuthatch. Though we dipped on this we did achieve good views of both Goldcrest and Firecrest in the same tree!

Wow, what a view we had from our hotel windows in Evisa, looking across the valley flowing down to the sea, with mountains above. Outside the hotel, House Martins were busy nesting under the eaves while a Yellow-crowned Parrot shrieked raucously and flapped around the breakfast room. We set off into the Pine forest on ‘Operation Nuthatch’ and eventually, high up on a dead tree trunk we spotted our target, repeatedly visiting a nest hole. By now the cloud was lowering along with the temperature, so we drove down to the coast, hoping to warm up and dry off. Along the Plage de Liamone we flushed a Squacco Heron from the reeds and spotted some Sanderlings on the shoreline. After a picnic on the beach, we followed a nearby dirt track on foot and got superb views of two male Red-backed Shrikes. Along this ‘Nightingale road’ we listened to three singing all at once in different directions, along with a calling Cuckoo and then back at the vehicle, a Turtle Dove sat on a wire.

Low cloud and rain in Evisa turned to snow as we crossed the Col de Vergio. Descending past the ski run, it was still snowing, but we really needed a better view of the Nuthatch, so we pulled over by a likely looking dead tree with some potential nest holes. Despite the snow, down came the bird into a roadside tree at head height, giving some amazing views of the black and white eye stripes. It seemed so tiny that for a split second I thought it must be a Firecrest, but no it was the Nuthatch, right in front of us, fantastic. Lower down the snow turned to rain, but as we reached the top of the Restonica Valley it was snowing again, so we had to abandon the afternoon walk in favour of some sightseeing in the relative warmth of Corte.

Next day a blue sky tempted us high up the Asco valley. Along the clear flowing river we spotted a Dipper, but by the time we got to Haut Asco the clouds were descending again, so we couldn’t get high enough to look for Alpine Accentor. On the way back down the valley, we stopped off at ‘Tortoiseville’ hoping for a Turtle Dove. Instead we got unbeatable views of a pair of very plucky Firecrests.

Another sunny morning, so we made the most of it with a group photo followed by a visit to the Pasciolo Fort and within ten minutes of starting the walk, we were scoping two really smart grey birds. First was a Cuckoo calling from the very top of a Pine tree, followed by a Marmora’s Warbler singing on an open perch barely twenty yards away from us, allowing everyone to enjoy the fabulous view. A little further on we also had good views of male Cirl Bunting and Stonechat and a posing Spotted Flycatcher, while a Woodlark sang overhead, three Buzzards flew by and an Alpine Swift passed over. On top of all this there was a profusion of wild flowers including various beautiful orchids and some amazingly spectacular scenery. By now we had seen most of what we hoped for, so we took a white knuckle ride along a narrow precipitous winding road to the most spectacular of viewpoints for a picnic lunch, hoping for a Lammergeier to pass by, but no such luck, so we made do with the magnificent scenery, some Alpine Choughs and all the lovely wild flowers. That afternoon a nice walk through fresh green Beech woods took us to the Cascade des Anglais and we finished off with afternoon tea at the Café du Gare in Vizzavona.

On the way back to the airport we revisited the Etang de Biguglia and coincided with a passage of a couple of dozen Honey Buzzards, while also adding Great Egret, Purple and Night Herons and a White Wagtail to the list. After a lot of listening out for Nightingales and Cetti’s Warblers, singing from deep within the bushes, we eventually got sightings of both here as well as another bright Wood Warbler.

Corsica really is a gem, with some of the most stunningly spectacular scenery anywhere in Europe, and for some there was an unexpected encore as the return flight was cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland! During the second week we explored the island at a very relaxed pace, set by the locals, who like to lie down for a sleep in the middle of the road, in the case of the dogs, while the free range pigs enjoy a good scratch on the front bumper! In addition to finding another very obliging Nuthatch, we also added Sparrowhawk, Golden Eagle and super views of Water Pipit and a calling Wryneck to the list. It won’t be too long before we return.


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