Corsica, July 2016: Adventure in the Mediterranean Part 2

Swiftly following on from the first part (which can be read here), here are Days 5-8 of our Corsican adventure…

Day 5- Thursday 14th July (BASTILLE DAY) – Sant’Ambroggio- Etang de Biguglia- San Damianu Nature Reserve- Ecomusee de Biguglia

So, having seen all of our targets, we decided to have a bit of a change of focus & headed to the well-known Biguglia Nature Reserve. This site is very close to Poretta Airport, and people have seen birds on flights in & out of there.

Unsurprisingly, we were very quickly adding birds to the trip list: Bee-eaters perched on the wires above the car, a Cormorant flew overhead. We drove further along, parking up in a small layby just south of the well-known Peninsula Track. Reed Warblers sang, Coots swam on the water, the only Great White Egret of the trip made an appearance, a Hoopoe flew into the trees, and we found the first of many Great Crested Grebes & Mallards (the latter being the only species of duck seen on the trip). The stop was only brief, and it wasn’t long before we moved on to the Peninsula itself.

The Peninusla is a highly varied mix of habitat, starting with open reedbed & the lake, then weedy grassland before ending at the San Damianu Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, this was closed, either due to it being a national holiday today or the warden simply couldn’t be bothered to turn up.

We drove up to the viewpoint a couple of hundred yards along the track, where we scanned the lake, seeing our first Little Grebes & more of the same waterbirds which we saw earlier & we also added Zitting Cisticola and Tree Sparrow to the trip list. It wasn’t long, however, before we moved on to the San Damianu Nature Reserve, which we discovered had padlocked gates & a high fence. We stopped & scanned in, seeing only a lovely pair of Red-backed Shrikes through the fence.

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Then suddenly, Dad pointed out a large, dark falcon hurtling through in front of us, before swooping at one of the ubiquitous Spotless Starlings & disappearing into thin air. It is entirely possible that this bird was a Lanner, which breeds on nearby Italy,  although we didn’t see it well enough to rule out a Peregrine. The two Purple Herons that flew through were also just as uncooperative. More Bee-eaters could be heard on the wires towards the private part of the peninsula, and we also saw more Tree Sparrows.

We then drove around to the NE end, near to the beach, where we walked back along the path towards the peninsula. We were told that this site was good for Audouin’s Gull, and it wasn’t long before we discovered five there, and they showed very well for photographs.

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We also found three Ospreys, the sole Cattle Egret of the trip, as well as several Little Egrets & Grey Herons amongst a flock of Black-headed Gulls, which unfortunately didn’t produce any surprise Slender-billeds. We then took breakfast in a lovely beach cafe before moving on towards the Ecomusee.

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By now, the sun was beating down, and when we arrived at the car park, birdlife was already significantly reduced, the only birds being singles of Serin & Sardinian Warbler. The walk out was very pleasant, and we were pleased to see two Pallid Swifts amongst a swift flock over the (closed) Ecomusee.

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The birdlife had also cleared out of the NW end, there only being several Yellow-legged Gulls, two Moorhens & lots of Bee-eaters calling from the tamarisks.

We sadly had to make our way back, having not seen the hoped-for Squacco & Night Herons, but a rather comical European Pond Terrapin kept us amused.

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An evening seawatch back at Sant’Ambroggio yielded two each of Scopoli’s & Yelkouan Shearwaters, and at least four Shags of the Mediterranean subspecies ‘desmarestii’.

Day 6– Friday 15th July- Sant’Ambroggio- Occi Village

Morning birding at the abandoned Occi village was abandoned due to windy conditions, and so the morning was spent relaxing around the villa.

By the afternoon, I wasn’t feeling especially good, so Dad went out to the Occi Village, an abandoned settlement perched on top of a hill, surrounded by maquis & scrub. It took him a while, but he eventually found two Marmora’s Warblers in an area of denser vegetation. It appears that it is difficult to obtain good views of these birds in the height of the summer, all because of the heat. He also found a Crag Martin, a juvenile Dartford Warbler and a male Blackcap amongst other things.

Day 7Saturday 16th JulyAsco Valley- Anciennes Station du Ski Haut Asco- Moltifao (Lower Asco Valley)

The last full day on the island, and we decided to pay another visit to the Asco Valley. We drove straight up to the layby at 790m, which was, unsurprisingly, completely devoid of life, and after that it was a case of stopping at various laybys on the way up: one Rock Dove flew up from the road, our first Mistle Thrushes were seen & Robins were heard deep in the woods; a male Corsican Nuthatch perched atop a dead pine, Treecreepers flitted about with the Great Spotted Woodpeckers & Coal Tits. It was evident that there were very few birds here. After another sweep of the car park at the very top, which yielded no birds, we had a relaxing breakfast at the Le Chalet Restaurant before hiking up the trail to the west. Here, we had some Ravens at delighfully close quarters, though the sole Alpine Chough was much less so. After half an hour yielding only a few Robins & another Grey Wagtail, we made our way down.

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Having chanced upon the spot where we saw the Lammergeier on Monday & failing to see any raptors, we made one last birding stop for the trip in the very lower reaches of the valley very close to the start of the road leading up. It was a very scrubby & sandy area, perfect for Tawny Pipit. For a while, the area was eerily quiet, but then one bird flew up and landed on a nearby bush: surprise, surprise, it was a Tawny Pipit. We later saw this bird perch on some nearby wire, offering great photography.

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Two other bits of other interesting wildlife also presented themselves: firstly, a Scarce Swallowtail perched on a nearby bush, but more interestingly, a Balearic Woodchat Shrike perched atop a tree.

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Now, upon closer inspection, we found it had a hint of white in the primaries, something not generally associated with birds of the Balearic subspecies L. senator badius, but rather the nominate, L. s. senator. We were both confused, as we couldn’t determine the cause of a bird exhibiting these features appearing here.

Anyway, we decided to head back to the bungalow to pack ready to leave early tomorrow. After a 6am start, we reached the airport in time for our flight out at 10:25 EST, arriving back in England at roughly 11:10 BST.

This was a great trip overall, as not only did we see loads of great birds, the scenery was absolutely spectacular, the food absolutely delicious, the people incredibly hospitable & we had a fun & relaxing time out there. Merci la Corse, a bientot (please excuse the lack of accents).

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