TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Corsica

28 April - 4 May 2002


Leaders:
Mike Read, Hampshire

Paul Harvey, Shetland via Dorset!

Daily diary

Sunday 28th April

The British weather was suitably inclement to ensure we would be pleased to be heading off. And, amazingly for BA, we were only 5 minutes late for push-back. The flight went quickly and we were soon striding off the 'plane and heading for the terminal building at Marseilles airport watching a Common Kestrel and some Yellow-legged Gulls as we went.

The approach to Corsica itself revealed super views to the towering, snow-capped peaks of the island before we circled off the eastern shore and made our final approach for a smooth landing. After a little delay in securing the mini-busses (and in taking some well earned refreshment) we walked to the parking area from where we saw a Common Buzzard being mobbed by yet more Yellow-legged Gulls.

In lovely warm weather, we set off for Corte and paused in the Golo Valley where we saw 6 or 7 Crag Martins.

Between Ponte Leccia and Corte we again paused and heard a Blackcap singing and we saw the island race of Blue Tit. A fine male Cirl Bunting posed beautifully in a nearby tree and a pair of Long-tailed Tits fluttered through the treetops giving their usual contact calls as they went. Just as we were preparing to re-board the busses, three raptors flew into view. Their 'floppy' style of flight immediately suggested Red Kites but binocular views confirmed that they were in fact all adult Lammergeiers. In the end, they all flew past at fairly close range (for this species) and we could even see their beards!

We then completed the journey to the hotel at a leisurely pace and took time to unpack before heading over to the restaurant for a sumptuous and highly tasty evening meal.

Monday 29th April

The early morning walk up the road began with Serins and Grey Wagtails from the car park. We had excellent views of Jays (the Corsican race of course) and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling and was glimpsed by some. Much more approachable was an Egyptian Grasshopper which we surrounded and studied before we returned to the hotel for breakfast.

South of Corte we paused to look at our first Pink Butterfly Orchids as well as many other flowers and also saw a Common Cuckoo, 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a very close Red Kite.

At the Pont du Vecchio, we entered the Verjellu Valley and walked a short distance along the road. Crag Martins circled nearby and were obviously using the old railway and new road bridges as nesting sites. The scrub held a few SubalpineWarblers with the occasional one rising in a song flight that gave everyone the opportunity to at least glimpse the species; the only trouble was that the flight ended with the bird diving back down and usually heading for the deepest piece of cover! A pair of Corsican Citril Finches were possibly nesting in a roadside bush as faint 'cheeps' from the depths attracted in a male which, if you got at the right angle, gave excellent views.

Further along this side road, we paused to look at flowers and found Dactylorhiza insularis, Green-veined and Dense-flowered Orchids and also Spring Sowbread (a poor name for a lovely Cyclamen species) amongst the vast array of wild flowers present.

Our lunch stop took in fabulous views back down the valley and to the surrounding mountains and high above the lofty, cloud-inducing peaks, a group of about 45 Alpine Choughs rose in spirals until they were enveloped by some of those clouds and lost to view. In the other direction, a Sparrowhawk circled against deep blue sky and was well observed until a Common Crossbill took our attention, though this was basically a 'fly-by', and another Corsican Citril Finch perched close enough to obtain more good views of the species. Lunch was superb with filled baguette, pasta salad and wine to wash it all down with.

As we left, those in the second minibus watched a Whinchat and then we all saw a couple more Corsican Citril Finches. We then headed south towards the Col de Vizzavona and some of the group seemed surprised how quickly the journey passed. Perhaps the lunchtime wine had encouraged more than the usual amount of study of the inside of eyelids!

The walk through spring-cloaked beech woods was most enjoyable though sadly birds seemed less co-operative than hoped for. However, the location plus numerous flowers all added to the enjoyment of the afternoon before we began the drive back to Corte. Occasional birds punctuated the journey including more sightings of Crag Martins, a Red Kite and a Common Buzzard. Just before Corte, a Nightingale was singing loudly enough to be head from the moving vehicles.

Following another super evening meal, some of the group were 'serenaded' by two Scops Owls which we obtained good views of, to complete the day.

Tuesday 30th April

Margaret was in the Hotel car park first and managed to see a couple of Dippers. Following that, the pre breakfast walk down the road provided more birds than yesterday as we managed to see Cirl Buntings, Firecrest, Grey Wagtails and Robin as well as Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. Search as we might, there were no more dipper sightings. On both sides of the road there were good specimens of Lady Orchids.

On the way to the Asco Valley a Red Kite was flying parallel to our route. Just beyond Ponte Lecchio we turned west and entered the start of the Asco Valley and soon saw another Red Kite and a Common Buzzard. Further along a Common Kestrel and a Northern Wheatear were the first new birds of the day and these were followed by a Woodlark which was singing from nearby power cables, and a Tawny Pipit which perched on a fence post. Further in to the valley, we paused to identify a singing warbler (it was another Subalpine) and found a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes high on some rocky crags.

After a few more checks revealed nothing new, we drove up to Haut Asco and began a walk there. Corsican Citril Finches seemed fairly frequent and there were also a couple of Siskins present. Further on, first two, then a flock of about 45 Common Crossbills were seen just before we latched on to a pair of Corsican Nuthatches. These were well seen by everyone before we moved further along the trail. It was then that we found what was probably a second pair of Corsican Nuthatches and these were observed down to a distance of perhaps 2 metres! Further on we seemed to run out of birds but the effort of walking this route had other rewards. The surrounding Corsican pines came in a variety of ages from young seedlings to magnificent, aged specimens that had seen the passage of many, many decades. Add to that the magnificent views to the surrounding mountains (including Monte Cinto, the island's highest peak) and back down the valley and it made the whole walk worthwhile.

During 'group photos', Paul pointed out a couple of mammals which Mike glanced at and declared they were feral goats.

We returned to the minibuses adding a couple of Water Pipits to the day's list, then we drove down to the river bridge for lunch in the shade as it was now such a hot day. Once food and drinks were dispensed, Paul sat and studied the mammal book before deciding that the earlier 'goats' had, in fact been 2 female Mouflon. Mike cringed at his earlier mistake but then rectified the situation by relocating the ridge we had been on earlier and then he found the Mouflons again. Though distant, everyone managed to see the animals this time!

Frequent stops as we drove out of the Asco Valley produced nothing new in the bird line but many new flowers were added to the list. And soon we were heading back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for yet another splendid meal. Afterwards, we assembled and hoped for more sightings of Scops Owls. Though none were seen on this occasion, two, perhaps three, were heard.

Wednesday 1st May

Before breakfast, we mostly stood looking at the river where we not only had excellent views of Dippers, but we also found where they were nest building. Grey wagtails flitted from rock to rock and then flew up to catch a passing insect. A pair of Cirl Buntings perched for a few moments in one of the car park trees but by now, the aroma of coffee was drawing us in to the dining room. Others from the group reported that they had walked up the road and had actually seen a couple of Cirl Buntings fighting on the road.

After breakfast, we drove into the Restonica Valley. Flowers studded the roadsides and included lots of Spring Sowbreads, many of the endemic lilies Pancratium illyricum and a fine group of Heart-flowered Orchids to name just a few.

A lone Corsican Nuthatch sang from a mature stand of pines and a female Pied Flycatcher flitted around high above us. All of this neck twisting and craning made a cup of coffee imperative so we paused at a rustic cafe to recover. Here we heard Goldcrest and Common Treecreeper singing and were amused to see that a mounted wild boar's head was adorned with a pair of sunglasses!

We drove up to the upper car park and walked the trail towards the lakes high above (but with no intention of going that far!) and were surprised to see Wrens and Robins in unusual habitats namely bare, high mountain scrub. In the more open areas there were a couple of Water Pipits while endemic Crocus corsicus carpeted the ground in places.

But most of all, we were able to enjoy the fabulous views in the upper part of this rugged yet welcoming valley. Perhaps it was so pleasant because of the wonderfully sunny weather.

After our walk, we drove back towards the valley and noticed a woman throwing rocks at the side of the road. As soon as she saw us approaching, she stopped and quickly moved away. Thankfully her aim was poor to say the least as her target had been a Western Whip Snake. When will peoples' attitudes to reptiles change? (If you don't like them, just run away lady!!)

After lunch in a shady spot by the river, we drove, via the hotel, in to the centre of Corte. Swifts were checked but try as we may, we could not turn any of them into Pallids. There were also plenty of House Martins to be seen. Some of the group then decided against a walk through the town and returned to the hotel in one minibus while others decided on some window shopping and general town-style sight seeing. These were the fortunate ones as they saw a Peregrine.

After dinner, at least 3 Scops Owls could be heard but it was only the most dedicated 2 or 3 members of the group who stayed out long enough to actually see one.

Thursday 2nd May

There was no pre breakfast walk today to enable everyone to pack for the change of hotel however, some of the group went in to the hotel car park and saw the Dippers and Grey Wagtails. As we began the journey, we paused at the edge of Corte and saw a Tree Sparrow but our viewing of this was cut short as rain began to fall quite heavily.

We drove to Aleria through interesting habitat but it was now pouring with rain. A pause at a bridge over the Tavignano River only produced House Martins and Barn Swallows and not the hoped for Red-rumped Swallows.

When we reached the Caterragio/Aleria 'conurbation' we thought a coffee stop might be a good option. The cafe we chose gave us good views of Italian Sparrows (the local race of House Sparrow) and a group of 21 European Bee-eaters perched on power cables nearby in improving weather.

Further south we drove towards Calzarellu on the coast and paused to identify a 'different' looking raptor perched on an irrigation sprinkler head (perhaps I should clarify things; the sprinkler was not working at the time!). This bird turned out to be a female Red-footed Falcon, one of 6 birds in the same field. Of these, 4 were adult males. Nearby, a Stonechat perched on fences and stems of vegetation and gave good views though with such super raptors about, hardly anyone gave it a second glance.

At Calzarellu, our beach walk began with Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler in the scrub and then a little way along we saw another male Red-footed Falcon and a Purple Heron. On the marais, mostly reed beds and a small étang, we found Little and Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Mallard, a Whinchat and we heard a singing Reed Warbler. Back at the car park we saw our first Spotted Flycatcher.

Further to the north we had Lunch overlooking the Étang d'Urbino. With intermittent rain, this was not the usual relaxing style of lunch that we had become accustomed to ............ especially for the wine waiter! However the area did hold some good birds including 1 Greater Flamingo, at least 6 Little Egrets and a few Corn Buntings which were mostly singing from the overhead cables.

During the drive to the Étang de Diane (which we eventually found!) there were a few more groups of European Bee-eaters and at the étang itself there is disappointingly little except more Bee-eaters, a Grey Heron, very elusive Dartford and Subalpine Warblers and a Whinchat.

We then drove to our hotel to the south of Bastia and see more Bee-eaters and 3 Red Kites en route.

Once more we hear a distant Scops Owl to end the day.

Friday 3rd May

After considerable overnight rain, which was still falling at 7 a.m., Mike rose late to find that he had not only missed the first third of the pre breakfast walk, but that he had also missed the first good bird of the day, a Great Reed Warbler. There had also been good sightings of Tree Sparrows which had been compared with House/Italian Sparrows. The Fan-tailed Warbler had not been well seen but one was soon perched on a dead, twiggy shrub in full view. A short walk along the road had us viewing a Nightingale (also perched in a dead bush) and a couple of juvenile Stonechats.

After breakfast we began the long drive towards Cap Corse. Occasionally we paused to scan the sea or look at Yellow-legged Gulls and while studying a Shag perched on rocks below us, Paul checked yet another gull only to announce that it was an Audouin's but it disappeared round a bend before everyone could see it. Just before we drove off we saw a couple of Violet Bird's Nest Orchids growing on the opposite side of the road.

After coffee and fleeting views of a Common Sandpiper in Macinaggio, we began the remaining twisting drive to Cap Corse. At a point close to Barcaggio we paused to view a 'valley' and were immediately looking at about 6 or 7 Common Kestrels and a female Red-footed Falcon. A Spotted Flycatcher perched on the tops of bushes and was successfully hawking for insects while a couple of Tree Pipits and a Yellow Wagtail flew over. A Marsh Harrier drifted past and as we watched, it suddenly dived towards a piece of woodland obviously intent on securing a meal. In an instant, it rose again in pursuit of a Nightjar.

As we ate lunch in the car park in Barcaggio, a Squacco Heron perched on the handrail of a footbridge and a Wood Sandpiper stood beside the stream.

As we began our walk along the beach a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron flew up out of the bushes and was quickly lost to view. On a more open area, Whinchats seemed to adorn every bush top while Barn Swallows skimmed past at very low level. A fine, male Black-eared Wheatear stole the show in this area but had a 'supporting cast' of Northern Wheatear (a nice comparison) and a Tawny Pipit.

We walked along to scan the pool that held a few waders last year; this year it did not even hold water! No water, no waders.

On the way back towards the car park, no new species were seen until a Wryneck was spotted. It disappeared into the bushes as quickly as it had been found. We walked a track in the hope of finding it only to see a ringer emerge with it in his hand. This is one bird we all got exceptionally good views of.

As we drove towards our next intended location, stops in minor valleys revealed just how many birds were held up on their northward migration. At the first stop, one bush held 3 Wood Warblers, 1 Spotted and 1 Pied Flycatcher. There were birds everywhere mostly of these three species. At the next stop, these species were joined by more Whinchats, a Common Redstart or two, a Willow Warbler and a Melodious Warbler.

As we arrived at a more open headland, the rain began to fall (again). We waited for a while and soon this particular shower cleared. Off shore, Cory's and Yelkouan Shearwaters were distantly heading in both directions while a lone Northern Gannet flew east. A Hobby flew in and rested on a telegraph pole for a while before disappearing as our attention turned to the Marmora's Warblers which now began emerging, somewhat wet and bedraggled, from the sparse vegetation; we saw at least three.

Now it was time to be heading back to our hotel after a day of superb migration point bird watching. We were all aware that you could visit this area at the northern tip of Corsica another dozen times in spring and not have such a good days' birding. But we had been there on a brilliant day!!

And as usual, the day ended with someone in the group hearing Scops Owl from their room.

Saturday 4th May

Before breakfast we again viewed the 'field' behind the hotel where Tree Sparrows and a Zitter (AKA Fan-tailed Warbler) gave excellent views. Along the road, the Nightingale that we saw the previous day was showing once more.

Our first stop during the morning's birding was at an ancient church where there were more Tree Sparrows which were breeding alongside their Italian cousins. At the same time, a large group of Bee Eaters flew over heading northwards presumably heading for mainland Europe.

An area of scrub beside the Étang de Biguglia held a Wood Warbler as well as more Whinchats, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers and a very elusive Sardinian Warbler.

From a different viewpoint we could look over the étang itself. Distant Marsh Harriers flew over reed beds, Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes frequently dived for food and a group of at least 8 Slender-billed Gulls were near some fishing nets. On a small shingle peninsula, a few waders were gathered. A Common Greenshank rested, standing on one leg, 3 Ringed Plovers ran in short bursts, 3 Common Sandpipers tail-wagged their way along and 2 Little Stints thought better of feeding amongst such distinguished company and dashed off before everyone could see them. An Oystercatcher almost seemed to be there just to make up the numbers.

In a larger bay further along, numerous Coots were feeding, a Purple Heron flapped lazily along an area of reeds before dropping in and disappearing while a couple of Marsh Harriers walked invisible tight ropes just above. Perhaps one of the most unexpected sightings of the whole tour was of a rather distant Short-eared Owl which flew north towards Bastia.

Towards the south-west corner of the Étang de Biguglia, we made our way down 'rubbish-dump-road' and were pleased to see a pair of Red-crested Pochards fly past as we pulled to a stop. Unfortunately they were not seen again. We did see more Bee-eaters flying over (our 4th or 5th group of this lovely species) and along a water-filled ditch, 2 Little Egrets and perhaps as many as 7 Squacco Herons fed on the abundant small fish.

We ate our picnic lunches a little inland just off the Golo Valley and after that we drove the delightfully twisting road to Campile. The roadsides were studded with wild flowers in abundance especially wild orchds. Pink Butterfly Orchids and Green-winged/veined Orchids were to be found in some areas and there were occasional Man Orchids blending in with the other vegetation. The pale cream flowers of Dactylorhiza insularis (sorry, there's no English name!) were quite frequent while the superficially similar Provence Orchid was only in one location. Most abundant of all though was an Ophrys species that as yet remains unidentified. There were few birds to be seen here though Great Spotted Woodpecker and Subalpine Warbler were amongst the species that we heard.

We returned to the hotel in plenty of time for a rest, relax or drink before dinner.

Sunday 5th May

After breakfast, we filled an hour by re-visiting 'rubbish-dump-road' and on the way there found a Woodchat Shrike which, though distant, was well seen by everyone. At the far end of the road a Hoopoe flew across but was gone in an instant. Sadly it was not relocated. A couple of Purple Herons and a single Squacco Heron were beside the ditch until a Marsh Harrier flew along and landed which disturbed everything. Just before we headed for the hotel, 2 Hobbies, a Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard were seen. While we were out, Robert remained around the hotel ad told us that shortly after we left, a Hoopoe began calling and the Great Reed Warbler had been singing behind the hotel again.

A while later at the airport, we saw 3 Hobbies and a Red Kite to complete a pretty fair raptor morning.

Arriving at Marseille airport, Paul tried to claim a White Stork but despite the fact that we all tried to humour him, it still was not going on the list. However, we did see a couple of Magpies and a few Cattle Egrets which were added to the list of sightings. Then we were on the flight heading for a rather cooler, cloudy Gatwick.

SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Birds

Little Grebe: Three at Calzarellu on 2nd May.

Great Crested Grebe: Singles at Calzarellu and Étang de Diane on 2nd May, 20+ at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May and one near the rubbish dump there, on 5th May.

Black-necked Grebe: At least three seen, albeit fairly distantly, at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Cory's Shearwater: At least six moving east past Cap Corse on 3rd May. With a little persistance most of the group managed to get reasonable views and see the much more languid flight action of this species as opposed to the next. This subspecies known as Scopoli's Shearwater, may well be split in the future.

Yelkouan Shearwater: Over 40 flew east past Cap Corse on 3rd May. They were passing in small groups, whereas the Cory's were passing singly.

Northern Gannet: An adult flying east past Cap Corse on 3rd May was a bit of a surprise.

Great Cormorant: Three at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

European Shag: Two were seen off the east coast of Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Black-crowned Night Heron: An adult and a first-summer were seen in flight at Barcaggio (Cap Corse) during our rather hectic session among the migrants there!

Squacco Heron: Two at Barcaggio on 3rd May, including one which gave excellent views on the small stream there; six together at the rubbish dump at Étang de Biguglia on 4th and one there next day.

Cattle Egret: Two seen from the bus near a small wetland along the east coast of Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Little Egret: Seven at Étang D'Urbino on 2nd May, 2 at Cap Corse on 3rd and 20 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Grey Heron: One at Étang de Diane on 2nd May, 2 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th and one there on 5th.

Purple Heron: Two seen in flight at Calzarellu on 2nd May, one flew inland at Barcaggio on 3rd, one at Étang de Biguglia on 4th and four there, including one seen perched, on 5th.

Greater Flamingo: Single birds were seen at Étang D'Urbino on 2nd May and at Étang de Biguglia on 4th.

Mallard: One at Calzarellu on 2nd May and 8 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th.

Red-crested Pochard: A pair flew past the rubbish dump at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Common Pochard: A single drake at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May was unexpected.

Red Kite: Seen almost daily with a total of about a dozen recorded. Some excellent views were obtained.

Lammergeier: We were treated to the glorious site of three adults flying around together at a stop en route to Corte on our first day in Corsica. What a start to the trip!

Marsh Harrier: Plenty seen. Three at Calzarellu and 2 at Étang de Diane on 2nd May, six migrating at Cap Corse (including some coming in off the sea) on 3rd, 5 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th and 2 there next day.

Montagu's Harrier: At least four ringtails were seen at Barcaggio (Cap Corse). A real treat and some excellent views of these migrants, presumably held up by the poor weather.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: Singles seen at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April and at Étang de Biguglia on 5th May.

Common Buzzard: Seen most days, with a total of nine logged.

Osprey: One seen along the east coast of Cap Corse on 3rd May - another migrant forced down by the poor weather.

Common Kestrel: Seen most days with a total of over 20 recorded, including 10 on Cap Corse, which presumably included some migrants.

Red-footed Falcon: A stunning flock of seven (including five males and two females) feeding in fields along the road to Calzarellu was one of the highlights of the trip. Two more females were seen at Cap Corse.

Eurasian Hobby: One at Cap Corse on 3rd May and five migrating with huge flocks of hirundines at Étang de Biguglia on 5th May.

Peregrine Falcon: One seen for several minutes above the centre of Corte on 1st May. A reward for the shoppers in the party!

Red-legged Partridge: A small group flushed from the roadside en route to Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Common Moorhen: Two at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Common Coot: Seen in small numbers at Calzarellu, Étang de Diane and Étang D'Urbino, with over 100 at Étang de Biguglia.

Eurasian Oystercatcher: One at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May

Ringed Plover: A party of 3 seen along a small spit on the east side of Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Sanderling: Two flying along the beach at Calzarellu on 2nd May.

Little Stint: Three accompanied the Ringed Plovers at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Curlew Sandpiper: One seen by Ray at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Common Greenshank: One with the other waders at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Wood Sandpiper: At least two seen at Barcaggio on 3rd May.

Common Sandpiper: Two on the beach at Calzarellu on 2nd May, 2 at Barcaggio on 3rd May and 6 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Slender-billed Gull: A distant party of about a dozen were seen at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Audouin's Gull: Two different adults were seen in flight along the coast of Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Yellow-legged Gull: Numerous at coastal locations.

Rock Dove: Seen most days. Some of those in the hills surely representing wild stock, although those in the towns had a distinctly 'Trafalgar Square' look about them.

Wood Pigeon: Seen most days in the wooded hills outside the hotel in the Gorge de Restonica.

European Turtle Dove: Two in agricultural land at the foot of the Asco Valley on 30th April, one at the hotel on 3rd May and two at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May. The purring song was a reminder of times gone for some.

Collared Dove: Seen daily around towns and villages.

Common Cuckoo: Heard most days but only seen occasionally.

Eurasian Scops Owl: Heard from the respective hotels every evening and a persistent few even managed views of one or two individuals outside the hotel at the Gorge de Restonica.

Short-eared Owl: One seen flying north at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May, may have been the rarest bird found in a local context.

European Nightjar: We were all treated to the rather bizarre sight of one flying around with Bee-eaters at Cap Corse on 3rd May. One of a host of surprising migrant species we were lucky enough to encounter at Cap Corse.

Common Swift: Seen commonly, especially around the hill-top towns.

Alpine Swift: Three seen at both Gorge de Restonica and Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April, 1 at Gorge de Restonica next day and another at Cap Corse on 3rd May, and 3 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

European Bee-eater: Our visit must have coincided with the main migration of this species as we were treated to flocks of 12 at Calzarellu and 30+ at Étang de Diane on 2nd May, 120+ at Cap Corse on 3rd May, 80+ at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May and another 10 there next day.

Hoopoe: As is so often the case, this species proved frustratingly elusive with just two seen (one en route to Corte on 30th April and one at Étang de Biguglia on 5th May) with a further individual heard at the hotel by Robert on 5th May.

Eurasian Wryneck: One seen all too briefly at Barcaggio on 3rd May had the good manners to hop in to a mist net for us. Courtesy of the local ringers we were then all treated to a fabulous display of head and neck contortions in true wryneck fashion!

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Seen daily and in good numbers when we were in the hills. Over 20 logged in total. Individuals belong to the race parroti which is endemic to Corsica.

Wood Lark: Singles seen singing at the Asco Valley on 30th April and at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Eurasian Crag Martin: Good numbers seen most days in the hills with over 40 logged in total.

Barn Swallow: Seen almost daily with large numbers of migrants (200+) at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

House Martin: Seen daily with many flocks moving south along the coast of Cap Corse on 3rd May, presumably moving in front of poor weather.

Tawny Pipit: One seen well at the foot of the Asco Valley on 30th April and four (including some excellent views) at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Tree Pipit: At least 20 flew over the lunch party at Cap Corse on 3rd May, with one or two also seen well on the ground. Another flew over Étang de Biguglia on 5th May.

Water Pipit: Good views of two at the top of the Asco Valley on 30th April and two at the top of the Gorge de Restonica on 1st May.

Yellow Wagtail: Large numbers were at Barcaggio (Cap Corse) on 3rd May. Birds belonged to two races - Blue-headed Wagtail (M. f. flava) and Ashy-headed Wagtail (M. f. cinereocapilla)

Grey Wagtail: Seen almost daily with breeding pairs observed on most streams and rivers.

White-throated Dipper: A pair seen nest building near the hotel at Gorge de Restonica.

Wren: Many heard high up in the hills, and we found it to be one of the most common species above the treeline. One was seen well at the top of the Gorge de Restonica. These belonged to the race koenigi which is endemic to Corsica and Sardinia.

Robin: Again found to be common at or above the treeline, with a few also singing from the higher wooded hillsides.

Common Nightingale: We were treated to the spectacular song of Nightingales on an almost daily basis, and one individual near the airport hotel had the good grace to sing in full view enabling the whole group to have excellent views of what is so often a difficult species to observe.

Common Redstart: Three seen at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Whinchat: Females at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April and at Calzarellu on 2nd May and a male at Étang de Diane on 2nd May were eclipsed by a fabulous fall of 50+ at Cap Corse on 3rd May. Two more were seen at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Stonechat: Three males along the coast on 2nd May, a pair near the hotel on 3rd May and and a female at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Northern Wheatear: One at the foot of the Asco Valley on 30th April was followed by one at Calzarellu on 2nd May and 2 at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Black-eared Wheatear: Excellent views of a sublime male of the western subspecies at Barcaggio on 3rd May.

Blue Rock Thrush: Single males at the Asco Valley on 30th April and along the east coast of Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Blackbird: Heard and seen daily in a variety of habitats.

Mistle Thrush: Heard daily at the Gorge de Restonica. Birds belonged to the race deichleri which occurs in Corsica, Sardinina and north-west Africa.

Cetti's Warbler: Heard at most coastal sites.

Fan-tailed Warbler: A pair seen well in rough ground near the hotel on 3rd and 4th May.

Reed Warbler: Heard at Calzarellu on 2nd May and Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Great Reed Warbler: One gave excellent views near the hotel on 3rd May and another was heard singing at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Melodious Warbler: A migrant showed well at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Marmora's Warbler: Once the rain stopped we manage to get some nice views of three males at Cap Corse on 3rd May. This form is now a separate species to that found on the Balearic Islands.

Dartford Warbler: Heard at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April and at Étang de Diane on 2nd May, with one also seen poorly at the latter.

Subalpine Warbler: Three males seen at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April, another at Asco Valley next day. Another male at Calzarellu on 2nd May with two at Étang de Diane the same day. Eight or more were at Cap Corse on 3rd May. Despite their shy nature everyone eventually managed to get some good views of this form (moltonii) which is likely to be separated from the western and eastern subspecies in the near future.

Sardinian Warbler: Three males seen well at Cap Corse on 3rd May and another at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May. Many others were heard.

Common Whitethroat: Three, presumably migrants, at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Garden Warbler: One seen and another heard at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Blackcap: Heard and seen most days, probably the commonest warbler we encountered. Birds belonged to the race pauluccii which occurs in the Mediterranean islands, southern Italy and Tunisia.

Wood Warbler: Two migrants at Cap Corse on 3rd May and another at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May. Something of a surprise.

Willow Warbler: Four migrants at Cap Corse on 3rd May.

Goldcrest: Heard most days in the hills with singles seen at Col de Vizzavona on 29th April and at Gorge de Restonica on 1st May.

Firecrest: Singles seen at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April and at Gorge de Restonica next day.

Spotted Flycatcher: One at Calzarellu on 2nd May, over 20 at Cap Corse on 3rd May and 2 at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May. Another species whose main spring migration seemed to coincide with our visit.

Pied Flycatcher: One at Gorge de Restonica on 1st May was unexpected, although 3 at Cap Corse on 3rd May and another at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May, were perhaps less so.

Long-tailed Tit: Two were seen near Corte on 28th April, with further groups at Ponte de Vecchio next day and up the Asco Valley on 30th April. Also heard at Campile on 4th May. Records concern the race irbii which occurs in southern Spain, Portugal and Corsica.

Coal Tit: Seen daily in good numbers in the mountains. Birds belong to the race sardus which is endemic to Corsica and Sardinia.

Blue Tit: Seen daily in a variety of habitats. Birds belong to the race ogliastrae which occurs in Spain, Portugal, Corsica and Sardinia.

Great Tit: Seen daily in a variety of habitats. Birds belong to the race corsus which occurs in the Iberian peninsula and Corsica.

Corsican Nuthatch: Two pairs were seen at the top of the Asco Valley on 30th April, the first located by Chris. One male was seen down to less than five metres! Another male was seen in the Gorge de Restonica on 1st May

Eurasian Treecreeper: One heard singing and eventually seen in the Gorge de Restonica on 1st May. This beloned to the endemic race corsa.

Woodchat Shrike: A super male was seen near the Étang de Biguglia on 5th May. The absence of white in the primaries indicated that it belonged to the western Mediterranean island form badius.

Eurasian Jay: Seen daily and in good numbers in the hills and mountains. Birds belong to the endemic race corsicanus.

Alpine Chough: Around 50 seen high up at the Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April, 2 up the Asco Valley next day and 8+ at the Gorge de Restonica on 1st May.

Hooded Crow: Seen daily.

Common Raven: A handful seen every day.

Spotless Starling: Eight or more at the foot of the Asco Valley on 30th April, 1 at Corte next day, 10+ along the coast on 2nd May and six at Étang de Biguglia on both 4th and 5th May.

Italian Sparrow: A few seen most days. It was interesting to note just how consistent the 'species' looked.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow: One at the Gorge de Restonica on 2nd May, was followed by a few seen at various sites along the coast.

Chaffinch: Seen daily in good numbers.

European Serin: Seen daily in moderate numbers.

Corsican Citril Finch: Excellent views were obtained of this recently split species. Ten or more were seen at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April and 2 up the Asco Valley on 30th April. Others were heard at Gorge de Restonica and Cap Corse.

European Greenfinch: One or two seen most days.

European Goldfinch: Up to ten seen daily. The race tschusii occurs on Corsica, Sardinia, Elba and Sicily.

Eurasian Siskin: One seen at the top of the Asco Valley on 30th April.

Common Linnet: A male at Étang de Diane on 2nd May, 2+ at Cap Corse on 3rd May, and one at Étang de Biguglia on 4th May.

Common Crossbill: One at Ponte de Vecchio on 29th April, 30+ Asco Valley on 30th April and 12+ at Gorge de Restonica on 30th April. Most were flying over but good views were eventually obtained of one or two individuals. These belong to the endemic race corsicana.

Cirl Bunting: A male near Corte on 28th April, four males and two females at Gorge de Restonica/Asco Valley on 30th April and further males at Gorge de Restonica on 1st May and at the hotel near the airport on 4th May. The race nigrostriata is restricted to Corsica and Sardinia.

Corn Bunting: More than 10 seen along the coast on 2nd May, 4+ near the hotel on 3rd May and up to six on both days at Étang de Biguglia.

Mammals

Mouflon This was the only species of mammal to be seen alive and it was nearly missed when Mike originally identified two females as feral goats! However, in the end, everyone saw these two in the Haut Asco on 30th.

Western/European Hedgehog One or two seen dead on the roads in various locations.

Wild Boar There was some evidence of this species in various locations where the ground had been worked by them. Other reminders that they existed on Corsica included the head and skin of one draped over a bridge and the mounted head of one at a restaurant in the Restonica Valley. This latter specimen was adorned with a pair of sunglasses ............. or was it really Elvis in disguise?

Reptiles & Amphibians

Italian Wall Lizard Seen in various locations on 29th, 30th, 1st and 4th.

Lizard Species One or two specimens thought to be of a different species of lizard were seen in the Restonica Valley on 1st though sadly we never did sort out exactly what they were.

Western Whip Snake One found in the Restonica Valley on 1st May.

Marsh Frog Frogs thought to be of this species were seen and heard around the Étang de Biguglia on 4th & 5th.

Butterflies

Common Blue (4)

Green Hairstreak (1)

Wood White (3)

Orange Tip (3)

Small Copper (3)

Small Tortoiseshell (1)

Scarce Swallowtail (1)

Yellow Brimstone (2)

Painted Lady (3)

Wall Brown (1)

Large White (4)

Speckled Wood (1)

Clouded Yellow (1)

Other species noted

Egyptian Grasshopper

Pine Processionery Moth (caterpillars)

Tiger Moth Species (with a spider attached - presumably the moth was to be the spider's next meal!)

Flowers

3 Pinus pinea Stone Pine, Umbrella Pine

27 Quercus suber Cork Oak

31 Quercus pubescens Downy Oak

42 Ficus carica Fig

115 Carprobrotus edulis Hottentot Fig

126 Arenaria balearica Balearic Sandwort

157 Silene vulgaris Bladder Campion

182 Silene conica ? Sand Catchfly (Probably this species)

199 Laurus nobilis Laurel, Sweet Bay

213 Anemone hortensis

240 Ranunculus bulbosus Bulbous Buttercup

252 Ranunculus ficaria Lesser Celandine

281 Papaver somniferum Opium Poppy

283 Papaver rhoeas Common Poppy

290 Papaver hybridum Rough Poppy

303 Fumaria capreolata Ramping Fumitory

326 Mathiola sinuata Sea Stock

363 Cakile maritima Sea Rocket

386 Sedum album White Stonecrop

396 Umbilicus rupestris Navelwort (Wall Pennywort)

400 Platanus orientalis Plane Tree

402 Pittosporum tobria

405 Rosa pimpinelifolia Burnet Rose

406 Rosa glutinosa Mediterranean Sweet Briar

430 Cercis silquastrum Judas Tree

432 Acacia dealbata Mimosa

475 Ulex europaeus Gorse

486 Lupinus angustifolius Narrow-leaved Lupin

488 Robina pseudacacia False Acacia

510 Vicia vilosa Blue Vetch

519 Vicia hirsuta Hairy Tare

521 Vicia laxiflora Slender Tare

524 Vicia sepium Bush Vetch

531 Vicia sativa Common Vetch

531 Vicia sativa Common Vetch

541 Lathyrus sphaericus (Pea Family)

605 Medicago marina Sea Medick

677 Dorycnium pentaphyllum

735 Oxalis pes-caprae Bermuda Buttercup

736 Oxalis articulata Pink Oxalis

747 Geranium robertianum Herb Robert

761 Erodium cicutariium Common Stork's-bill

818 Euphorbia characias Large Mediterranean Spurge

850 Polygala spp. Nice or Common Milkwort (not specifically identified)

863 Pistachia vera Pistachio Nut

910 Lavetera cretica Small Tree Mallow

912 Lavetera arborea Tree Mallow

925 Viola alba supsp. Dehnadtii Mediterranean White Violet

961 Cistus albidus Grey-leaved Cistus

962 Cistus creticus

965 Cistus salvifolius Sage-leaved Cistus

966 Cistus monspeliensis Narrow-leaved Cistus

1024 Tamarix tetragyna Tamarisk

1040 Opuntia ficus-indica Prickly Pear

1073 Eryngium maritimum Sea Holly

1141 Ferula communis Giant Fennel

1178 Erica arborea Tree Heath

1198 Anagallis arvensis Scarlet Pimpernel

1207 Cyclamen repandum Spring Sowbread

1245 Fraxinus ornus Flowering Ash (Manna)

1260 Vinca major Greater Periwinkle

1288 Asperula arvensis Blue Woodruff

1300 Cruciata laevipes Crosswort

1315 Catystegia soldanella Sea Bindweed

1316 Calystegia sepium Larger Bindweed

1334 Convolvulus arvensis Bindweed

1383 Achium plantagineum Purple Viper's Bugloss

1383 Echium plantagineum Purple Viper's Bugloss

1395 Borago officinalis Borage

1413 Anchusa arvensis Bugloss

1526 Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary

1528 Lavandula stoechas French Lavender

1651 Parentucellia viscosa Yellow Bartsia

1652 Parentucellia latifolia

1664 Orobanche minor Common Broomrape

1712 Lonicera etrusca Etruscan Honeysuckle

1713 Lonicera implexa

1759 Campanula sp. Rampion Bellflower

1791 Bellis annua Annual Daisy

1858 Anthemis arvensis Corn Chamomile

1880 Achilea santolina Santolina-leaved Sneezewort

1887 Matricaria recutita Scented Mayweed

1908 Calendula arvensis Field Marigold

1982 Silybum marianum Milk Thistle

2039 Urospermum dalechampii Urospermum

2075 Lettuce sp.

2087 Asphodelus fistulosus Hollow-leaved Asphodel

2105 Gagea sp. Similar to Gagea fistulosa

2180 Brimeura fastigiata Brimeura

2201 Muscari comosum Tassel Hyacinth

2219 Ruscus aculeatus Butcher's Broom

2224 Allium roseum Rosy Garlic

2227 Allium subhirsutum

2229 Allium triquetrum Three-cornered Leek

2290 Iris pseudacorus Yellow Flag

2307 Gladiolus italicus Field Gladiolus

2383 Cephalanthera longifolia Narrow-leaved Helleborine

2386 Limodorum abortivum Violet Bird's Nest Orchid

2393 Neotinea maculata Dense-flowered Orchid

2394 Dactylorhiza insularis Similar to but different from Roman Orchid

2397 Dactylorhiza maculata Spotted Orchid

2399 Aceras anthropophorum Man Orchid

2401 Orchis papilonacea Pink Butterfly Orchid

2403 Orchid morio Green-winged Orchid

2412 Orchis purpurea Lady Orchid

2417 Orchis provincialis Provence Orchid

2448 Serapias cordigera Heart-flowered Orchid

2451 Serapias lingua Tongue Orchid

2494 Arundo donax Giant Reed

2522 Adiantum capilus-veneris Maidenhair Fern

E Aquilegia dumeticola

E Berberis aetnensis

E Digitalis purpurea var. gyspergera Foxglove

E Alnus cordata Green Alder

E Crocus corsicus

E Saxifraga pedemontana subsp. cervicornis

E Leucojum longifolium

E Pinguicula corsica Butterwort

E Pinus nigra supsp. Laricio Corsican Pine

E Helleborus lividus supsp. Corsicus

E Euphorbia pithyusa supsp cupanii

This was an excellent first trip for the Travelling Naturalist to Corsica, France's Ile de Beauté. The weather could not have been more helpful with gloriously sunny days in the mountains and showery rain and cloud for a couple of days in the lowlands; ideal for bringing passage migrants down and preventing them moving on. Admittedly, some of the sightings were rather fortuitous and none more so than the flock of adult Lammergeiers on our first day. But with keen eyes and group members, we did amass a total of 120 bird species.

As expected, the flowers were magnificent (as were the group members of course), the hotels excellent and the food and wine were typically French (e.g very more-ish!). There was much good humour, thanks especially to Ray, and plenty of conversation.

Thank you to all the lovely clients who made this such a delightful tour to lead; I certainly hope we meet up on another tour again in the not too distant future.

Thanks also to Paul Harvey for so ably assisting with the driving and leading. Paul, can I borrow your ears for next years' tour as you were able to pick up the Corsican Nuthatches at a greater distance then I could? Or perhaps you could be second leader again next year. I'll ask Jamie ................

Mike Read

Ringwood.


© The Travelling Naturalist 2002