Corsica and Sardinia, 12th to 19th April 2008
I travelled with my wife, Vitty, who is not a birder, and a week was long enough to give me time to connect with most of the target species as well as most of the things Vitty wanted to do too. The weather could have been better with patchy cloud and cool temperatures for most of the time with one day of rain but warmer, brighter conditions towards the end of the week.
Corsican roads are an experience - OK if you're a Mountain Goat, they're narrow with hairpin bends every few yards, overhanging rocks and steep drops. The locals seem quite happy negotiating them at speeds that would impress you on a race course. They also drive in the middle of the road and don't bother getting over when you're coming the other way, and they seem to think that blind bends are ideal spots for overtaking. They are, at least, better at driving than they are at being friendly. It's a beautiful island though, despite the natives.
Saturday 12th April
We took an afternoon flight and arrived in Alghero (Sardinia) during the evening. By the time we'd picked up the hire car it was nearly dark so we went straight to our accommodation where we received a friendly welcome, something that the Sardinians were rather better at than the Corsicans.
Sunday 13th April
An early start in order to connect with Sardinia's only birding target: Barbary Partridge. One was seen, but not well, and other things included Blue Rock Thrushes and Scopoli's Shearwaters. We then headed up to Santa Teresa where we would catch the ferry to Corsica. The journey there produced my first Audouin's Gulls and Moltoni's Subalpine Warblers but we could have spent a little longer enjoying these as the 1.00 pm ferry we were trying to catch didn't exist. Hence after we'd bought the tickets (which I think were much more expensive than if we'd booked them online) we had over two hours to wait for one that did exist. We checked out a little track down to the beach nearby where I got the car well and truly stuck in a sand dune. We spent the next two hours digging it in (we were trying to dig it out, but it didn't really work that way) before eventually getting it out and turning up to the ferry terminal covered from top to bottom in sand, just in time to catch the boat. Judging from the looks we got I think people at the terminal thought we'd been up to something far more interesting in the sand dunes.
The ferry trip was quite rough. Fortunately they didn't enforce the instructions not to remain on the deck but the spray quickly covered the optics and the rolling made it hard enough to stand up let alone use a camera and binoculars effectively. Still, a few Shearwaters were seen.
Once in Bonifacio we were left with a long drive to our accommodation in Evisa. We soon lost count of the number of cafes and restaurants which displayed "Ouvert" signs but weren't and eventually had to settle for a surpisingly nice pizza from a roadside van that really was "ouvert". When I learnt French at school, "ouvert" meant open but over the course of the week here we discovered that in Corsica, "ouvert" means any of the following:
Eventually we arrived at our hotel in Evisa, tired and desperate for a wash as we were still pretty much covered in sand, were moaned at for being late and told there was a problem with the water - there wasn't any and wouldn't be until later the following day!
Monday 14th April
The room in Evisa hadn't impressed us much more than the welcome, but the view from the balcony was pretty good - and after a few minutes sitting there I quickly notched up my first Corsican Crossbills and Corsican Citril Finch.
The reason for chosing Evisa was its proximity to one of the best areas for Corsican Nuthatches. These proved elusive so we headed off to the mountains around Corte which, on the map, looks like a reasonably short drive from Evisa. We had underestimated the slowness of the roads and arrived in the area much later than expected. Heavy rain made birding difficult and hampered the views too. Asco Valley looked good but after a long drive up the valley our way was blocked by logging operations just before we reached the best area Nuthatches and we couldn't reach the top which might have been good for other species.
By this time we hadn't got time to do Restonica Valley properly but decided to check it out briefly just to make sure it was accessible before heading back this way another day. It was, and the rain turned to snow at the top before the skies began to clear and it actually became quite pleasant. A few Alpine Choughs were my first, albeit rather distant.
view from the hotel at Evisa, 14th April
Restonica Valley, 14th April
Tuesday 15th April
A pre-breakfast visit to the Forêt d'Aitone eventually produced my main target of this trip, Corsica's only truly endemic bird species (if you adopt a conservative approach to what makes a species): Corsican Nuthatch.
Vitty had wanted to visit the prehistoric standing stones at Filitosa but due to the lateness of the ferry we hadn't had time to pop in on the way up from Bonifacio. So today we headed down there, pausing now and then to see Moltoni's Subalpine Warblers and things. The restaurant where we had hoped to have lunch was closed, but the detour found me a nice little wetland near Porto Pollo (Etang de Tanchiccia) where there were a few new species for the trip.
On the way back there were 2 Audouin's Gulls in the bay at Sagone but we decided to head north along the coast to Porto as the drive between Porto and Evisa is supposed to be spectacular. Well, it was, and so too was the coastline immediately south of Porto.
Filitosa and some of its carved standing stones, 15th April
south of Porto, 15th April (these photos really don't do this coastline justice)
the road from Porto to Evisa, 15th April
view from the hotel at Evisa - sun setting over Porto, 15th April
Wednesday 16th April
We had intended to spend another night in Evisa, spending today in the area round Corte and then heading over to the east coast early the following morning. But due to the unexpectedly long time it takes to drive from Evisa to Corte we decided to cancel the last night and head east today, taking the journey through the centre and Corte slowly in the hope of finding things like Lammergeier along the way.
The scenery along this drive was spectacular and there were a few birds along the way. The highlight was a Golden Eagle grappling with a Lammergeier. Restonica Valley held nothing new so we headed off to the east coast. A quick look round Etang d'Urbino on the east coast produced several new species for the trip though nothing spectacular. We found some very reasonably priced accommodation in Aleria where what appeared to be a Spanish Sparrow was seen briefly among the Italian Sparrows (the only place in Corsica where Spanish Sparrows are supposed to occur is Bonifacio in the south). Again, the restaurant we'd hoped to eat in was closed ("ouvert") but fortunately the accommodation had its own pizzeria.
the gorge between Calacuccia and Castirla, 16th April
a reservoir west of Etang d'Urbino, 16th April
Thursday 17th April
An attempt to find introduced California Quails around Etang d'Urbino was unsuccessful and after a second attempt to get the car stuck in a road that was barely suitable for a 4WD let alone our Fiesta we eventually made it to an ancient Roman site that we'd hoped to visit at about 11.30 am. Unfortunately this is Corsica, and although they advertise that they don't close for lunch until 12.00, they don't let you in at 11.30 in case you're still there at 12.00. As we didn't fancy hanging around until they stopped lunching at 2.00 (probably later in reality) we headed off to the southern mountains where there were a couple of other places Vitty wanted to visit.
We arrived at one of these in plenty of time just after 4.00 pm. However, this is Corsica, and although they confirmed that they didn't close until 6.00 pm, it was too late for them to let us in! So it was off to the hotel early which was excellent and with a good restaurant.
Friday 18th April
Headed down to Bonifacio for the ferry back to Sardinia, arriving with plenty of time to have a look for Marmora's Warbler. Couldn't find any, though birding was quite good in the area with a few migrants present.
With better weather it was much easier to watch birds from the return ferry and conveniently it steamed right through the middle of a raft of Scopoli's Shearwaters.
Back in Sardinia we paused at a spot where the habitat looked good for Marmora's Warbler. Sure enough at least two were seen among the Sardinian Warblers, and a Barbary Partridge was calling but remained invisible. Porto Pollo held at least 10 Audouin's Gulls but an attempt to see the Partridges at Capo Caccia proved fruitless.
Bonifacio (left) and Santa Teresa (right), both from the ferry, 18th April
Saturday 19th April
Driving around Capo Caccia first thing in a last attempt to see Barbary Partridges better, Vitty's eyes proved keener than mine as she saw twice as many. All 6 were beside the road and most scarpered almost as soon as we'd seen them. We didn't have long here though as we were getting the first flight back to Stanstead.