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Corsica The Scented Isle

An 8-day, small group birdwatching & natural history tour to Corsica

Our May tour to Corsica will introduce you to the bird-rich mountains and coasts of this magnificently scenic Mediterranean island - at the loveliest time of the year. Avian specialities include Marmora’s and Moltoni’s Warblers, Mediterranean Flycatcher, the endemic Corsican Nuthatch and the near-endemic Corsican Finch. In May, migrant birds use Corsica as a stepping stone to mainland Europe, while its wild and unspoilt landscapes also harbour many orchids - and the likes of Corsican Dappled White and Corsican Swallowtail are among endemic butterflies on the wing.

Tour Dates

2018

  • Available

Leaders
Mike Crewe

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1795*

inc flights London Gatwick-Bastia, nonstop with Easyjet

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £195*
Land Only: £1645

* Prices Provisional (tba)

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Corsican Nuthatch Corsica Stephen Daly andalucianguides.com IMG 6732

Corsican Nuthatch is unique to Corsica and the island’s flagship bird © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Corsica - the Scented Isle - is one of the most rugged and mountainous of all Mediterranean islands, and still largely untouched by tourist development. From the clear, deep blue seas of the coast, up through the lush green forests of the lower slopes to the white snow-capped peaks of its 3000-metre mountains, the island offers a superb variety of scenery and wildlife. Much of the northern half of Corsica has been declared a National Park - just recognition for its stunning scenery, amazing birdlife and rich natural history.

The island’s long isolation from mainland Europe has resulted in a high incidence of endemism in its flora and fauna. Our May tour is carefully timed both to maximise the variety of birds and other wildlife we should see - and to take advantage of the season's first direct flights from London to Bastia. Possible butterflies include Corsican Swallowtail and Corsican Red Underwing Skipper, and wildflowers can also be superb at this season with more than 15 species of orchid to look for.

We begin our tour in the central mountains, seeking the endemic Corsican Nuthatch and Corsican Finch – the former is restricted to Corsica's ancient pine forests; the latter rather more widespread on the island. Our base for the first four nights is a family-run hotel at the start of the enchanting Restonica Gorge, in the heart of the picturesque Corsica National Park. Scops Owls call from the trees around our hotel, which makes the perfect base from which to search for high-level specialities such as Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Alpine Swift, Blue Rock Thrush and Alpine Chough. Red Kites are everywhere and we will also enjoy seeing Italian Sparrow and the recently split Mediterranean Flycatcher.

Descending to Corsica's northeast coast for the second part of our holiday, we will search for Audouin’s Gull and Scopoli’s Shearwater around the shore, plus an excellent range of other Mediterranean birds - from exotic Bee-eaters to Moltoni’s Warbler (a recent taxonomic ‘split’ from Subalpine Warbler), and Woodchat Shrike with its badius form that is unique to the region. Included in our itinerary is a visit to the island’s most important wetland, the Étang de Biguglia, which in May can hold numbers of herons, waders, gulls and warblers.

May is also an important month for migrants passing north through Corsica to their breeding grounds elsewhere in Europe. Most choose to avoid the mountainous interior and instead skirt along the island’s spectacular coastline - so at Bastia, we shall be ideally placed to encounter some of these.

North of Bastia, Cap Corse is one of the best migration watchpoints in the western Mediterranean. Our previous visits here have turned up a plethora of grounded migrants, as well as the resident Marmora’s Warbler - another warbler ‘split’, with those occurring on Corsica now being recognised as a distinct species to that found in the Balearic Islands.

Join us for Corsica in May and let us introduce you to this breathtakingly beautiful island, on a two-centre tour that’s designed to show you the very best of Corsica's birds and wildlife - at quite the loveliest time of year!

Corsican Finch Corsica Stephen Daly andalucianguides.com IMG 6420

The brown-backed Corsican Finch is a near-endemic being otherwise found only on the neighbouring island of Sardinia © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Day 1                        
FLY BASTIA, TRANSFER TO CORTE

Our spring birdwatching tour to Corsica begins with a morning flight from London Gatwick direct to Bastia, on the island's northeast coast. We make the scenic 90-minute drive to Corte, Corsica’s ancient capital, where we spend our first four nights.

Our hotel is ideally situated, being close to some of the best mountain habitats and right at the heart of the beautiful Corsica National Park.

Depending on flight schedules, after lunch on the island today we'll enjoy our first foray into the picturesque surroundings of the Restonica Valley. In the evenings, Scops Owls call from the trees around our hotel. Night Corte

Days 2 - 4                                      
CENTRAL MOUNTAINS: RESTONICA, PONT DE VECCHIO & ASCO VALLEYS

Awaking to our first full day in the lovely mountains, a stroll along the road first thing should reveal plenty of bird song from a suite of exciting summer residents. One bird we shall be especially keen to look for here is Mediterranean Flycatcher, a 'new' species which breeds only on Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands, being warmer above, more blurrily streaked below -and only recently split from Spotted Flycatcher! Amongst the more familiar avian voices, Wren and Great Spotted Woodpecker have distinctive local forms (with its buff underparts, the latter being particularly attractive), whilst Serin, Cirl Bunting and Firecrest add to the enjoyment.

Our first few days on this most rugged of Mediterranean islands will be spent exploring Restonica Gorge and other river-carved valleys and gorges. But don’t worry - walking is easy and our vehicle will take the strain of getting us to the heads of the valleys to search for upland specialities such as Golden Eagle, Alpine Chough and the declining Lammergeier.

Here, we’ll also be keeping a keen ear out for the chorus of bird calls which can herald the approach of mixed flocks of warblers, tits and crests - for such parties often hold the endemic Corsican Nuthatch. This engaging little bird often announces its appearance with a bubbling call and is closely associated with ancient forests of Corsican Pine. The near-endemic Corsican Finch is also found here. It's not uncommon in Corsica's open woodlands and scrubby hillsides, and we usually enjoy good views of this range-restricted brown-backed cousin of Citril Finch (which is otherwise found only on Sardinia).

Red Kites patrol the skies and these gorges are also home to ‘fizzing’ Black Redstarts, stunning Blue Rock Thrushes, Raven and the ever-elusive Corsican form of Common Crossbill. Roadside verges in the mountains support orchids and a host of other special plants and butterflies, including a number of Corsican endemics.

Another prime area for birds is the lovely Asco Valley, with its beautiful alpine meadows. Ironically, its forests of Corsican Pine may seem strangely familiar, as this form of the widespread Black Pine is the one most frequently planted in Britain. Except here, the pines rise sentinel-like to towering heights. We have another chance to find Corsican Nuthatch and other of Corsica’s higher altitude species, and we’ll be careful not to dismiss the 'buzzards' in this area as Honey Buzzards may be seen as well as Common Buzzards. Dippers frequent the mountain streams, Alpine Swifts are common and the attractive Red-rumped Swallow is occasionally seen. We should find Peregrine and Crag Martin too, along with the local Corsican races of Treecreeper and Coal, Blue and Great Tits. Three nights Corte

Days 5 - 7                                                           
EAST COAST: BASTIA, ETANG DE BIGUGLIA & CAP CORSE

After an enjoyable four-night stay at Corte, we leave the mountains and travel down to Bastia, on Corsica's east coast. Our journey will take in some of the coastal wetlands further south. These marshes and lagoons often hold a few waders in spring and we’ll check for Red-crested Pochard, Purple Heron and Marsh Harrier as well as passing migrants.

Located on the island's northeast coast, the Étang de Biguglia is Corsica’s premier wetland site, a coastal lagoon that holds good numbers of Zitting Cisticolas (or Fan-tailed Warbler in 'old money') as well as Cetti’s, Great Reed and Reed Warblers. Other birds we should see in this area include egrets and herons, grebes, Bee-eaters and Stone-curlew. Marsh Harriers float overhead and, if we are lucky, we might find Night Heron or Little Bittern. Spring passage waders can include Grey Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff, pausing on their annual migration between Africa and northern Eurasia. The attractive Audouin’s Gull is increasing in the Mediterranean and regularly recorded, while migrant Gull-billed Terns and the scarce but rosy Slender-billed Gull are also possible.

Drier coastal areas may produce Cirl Buntings, with their dry rattling song so characteristic of the region, as well as Hoopoe, Spotless Starling and ‘Corsican’ Woodchat Shrike (subspecies badius).

Inland of the coast, the abundant and heavily-scented maquis that covers much of the island’s lower slopes gives rise to Corsica's nickname - 'the Scented Isle'. It is also home to a quartet of furtive Mediterranean warblers: Marmora’s, Dartford, Sardinian and Moltoni’s, with the first and last of these having very restricted ranges in the Mediterranean.

On one day, we’ll drive out to Cap Corse, the northernmost tip of the island, in search of migrants and passing seabirds. This is one of the best migration watchpoints in France and, if conditions are right, large numbers of birds can be held up here on their journey across the Mediterranean. Past tour highlights here have included Montagu’s Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Wryneck and hundreds of Whinchats and other passerines.

If we haven’t managed to see one before, Cap Corse is also a good spot to find the skulking Marmora’s Warbler. With patience, we should eventually be rewarded with fine views as the local pair pops up to check out the latest Limosa group! While for those with a wider interest in natural history, there are several species of orchids to look for, too. Three nights Bastia

Day 8                        
FLY LONDON

We catch the morning flight from Bastia to London Gatwick, where our spring birding tour to Corsica concludes.

Illyrian Sea Lily Cap Corse Corsica Tim & Barbara Horsfield Apr 2011

Illyrian Sea Daffodil, Cap Corse, Corsica © tour participants Tim & Barbara Horsfield

What To Expect

An 8-day, small group birdwatching and natural history tour to Corsica, discovering the rugged mountains and coasts of this magnificently scenic Mediterranean island - at the loveliest time of the year. Avian specialities include Marmora’s and Moltoni’s Warblers, Mediterranean Flycatcher, the endemic Corsican Nuthatch and the near-endemic Corsican Finch. In May, migrant birds use Corsica as a stepping stone to mainland Europe, while its wild and unspoilt landscapes also harbour many orchids - and the likes of Corsican Dappled White and Corsican Swallowtail are among endemic butterflies on the wing.

Corsica enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Expect a mix of sunshine and showers in spring, averaging warmer and drier at the coast, cooler and wetter in the mountains. In May, temperatures are typically in the range 15-25C/59-77F, though it can be warmer; occasional cold spells in the mountains normally short-lived at this time of year.

Birds

100-130 species

Butterflies

15-30 species, including Cleopatra and several Corsican endemics. Previously we have seen Corsican Dappled White, Corsican Heath, Corsican Swallowtail, Corsican Wall Brown and Corsican Red Underwing Skipper.

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation at two good hotels on Corsica - commencing with 4 nights at a beautifully located hotel in the stunning Restonica Valley near Corte, followed by 3 nights at a hotel near the coast south of Bastia - within a short distance of the Réserve Naturelle de l'Étang de Biguglia. All rooms are en suite. 

Meals

All main meals are included in the price, commencing with lunch in Corsica on Day 1 and concluding with breakfast at the hotel on Day 8.

The hotel at Bastia doesn't do evening meals so we take our dinners there at a sister restaurant (just 100m away). Picnic lunches are made with fresh local produce purchased daily from a local store. 

Walking

Easy. Gentle walks over easy-moderate terrain. Comfy walking shoes or lightweight boots.

Travel

Our tour is timed to take advantage of the direct flights from London Gatwick-Bastia with Easyjet, which run once a week with from mid-May.

[Currently, all other flight options involve the inconvenience of a change of planes and/or airports somewhere in France (or elsewhere), leading to a protracted journey time]

Ground transport by minibus.

Woodchat Shrike L s badius Corsica Mike Crewe Limosa Holidays IMG 1051 small

Corsica's Woodchat Shrikes are of the island form badius, which lacks the white primary patch of other races © Mike Crewe, Limosa Holidays

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