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. Night near 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 see Peregrine and Crag Martin too, along with the local Corsican races of Treecreeper and Coal, Blue and Great Tits.
A drive along the wild gorge to the lake at Calacuccia is scenic and regular stops to take photos of the fine views should find Cirl Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush and the Wren-like call of Moltoni’s Warbler. On the dry scrubby hillsides we have a good chance of Marmora’s Warbler, too. The scarce Tawny Pipit, Wryneck, a local population of Whinchat, Hoopoe and Spotless Starling also occur - but the ‘star’ bird here is the ‘Mediterranean’ Woodchat Shrike (subspecies badius), which is very thinly distributed and notable for the lack of white in the wing and a rather hefty bill. Three further nights near 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.
The marshes and lagoons at Etang d’Urbino often hold a few waders in spring and we’ll check for Red-crested Pochard, Squacco and Purple Herons and Marsh Harrier as well as passing migrants. Sometimes Red-footed and Eleonora’s Falcons pop in to hunt dragonflies above the water and fields nearby are often the haunt of dazzlingly blue Rollers, that perch on overhead wires.
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. The attractive Audouin’s Gull is increasing in the Mediterranean and regularly recorded, while migrant Gull-billed Terns and the scarce Slender-billed Gull are also possible.
On one day, we’ll drive along the scenic coast road north of Bastia to Macinaggio then 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, numbers of birds can be held up here on their journey across the Med. Past tour highlights have included Montagu’s Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Wryneck and hundreds of Whinchats and other passerines.
Inland of the beach, heavily-scented maquis covers much of the lower slopes and gives rise to Corsica's nickname - 'the Scented Isle'. It is also home to a quartet of Mediterranean Sylvia warblers: Marmora’s, Moltoni’s, Dartford and Sardinian, the first two having very restricted ranges in the Mediterranean. With patience, we should eventually be rewarded with fine views as they pop up to check out the latest Limosa group! While for those with a wider interest in natural history, in May there are several species of orchids to look for, too.
On one evening we will drive to a coastal patch of pine forest, where a good population of Scops Owls produce a metronomic serenade. The call is deceptive and quite a challenge to pinpoint, but with luck we will track one down – in 2017 we saw at least two, with many others calling. Three nights Bastia
We catch the morning flight from Bastia to London Gatwick, where our spring birding tour to Corsica concludes.