Separated from the toe of Italy to the east by the Strait of Messina, and from the coast of Tunisia, 100 miles to the south, by the Sicilian Strait, Sicily has long been known as a hotspot for migratory birds moving between the continents of Africa and Europe. With parts of the island’s southeast lying geographically to the south of Tunis, this mountainous Mediterranean island is also one of the most fascinating regions of Europe, its varied landscape the product of a centuries-rich blend of history, archaeology, art and culture. Sicilian food and wine are wonderful - and a real highlight on this tour - and the Sicilian people are as warm and friendly as the island’s climate.
The largest of all the Mediterranean islands, first-time visitors may be surprised at just how big Sicily is! For this reason, our September tour focuses solely on the westernmost part of the island, which lies closest to Africa and is a key staging post for southbound migrants. In fact, autumn is the best season to see migrating shorebirds, flamingos and herons in southern Italy, and we should find new birds are passing through Western Sicily on a daily basis.
For this unique autumn tour we have chosen to base ourselves amid the beautiful landscape of the province of Erice, overlooked by the hilltop town of Erice itself that in turn enjoys views of the historic port of Trapani below, with the unspoilt Egadi archipelago lying offshore and a backdrop of dazzling white limestone mountains inland. Our hotel for six nights here is a small, family-run hotel-restaurant in the charming old town of Custonaci. People from all around Italy and Europe visit this lovely little town, which is renowned for its fine food and wine - and many local people also choose to dine at our hotel, enjoying evening meals al fresco in the hotel's courtyard.
To the north, Zingaro Nature Reserve protects one of the best-preserved and most majestic coastlines in all Italy. To walk the scenic coastal tracks, immersed in the heady perfume of Mediterranean macchia, is something you will never forget. With luck, we may find the elusive and wary endemic Sicilian Rock Partridge here. The increasingly rare Bonelli’s Eagle breeds on the steep cliffs and is often to be seen hunting or flying against the crystal blue-green sea, and other Mediterranean specialities we shall be watching for include Subalpine, Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers, Rock Thrush and Blue Rock Thrush, Italian Sparrow and Rock Bunting.
A visit to the medieval town of Erice promises to be another memorable highlight. Erice is one of the most attractive and historic towns in Europe, with its castles, thousand-year-old churches, narrow streets, magical squares and stone defensive walls encircling the old town.
Coastal wetlands harbour herons, egrets, Spoonbill and Audouin’s, Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls as well as good numbers Greater Flamingos. Our last two trips have seen Ferruginous Duck and Western Swamphen, too. September shorebirds include Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Curlew Sandpiper - and Terek Sandpiper was a good find on our 2016 tour! As with migration anywhere, so much depends on weather conditions at the time and there can be no guarantees. But the region’s gardens and groves of almond, olive and carob are attractive to migrant passerines, nightjars and Hoopoe - and in autumn, vagrants are found every now and then!
During our tour we will take the ferry across to Favignana Island, which lies some 20km off the westernmost tip of Sicily, and spend a night in a very comfortable hotel there. Amazing views of Scopoli's Shearwater from the boat have been a highlight of all our previous tours. If conditions are right, Favignana can be a terrific spot for migration in autumn, with Marsh Harriers, European Honey Buzzards and other birds of prey to watch for - and passerine migrants, too - seeking the shortest sea crossing between Italy and Africa.
Sicily is a superb destination, with an easy-going lifestyle and an almost perfect combination of great birding, culture and cuisine. Our expert local guide, Andrea Corso, lives on the island and is Sicily’s foremost ornithologist. Author of the Avifauna di Sicilia and one of the leading lights in birding and conservation in Italy today, his knowledge of the birds of Sicily and where to find them is unsurpassed - indeed, it is hard to imagine any birding trip there without him. Andrea possesses a wonderful sense of humour and a fine singing voice - as you may discover if you book this tour!
Our September 2017 tour will be Limosa’s 15th visit to Sicily with Andrea, and our fifth to the island in autumn.