Sicily

Eastern Sicily In Spring

An 8-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching tour to Sicily in spring

Sicily Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: A one-week birdwatching tour to eastern Sicily, home to regional specialities such as the endemic Sicilian Rock Partridge, Scopoli’s Shearwater and ‘Sicilian’ Long-tailed Tit. In April, the island is also an important 'stepping stone' for migrant birds heading north into Europe. Against a backdrop of classic Mediterranean scenery, our spring birding tour to Sicily features a day trip to Mt. Etna and 7 nights at a converted 19th century 'masseria' (farmhouse hotel) offering first-rate hospitality and delicious home-cooked meals. Designed exclusively for Limosa by Andrea Corso - Sicily’s foremost ornithologist - our thirteen previous visits here in spring have all filled quickly.

Tour Dates & Prices

Thu 22nd April 2021

Thu 29th April 2021

  • Spaces

6 Spaces Available

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1845* inc return flights from London Gatwick

Deposit: £300Single Supp: £125*Land Only: £1695*Group Size: 10Leaders:  David Fairhurst & Andrea Corso

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Sicilian ornithologist
  • Return flights - London Gatwick to Catania, nonstop with British Airways
  • 7 nights accommodation in Sicily, staying at a characterful masseria (farmhouse hotel)
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (hotel, meals, etc) and taxes
  • Map & Limosa Checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • Wonderful Sicilian landscapes - from cliffs and coastal garrigue to the forested slopes of Mt Etna
  • Excellent range of ‘classic’ Mediterranean birds, regional specialities and passage migrants
  • Greater Flamingo, Audouin's Gull, Bee-eater, Lanner, Spectacled Warbler, Golden Oriole, Italian Sparrow
  • Opportunities to look for Sicilian Rock Partridge, Scopoli's Shearwater and Sicilian Long-tailed Tit
  • Raptors on migration can include Pallid, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Lesser Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon
  • Some wonderful early spring butterflies and orchids to look for
  • Home-cooked Sicilian meals featuring locally produced ingredients
  • Expertly led by Limosa's David Fairhurst with Sicily’s foremost ornithologist Andrea Corso

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Gatwick-Catania and transfer south to our farmhouse hotel. Night Siracusa

  • Birdwatching in eastern Sicily including Murro di Porco, Penisola Magnisi, Capo Passero, the Cava Grande del Cassibile, the Vendicari wetlands and Mt. Etna. Six further nights Siracusa

  • Fly Catania-London Gatwick

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
tawny pipit lesbos gordon small card.jpg
In April, Tawny Pipits are among migrant passerines making landfall on Sicily's rugged coastal headlands © Limosa participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

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 an important 'stepping stone' 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 (in North Africa), this mountainous Mediterranean island is also one of the most fascinating regions of Europe, its landscape the product of a rich blend of history, archaeology, art and culture. Sicilian food and wine are wonderful, and the Sicilian people are as warm and friendly as the island’s climate.

Largest of all the Mediterranean islands, first-time visitors may be surprised at just how big Sicily is! For this reason, our spring tours focus solely on the island’s bird-rich eastern side, where we will watch birds amidst a landscape dominated - and very largely shaped - by the immense smouldering cone of Europe’s biggest volcano, Mt Etna. We will scour the rugged slopes here for three of the island’s special birds: the endemic Sicilian race of Rock Partridge (still awaiting promotion from its mainland cousin); the distinctive ‘Sicilian’ Long-tailed Tit (which breeds in the mountain oak woods and scrub); and the enigmatic 'Sicilian' Common Crossbill (which we look for in the pinewoods on Mt Etna).

To the south, the ancient port of Siracusa is one of the most beautiful and historic towns in Europe. In spring, the coastal garrigue (scrub) of Murro di Porco or Penisola Magnisis has breeding Stone-curlews and Calandra Larks; Audouin’s Gulls coast past and nearby wetlands harbour breeding Kentish Plovers, Slender-billed Gull, Ferruginous Duck and the rare Western Swamphen. The hotel gardens and groves of almond, olive and carob lure migrants from Nightjar and Hoopoe to Golden Oriole and Collared Flycatcher.

West of Siracusa is the beautiful and unspoilt Iblei region: a rough, sheep-grazed limestone plateau cut by deep valleys such as the Cava Grande del Cassibile - Sicily's Grand Canyon - where we will look for migrating raptors and scarce local specialities such as Rock Sparrow and Spectacled Warbler. North along the coast are various wetland sites and jutting headlands that can hold exciting breeding and migrant species. In April, birds of prey on the move can include Pallid, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers.

We shall be based as usual at a comfortable family-run masseria - the charming Pozzo di Mazza - a fully renovated 19th century former winery near Siracusa. Set amidst lemon and orange groves, its grounds are alive with the sound of Sardinian Warblers and Crested Larks, while nearby cultivated fields hold Zitting Cisticolas and Tree Sparrows. Meals and hospitality at the 'Pozzo' are simply a delight.

As a tourist destination, Sicily has enjoyed a surge in popularity following the BBC's screening of the Italian tv series Inspector Montalbano, which was filmed on location in the stunning southeast of the island.

Our consultant expert Andrea Corso lives in Siracusa 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, he also has a wonderful sense of humour - not to mention a fine singing voice! Andrea possesses an infectious enthusiasm for his country and is passionate about its birds. Indeed, his knowledge of Sicily’s birds and where to find them is unsurpassed - it is impossible to imagine a trip there without him!

Our April 2021 visit will be Limosa’s 21st tour to Sicily with Andrea, 14 of them having been in spring. Guide David Fairhurst led our April 2015, 2019 and 2020 trips to Sicily with Andrea and our April 2021 tour will be his fourth visit to the island.

Mt Etna brian small sicily.jpg
The verdant landscape on the northern slopes of snow-capped Mt. Etna © Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1
FLY CATANIA, TRANSFER SIRACUSA
Our spring birdwatching tour to Sicily begins with a flight from London Gatwick to Catania, on Sicily’s east coast - passing by the slopes of mighty Mt. Etna as we come into land. Andrea will be waiting to welcome us.

Leaving the airport, we follow the shores of the Golfo di Catania and head south (for about an hour), beyond the ancient and historic port of Siracusa, to reach our delightful accommodation for the week.

'Discovered' for us by Andrea, the simple but charming Pozzo di Mazza is a renovated former winery dating back to the nineteenth century. We'll be greeted with jugs of lemon juice freshly squeezed from the lemons of their own trees, while Susanna's home-cooked Sicilian food and hospitality is wonderful – you may not want to leave! In spring, migrant birds find the Pozzo’s groves of citrus, olives and almonds equally irresistible, while for us there is also a swimming pool and tables to dine al fresco on warmer evenings. Night near Siracusa

Days 2 - 7
SIRACUSA, VENDICARI WETLANDS, CAPO PASSERO & MT. ETNA

Siracusa makes an excellent base from which to explore the rugged, southeastern corner of Sicily - Andrea’s ‘home patch’. We may begin our discovery of this fascinating region with a visit to an area of former saltpans, now a nature reserve, on the Golfo di Siracusa. In spring, waterbirds to watch for include Squacco and Purple Herons, Little Bittern and Garganey, while the extensive reed beds can hold Eurasian Penduline Tit along with Eurasian Reed, Sedge and Great Reed Warblers. Both Red-throated Pipit and Western Yellow Wagtails of various races also occur on passage, and the view from the lighthouse out over the gulf is fabulous, with the historical islet of Ortigia spread out before us.

Penisola Maddalena - a sparsely populated promontory covered with dense Mediterranean macchia - and the Capo Murro di Porco, are renowned as one of Italy’s major hotspots for migrants. In spring, if conditions are right, the old gardens here are a prime spot to check for birds such as Woodchat Shrike, European Pied Collared and Spotted Flycatchers, and Icterine, Subalpine, Spectacled, Sardinian and Wood Warblers. Marked by dazzling white calcareous cliffs, an easy walk along the coast could also produce migrants. Birds we have seen here in April include European Nightjar, Tawny Pipit, Common Nightingale, and Northern and Black-eared Wheatears - plus in 2015, Cream-coloured Courser, the first record for Italy since 1978 and a new Sicilian bird even for Andrea!

At the very tip, a wonderful white lighthouse dominates the steep cliffs. Seawatching from the point can be productive: Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters are possible along with Audouin's and Yellow-legged Gulls. If we are lucky, we could also spot a pod of Striped or Bottlenose Dolphins. Nearby we might enjoy our first Sicilian picnic - perhaps some delicious sandwiches freshly made at a local deli, with Italian hams (crudo and cotto prosciutto) and local cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, aubergines and olives.

Heading south from our hotel, an hour’s drive will carry us to one of the southernmost corners of Europe. Against a fine backdrop of ancient groves of almond and olive trees, and the stunning white Iblei Mountains framed by a deep blue Mediterranean sky and azure-green sea, we will reach the breathtaking nature reserve of Vendicari. Flocks of rose-pink Greater Flamingos mingle with Shelduck, Garganey, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks and other wildfowl. A good selection of waders, gulls and terns is usually present in April too, as we enjoy a short walk out along the sand dunes towards the old tuna fish farm and the Sveva tower, which was built in AD1430.

Marzamemi, an old tuna-fishing village, makes an excellent spot for a coffee before we move on to Capo Passero and Portopalo, at the southern most tip of Sicily. Seawatching from the Cape could produce thousands of gulls as well as further chances of Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters offshore.

Nearby are splendid old saltpans, sometimes dusted pink with Greater Flamingos, but also scattered with waders, terns and gulls, including Wood Sandpiper and rosy Slender-billed Gulls. It is well worth checking the scrubby hillsides for Subalpine Warblers and even Richard’s Pipit. To the west are various wetlands (recently protected by a German nature foundation), where we hope to see Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Garganey and possibly Water Rail. And if we are there on a fine evening, the sunset here will mark the end of another unforgettable Sicilian day.

During our stay near Siracusa, we shall enjoy one longer day trip out, heading north to explore the slopes of mighty Mt Etna. The journey there will take about two hours. Etna’s basal circumference of 140 kms makes this immense active volcano the largest in continental Europe (surpassed only by Mt Teide in the Canary Islands). Its cone soars to 3,329m (10,922 ft) and positively dominates the landscape of eastern Sicily. Up close, Etna’s unique flora adds splashes of bright colour to the oceans of old black magma.

Against this stark but spectacular backdrop we will make a determined effort to track down the Sicilian Rock Partridge - an extremely wary species that is notoriously difficult to find! Etna’s steep lower slopes, clothed in dense mountain oak woods, pines and scrub, are also home to the island’s own distinctive races of Long-tailed Tit and Common Crossbill. European Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreper, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Cirl Bunting breed, and birds of prey to watch out for hunting over the volcanic slopes include Golden Eagle, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Lanner. The rough, flower-bedecked slopes are also home to two special butterflies: sulphurous Eastern Orange-tips and Italian Festoon are often found here.

Inland of Siracusa, a trip to the Cava Grande del Cassibile - the ‘Sicilian Grand Canyon’ - offers second opportunities to try for both the elusive Sicilian Rock Partridge and Long-tailed Tit, as Alpine, Pallid and Common Swifts zip across the skies and Northern Ravens tumble and croak above the chasm. Our attention may be diverted by the fine array of orchids (25 species recorded on our 2019 tour, when conditions were good) and other wildflowers that adorn the hillsides.

Our picnic lunch may be taken al fresco amidst the trees and flowers of the valley. Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, and Tree, Rock and Italian Sparrows are among a range of other birds we could encounter today. We will keep our eyes open for the endemic Sicilian Wall Lizard, too. There are several lush valleys to explore and, time permitting, we hope to visit one of these for an afternoon’s walk.

There are many sites north and south of Siracusa that are worth visiting. Murro di Porco is close by and can be another good spot for migrants such as Whinchats, wheatears, shrikes and warblers, as well as being a regular wintering site for the scarce Richard's Pipit. While Siracusa's saltpans can hold Squacco Heron, egrets, Glossy Ibis and Marsh Sandpiper, and passing Western Ospreys hunt – sometimes using a post that Andrea stuck in the marsh for just such a purpose!

Raptor migration occurs on a broad front across Sicily and harriers can sometimes be seen in the highlands west of Siracusa, or at headlands in the right weather conditions. At the Penisola Magnisi, we might be lucky to see a migrant Montagu's or Pallid Harrier stir up a party of Greater Short-toed Larks or Western Yellow Wagtails - on one memorable occasion seeming to pass right between the Limosa group that was watching them! Here amongst the ancient burial chambers cut into the limestone, Calandra Larks nest and Andrea turns over stones to find us the sleek Ocellated Skink.

Over the years, our Sicily groups have also enjoyed some extraordinary spring 'finds' - from Western Reef Egret, Long-legged Buzzard and Cream-coloured Courser to Bar-tailed Lark, Isabelline Wheatear and (two) Atlas Pied Flycatchers. While we can’t promise you a rarity on every trip, if you love spring migration and the excitement of not knowing what the next day might bring, eastern Sicily is a great place to try! Six further nights near Siracusa

Day 8
RETURN TO CATANIA, FLY LONDON

We leave Siracusa after breakfast this morning and return north, passing the nests of White Storks beside the autostrada as we make our way back to Catania airport. Bidding a fond farewell to Andrea, we check-in for our lunchtime flight to London, where our spring birdwatching tour to Sicily concludes later this afternoon.

Sardinian Warbler m Sicily 0415 Peter Farren CK card.jpg
The Sardinian Warbler's fast, rattling song is a characteristic sound of the Mediterranean - but patience is often required to obtain a good view like this! © tour participant Peter Farren

WHAT TO EXPECT
Eastern Sicily is home to regional specialities such as the endemic Sicilian Rock Partridge, Scopoli’s Shearwater, Lanner, Italian Sparrow and ‘Sicilian’ Long-tailed Tit. In April, the island is also an important 'stepping stone' for migrant birds heading north from Africa into Europe.

Against a backdrop of classic Mediterranean scenery, this spring tour to Sicily features a day trip to Mt. Etna and 7-nights stay at a converted 19th century 'masseria' (farmhouse hotel) offering first-rate hospitality and delicious home-cooked meals. Designed exclusively for Limosa by our consultant local expert Andrea Corso - Sicily’s foremost ornithologist - our thirteen previous visits here in spring have all filled quickly.

Expect a mix of sunshine and showers in April, with typical daytime temperatures up to 22C (72F), falling to overnight lows of 10-13C (50-55F). It can be significantly cooler on the higher slopes of Mt Etna (where some snow could still be lying), so be sure to pack some warm clothing to layer up here if necessary.

Good photographic opportunities on this tour: birds, wildflowers, butterflies and other wildlife, plus some fine scenery and archaeological sites.

BIRDS
130-160 species.

BUTTERFLIES
15-30 species. A small selection of early spring butterflies - including Italian Festoon, Eastern Orange-tip and Cleopatra - is also possible on this tour.

Depending on weather conditions prior to the tour, many orchids and Sicilian wildflowers may be in flower when we visit. [If it's a particularly early spring however, please note that some of the flowers can already be over by mid-April]

ACCOMMODATION
7 nights at the charming and characterful agriturismo Pozzo di Mazza, a small, family-run masseria (farmhouse hotel) located near Siracusa, in the southeast of Sicily. Dating from the nineteenth century, the ‘Pozzo’ is a renovated former winery. Rooms are simply furnished but comfortable and all en suite.

MEALS
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch or dinner on arrival in Sicily on Day 1 (according to flight schedules) and concluding with breakfast or lunch on the island on Day 8 (again according to flight schedules).

Continental breakfasts (which may be taken al fresco in the courtyard) and delicious home-cooked dinners featuring freshly made Sicilian food are taken at the masseria. Local fish dishes are a regional speciality of the cooks. Lunches are mostly delicious picnics, with sandwiches or local pastries freshly-prepared that morning using Italian cheeses, hams, vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and aubergines.

WALKING
Easy. Short walks over mainly easy terrain. Comfy walking shoes with stout corrugated soles are advised.

Our tour includes a day trip to Mt Etna - but please note that the focus here is on seeing the birds and wildlife and we do not go to the summit area on our tour.

Maximum elevation on this tour: (Mt Etna) approx. 2000m (6500ft).

TRAVEL
We fly with British Airways (occasionally Easyjet, according to schedule), nonstop from London Gatwick to Catania, Sicily.

Ground Transport   By minibus.

bar-tailed lark brian small sicily.jpg
In April, there is always a chance of rarities turning up on Sicily - like this vagrant Bar-tailed Lark found by our group at Murro di Porco © Brian Small, Limosa

Tour Gallery

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