Corsica, Northern Italy and South-east France - September 2008

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT

Participants: Mark Hows


Italian Sparrow
Italian Sparrow © Mark Hows - For more images click here


You thought I was mad with Plastic Fantastic I then prepare for the maddest trip ever!! Plastic Fantastic II the sequel and unlike most sequels this one is better than the original.

This follows on from my week in Cyprus, where I got married. So this would therefore be the honeymoon. Am I mad? Quite possibly as is my wife for putting up with me. This trip was a search for the little know introduced species in Corsica, Northern Italy and South east France but it had a twist, I was looking for introduced mammals as well. There was a little sightseeing and taking it easy, no early starts or late finishes allowed so the birding would have to be done at the worst part of the day with restricted time so I would be targeting certain species detailed below and not too much general birding - so it would be challenging.

I had done a considerable amount of research on sites for these species and had lots of information from many birders which I am very grateful.

Targets were

Birds - California Quail, Tree sparrow (introduced to Corsica), Red Avadavat, Golden Bishop, Masked Lovebird, Fishers Lovebird, Indian Silverbill, Sacred Ibis, Northern Bobwhite, Pheasant, Peking Robin (red billed Leothrix), Monk Parakeet, Ring Necked Parakeet, Greylag goose, Ashy throated parrotbill, Blue fronted parrot, feral pigeon.

Mammals - Eastern cottontail, Pallas’s Squirrel, Finlayson’s Squirrel, Grey Squirrel and Coypu.

Sunday 7th September - Corsica

We flew from Gatwick to Figari in South Corsica (fortunately not with XL but Thompson) and took a leisurely drive stopping for lunch, then into the mountains, we were looking for Corsican Nuthatch, but this is not the ideal time and our view was one very brief one, despite a few calling round and about. Endemic subspecies were more showy, A great spotted woodpecker gave cracking views, but the Corsican citril finch was less obliging. A few coal tits a jay, a blue tit and a couple of great tits were feeding round the picnic site along with several butterflies. We had to stop on the road for feral pigs and a few cows a couple of times but no birds of note.

A final stop was made in some vineyards not for wine but for Californian quail. We drove round the vineyards but only saw a few goldfinches and some tree sparrows (introduced to the island and the first exotic species of the trip 1)

Monday 8th September - Corsica

A day of touristy things but we did see a Wren ssp and at a picnic spot on the beach a two tailed pasha butterfly showed for some pics, drinking the water from a car aircon unit. We had several other butterflies and a couple of Marmoras warblers in the scrub. We eventually worked our way to Bastia tip which was full of ravens, red kites and a lone buzzard. We had an excellent view of Lake Biguglia so headed over there. We had a great white egret, grey heron, coots, grebes, mallards and loads of marsh frogs. A Montagu’s harrier and marsh harrier quartered the reed beds, which held cetti’s warblers which were very vocal. The beach had an Audouins gull and a few yellow legged gulls. There was time for one last stop, we returned to the vineyards and searched again, just as we were leaving we flushed 6 California quails (2). Several nightjars were flushed from the road.

Tuesday 9th September – The Ferry

Not content with the quail views I made an early morning return visit, just one spotted and managed a quick pic. After some sightseeing in Bastia we boarded the ferry to Livorno on the Italian mainland just south of Pisa. The sea was calm and after 40 mins or so the first Yelkouan shearwater was spotted, and a short while later several more and a few Scopolli shearwaters feeding with some yellow legged gulls including one close in so I got a pic - nice. We picked up the hire car a Renault Clio with the turning circle of a bus, which we found out by taking loads of wrong turns. We eventually got to within 1km of our hotel but took a wrong turn again! through some woodland, a quick U turn and we were back on track, at the edge of the town a beech marten crossed the road and climbed a tree most unexpected.

Wednesday 10th September – Lucca and Massaciuccoli Lake

We eventually found the site near Lucca for our first stop, here we were searching an area of wooded riverbank, our first spots were a kingfisher and a wryneck before we got a glimpse of a red billed leothrix or Peking robin as it is also known (3). We quickly lost it so and went to see the crag martins nesting nearby some of which were still present. We returned a short while later and found two red billed leothrix squabbling but were to quick for the camera. Some food shopping was done before heading to our next stop the Massaciuccoli Lake. Here we found quickly found a golden bishop (4) (not in breeding plumage unfortunately wrong time of year), a wheatear and a couple of whinchats, some bee eaters and a cetti’s warbler. But no sign of my next target which is much more abundant than the bishops. We headed to another part of the area and quickly found the red avadavats (5) I had been searching but they were very mobile and difficult to photograph, but I got a few flight shots. We located another golden bishop briefly before heading off to Genoa for the night. We had a group of common cranes in a field beside the motorway but could not stop.

Thursday 11th September - Genoa

After breakfast we toured Genoa visiting the sights, but going via the parks where we easily found feral pigeons (6) and ring necked parakeets (7). The monk parakeets (8) were a little harder to find but we did get a couple. But it was not all rosy our first dip so far, not being able to find Blue fronted parrots anywhere. Our next stop was a coastal park in Nervi, where aided with some monkey nuts we easily found the grey squirrels (9), now well established in the region (they will regret that), after some photos and food we headed north to Bergamo for the night.

Friday 12th September – Touristy Day

We had a tourist day black redstarts the only birds of note.

Saturday 13th September – The day of Rain

The worst day, we woke to rain, and lots of it so we cancelled our plans to visit Brabbia Marsh, and instead headed to the rice fields around Bianze town. Here we easily found lots of sacred ibis (10) along with hundreds of little, cattle and great white egrets and loads of grey herons. There were common lizards and loads of marsh frogs everywhere ideal food for all the ibis and egrets. The only coypu found were roadkill no live ones and I was denied permission to photograph them – being married eh! The weather had improved a little so it was off to Brabbia marsh which took a little finding and as we did the rain started again. I headed off anyway and entered the ringing camp which was in use, several nets up and ringing going on. I was welcomed and they knew what I was after, but this was “the worst day of the season for weather” and my chances were slim, and this was from the parrotbill expert. They had caught one in the morning and heard several but none since late morning. They had a sparrowhawk that they were ringing, and a reed warbler. The latest information from the parrotbill expert is that the ashy throated and vineous throated are one species and they are just colour forms of the same species, this has been confirmed by DNA analysis. I was invited to check the nets with them, it was still raining and very muddy underfoot, a couple of reed warblers and a willow warbler was all that was there. The weather had defeated me and I was assured they are easy to find from September to April and had the weather been better I would have found one. A return visit I feel is on the cards. I located some greylag geese (11) on the lake side as we left but poor compensation.

Sunday 14th September – Acqui Terme

Our first stop was Boschi del Ticino detailed in Rich Bonsers trip report , the only northern bobwhite (12) seen was one flushed by a walker just as I reached the open area, but a couple were calling from the edge of the scrub. There were signs of wild boar but none seen and there were lots of locusts around. After a good look round with no further sign we had to move on to Acqui Terme, the trip produced a couple of pheasants (13). On arrival we headed for the ice cream parlour to get ice creams to eat while looking for the Finlayson’s squirrels (14), who was not interested in the monkey nuts but was busy devouring some cherries on a tree. We made a couple of stops looking for eastern cottontails (15) on our way to San Remo, only managed to find one confirmed one but another possible, a later evening visit would probably be more productive.

Monday 15th September – Wacky Races

We had to swap hire cars, it would cost 700 euros to leave our Italian registered hire car in France (we were flying home from Nice airport) so we had arranged a drop off in San Remo, but first we drove to Monaco to collect our French registered car a Ferrari 360 was hoped for but an Opel Agila was the reality – and that was a free upgrade! We drove back to San Remo in convoy and dropped off the clio. (A crazy thing to do but saved 700 euros) We had three stops, the first St Jean Cap Ferret where we had a spot of lunch surrounded by lovebirds flying about overlooking the bay. We had excellent views of Masked (16) and Fisher’s lovebirds (17) which have colonised the town. We even managed to find some of the blue forms. A bonus was some Indian Silverbills (18) in the playground bushes allowing us to remove a planned stop for these later from our schedule. Happy with our views we headed on for now our last stop Cap d’Antibes. Here we were looking for Pallas’s Squirrel (19) introduced in to 1970’s, they are quite common and it only took 10 mins to find one but it was not particularly co operative with my camera. We spent the rest of the day on the beach enjoying the weather before heading home.

What a trip missed out on Coypu early morning or evening visits or best and these were not possible for me. The other two dips were blue fronted parrot which we could not find and Ashy throated parrotbill which we got unlucky weather wise or we would have seen one. An unusual trip particularly for a honeymoon but it was good fun and yes we are still married.

For a full species list and more images click here