Corsica - October 2008

Published by Mark Gawn (gawnbirding AT

Participants: Mark Gawn, Jessica Gawn


Most birders visit Corsica in the spring, so this report on an October visit may be of interest. This was a family break, but the binoculars came along for the ride in the hope of seeing four target species: Yelkouan Shearwater, Corsican Nuthatch and Finch and Marmora's Warbler. We flew into Ajaccio where we had pre-booked a car, then drove one hour north to our gîte in Cargese, also pre-booked. Birding effort consisted of morning hikes and sea watches at the Point du Cargèse, excursions on two mornings to the mouth of the River Liamone, a drive to Valle d'Asco, aborted due to inclement weather, and an afternoon visit to the Forêt de Aitone. Cargèse proved an ideal base, not least of all because two of the target species were seen within a short walk from the Gîte; Foret de Aitone was about a one hour drive away.


Pointe du Cargèse. The town itself holds many Spotless Starling (which also feature on the menus in some restaurants) and assorted House/Spanish Sparrow intergrades. The point can be reached from the roundabout at the north side of town (by the Hotel le St-Jean); take the lane just to the left of the beach road to a parking area near a playground, then head towards the Genoese watch tower. The maquis between the watch tower and the point contained Sardinian, Dartford, and, in the shorter scrub by the cliffs, Marmora's Warblers (hard to see, and not singing). The Sardinian and Dartford Warblers were highly reactive to squeaking. Small flights of finches and Song Thrush indicated an active migration. Blue Rock Thrush were singing, as were the many Robin. The cliffs held about a dozen "genuine article" Rock Doves. Sea watching from the point produced the occasional Audouin's Gull and Cory's Shearwater; on one watch a Yelkouan's sheared in and landed amongst a small group of Shag.

Emboucher du Liamone. An interesting dune/scrub/wetland complex along the D81 just south of Sagone. It was very active (with birds) on my visits; plenty of flocks of finches to poke through. Squeaking at the reeds bordering the river produced excellent looks at two Cetti's Warblers, others were heard singing. A few dozen yellow-legged Gulls were seen loafing off shore, accompanied by the occasional Audouin's and the odd flyby Cory's Shearwater.

Yes, but what about the nuthatch? The classic site in west Corsica is the Forêt du Aitone, along the D84 northeast of Evisa. We drove up to Paesolu, a cross country ski area, where a half hour walkabout produced a mixed species flock: Coal Tit, several Goldcrest, two Tree Creepers, Jays, and, voila, Corsican Nuthatch. The nuthatch was silent, high up, and female plumaged (gray not black crown). A word about the creepers - the two I saw had bold, creamy superciliums, quite different from their mainland kin. A road side stop to admire a view somewhere nearby produced the last of my targets, Corsican Finch, also seen at Asco.

As noted, an excursion to Haut Asco was aborted when heavy rain set in, the drive en route produced large flocks of chaffinch along with other migrants (Song Thrush, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, etc.) at three different passes ("cols"), one of which also produced some fly over Red Crossbills. Other birds of note included four Golden Eagles, several Red Kite, and, at one of the passes, several skulky Marmora's Warblers.

Conclusion. The three endemics/near endemics, most importantly, the mythic Corsican Nuthatch, can be found in October. However, few birds are singing, which makes finding Marmora's Warbler difficult, and summering species have already departed. One cautionary note: there were plenty of hunters about; skulking about in the maquis would probably not be a good idea and I was happy to have brought a conspicuous, bright red cap.