Corsica, April 16th - 23rd 2000

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by Simon Woolley and Julia Casson (click here to contact me)

We toured northern Corsica, with birds as the prime objective, and notably the endemics, near endemics and forms of taxonomic controversy. But we were also after plants, sunshine and superb scenery and walking.

Weather-wise, the 3rd week of April seems OK - our first day was appalling (low cloud and rain), but after that it improved every day, and ended up hot and sunny (24 degrees C?). The plants are also superb - loads of maquis specialities, including Provence, Tongue, Green-winged and Early Spider Orchids, and the scenery is among the best anywhere in Europe. If you fancy a low pressure Mediterranean break, with a (very) few very special birds, and lots of beaches/mountains/whatever, then Corsica could be for you!

In terms of spring arrivals, we were a bit disappointed. Bee-eaters were only just arriving (we saw none...), and we had neither Woodchat nor Red-backed Shrike (though the former was seen by others). Migrants were about, but in quite low numbers. If you simply want greater diversity and higher numbers of birds, go to Spain. For instance, we saw only one Black Kite all week, plus no Acrocephalus warblers at all, and no ducks!

We also failed on the true alpine mega-stars (Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, Snow Finch), since the snow was still quite low, and we couldn't penetrate the high mountains, although all three are reputed to be extremely hard anyway! No serious attempt was made for Moustached Warbler.

I have not included here specific site details (except for ultra specifics on some of the specials), since there seems to be plenty of that information out there anyway. But do e-mail us if you could do with any further tips or details. Only too happy to help.

The following systematic list follows Howard & Moore (1994) order, but there are some taxonomic variations from that list! For what its worth, I can't see Corsican Citril Finch being regarded as a sub-species for long! Potential splits, most recognized non-nominate sub-species, and forms with interesting or contentious taxonomic status are denoted by a '#'.

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus About 20 at Etang de Biguglia

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea Over 30 were off Barcaggio and Macinaggio, mostly quite close inshore

# Mediterranean Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan (yelkouan?) Two were seen briefly off Macinaggio, but much more satisfactory was a feeding flock of over 300 off Scandola. These birds are highly distinctive, resembling Manx rather more than Balearic Shearwaters. From any range, they appear basically monochrome, without obvious buffy or pale brown tones

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus Two first year birds off Macinaggio

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Two at Etang de Biguglia, and another at Scandola

# European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii Around 25 off Cap Corse, and probably over 100 off Scandola

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea One at Etang de Biguglia

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea One at Etang de Biguglia

Little Egret Egretta garzetta One, rather surprisingly, at Calvi, and another 10 or so at Etang de Biguglia

Osprey Pandion haliaeetus Three separate sightings at Calvi, and three birds at Scandola. The birds here nest on offshore volcanic rock pinnacles - an extraordinary sight!

Black Kite Milvus migrans Only one seen, at a rubbish tip on Cap Corse

Red Kite Milvus milvus Notes daily in small numbers, max. 5+. Most common near Calvi

Lammergeier Gyptaeus barbatus A subadult (probably 3rd or 4th year?) was seen at very close range in the Asco Valley. We were directed precisely by some French hikers who'd seen one earlier in the day, and connected within 30 seconds of arriving! From Haut Asco, descend about 4 km, and the road swings sharp left over a very narrow bridge, then hard right by a recent landslide. The bird favoured the obvious rock pinnacle just up the valley from here.

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus A sub-adult male was at Macinaggio

Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus A sub-adult male was at Macinaggio, and a further two were at Etang de Biguglia

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus One in the Asco Valley, and another 2 at Calvi

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis One (probably a male) in the Fangu Valley

Buzzard Buteo buteo Seen almost daily, max. 5

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos When all hope seemed gone, one was located soaring high over the Gorge de Restonica, about 1 km below the highest car park

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Seen daily, max. 3

Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo One hunting at dusk over Calvi

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus One over Calvi, and a further 3 sightings at Scandola

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa A total of seven was noted

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus A very few noted at the foetid lagoon near Galeria and at Calvi

Common Coot Fulica atra Only noted at Etang de Biguglia, where perhaps 50 were seen

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Two at Etang de Biguglia

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Two at the foetid lagoon near Galeria

Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula One flew past at Barcaggio

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Two at the foetid lagoon near Galeria

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia One at the foetid lagoon near Galeria

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus One at the foetid lagoon near Galeria

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos One on the rocks at Scandola

Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii About 10 around Cap Corse, and another at Etang de Biguglia. All the birds were adults

# Yellow-legged Gull Larus (cachninnans?) michahellis Very common all around the coast

Rock Pigeon Columba livia Many feral birds, but potential candidates for 'the real thing' were at Cap Corse and Scandola

Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus About 25 seen, mostly in the upland areas

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur A total of six was noted

Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Common everywhere

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Two heard near Calvi

Scops Owl Otus scops Heard every night from the hotel - but despite searching, no sightings!

Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus One was picked up at about a mile's range off Macinaggio, and took a good ten minutes to come close enough to be identified. Has anyone else watched a Short-eared Owl being mobbed by Audouin's Gulls?

Alpine Swift Apus (Tachymarptus?) melba Ten near Galeria, and another 20 or so near Calvi

Common Swift Apus apus Numbers built steadily through the week, and by Easter, very common

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster Two heard only in flight over a low pass on the Galeria road south of Calvi

Hoopoe Upopa epops Five noted at widely scattered localities

# Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos (Picoides?) major harterti ('parroti') Very common, in a wide variety of habitats, from dense forest to open maquis

Wood Lark Lullula arborea About ten noted in open agricultural habitats and maquis

Sand Martin Riparia riparia One at Macinaggio

Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris Quite common in all upland areas

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Seen daily in varying numbers, max. c.600

House Martin Delichon urbica Up to 50 seen on all days bar one

Blue-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava A total of 18 noted, with most at Macinaggio

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Noted frequently in the Asco and Restonica Valleys , and also in the Fangu Valley

White Wagtail Motacilla alba About 5 on the beach at Macinaggio

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Two noted at Macinaggio

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis Four at Macinaggio

Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta Three at Haut Asco and another 8 or so at the head of the Gorge de Restonica

# Northern Wren Troglodytes troglodytes koenigi Heard every day, and seen a few times. Obviously warmer, plainer brown than the British form

# European Robin Erithacus rubecula sardus About a dozen or so noted

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos About 5 heard, and one finally seen on the last day

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros A pair was at the top of Gorge de Restonica

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus A total of 4 noted at various sites

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Nine noted at various sites

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata Seven noted at various sites

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Two at Haut Asco, 2 males at Macinaggio, and another 2 at Scandola

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius A male at the head of the Gorge de Restonica, and a female just south of Calvi

Common Blackbird Turdus merula Seen frequently

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Three noted, in the Asco and Restonica Valleys

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti About 7 heard, with most at Etang de Biguglia

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus One at Macinaggio, and another in song near Calvi

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita About 10 noted

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Common in a variety of habitats

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis Three males noted

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Noted almost daily in low maquis and scrub

Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans About 12 singing males noted, mostly in quite tall and shrubby maquis

# Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata undata Three seen and another heard in scrubby maquis. This form is rather grey, though not particularly dark, and lacks entirely the brownish upperparts of British birds

# Marmora's Warbler Sylvia sarda sarda Found to be common in almost any patch of low maquis, notably on Cap Corse and near Belgodere

Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus About four singing males in the Fangu Valley

# Goldcrest Regulus regulus interni Frequently recorded, mostly in areas of pine forest

Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca Five noted around Calvi

# Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus irbii Five noted, mostly in upland areas, but also in the lower Fangu Valley

# Coal Tit Parus ater sardus Very common in all areas with pines

# Great Tit Parus major corsus Abundant throughout

# Blue Tit Parus caeruleus ogliastrae Not common - a max. of 3 per day

Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi At least one singing male heard, and a female seen, in very poor weather conditions at Col de Sorba. A singing male showed superbly in far better weather at Haut Asco. From the foot of the car park, head immediately off to the left past a refuge hut, then follow the orange waymarked trail for about 200m - the bird showed in the tree tops downslope from here

# Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris corsa About six noted, mostly in the uplands

Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra About 20 singing males noted, mostly in agricultural areas

# Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus nigrostriata Common in all habitats

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Abundant throughout

European Serin Serinus serinus Common in all habitats

# Corsican Citril Finch Serinus (citrinella?) corsicanus Noted in a wide variety of habitats, but most common at Haut Asco, where upwards of 30 were seen

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Seen daily, but in low numbers

Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus A few in upland areas, notably Haut Asco, where about 20 were present

# European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis tschusii Very common throughout

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina Ten noted in the lowland areas

# Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra corsicana A flock of about 10 was seen briefly at Haut Asco

# Italian Sparrow Passer (hispaniolensis? /domesticus?) italiae Very common in the lowlands and around habitation

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Noted in very small numbers around Calvi harbour

Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor Up to 25 noted daily

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Noted daily, in a variety of habitas, from pine forests to low maquis

Black-billed Magpie Pica pica Just one seen, on the beach at Etang de Biguglia

Yellow-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus 10+ seen in the Asco and Restonica Valleys, and more surprisingly, one just south of Calvi at c. 200m

Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix Common throughout

Common Raven Corvus corax Up to 10 seen daily