Corsica, May 4th - 11th 2002

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by Peter Rueegg, Riehen, Switzerland;


Corsica is the 4th largest Mediterranean island with a total surface area of 8722 km2. Most of the island is rugged and mountainous, cut by many gorges, ravines and valleys. The highest peak is Monte Cinto. It reaches 2710 m above sea level. In many parts Corsica is covered by the famous macchia. In the more remote parts, pine forests still occur. In flatter areas, heavy agriculture is predominant.

It is not the sheer number of bird species that draws a birder's attention to Corsica. It is rather species poor, but it is blessed with many interesting endemic subspecies and one of the very few true European endemics, the Corsican Nuthatch. The prime target of this trip was to find the Nuthatch as well as Lammergeier and Marmora's Warbler.

Daily Accounts

4th May. Flew from Geneva to Ajaccio with Swiss flight LX 9004. Collected my car at Europe (pre-booked) and drove off to a place called Capitello river mouth in the vicinity of the airport. I had no idea where to go, so I tried the first road branching off to the right after the airport in direction of Porticcio . I didn't find the river, but some farmland birds (Corn Bunting, Stonechat) were there. After that, I went shopping in Porticcio and headed towards the beach, from where I saw one of these Genoese towers, marking the river mouth. As it was already late, I turned and headed north towards Cargese, stopping every now and then, got my first Corsican Citril Finches at Col de San Bastiano. In the late afternoon, I stopped at the Liamone River mouth to do some birding. There were only few birds: Kingfisher among them. The wind was blowing strongly and the Mediterranean sea was rougher than the sea can be in the roaring forties! In the evening I reached Piana and checked into the somewhat simple Hotel Calanches. Heard my only Scops Owl of the trip.

5th May. First thing in the morning I drove the very old patron of the hotel to the bakery and back. He had to get some baguettes and invited me for a cup of coffee which was a bit special to say the least. After that I drove D824 towards Capu Rossu. I parked the car on a roadside near a snack bar. From here I took a six hour walk to Tour Turghiu and back, which was one of the highlights of this trip. The macchia was full of warblers. Side by side, I saw Marmora's, Dartford's, Sardinian, Subalpine Warbler, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat and Blackcap. Corsican Citril Finch was common. From the top of Capu Rossu, the view of the coastline was breathtaking. Around the cliffs, I found Shag (12), Osprey (2), Alpine Swift (10), Peregrine Falcon (2) and Blue Rock Thrush (1 m.). On my way back I observed some migrants going through at the base of Capu Rossu. Hoopoe (1), Whitethroat (2), Wood Warbler (1), Redstart (6), Tree Pipit (3) and Icterine Warbler were among them. At 12.45 a.m. I was back at the car park and drove northwards. This was extremely hard. To travel 120 km on these narrow and winding roads I needed 4 hours. I stopped several times along the route, but there were not many birds, except for Bee-Eaters at Desert des Agrigates. Arrived at St. Florence in the evening, checked in at Hotel Madame Mère and witnessed French elections on the TV.

6th May. In the dark (5.45 a.m.), I started off towards Cap Corse along another winding, narrow road, but deserted in the early morning. So I reached Barcaggio two hours after my departure. Average speed was 30 km/h! I stumbled across some sort of ringing station. I stayed the whole morning in and around the ringing station. There were several interesting birds around: Squacco Heron (1), Little Bittern (2), Night Heron (1) and Lesser Kestrel as well as some Pallid Swifts and Alpine Swifts on eye level. There were a lot of migrating songbirds e.g. Red-rumped Swallow (1), Yellow Wagtail of several different subspecies, Subalpine Warbler (10), Marmora's Warbler (2), Icterine Warbler (1), Red-backed Shrike (1 m.), Woodchat Shrike (1) and a probable Red-throated Pipit. (one flushed, not giving its typical call, but it sounded different from Tree Pipit). At noon, I drove to a small fishing village called Tolla. Not much here except for another Woodchat Shrike, Woodlark (1), Shag (2, off the coast) and Cory's Shearwater (2).

In the afternoon I stayed till 5 p.m. at the ringing station, before I went back to Hotel Giraglia, where I stayed overnight.

7th May. I woke up at 5.30 a.m.. I was really reluctant the leave my bed, because the wind was stronger than the day before. I went to the ringing station but realised very soon that no new birds had arrived. I took a stroll to a freshwater pond further on but the lagoon had completely dried out. To my surprise, a Purple Heron was coming in for a stop over.

After breakfast at the hotel, I left the area and went to Macinaggio on the east coast. There is still a small wetland north of the village. I walked along the beach for about 15 minutes, then I saw the reeds to the left. There were some waders (Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover), a lonely female Wigeon and a Red-throated Pipit sitting on a pole.

After that I proceeded to Etang de Biguglia. At the northern tip, there is a fairly good access point, which allows one to check the long rows of poles in the middle of the lake that are favoured by the Audouin's Gull. They were there, as well as a Sandwich Tern and a Whiskered Tern. I ate my lunch in a pine forest (Golden Oriole was calling). I tried another site at the southwestern corner of Etang de Biguglia (as described in Ou voir les oiseaux en France). But when I saw that this place was a stinking rubbish dump, I left immediately. First, I drove towards Corte, shopped in Ponte Leccia and headed to Asco in the upper Asco valley. Unfortunately, the only auberge was fully booked. So I went back and checked in at Auberge Cabanella near Ponte Leccia. This hotel is - well, I hope you'll find a better place to stay overnight! The door key was missing, the patron was a scruffy looking guy. You wouldn't even buy a second hand bike from him.

8th May. Weather turned from bad to worse and my trip to Haut-Asco was a total disaster. It was misty, wet and no birds were around. The only exception was a calling Crossbill. I couldn't find anything apart from a female Mufflon which was crossing the road on my way up. Then, my MiniDisc Player broke down, so there was no chance on Corsican Nuthatch. I went back to where I came from, drove to Corte not without stopping several times along Asco Valley, just in case. But no luck. In Corte, checked in at Hotel de la Post, a neat place in the centre of the town and I went to la Citadelle. Finally the rain stopped, and I drove to Restonica valley in the late afternoon. No birds could be added to my list.

9th May. What a change today. The sky was clear, so I drove rapidly to Vallée de Verghello, parked my car near the only driveable bridge and walked up the rest of the valley. It was very beautiful, but not to many birds were around, and of course I had no luck with Corsican Nuthatch at first. It took me two hours before I reached a nice stretch of pine forest, full of Corsican Pine. With a little help from my MiniDisc I attracted a male Corsican Nuthatch, displaying 30 meters away from me! I saw it moving through the forest. The nuthatch directed me towards its nesting site in a dead tree. Fantastic! After 30 minutes I headed on towards a Col. I heard two nuthatches without tape attracting. Had lunch on the pass and went back in the early afternoon. Cold wind forced me down. On my way back, I searched carefully for Lammergeier, but only a Golden Eagle flew by. After 7 hours I was back to my car and drove back to Corte.

10th May. The weather was bad again and I decided to go the coast. I drove rapidly (not to say I was speeding) to Plage de Paludone. I arrived just in time to see Squacco Heron, Whimbrel (1) and hordes of Mediterranean Shearwaters flying by. In a nearby vineyard I found a Rock Sparrow, a very confiding individual.

After that surprising find, I went to Etang d'Urbino. From a hilltop, I had a splendid view over some mudflats and much of the etang. Good birds were Greater Flamingo (2), Black-winged Stilt (5), Great Reed Warbler (1), Purple Heron (1). After a while, birds of prey started to migrate: Montagu's Harrier (1 m.), Honey Buzzard (30), Hobby (1). At 10 a.m. I drove inland. From a hill I a had a splendid view of much of the Plaine Oriental and a witnessed exiting migration of Honey Buzzard (100+), Marsh Harrier (4) and Red-footed Falcon (7), along with thousands of swallows, swifts, Bee-Eaters, Golden Orioles (3), wagtails and pipits. After lunch, I went on to Ghisonaccia, but all of a sudden the Honey Buzzard migration stopped. I decided to visit Aleria, a former Roman garrison on a hilltop. I took a stroll on Plage de Padulone before I went back to Corte. I went shopping and picnicked for last time at la Citadelle.

11th May. My very last chance to see Lammergeier. I tried Vallée de la Restonica near Corte, drove up at 6.30 a.m. After half an hour I arrived at Bergerie Grotello, from where I walked up to Lac Melu. This was a nice walk but fruitless. The last addition to my list was Black Redstart. From 8.30 till 11.30 a.m. I sat and watched the mountains at Bergerie Grotello. But no Lammergeier came along, so had to return to Ajaccio at 12.30 a.m.. From Ajaccio I flew back to Geneva at 5.30 p.m.