Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Halloween Richard's Pipit and The Case Of The Dove

Saturday 31st October 2009. Or, in short terms; Halloween. A week earlier, it was my last day in Corsica and I had been looking at Dartford Warblers and Sardinian Warblers in the lush maquis shrub. But now I was back in Aberdeen, and had been so since the 26th. I didn't find it hard to settle back in to Scotland and Aberdeen, despite the drastic differences between it and Corsica, and I didn't feel at all 'birdwatched out', so to speak. In fact, I found myself out birding that next Saturday. However, this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't have been lured out by a particular species of bird....

Whilst I was in Corsica I was very disappointed to find that, due to a horrific spell of heavy rain and stormy weather, that I had missed the biggest fall of Firecrests in Aberdeenshire to date, with maybe up to 10 birds present in coastal areas of the county at one time, with birds at the Ythan, the nearby town of Collieston, Rattray Head, Longhaven... the list goes on. Not just that, there were also good numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers, a couple of Red-breasted Flycatchers and Pallas's Warblers, and a Radde's Warbler all reported, the latter species reported in the battery at Girdleness, a location I had been searching meticulously all year for passerines! To know I had missed all this got me annoyed. My Dad, despite being in Aberdeen whilst the birds were reported, wasn't able to see any of them either, and by the time I had arrived back all the birds reported had cleared off. However, that Saturday morning when I checked Birdguides, I was in for a surprise.... A Richard's Pipit had been reported at Girdlness. After a year thus far pretty much devoid of any rare passerine species at Girdleness, my Dad and I thought it only fair to go down and see this bird. Not only that, but we had missed the Richard's Pipit at West Runton in October, making it even more justifiable to go down there.

The bird was reported at roughly 10:45am, seen flitting in the long grass beside the golf course on St Fitticks road. This long grass was near to a derelict building and a purple burger van. Obviously readers that haven't been to Girdleness won't associate with this particular area, but if your wondering, here was where it had been seen. Yes, its not exactly the nicest area to behold, but still!

When we arrived we saw around 6 birders with their eyes on the area pictued above. We walked up to them, and got some information as to the pipit's exact whereabouts.

"It's in the long grass towards the wall and the fence at the back there," said one man, " Its hard to see through the bins but with the scope you should be able to see it. Its a bit flighty, and may occasionally go up onto the wall too."

Excitedly I set up our equipment and focused on the area where the bird had been seen. For a minute or so I couldn't find the bird, but eventually, and to my delight, I saw the head of a bird pop up above the long grass. It was the Richard's Pipit. There really was no mistaking it. It was a very large pipit, looking bigger than something of Skylark size, with long legs and a very long tail (almost wagtail length tail). I noticed some markings on the breast but generally the bird was very pale.The lorals were black, and the characterstic stance with the head turned upwards was one of its main giveaway features. I also noticed a very prominent, creamy supercilium on the bird. Here is a picture of the bird. This is not my own, it is Ken Hall's, who saw it on a different occasion from me. I thank him for giving me permission to use his photo.

The pipit stayed in the long grass by the derelict building for a good half an hour. On a couple of occasions it flitted up on to the wall, giving better views than in the grass, but it generally spent most of its time in the grass, meaning we weren't watching it constantly for half an hour, just every couple of minutes appear above the grass. When the bird did show it was so satisfying to watch; it was my first rare pipit ever, and its general behaviour and plumage patterns were interesting to study. It was funny to think that it had come all the way from Siberia, and was now flying about just outside Aberdeen! Presumably it had also been brought in by the nasty weather that had occured that week. When a group of boisterous children dressed up in their halloween costumes waded through the grass, shouting their heads off, the pipit took to the air. It stayed in flight for a while, but was tracked by each and every birder until it landed on the other side of the road. Watching it whilst in the air was interesting. The flight pattern was undulating, yet another similar feature it had to wagtails. In flight the longness of the tail was also more prominent, and it really just looked like an oversized wagtail. It was a good distance away when it was re-located (on the grass near a muddy pool on the other side of the road from the derelict building and the golf course) so views weren't really as satisfactory as before, despite the bird not being concealed by the long grass. But you could still see it there. Eventually a few impatient birders decided they were going to try and get closer to it for some record shots and better views. This was a bad move, as they managed to scare off the bird, and from then on it wasn't relocated that day. Overall I was very happy to have seen the Richard's Pipit, and it was great just to hear the bird reported and drive down to see it straight afterwards. It was also a life tick for me. I guess you could call that outing twitching, but hardly extreme twitching when it was basically in my local patch just a 15 minutes drive away and a few miles from my house in the centre of Aberdeen! The pipit would later be seen by other observers, and stayed around for another few days after my sighting.

So, that was my Halloween basically, nothing else went on! A few weeks later, or to be precise 14th November, I was out again for my first proper birdwatch since I had returned from Corsica (the Richard's Pipit experience was basically just a pop down to see it and then back home again, not really a proper birding day!). I planned to check all three places that I regularly visit: Girdleness, the Ythan Estuary and the Loch of Strathbeg. We started out at Girdleness, where we particularly hoped to pick up a flock of 8 Snow Buntings that had been spotted in Greyhope Bay car park near the lighthouse. From reports from previous observers of this flock, we found out that they were showing very well there, and were feeding on birdseed presumably put out from them by a mystery individual. After a little look round the corner at Nigg Bay and the golf course on St Fitticks Road (just in case the Richard's Pipit was still present!), we headed to Greyhope Bay. When we arrived there, sure enough there were the Snow Buntings, feeding busily at the far edge of the car park. Beside them a man was kneeling, camera in hand and taking pictures of the flock. This man we soon discovered was Andrew Whitehouse, who I'd been acquainted with in September at the Scottish Birdforum Bash. We quickly greeted, and then he left to check the rest of the Ness. At this point I went with the camera to approach the buntings, which had flown to the otherside of the car park when a member of public had driven off. This time I managed to get wonderfully close to them without scaring them off, maybe 5ft away from them. Picture-wise however there was just one problem. It was horribly windy, and as I tried to picture the birds the image was horribly blurry and at times shot nowhere near the actually birds. I decided to wait for a while until the the wind died down a bit, and took the chance to just look at the birds, which was just fantastic! They were all winter plumage birds, each with superb colourations; generally very pale and white, but with a mottled pale ginger, blackish and white above, and pale ginger and white below. 7 of the 8 birds were female, with the male clearly standing out from his female companions with quite a lot more white visible in his plumage. The views of them really couldn't have been better, and it was just magical being right up close to them, being able to experience what its like being that close to nature. It was just brilliant. The wind did eventually die down a little, enough for me to get some shots. They're pretty crappy pictures of a flock of birds that were maximum 10ft away from me, but its the best I could do in the conditions I was facing and with the limited technology I have! Here are some of them, the first of which is probably the best.

I sat there by the birds for half an hour, just admiring them. I must admit they are one of my favourite species of passerine. My Dad watched them from the car whilst looking for other things in the bay. I eventually joined him in the car, where he pointed out a Black-throated Diver pretty close to the shore, a good year tick for us. There were also a few Red-throated Divers close in shore (the Black-throated clearly much darker than these birds), the albino oystercatcher known to Ness birders as The Freak, and a count of 18 Purple Sandpipers. We decided, having had very satisfying views of the Snow Buntings and having checked the rest of the area that we would push off from Girdleness and get on with the rest of our day as we'd planned. However, just as we were leaving, we saw Andrew again. As he saw us, he walked over to the car. He had something to tell us. What was it?

"A Rufous Turtle Dove has just been reported at Collieston"

'Rufous Turtle Dove?!' I thought to myself in excitement, 'Now that's seriously rare!'

" Feel free to hop in Andrew," replied my Dad, " We were going up that way anyway!"

Rufous Turtle Doves are otherwise known as Oriental Turtle Doves. There are just 8 records of this species in the UK, and when Andrew told us of this bird being reported I knew that we were possibly in for an amazing day's birding! With keeness we headed up to Collieston. On the way, I had a look at what the bird looked like in the Collin's Guide, and to me, it wasn't that much different from a European Turtle Dove; just browner, a bit bigger and with more rufous on the wing. This Rufous Turtle Dove was reported to be of the subspecies Streptopelia orientalis meena, or in shortened terms, meena. The other subspecies is Streptopelia orientalis orientalis. The latter is seen in Siberia, whilst meena is seen in parts of Central Asia. On the way the three of us basically discussed the bird and its characteristics, and Andrew gave us the exact location of the bird, saying that it was in a garden towards the Sand Loch, which is a loch just outside the village and is part of the Forvie National Reserve. As we arrived in Collieston we were slightly confused as how to get to this location. However, we were lucky enough to bump into a man with binoculars walking down the villages main road. This man happened to be the spotter of the bird (I will leave his name anonymous). He kindly gave us directions, and we soon found a place to park and were advancing to where the bird was being watched. As we left the village behind us and the land opened out into the rolling Aberdeenshire countryside, we saw a good number of birders in the distance, all with scopes and with their eyes on a stubble field. We approached them.

" Is the Dove showing?" I asked one of the birders excitedly as we joined the group.

" Not right now....," he replied, " Before you arrived it was showing well in one of the trees in the garden of the house nearest to us looking awfully bedraggled and exhausted. The horrible weather must have nearly killed the poor thing... But yes, it has flown into this stubble field ford food and is at present not showing. Its been seen a couple of times since its been in there though, and is close to the top of where the field rises slightly. If you have patience it should eventually show, considering how many of us are here trying to see it."

With this information the three of us set up our equipment and waited. The weather, however, made it difficult to be patinet. It was just foul. Earlier in the day it had been sunny, but by the time we reached Collieston it had gone grey. The wind, as it had been earlier was still very strong, but it was much colder than before. Having the incredibly strong wind beating against your face constantly and being cold was not by any means a pleasurable experience, and you had this sort of tendency to want to retire back to the car. However, in the end, patience paid off, when a birder made an ejaculation of delight:

" Its showing again! Towards the top of the dip like before!"

At the time I was using the scope, and I was quickly onto the bird. Above the stubble, you could see its head and the upper part of its body. As I watched it, it struck me as hardly that different from an ordinary European Turtle Dove. It was clearly one of those birds that had very subtle differences from a related species (e.g. Pacific Golden and Golden Plover). Despite the bird bearing very little difference I was still delighted to watch it. I didn't have a clue that I'd be seeing something of such rarity! It stayed in view for 30 seconds, and then popped out of view again. From watching the bird for that short period of time I drew a few conclusions. It did appear more dusky, dark and brown in comparison to a Turtle Dove, especially on the neck and belly. I also noticed a few rufous feathers on the upper back and wings which were quite prominent. A couple of minutes later, it showed again, but for hardly as long, maybe for 15 seconds max. This, for me, however, weren't good enough views. I would have much preferred to have seen it in the garden before, when it was showing well rather than briefly. Having shown twice, we all waited for it appear again..... but it didn't. 20 minutes or so passed, and a lot of us were getting concerned. Had it gone over the dip in the field? None of us really wanted to enter the field as we thought it would be private property. Also, the horrible weather conditions were continuing to get to us all. What to do now?

Eventually, the spotter of the Dove appeared and he told us that it should be ok to enter the field. With this confirmation, a mass of us entered the field in the hope that we'd flush it up. It was a rather comical sight, watching up to 15 birders trudging through a field in search of a single dove, but how else were we going to re-find the bird? The whole of the field was covered, and a few birders including Andrew checked the adjacent fields for the bird But nothing.... Where was it? We all congregated back by the garden as we had done originally, with those that had had good views of it in the garden heading home. How much longer could we stand before we too would head off? Would that be the last we'd see of the bird? We were nigh on giving up when all of a sudden there was another shout:

" Here it is. Its just flown into the shelter of a bush on the otherside of the road from the stubble field!"

Relief, immense relief! That's what we all experienced. Having tried to re-locate it for a good hour and a half in the bitter weather conditions, this was our reward! The views were excellent, at maybe only 10 feet away, just perfect for pictures. You didn't even need to look at it through the bins. Andrew got a picture, and he has very kindly let me use his picture for this blog. Thanks very much Andrew!

As you can see here though, the bird was fairly knackered, all fluffed up in a ball like shape, looking very sleepy. Now I could see its whole body it was clear just how brown it was; it was way darker than any Turtle Dove I had seen previously. It stayed there for a good half an hour, with many people getting record shots of the bird. Unfortunately my camera was out of battery due to all the faffing about I had to do to get pictures of the Snow Buntings I had seen earlier that day, so I wasn't able to get any pictures of my own. Eventually, it took off from its shelter area and headed seawards. Having now had much better views, we decided it was time to head off, as it was near to getting dark. The original plan for the day, which was to check all three of my patches, had clearly not gone through, but for good reasons. Seeing that the Rufous Turtle Dove I was watching was a mega rarity and the 8th bird to ever have turned up in the UK, it was well worth staying to see the bird at Collieston, despite the amount of time that was wasted looking for it! I also love doves in general. I think they are beautiful birds, with some exquisite plumages. It was just brilliant watching it as it was a lovely looking bird and I knew it was the rarest bird in the country at that point So, very satisified, we headed back to Aberdeen, dropping off Andrew at his home in Torry on the way.

That evening I logged on to Birdforum to see what people's reaction to the Rufous Turtle Dove's arrival. I read the whole thread on the bird, and most people's reactions seemed to be surprised and rather jealous of the bird. Some people all the way down from England were willing to come up and twitch it, and a lot were eager to see pictures of the bird. Eventually the first picture was shown. This picture was the start of huge controversy.... It was now being doubted whether this bird was a Rufous Turtle Dove at all... On the thread loads of complex and in depth discussion took place, with people giving their opinions on the bird and giving comparison pictures of definite Rufous Turtle Doves. Post by post, I watched what was happening on the thread, and each time I was getting more worried... Most people were saying that it was a Turtle Dove, and very few people gave evidence to how the bird could be a Rufous Turtle Dove....

The next day it was concluded that the bird was actually a Turtle Dove, with a major world birder giving his say elsewhere on the Internet that it was a Turtle and the local county bird recorder Paul Baxter and well known aberdeenshire birder Andy Webb also giving their opinions, stating that the horrible wind and rain had caused a false impression, making it seem a lot browner and different than a normal Turtle Dove. Obviously, if the dove isn't accepted by the county bird recorder then it isn't a Rufous Turtle Dove. This did annoy me to be frank, as I had been deprived of what would have been the rarest bird I had ever seen, and I had spent all that time looking for it. I am sure quite a few of all the birders that went to see it would have felt similar to me. However, even though the dove was confirmed a Eursian Turtle, I was still pretty happy. Turtle Doves are basically vagrants in Scotland, and there have been very few records of them in the country I imagine. I also had only seen two Turtle Doves prior to this bird, with both being seen in South-east England, so its very rare for me to see them anyway! It would definitely be a first for Scotland for most that went to see it, so it was still good to have put in the effort to go there. I guess everyone conclude that it was an 'educational' bird, and certainly one that most have learnt from. If you're interested in looking at the topic in which all this controversy over what species the dove was took place (if you haven't already), see here:

I am now that bit closer to getting up to date with my blog. Eventually I will make it!

Anyway, thanks for reading this entry,


Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Two Weeks Away: The Last Two Days

When I first woke up the morning after my day in the Asco Valley the blinds were still drawn. But I could hear a sound; a sound which disappointed me... The sound of heavy rain... the first rain I had seen on the whole of the trip. As my Mum opened the blinds I looked at the mountains surrounding the hotel. Huge batches of cloud loomed over them, and as I looked at my surroundings disappointedly, I knew the clouds weren't going to shift in a hurry; and they didn't. It poured with rain for the majority of that morning, and my Mum and I were confined to staying in our apartment, where the wasn't a great deal to do. When you are in a foreign country you have this desire to want to explore it; to see its beauties, and in my case, its avifauna. But with this desire, you know that you have limited time to explore, and that weather is always a potential obstacle. It certainly was an obstacle that morning! However, at midday the rain stopped for the first time, and it became a little brighter. We took advantage of this change in weather, and set out.

We planned to spend the afternoon in Le Foret de Bonifato, one of the most well known areas of forest in Corsica, popular especially amongst walkers. We knew that going to the forest even if it did start raining again wouldn't be so bad as we would be to a degree protected from the rain, so that's why decided to go anywhere else rather than anywhere else. Before going to Le Foret de Bonifato though, we decided to get some lunch, heading to the nearest supermarket. We ate this lunch (which consisted of baguette and chocolate) down at Calvi Beach. This was my second visit of the holiday to the beach, and I was eager to see if the rain had managed to bring in some seabirds. So after lunch, we went for a walk down by the sea. The sea was rough, just perfect for a wandering Cory's or Great Shearwater, but despite a good 10 minutes seawatching, no luck of such birds. A few gulls were present not far offshore, but these were just Yellow-leggeds, not Audouins, my target coastline bird. A Cetti's Warbler, however, was seen briefly flying above the reedbeds in the shoreline forest however, and a Sardinian Warbler called. There were also plenty of Hooded Crows and a couple of Red Kites. We then headed to Bonifato, arriving at around 2:00pm.

There were loads of walks you could take from the parking area at Bonfato. We took the shortest, which was actually quite long. The route was called the Boucle du Calatoghiu, and was supposed to take 1hr 30mins if you walked at a good pace. But were we really going to walk so quickly? No! Other walks were between 3-6 hours long, which of course we were never going to take. The countryside surrounding Bonifato was quite like the forest part of the Asco Valley, but at a lower alititude. The mountains were hardly as high, but they shared that more rocky and jagged appearance, and pine forests were dotted on them, presumably Corsican Pines. The walk we took was basically a climb through these beautiful pines. Eventually you'd reach a clearing with fantastic, expansive views looking down towards Calvi, and then, after a small traverse across the top, starting to descend, eventually ending up where you start. The walk was very pleasant and refreshing, and it was lovely to experience the views at the top and be amongst the Corsican Pines. Unfortunately, there weren't any birds seen on the walk, due to the weather. For the majority of the walk, it was raining lightly, enough to have to use the lens cover on the bins and put them under my waterproof. I did hear a good number of species though. There were at least two Great-Spotted Woodpecker calling, plenty of Goldcrests, and a weird call which I later found out in the Collins Guide was that of a Corsican Citril Finch! It was pity that it was raining, otherwise I may have been able to see Corsican Citril Finch, which would have been another target bird seen and my second life tick of the holiday! But alas, I wasn't able to see one and the rain didn't push off... Here are some pictures I managed to take on the walk. The first couple are on the way up, and the very last is of when we're descending. The pictures in between of course are of the views from the highest point, which would have been a lot better if the weather hadn't been so bad!

And really, our walk at Le Foret de Bonifato was our main activity of the day; a day annoyingly deprived of birdwatching because of the weather. There was now only one day to go before we would leave Corsica altogether, and on the morning of that day (24/10/09) I knew that if I was going to see any of the target bird species that were still within reach, namely Audouin's Gull and Marmora's Warbler, then it would have to be then. The weather had very much improved from the previous day, with the sun shining and blues skies. Before breakfast, which we would have in Calvi, I took a brief trip into the maquis at the other end of the department, as I knew that I would have to be persistent with the maquis if I was to have any chance of Marmora's Warbler. Whilst I was out there the maquis was teeming with Sardinian Warblers (I saw a total of 5 birds in that brief stop), and I spotted a small group of 3 Corn Bunting sitting on a bush when I heard one of the birds calling. There were also Dartford Warblers calling, but no Marmora's. After this brief look in the maquis, we headed to Calvi for breakfast, eating at a typical French cafe which had the most beautiful tasting croissants and baguettes. In Calvi I had another look for Audouin's Gull, but despite looking thoroughly for them once again on my third visit to the town, there was none. However, I got a pleasant surprise in the form of 2 female Black Redstarts together down by the marina, making it a total of 4 birds that I had seen on the holiday.

We planned to spend the rest of our last day in Corsica just relaxing at the hotel. However, I needed to give the maquis one last thorough search before the day came to a close. After a game of tennis and a swim in the morning, that afternoon my Mum and I took a different path into the maquis than we had done previously, heading a bit further away from the apartment. It just so happened that this different route and particular adventure into the maquis was the best yet. In the space of the hour and a half that I spent searching the maquis, I managed to total a number of 13 Sardinian Warblers, 6 Stonechat, a single (and my only) Meadow Pipit,Italic 7 Red Kites, 1 Grey Wagtail and 3 Dartford Warblers. I was particularly pleased by the number of the latter species that I saw, and the views I got of them. It seemed that the Dartford Warbler I had seen on my previous adventure into the maquis had got me familiar with the species, and having learnt its call was a big help too. The three birds I saw were all seen at different times, with my best view of one being the first bird I saw, a cracking which was down to 20 feet and was perched on top of some maquis, its tail cocked in that characteristic way. The last of the three birds seen was spotted in flight, whilst the second was seen from quite a distance away also perched on top of some maquis. But still Marmora's Warbler wasn't present; I hadn't even heard one on the holiday! I had lost all hope of seeing the species, until all of a sudden I heard a fairly quiet, croaky, monotone call coming from the maquis as I was on the way back to the apartment. When I heard that call, I knew it was a Marmora's Warbler, and now I just had to track the bird down and try and flush up. It wasn't coming from very far away, and was coming from the maquis heading westwards towards Calvi. I was determined, excited and eager to see the bird, so I headed straight into the maquis to roughly where I thought I had heard it. It called again once I was some way into the maquis. The call seemed louder now, and it felt much nearer. I continued, eventually arriving to where roughly I had heard it the second time. I then stopped, and looked around me, waiting for the bird to call again.... But it didn't.... All hope was now lost. Either it had flown when I wasn't looking, or it was just keeping very quiet. Whatever stopped it from calling, it didn't call again, and thus I wasn't able to get any closer to tracking it down. Exasperated, I gave up and rejoined my Mum, and together we walked back to the hotel... I was so close to seeing a Marmora's Warbler, but in the end, not quite! My time for birding was now up.... That was the last bit of birding I did in Corsica. The next day we would take an early flight from Calvi Aiport to Marseille, and from Marseille to Gatwick. From Gatwick we would then drive up to Aberdeen, taking a stop in Durham overnight (where a couple of days earlier an Eastern Crowned Warbler had been spotted, but by that time it had disappeared!).

Overall, if I had to reflect on my birding experiences in Corsica, I'd say they were overall beneficial. I learnt a lot from my experiences; I learnt of the challenges that foreign birdwatching hosts and how persistence and dedication can get you a long way, but there are some birds that always escape you, such as the Golden Eagle, Corsican Nuthatch and Corsican Citril Finch in the Asco Valley, and of course the Marmora's Warbler, Rock Sparrow and Audouin's Gull. I also became more experienced with mediterranean warblers when in Corsica. When I go to the mediterranean again, I will now know how to fully identify a Sardinian Warbler and be able to differentiate them from any different species of warblers. Yet despite the trip highlighting the difficulties of seeing foreign birds and me failing to see most of the real target birds and specialities of the island, I really, really enjoyed what I did see. I particularly admired the abundancy of the Red Kites as it allowed me to see them really well for the first time, to study their beautiful plumages and every other aspect and feature of them. The two Cirl Buntings I saw in Asco probably come second to Red Kites in terms of the most enjoyable birds of the holiday. They were my only life tick of the holiday, and were such exquisite birds too, with absolutely beautiful plumages. The few Dartford Warblers I saw were lovely too, as prior to the Corsica trip I had only had brief views of one in Dunwich Heath, Suffolk. As for the places I went in Corsica, they were all lovely. Calvi is a great town, with great things to see, a beautiful beach, and scrumptious food. I also admired Calenzana and the many other villages in Corsica such as Montegrosso and Asco for their continuity of tradition and how they seemed relatively untouched by tourism. As for the countryside itself, I will never forget the height and beauty of the mountains, whether they aren't so high such as in the lush Regino Valley or are hugely high such as the jaw-dropping Haut'Asco. And, on top of all the birds and sights I saw in Corsica, there was my very productive and enjoyable day in Norfolk. In all honesty, I couldn't have hoped for a nice couple of weeks birding and holiday! Thank you very much for reading about my two weeks away during my October break, I hope you've enjoyed reading about it, and I will now try and get up to date with birding in Aberdeenshire. I leave you with the full list of birds I saw in Corsica. Once again, thank you!

Yellow legged Gull, Black Redstart (x4), Red Kite (many), Hooded Crow, Spotless Starling, Cetti's Warbler (a couple seen and heard), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Collared Dove, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, House Sparrow, Town Pigeon, Goldfinch, Linnet, Greenfinch, Robin, Grey Heron (on migration), Jay, Blackcap, Wood Piegon, Buzzard, Kestrel, Great Tit, Raven, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler (many seen and heard), Eurasian Crag Martin, Blue Tit, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler (x4 seen and several heard), Coal Tit, Cirl Bunting (x2 at Asco), Long-tailed Tit, Meadow Pipit, Shag, Corn Bunting

Total = 38 species


Joseph N

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Two Weeks Away: The Asco Valley and Haut'Asco

Before I left for Corsica, I was determined to find out what speciality species you could get on the island. With the help of people on Birdforum, I found out there were a few birds I could see there. The list of these birds is seen below, and these were the birds I would be aiming to see during my holiday.

Corsican Nuthatch - A species of Nuthatch endemic to the Corsican Pines in Corsica (c.2000 pairs)

Corsican Citril Finch - Once an endemic subspecies of the Citril Finch, it is now regarded as a seperate species as its vocalizations and morphology from that of the Citril Finch. They can be seen in the Corsican Pines and at high levels all around the island.

Lammergeier - With just 8 or 9 pairs on the island, this massive vulture can only be seen on the very highest mountain tops. That is if you are patient enough!
Golden Eagle - A rare bird on the island that too can only really be seen at very high altitude

When I found out these birds were present on the island I asked on Birdforum where the best place to go to have good chances of seeing the above four species would be. The area they reccomended to me was the Asco valley and Haut'Asco.

This map depicts the route we took to get to the Haut'Asco area. The route is actually rather annoying, as if you venture south east of Calvi Haut'Asco, our main destination, isn't actually a huge distance away from where we were staying. Just one problem; there's no road heading in that direction! Instead you have to take the N197 past L'Ile Rousse, and continue on it for some 90km before arriving at Ponte Leccia (circled in green). Just as you reach Ponte Leccia you take a right, and down that yellow coloured road going off from Ponte Leccia is the Asco Valley, with the skii station of Haut'Asco at the highest point and dead end of the road (marked in red). It is very beautiful and montainous, as you'll see in the pictures I put on this blog entry. Birdwise the Asco Valley and Haut'Asco are really the only places in the north-west of Corsica that you have any chance of seeing Corsican Nuthatch (which is of course endemic), Lammergeiers, and Golden Eagle. The main reason for me going to this area obviously was to see if I could see the three aforementioned species, as well as Corsican Citrl Finch. Wintibird of Birdforum also mentioned that in Asco village itself, which is about halfway through the valley, there is a good chance of seeing Cirl Bunting. With knowledge of these birds being in Asco I thought it only right to make them target birds for the holiday. So, which of these species would I see, if any? Please read on if you want to know how I did.

That morning (22/10/09) we drove to the Asco Valley, both excited about what we would experience and see in the hours to come. The journey to Ponte Leccia and the start of the Asco Valley was about an hour and a half, so having set out at around 9:30 we arrived at about 11:00am. Hitherto I'd been birding in coastal maquis shrubs and the chesnuts and oaks of the Regino Valley. However that day we would be much further inland, our surroundings would be entirely different. When we first turned off onto the Asco Valley road the land seemed quite soft, with low-lying and gentle green fields and the typical Corsican bushes still remaining, but we could see the very high mountains ahead of us, and as I looked at the mountains I felt a feeling of exhiliration; the fact that it was in these mountains that I'd spend the day and possibly be seeing Golden Eagle and Lammergeier on their peaks was an exciting prospect. Here is a picture taken from the very start of the Asco Valley. As I took this picture 3 Red Kites were circling behind me.

We continued to drive along beside the lush, low lying fields and bushes for a good 10 minutes. The road seemed to be positively straight, and we were wondering when we'd start to ascend. Eventually we came to a bend, and round this bend our surroundings changed completely. We crossed a small bridge, and all of a sudden the lush countryside disappeared, to make way for a steep sided rocky gorge cutting in towards the mountains. At the same time the road narrowed considerably and we started climbing, being pressed up right close to the sides of the gorge. As we climbed and twisted round the many sharp bends of the narrow road, the drop to the other side of us,down into the gorge and the river below, became increasingly steep. This drop was nerve-wracking as, despite us not being at great altitude thus far, it was very sheer and to exacerbate our anxiety there were no road barriers to protect vehicles from falling off the edge and very few passing places, so whenver an oncoming car passed there was barely room to get passed. We had to reverse to let a few cars through and there was always the sense that an accident was waiting to happen (especially my Mum)! However, we managed to let those cars we did meet pass. A good way through our climb up the gorge we took a stop where there was a place to park, and I carefully took a scan of the peaks for any birds of prey. I focused mainly on the highest peaks, and to my excitement I managed to instantly catch my eye on a bird of prey raising up into the sky. However, no sooner had it caught my eye than it dipped out of sight, not coming up again for the entirety of the stop. For the split second that I saw it I must say it wasn't looking awfully big, definitely not a Lammergeier and it probably wasn't even high enough altitude for Golden Eagle. However, my view was brief and I didn't see the bird circling, so you never know. I was annoyed that it had managed to elude me, and I wished that I had seen more of it, but it was a sign of hope and possible things to come.... On the stop I also had a look for any higher altitude birds such as Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Sparrow, but no such luck; just a few Coal Tits and a party of Long-tailed Tits. Here are a couple of pictures from where we stopped. You can see that there is a road barrier in the first picture, but it is, as you can see, very small and although there is a line down the middle of the road there was no way room for two vehicles!

There were no other places to stop as we drove through the gorge, so I wasn't really able to look for any raptors. Luckily there wasn't any that I could see; if there had been we wouldn't have been able to stop for them due to the narrowness of the road! After a good 15km or so we emerged from the gorge, and we entered the small village of Asco. The scenery round it was lovely, but Asco itself was a remote village which seemed kind of closed up. It didn't seem to have any life to it; very few people seemed to live there, although we did see a few peasants tending to a litter of cats and a cow was left to wander on the road. Asco didn't even seem to have any shops; I asked the peasants if there was a boulangerie anywhere and what I understood from the reply was that a van goes all the way up the valley to deliver bread to the locals. That's how little contact the village had with elsewhere! Here is a picture of the view down towards the gorge from Asco and a couple of pictures of the village itself.

As we were heading back to the car after an exploration of the village, I found an area of bush that was full of birds. They were calling strangely; a call I wasn't familiar with at all. I scanned the bushes to see if I could clap eyes on any of the birds. I did, and oh my I was absolutely delighted! There, sitting on a bush, was a superb, adult summer CIRL BUNTING. This was the first Cirl Bunting I had ever seen, a life tick for me! I had been told by wintibird of Birdforum that I had a chance of seeing them in the village, and now I had seen one! It had a beautiful plumage, a lovely contrast of yellow, black and russety brown. The top of its head was mostly grey, and it had a wee crest. Its breast was a lemon yellow. Its face too was mostly yellow, but with a black neck and a black stripe right through its eye. The rest of its body was a russety brown/reddy colour. It was later joined by another bird of the same gender. Watching the two birds together was an experience I would never forget, not just the feeling of happiness I had from seeing them for the first time, but they were such gorgeous birds; the colour of their plumages were so defined, so perfect! The two birds eventually flew off, and that was the last I saw of any Cirl Buntings. I was almost positive there were more Cirl Buntings flying about in those bushes, but I didn't have time to look for any more as my Mum was waiting in the car, ready to take the final leg of the journey up to the skii station at Haut'Asco. Now we had gone through Asco village we were at a much higher altitude than we had been when we were driving through the gorge. A little way after Asco we took ta brief stop to take a picture of a beautiful view ahead of us, where you could see a high mountain covered in snow white cloud in front of us. I looked for a flock of birds that I had seen take off from the road. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track down these birds. However, a male Sardinian Warbler and a pair of stonechats were seen in the bushes on the slopes, 2 Red Kites were circling above me, and a couple of Ravens flew by.
5 kilometres or so after leaving Asco we started climbing a lot higher, and the road considerably widened. Still following the river, we soon entered the beautiful Corsican Pine forest known to you or I as Le Foret de Carrozzica, one of the few places that the endemic Corsican Nuthatch has made its home. Not long after we entered the forest, we parked up, and I entered the forest in search of this endemic species. I knew it wasn't going to be easy at all. I had been told on Birdforum that Corsican Nuthatches were very hard to see in the late Autumn months. Not only that, but I was told that if I was to have any goodish chance of seeing a Corsican Nuthatch I must have a playback the Corsican Nuthatch's call on my camera, but unfortunately I didn't have this, so this again lessened my chances. But I was still hopeful, so I stood there patiently, watching for any bird that scuttered up the many tall pines that surrounded me. As I waited Coal Tits were constantly calling, I heard a single Common Crossbill (I didn't add this to the 'Holiday List' though as any bird I added had to be seen), there were at least 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling and one, maybe one of the two birds I had heard, was seen in flight. However, for the entirety of the 45 minutes that I scoured that particular area of forest, there was no Corsican Nuthatch to be seen. Climbing up the constantly winding road towards Haut'Asco a good way, we stopped again for another look for Nuthatches. This stop wasn't as long, maybe around 20 minutes. Much the same birds I have mentioned were present again, with the addition of a Dipper darting through the river. Yet again though there were no Corsican Nuthatches. I now realised how dependent a lot of birders were on the playback of its call, and I was starting to think that I had very little chance of seeing one at this point, despite the possibility of seeing them at Haut'Asco itself and on the way back down. Of course, I was a little disappointed, but I knew my chances were minimal. Having given the forest a good look, we then continued our journey. Here are a few pictures taken whilst climing through Le Foret de Carozzicca. Just from the forest iself the views were astounding.

At the time I took the last of the last picture the road was winding incredibly high, and all of a sudden, just a couple of kilometres later, there was a man made clearing and the road came to a stop. We had arrived at Haut'Asco! It was an absolutely beautiful location; I had never been anywhere so high or with such brilliant views in my life. We were right up amongst the rocky and jagged peaks of the mountains. It was like being a bowl, we were completely surrounded by them and from the car park we could see absolutely miles down the valley towards the gorge. The mountains felt overwhelmingly huge, wherever you looked they seemed to be looming over you. Some peaks were higher than others, and some even had snow on them, this was due to the much colder weather, which was understandable at an altitude of 1422m (4665ft)! One thing for sure, this was the perfect location for Lammergeier and Golden Eagle! I'll let the pictures show you just how spectacular it was up there! The following are taken from the car park at the skii station, which was pretty much abandoned due to the time of year.

After getting use to the sheer beauty of our surroundings we headed away from the skii station in order to find a place to sit and scan the mountains for any bird of prey that decides to venture above the mountains. We didn't have to walk far when we came to a clearing, with closer and greater views of the peaks than we had before. It was here that my Mum and I would spend the afternoon looking for Lammergeier, Golden Eagle and Corsican Nuthatch. Here are some more pictures taken from the clearing, and a link to a video I took of the landscape.

Once we got all set up, I started to scan the peaks. My mum had a book to keep herself occupied. I sat there patiently for a good hour, unfortunately with the result of no birds of prey seen, despite me looking as carefully and keenly as I could. A party of 4 Ravens did fly over however, croaking in that typical Raven way as they went, and a Great-spotted Woodpecker was present, its call reverberating throughout the mountains and the only sound to be heard in the deadly silence of the place. The area seemed annoyingly devoid of birdlife, nothing was calling at all apart from the Great-spotted Woodpecker every now and then. So once that hour had passed I decided I was going to have one last look for Corsican Nuthatch, my Mum coming with me and us walking and climbing a little higher than we had been for the first hour. We went a good way, yet there were no signs of any bird whatsoever, let alone any Corsican Nuthatches. Another hour or so had passed with my final search for the Corsican Nuthatch, and we arrived back at the clearance in the forest. I was now starting to think that I had little hope of seeing any of the target species for the day.... I spent a total of two more hours scanning the peaks patiently. I had tried my utmost, but there was nothing I could do.... No majestic raptors rising above the mountains and no little bird scuttling up the great Corsican pines. Evening light was creeping in, and it was time for us to leave....
If I had to be frank with you, Haut'Asco could have been better. That was my reflection of the place as we drove back through the forest, Asco village and the beautiful gorge. I spent many hours of meticulous searching up there, yet with literally no results and barely any birds apart from the Ravens and Great-Spotted Woodpecker near the beginning, and I had been denied of seeing any of the target species apart from the beautiful Cirl Bunting in Asco village, not out of inpatience, its just the way it was. I guess it really highlights the challenges of searching for such birds. But it was very understandable why I didn't see any raptors or endemics. I mean, Corsican Nuthatches have 2000 pairs in the whole of Corsica and are hard to see in October, whilst with the Lammergeier is extremely hard to see in Corsica with a maximum of 8 pairs on the island. The Golden Eagle is too a rare resident on Corsica. So I guess I shouldn't feel too disappointed about the day, my chances were fairly low anyway of seeing the target species,. Anyway, it was beautiful being in the Asco Valley and at Haut Asco anyway. I had seen some beautiful sights of which will stay forever fresh in my mind, and the general experience of being up there was very pleasing and lovely! Seeing the two Cirl Buntings was also a memorable experience for me too, and the fact that I'd never seen them before made me ever more proud and happy about my sighting.
And so the day ended... it had been a tiring one, and I slept well that night. My birding in Corsica wasn't completely over either, I still had a couple days left on the island. In my next entry you can read about the birds I saw and what I did on those last two days. Thanks very much for reading!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Two Weeks Away: The Mountainside Villages and the Maquis Search

My day in the Regino Valley had provided me with an achievement of sorts. This achievement was seeing my first Sardinian Warbler on the island. This sighting meant I was able to identify Sardinian Warbler on call and was now able to make comparisons with the other warblers present on the island. As you know, I checked the calls of Dartford and Marmora's Warbler in the Collins Guide that night, and the next day I would attempt to see both those other species. With my comparison with Sardinian Warbler intact, would I suceed? Well, this entry will tell you if I do or not, as well as a number of other things.

That morning I woke earlier than I had done before because my Mum planned to have a typical French breakfast in the nearest mountainside village to us, Calenzana. Calenzana was about the same distance from our hotel as Calvi, and about a 10 minutes drive. After a cup of tea to wake us up and me taking the briefest of looks in the area of bush in front of the apartment that I had made my patch, we headed out to Calenzana. In my brief look I was lucky to get some close and cracking views of two male Sardinian Warblers, which was a gorgeous sight.

Calenzana is a charming, traditional little village with a very mediterranean feel to it. It is embraced by the high Corsican mountains and has many winding, paved alleys and squares. Its basically the closest settlement to Calvi at just 12.5km south east of it, but despite this short distance, it feels like you are in a whole different world from the seaside glitz of Calvi with its yachts and beaches. Calenzana feels much more rugged, remote, but in its way more charming than Calvi, more traditional; more unspoiled. You get a better feel of Corsica at Calenzana than in Calvi. The other thing about Calenzana is that a lot of tourists tend to bypass it, which allows a wider appreciation of its traditional, untouched quality. We spent a couple of hours in Calenzana, having a delcious breakfast of croissants and baguettes before exploring the village itself. Here is some pictures I got of the village. The last picture is of the view down to the coast from Calenzna, and the second last is the church tower in the town square. Bird-wise in Calenzana there wasn't much apart from the commoner suspects (Spotless Starling, Great, Blue and Coal Tit).

After our exploration of Calenzana, we came to the conclusion that we'd spend the morning exploring a few of the other mountainside villages within the arrondissement of Calvi, and then spend the afternoon doing things around the hotel. Our main port of call village wise was Sant Antonino. However, we planned to see some of the villages on the way to San Antonino. So we made our way into the beautiful, lush Corsican countryside, entering the steep, winding roads with astounding panoramic views once again. Our first village stop was at a place called Montegrosso, a village quite similar to Calenzana. However, Montegrosso was perched on a hill, had better views than Calenzana, had bell tower as its defining feature and looked slightly more rugged than Calenzana. Montegrosso wasn't bad for birds either; zipping around the bell tower (see pictures below) were loads of Eurasian Crag Martins, maybe about 50 birds in all. Some were constantly zipping round and round the bell tower, whilst others decided to sit on the bell tower itself. Also sitting on the bell tower were up to 10 Spotless Starlings. Meanwhile, in the trees round the village there was a small party of Long-tailed Tits amongst the common Blue and Great Tits, and a single Sardinian Warbler was heard calling. Surprisingly no Red Kites were seen from the viewpoint at Montegrosso or flying over the village itself. Here are a few pictures of Montegrosso (one is from the viewpoint).

From Montegrosso we slowly made our way towards Sant Antonino. What interested me as we made our way there was that there we no villages between Montegrosso and San Antonino, and it was basically just countryside. We took stops where we could to admire the countryside between Montegrosso and Sant Antonino, although the roads were steep and dangerous. One stop was particularly intriguing bird-wise. It was the first stop, and at this point we weren't as high as we would be on later stops; low enough to bear warblers, which is why I thought it would be a good idea to stop at that particular place. When I got out of the car to have a look for these warblers, my eye was instantly attracted to a sparrow/bunting sized bird sitting on a telephone wire not very far away from me. Looking at it through the bins, it wasn't anything I instantly recognised. Quietly, I creeped closer towards it, trying to get good views of the bird; however poorish light disabled me from making a positive ID. It was a very brown bird, with very apparent streaks all over its body. It lacked bulk, which bunting wise ruled out Corn Bunting, so as I was watching the bird I was thinking it could have been either a juvenile Cirl Bunting or a Rock Sparrow. It wasn't small enough for any finch you could get on the island, far to small for Corsican Citril Finch or European Serin. Eventually I got too close to the bird and a result it flew off, not calling as it flew. I was annoyed that I wasn't able to make the ID, but there are always birds that escape you and bamboozle you in this world. Its something we have to put up with. ID wise I was generally leaning towards juvenile Cirl Bunting, but as I checked the Collins Guide when I got back into the car I couldn't be certain. I continued to think about the bird for a while, and eventually decided to let it escape me. Also during this stop, I interestingly saw up to 10 Kestrels flying together at once (I had never seen so many falcons together at once, let alone . Kestrels), and a few Red Kites were present.

After about 20 minutes of driving, we arrived at Sant Antonino itself. Perched atop a 500m hill, it is known, according to various sources, to be one of the most beautiful villages in France and is the oldest in Corsica. You can't drive through Sant Antonino, as it is strictly forbidden to do so. This, for me, was one of its great advantages. We had to park in a car park just below the village. The views from the car park itself were lovely and very steep, you could see for literally miles and the mountains seemed more embracing than they had ever been before. By the car park was a baroque church, and behind this some heather-like bush, from which I could loads of birds. Before heading up into the village itself I decided to have a look in the heathery area for any birds whilst my Mum had a look in the church. I did so for around 10 minutes. During this 10 minutes I discovered what species of bird was primarily calling in the heather. This species turned out to be Goldfinch. The place was teeming with them, with well over a hundred birds present in just that one little area. There were also a lot of Spotless Starlings, I could hear several Sardinian Warblers calling (one female was seen), and 10 Stonechats in total were seen perching on the tops of the heather. There may have not been any birds that I hadn't seen there before, but the sheer multitude of birds in that one area was astonishing and satisfying. After my mum returned from looking in the church we stopped in a cafe at the very start of the village. If you want to go into the village, you have to walk up it or go by donkey. However we hardly had to walk far from the car park to get to this cafe. Here are a few pictures of San Antonino. I would have taken more, but unfortunately my camera failed me and ran out of battery whilst at the cafe! The first picture is of San Antonino from a distance, to give you an idea of its altitude, the second is from the heather where most of the birds were, the third is a winding street and the fourth is from the cafe. From the cafe I sat and drunk some tea whilst at the same time watching up to 6 Red Kites quartering the hills. It was lovely to see the Kites at this height as from where I was sitting I was basically level with them. One of these Kites was a juvenile; which was interesting as I hadn't seen any juvenile Red Kites up until that point.

Sant Antonino, as you can see, is the cluster of many ancient houses clustered at the top of the hill. These ancient houses border a maze of narrow cobbled streets that ascend to the very top of the village. After our stop at the cafe we walked all the way to the top of the village, passing through those lovely streets. From the top, which is at a great altitude, the views are just astounding, far better than from the car park, you could see a very long way, right down to the coast which was further away than it had been in Montegrosso, as well as all the way down to Calvi, which was a good 25km away, and round the corner to parts of the island you couldn't see from other viewpoints. I wish I had got pictures from there, as it was so beautiful. We stayed up there and admired the view for a good 15 minutes, and then made our way slowly down to the car park again. We were quite tired when we reached the bottom again, as the climb was taxing in its way! After a little rest, we decided it was time to make our way back to the hotel for some lunch, and we did so.

We spent most of that afternoon playing tennis and swimming in the hotel outdoor swimming. However, by the time we had finished both these activities, there was still a couple of hours before sunset. In this couple of hours I set out into the maquis in search for more warblers, as I had been aiming to do. Like before, the maquis was full of warblers. But unlike when the first time I went into the maquis, I now knew the call of the Sardinian Warbler, so any warbler that wasn't a Sardinian I had a good chance of tracking down, although, having checked the Bird Guide the previous night I had found that the alarm call of the Dartford Warbler was very similar to the Sardinian Warblers but just higher in pitch, and I found that the warblers were constantly using their alarm calls, (presumably because my presence was making them worried), so it was going to be harder than I thought. Whilst walking down the path, I could hear that most of the warblers were either Sardinian or Dartford Warblers, as I wasn't hearing the croaky call of the Marmora's Warbler which I had read about. After walking some way down the path and not getting great views of any warblers from it (although I could see lots of them flitting about all the time, a good number of which I could see were Sardinians), I decided to walk into the maquis itself. Here I would maximise my chances of seeing any warbler that wasn't a Sardinian. I walked a long way into the maquis, far enough to not be visible from the path. As I walked through I totalled a number of 15 Sardinian Warblers seen flitting from one piece of maquis to the next. As I kept on going though, I was wondering why I wasn't seeing anything else apart from Sardinian Warblers. And it was then that I saw it. Just as I started walking back towards the path, I flushed up a warbler with a clear wine-red breast. This was my first Dartford Warbler of the holiday! This warbler didn't move far, but just from that one flash of wine-red I could tell it was a Dartford Warbler. When it disappeared out of view, I headed towards where it had landed, and to my joy, managed to flush it up again. Yet again it didn't move far, and even better, this time it briefly perched itself on a piece of maquis. Absolute definite Dartford. As it perched itself on the maquis top its long, tail was cocked, archetypal of a Dartford Warbler, and I could see its wine red breast clearly. It looked generally darker in appearance than Sardinian Warbler. It sat there for about 10 seconds, looking around excitedly, before eventually flying off again as I tried to get closer to it, and this time out of view completely. This Dartford Warbler was a source of great joy for me, it meant I had seen two of three warbler species I aimed to see on the holiday! Not only this, but I love Dartford Warblers, I think they're beautiful birds, and I like they're wine red breasts in particular. And furthermore, this was only my second Dartford Warbler ever (my first was seen in 2006, North Warren, Suffolk). So in the end, I was overjoyed with my spotting of this warbler.

I left the maquis that evening with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that now it was just Marmora's Warbler that I had to see. Obviously this would prove difficult as during that session in the maquis I didn't hear anything that sounded like a Marmora's. However, I would still have plenty of time to find Marmora's Warbler in the coming few days. Overall, it had been a nice day for me. Exploring the mountainside villages was lovely, and the birds I saw whilst I was in these places were very nice, especially the 50 or so Crag Martins at Montegrosso, and seeing the Dartford Warbler was great! Of course, there was the strange passerine species that managed to elude me whilst on the way to Sant Antonino, but these things happen!

Now, the next day would be the most important day birding-wise of all. It would be the day in which I went to the Asco Valley in search of Lammegeiers, Golden Eagles, and the two endemics; Corsican Citrl Finch and Corsican Nuthatch! Would I see any of these birds? Find out in my next entry, which will chart my birding experiences in the Asco Valley!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Two Weeks Away: The Regino Valley and the Second Day

On my first day in Corsica, I had really enjoyed myself. I had seen some lovely sights and some nice birds. By the end of the second day (the day in which I will now write about) I would be feeling much the same. Just like on the previous morning, very quickly after I woke up I was checking the bushes just outside the apartment for birdlife. That morning there were a similar variety of birds out there as there had been on the second day, a good number of Red Kites, plenty of Spotless Starlings and many warbler calls of which I was still unable to identify (as well as warblers flitting from bush to bush that I didn't have time to identify), but no Black Redstarts. I also managed to get a Cetti's Warbler on call, two Blackcaps, and a party of finches flew over that I didn't recognise. My suspicsion was that they were Serins, but this was by no means a certain ID, so I just let them escape me. A brief check from the otherside of the hotel produced a Grey Heron at sea. Grey Herons can be seen on migration in Corsica, so this was quite an interesting spot for me. All the mentioned species were seen within the space of half an hour. After this brief birdwatch I had breakfast, and then my Mum and I set out for a day in the heart of the Corsican mountains.

Saying 'The Heart of the Corsican Mountains', however, is rather vague, as Corsica is covered in mountains (in fact it is the most mountainous island in the whole of the Mediterranean). We would be spending a day out in the Regino Valley. As you can see in the map above, I have circled a place called L'Ile-Rousse. Going just a little south from L'Ile Rousse, you will see a small red dot. This is roughly where the Regino Valley is. To get it to it, we would have to take the N197 all the way up to L'Ile Rousse then take a small road inland. The idea of going to Regino Valley came from wintibird (Andre) of Birdforum, not because we had heard about it. In one of his pms to me discussing the birds of Corsica, he told me that the Regino Valley was a good place to go, stating that it takes you through a variety of different habitats and gives you good chances of many of the islands passerines, mentioning in particular that I had good chances of Marmora's Warbler and Rock Sparrow . I was obviously tempted by this, so I asked my Mum if I could go there. She, luckily for me, obliged. So, at around 9:30am that morning we set out in the direction of the Regino Valley. However, we wouldn't be heading straight there. We would first make a visit to L'Ile Rousse, which was a goodish drive from where we staying (maybe half an hour). And on the way to L'Ile Rousse we stopped at the little village of Lumio, which had a nice viewpoint down towards Calvi from it (see picture). In the foliage around this viewpoint, my only two Woodpigeons were seen, and there were a good number of Jays both calling and flying about, as well as the calls of those ubiquitous warblers that I was still unable to identify. The fact I wasn't seeing any of these warblers was really starting to get on my nerves now, and that day I determined to at least be able to identify one of the mystery species. I knew roughly the species of warblers that were in there from having looked up what warblers you get in Corsica, its just I couldn't see them and I didn't know any of their calls.

L'Ile Rousse, like Calvi, is built on a bay. Its name (The Red Isle) refeea to the rocky islets of red porphyry, a type of rock, that are bounded slightly to the north west of the town. Most people visit the town to see these red rocks. However, we didn't visit them, as we were only hoping to visit the town briefly and get some food/money there. To the south of the rocks is an immaculate, white sand beach similar to the beach in the Calvi (but with no pine forests), of which we did visit. Birdwise on the beach there was nothing; just a few Yellow-legged Gulls. I guess this is explainable, as the beach at L'Ile Rousse is literally right in by the town, whilst Calvi Beach is more extensive and continues quite a few kilometeres out of the town. Here is a pictures I took at L'Ile Rousse Beach.

It overall doesn't quite have the beauty of Calvi Beach, and the same can be said about the town. L'Ile Rousse was by no means as nice as Calvi. It didn't have the same feel to it. The town has an old and new part of it; the new town towards the east and the old town in the west. Between these two different areas of the town there is square called Le Place Paoli, named after the founder of the town Pasquale Paoli, a Corsican patriot and leader. This square was arguably the nicest part of L'Ile Rousse, very close to the beach and with some nice architecture and a very typical French market.

So, after a little exploration of both the old and new town, we headed towards the Regino Valley. The change in scene from the town to the mountainside was quick and drastic. Very soon after we left Ile Rousse we started to climb, driving up the foothills on very twisty and narrow roads. We were now in the heart of the mountains that we were seeing from our apartment at Residence Le Padro. As we made our way upwards, I had a very brief stop in search of any mountain bird life. In this stop I saw several flock Red Kites as well as 4 Ravens. We kept climbing and climbing, going through many a typical Corsican mountainside village, when we eventually reached the village of Santa Reparata. Looking down from here we could see just what were we'd be spending the rest of the day; the Regino Valley itself, covered in a mass of beautiful meditarreanean flora that was mostly dominated by chesnut, olive and oak trees, and surrounding it all, high, jagged and rocky mountains, the highest of which were snowcapped. Also from here you could see a big lake and some vineyards, both of which we would be paying a visit to, as reccomended by wintibird and the latter of which we would be visiting first. The prospect of spending time in this beautiful area of countryside was a lovely and exciting thought, so without further ado, we made our way into the valley, creeping down the narrow roads slowly and surely until eventually we were in the heart of the flora. On the way to the Clos Regino Vineyards, as they were called, we took several stops. I obviously seized the chance to have a look for birds on these stops. The first of these stops was the most frutiful. Parking the car on a little layby, we took a walk right into the trees. On this walk I saw around 30 Red Kites, all in one massive flock basically just circling the mountains and the surrounding area. I had never seen so many birds of prey together in the sky before, let alone Red Kites! It was a beautiful spectacle! In the trees and bushes themselves were plenty of warblers, and to my relief and delight I was finally able to see and identify one. My first Sardinian Warbler of the holiday! It first caught my attention when I heard it calling (a loud trilling call, trr-trr-trr-trr-trrr-trrr) nearby, and after a scan through the bins, I found it scurrying about in a bush; It was a beautiful male that was instantly identified with its fully jet black head and red eyes! The view was brief as after about 10 seconds it went out of sight, but it was enough to ensure instant identification. I must say, I was really happy and relieved about seeing this Sardinian Warbler, as from that point onwards I would know its call from having heard it call before seeing it. No doubt there were many more of them in there, and lots of other species of passerines! The area was virtually teeming with bird calls (lots of Sardinians were calling), much more so than anywhere on the island I had been thus far. During the other stops on the way to the vineyards, I didn't see anything new, just a similar variety of birds. Here's a picture of me watching the Red Kites:

So, after all the stops on the way, we finally arrived at the Clos Regino Vineyards. As we were going up the road to the vineyards, we were blissed by the closest view of a Red Kite yet. It was sitting on a post, and I managed to get a picture of it. The fact it was so close gave me the chance to study its beautiful plumage. When my Mum turned on the engine again to drive on it took off on very long wings. Previous to this it had been sitting there proudly with its head turned in our direction, as you can see in the picture. In the picture, you can't see its features so well, but from its outline you should be able to tell its one.

Soon after this pleasant experince we parked up and I alone had a look around the vineyards. Wintibird, in one of his pms to me, had mentioned that Rock Sparrow occured in the vineyards, and this is what I had come to look for. The vineyards weren't looking exactly pretty, as they weren't in season, but the views from the vineyards were the most breathtaking I had experienced yet. It may not look hugely exciting from the picture, but trust me, being there was a different story, it was hard not to admire it!

I searched for Rock Sparrow for about 20 minutes, but wasn't able to find one in the end. But I did have two possibles, which I flushed up from the vines but was unable to identify. They weren't calling and looked Rock Sparrow-sized, but I couldn't guarentee that that was what they were as the light was quite poor. However, there were plenty of other birds here, with several Sardinian Warblers calling, a good number of Goldcrests, a few Jays, and lots of Coal Tits and Blue Tits, as well as a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a few more Red Kites and a Kestrel. I also still had chances of seeing Rock Sparrow elsewhere, so I wasn't too annoyed. After looking for the Rock Sparrows, we then aimed to head down to the lake which wintibird had mentioned was good for all sorts of things, including 5 species of warbler (Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Marmora's Warbler and Cetti' s Warbler), Rock Sparrow, several species of finch and Corn and Cirl Bunting. However, we got lost when trying to find the road to the lake, taking a big detour further into the mountains. We took a late lunch (at around 2:30pm) on our detour. A picture is below from where we had it. Here bird wise Jays were shrieking, there were several Ravens and another male Sardinian Warbler showed itself in a beautiful fashion, found without the aid of it calling.

After lunch and a good look at the map of the area, we soon discovered that we had quite obviously gone some way off course, so we set back in the direction we had originally come from in hope that we would find the road to the lake. We did, and it was hardly any distance from the vineyards, so how we had come to miss it was a mystery! Going down this road took us deeper into the valley and more amongst the flora. Eventually, the lake came into view, and we parked in a little area convieniently close to it. When I got out, I was instantly enchanted by the bird life. As soon as I got out, I could see and hear loads of birds. Sardinian and other warblers were calling incessantly, with the occasional Cetti's Warbler bursting into song, as well as many other strange bird calls and familiar British ones such as Robins, Stonechats flew from bush top to bush top (the occcasional pair seen together), and Red Kites were everywhere! It was at the lake in particular that I discovered the sheer abundnance of the Red Kite in Corsica. At one point, I had 12 birds in view at once, with half of them in flight and half proudly perched on tree tops, and this was without scan. I could see silhouttes of other birds of prey in the distance that were presumably also Red Kites. I thought their commonness was so enchanting and so delightful; it really was a lovely sight to see some of the loveliest birds (in my opinion) in such plenitude! And their, high pitched whistling call was really nice too! They were so common that I managed to video a few birds in flight. You can see the video now on this link to Birdforum TV (Blogspot can't load my videos). Apologies though, the camera shakes about A LOT! And also the program I am using doesn't have amazing quality, so apologies for that too. Note that this video takes you directly to the video window rather than opening up a new one.

We planned to spend the rest of the afternoon in this area, with my Mum just being left to take in the beautiful scenery whilst I searched the flora and the lake for birds. Considering how much time I had to search the area, I didn't head straight down to the lake. Instead I took a look in the trees and bushes on the other side of the road from the lake. Here the variety of birds there was a distinct variety of passerines; almost all the passerines I mentioned I am sure were present, but I didn't know all their calls and simply didn't see quite a few of the species! However, I did managed to see 4 more Sardinian Warblers, 3 being males (with two males seen together at once) and one female. Stonechats and the birds also common in Britain continued to be abundant, and I had a flock of Long-tailed Tits as well. Looking in the bushes round the lake produced much the same (I had another 6 Sardinians from this side). Of course, I would have liked to know all the unidentified bird calls and seen those birds, but what can you expect from a young, British guy that doesn't have a good deal of experience on identifing bird calls in foreign countries? When my Mum had a walk down by the lake however, I was given a nice surprise. A flock of about 20 Eurasian Crag Martins were flying about the lake, dipping low over the water every now and then after circling in the air. They were identifiable from their very plain, brown plumage, and the fact that they didn't have any white at all on their belly whatsoever. They called as they constantly flew around the lake, their call sounding almost House Martin like (a single noted 'treet'). I continued to see them as we walked. The other reason how I knew they were Eurasian Crag Martins is because they are the only type of Martin you can see in Corsica during that time of year (Sand Martins do summer). This species, however, wasn't a life tick for me. Like with the Spotless Starling, I had seen a good number of Eurasian Crag Martin on my holiday to the Iberian Peninsula at the end of 2008. This didn't stop my enjoyment of seeing them though. Also on the lake itself was a single Cormorant, and two Grey Herons, presumably stopping on migration. Whilst at the lake I took a few pictures. The first two pictures are of the lake itself, whilst the third is a view if you turn away from the lake, and the fourth is a picture of a Red Kite flying over it.

By the time we had finished the walk round the lake, evening light was creeping in, so we decided it would be best to leave so as to avoid driving on the high mountain roads in the dark. On the road back, we took a stop where the view was just amazing. I have yet another Youtube video link for you to watch so you can see just what I mean! Notice there are some Ravens in this video. Apologies again, the quality isn't brilliant.

So, overall I really enjoyed the day. I saw some really lovely birds, and got to know the countryside in the heart of the Corsican Mountains. I thought the Regino Valley was absolutely lovely, and if I was given choice to go back there I most certainly would! The highlight species was I guess was Crag Martin, but you could leave it down to the amount of Red Kites or the first Sardinian Warbler I saw. Regardless of the most noteworthy bird I saw, the fact is that I had a lovely day! We arrived back at the apartment at Residence La Padro at around 6:30pm, by which time the lunch was setting. That night, I wrote down all the new birds I saw, and decided to have a look into the calls of the Dartford and Marmora's Warbler. Having read what the Collin's Guide said about their calls, I would set out the next day to see if I could find them. Find out if I saw them in my next entry. Thank you for reading, folks!