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!



  1. A nice report Joseph and you highlight the challenges of birding abroad-it's not only the local people that speak a different language!-the birds do too. A lot of Meditteranean warblers are skulkers and learning song/calls before you go can be a big help. I've never been to Corsica but would love to go-and your pictures and description make the wish to go even stronger

  2. Thank you Mark. You are right, the birds also speak a different language, it was certainly hard to seperate the calls from the three notable Sylvias you get in there! I really reccomend Corsica, its a beautiful place. I'm happy I have made you want to go more, as I am sure you'd love it there. Its hard not to!

  3. Sounds like a wicked trip with some good birds. I agree on the meditteranean warblers, last time I was in the region I remember finding it really difficult to get good looks at them so well done on clinching the sardinian. You've got a really great writing style and I've enjoyed reading all the posts you've put up so far. I look forward to the next installment!

  4. Thanks thefuture, that's very nice of you! I felt very relieved when I saw my first sardinian; as I would'nt have had such a prob with them from that moment onwards. As for other warblers, the next few entries will reveal if I managed to see any of the other species you see in the maquis!

  5. Joseph, keep up the good work - great to see a keen young lad in the region. It's a great hobby to have - do yourself a favour - never give it up. Paul Baxter, Aberdeen.

  6. Thanks very much Paul. I am aware I am one of very few regular and keen young birders in Aberdeenshire. And don't worry, I won't be giving it up in a hurry. Thanks again.

  7. Wow Joseph, great report again mate! nice to see you are keeping up the good work (as always a thrilling read!). Im looking forward to your next posts, i cant wait to read them! :)