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


  1. Hi joseph a really great read , i have enjoyed your adventures on this holiday and some great birds seen and heard with great scenery , i felt for you when you heard the marmoras warbler and was unlucky not to see it, i had a similar experience with a clamourous reed warbler whislst on holiday in israel , but never mind its all a learning curve . best wishes rob

  2. Hi Robbie,

    Thanks very much for the feedback on my account of my birding experiences in Corsica, its very much appreciated! Such experiences with skulkly warblers are annoying, but you're right, they are learning curves! I will hopefully go back to Corsica again, and I will try for those species that I missed out, and with the aid of my Dad too!

  3. Great read again Joseph, unlucky about the Marmoras warblers but as you said its all good learning ( plus there not the most easist birds!). Looking forward to your future posts mate :)

  4. Cheers TJ for your comment. Marmora's Warbler is going to be my main aim if I do go back to Corsica, and I'll make sure that I have some way of playing back their call whilst in the maquis! The same goes for Corsican Nuthatch, which are obviously going to be damn hard to see without playback! I'm now going to get this blog up to date, hopefully achievable in a couple of entries.


  5. Hi Joseph, great blog.
    I've just started birdwatching again after a 25 year hiatus, and decided to keep a blog. I would really appreciate a link on your blog. I've got your blog listed already.

  6. Hi Andy,

    Thanks very much, consider it done!