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Corsica, France

June/July 2009

By Stephen Burch, England

This is an illustrated trip report on the birding, dragonfly and other wildlife highlights from a two week family holiday to Calvi, Corsica in June/July 2009.

Apart from the first two days, the weather by the sea at Calvi was almost uniformly sunny and hot, getting up to the high 20's or low 30's. It was however often quite windy. Up in the mountains it was a different story - on the two days we were there it rained, or threatened to, in the afternoons. On many other days from Calvi we could see cloud building up over the mountains in the afternoon, and then dispersing again in the evening. No doubt a well known meteorological phenomenon.

Sources of Information
Prior to the trip, I spent some time searching the web for suitable trip reports. Most were for early spring or later in the year. It seems most birders do not go to Corsica in summer, but these reports did give a good idea of the best sites for the endemics.

For maps, the 1:150,000 yellow Michelin map was OK for general driving around, but the IGN 1:25,000 blue maps were essential for walking in the mountains and for searching for dragonfly sites around Calvi.

The Sunflower guide for Corsica was good for some local walks in the Calvi area, and in the Restonica valley.

Birding Sites

Col de Sorba
From scouring the web for information on the best sites for the two Corsican endemics, I decided that the Col de Sorba sounded the best from the point of view of access, likelihood of success and the possibility of photography of the Nuthatch. Other sites for the endemics include the Restonica valley, which we visited the day after the Col de Sorba, and the very long drive up to Haut Asco.

To reach the Col de Sorba area, some 20+km south of Corte on the N193, and just south of Vivario, take the D69 to the east. To start with, we followed this road for about 3km to an obvious track which heads off above the road to the right. This was the spot mentioned in at least two other trip reports. However, despite walking along this path some distance, after about 1hr we had neither heard nor seen a hint of either of the endemics. In fact all we saw for our efforts was several Jays and the odd Coal Tit. It also tried to rain.

Undeterred, we carried on up the road. At about the 5km point from the N193, the road emerged briefly from the pines where there was a sharp hairpin bend to the right. Here my son, on a financial incentive to act as a spotter, pointed out a couple of small birds by the road! These turned out to be Corsican Finches! There was no chance of any photos, though, as the birds seemed quite wary and were soon spooked by passing traffic. Setting off again up the road, a Blue Rock Thrush flew over, and even stopped and perched, allowing itself to be admired briefly.

We were clearly on a roll, so I decided on another stop at the next available parking place in the pines. Almost as soon as we got out from the car, we first heard and then saw Corsican Nuthatches. These were quite confiding, and at one point we had 3 birds in the same tree quite close to the road, and low enough down for some moderate photography, albeit hampered by poor light and their somewhat frustrating behaviour. Nevertheless this had been a very successful excursion, with both endemics ticked without too much difficulty.

Corsican Nuthatch - Col de Sorba Corsican Nuthatch - Col de Sorba
Corsican Nuthatch - Col de Sorba, Corsica. 29 June 2009

Restonica Valley
After an overnight stay in the comfortable Dominique Colonna hotel at the foot of this valley (see accommodation section below for details), we were up and off reasonably early in the morning. Having already seen both endemics, there was no need to dwell in the valley floor, so we headed straight up to the car park at the end of road, to make sure we could get in before it filled up.

We then did the most popular walk in Corsica up to the Lac de Melo. We took the left hand track which was much quieter than the main right hand one (they diverge at a large cairn just above a cafe). This route was also easier, and avoided the fixed chains and step ladders. Even so, it was a very stiff climb, with an ascent of over 1000ft. Eventually, reaching the pretty lake, there was a reward in the form of tame groups of Alpine Choughs that descended hoping for food the moment you sat down! The problem then was that the birds were too close for the 400mm lens! Some of our party headed on up to the second lake, but I slowly picked my way down the way we had come up. Resting by a stream at the foot of the steepest section, near the large cairn, I was delighted to see a splendid Lammergeier - soaring over the ridge and cliffs high up to west.

Alpine Chough, Lac de Melo. 30 June 2009

Alpine Chough, Lac de Melo. 30 June 2009
Lac de Melo Panaroma shot - stitched from two originals

Calvi Area
The Calvi area did not seem particularly birdy. Probably the best site we found was the headland with a lighthouse at the end just to the west of Calvi called Revellata, which involved a fair walk from the nearest road. On the way out, the path that meandered along the eastern coastline wasn't particularly productive. However the central lighthouse track was more productive on the return, with at least two views of Marmora's Warblers, including a family party. Also seen on this walk were Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, a possible Blue (scarce) Chaser dragonfly and various butterflies. Back at the road, I decided a group of passing swifts were probably Pallid. There were also some Ravens.

Elsewhere in the general Calvi area, we came across various Cirl Buntings, and the odd Bee Eater (on a walk high above the village of Lumio and also by the road up to Sant Antonino).

Marmora's Warbler, La Revellata, near Calvi. 23June 2009

Marmora's Warbler, La Revellata, near Calvi. 23June 2009

Our villa was right on the southern edge of Calvi, and had just enough 'garden' for some wildlife (mainly butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk Moths). The only birds actually in the garden included nesting Spotted Flycatchers that fledged within a few days of our arrival, Serin, Cirl Bunting and Spotless Starling. Other birds only heard included a possible Bee Eater (one brief call), Nightjar and Scops Owl.

Spotted Flycatcher (click to enlarge)
Spotted Flycatcher in villa garden, Calvi. 22 June 2009 (click right to enlarge)

Dragonfly Sites

In the absence of too much birding interest around Calvi, I turned my attentions to looking for dragonflies. With no prior site information, I simply looked for places with water on the local 1:25,000 IGN map and tried my luck.

Etang de Crovani
This shallow lake was the best dragonfly site I found in terms of numbers. It was just behind a beach, on the west coast, about 30 min south of Calvi along the narrow and bendy D81b. There was a convenient parking area for beach users, on the right of the road. From here it was just a short walk down to the lake. In two visits here, I found and photographed a reasonable range of species, some of which were new to me. The local speciality is the Island Bluetail which is endemic to Corsica and a few of the other nearby islands. There were plenty of these here.

Island Bluetail Island Bluetail
Island Bluetail - the local speciality endemic to a small number of Mediterranean islands

Somewhat more notable were the larger hawkers, which comprised Emperor and the new to me Southern Migrant Hawker. There was also a single obscure damselfly that turned out to be a Dark Spreadwing, which unfortunately disappeared before I could get good pics.

Southern Migrant Hawker (click to enlarge)

Dark Spreadwing
Southern Migrant Hawker (click to enlarge). Dark Spreadwing

Smaller dragonflies included numerous mostly immature Red-veigned Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers.

Red veigned Darter (click to enlarge)
Black-tailed Skimmer Red-veigned Darter (immature) - click to enlarge

Zone Artisanale de Cantone
This was an obsure site, which is probably rarely visited! I found it using the 1:25,000 map which showed a small temporary pool next to the industrial estate of this name, a kew km to the east of Calvi on the D151. This is very close to the Calvi airport runway. To find this hidden pool, get the 1 in 25,000 map! Turn right at the roundabout into the estate, then follow the road round to the left. Take the first right that leads down to a rough area at the bottom, with a track going left and right. Go left along the track. The pool is then off to your right over some rough ground. On some of my visits, the track was closed with a locked gate and fence either side. No matter, follow the fence down to the pool, and squeeze round the end, avoiding falling in the water!

Both the pool and the surrounding bushes were good for a range of species, many the same as at the Etang de Crovani. On the pool, were Emperor and Lesser Emperor (one visit only), and Scarlet and Red-veigned Darters. There was also a good variety of damselflies, including Small Red-eyed, Willow Emerald and Dainty. The bushes held several Keeled Skimmers. So a reasonable number of non UK species, as well as some very familiar ones!

Scarlet Darter Willow Emerald Damselfly
Scarlet Darter Willow Emerald Damselfly
Keeled Skimmer Dainty Damselfly
Keeled Skimmer Dainty Damselfly

Small red eyed Damselfly

Small red eyed Damselfly

Figarella river
This river was the only one within easy reach of Calvi and fed the pool described above. Further upstream, there was good access to the river, with plenty of water coming down, at the Pont de la Figarella (off the D251 beyond Calvi airport). Here the only dragonfly I could find was a few Copper Demoiselle. Further upstream, the D251 ends in a large car park, from which a number of paths lead off up into the mountains. We followed the river path as far as the first suspension bridge, which included some quite steep stretches. The first section was however quite flat, and ran along the river. Again there were a few Copper Demoiselle and probably Beautiful Demoiselle as well. The whole walk was good for various butterflies but there wasn't much bird or other dragonfly interest.

Male Copper Demoiselle - by the Figarella river in the Bonifatu valley Female Copper Demoiselle at the Pont de la Figarella

Other wildlife

Here are a few pics of some of the other wildlife I bumped into. Butterflies were numerous.

Scarce Swallowtail (click to enlarge)
Scarce Swallowtail - Sant Antonino 3 July 2009 (click to enlarge) Worn Two-tailed Pasha - Villa garden 24 June 2009
Italian Pool Frog
Silver washed Fritillary - Bonifatu valley 27 June 2009 Italian Pool Frog, Etang de Crovani 4 July 2009. These were super abundant all over this shallow lake.
Thanks to Pierre-André Crochet for providing the ID.

Accommodation Details

Place Web Comment
Dominique Colonna hotel Hotel website Comfortable but not cheap hotel well situated by the river at the foot of the Restonica valley. We were upgraded to a palatial suite instead of two rooms for no extra price! Downside was the expensive breakfast (about 11 euros each). The Auberge wasn't particularly cheap for dinner either.
Villa Cassaninca   Nice villa with pool, and a small garden with flowers and fruit trees. Excellent views over the Citadel and sea, in the distance. Available from VFB holidays. Very expensive in peak season - we were just early enough to pay substantially less!

© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 


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