Birding Trip to Corsica and Southern France 30.7 – 8.08.2007

Birding Trip to Corsica and Southern France 30.7 – 8.08.2007

General information

Purpose of this trip was to get the 3 target species from Corsica and to do some extra birding in other famous birding areas in Southern France. I took flight from Helsinki to Nice with Blue1 (190EUR). From Nice i took ferry to Corsica (with Corsicaferries Nice-Bastia/Calvi-Nice). Then i spent 3 days in Corsica, came back to Nice and did La Crau, Camargue and some montane areas. I didn’t have any hotel, ship or rental car bookings in advance but everything went smooth.

Pictures of the trip are here


Corsica: Bastia – Etang Di Biguglia – Haut Asco – Etang Di Biguglia – Calvi – Foret De Bonifatu – Calvi (350 km).
France: Nice – Var Estuary – Etang Des Aulnes – La Crau – Etang Des Aulnes – Camargue – Caussols – Col De Vence (1000 km).


Arrived to Nice in the afternoon and took the ferry to Bastia. About 20 Cory’s Shearwaters seen from the ferry but no Yelkouan Shearwater.

Took the rental car from Hertz (270EUR/3 days) in the morning. First spot i visited was Etang Di Biguglia. I didn’t have scope with me so i guess i missed few birds because of this. Place was quite birdless but in other seasons it might be quite productive. It’s possible to get a view on the area from several places (although some trip reports say that’s hard). At the northern tip of the lake is a small reserve area with parking and some trails. In other parts you just have to park and bird wherever possible. The road that cuts through the lake seemed quite good area too. It leads to some fields and this was the place where i saw my only Woodchat Shrike. In the southern tip of the lake is a stream that runs from lake to the Golo river. If you follow that stream you get to a interesting agricultural area.
In the afternoon i moved to Haut Asco in the hope of Lammergeier and other goodies. The fields near Ponte Leccia held lots of Red Kites. The road to the ski station wasn’t that bad that i was expecting although it’s a slow drive. Some people might find it hard. It’s not that convenient to pass oncoming caravan-car on the road which is 4 m wide. And at the same time frightened German kids are staring at you their noses pressed against car window. There are lots of cows walking freely on that road adding extra excitement. If possible then go to Haut Asco in the early morning when tourists are not blocking the road. People come here to bathe on the mountain streams in the daytime. When at the ski-station you can park your car here and now the good birding can start. There are several hiking trails that start from here. Birders take usually the one which follow the old skiing-trail but i guess you can find the targets from different places. I spent the whole evening here and stayed overnight here as well. Not too many birds here in the evening. Nuthatches were easy and Scops Owls started to call in the nighttime. I heard Crossbills several times and found 2 Dippers at the stream nearby. No Citril Finch, Lammergeier or Marmora’s Warbler yet.

Etang Di Biguglia
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola jyncidis 20
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 4
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator badius 1 male

Fields at S-part of the lake
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor 500
Bee-eater Merops apiaster 30

Ponte Leccia
Red Kite Milvus milvus 7
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus 2

Haut Asco
Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupetris 6
Crossbill Loxia curvirostra – several heard but not seen
Alpine Swift Apus melba 10
Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi 4
Dipper Cinclus cinclus 2
Scops Owl Otus scops 2

In the morning i went up until the old trail framework ended. This was the place where i saw my first Citril Finches, one Marmora’s Warbler (poor views), 2 Water Pipits, and Alpine Coughs. Nuthatches were vocal again. Later i walked further up and i spent whole day here scanning the mountain ridges in the hope of Lammergeier but this raptor was avoiding me. There were very few raptors here. Only Alpine Coughs and Ravens were showing well. Nuthatches preferred area about 200 m upwards from the ski-station. There was small open area surrounded by few old Corsican pines and the birds were quite active here. I found about 5 birds here on both days, probably a family. One of the birds was wearing a colour-ring (green and white). 2 Citril Finches where at the same spot plus i found 3 birds at the end of the skiing-trail. Alpine Coughs were easy to see as well. Sometimes only from 15 meters when they came down to feed. Skylark up here was surprise for me. In the evening i went back to Etang Di Biguglia and enjoyed great views of Red Kites in the evening light near Ponte Leccia.

Haut Asco
Corsican Citril Finch Serinus corsicanus 5 – 2ad + 1juv + 2ad
Alpine Cough Pyrrhocorax graculus 130
Skylark Alauda arvensis 1
Marmora’s Warbler Syvia sarda 1
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta 2
Stonechat Saxicola torquata 4
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 3
Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi 5

Ponte Leccia
Red Kite Milvus milvus 9

Early morning around Etang Di Biguglia and surrounding fields was quite productive. I enjoyed the performance of Hoopoes and Bee-eaters. 2 Purple Herons flew over near the lake. I found one Marmora’s Warbler again but bird was quite elusive so i didn’t any good views. In the lunchtime i drove to Calvi area. Lots of Red Kites seen from car window. I did lots of stops on the way and found about 100 Shags near St. Laurent. I wanted desperately some better views of Marmora’s Warbler but finding the right habitat wasn’t that easy. I tried maquis in different spots but in the heat the birds weren’t reacting at all. I decided to go to Foret Du Bonifatu instead in the hope of Lammergeier again. I arrived here about 15:00 and the place was packed with tourists. You have to pay 3 EUR for parking here. The area is very scenic and you can come here with non-birding friends too. I scanned the sky for 3 hours and Lammergeier managed to avoid my list again. I found 2 Golden Eagles, Sparrowhawk and huge flock of Alpine Coughs though. Later a helicopter started flying around the valley making birding impossible. I was quite surprised too see Rock Doves flying high over the valley. They must have been “the real thing”.
I spent the late evening near Pte. De la Revellata trying to find Marmora’s Warbler again. The habitat here is just perfect fot the species. I found lots of other Sylvias but not my target bird. I heard some calls only.

Etang Di Biguglia and surrounding fields
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 2
Hobby Falco subbuteo 1
Quail Coturnix coturnix 1 – calling
Hoopoe Upupa epops 10
Bee-eater Merops apiaster 15
Marmora’s Warbler Sylvia sarda 1
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata 3
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans 1
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina 4
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 500

St. Laurent
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii 100

Foret Du Bonifatu
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetus 2
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus arrigonii 1
Alpine Cough Pyrrhicorax graculus 170
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus 1
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
Rock Dove Columba livia 10

I started the morning in the maquis again and it finally paid off. I found 3 very vocal Marmora’s Warblers from the same place where i tried last night. The birds made a decent spectacle and came sometimes about 2 m from me. If you drive through Calvi to the W then at the area where the peninsula Pte. De la Revellata starts is a parking area facing to the N. I found my Marmor’a Warblers about 200 m downhill from here. I guess the really low greyish heather-like maquis is the most suitable habitat for this warbler. It’s sensible to learn the contact call of this species beforehand because the maquis is full of other Sylvias. At least i found all my Marmora’s Warblers following the call. The dry “drak-drak” is easy to separate from other species (Subalpine is bit similar). The road to peninsula is very bad and since i didn’t had any time left i didn’t go further. I had to return my rental car and leave the island in a few hours. I saw some dolphins from the ferry. I had seen all the 3 targets very well and was pleased with the outcome although Lammergeier and Audoin’s Gull would have been nice bonuses. 81 species from Corsica.

Pte. De la Revellata
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1
Marmora’s Warbler Sylvia sarda 3
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata 2

I picked up my new rental car in the morning from Nice airport (260EUR/4days). Small Citroen was quite OK. First place i birded was Var Estuary which is just next to Nice airport. You have to get to the southern parking area of Cap3000 supermarket. The viewing platform is just next to the parking lot. Indian Silverbills were really easy to see. Not too many waterbirds and scope would have been great help, especially when scanning gulls.
Then i left Nice and moved W following A8 highway. I turned S from Aix-En-Provence and aprroached La Crau from the south. This steppe-area is endless and killing heat lasts until 20:00! I drove on the N568 until i saw signs Etang Des Aulnes. It’s easy to find this lake. The lake was quite birdless in the hottest time of the day. I drove back south until Le-Retour-des-Aires. There’s a roundabout here (N268 crossing with N568). 2 smaller roads leading NE to the airfield are the key areas. There were “No access without permission” signs on those tracks but everybody seemed to avoid them so i followed the local tradition. At least nobody was patrolling the area. There is a vast network of smaller roads in the steppe but i don’t think it’s good idea to follow these. Going to remotest parts can disturb local birds. I sticked to the main tracks (asphalt and gravel sometimes) and birded from these. There are lots of old abandoned buildings in the SW border of the airfield and this spot seemed to be excellent. My rental car was covered with dust and i lost one wheelcover after my randevouz around the steppe. My strategy was just to sit and scan the landscape.
Lots of Kestrels, Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, larks and Rollers everywhere. Couldn’t nail any Lesser Kestrels (all the birds were female-type) but without the scope it’s a hard task anyway. I was happy to find 11 Little Bustards hiding in the grass. I flushed 7 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and birds flew around little while. Later 2 more birds were seen in the flight, calling actively.

Var Estuary
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Indian Silverbill Lonchura malabarica 10
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 500

Etang Des Aulnes
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Black Kite Milvus migrans 3
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2

La Crau
Roller Coracias garrulus 15
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa 1
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus 3
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata 9
Little Bustard Tetrix tetrix 11
Caladra Lark Melanocorypha calandra 3
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 15
Bee-eater Merops apiaster 20

I started the morning near the airfield again trying to find Lesser Kestrel but i dipped on that one. 7 Red-legged Partridges run over the road and the Stone Curlews were in the same spot as yesterday. I went to Etang Des Aulnes then and got nice selection of forestbirds for my triplist. Bonelli’s Warbler was the best. I tried to lure it out but the bird didn’t react at all. Instead i lost the cord connecting speakers and MP3 player. So i had to rely on pishing for the rest of my trip. Some waders flew over the lake.
After few hours moved to Camargue via Arles. The first place i made longer stop was Mas-d’Agon. This is probably the best place in the whole reserve. It’s packed with birds and easy to approach. The road which starts from N37 and goes up N to Mas-d’Agon is the key area. The viewing platform by the D37 can be good if you have a scope. In the daytime it’s under constant tourist-attack and the heathaze doesn’t help either. La Capelliere produced only flamingoes and some new waders. I just followed the coast of Etang De Vaccares. I didn’t go to La Capelieres naturetrail (access is 3EUR) because of the heat and decided to find Moustached Warbler elsewhere in the evening. I connected with the species at Mas-d’Agon. One bird was posing very well for 5 minutes here at roadside reedbed. I guess La Capeliere is bit overestimated and you can find Moustached Warbler from other spots as well. I spent the rest of the evening photographing terns and herons at Mas-d’Agon. I couldn’t find any Spectacled Warblers so i left this project for the next day. There were lots of mosquitoes here. From the distance the huge swarms looked like smoke rising from reedbeds. At least swallows were pleased and the evening sky was full of them. I estimated that there were at least 15 000 hirundines (mostly Sand Martins) around Mas-d’Agon that evening.

La Crau
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus 2
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa 7
Bee-eater Merops apiaster 50
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos 2
Roller Coracias garrulus 10

Etang Des Aulnes
Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli 1
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus minor 1
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus 1

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides 20
Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica 15
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 100
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 200
Great White Egret Ardea alba 20
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 15
Black Tern Chlidonias niger 3
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus 3
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon 1
Hirundines Hirundo/Riparia/Delichon 15 000
Tawny Owl Strix aluco 1 heard

La Capeliere
Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber 2000
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 7
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris 1

I photographed flamingoes in the first light and checked low maquis everywhere to find Spectacled Warbler. I finally managed to find one bird from Tour-du-Vallet. The bird was hopping on the tree with a Willow Warbler near the viewing platform. One Great Reed Warbler was showing here as well. Now i could happily leave Camargue. This place is definately worth a visit even in the middle of the summer heat.

La Capeliere
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 1
Teal Anas crecca 20
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 2
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra 2

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus 1
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata 1
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus 1

Last night i drove from Camargue to the east. I spent the night near Fayence in Les Terrassonnes. I headed out 6:00 to do some mountain-birding near Caussols and Col De Vence. I took D562 to Grasse. Then D85 and D5 to Caussols (follow the signs “Route Napoleon”). I made stops en route whereever possible. Several Green Woodpeckers heard. The roads are curvy but in good condition so driving is easy here but slow. French Police added little drama to my trip and minus 90EUR for my budget. When the police stopped me it appeared that i hadn’t stopped behind the Stop-sign (like everybody in France!). I tried to talk my way out of the situation but when misseur said “impossible!” three times then i gave up. The police did their check-up in the middle of nowhere so you should be cautious even on the minor roads.
The road D12 seems to be quite good area for mountain and forest birds. Somewhere between Caussols and Pont-du-Loup i found small gravelpit and the area was full of birds in the morning. I saw Rock Buntings, Ortolan Bunting, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and hybrid Partridges here. The Partridges were calling and i saw at least two of them. I didn’t figure out what they were but later i got some comments from local birders who told that they really are hybrids. So be careful when identifying those creatures. You can comment the picture in the gallery. The road to Col De Vence (D3 and D2) was good for raptors I spent late evening at Var Estuary and flight home was in the next morning. I ended up with 145 species (+ Pheasant and Indian Silverbill) in the triplist.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 1
Rock Partridge x Red-legged Partridge Alectoris graeca x A.rufa 3
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana 1
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia 5
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis 3
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis 1

Redpoll Carduelis flammea 1
Serin Serinus serinus 20

Raptors en route
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus 7
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 1
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus 3

Var Estuary
Dunlin Calidris alpina 6
Shoveler Anas clypeata 1
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 2500
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 10
Meditterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1