Corsica is a popular holiday destination, but it is also a great place to go birding. As with so many other islands, it has developed some of its own unique species through long periods of geographic isolation. Several birds are found only on Corsica or on neighbouring islands in the Mediterranean, which makes it an essential place to visit in order to catch up with some of these species. We spent a week exploring the north of the island between 10th and 17th July. Some of the photographic highlights are shown below.
Corsican Nuthatch is the main target when birding in Corsica, as it is only the only species which is endemic to just this island. It is found found in the mature Corsican Pine forests on the slopes of the mountains, typically between 1000-1500m above sea level. We found Corsican Nuthatches comparatively easily in the right habitat.
Interestingly, the first Corsican Nuthatch we found (photo above) was much lower down than we were expecting, at just 795m. In BWP Vol VII (Cramp et al, 1993) gives the “extremes for sighting being 800-1800m”, which suggests that this Corsican Nuthatch had not read the book!
Corsican Finch juvenile
Corsican Finch was historically considered a race of Citril Finch, but differs particularly in its brown back streaked with black and brighter yellow face and underparts. It has since been separated out as a species in its own right. It is only found on Corsica and neighbouring Sardinia. We saw fewer Corsican Finches that we might have expected, although we did manage to find family parties of them on a couple of days in the right habitat, in open sunny clearings in the pine forest. An interesting bird to see, particularly having seen Citril Finch not so long ago!
Marmora’s Warbler is another species which has recently been split, in this case from the very similar Balearic Warbler which, as its name suggests, is found on the Balearic Islands. What is now known as Marmora’s Warbler is found only on Corsica and Sardinia plus some smaller islands of western Italy.
Marmora’s Warblers favour hillsides covered in low scrub, maquis and garrigue, from the coast up into the mountains, but appear to be rather localised to areas with the correct habitat. The rather similar Dartford Warbler can be found in many of the same places which can invite confusion, but if seen well the adults are noticeably different, Marmora’s being plain grey above and below, amongst other things. The call is also very different. Many warblers can be hard to see well in the height of summer, when they are not singing, but we were lucky to get fantastic views of Marmora’s Warblers on Corsica.
Lammergeier dwarfing a nearby Red Kite
Although it is not an endemic, Lammergeier (or perhaps more appropriately called ‘Bearded Vulture’) is a spectacular bird and much sought after on Corsica. In Europe, it is perhaps only really found now in the Pyrenees, in the Alps where it has been reintroduced, on Corsica and on Crete. It is a species which has been declining throughout much of its range, and the population in Corsica perhaps now numbers fewer than 20 individuals.
As a consequence, we considered ourselves very privileged to see a Lammergeier on Corsica (although we did benefit from a tip off about a good place to look!). Even better, we saw it dropping down from the ridge beyond and circling overhead for about 10 minutes, in the company of about 15 Red Kites. A stunning bird in a spectacular setting!
Woodchat Shrike – of the subspecies badius
It is not just about endemic species. Many islands are also home to unique subspecies, some of which are perhaps candidates for future upgrades to full species status. Woodchat Shrike is a widely distributed bird found around the Mediterranean, but the form which occurs on Corsica is (predominantly?) the subspecies badius. Sometimes known as ‘Balearic’ Woodchat Shrike, it should perhaps be renamed as it occurs on Corsica and Sardinia as well as the Balearic Islands. This form differs from the nominate race of Woodchat Shrike by, amongst other things, the absence of white patch at the base of the primaries.
Woodchat Shrike – this bird showed more white in the wing than a typical badius
We found several Woodchat Shrikes as we drove around the island, including a couple of family parties. Interestingly one bird which we came across (photo above) appeared to show rather more white in the wing than is generally associated with badius, though not as much as is typically shown in the nominate race. Is this perhaps just within a wider range of variation? We also found several Red-backed Shrikes on our travels around the island, which were great to see.
The Spotted Flycatchers on Corsica are also considered to be a separate subspecies (tyrrhenica) from the ones we get here (striata). Thankfully they are still common on the island, in contrast to the situation here where they have declined quite dramatically in recent years and are now getting quite scarce. The subspecies tyrrhenica is supposed to be less streaked below, although we found quite a bit of variation in appearance of the birds which we saw.
One of the other highlights of a visit to Corsica is the Italian Sparrows, which are also found quite commonly around the island. Traditionally thought to be a stable hybrid ‘swarm’ between House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow, they are now generally treated as a full species. There is quite a bit of variation in appearance around the Mediterranean, but the birds on Corsica are quite consistent and conform nicely to what might be considered a ‘typical’ Italian Sparrow. Interestingly, the birds on neighbouring Sardinia are considered to be Spanish Sparrows and those on Sicily appear to be a variety of intermediates!
When not looking for endemic species or subspecies, there are lots of regular Mediterranean birds to be enjoyed. A few other photographic highlights from out trip are shown below. Audouin’s Gulls can be found along the coast, particularly in the east – always a delight to see!
Tawny Pipits appear to be rather localised but we had driven past what looked like a good site a couple of times, and a bit of exploration on our last day produced the goods.
We were pleased to come across a group of Rock Sparrows feeding in some overgrown fields in the foothills, another rather localised species which can be hard to tie down.
Cirl Bunting is another species which is still reasonably common in Corsica, in contrast to the situation here. It was really nice to see them, and particularly to hear them singing.
Hooded Crows are common on Corsica, particularly around built up areas. This one was relaxing on a sun lounger by the beach! They are replaced by Ravens at higher altitudes.
It is not just the birding that is worth visiting Corsica for, the scenery is pretty good too!
Fortin de Pasciolo
Etang de Biguglia
For a relaxed birding holiday in beautiful surroundings, with some great – and unique – birds to see, Corsica is a prefect place to visit. It comes heartily recommended!