BUBO in CORSICA - part 3
Buoyed by our successful morning around Vivario, and with cotton wool clouds gliding across the bluest sky, we headed north to Corte, a town nestled below the higher, central mountains. From here, we took a minor road south west, up a deep valley cutting through the massif, known as Restonica Gorge.
This was a popular tourist area and, since it was clearly a bank holiday on the island, there were plenty of people out and about enjoying the sunshine. If you read the guide books, it says you can drive the scenic road right up to the tree-line, however things had changed since then. We had to park about half-way up the gorge since the road had been washed away in a winter flood, I think just a few months ago. This meant though that we had a great walk, as we could just follow the tarmac road up the valley with no cars passing us. The conditions were fab too, nice and sunny but not too hot for an uphill hike.
The bird life here was not as visible as on our morning's walk through the pine forests, perhaps because it was a busier area. Jays were often seen and, no doubt due to the higher altitude, Ravens seemed to be much more numerous. Below us, in the pines alongside the river we heard Firecrests singing and at one point we picked out a Corsican Nuthatch calling. Looking down from the road, we saw it flitting around the branches of a pine but it wasn't very close and the sighting was very brief. They do seem to be quite elusive beasties.
There were plenty of tits in the woods here - Blue Tits of the race ogliastrae, Great Tits of the race corsus, and Coal Tits of the race sardus, none of which looked especially different to our birds. However, the Long-tailed Tits here - of the race irbii - seemed quite different, with a mid-grey back, very little pink colour, an open face and streaky cheeks. This subspecies of Long-tailed Tit has an odd distribution, occurring in southern Iberia and Corsica only. That's a bit of a gap in between.
As we pushed on up the road, the trees were thinning out a little and we kept a close eye on the sky above the ridges, looking out for a particular bird of prey that occurs in these parts. Clearly, the sun shines on the righteous because, as we got higher, a shout came from behind me, and I turned around to see a superb LAMMERGEIER heading towards us! A real shock because, although it was a target species for the trip, we thought it might be a bit of a long shot since only a handful of pairs breed on the island.
It glided right towards us and I managed to take a few snaps, but as it got closer I resisted the camera and watched it pass overhead with my bins, properly taking in such a magnificent beast. This was the first time I had ever seen this species since I had never been anywhere where they breed before. It was such a distinctive bird - pretty massive, with tha odd oval-shaped tail, small head and bright orange underparts. We could even see its tiny moustache. Even though we were looking for one, this really felt like a bonus bird, and it meant five ticks for me within 24 hours of getting here.
Other species that we saw near the top of our walk included at least 3 Blue Rock Thrushes flying around the top of an escarpment, which were on show only briefly, and a few more Cirl Buntings alongside the track. High above the cliffs we picked up a Peregrine soaring and even further away, like little dots above the snowy peaks, a few Alpine Choughs were seen.
There was other wildlife on offer, the most interesting being the Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards that were common on the roadside rocks and walls. This is one of the many species of wall lizard throughout Europe, this one endemic to Corsica and Sardinia and quite colourful creatures they were. We saw a few insects, including the more orange, less brown form of Wall Brown. The plant life was particularly varied with lots of unfamiliar flowers and trees, some of them endemic species. So we had plenty to look at as we descended the road back towards the car.
We still had plenty of time left of the day but we didn't really want to go further afield, so we decided we may as well go back to the Chalet Restaurant area near Vivario to have another search for Marmora's Warbler, as it wasn't too far out of our way. Unfortunately we couldn't find any this time either and no other new species were noted. Nevertheless we had a very pleasant walk round the meadow, looking at the flowers and the insects mainly.
We headed back to the mobile home, stopping at a bridge on the way where we saw a Dipper on the rocks by the fast-flowing river. Me and Andy climbed down to the rocks below to search some small pools for endemic amphibians, but all we saw was hundreds of bees drinking from the trickles of water. For the only time in the whole trip we managed to get back to U Sortipiani before it got dark and so we were able to enjoy some time on the verandadoing the day's log .
As the darkness started to draw in, Andy and I went down to the side of the river to look for amphibians as there are a few endemic species on Corsica which are not too hard to find apparently. Well we did locate a few tiny frogs, and manage to catch one of them. Looking in the field guide, we wasn't sure which species it was at the time, but since returning home we think it is almost certainly a juvenile Pool Frog, a widespread species in Europe. We also had a couple of moths to the outside light of the accommodation, most notable a Pale-shouldered Cloud, a rarity in the UK.
I recorded some amphibians calling from what seemed like the swimming pool after dark. Andy thinks that these may be Green Toads (trilling) and Pool Frogs (quacking).
As we were already here, we decided that we would dine on site this evening. When we arrived, Xavier the owner - or Umberto as we were calling him, not catching his name until our last night - gave us another example of one of his home-made spirits, this one based on Myrtle berries apparently. The boys dined on a fine Wild Boar steak, which seems to be the meat of choice in Corsica, whilst I made do with pasta and veg again. We had a few more beers, were introduced to a very drunk Slovakian kayaker, and heard the Scops Owl calling again before we made our way back to bed.