BUBO in CORSICA - part 6
After our exciting raptor-filled lunch break we headed off to find more birds around the coastline and plains. The lagoon immediately to the south of Aleria was called Etang del Sale and we headed towards there as it seemed much more vegetated than Urbino and appeared to be some kind of nature reserve. As we found typical of sites in Corsica, there was no indication of how we should get there or where to view the area from. The paper map we had was not of a detailed-enough scale, and we found Google-maps to be next to useless, as it never differentiates between the smaller proper roads and private dirt tracks, so you think you've found a route through, only to suddenly come across a dead end in a field! In fact this is exactly what ended up doing and we dumped the car in the corner of a vine field and wandered off to see if we could make it to the marsh. As we drove down the track we saw a Woodlark collecting food, no doubt nesting nearby.
We could see a large reedbed in front of us but it was behind a line of trees and there were no paths to follow, so we had to skirt the side of the field to see if we could find a way in. The sun was getting quite strong and it was becoming a rather hot afternoon, which meant there were plenty of insects out. Amongst the butterflies was a Mallow Skipper, which was a new one for me, and around the wet puddles we had some Blue-tailed Damselflies. However, these were not the regular blue-tails, but a species called Island Bluetail, which is restricted to the islands of the western Mediterranean.
Bird-wise, we had bits and bobs, but nothing too exciting on our walk. We had a decent flock of finches but couldn't find anything unfamiliar in them, although a couple of Turtle Doves fed on the ground behind. Two migrant Black Kites drifted high overhead, as did 15 Cormorants, but I missed the Stone Curlew the others saw. We had Tree Pipit and Corn Bunting as well as a very showy Cuckoo, which perched up on the metal posts holding up the vines. We did eventually find a sort-of viewpoint over the marsh but it was still difficult to see anything through the gap in the Tamarisks. We picked up a Little Grebe and a brief pair of Red-crested Pochards which immediately disappeared.
We gave up looking for a path into the marsh and, back with the car, we crossed the river north into Aleria. We took the road east towards the coast and as we were passing a small area of water storage tanks, we noticed that there were plenty of sparrows there. Still on the lookout for Rock Sparrow, we stopped and scanned, finding a few Tree Sparrows amongst the Italians. Three Cattle Egrets appeared in the adjacent field and a major surprise was a male Moltoni's Warbler flitting around the bushes, which we saw pretty well, albeit briefly. Not exactly good habitat for breeding so probably a migrant bird.
We stopped at the beach and unpacked our 'scopes to see if there were any seabirds passing offshore. As we were setting up, Ian had a quick scan with his bins and proclaimed that there was nothing to see here and we should pack it in already. We scoffed that he was being far too hasty and he should be more patient, as we might pick up a few shearwaters or something. Ten minutes later we realised that Ian was totally correct as we had only seen a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls sat on the sea! An attraction at this spot was a very tame Italian Sparrow looking for scraps on the cafe's terrace.
Next we called in at Etang de Diane but that didn't seem very encouraging for birding with, again, seemingly no tracks or paths to explore. So we tried the next area further north known as Riva Bella. When we reached the end of this road, near the coastal dunes, we saw that it was actually a private resort and we couldn't get in! We were struggling to find anywhere decent to go birding. We decided that we may as well park up anyway and walk along the road to see what we could see. In the end, this wasn't a great deal, with a pair of Marsh Harriers and some Cetti's Warblers by a large reedbed and a couple of Red-legged Partridges flushed from the scrub all we could come up with. But we had a nice afternoon stroll, mainly looking at a good variety of interesting plants and insects.
It was getting quite late on now in the afternoon and we still hadn't come across any Rock Sparrows, which was a little annoying. They apparently like old farm buildings, so we looked on the map and saw that there was a long straight road cutting inland towards the village of Tallone, which seemed to pass through lots of farmland. There was bound to be a few old farms along there for us to check. The habitat along this road was quite different to what we had seen up to now in Corsica, being really flat with large fields. We stopped whenever we saw birds. Corn Buntings were regularly noted on the wires and we did find a few sparrows but again, only Italians. We didn't think we were destined to see Rock Sparrow. We saw Stonechats, Cirl Buntings, Serins and another Red-legged Partridge, plus a group of at least 21 Red Kites circling behind a hillside, probably a pre-roost gathering.
Eventually we got to the end of the flat plains and reached the more wooded foothills. Here we stopped by a bend in the road and could hear another Moltoni's Warbler singing from the bushes. Frustratingly elusive, we only really saw it flicking between shrubs. Of more interest here was the orchids we found on the verge. There were some superb dark burgundy and quicksilver-striped Early Spider Orchids with strange furry edges to their flowers, doing a great job of mimicking insects. There was also some weird Tongue Orchids (sp.), strange alien beasts, unlike any flower that I had seen before.
We wound our way up the hillside, crossing a valley via an old bridge where Crag Martins chased each other over the trees. We stopped half-way up the hillside where we had singing Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers, plus a couple of flighty Corsican Finches.
The evening was drawing in and we made our way slowly back to Aleria where we called in for a meal at dusk. A Great White Egret flapped its way down the river and a Scops Owl was calling also. Although we had not seen any ticks or anything corkingly rare today, we'd had a pleasant day's birding and a good time. As usual we stopped off for a beer and a Scops Owl at the campsite before we turned in.