BUBO in CORSICA - part 8
Our trip was coming rather abruptly to an end and this was to be our last morning on Corsica. Our flights were around lunchtime so we had a couple of hours spare before we left. We decided that we would explore the large coastal lagoon of Etang de Biguglia (rather an appropriate name for us some might say). The reason we chose this spot was that it was right next to Bastia Airport, which was pretty handy. We packed up the car at the campsite and had to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we left - it had been a bit chilly overnight.
We arrived in good time and followed the road round the south side of the airport to get to the lagoon. Along this minor road we passed a very old church (point 1 on map below), "L'Eglise de la Canonica" or Lucciana Cathedral, built in the 12th Century. As interesting as the history may have been, the main reason we stopped was that we could see a lot of sparrows around the ancient monument and we thought we had a good chance of Rock Sparrow. Alas, it was not to be, as the birds were all Italian and Tree Sparrows.
The coastal road runs right along the south side of the lagoon and our first stop was when we could first see the water (point 2). Due to the waterside vegetation, we couldn't see very well but there didn't seem to be much out of the southern part of the lake, but we were not expecting many things swimming around at this time of year. We looked up to see that there had been a bit of an arrival of Swifts, which matched with what we were seeing yesterday evening at Bonifacio. In the large trees at the side of the road we picked up a Wood Warbler singing which was a big surprise - it must have been a migrant. It took a little while but we managed great views of it in the end.
We didn't really have much info as to where the best spots were for birding round the lagoon, but the book did mention that you could drive up the little peninsula in the centre, so we went there (point 3). This was a much better area for viewing the lagoon and we were able to get out and walk a little way down the track, even finding a boardwalk to a viewing screen. This was the first evidence we'd seen so far of any kind of reserve/conservation area. The screen though was not especially helpful as it was pointing straight into the sun and there only seemed to be a load of Coots on the water. Closer inspection though revealed a few distant Red-crested Pochards and Cormorants, and we picked up an Osprey moving though. In the reedbeds around the track we had a few Fan-tailed Warblers zit-zit-zitting away, and it was a pleasant spot. That was until a low-flying plane came in, and zoomed really low over the reedbeds, spraying its load of pesticides everywhere! Apparently these lagoons have had a lot of malarial mosquitos in the past and it used to be a real problem in Corsica, so they annually spray the reedbeds to keep the numbers down. This plane also put up a large flock of Flamingos - there must have been between 50 and 100 birds - but we didn't get to see them very well as they soon disappeared.
We continued northwards and we found a car park with a little nature reserve board up, right near the northern tip of the lagoon (point 4 on map). Here we followed a track down to the waters edge and we could see a lot more from here. There was a little bay to our right and there was a selection of birds feeding amongst the driftwood on the sure including Wood and Common Sandpipers, a Wheatear and at least three Yellow Wagtails. One of these wags was a male and had the dark cheeks, grey crown and white throat of an Ashy-headed Wagtail, the local race.
A couple of locals appeared and pointed out to us a distant Audouin's Gull sat on a post in the middle of the lake - we would have seen it ourselves of course given time, but they clearly knew that was where they liked to perch. It was a little far away for photography, especially in the heat haze which was now building, but this was only my second ever Audouin's so I was pleased to see it. We also recorded a Sandwich Tern here and a Scarce Swallowtail butterfly flew by.
That's when we had to go our separate ways, since Ian and Andy had a slightly earlier flight to me and Mike, travelling via Paris. So we drove round to the airport to drop them off and bid them farewell (I understand Andy had the handle of his moth net confiscated by airport security - lol). We estimated that we had another hour's birding available before we had to check-in, so we hurried back the way we came, stopping first to look at the local S. C. Bastia's football stadium.
It seemed logical for us to return to the previous spot since we had seen quite a bit there. Swallows were now piling through north in numbers and we recorded our first Sand Martin of the trip. The Audouin's Gull had found a buddy perched on the next post along and so still too far away. With nothing else new showing we moved on.
We drove off to see if we could find another viewpoint over the lake and as we whooshed by I thought I saw a Flamingo stood in the water and Mike stopped as soon as he could (point 5). Looking through the bushes along the edge of the lake, we could see 8 Flamingos wading around in the water and we had managed to get quite close to them (the bird I initially saw and stopped for was actually a Great White Egret a bit further up, so these flamingos were a coincidence!). It was great to have good views of these zoo exhibits in the proper wild. Behind these birds was a little area of muddy shoreline and we picked out a Grey Plover and a ringed plover sp. pottering around, and then two Black-winged Stilts appeared, but the heat haze was now getting troublesome.
We returned to the central spit area but couldn't find anything new apart from a pair of Little Grebes with chicks in a drainage channel. We then made a stop right at the mouth of the lagoon where it enters the sea (point 6). It looked quite good here but we didn't really have any time to explore. We saw a Swallowtail butterfly here, as well as some kind of hawker dragonflies, and also a group of about 20 Bee-eaters calling as they migrated north over the lagoon. An excellent end to our birding in Corsica.
Our flight to Marseille airport was straightforward but we had a four-hour layover before our Gatwick plane left. Marseille Airport was a bit of a nightmare since there was literally no signage at all to the terminal that we were supposed to be leaving from. It is only when we got outside the building that we could see that this terminal was only half built, never mind signposted. My annoyance was only lifted when I saw a bloke drop a box of Viagras in front of everyone inside the terminal!
Rather than sitting and doing nothing we decided to go for a little walk down the road to look at some lagoons next to the airport. It was probably not such a good idea in the end, wheeling our cases such a long way long the roadside just to look out over a few ponds, especially as I thought Marseille Airport and its surroundings felt a bit "dodgy" and I was concerned about bandits. nevertheless we had a look around and saw a few Mute Swans, Moorhens and 2 male and a female Red-crested Pochards. In the scrub around were Sardinian Warblers and Fan-tailed Warblers, and Mike saw a couple of Stilts.
We finally caught the flight to Gatwick where I said goodbye to Mike - hopefully not another decade before I'll see him again - and rested in the Premier Inn, pretty knackered after a busy day.
The trip had been a very successful one. Firstly we were amazed that we all managed to meet up in Corsica without any delays or flight cancellations and similarly get back again too. We were travelling on a total of 18 flights, using 10 different airports, so it was clearly a miracle in this day and age. But more importantly, all the birding had been enjoyable and I had a great time with the lads - lots of reminiscing and badinage. And also I got the main birds I wanted to see, especially the Corsican Nuthatch which was the one bird I just had to see. The Lammergeier was a real bonus as I really didn't expect to see that one. It is interesting that the other five ticks I had were not full species when I started birding - Italian Sparrow, Corsican Finch, Moltoni's Warbler, Scopoli's & Yelkouan Shearwaters - so I would have only had three ticks if I'd have done this trip 25 years ago (I have not seen Citril Finch so Corsican Finch would have still been a tick). The biggest disappointment was missing Marmora's Warbler which we thought was nailed on. As mentioned, not a tick missed, but it would have been good to see it in its natural habitat. Perhaps they become very skulky at this time of year, especially in the quite blowy conditions we experienced in the last few days of the trip. I also thought I would probably get Rock Sparrow.
The highlights for me were :
- the first walk in the hills near the Col de Sorba where we saw an amazing selection of species including the Nuthatch.
- the excitement of a Lammergeier appearing over our heads.
- walking above the tree line above Haute Asco.
- watching the raptors from Aleria Fort.
- the Montie's and other migrants arriving in off the straits at Bonifacio.
- finding some great non-birds, my favourites being the Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards, Hermann's Tortoise and Early Spider Orchids.
So many thanks to the legends that are the BUBO Lads for making the trip so memorable. I don't know when or where we'll be going next, but I hope we have as good a time as we did here in Corsica.