Alpine Chough (David Morris)
There can be no Mediterranean island so spectacular as Corsica. There can be no island anywhere, as mountainous. It is truly a green mountain in a turquoise sea. Further, and what is so remarkable, is that an island so well deserving of its ancient Greek name, Kaliste (the most beautiful), is so delightfully free of tourists and tourist development. Corsica’s wild and rugged landscape is wholly dominated by the huge granitic mountains which soar to nearly 2,740 metres and form a giant spine that runs the length of the island. Accessible only via tortuous winding roads, or pretty mountain trails, Corsica provides a near perfect Naturetrek destination, its numerous endemic plant and bird species ensuring its appeal to the naturalist. On this holiday we will be staying in two simple but comfortable mountain hotels, both situated in fabulous settings. From them we will be exploring the island’s wealth of natural history, wherever possible on foot.
Corsica is by far the greenest of the Mediterranean islands, in part because it is the least populated of the larger islands, but also because it is so remarkably well covered with unspoiled natural forest and maquis. The riot of colour presented each spring by the profusion of blossoming plants, the lush green meadows and forests, the towering snow-capped peaks, and the deep blue sea and sky will undoubtedly provide one of the great memories of this holiday. It is Corsica’s isolation from mainland Europe, being 160 kilometres from the coast of southern France, and 80 kilometres from the Italian mainland, together with its exceptional topography, that give the island its unique cultural blend, and cause the high degree of endemism amongst its flora and fauna (although many of the endemics are shared with neighbouring Sardinia, just 12 kilometres away). The endemic Corsican Nuthatch occurs in the island’s high pine forests, as do endemic races of the Citril Finch and Crossbill, amongst others. The acidic nature of Corsica’s rock does slightly limit the variety of plants, but amongst the many endemics we will hope to see are Pinguicula corsica, Crocus corsicus, Leucojum longifolium, Corsican Pine and Corsican Hellebore, plus a wonderful range of orchids.
We begin our holiday by flying to Bastia in the north of the island. From here we will drive south-west through the scented air of the maquis to Evisa, taking the scenic route that winds through the rugged and almost uninhabited hills that rise abruptly from the island’s coastline.
This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful corners of the island, with its extensive maquis and Holm Oak forest providing cover for many bird species, including Woodchat Shrike, Marmora’s, Subalpine and Dartford Warblers, and Bee-eaters. Overhead fly Alpine and Pallid Swifts.
Driving on, we will reach Evisa, a beautiful hilltop village in one of Corsica’s finest settings. High in the mountains, yet overlooking the sea and the spectacular Spelunca Gorge, the view from our hotel terrace is breath-taking. From this base, we will spend the first part of our holiday looking for Corsican Nuthatches in the Forest of Aitone, enjoying the fabulous scenery and flowers of the Spelunca Gorge, and looking at the exceptional variety of coastal and wetland birds and plants to be found on the Liamone Estuary and the dunes of the Golfe de Sagone.
Crossing the Col de Verghio, and driving through the extensive forests of Aitone and Valdo-Niello, we will descend to the historic town of Corte, Corsica’s ancient capital. Nearby is the beautiful valley of La Restonica, in the heart of the Corsican National Park. This is a long, narrow and spectacular valley, with numerous walking opportunities and an interesting range of birds and plants. To explore the region we will spend the second part of our holiday in a comfortable auberge in the Restonica Valley itself, an ideal base for our birding and botanical walks in the area. In the Gorge de la Restonica and the beautiful high alpine meadows of the Asco Valley we will look for Cyclamen repandum and Leucojum longifolium, Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Alpine Accentor, Alpine Chough and Water Pipit. In the forest of Corsican Pines near Vizzavona we have our best chance of finding Corsican Nuthatches, Crossbills and Citril Finches, whilst in the nearby Verghello Valley, that sits between the giant summits of Monte Cinto and Monte d’Oro, a range of differing vegetation provides a corresponding diversity of bird and plant species.
Finally, by way of a contrast from the island’s dominating mountain habitats, we will visit one of Corsica’s few good wetlands, the coastal lake of Biguglia. Here, a good variety of wetland birds may be found, supplemented by such specialities as Red-footed Falcon, Osprey or Audouin’s Gull, a final treat perhaps, from a truly special destination!
Each day brought something different. Both hotels were excellent. The food was very good. The knowledge and enthusiasm of the tour leaders was excellent.
The knowledge of the two leaders was amazing. Being taken to places that David knew we would see birds and flowers worked really well.
In the company of very knowledgeable and cheerful leaders and nice participants, it was great being in such beautiful nature and learning an seeing so many plants and birds.
This was a happy group. I was very impressed with the programme - both botany and birds. Coming from so far away is a gamble but this was great.
David Morris was brilliant in so many ways. His knowledge extends beyond birds. He was excellent on orchids and butterflies etc which was a real bonus. He was very helpful on the more difficult climbs (eg. carrying my rucksack)! He was able to give very accurate descriptions of walks etc. I found this very reassuring. A very impressive young man and an excellent leader. Even though I'm not a 'birder', I'd happily join another holiday where he was a leader.
Both leaders worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone got the most out of the trip and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Their hard work, good humour, broad knowledge and enthusiasm made for a very happy and successful week.
This was my 8th Naturetrek holiday and one of the best. Flowers, scenery, expertise of leaders ... all excellent.
The visit was well planned, using known sites that provided good opportunities to see a variety of habitats and various treats of wildlife. Our leaders were keen to give us the best ... their enthusiasm for both the area and its wildlife was quickly passed on, making the foundations for a very successful trip. The accommodation was excellent and we appreciate the efforts made to look after us. No complaints at all - we were very well catered for! Overall the holiday was an excellent introduction to the area, providing good opportunities to see some fantastic wildlife. Many thanks to both Alan and Paul.
I cannot speak more highly of the leaders for their knowledge of birds and plants, as well as their concern for their clients' safety and comfort. They were both excellent leaders and helped make sure that we both enjoyed ourselves and saw a wide range of birds and plants.
Both Paul and Alan were excellent leaders. They took great care over the less mobile members of the group, ensuring they were not left out. They also showed incredible patience with the more challenging participants. Paul and Alan's knowledge of the natural history and political history of the area made for a really enjoyable week.
It has been a wonderful trip and our tour leaders were both flexible and innovative. For me, personally, the variety of wild flowers, especially those long since extinct or extremely rare in Britain, made the trip particularly rewarding.
Paul Harmes, tour leader and botanist, and Alan Miller, co-leader and ornithologist, were wonderful, making our time happy. Both were very keen and our group was delightful, knowledgeable, small in numbers and enjoyed sharing their interests. The two leaders were constantly watching to see we oldies could manage and were ready to help us.