Mt. Etna (Paul Harmes)
Occupying a special position between Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean island of Sicily sits at a strategic crossroads between the two continents. Here conquerors have come and gone, each leaving their mark in an eclectic and attractive mix of architecture, language and cuisine. The Greeks, Romans, Moors, Phoenicians and Normans have all passed through, and the legacy of these ruling forces can be seen everywhere on the island in its brilliant cathedrals, palaces, temples, churches and customs; and indeed in the faces of the islanders themselves! You’d be forgiven for imagining that Sicily’s natural wonders could not compete with this heady cultural mix, but you’d be wrong. Boasting a scenic coastline with some magnificent beaches, and a varied interior landscape of plains, gorges and mountain ranges known for their glorious displays of spring flowers and the spectacular Mount Etna, this is a wild yet fertile land of walnut trees, vineyards and lemon groves. And the winds that once brought a succession of invading ships to Sicily still also bring large numbers of migrating birds each spring. One glance at Sicily’s location on a map of the Mediterranean and it becomes clear why the island is such a hotspot for migrating birds. The shorter sea crossings afforded by the presence of this large island between two continents mean that migrants can be abundant and, when conditions are favourable, the coastal headlands are alive with a superb variety of migrants travelling north in spring.
We begin our holiday with a flight to Catania; we then settle into our base for the week, a charming farmhouse on a working vineyard, not far from the historic town of Siracusa. Situated in the bird-rich south-east of the island, Siracusa, with its beautiful seafront, was one of the most important cities of the ancient Greek world. For us, though, it offers an ideal location from which to explore Sicily’s diverse habitats and we’ll make daily excursions with a focus on watching the spring bird migration and other wildlife. The northward migration can be spectacular in Sicily and we will visit all the most rewarding sites. These include exposed headlands, where we'll look for such migrating species as Collared Flycatcher, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Nightjar, Woodchat Shrike and Spectacled Warbler amongst many others. Sicily is also a major migration route for raptors, with Montagu’s, Marsh and Pallid Harriers, and Red-footed Falcons among the many passage species.
Sicily also boasts a series of wetlands, varying from small lakes to expansive marshes, and we will look for Penduline Tit, listening carefully for their inconspicuous but tell-tale calls in the reedbeds, as well as Moustached and Cetti’s Warblers, whilst Black Kites and harriers hunt overhead. The reedbeds also hold an excellent variety of herons and we will be on the look-out forSquacco and Purple Herons, Little Bittern, and Cattle, Little and Great White Egrets.
One of the world’s largest active volcanoes, Mount Etna (3,350 metres) has had a significant influence over Sicily for millennia, the prosperity of the island over time being to a large extent due to the exceptionally fertile soils produced by its volcanic ash. Accompanied by a geologist, we will spend a day marvelling at the contorted lava flow rock formations, though finding time to search for the elusive Sicilian Rock Partridge that lives in the vicinity of the mountain! We will also look for the distinctive Sicilian Long-tailed Tit as we walk among the species’ favourite native chestnut forests.
Inland, we’ll explore spectacular limestone gorges and scan the cliff faces looking for Rock Sparrow and Blue Rock Thrush; almond and olive groves hold such species as Rock and Cirl Buntings, and Woodlark. Each day we will stop for a delicious and famously lavish Naturetrek picnic lunch, sampling a range of tasty fare from paninis to some of the many delicious local Sicilian hams, cheeses and olives. In the evenings, back at our comfortable farmhouse base, there will also be the opportunity to set up a moth-trap in the orchard next to the winery, which we’ll check the following morning before breakfast; the area has not been ‘trapped’ before so should yield some surprises!
This is a gentle-paced holiday with a focus on enjoying spring migrants, as well as simply being inthis southern Mediterranean landscape in early spring, with its scents of fresh blooms, pleasing earth-hued architecture and sea vistas, all bathed in a warmth that hints comfortably of the intense summer heat yet to come.
Excellent leadership from Dave and Luca not only for their great and varied wildlife knowledge but in ensuring that all members of the group were able to see each bird, butterfly, reptile etc. - often requiring considerable patience!
Great accommodation in a marvellous setting of vineyards and citrus plantations. Ideal to pre-breakfast and pre-pre-breakfast walks.
It was the first time I'd done a guided birding trip and it exceeded my expectations. I liked the variety of habitats and the extra activities - visiting Mt Etna and the Greek and Roman antiquities. It all worked so well because of the qualities of both the leader and the co-leader, who both worked very hard. I learned a lot and enjoyed it so much because of their patience, good humour and sense of fun.
Dave and Marcus were great guys with excellent skills between them to further one's knowledge. They made the holiday first class, nothing was too much trouble and they really looked after us all. They are a real asset to Naturetrek.
Dave and Ian, our tour guides, were highly professional, skilled, patient and considerate throughout. Full marks!
This was my first Naturetrek, or indeed organised birding trip, of more than one day. It was a wonderful experience with our leaders being attentive to everyone, trying to ensure that we had all seen anything that there was available to see. They added humour and were very informative, whilst happy to chat when we were relaxing.
Mr & Mrs A
The accommodation was outstanding - slightly quirky but lovely and Baron Peter went out of his way to ensure our comfort. The food was some of the best we have had on a Naturetrek holiday.
The tour leaders, Dave and Stu, were just brilliant with their vast knowledge of birds, butterflies, moths and insects. The two of them made sure everybody saw whatever they particularly wanted to see and were very helpful, friendly and amusing. The accommodation was brilliant and couldn't be faulted and the food amazing.
The accommodation was wonderful with its historic appearance and surroundings of citrus groves and vineyards. The leaders were keen to make sure that we all saw the birds; butterflies, moths and invertebrates were also noted.
Mr & Mrs A
This was yet another memorable Naturetrek trip, in the care of relaxed yet conscientious leaders. Wildlife sightings were excellent; Dave and Stuart were exceptionally good at making sure no one missed anything. The expedition up Etna was an unmissable experience, and the whole holiday was enhanced by our interesting accommodation.
My late booking was well handled by yourself and my huge room at the Pozzo a bonus. A very enjoyable trip and I'm a happy and satisfied customer.
Lovely holiday - a really friendly group - lots of laughs. Stuart was a superb leader in all respects, not only blessed with a wonderful ear and great vision for the birds, but also displaying an infectious interest in all things natural and making sure everyone saw it all.
I really appreciated that we had the space and flexibility of 2 minibuses and 2 guides for the visit. The holiday was that bit more relaxed than other wildlife trips I have been on, which was a pleasure.
Jessica and Stuart worked very hard to ensure we had a good trip. I particularly valued having a botanist and an ornithologist. The Pozzo di Mazza was comfortable and my shared room was spacious. The breakfasts were excellent.
Leaders- both were excellent! Their thoughtfulness, carefulness and knowledge were very much appreciated and they possessed both general expertise and particular areas of knowledge which complemented each other. I was an absolute neophyte about birds and they both took time to explain and help me find out more. My thanks to them both.
Mr & Mrs R.
We must start by saying how good the two tour leaders (Dave & Jessica) were…both ensured as far as possible, that we saw all the birds, flowers and insects that were available. The lunches they provided were excellent, varied and plentiful.