Friday, 17 May 2013

CORSICA May 2013: Bonifacio and prehistoric sites of south-west

Friday 10 May.  Our plan was to drive to Bonifacio, walk to Cape Pertusato (me in the hope of seeing some migrants) and, after a look around town, take an afternoon ferry to Santa Teresa-Gallura in northern Sardinia.  An early evening return would hopefully be good for shearwaters.  That was the plan.  We'd not taken account of it being the hottest day we were away, Bonifacio being crowded as many took the day off to make a long weekend and an increasing wind which made Megan feel queasy just looking at the sea.  The reality was a walk to the Semaphore Station (not quite as far as the Cape) with any migrants keeping their heads well down in the freshening breeze although we did see Mediterranean Shag, Sardinian Warbler and four Ravens.  A look around town wasn't ideal in the heat and crowds but two fine Alpine Swifts amongst many Pallids and what looked like a pucka male Spanish Sparrow were bonuses.  
showy Sardinian Warbler

view to Cape Pertusato
lighthouse at Cape Pertusato with Sardinia in the background
panorama of above view
view back to Bonifacio
panorama from the Semaphore Station
Bonifacio from afar

approaching Bonifacio showing impressive citadel walls

narrow street within the citadel
motorbikes are a popular form of transport
Bonifacio cemetry
Yellow-legged Gull
 We returned to Santa Giula after an abortive attempt to get to the end of the Chiappa headland and later had an enjoyable walk along the beach to the lagoon where a male Red-footed Falcon did a brief fly-by.  The lagoon also hosted the only duck of the trip, two Mallard.

Hooded Crow
Santa Giula bay
Megan returning from the lagoon
Saturday 11 May.  I was up before dawn to drive back down to Bonifacio and Capo Pertusato for a couple of hours of seawatching/looking for migrants.  I parked at the Semaphore Station and walked to the Cape finding some shelter from a strong wind behind low bushes along the cliff top.  I wasn't used to sea-watching from much above sea-level but within 10 minutes I'd seen both Scopali's and Yelkouan Shearwaters heading north at a moderate distance and ended up seeing 33 and 59 of each respectively - the wind was clearly in my favour!  After an hour, during which time a female Peregrine cruised north along the cliff top, I tried to find some migrants but had to settle for a single Spotted Flycatcher and a couple of presumably resident Sardinian Warblers.  A gulley north of the Semaphore Station went down to a beach where offshore a few Yelkouan Shearwaters were on the sea with some Mediterranean Shags.  I'd parked near the cliff top and the car decided to do a rendering of 'panpipes of the Andes' as the wind whistled loudly through its roof-rack - at first I thought it was a nearby camper with a radio on full volume!
juvenile Mediterranean Shags with diagnostic pale underparts

Scopoli's Shearwater

Yelkouan Shearwaters

with Yellow-legged Gull
migrant Spotted Flycatcher
view north from Cape Pertusato showing Semaphore Station and Bonifacio in the distance
Bonifacio in early morning sun
I returned to Santa Giula soon after 9 a.m. and we headed off towards Ajaccio with a few ancient sites to look at on the way.  The first was in many ways the most impressive, the Alignements de Palaggiu.  Twelve kms down a dead-end minor road and then a 1.5 km walk along a gravel track through the maquis, they were not the sort of place one found without really wanting to visit.  The standing stones, over 3500 year old, were impressive and lined up as they were amongst the vegetation made the visit very worthwhile, more so as we saw 12 Bee-eaters and a Long-tailed Tit on the walk back to the car.
someone reluctant to be lined-up at Alignements de Palaggiu
Standing Stones in natural overgrown habitat

Wall Lizard
Nearby were Megalithes de Cauria, a half hour circuit encompassing two more lots of even older (1900 BC) Standing Stones (Stantari & Renaggiu) and a burial chamber made up of giant slabs of rock (Dolmen de Fontanaccia).  They didn't seem quite as natural with detracting fencing around some of them.  We saw the only Wheatear of the trip at Stantari.
Standing Stones at Stantari
the better preserved stones had faces and weapons.  Others were thought to have been worn away by animals rubbing against them although the barbed wire was more to keep tourists out.
Renaggiu looked more like an old graveyard ...
... with some very big gravestones
Dolmen de Fontanaccia, neatly fenced off ...
The final stop of our ancient heritage trail was Filitosa, half-way back to Ajaccio.  This was rather more commercialised, and busier, than the other sites but although the stones themselves were more impressive and the setting very nice (Hoopoe and Corsican Woodchat in the grounds) piped music and audio commentaries in a choice of languages made the place seem rather more like a theme park.  We found our hotel and drove into Ajaccio for a pizza.
one of the better preserved stones at Filitosa
faced stones at filitosa

Corsican Woodchat Shrike, lacking a white primary patch
this was the only one we saw

Sunday 12 May.  We returned the car first filling it up with diesel.  We'd driven almost 1100 kms in our week and the fuel gauge hadn't quite reached the red.  I was expecting it to have a huge tank but 73 Euros filled it up!  Our flight was on time and thanks to Oakhurst park-at-my-house we were back home in Shoreham within two hours of touching down at Gatwick.  A very enjoyable holiday that exceeded our expectations, and I'm not aware that I missed anything crucial locally while I was away.

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