Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Nature of Corsica 10: Birds

Red Kites and crows
With a trip list for the week of only 66 species, Corsica was not the most species-rich place I have been birding, and birds were often hard to find, but we got good views of the endemic Corsican Nuthatch on several occasions, and the also endemic Corsican Finch twice. The Crossbills we found are not classed as an endemic species at present, but are classed as an endemic subspecies Loxia curvirostra corsicana. Taxonomy of the various forms of L. curvirostra is perhaps best described as “challenging” – there are numerous localised forms with different beak sizes depending on the dominant conifer cones they feed on, and many of these are prone to irruptive dispersal when the cone crop fails.

Corsican Nuthatch
 The most important of the birds we were looking for was the Corsican Nuthatch, Sitta whiteheadi. In the autumn these tend to become nomadic, ranging through the pine forests in search of insects and seeds. The world population is estimated at around 2000 pairs, not many, which is why they are classed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. Corsican Nuthatch is part of a superspecies complex which also includes the North American Red-Breasted Nuthatch, the recently discovered Algerian Nuthatch, the Turkish Krupers Nuthatch and the Chinese Nuthatch. All these species are unusual among nuthatches in excavating their own nest holes – other nuthatches use existing holes. They also modify the nest by plastering mud around the entrance hole.
Krupers Nuthatch
The other key endemic we went looking for were the Corsican Finch, Carduelis corsicana, which was recently split from the Citril Finch found on the mainland. It has a wider habitat selection than the Citril Finch, which is restricted to high latitude conifer forests. Corsican finches are found down to sea level, and are also found on Sardinia and some other neighbouring islands.

Corsican Finch - well disguised!
At the same site where we found the Corsican Finch we were pleased to get good views of the Water Pipit, Anthus spinoletta. These are rather tubby looking pipits, with a very wide range from Europe east as far as China. In the breeding season they are mountain birds, but in the autumn and winter they disperse widely, to lowland wetlands and as far west as Britain, although it does not breed in the UK.
Water Pipit
One species I was able to get close enough to get good photos of was the Italian Sparrow, Passer italiae. This species, the common sparrow of most of Italy and adjacent islands, has an unusual origin – it appears to have originated as a hybrid of House Sparrow P.domesticus and Spanish Sparrow  P. hispaniolensis, although there now seems to be sufficient reproductive barriers between both parent species to maintain it as a species in its own right.
Italian Sparrow
Finally, once of the commonest raptors we saw on the island was the Red Kite, Milvus milvus. This is widespread in Europe, and thanks to the well publicised, and highly successful, reintroduction scheme in the UK can be seen on the main M4 between London and Bristol – a few weeks ago I saw 4 along the route. They do not breed in the Bristol area yet, but they are seen fairly frequently and it is surely only a matter of time before they do.
Red Kite
This is the last post for the year, so I would like to wish all my readers a happy New Year and hopefully interesting reading on this blog in 2015

(Photos mine, Wikipedia)

Complete bird list for Corsica 2014: (x) = number of days out of 7 birds were seen
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (1)
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis (2)
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus (1)
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (3)
Great Egret Ardea alba (1)
Little Egret Egretta garzetta (2)
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (2)
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus (1)
Red Kite Milvus milvus (6)
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (1)
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo (4)
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos (4)
Bonellis Eagle Aquila fasciata (1)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus (3)
Eleanoras Falcon Falco eleanorae (1)
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra (1)
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus (1)
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres (1)
Black Headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus (1)
Audouins Gull Icfthyaetus audoinii (1)
Yellow-Legged Gull Larus michahellis (1)
Lesser Black Back Gull Larus fuscus(1)
Greater Black-Back Gull Larus marinus (1)
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis (1)
Feral Pigeon Columba livia (7)
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus (4)
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto (3)
Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops (1)
European Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (1)
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major (5)
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator (1)
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius (7)
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix (5)
Northern Raven Corvus corax (7)
Coal Tit Periparus ater (6)
Great Tit Parus major (5)
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus (2)
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica (2)
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyoprogne rupestris (3)
House Martin Delichon urbicum (4)
Cettis Warbler Cettia cetti (2)
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (1)
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis (1)
Marmoras Warbler Sylvia sarda (1)
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala (6)
European Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla (6)
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes (2)
Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi (3)
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris (1)
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor (4)
European Blackbird Turdus melanocephala (5)
European Robin Erithacus rubecula (5)
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe (2)
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius (4)
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata (2)
White-Throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus (1)
Italian Sparrow Passer italiae (5)
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea (3)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba (1)
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris (1)
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta (2)
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs (5)
Eurasian Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis (2)
Corsican Finch Carduelis corsicana (2)
Corsican Crossbill Loxia curvirostra (1)
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus (1)

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