Sunday 16 April 2017

Sicily - 9th to 16th April

Background and Introduction
Sarah, Tobias and I spent a week on Sicily from 9th to 16th April. I had hoped to see a few birds but this was to be mainly a family holiday with a mix of relaxing and visiting historical sites. Still, there were bound to be a few birds around and I hoped to see some of the following:

  • Rock Partridge - This would be a new species before and on Sicily is and endemic race 'whitakeri' and a potential split 'Sicilian Rock Partridge'.
  • Slender-billed Gull - Not seen this species for around 10 years.
  • Moltoni's Warbler - I have only seen this species on Corsica and not particularly well.
  • Long-tailed Tit - Sicily has a fairly distinctive endemic race, 'siculus'.
There were also some nice Mediterranean species that I hoped to bump into but I knew that I couldn't push my luck with the birding as this was to be a primarily a family break. This was our itinerary;
  • 9th April - Fly London Heathrow to Palermo (13:25-17:30), then drive one hour to San Vito Lo Capo
  • 10th April - Leisurely day with time around San Vito Lo Capo and walk and picnic at Riserva hello Zingaro
  • 11th April - Visit Erice and then Segesta
  • 12th April - Travel to Agrigento with the afternoon at Valle del Templi
  • 13th April - Morning at Valle del Templi then drive to Syracuse with a stop at Piazza Armerina
  • 14th April - Mount Etna
  • 15th April - Visit Ortigia
  • 16th April - Visit Syracuse and then fly Catania to London Gatwick 21:40-23:55

9th April (Day 1) - Travel
We flew from London Heathrow at 13:25 and landed in Palermo on the north coast of Sicily at 17:30, one hour ahead of UK time. After collecting our hire car from Avis we drove the one hour to our hotel at San Vito Lo Capo in the north-west of the island.

10th April (Day 2) - San Vito Lo Capo and Riserva dello Zingaro
After a good night sleep we awoke to the sounds of Yellow-legged Gull outside of our room. Scanning from our balcony which looked south over the sleepy town of San Vito Lo Capo I added Italian Sparrow, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Black Redstart, Barn Swallow and a small number of very highflying Swift of an unidentified species. We had a leisurely breakfast we drove east along the coast road out of San Vito Lo Capo to the Reserve Naturale Dello Zingaro. The coastal slopes were vibrant with wildflowers with a wash of yellow from the Cistus and the Giant Fennel, even Tobias commented on how beautiful the flowers were. Parking up at the north end of the reserve we realised that the lock on the boot of our rental car was not working and so all of our gear hand to be removed from the car by dropping the rear seats. We embroiled the help of some Americans, some Belgians and some Italians to try to interpret the cars guide book but all concluded that the lock was broken.

We walked south for around 2km along the coast path through the park and as far as  the cave known as Uzzo Grotto. We added Sardinian Warbler, Crag Martin, Common Swift, Serin, Wren, Cirl Bunting, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Pied Flycatcher and Blue Rock Thrush to the list. At the cave I heard what could have been a distant Rock Partridge but the bird only called once and it was distant anyway. Sicilian Wall Lizard were abundant and we saw a single Green Lizard. Plants included Silene nicaeensis, Pitch Trefoil, Common Asphodel and Field Gladiolus. This was a lovely walk and while not especially birdy we had a very enjoyable time which culminated in Tobias and I having a dip in the, surprisingly cold, sea while Sarah lounged on the beach.

We spend the late afternoon enjoying a beer on the seafront and planning tomorrows jaunt and the required change over of the Avis car.

Italian Wall Lizard

Italian Wall Lizard

Italian Wall Lizard

Mediterranean Skipper

Silene nicaeensis

11th April (Day 3) - Erice, Trapani Salt Pans and Segesta
We were up at 07:30 today and after a breakfast of fruit and bread headed towards the spectacular hill-top town of Erice. A few birds seen en-route included Hoopoe, a pale phase Booted Eagle, Crested Lark and Firecrest. The town was beautifully picturesque with winding narrow streets and traders selling everything from porcelain sun’s to pickled lemons. We stopped for a coffee in one of the small squares and watched the world go by. Overhead, Pallid Swift screamed and twittered and the occasional Alpine Swift was also present sweeping through its smaller companions. Italian Sparrow chirped from the tiled roof tops. An accordion playing street performer attracted attention to his colourfully decorated wagon but once the eye was caught he used a descending whistle to draw your eyes attention to his basket where change was to be deposited, I fell sucker and threw in Euro while taking snaps of Sarah and Tobias. Descending the winding hillside road from Erice we soon dropped into the industrial suburbs of the port city of Trapani. We had primarily come hear to head to the Avis office to exchange our car as oit was proving a hassle unloading everything through the front of the car due to the broken lock. On our way south we stopped at the saline lagoons south of Trapani, this being a WWF reserve. I found access limited with a single track of around 500m through the lagoons. I saw Yellow-legged Gull, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Crested Lark and a group of 21 very distant but still obviously pink Slender-billed Gull. The later was the main reason to stop here and I was disappointed they were so distant in the heat haze.

After exchanging the Peugeout 306 with the broken boot for a Fiat 500 we headed back east to Segesta. We marvelled at the roman temple with its vast columns while Zitting Cisticola and Serin flitted around us and then slogged up the road in the heat to the ampithetre while more Pallid Swift zipped around us and Sardinian Warbler and Cirl Bunting sang from the scrub.  On our descent we noticed a few orchids in the roadside verges and Tobias saw the likes of Mirror Orchid, Sawfly Orchid and Italian Orchid but was far more interested in the antics of the abundant Sicilian Wall Lizard. We headed off at around 18:00 arriving in the hotel for 19:00 for a Presseco on the balcony of our room before dinner.

San Vito Lo Capo - View from our room

Bell Tower - Erice

Street in Erice

View from Erice

Italian Sparrow - Erice

Pallid Swift - Erice

Pallid Swift - Erice

Yellow-legged Gull - Trapani

Corn Marigold

Segesta temple

Italian Man Orchid

Segesta Temple

Pallid Swift - Segesta

Pallid Swift - Segesta

Pallid Swift - Segesta

Pallid Swift - Segesta

Pallid Swift - Segesta

12th April (Day 4) - San Vito Lo Capo Headland and Valle dei Templi (Agrigento)
Today we were beginning our journey southwards across the island and so after an early'ish breakfast we loaded the car and were on the road. We started our journey with a brief stop at the lighthouse at San Vito Lo Capo where around 30 minutes of scanning produced four Scopoli's Shearwater and two Yelkouan Shearwater amongst the numerous Yellow-legged Gull but they were all a little distant. There was not a great deal of activity within the vegetation but we saw Tree Pipit, Sardinian Warbler and plenty of Serin. We then stopped a little further along the headland to the west of the town where a quick blast of the tape quickly produced a couple of Moltoni's Warbler but they were far from confiding and always kept there distance. A Nightingale singing from the scrub was an addition to the list.

We then headed off southwards towards Agrigento a journey of around three hours and after checking into our hotel, the Villa Athena we headed into the Valle Dei Templi. Our hotel overlooked the Valle Dei Templi and the hotel has a rear gate access to the site so we had a pleasant stroll through olive groves with Pallid Swift buzzing overhead. The Valley of the Temples is a Unesco World heritage site and is one of the b most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, there are the remains of seven temples at the site the best preserved of which are the stunning Temple of Concordia and Temple of Heracles. We spend a very enjoyable three hours at the site also getting very good views of three Booted Eagle overhead while other species included Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Sardinain Warbler, Raven and Serin. We relaxed in the hotel for the evening and enjoyed a glass of Prosecco on our balcony overlooking the Valley of the Temples while Scop's Owl and Stone Curlew called nearby.

Moltoni Warbler - San Vito Lo Capo

Moltoni Warbler - San Vito Lo Capo

Sardinian Warbler - San Vito Lo Capo

Booted Eagle - Valley of the Temples

Montagu's Harrier - Valley of the Temples

Booted Eagle - Valley of the Temples

Temple of Concordia

Serin - Valley of the Temples

Temple of Asclepius

Italian Sparrow - Valley of the Temples

Temple of Asclepius

Temple of Concordia

Spotless Starling - Valley of the Temples

13th April (Day 5) - Valle dei Templi (Agrigento) and Syracuse
While Sarah was getting ready I chilled on the balcony overlooking the Valley of the Temple seeing plenty of Serin and Sardinian Warbler while adding Golden Oriole to the trip list. I have noticed that quite a few of the Collared Dove are fairly dark as in the image below, not quite sure why this is. After breakfast we spent another couple of hours in the Valley of the Temples covering the areas we didn't see yesterday and seeing Black Kite, Booted Eagle and Marsh Harrier before loading the car and heading off.

The journey to Syracuse was interesting to say the least, we decided to go via Piazza Armerina to see Villa Romana del Casale. Google maps took us what seemed to be a very convoluted way through very little uses and partly overgrown roads. After admiring the amazing mosaics at Villa Romana we headed to Grand Hotel Minareto just to the south of Syracuse and relaxed for the evening.

Collard Dove and Wood Pigeon - Valley of the Temples

Golden Oriole - Valley off the Temples

Italian Wall Lizard - Valley of the Temples

14th April (Day 5) - Mount Etna
Today we spent the entire day exploring the slopes of Mount Etna, we had booked a tour through Go-Etna in the hope that we would get off the beaten track but other than a short off-road drive through the lava we basically stayed on the tourist roads and could readily have done this on our own. Still, the volcano was stunning and as well as entering a lava cave we saw Rock Bunting, Crossbill and Woodlark. There was not a sniff off the hoped for Rock Partridge or long-tailed Tit

Mount Etna

Lava slope on Mount Etna

15th April - Ortigia
Today was a lazy tourist day and after a lie in we spent the day in the beautiful town of Ortigia, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Ortigia from the sea

Ortigia Square

Italian Sparrow - Ortigia

16th April - Syracuse and Travel
Our final day and we spent the morning at the Syracuse Archaological Park. The only bird of note that we saw was a small flock six Bee-eater which passed overhead.

In the afternoon we headed for the airport through a massive electrical rain storm. We boarded our flight at 21:40 arriving in the UK at 23:55 and were home by 02:00.

Syracuse Archeological Park

Yellow Bartsia - Syracuse

Italian Wall Lizard of the uniform morph- Syracuse