Corsican Finch (Carduelis corsicana)

Capraia, the island of Corsican Finches

Capraia is one of the remotest of islands of Tyrrhenian Sea. The proximity with Corsica, just 30 km far, has influenced it’s biodiversity, giving to the island a number of interesting specialities that Capraia shares with Sardinia and Corsica. On the other hand, the isolation has made the island an amazing ground for birdwatching during migration times.

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)

I took the ferry to the island from the harbour of Livorno, in Tuscany: the journey took almost 3 hours to go across the 62 km of open sea, passing in between Gorgona and Elba islands. The roundtrip ticket was rather expensive, costing more than 40 euros in April, so in low season.

Gorgona island
Gorgona island

This long navigation offers great opportunities of sea-watching: during my trip I observed only a dozen of Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea), some Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gulls and a little flock of ducks with Wigeons and a Gadwall, but few days later Andrea Tarozzi had the pleasure to observe a Great and a Pomarine Skua, both rare birds in Italy!

Scopoli's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)

Landing to Capraia, the island showed well its volcanic origin, with evident red rocks and funny solid lava shapes.

Punta della Teglia
Punta della Teglia

The vegetation is mainly a garigue that at the time of my visit was just coloured by the yellow-green of Tree Spurges (Euphorbia dendroides).

Tree Spurge (Euphorbia dendroides) blooms
Tree Spurge (Euphorbia dendroides) blooms

The little harbour was characterized by colourful houses.

Harbour of Capraia
Harbour of Capraia

After landing, I decided to follow a trail that climbs the valley of Aghiale stream.

At the first bush my attention was attracted by some movementes: a couple of Willow Warbler and a wonderful male of Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpina) were there. This is a subendemic species of Italy, Corsica, southern France and Balearic islands, well distincted from the more widespread Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans) by the salmon-pink tinge of breast and flanks and by the “trrrrrr” call.

Moltoni's Warbler (Sylvia subalpina)
Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpina)

The steep road run among the a maquis of Lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus) and Montpellier Cistus (Cistus monspeliensis), with the undergrowth dotty by the white flowers of Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum).

Lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus)
Lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus)
Montpellier Cistus (Cistus monspeliensis)
Montpellier Cistus (Cistus monspeliensis)
Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)
Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)

With the sun, I observed few butterflies, including Painted Lady, Common Clouded Yellow and the sub endemic Corsican Wall Brown (Lasiommata paramegaera), present only in Corsica, Sardinia, Montecristo and Capraia.

Corsican Wall Brown (Lasiommata paramegaera)
Corsican Wall Brown (Lasiommata paramegaera)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Many “Capraia lizards” (Podarcis sicula caporiaccoi) were around as well. The validity of this taxon is not universally accepted, so many people may refer to these reptiles as simple Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis sicula). They were wonderful lizards indeed.

"Capraia lizard" (Podarcis sicula caporiaccoi)
“Capraia lizard” (Podarcis sicula caporiaccoi)

The road reached the ruins of the ex penal colony: it was a rather spectral area, with the sign of time making the buildings almost unusable. The so called “Castelletto”, with its funny architecture, was probably the most attractive one.

Castelletto
Castelletto

The vegetable gardens and the little meadows were a great place to look for migrant birds: I spotted Wren, Robin, Whinchat, Common and Black Redstart, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Common Whitethroat, Sardinian Warbler, Moltoni’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Siskin.

Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Moltoni's Warbler (Sylvia subalpina)
Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpina)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Near the Castelletto I found another Capraia lizard, truly feeling like a dragon…

"Capraia lizard" (Podarcis sicula caporiaccoi)
“Capraia lizard” (Podarcis sicula caporiaccoi)

…but also stunning plants of Hoary Stocks (Matthiola incana), populating the old walls and roofs.

Hoary Stocks (Matthiola incana)
Hoary Stocks (Matthiola incana)

Going higher in the altitude, I reached a beautiful area of pastures, with stables and fences: the place was plenty of Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Meadow and Tree Pipits.

In the sky I spotted some Swallows, a Raven and few raptors: Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel and a lonely Marsh Harrier.

Raven (Corvus corax)
Raven (Corvus corax)
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

In the grass was feeding a beautiful Hoopoe.

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

But my main target was one of the most localized birds in Europe, the Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana), a species found only in Corsica, Sardinia, Gorgona, Elba and Capraia, with a so called “Tyrrenian distribution”.

The area, with open habitats and that amazing view into the Capraia village, sounded perfect….

Capraia village
Capraia village

I watched a single Dunnock, two Red-legged Partridges, some Skylarks, a Mistle Thrush, a couple of Northern Wheatears… At the end I heard the unmistakable call!

Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)
Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)

A dozen of Corsican Finches were feeding on the grassy sides of the trail.

Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)
Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)

They were definitely gorgeous creatures, with their bright yellow of face and underparts, the grey of nape, the olive green of wing bars and the brown of mantle that distinguish this species from the similar Citril Finch (Serinus cirinella) of Alps and mountains of Spain.

Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)
Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)

On the way back, I paid attention to the rich flora, enjoying the purple of Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas), the white of Branched Asphodels (Asphodelus ramosus) and the yellow of Hairy Thorny Brooms (Calicotome villosa).

Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and Branched Asphodels (Asphodelus ramosus)
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and Branched Asphodels (Asphodelus ramosus)
Hairy Thorny Broom (Calicotome villosa)
Hairy Thorny Broom (Calicotome villosa)

But also the tiny plants of Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) that populated every wall and fracture of old buildings were incredibly cute.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris)
Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris)

The village of Capraia was incredibly pretty, with bright colours of buildings, doors and windows, curious details, flowers in vases and little gardens.

But the most spectacular experience have been to reach the area of heliport and to discover that the grass was filled in birds!

Dozens of Meadow Pipits, Black Redstarts, Goldfinches, Serins, Chaffinches, Linnets…

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
European Serin (Serinus serinus)
European Serin (Serinus serinus)

And among this superb bonanza, twenty Corsican Finches…

Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)
Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)
Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)
Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana)

…but also Marsh Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Water Pipit, Northern Wheatear, Sedge Warbler, Moltoni’s Warbler, Starling, Reed Bunting and a Lesser Redpoll, so far from its grounds!

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Moltoni's Warbler (Sylvia subalpina)
Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpina)
Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret)
Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret)

On the way back to the harbour, I finished my time in Capraia finding the only one orchid of the day: a Small-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias parviflora). It was a shame to not have time enough to look for the speciality of Capraia, Serapias strictiflora, that has here the only known station in Italy, but maybe the season of blooming was in delay, because I couldn’t see any Common Tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua) as well.

Small-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias parviflora)
Small-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias parviflora)

My last bird on the island was a wonderful female of Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis).

Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis)
Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis)

All this post comes from just about 7 hours on the island in mid April: that’s why my greeting to the island is surelly an “arrivederci”: see you soon Capraia, unforgetable island of Corsican Finches!

Capraia village from the ferry
Capraia village from the ferry

 

 

Luca Boscain

4 thoughts on “Capraia, the island of Corsican Finches

    1. It’s a great ground for orchids, but I was not so lucky with the weather… And this probably affected birding

      Like

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