Trip Report: Sardinia (Italy), August 9-16, 1997

Graham Tebb, Vienna, Austria;

Dear all,

Christine and I have just returned from a week in Sardinia. The primary purpose of the trip was not to watch birds but to escape from the office, and we did not by any means spend all our time looking down binoculars. Nevertheless, we did see a number of interesting species, several of which were new to us.

Our route was as follows. We flew direct to Tortoli on the East Coast and drove from there to Cagliari, where we spent a full day (Christine on the beach and me looking for the Stagno di Molentargius: the LIPU book says access is "quite easy" but this is extremely misleading). During this time I also visited the saltpans of Quartu, which were very productive. The following day we drove along the South coast, stopping to look at the Roman ruins at Nora, to Calasetta, where we took the ferry to Carloforte on the Island of San Pietro, our base for the next three days. We left Carloforte and drove inland (via the Temple of Antias) to Villanovaforru and stayed there for the final two nights. This proved to be a good base for visiting the various Nuraghi as well as for going to the Giara di Gesturi.

On our final full day we spent three hours on the Giara di Gesturi looking in vain for Little Bustard and Barbary Partridge (okay, the birds are supposed to be concentrated around the small lakes but we couldn't even find those). The LIPU guide (in the Helm series) gave a further possible spot for Little Bustard on the Abbasanta Plateau but by the time we arrived there was little hope of finding much. The guide also said, by the way, that Short-toed Lark and Stone Curlew are common in the area and that it is "quite easy" (that phrase again!) to see Rock Sparrows. We dipped on all three.

By now fairly frustrated, we drove the remaining distance to Capo Marargiu to twitch the Griffons, which did not disappoint, and then headed down to the LIPU reserve at Sale Porcus in the Gulf of Oristano for a final spot of shorebirding. It was not to be: the lake had completely dried up, and the only life to be seen was a young couple riding a noisy motorbike across the salty remains. The nearby signs still promised flocks of Flamingos ...

While in the area we also visited the Phoenician/Roman ruins at Tharros where, for the only time in the week, I was parted from my binoculars. It proved to be a mistake as a Little Owl was sitting on the edge of a rock in the ruins -- a lovely surprise but it did give me a long and very hot run back to our car to collect the binoculars!

Thanks are due in particular to Alberto Marcone and Luciano Ruggieri, who both replied to my original request for information on EBN with detailed suggestions on where to go. They both recommended the marshes in the Gulf of Cagliari and the Isola di San Pietro, which provided the most rewarding birdwatching of our trip.

We may not have seen a huge number of species but we did have a very enjoyable time and can recommend Sardinia as a holiday destination for anyone. It is particularly suited for cases where not everybody is interested in birds: Christine tells me that the beaches are excellent (I am terminally bored within five minutes and horribly burnt if I do manage to stay longer), and there are ruins of three ancient civilizations scattered throughout. The accommodation is good and the food is a real pleasure!

A full list of species seen follows, together with some brief annotations. The locations are indicated by:
E - enroute from Tortoli to Cagliari
C - Cagliari and the marshes of Molentargius and Quartu
S - the Island of San Pietro
G - the Giara di Gesturi and surrounding villages
A - the Abbasanta Plateau

Little Grebe -- Tachybaptus ruficollis -- C
Seen only in Molentargius.

European Shag -- Phalacrocorax aristotelis -- S
On the rocky islets visible from Nora and the Santa Caterina saltworks (San Antioco) as well as on the West Coast of the Island of San Pietro.

Mallard -- Anas platyrhynchos -- C

Common Pochard -- Aythya ferina -- C

Greater Flamingo -- Phoenicopterus ruber -- C, S
Large numbers on all the lakes and saltpans along the South coast. Apparently the species bred in Molentargius for the first time in 1993.

Little Egret -- Egretta garzetta -- C, S
Common on all lakes and saltpans.

Grey Heron -- Ardea cinerea -- C, S
Much less common: only one seen in Molentargius and one on the Saline di Carloforte on the Island of San Pietro.

Eurasian Griffon -- Gyps fulvus
The colony on Capo Marargiu (just North of Bosa) apparently contains about twenty pairs. This species is virtually guaranteed.

Common Buzzard -- Buteo buteo -- E, S, G, A

Bonelli's Eagle -- Hieraaetus fasciatus -- E
A surprise, seen on the first day. Driving from Tortoli we noticed a medium-sized raptor soaring and stopped to look. The bird disappeared fairly quickly and was too distant to permit identification so we stayed and waited, hoping it would return. It did not but from the other side of the road and adult Bonelli's Eagle appeared, calling loudly, and flew almost directly over our heads. Perhaps the bird we saw first was a mate? We told the people at the LIPU camp on the Island of San Pietro and they were very excited: a pair of Bonelli's Eagles used to breed in the area where we had seen them but there were no recent reports.

Eurasian Kestrel -- Falco tinnunculus
Common and widespread throughout.

Eleonora's Falcon -- Falco eleonorae -- S
Our "life bird" actually came at Nora while we were sea-watching and hoping the rain would stop. But the colony on the West coast of the Island of San Pietro is definitely worth seeing. It contains about 100 pairs and provides excellent looks of soaring birds (we once saw twelve at once). The eggs were laid about two weeks ago and thanks to the LIPU camp we saw two females on nests. Most of the birds appeared to be light-phase but there were a couple of dark-phase individuals and we saw at least one every day we were there. I really enjoyed talking to the LIPU people and learned a lot about the species. I only wish my Italian was less hesitant!

Peregrine Falcon -- Falco peregrinus -- C
One seen flying over the saltpan at Quartu and then (at very close range) perched on a pylon overlooking the lake. Apparently also present but uncommon on San Pietro.

Water Rail -- Rallus aquaticus -- S
The top sighting of the trip! One evening we saw seven birds, including one immature, in plain view on the mud in the Saline of Carloforte. The next morning I checked again and there were again seven birds, this time including two immatures. As one accustomed to seeing nothing more than a pair of dangling legs I was thrilled!

Common Moorhen -- Gallinula chloropus -- C
In Molentargius.

Eurasian Coot -- Fulica atra -- C
Also in the Stagno di Cabras in the Gulf of Oristano. Purple Gallinule is also to be found in both places but was not by us. The Sardinian population represents the entire Italian population but the bird is not easy to see.

Common Redshank -- Tringa totanus -- C, S
Migrant waders were observed in and around all the saltpans. The numbers were generally fairly low but Redshank was the most conspicuous species throughout.

Common Greenshank -- Tringa nebularia -- C
Only one seen, on the edge of saltpan at Quartu.

Common Sandpiper -- Tringa hypoleucos -- C, S

Little Stint -- Calidris minuta -- C, S

Dunlin -- Calidris alpina
One on the Santa Caterina Saltworks was the only one for the trip.

Curlew Sandpiper -- Calidris ferruginea -- C, S
One particularly nice group of four on the edge of a saltpan at Quartu contained a near-full Summer-plumaged bird, a Winter-plumaged bird and two distinct intermediate phases.

Black-winged Stilt -- Himantopus himantopus -- C
Many pairs on the saltpans at Quartu, calling loudly to alert all the other birds to my presence.

Pied Avocet -- Recurvirostra avosetta -- C
On the march at Molentagius but seen only from a lookout on the Via Europa (I was desperate!). Also present in large numbers on the marsh at Macchiareddu and well visible from the road.

Little Ringed Plover -- Charadrius dubius -- C, S

Snowy Plover -- Charadrius alexandrinus -- C, S

Audouin's Gull -- Larus audouinii -- S
A group of six on the Saline di Carloforte gave excellent, long looks. Three birds in more "natural" surroundings were seen on the rocky West coast of San Pietro as we took our tourist "around the island" boat trip.

Yellow-legged Gull -- Larus cachinnans -- C, S
The most common gull on the island, by a long way.

Black-headed Gull -- Larus ridibundus -- C, S
Many seen on the marshes and saltpans by Cagliari but only one (from the West coast) on San Pietro.

Slender-billed Gull -- Larus genei -- C, S
Easily seen in the harbour in the centre of Cagliari and in large numbers on Molentargius and Quartu. Several were also usually present on the Saline di Carloforte and around the Santa Caterina Saltworks.

Black Tern -- Chlidonias niger
An adult in full breeding plumage was watched flying over the Santa Caterina Saltworks.

Gull-billed Tern -- Sterna nilotica -- C
Two seen over Molentargius and a further two over the marsh at Macchiareddu.

Common Tern -- Sterna hirundo -- C
Common over the harbour and the saltpans by Cagliari.

Little Tern -- Sterna albifrons -- C
Twenty to thirty seen diving into the saltpans at Quartu.

Rock Dove -- Columba livia -- S
Yes, there were feral pigeons everywhere but there were also a number of "real" wild Rock Doves on the cliffs on the West coast of the Island of San Pietro, amongst the Eleonora's Falcon colony.

Wood Pigeon -- Columba palumbus -- G
Surprisingly, seen only on the Giara di Gesturi.

European Turtle-Dove -- Streptopelia turtur -- G, A
And presumably elsewhere but we spent little time in the appropriate habitat.

Laughing Dove -- Streptopelia senegalensis
This one's a bit of a puzzle because I wasn't expecting it to be on Sardinia at all. On top of that, I did not see the bird but its call is extremely distinctive and I definitely heard it coming from a rooftop in the town of Bosa. I can't imagine that someone was keeping the bird as a pet so believe it was just out of my view on a roof. We didn't spend any time looking and listening for more because Bosa was only a lunch stop.

Collared Dove -- Streptopelia decaocto -- E, C

Little Owl -- Athene noctua
The one on the ruins at Tharros was a real bonus.

Common Swift -- Apus apus
Common throughout.

Common Kingfisher -- Alcedo atthis -- C
One flew across an open patch of water in the reedbeds at the edge of Molentargius.

European Bee-eater -- Merops apiaster -- E, G, A
Large flocks on open ground throughout.

Eurasian Hoopoe -- Upupa epops -- G
One seen flying across the road on our final morning. The symbol of LIPU.

Great Spotted Woodpecker -- Dendrocopos major -- E, G, A
I believe this is the only woodpecker found on Sardinia. Common and easy to see wherever there are stands of mature trees.

Eurasian Jay -- Garrulus glandarius -- G
Very common (and noisy) on the Giara di Gesturi.

Eurasian Jackdaw -- Corvus monedula -- C
A colony on the Citadel in Cagliari and another near the town of Bosa.

Carrion Crow -- Corvus corone -- E, C, G, A
In fact, Hooded Crow (C.c. cornix), spread throughout the island in large numbers. We didn't see any at all on San Pietro, though.

Common Raven -- Corvus corax -- G
A pair performing aerial acrobatics over the Giara di Gesturi.

Red-backed Shrike -- Lanius collurio -- E
Surprisingly, only one seen all week, perched on a telephone wire on the way to Cagliari.

Woodchat Shrike -- Lanius senator
Widespread, common and conspicuous.

Blue Rock-Thrush -- Monticola solitarius -- S
A stunning male on the cliffs on the West coast of San Pietro was pointed out to me by one of the people from the LIPU camp. Thanks, Walter!

Eurasian Blackbird -- Turdus merula -- C, S, A

Spotless Starling -- Sturnus unicolor -- C, G, A
In large flocks in villages, small numbers in the harbour at Cagliari.

Spotted Flycatcher -- Muscicapa striata
Widespread throughout.

Common Stonechat -- Saxicola torquata
Also distributed throughout the island.

Barn Swallow -- Hirundo rustica

House Martin -- Delichon urbica
Present in all villages and town edges.

Firecrest -- Regulus ignicapillus -- G
A male responded very well to my whistled imitations of his call and allowed very good looks. The next morning a much less cooperative individual was also seen.

Zitting Cisticola -- Cisticola juncidis -- S
A pair was occupying the corner of the Saline di Carloforte, with the male frequently embarking on his distinctive song flight. A further pair was seen in the Santa Caterina saltworks.

Cetti's Warbler -- Cettia cetti -- C
The bird I had most hoped to see in Molentargius. Having driven around for over an hour I managed to find a clearing in a thick patch of reeds and just waited. Amazingly, I saw the bird skulking near the bottom of some reeds before I heard it! I had clear enough views for a certain identification even before the first "che-woo" was heard. Later, several other stops in the reedbeds revealed the song.

Sedge Warbler -- Acrocephalus schoenobaenus -- C
In scrub by the edge of the reedbeds at Quartu.

Reed Warbler -- Acrocephalus scirpaceus -- C
In Molentargius

Marsh Warbler -- Acrocephalus palustris -- S
My field guides suggest that this species does not breed on Sardinia (which I find hard to believe), so perhaps the bird on the edge of the Saline di Carloforte was a migrant.

Sardinian Warbler -- Sylvia melanocephala
Ubiquitous and easily identified from its distinctive song. Getting a good look is much harder, though!

Dartford Warbler -- Sylvia undata -- S, G
By the lighthouse on San Pietro and on the Giara di Gesturi. Patience was finally rewarded with a good, albeit brief, look at this skulker.

Marmora's Warbler -- Sylvia sarda -- S, G
Frustratingly hard to see although its call was commonly heard. A pair on the Giara di Gesturi finally perched out in the open for a while.

Great Tit -- Parus major -- G, A

Blue Tit -- Parus caeruleus -- G, A
Very common on the Giara di Gesturi.

Calandra Lark -- Melanocorypha calandra -- G
Three seen flying across the road, identified by the broad white trailing edges to the wings and the manner of flight.

Wood Lark -- Lullula arborea -- G
One perched on a dry stone wall and allowed good looks in the scope before flying off and calling.

Spanish Sparrow -- Passer hispaniolensis

Tree Sparrow -- Passer montanus
Far outnumbered - the best place for them seemed to be Tortoli Airport (in case anybody needs the species for their life list).

Yellow Wagtail -- Motacilla flava -- S
A pair flew over the Saline di Carloforte.

Chaffinch -- Fringilla coelebs -- G, A

European Greenfinch -- Carduelis chloris -- C, A
A few small groups seen.

Goldfinch -- Carduelis carduelis
Widespread and common in large flocks, with the tinkling calls heard in virtually every open space.

Please feel free to contact me for any additional information.

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This page served by Urs Geiser;; August 25, 1997; updated April 6, 1999