After a very long winter the spring was coming too slowly, so we planned to go somewhere south in Eastern. Hanna had always dreamed of seeing active volcanoes, so we decided to go to Sicily. We were very busy but we managed to do some preparations before the trip. I ordered A birdwatcher’s guide to Italy book, contacted a local birder Andrea Corso and booked tickets to one football match and Hanna ordered tickets to Stromboli and a guided tour to a volcano there. So we had a full schedule as Sicily is not a small island and we had only a week there.
On Tuesday on the 3rd of April we left driving towards Tampere. On the way we stopped in Rautjärvi Simpele Kokkolanjoki where I was a Pygmy Owl that landed to a branch for aa couple of seconds before continued somewhere. In Imatra Vuoksi we saw 5 Canada Geese and a Black-headed Gull and in Lappeenranta Toikansuo we twitched a Twite that was in a flock of 28 Linnets. Then in Lempäälä we stopped in IdeaPark where we also had pizza in a restaurant. They were playing Eros Ramazotti there so we really started to get to right mood. Soon we continued to Pirkkala airport where the parking place was still under almost a half meter of snow – there had been a real snow-chaos in Tampere area on the previous day. Luckily we managed to park our car and went to wait for our RyanAir flight which left after 2 hours waiting at 9:05 p.m. 40 minutes late from the schedule.
We landed to Trapani airport at midnight still half an hour late from the schedule. Hanna went to pick up our luggage and I went straight to get our rental car from Europcar office. Luckily I managed to get there first so I got the car-key soon. After I had bought a good map of Sicily Hanna came with our luggage and we went out to search for our car. After 10 minutes of searching I found it and it was almost a brand new Fiat Panda. There was only 500km on the meter.
It was already more than 1 a.m. when we found to our bead and breakfast Tradanisla where one of the owners was still waiting for us. Luckily our navigator was working so it didn’t take too long to find there from the airport. A couple of Scops Owls were calling on the garden when we went to sleep.
On the 4th of April we woke up at 7 a.m. and the breakfast was made ready already in the evening. There were lots of cakes and pies so goodbye diet! We walked some 15 minutes on the garden and saw lots of Italian Sparrows (which looked very much like Spanish Sparrows to us), Tree Sparrows, Collared Doves, Wood Pigeons, Magpies, Serins, Gold Finches, Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers, Swifts, and so on common birds and also a male Redstart was seen before we left towards some birding places nearby.
First we drove to Marsala Lagoon and saltpans, which was a perfect place to start. There was a good selection of birds! On the first pool there were lots of waders: Ruffs, Wood Sandpipers, a Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilts, some Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stints, a couple of Temminck Stints, Little Ringed Plovers, a Common Snipe, Shelducks and so on. Spotless Starlings, Crested Larks and Corn Buntings were singing, Zitting Cisticola calling and some Swallows and Sand Martins were flying over us. We also found a flock of Yellow Wagtails where were several subspecies. Very Nice!
From the bigger saltpans we found some bigger birds: Flamingos, Spoonbills, Little Egrets, 3 Great White Egrets, Cormorants, Yellow-legged Gulls, Curlews, Grey Plovers, Turnstones, some Avocets, 2 Oystercatchers, Dunlins and we also heard a Red-throated Pipit.
On the sea-shore we still saw some Great Crested Grebes and some Cory Shearwaters that were flying further on the sea. Soon we continued towards north to our next place.
Trapani saltpans were a huge complex, but the water-level was far too high. So there weren’t many waders, just some Common and Green Sandpipers and Redshanks. Other trip-ticks were Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Sandwich Tern, Coot, Cetti’s Warbler and so on.
Then it was time to start a long drive along the whole island. After an hour driving the motorway ended and we drove straight through a big Palermo city. Luckily the biggest traffic-jams were on the opposite line so we made it back to the motorway pretty easily. Then we still had 250 kilometres left to Siracusa.
The motorway was very fast but boring. In every bridge there were bumps because of joints in every 50 metres. So after a half way we decided to move to the old road that was much slowlier but then we could stop whenever we wanted. And the first stop was very good when we stopped to watch the river that went under the motorway. After we had found a couple of Stonechats we saw a Lanner on the sky! We knew this species wasn’t easy to see, so we were really lucky!
We drove past Enna which was amazing city! It was on the top of high mountain. There were very high buildings that were almost on the edge. It really wasn’t a place for little children. After less than an hour we drove back to the motorway and soon we were driving past the second biggest city, Catania. And after an hour more we finally arrived at Siracusa. We drove straight to Pazzo di Mazza from where we had a room in this nice old vineyard. After we had got our room, we still decided to go to the closest good birding place to Capo Murra di Porco.
While we were walking towards the lighthouse, we noticed there was a huge flock of shearwaters on the sea. There were several hundreds of Yelkoyan Shearwaters, some 20 Cory Shearwaters, Yellow-legged Gulls, some Auduoin’s Gulls and also some Mediterranean Gulls were flying close to the flock. Hanna noticed a migrating Arctic Skua too. Soon it started to get dark so we soon drove back to Pazzo di Mazza where we had a meal waiting for us. Unfortunately we hadn’t met the English speaking owner yet, so there was almost nothing Hanna could eat (she is very allergic to almost everything). But Janne got even more to eat and the food was delicious! After all we got the meal free anyway as it was the first meal of the season, which was very nice 😉
On the 5th of April we woke up before 7 a.m. again and drove straight to Capo Murra di Porco. I had sent a message to Andrea Corso that the breakfast was at 8:30 as I remembered that we had made an agreement that we would meet during the breakfast. But I hadn’t got any reply from him, so we decided to come back already at 8 a.m. From the lighthouse we saw again a huge flock of Shearwaters and we found a Balearic Shearwayer from the flock. There were also more Auduoin’s Gulls now.
After we had found a couple of Northern Wheatears from the rocky shore we walked to the bushy are where we found more wheatears. And soon we found an Isabelline Wheatear too! Capo Murra di Porco is probably the best place in Europe to see this species? We also found a couple of Subalpine Warblers, 2 Tawny Pipits, and first Marsh Harriers were arriving from the sea with 2 Montagu’s Harriers and a Bushchat Shrike was perched on one tree. But soon we had to leave back to Pozzo di Mazza.
We had just left to drive when a big Peugeot drove towards us and stopped us, it was Andrea. He had been searching for us for whole morning! He had been in Pozzo di Mazza at 7 a.m. and visited another bed and breakfast too and asked from the people where we were and finally got an idea that we must be gone birding – so he had driven to Capo Murra di Porco and finally found us. I had somehow read or understood his email wrong. I had probably read it at work in a hurry. And for some reason Andrea had newer got the SMS I had sent in the evening (actually he got it in the evening when we had been birding together for hours already!).
I of course apologized even though I wasn’t then sure had I been wrong or not. But luckily it was soon clear that Andrea was a very kind and funny person, so soon we had forgotten what had happened. And we were already in a really good birding place which we really hadn’t been checking almost at all, so it was time to start real birding! And Andrea showed right away that he was really a good birder! Of course it is always so that if you go birding with a good local birder, you see much more! Soon we had seen Hoopoes, House Martins, a Red-rumped Swallow, 2 Baltic Gull looking Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Pheasant was calling and soon a big pipit was flushed in front of us – a Richard’s Pipit! Actually Capo Murro di Porco is the best place in Europe for this species too in autumn but there had been now already a couple of years a couple of birds staying around the year! Soon we found another Richard’s Pipit too but unfortunately they were too shy to get good pictures. They were also very silent; we heard them calling only a couple of times. Anyway this was the first time we saw Richard’s and Tawny Pipits in a same place.
We continued checking the bushes and walked towards the shore where we tried to find another wintering speciality but unfortunately a calidus Peregrine Falcon wasn’t found. It had been wintering on this beach for almost 10 years. A couple of Isabelline Wheatears were found and on the flock of Yellow Wagtails we heard calls of a feldeggi, Black-headed Yellow Wagtail which sounds almost like a Citrine Wagtail. Also a couple of Stone Curlews were seen in flight and a Little Owl was perched on a stony wall far from us
Next we decided to have a breakfast. We were almost in Pozzo di Mazza when I noticed a strange dove perched on the post over the road, but unfortunately the traffic was far too heavy so we couldn’t stop. When we were on the parking place I asked from Andrea, if it had been a Laughing Dove and Andrea had also seen it and it had been one! It is a rarity in Sicily main island but there are more and more birds in southern islets every year. And the last observation of the species in the main island was exactly in the same place last autumn. So probably it had a territory there?
After a quick breakfast we drove towards the biggest wetland in Eastern Sicily, Venticari. Surprisingly the main road was under construction and so was the second biggest road. Luckily we had Andrea with us and after some searching we found a right way to this very good wetland. A big bus full of tourists was just parking to the parking place so we hurried to the first bird-hide before them.
From the hide we saw Little Egrets, Great White Egrets, Spoonbills, 10 Glossy Ibises, a Squacco Heron, Slender-billed Gulls, Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks, some Marsh Sandpipers and other waders. Penduline Tits and Cetti’s Warblers were calling on the reed-beds and many ducks, Mallards, Shovelers, a Teal, a Pintail, Ferruginous Ducks, some Pochards and Black-necked Grebes were seen on the water. Soon the tourist group came and we had to continue to the other side of the area. There we watched more insect and dragonflies that had just started to fly. Andrea knew them all extremely well too. Not many new birds were seen but on the sea-shore we saw a Shag which was only second for Andrea ever in main island of Sicily. We also saw a Gannet on the sea.
When we were walking back to our car we heard several big booms, like a thunderstorm or a bomb. It took some time to realize that it was Etna which was again erupting! We heard it booming for more than an hour and we heard it very clearly even though we had almost 100 km to Etna!
Next we continued to the biggest pool of Venticati where the water-level was very high so there weren’t many waders. Some Flamingos and egrets but nothing new was found. We also visited an old tuna-factory briefly.
Then we continued to the south-eastern corner of the island to Longarini and Cuba wetlands. Also there the water-level was higher than Andrea had ever seen. Unfortunately there weren’t any Marbled Ducks yet with Coots and Moorhens. A Reed Bunting flew over us; a Reed Warbler was singing and a Sedge Warbler calling. Again we saw plenty of dragonflies and Andrea was teaching some local kids a lot about nature meanwhile we were birding. He really seemed to do a lot of for the future of the local nature!
Next we hammered one bigger meadow where we didn’t find anything new. And on the next small pool one of the only birds was a Whiskered Tern. Then we continued to the check a couple of spits which were good for migrant passerines. From the first spit we found 3 Eastern Black-eared Wheatears which one of them was a stunning adult male. On the next spit we were even luckier when we found an Orphean Warbler! The bird was extremely shy so we saw it only for a couple of seconds but we saw it well enough to say it was a Western Orphean Warbler. This was a species that we had seen a couple of times in Spain but even worse so now we could finally count it as a new WP-tick!
We still continued to one big meadow area higher to inland and it really was a good looking place. This like many other places in Sicily was in danger because of a big hotel resort was planned to the area. Andrea and a few birders that live in the island are really busy to work to save these places. Tree Pipits, a Common Whitethroat, a Wryneck and a couple of singing Nightingales were found. Andrea was turning around all rocks and after some hard work he found a nice Ocellated Skink that he had been looking for. There were also lots of both Italian and Sicilian Wall Lizards and also their hybrids.
Soon it started to get dark and we drove a surprisingly long way back to Pozzo di Mazza. We had planned to go birding together with Andrea also on the next morning but during the day we realized that we were out of time. So Andrea gave us some instructions where to go on the way of our rest of the trip. Luckily one of the places was even better place for our main target species Sicilian Rock Partridge than the place where we had planned to go on the next morning. While we were watching a map, we heard several Scops Owls calling and once a Barn Owl too.
We said goodbye to Andrea and paid for his services (normally he takes 75€ per person per day + gasoline). I must still say that if any birder or just any person who is interested about nature goes to Sicily he really should book Andrea at least for a day. We had really enjoyed our day with him. It would have been possible to visit one or two places during the day without him, but with him we had visited almost 10 places and seen so much more. And what was the best we had got a possibility to find a new good friend again! For sure we will meet Andrea some day somewhere again
With Hanna we still drove to Siracusa to eat. We were absolutely tired so we stopped to eat in McDonalds (don’t tell Andrea ). After we had visited an ATM, we were ready to go to sleep.
Good Friday, 6th of April. We woke up early again and decided to go once more to Capo Murra di Porco. The sea was still full of shearwaters but otherwise we didn’t see much. Both Richard’s Pipits were seen again but when they had been flushed they landed after several hundred metres. On the sea we saw a huge Peregrine flying, it was probably the calidus, but we didn’t see it very well. At 8 a.m. we drove back to Pozzo di Mazza to pack our luggage.
After the breakfast we still walked a little in the garden and found a Turtle Dove “singing” on the wire. Then we started to drive towards the biggest volcano in Europe, Etna!
We passed Catania again and soon started to climb higher towards the mountain. After some small cities and villages we saw the first snowy tops and at 10 a.m. we finally parked to the touristic place on the southern side of Etna. We wore all the clothes we had with us and it seemed we had much more than most of the other tourists. Then we first walked to a small crater nearby before bought tickets to a cable-elevator to 2200 metres. Up there we just missed a mountain truck that was taking tourists even higher so we decided to start walking higher; so we saved 60€ too.
We walked higher along the road and soon there were several trucks coming back down. Anyway there weren’t many people up yet, so we continued walking. Soon the road had amazing 4 or 5 metres high snow-walls! When we had a possibility, we got out of the road so we could see some views and continued higher walking on the snow. Finally we found a nice place from where we had a great view to the top of 3329m high Etna. We could see one of the tops smoking so there was the crater that had been erupting recently – also yesterday! Unfortunately today it wasn’t that active and when we noticed that there were more clouds coming to the top, we decided to start walking back.
Once we were back on the elevator, we took a ride back to the parking place where were still lots of tourists and more was coming all the time. After a small pizza slice we continued to our car and started to drive to the northern side of the mountain.
On the way we photographed the mountain views and also old magma-falls. On the forests we heard a Cuckoo, some singing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, a couple of Wood Larks and saw 2 Pallid Swifts in a flock of Swifts. Lower we still heard a Short-toed Treecreeper, a Dunnock, Robins, Great and Blue Tits and saw some Cirl Buntings.
We continued until a bed and breakfast that Andrea had advised to us, Quota Mille. We got a room there easily and soon we were ready to start the most important bird-project of the trip, we were going to search Sicilian Rock Partridges!
We had difficulties to find a track that Andrea had pointed to our map but after some searching we thought we had found the right one. It was just in so bad condition that after 100 metres driving we started climbing up towards the mountain. And we had walked only some hundreds of metres when I saw 2 Sicilian Rock Partridges flying along the hillside. Luckily Hanna managed to se them too before they landed to a bushy rocky area some hundreds of metres from us. We of course planned to go after them but like everywhere in Sicily there were several fences between us and the birds. So we had to walk down a little to a landslide area which was really difficult to walk but we managed to get over it to the bushy area where the birds had landed. But there it was even more impossible to walk.
We just sat down and waited if the birds would show up somewhere but nothing happened. So I took my mp3 player where I had in hurry put only one call – Rock Partridge. I played the tape for some time and soon we heard a response. And soon there were at least 2 couples and 2 lonely birds calling around us! But even though we waited and called the tape again and waited again, we couldn’t see there birds anymore. The closest pair was calling just behind and in the closest bushes but never showed up.
Soon it started to get cloudy and after some time a thunderstorm was coming. Luckily we managed to walk back to our car before it started to rain. We still drove to a city of Randazzo to eat. After some searching we found a pizzeria that was just opening at 7:15 p.m. It seemed that everyone else was in church or somewhere else celebrating the Goo Friday. Luckily the heavy rain stopped and local people were shooting fireworks when we walked back to our car.
In Quota Mille we heard again several Scops Owls and also a Tawny Owl was calling. Hanna tried to photograph the owls for some time but we had really had a long day so soon we went to sleep. We had managed to get our main target bird and also been on Etna – what a day!
On the 7th of April we woke up at 7 a.m. again and it had been raining almost whole night. Anyway we drove to the Sicilian Rock Partridge place again, but only 2 birds were responding to our tape. Soon we left to drive around Etna and then back towards Catania. On the way we heard some Firecrests and Wrens and saw 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
Near Catania we turned to motorway and drove next 210 along it to Palermo. We were in Palermo much earlier than we had expected so we had good time to do everything ready before the evening. So we drove straight to Stadio Renzo Barbera and to northern ticket-office where we got our tickets to the evening match Palermo – Juventus.
Luckily there were already doormen at the gate of the stadium and they told us to leave our car far enough from the stadium as some of the roads would be closed because of the match. We also got certainty that Hanna could take her camera with her to the match.
After we had parked our car about 10 minutes walk from the stadium we started to walk towards the city. We walked and walked for 3 hours. Most of the shops were closed but finally we found a restaurant that was open. We had a good lunch and then started to head back towards the stadium. Surprisingly there were already lots of people heading towards the stadium and once we got there we saw already big lines behind the gates. Luckily the gates opened soon and we got in and found our seats easily.
The atmosphere was great even though the teams hadn’t even came to warm up yet. On the opposite corner there was a stand for visitor team’s fans and it was full of Juventus fans. The stand was surrounded by 4 metres high fences; also the field was surrounded similarly. Palermo’s Ultras were sitting behind us on the upper stand and these pink fans were really making some noise. Another Finnish couple was sitting behind us. This man was a huge Juventus fan but now he had to sit still wearing a Palermo scarf to avoid getting smuggled. A couple of big bombs were exploding and soon the teams came to warm up. After some warming they were away only for 10 minutes before coming back and soon the match started at 6:30 p.m..
It was soon clear that Juventus was a better team on the field. Palermo had only a couple of changes; at least Fabrizio Miccoli was dangerous every time he got the ball. But Juventus controlled the match and especially Andrea Pirlo was dominating with his good passes that strikers Mirko Vučinić and Fabio Quagliarella got. After all, the first half was still pretty boring with no really good changes for scoring.
The second half started with even clearer Juventus dominate and on the 56th minute Leonardo Bonuccis header from Pirlo’s corner kick went by the post to Palermo’s goal. On the 69th minute Quagliarella made it 0-2 with a nice shot to back-corner. Juve fans were celebrating very hard and some of the Palermo fans were getting aggressive. Luckily there were enough doormen.
The end of the game was boring; Juventus was just controlling the ball. The legendary Alessandro Del Piero was jogging around the field the last 12 minutes he was playing. When AC Milan played draw on their game the result took Juventus to the lead of Serie A.
After the match we walked quickly to our car but unfortunately the traffic-jam was already big. So it took 30 minutes to get out from Palermo to the motorway. There were still lots of traffic there too, but when we got to a chargeable motorway towards Messina, we could start driving faster.
We drove 200 km until Milazzo where we found easily to our hotel and it was already 1 a.m. when we got to bed.
8th of April – Eastern Sunday. We woke up before 6 a.m. and 20 minutes later we were out and in a taxi that took us to harbour. There we walked to a ticket-office which wasn’t open yet. There were also others waiting for the office to open. At 7.m. the office opened but soon we understood that something was wrong. And after some waiting we got very bad news; the boat was going only until Lipari because of there was a storm on the sea. And we were going until Stromboli which is the furthest island. It was difficult to understand the decision as the weather was really good, but meanwhile we were waiting for a taxi, it started to blow very hard and soon it started to rain hard too.
On the hotel there were all plantings fallen down because of the wind. Luckily we got the same room from the hotel so soon we went back to sleep.
After a couple of hours sleep the wind was still very stormy but the rain was getting weaker. So we decided to go to see the famous raptor-watching places to Messina. Of course we knew that we wouldn’t see any raptors in this weather but it was nice to go to see the places anyway.
After we had first checked Capo di Milazzo where we decided not to get out from the car at all because of the stormy wind, we continued along the coastal road towards Messina. The road went through long cities so it was very slowly, but finally we got to Messina.
First we checked a couple of empty lakes, but soon continued to mountains and followed the instructions that we had on our A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Italy book. Dinnammare was a stunning place indeed. On the way there we saw some Mistle Thrushes and while we were driving back down, a huge hail-rain hit us. The other places weren’t that gorgeous but it was easy to imagine how the raptors were migrating along the hillside towards Italy that was visible easily behind Messina bay.
Only other trip-ticks were a Grey Wagtail and a Black Redstart. Soon we continued back towards Milazzo and somehow we missed the only cross to the motorway so we had to drive along the coastal road again. Luckily there was much less traffic now so we got back to our hotel easily. In the evening we went to walk to Milazzo city but it started to rain very hard again, so we came back to our hotel and went to sleep early.
9th of April – Eastern Monday. We had a breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and soon we started to drive towards west. The motorway cost 8:10€ again which is not too much because of there is 47 tunnels and at least as many bridges on the way! There were still 4 more tunnels before we were in Palermo again. And after a few tunnels more we turned away from the main-road towards Scopello and Lo Zingaro. Lo Zingaro is a protected area along the coast where are small mountains. It had the best hiking roads of Sicily but it is also a good birding place.
We parked to a surprisingly full parking place and paid 3€ for entry. After a small tunnel where we saw a Little Owl hunting close to it we cam to an information centre and right after it we turned climbing up towards the mountains, all other people followed the main track along the coast.
The wind was still very strong but luckily the mountains protected from it pretty well. So the climbing was very enjoyable. There weren’t many birds but Hanna started to find different kind of orchids. And when we had climbed almost straight up for almost 45 minutes I found a Bonelli’s Eagle from the sky. The eagle landed to the top of one peak and we could watch it with a scope.
We continued along the hill-side and some hikers were coming towards us; so not everyone else had chosen the easier track. From the moister parts Hanna found more different orchids so even thought we still didn’t see almost any birds, was Hanna enjoying. Luckily soon we found some birds too and almost all birds were new trip-ticks for us; 2 Rock Buntings, 3 Rock Sparrows and 2 Spectacled Warblers were the best ones.
We had been climbing up and down along the track for 3 hours when we finally landed to the coastal track and turned back towards the parking place. We walked still more than 2 hours but didn’t see anything special anymore. Lots of both wall lizards and one skink were seen but no birds at all. But anyway it had been really fun to walk for more than 5 hours in a beautiful landscape, we had been driving car enough already.
It was already 6 p.m. when we continued towards Trapani. We decided to drive along smaller roads to see some new views. Then we drove to the same bed & breakfast where we had been on our first night.
Luckily we got a small cottage and there we packed our luggage and relaxed the rest of the evening. White Scops Owls were starting their calling, we went to sleep.
10th of April. We woke up at 7 a.m. and the breakfast was again ready. So soon we were going towards south where we wanted to visit some new places. We drove through the cities of Marsala and Mazara del Vallo towards a tiny village of Granitola. We checked some small lakes on the way and they were really good for birds. The biggest of them, Lago della Priola had lots of ducks: Ferruginous Ducks, a Pochard, a Black-necked Grebe, Garganeys, Gadwalls etc. The best birds were10 Purple Swamp-hens. Also a Wood Warbler was seen. The smaller pools weren’t that good but we heard several Nightingales singing.
In Granitola we tried to find out which of the roads was the one that was mentioned on our Birdwatcher’s Guide to Italy, which we should follow towards Campobello di Mazara. We tried first a couple of wrong ones before we decided to follow much longer main-road. There we found the sign to Cavo di Cusa archaeological site which wasn’t the right turn but we had to turn back and take the previous one (not very good instructions in the book you see). There was a sign Cave del Capitello, and after 500 metres (not 100), we found small Pantano Leone lake. This was the best place to see Marbled Ducks, but unfortunately they hadn’t arrived yet. Anyway we saw some waders and maybe now made it easier to the next birder to find the lake.
We still had some time left, so we drove to Marsala Lagoon and checked the places that we had seen most birds almost a week earlier. Again we saw plenty of waders, a flock of Curlew Sandpipers were new. On the biggest pool there were again flamingos, egrets and Grey Herons but also 2 Little Terns and a Gull-billed Tern which was our last 160th species of the trip.
On the beach we packed the rest of our luggage and soon drove to the airport which was very close. We had been driving more than 1800 kilometres around Sicily in one week.
After a couple of hours waiting our plane left at 3:15 towards Tampere. After 4 hours tired flight we landed to a snowy airfield. A Red Fox was running scared away from the airstrip to the snowy open.
We still had a four hours drive to Parikkala where we finally were after 1 a.m. After a short sleep it was time to start a new week at work.