Many, many people take their spring and summer holidays in Sicily. For many, it’s the lure of the Mediterranean with its great beaches and warm sun. For others it may be the food and the wine or the colourful markets and ancient history. But Sicily has much more to offer than just sun & sea, food and wine, culture and history - it’s also a nature lovers’ paradise! |
Sicily is the largest Island in the Mediterranean, sitting just south of the toe of Italy’s “boot”. Over the centuries, its location - between Africa and Europe and almost in the centre of the Mediterranean - has made this wonderful island a natural place for travellers and traders to stop and rest, to trade before continuing on their journeys.
Its location, its climate, its geography have meant that Sicily hosts many different eco-systems. Towering mountains, rolling hills, the smoking caldera of Mount Etna, wetlands and beaches offer plants, animals and birds a wide variety of ecosystems to live in. As a result, Sicily has a rich and varied wildlife and, especially during spring and autumn, Sicily is a resting station for a variety of migrating birds as well as home to some native residents.
Birding in Sicily
Before we begin, a word of caution. Sicily is a great holiday destination and for the birder there are a lot of things to see. But, birding the island may mean you have to do a fair bit of travelling and walking to get to the best sites. What I suggest is that you talk to your hotel concierge who may be able to put you in touch with a local bird enthusiast. Nothing beats local knowledge! It’s also worthwhile booking a good, comfortable hotel because, after a tough day tracking down some Honey Buzzards or Caspian Gulls, you’ll need a good meal and a comfortable bed.
Challenges and Surprises
Many birders on their spring holidays in Sicily go for the big bird populations like the huge raptor migration that uses Sicily as a resting place. Some 20,000 to 30,000 birds of prey (this number is growing every year) can be seen at various locations across the island or flying above looking for a good thermal.
But, with a bit of effort and perseverance, the Island holds some surprises for the determined birder. For example, Scilly hosts some 120 pairs of Lanner Falcons (the largest population in Europe) which can be found at relatively high altitudes, sometimes over 500 meters high. There are also about 20 pairs of Bonelli's Eagles, which nest at high altitudes in areas surrounded by a lot of arable land.
The island’s eastern side is less well known for its bird populations, but it hosts a surprising number of migrant species making their way from the Western Mediterranean to the Balkans – the Isabelline Wheatear, Isabelline Shrike, Sociable Plover and Great black-headed Gull can be observed during the spring months in some numbers. And even if you don’t have any luck, the scenery here is breath-taking!
Some Select Sites
Sicily is home to or hosts seasonally some 130 species of birds. The main areas that avid birders on spring or autumn holidays in Sicily should consider spending time at include:
Taormina – Look for Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Hobby and Western Bonelli’s Warbler.
Etna Nord – To the north of Etna, this area hosts examples of Rock Bunting, Wood Lark, Cuckoo, Northern Wheatear, Chiffchaff, Serin, Nuthatch, Coal Tit and more.
Capo Murro di Porco – If you’re looking for rarer birds, this is the place! On the island’s eastern point, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet Bar-tailed Desert lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Ruppell’s Warbler, Trumpeter Finch, Desert Wheatear and others.
Fonte Ciane and the Syracusa Salinas – Marchlands and lagoons characterise these areas which are rich in wildlife. As for birds, look for Reed Warblers, Cetti’s Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas, Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, Little Terns, Little Ringed Plover, Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Kingfisher, Golden Oriole and many, many more.
I could go on, but I think that, by now, you’ll be raring to look for some spring holidays in Sicily. Just remember to pack a good pair of walking shoes and to take along your binoculars. Happy bird spotting!
John Dixon is Managing Director of Prestige Holidays and visits Italy at least twice a year. He has been providing luxury holidays in Sicily as well as luxury holidays to many other destinations worldwide for over 30 years.
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