Sicily

Eastern Sicily In Spring

An 8-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching tour to Sicily in spring

Sicily Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Designed exclusively for Limosa by Andrea Corso, Sicily’s foremost ornithologist, our one-week birdwatching tour to eastern Sicily combines an opportunity to look for regional specialities such as the endemic Sicilian Rock Partridge, Scopoli’s Shearwater and ‘Sicilian’ Long-tailed Tit with the chance to also enjoy the spring migration. With a southern coastline which is south of northern Tunisia, Sicily is an important 'steppingstone' for birds heading north into Europe and during our trip we expect to see a great range of both resident and migratory species.

We will be based at a converted 19th century hotel offering first-rate hospitality and delicious home-cooked meals, so join Andrea and Limosa’s David Fairhurst for a delightful spring holiday.

Tour Dates & Prices

Fri 22nd April 2022

Fri 29th April 2022

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Thu 20th April 2023

Thu 27th April 2023

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Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1945 excluding flights

Deposit: £500Single Supp: £375Land Only: £1945Group Size: 10Leaders:  David Fairhurst & Andrea Corso
Enquire about this tour

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Sicilian ornithologist
  • 7 nights accommodation in Sicily staying at a characterful masseria (farmhouse hotel)
  • All main meals
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (hotel, meals etc) and taxes
  • Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

International flights, insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks and other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only Tour Cost is the amount you will pay Limosa.

For flight details, we recommend that you contact Sacha Barbato who is a highly experienced independent travel agent working under the ATOL bonding of Travel Counsellors. Sacha’s contact details are as follows: sacha.barbato@travelcounsellors.com and 01603 360099

Limosa Holidays and Sacha have agreed which flights are most suitable for each trip and we encourage you to book through him as you then have support if there are any problems such as flight cancellations or delays.

Sacha will also be advised by Limosa when the trip is a confirmed departure and in many cases can hold flights for you until then.

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1995* excluding flights

Deposit: £500Single Supp: £395*Land Only: £1995*Group Size: 10Leaders:  David Fairhurst & Andrea Corso
Enquire about this tour

* The price shown above is an estimate for our 2023 trip and will be confirmed in Spring 2022

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Sicilian ornithologist
  • 7 nights accommodation in Sicily, staying at a characterful masseria (farmhouse hotel)
  • All main meals
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (hotel, meals etc) and taxes
  • Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

International flights, insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only Tour Cost is the amount you will pay Limosa.

For flight details, we recommend that you contact Sacha Barbato who is a highly experienced independent travel agent working under the ATOL bonding of Travel Counsellors. Sacha’s contact details are as follows: sacha.barbato@travelcounsellors.com and 01603 360099

Limosa Holidays and Sacha have agreed which flights are most suitable for each trip and we encourage you to book through him as you then have support if there are any problems such as flight cancellations or delays.

Sacha will also be advised by Limosa when the trip is a confirmed departure and in many cases can hold flights for you until then.

Tour Highlights

  • Wonderful Sicilian landscapes from cliffs and coastal garrigue to the forested slopes of Mount Etna
  • Excellent range of ‘classic’ Mediterranean birds, regional specialities and passage migrants
  • Greater Flamingo, Audouin's Gull, Bee-eater, Spectacled Warbler, Golden Oriole and Italian Sparrow
  • Opportunities to look for Sicilian Rock Partridge, Scopoli's Shearwater and Sicilian Long-tailed Tit
  • Raptors on migration could include Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Lesser Kestrel and Red-footed Falcon
  • Enjoy some wonderful early spring butterflies and orchids
  • Home-cooked Sicilian meals featuring locally produced ingredients
  • Expertly led by Limosa's David Fairhurst with Sicily’s foremost ornithologist Andrea Corso

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly to Catania and transfer south to our farmhouse hotel. Night Siracusa

  • Birdwatching in eastern Sicily including Murro di Porco, Penisola Magnisi, Capo Passero, the Cava Grande del Cassibile, the Vendicari wetlands and Mt. Etna. Six further nights Siracusa

  • Fly Catania to the UK

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
tawny pipit lesbos gordon small card.jpg
In April, Tawny Pipits are among migrant passerines making landfall on Sicily's rugged coastal headlands © Limosa participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Separated from the toe of Italy by the Strait of Messina and from the coast of Tunisia by the Sicilian Strait, Sicily has long been known as an important 'steppingstone' for migratory birds moving between Africa and Europe.

With parts of the island’s southeast being south of northern Tunisia, this mountainous island is also one of the most fascinating regions of Europe with its landscape the product of a rich blend of history, archaeology, art and culture. Sicilian food and wine are wonderful and the people are as warm and friendly as the island’s climate.

Largest of all the Mediterranean islands, first-time visitors may be surprised at just how big Sicily actually is! For this reason, our spring tours focus solely on the island’s bird-rich eastern side where we will watch birds amidst a landscape dominated, and largely shaped, by the immense smouldering cone of Europe’s biggest volcano, Mount Etna. We will scour the rugged slopes here for three of the island’s special birds: the endemic Sicilian race of Rock Partridge (still awaiting promotion from its mainland cousin), the distinctive ‘Sicilian’ Long-tailed Tit (which breeds in the mountain oak woods and scrub) and the enigmatic 'Sicilian' Common Crossbill (which we will look for in the pinewoods on Mount Etna).

To the south, the ancient port of Siracusa is one of the most beautiful and historic towns in Europe. In spring, the coastal garrigue (scrub) of Murro di Porco or Penisola Magnisis has breeding Stone-curlews and Calandra Larks, Audouin’s Gulls fly by and nearby wetlands have breeding Kentish Plovers, Slender-billed Gull, Ferruginous Duck and Western Swamphen.

Our hotel’s gardens and nearby groves of almond, olive and carob lure migrants from Nightjar and Hoopoe to Golden Oriole and Collared Flycatcher.

West of Siracusa is the beautiful and unspoilt Iblei region: a rough, sheep-grazed limestone plateau cut by deep valleys such as the Cava Grande del Cassibile, Sicily's equivalent of the Grand Canyon, where we will look for migrating raptors and scarce local specialities such as Rock Sparrow and Spectacled Warbler.

North along the coast are various wetland sites and jutting headlands that can hold exciting breeding and migrant species with the possibility of species such as Pallid, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers moving through.

We shall be based at a comfortable family-run masseria, the charming Pozzo diMazza, a fully renovated 19th century former winery near Siracusa where the meals and hospitality are simply a delight. Set amidst lemon and orange groves, the grounds are alive with the sound of Sardinian Warblers and Crested Larks, while nearby fields hold Zitting Cisticolas and Tree Sparrows.

As a tourist destination, Sicily has enjoyed a surge in popularity following the BBC's screening of the Italian tv series Inspector Montalbano which was filmed on location in the stunning southeast of the island.

Our consultant expert Andrea Corso lives in Siracusa and is Sicily’s foremost ornithologist. He is author of the AvifaunadiSicilia and one of the leading lights in birding and conservation in Italy. He also has a wonderful sense of humour, not to mention a fine singing voice (!!) and possesses an infectious enthusiasm for his country and its birds.

Indeed, Andrea’s knowledge of Sicily’s birds and where to find them is unsurpassed and it is impossible to imagine a trip there without him!

Our April 2022 visit will be Limosa’s 21st tour to Sicily with Andrea, 14 of them having been in spring.

Guide David Fairhurst led our April 2015 and 2019 trips to Sicily with Andrea and our April 2022 tour will be his fourth visit to the island.

Sicilian Long-tailed Tit  AC SICLIA (8) PSP crop.jpg
Sicilian Long-tailed Tit © Andrea Corso

Day 1
FLY TO CATANIA, TRANSFER TO SIRACUSA

Our spring birdwatching tour to Sicily begins with a flight to Catania on Sicily’s east coast where Andrea will be waiting to welcome us.

Leaving the airport, we follow the shores of the Golfo di Catania and head south (for about an hour), beyond the ancient and historic port of Siracusa, to reach our delightful accommodation for the week.

'Discovered' for us by Andrea, the simple but charming Pozzodi Mazza is a renovated former winery dating back to the nineteenth century. We can expect to be greeted with lemon juice freshly squeezed from the fruit in the hotel’s ground, while the home-cooked Sicilian food and hospitality is wonderful; indeed you may not want to leave!

In spring, migrant birds find the Pozzo’s groves of citrus, olives and almonds equally irresistible, while for us there is also a swimming pool and tables to dine al fresco on warmer evenings. Night near Siracusa

Days 2 - 7
SIRACUSA, VENDICARI WETLANDS, CAPO PASSERO AND MOUNT ETNA

Siracusa makes an excellent base from which to explore the rugged, southeastern corner of Sicily which is Andrea’s ‘home patch’. We may begin our discovery of this fascinating region with a visit to an area of former saltpans, now a nature reserve, on the Golfo di Siracusa. In spring, waterbirds to watch for include Squacco and Purple Herons, Little Bittern and Garganey, while the extensive reed beds can hold Eurasian Penduline Tit along with Eurasian Reed, Sedge and Great Reed Warblers. Both Red-throated Pipit and Western Yellow Wagtails of various races also occur on passage and the view from the lighthouse out over the gulf is fabulous, with the historical islet of Ortigia spread out before us.

Penisola Maddalena, a sparsely populated promontory covered with dense Mediterranean macchia, and the Capo Murro di Porco, are renowned as one of Italy’s major migrant hotspots and in spring, the old gardens are a prime place to check for birds such as Woodchat Shrike, Pied, Collared and Spotted Flycatchers, as well as Icterine, Eastern Subalpine, Spectacled, Sardinian and Wood Warblers.

Marked by dazzling white calcareous cliffs, an easy walk along the coast can produce a host of different species and birds we have seen here previously include European Nightjar, Tawny Pipit, Common Nightingale and Black-eared Wheatear. In 2015, we even found a Cream-coloured Courser which was the first record for Italy since 1978 and a new Sicilian bird even for Andrea!

At the very tip, a wonderful white lighthouse dominates the steep cliffs and the sea-watching from the point can be productive with Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters and Audouin's and Yellow-legged Gulls all possible. If we are lucky, we could also spot a pod of Striped or Bottlenose Dolphins passing by. Nearby, we might enjoy our first Sicilian picnic, perhaps some delicious sandwiches freshly made at a local deli, with Italian hams (crudo and cotto prosciutto) and local cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, aubergines and olives.

Heading south from our hotel, an hour’s drive will bring us to one of the southernmost corners of Europe. Against a backdrop of ancient groves of almond and olive trees and the stunning white Iblei mountains, we will reach Vendicari nature reserve.

Here, we will hope to find flocks of rose-pink Greater Flamingos mingling with Shelduck, Garganey and Ferruginous Ducks. A good selection of waders, gulls and terns are usually present in April and we will take a short walk out into the sand dunes towards the Sveva tower which was built in AD1430.

Marzamemi, an old tuna-fishing village, makes an excellent spot for a coffee before we move on to Capo Passero and Portopalo, at the southernmost tip of Sicily. Seawatching from the Cape could produce thousands of gulls, as well as further chances for Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters. Nearby, there are some splendid old saltpans, sometimes dusted pink with Greater Flamingos which are likely to be accompanied by waders, terns and gulls including Wood Sandpiper and rosy Slender-billed Gulls.

It is well worth checking the scrubby hillsides for Eastern Subalpine Warblers and sometimes even Richard’s Pipit.

To the west are various wetlands where we hope to see Spoonbill, Purple Heron and Garganey and if we are there on a fine evening, the sunset will mark the end of another unforgettable Sicilian day.

During our stay near Siracusa, we shall enjoy one longer day trip out, heading north to explore the slopes of mighty Mount Etna.

The journey will take about two hours and Etna’s basal circumference of 140 kms makes this immense active volcano the largest in continental Europe (surpassed only by Mount Teide in the Canary Islands). The cone soars to an impressive 3,329m (10,922 ft) and absolutely dominates the landscape of eastern Sicily. Up close, Etna’s flora adds splashes of bright colour to the vast swathes of old black magma.

Against this stark but spectacular backdrop we will make a determined effort to track down the Sicilian Rock Partridge, an extremely wary species that is notoriously difficult to find!

Etna’s steep lower slopes, clothed in dense mountain oak woods, pines and scrub, are also home to the island’s own distinctive races of Long-tailed Tit and Common Crossbill. European Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Cirl Bunting all breed and birds of prey to watch out for over the volcanic slopes include Golden Eagle, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Lanner. The slopes are also home to two special butterflies: sulphurous Eastern Orange-tips and Italian Festoon and both are often found here.

Inland of Siracusa, a trip to the Cava Grande del Cassibile, the ‘Sicilian Grand Canyon’, offers further opportunities to try for both the Sicilian Rock Partridge and Long-tailed Tit, as Alpine, Pallid and Common Swifts zip across the skies and Northern Ravens tumble and croak above the chasm.

Our attention may be diverted by the fine array of orchids (25 species were recorded on our 2019 tour, when conditions were good) and other wildflowers that adorn the hillsides.

Our picnic lunch may be taken alfresco amidst the trees and flowers of the valley. Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear and Tree, Rock and Italian Sparrows are among a range of other birds we could encounter.

We will keep our eyes open for the endemic Sicilian Wall Lizard and there are several lush valleys to explore and we hope to visit one of these for an afternoon’s walk.

There are many sites north and south of Siracusa that are also worth visiting. Murro di Porco is close by and can be another good spot for migrants such as Whinchats, wheatears, shrikes and warblers, as well as being a regular wintering site for the scarce Richard's Pipit.

Siracusa's saltpans can hold Squacco Heron, egrets, Glossy Ibis and Marsh Sandpiper and possibly a passing Western Osprey. Indeed, these sometimes use a post that Andrea stuck in the marsh for just such a purpose!

Raptor migration occurs on a broad front across Sicily and, when conditions are suitable, harriers can sometimes be seen in the highlands or at headlands. At the Penisola Magnisi, we might be lucky to see a migrant Montagu's or Pallid Harrier flush a party of Greater Short-toed Larks or Western Yellow Wagtails.

We are also likely to visit some ancient burial chambers cut into the limestone where Calandra Larks nest and we may also find the sleek Ocellated Skink.

Over the years, our Sicily groups have also enjoyed some extraordinary spring 'finds' from Western Reef Egret, Long-legged Buzzard and Cream-coloured Courser to Bar-tailed Lark, Isabelline Wheatear and (two) Atlas Pied Flycatchers. While we can’t promise you a rarity on every trip, if you love spring migration and the excitement of not knowing what the next day might bring, eastern Sicily is a great place to visit! Six further nights near Siracusa

Day 8
RETURN TO CATANIA, FLY TO UK

We leave Siracusa after breakfast and return north, passing the nests of White Storks beside the autostrada as we make our way back to Catania airport. Bidding farewell to Andrea, we check-in for our flight to the UK, where our spring birdwatching tour to Sicily concludes.

Sardinian Warbler m Sicily 0415 Peter Farren CK card.jpg
The Sardinian Warbler's fast, rattling song is a characteristic sound of the Mediterranean - but patience is often required to obtain a good view like this! © tour participant Peter Farren

WHAT TO EXPECT
Eastern Sicily is home to regional specialities such as the endemic Sicilian Rock Partridge, Scopoli’s Shearwater, Lanner, Italian Sparrow and ‘Sicilian’ Long-tailed Tit. In April, the island is also an important 'steppingstone' for migrant birds heading north from Africa into Europe.

Against a backdrop of classic Mediterranean scenery, this spring tour to Sicily features a day trip to Mount Etna and 7-nights stay at a converted 19th century 'masseria' (farmhouse hotel) offering first-rate hospitality and delicious home-cooked meals. Designed exclusively for Limosa by our consultant local expert Andrea Corso - Sicily’s foremost ornithologist - our thirteen previous visits here in spring have all filled quickly.

Expect a mix of sunshine and showers in April, with typical daytime temperatures up to 22C (72F), falling to overnight lows of 10-13C (50-55F). It can be significantly cooler on the higher slopes of Mount Etna (where some snow could still be lying), so be sure to pack some warmer clothing to layer up here if necessary.

Good photographic opportunities on this tour: birds, wildflowers, butterflies and other wildlife, plus some fine scenery and archaeological sites.

BIRDS
130-160 species.

BUTTERFLIES
15-30 species. A small selection of early spring butterflies including Italian Festoon, Eastern Orange-tip and Cleopatra are also possible on this tour.

Depending on weather conditions prior to the tour, many orchids and Sicilian wildflowers may be in flower when we visit. [If it is a particularly early spring, however, please note that some of the flowers can already be over by mid-April]

ACCOMMODATION
7 nights at the charming and characterful agriturismo Pozzo di Mazza, a small, family-run masseria (farmhouse hotel) located near Siracusa, in the southeast of Sicily. Dating from the nineteenth century, the ‘Pozzo’ is a renovated former winery. Rooms are simply furnished but comfortable and all have private facilities.

MEALS
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch or dinner on arrival in Sicily on Day 1 (according to flight schedules) and concluding with breakfast or lunch on the island on Day 8 (again according to flight schedules).

Continental breakfasts (which may be taken al fresco in the courtyard) and delicious home-cooked dinners featuring freshly made Sicilian food are taken at the masseria. Local fish dishes are a regional speciality of the cooks. Lunches are mostly delicious picnics, with sandwiches or local pastries freshly-prepared that morning using Italian cheeses, hams, vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and aubergines.

WALKING
Easy. Short walks over mainly easy terrain. Comfortable walking shoes with stout corrugated soles are advised.

Our tour includes a day trip to Mountt Etna but please note that the focus here is on seeing the birds and wildlife and we do not go to the summit area on our tour.

Maximum elevation on this tour: (Mt Etna) approx. 2000m (6500ft).

TRAVEL
Due to the pandemic, it is proving extremely difficult to predict future flight prices and schedules, especially when a trip is scheduled for beyond the period when flights can be booked. As a result, we have taken the decision to price our holidays as excluding all flights.

To keep the process as simple as possible for our clients, however, we are now working closely with a dedicated agent at Travel Counsellors who will be able to advise you which flights we are recommending and he will be able to book these for you..

GROUND TRANSPORT   

By minibus.

Sicilian Rock Partridge 1 Coturnice (foto Angelo Zimmitti).jpg
Sicilian Rock Partridge © Angelo Zimmitti

    Tour Gallery

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