Corsica, a mountain in the sea

From 6 April 2019

to 13 April 2019

Corsica, a mountain in the sea

This April, in a change to the previously planned Sicily tour for Greentours Natural History Holidays, Alice will be joining Paul Cardy  to lead a tour to Corsica.

Scenically attractive Corsica has long held an interest to naturalists, there are many elegantly penned articles from a bygone era with prose redolent of aromatic maquis and dramatic gorges.

We hope to tread in their footsteps as we explore the rich diversity that this mountain in the sea has to offer. To the west of Ajaccio, brick pink granitic cliffs sweep down to the sea where yellow Calicotome villosa dominates maquis that has a rich flora including Convolvulus sicula and Succowia balearica.    Southern coastal limestone is home to beautiful Erodium corsicum, endemic Morisia monanthos, and fine hummocks of Astragalus massiliensis. Orchids include Orchis laxiflora and bee orchids such as Ophrys morisii, Ophrys marmorata and Ophrys lutea corsica. Corsican Dappled White and the Corsican Swallowtail are on the wing as we stop by roadsides dotted with Green-winged and Pink Butterfly Orchids.

Cytinus hypocistus’s yellow flowers glow from crimson bracts amongst Cistus, and in meadows there are displays of Serapias hardly matched elsewhere in the Mediterranean with large-flowered Serapias cordigera and Serapias neglecta and the common Serapias lingua. In the mountainous interior, extensive Corsican Pine forests are home to the endemic Corsican Nuthatch, and a second endemic bird, Corsican Finch is rather common, especially amid Sweet Chestnut woods. Endemics continue with the rare Tyrrhenian Tree Frog, European Leaf-toed Gecko, and Pygmy Algyroides.

In the south Kerry Lily blooms, and the broomrapes Orobanche rigens and Orobanche sanguinea are both beautiful richly-coloured species. Narcissus tazetta and Romulea requienii decorate rocky crevices and shorelines have much Matthiola tricuspidata, Medicago marina,and purple-streaked Silene sericea. Moving inland we’ll find Brimeura fastigata and Pancratium illyricum, which unlike its more widespread European cousin flowers far up into the mountains.

Cyclamen repandum blooms at all altitudes,with Corydalis pumila at higher passes amid a selection of gageas, and slopes covered with pretty lilac Crocus corsicus, the outside of the flowers etched with deep purple lines. Fabulous mounds of Saxifraga cervicornisadorn shaded rocks in a narrow gorge where Armeria leucocephala, Saxifraga corsica, Arenaria balearica, and Orchis olbiensis bloom.

On the east coast we will see the endangered Anchusa crispa at one of its remaining sites. Our hotel in the Gorges du Restonica sits beside the cascading river, Helleborus argutifolius flowering abundantly nearby.

Poland: Bialowieza Forest & Biebrza Marshes

From 27 May 2019

to 3 June 2019

Poland: Bialowieza Forest & Biebrza Marshes

This May, Alice is excited to be leading a new tour for Greenwings Wildlife Holidays to Poland's two most precious national parks, the Białowieża Forest and Biebrza Marshes. She will be working alongside expert local guides who will share their deep knowledge and love of these special places with you throughout the holiday, and you will get to experience traditional eastern Polish landscapes, architecture and cuisine.

Białowieża Forest is the last remaining primeval forest in lowland Europe. It covers an area of over 1500 km2 in the tranquil corner of Poland and Belarus. It is home to several rare species of birds, hundreds of insects and thousands of mushrooms. Most importantly, it became the world’s last refuge for European Bison – the largest land mammal on the continent. Centuries old Oak, Elm, Lime and several other species of trees grow here together, in a tremendous variety of habitats. Due to this diversity, age and largely natural structure the forest has been recognised by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.

There are over 500 wild European Bison living in the wild in the Białowieża Forest and one morning we will go out early for a safari in search of these impressive animals. we will have a short drive in our minibus to scan the forest edge or go for a walk or even visit a few different sites in a more safari style.

We will also walk for a few hours through the strictly protected part of the Białowieża National Park, the Biosphere Reserve and the core area of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our trail takes you back in time a few thousand years, when most of Europe was covered with a similar habitat. The dense, natural mixed-deciduous forest of huge, centuries-old trees that host thousands of other species, many of which are on the verge of extinction: insects, lichens and hundreds of colourful fungi growing on dead wood.

This area is also home to several species of rare woodpeckers like Black, White-backed and Three-toed and they are often seen here. We might also be lucky to see Pygmy Owl. Large mammals, however, hide very well in the dense vegetation and are rarely seen on this walk, as we mustn’t get off the marked path.This we are sure will be a highlight of the tour as it’s like being transported into a BBC wildlife documentary. An unforgettable experience!

Biebrza Marshes are one of Europe’s last natural lowland river valleys. They cover an area of over 1000 km2 of wetlands, peat bogs and bog forests in the far north-east of Poland. Saved from drainage by the non-intensive local farming, these fragile habitats became home for hundreds of rare species of birds, insects and plants that are now difficult to see anywhere else in Europe. This area also holds a large population of Elk (Moose), European Beavers and a few packs of Wolves.

The Biebrza Marshes are home to a population of over 1000 European Elks (Moose), hundreds of Beavers, rich birdlife, wild flowers and 600 square kilometres of stunning unspoiled landscapes. In the Biebrza Marshes, we will also watch some of the world’s rarest birds such as the Aquatic Warbler.

Late May to June is a good time for late birds like Thrush Nightingale, Corncrake, Red-backed Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Barred & River Warblers, Rosefinch. We should also see an explosion of wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and other invertebrates.

Biebrza Marshes are also well known for invertebrate diversity. In terms of dragonflies, all 5 European whiteface species (leucorrhynia) can be seen here as well as some spectacular butterflies such as Clouded Apollo, Scarce Fritillary, Scarce and Large Heath and Large Chequered Skipper.