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Birdwatching on the Isola di San Pietro (San Pietro Island)
The Island of San Pietro, off the south west
corner of Sardinia, is most famous for
its colony of Eleonora's Falcon, which breed there every autumn.
However, there are plenty of other interesting birds to see on the island,
so it's well worth a trip across on the ferry from mainland Sardinia. The
island can be quieter than other parts of the Sardinian coast in the
summer, and the only town on the island, Carloforte is a really nice place
to stay a night or two.
The main colony of Eleonora's Falcon is on the far west side of the island on a LIPU reserve, partly paid for by the RSPB. The LIPU viewpoint is one of several good places to see the birds, but depending on the time of year that you visit, and where exactly each pair is nesting, other points may give much better views of the birds. If you search around a little, you should see them flying close above your head, possibly see them hunting (best in September / October, when the passerine migrants are passing through), and may spot one of the nesting sites on the cliffs. Both the light and dark morphs can be seen here. See the map for information about the best places to investigate. Remember that the falcons are summer visitors, but don't start breeding until September, as they feed their young on migrant passerines that are passing south. I recommend visiting from July to October.
Also on the same reserve, there is a good breeding colony of Audouin's Gull, which are common all around the island. The macchia scrub on the reserve is rich and varied, so it's possible to see several of Sardinia's specialist Sylvia warblers here. I've seen Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Marmora's Warbler and Spectacled Warbler. Subalpine Warbler is also possible. Remember that from July onwards, these species rarely sing and can be very difficult to see, so it's wise to learn the contact calls before you go. Blue Rock Thrush and Alpine Swift are also easy to see on or above the cliffs.
The west of the island is also particularly good for seawatching, with Shag (Desmarestii ssp.), Storm Petrel, Cory's Shearwater and Mediterranean Shearwater all possible. This is a good area for dolphin and whale watching as well.
There are several good stagni (brackish lagoons) to the south of the town of Carloforte, which have a nice range of resident and breeding species. When I visited in summer, I saw Black-winged Stilt, Greater Flamingo, Common Tern, Avocet, Slender-billed Gull, Little Egret, Redshank, Black-headed Gull and Grey Heron. There are plenty of good viewing points around the stagni, the best ones being to the far south east viewing them from the coastal road.
Getting to the island and the birdwatching locations
There are regular (hourly) ferries during the summer. Booking isn't usually necessary. You can travel either from Portovesme (a small industrial port just south of Portoscuso), or from Calasetta, a town on the north coast of the Isola di San. Antioco. If you choose to go from Calasetta, you can also stop off at the Stagno di Santa Caterina, which is also good for birdwatching. You'll probably need to take your car across to get to the west of the island when you get there, although it would definitely be possible to hire mountain bikes or scooters in Carloforte. The ferry times are given on the island website: http://www.isoladisanpietro.org/utilita/orari_traghetti/index.html in Italian. Under 'Orari' (timetable), click on Feriali (Mon-Sat) or Festivi (Sun and Public Hols). 'Estivi' for summer ferries, 'Invernali' for winter.
Once on the island, it's quite difficult to get lost. Your only real challenge is getting out of Carloforte onto the roads that lead to the south and west of the island. Head south, from the ferry port, along the sea front and you'll soon see the stagni in front of you. To get to the west, skirt round the stagni, keeping them on your left and look out for signs for the LIPU reserve (confusingly labelled 'LIPU Carloforte' - but they'll lead you to the west of the island). The whole island is worth exploring if you have time.
There is plenty of accommodation available on the island. I stayed at Il Ghiro Bed and Breakfast (€30 per night), which is right in the middle of Carloforte, overlooking a picturesque square. The website is: http://www.carloforte.net/ilghiro/index.htm I'd recommend booking accommodation in advance for July and August.
Eleonora's Falcon - San Pietro
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