After a few hours in Sardinia it’s not hard to see why it is becoming increasingly popular with British birders. This Italian island – the second largest in the Mediterranean, has an abundance of species you just don’t see in the UK and they’re not difficult to find.
We flew into Alghero, on the west coast, and set up base in the Bosa area, only 40 minutes from the airport and home to Sardinia’s two remaining colonies of Griffon Vultures.
Finding the vulture colony is as easy as falling off a log, as just outside Bosa on the coast road is a pizzeria conveniently called the Grifone, even more conveniently there is a large layby just opposite where you can park up and scan the cliffs behind. We managed to get four birds soaring above as we pulled up.
Our friends, however, got nearly into double figures when they took the high road back to Alghero behind the colony. This road is also good for Little Kestrel.
If you have time, it’s worth taking a quick trip to Cape Caccia (about 20 minutes west of Algerho) where, in the car park right at edge of the cliffs you can look down and pick up excellent views of Crag Martin and Pallid and Alpine Swift. Melodious Warbler is also possible there and if you get there early in the morning, before the tourist buses start arriving to visit the huge cave, you may even see Barbary Partridge.
We stayed in Magadomas, one of the small hilltop villages to the south of Bosa. I would recommend staying in, or going to, one of these villages, as you are already some 400 feet up and you can look down on some amazing raptors. From here we got Golden and Bonnelli’s Eagles, Goshawk, Montagu’s Harrier and, of course, Sardinian Warbler.
Generally speaking, Sardinia has far more scrub and oak forests than mainland Italy and has been nowhere near as intensively farmed. It also has a tremendous number of salty lagoons that are important sites for superb species, including Purple Gallinule, Greater Flamingo and Slender-billed Gull.
In the south-west, San Pietro island hosts one of the best known Eleonora’s Falcon colonies in the Mediterranean, and Marmora’s Warbler and Blue Rock Thrush can also be picked up here. We drove up along the coast to get the ferry from the northeast port of Palau on the La Maddelana Archipelago some 20 minutes by ferry. Here we had two nights and you can actually explore two islands, as a bridge lets you cross over on to Carpera.
An hour’s drive to the south from Magadomas brings you to Oristano and the riches of the lagoons around it. I would recommend exploring for a couple of days here as the possibilities are endless. In October we got Marsh Harrier feeding no more that 50 yards away and Greater Flamingo really close in. Purple Gallinule, Ferruginous Duck, numerous herons and Great White Egret are all possible in the water systems to the south and west of the city.
From the road to Tharros from Cabras it’s well worth turning off on to the dirt tracks that lead down to the sea, as you can pick up some interesting warblers. A day in Cagliari is also a good idea. The huge lagoons around the city will give you Greater Flamingo and the full range of herons.
Many of the villages, such as Cabras, are also worth exploring – for their charm as much as their views. One of the great things about Sardinia is that nowhere is really more than a couple of hours away if you position yourself correctly, although we found that having a two centre break made all the difference. The road system is excellent and you will have no trouble finding anywhere. Also many of the little dirt tracks leading off can be highly productive.
The birds here are amazing and very obliging when they display. Little Bustard and many other rarities are all possibilities. What’s more, the people of Sardinia are clamping down on illegal shooting and are fast embracing the idea of conservation – and it shows. The future certainly looks bright for Sardinia’s birds – and birders.