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Of all the great ornithological sites on the Biscay coast of France the Baie de l'Aiguillon and the associated freshwater marshes inland are probably the best and form one of the finest areas for birds in the entire country.
The Marais Poitevin Regional Park forms a broad crescent of land to the north and east of La Rochelle and consists of large areas of grassland traversed by numerous drainage channels.
Here and there are wetter areas and patches of reeds that attract a variety of birds in the nesting season, on passage and in winter. Two particularly scarce species occur regularly in this area on passage, Little Bustard and Aquatic Warbler.
The regional park also includes some outlying patches of woodland to the east of the main park such as the Foret de Chize, Foret d'Aulnay and the Foret de L'Hermitain. The farmland of this area has a typical range of birds such as Common Quail and Stone-curlew, Northern Hobby and Common Kestrel, Golden Oriole and Red-backed Shrike.
Saint-Denis-du-Payre Nature Reserve
[Map]The Saint-Denis-du-Payre Nature Reserve is in the western part of the park south of Lucon and consists of cattle-grazed meadow lands important for breeding birds. This land is low-lying and marshy with nesting Garganey, Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Black Tern.
The area often floods in winter when large numbers of waterfowl are attracted, particularly Common Teal.
Baie de l'Aiguillon
[Map]The Baie de l'Aiguillon itself is the most important site in France for coastal waders during passage periods and throughout the winter and also attracts large numbers of waterfowl. More than 250,000 waders of a wide range of species can gather here in autumn and as many as 100,000 may spend the winter here.
Among the most numerous species are Red Knot and Dunlin, Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit but Avocet can reach more than 7,000 in winter and over 15,000 Whimbrel can occur on passage. All the regular wader species of northern Europe occur here and this is an important staging and wintering site for Spotted Redshank.
Both Common Shelduck and Northern Pintail can reach 6,000 in winter and Common Crane often occurs on passage. Part of the area is a nature reserve and a consists of large areas of wet grazing land behind a bank along the shoreline.
The very tip of the Pointe de l'Aiguillon is nationally renowned for its breeding Bluethroats.
A Slender-billed Curlew was recorded here in February 1968.
Pointe d'Arcay Nature Reserve
[Map]To the west of the Baie de l'Aiguillon reserve is the Pointe d'Arcay Nature Reserve another very important part of this remarkable area.
A large sandbar has built up from north to south across the mouth of the River Lay which is now largely covered with Maritime Pine woods with smaller areas of scrub and grassland. Eurasian Hoopoe and shrikes breed along the sandbar but the area is best-known as a site passage and wintering waterfowl and waders.
Dark-bellied Brent Goose and Greylag Goose occur in small numbers in winter with larger numbers of ducks such as Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler. Kentish Plover breeds but passage and winter sees a wide range of other wader species with Grey Plover, Red Knot, Dunlin and godwits among the most numerous.
Birds you can see here include:
Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Black Stork, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Mute Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Northern Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Red-legged Partridge, Common Quail, Water Rail, Corn Crake, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Common Crane, Little Bustard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Stone-curlew, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Eurasian Dotterel, Eurasian Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Black Tern, Common Woodpigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Short-eared Owl, Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Tawny Pipit, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Blue-headed Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Wren, Dunnock, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, Eurasian Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sedge Warbler, Aquatic Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Long-tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Crested Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Common Jay, Common Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Serin, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet, Common Bullfinch, Lapland Bunting, Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting
History and Use
Areas of Interest
Poire/Velluire Common Reserve
[Map]The small number of Little Bustard which occur in this area can be seen at the Poire/Velluire Common reserve about 20km south-east of Lucon and reached on the D949 from Lucon to Mouzeuil-Saint-Martin then the D68 towards Velluire.
There was a hide near the crossroads of the L'Anglee and La Taillee roads, although in 2018 this had been removed as it was unsafe, and the bustards can be seen in September and October.
Access and Facilities
The Vendee is a popular holiday area and accommodation is plentiful throughout. A network of minor roads enables visitors to explore much of the surrounding marshes and woodlands and the reserve areas are well-signposted.
To view Aiguillon Bay take the D746 from Triaize towards Saint-Michel-en-l'Herm and turn south onto a minor road, the Route des Prises, at Le Vignaud. This road crosses some excellent polder-land and leads to the mouth of the Chenal-Vieux. Park here and walk along the Digue des Wagons to view the saltmarshes and the bay.
For Pointe d'Arcay continue on the D746 through Saint-Michel-en-l'Herm to l'Aigillon-sur-Mer but entry may require a permit. The Saint-Denis-du-Payre reserve lies between the villages of Triaize and Saint-Denis-du-Payre to the south of Lucon and can be reached from the D746 then the D25. Much can be seen from the road and there are organised visits during July and August.
Content and images originally posted by Steve