Join for FREE
It only takes a minute!
Zeiss - Always on the lookout for something special – Shop now

Welcome to BirdForum.
BirdForum is the net's largest birding community, dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE! You are most welcome to register for an account, which allows you to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

A week in Provence

Reply
 
Thread Tools Rate Thread
Old Monday 20th May 2019, 20:57   #1
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
A week in Provence

Finally our long awaited trip to Provence in the south of France arrived. I had hoped to write this trip report as we went along but unfortunately there was no internet connection available so it had to wait until our return and will no doubt be done somewhat piecemeal.

07:45 am Saturday 11 may 2019 saw us hitting Jct 21 of the M1 and heading towards Heathrow. After an uneventful flight we arrived at Marseille where the weather was a pleasant, if somewhat breezy 18C. there was a bit of a glitch with the hire car, the booked Volvo V40 auto somehow was morphed into a Renault Megan, which after a 40 minute wait arrived obviously straight from the car wash but with several scrapes and a smashed wheel hubcap. After ensuring photos were taken and the damage duly noted on the hire form (I have heard some serious horror stories about foreign airport car hire companies ripping people off for existing damage) we were on our way to our cottage just outside St. Remy De Provence.

Unfortunately there was little time for any serious birding after the shenanigans with the car hire company and a stop off to pick up some provisions en route. We did manage a short walk around the local country lanes where Nightingales were heard in every other bush, and Golden Oriole was heard. A brief glimpse of black redstart and then my first Lifer of the trip. A pair of Roller flew from a nearby hedgerow but I couldn't see much of their colouration as it was almost dark by then.

So back to the cosy digs for a well earned glass of the local produce.
Attached Thumbnails
Click image for larger version

Name:	car damage 1.jpg
Views:	20
Size:	164.2 KB
ID:	695726  Click image for larger version

Name:	broken wheel trim 1.jpg
Views:	26
Size:	337.2 KB
ID:	695727  Click image for larger version

Name:	trying the local produce.jpg
Views:	14
Size:	135.4 KB
ID:	695728  Click image for larger version

Name:	our cottage.jpg
Views:	21
Size:	235.7 KB
ID:	695729  
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Monday 20th May 2019, 22:42   #2
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Day 2 Sunday 12 May 2019

After a good nights sleep we awoke to a bright sunny, but very windy first full days of foreign birding for me (my birding buddy has birded on four continents but it was also his first visit to France). Having consulted the weather forecast for week we decided to abandon the itinerary that I had painstakingly put together before our trip and decided to take a drive into St. Martin De crau and the Ecomosee to pick up some permits for the Peau de Meau reserve for later in the week. For the Princely sum of 1 each for two days this seemed exceptional value.

It was then off to La Viguerat marshes reserve for what we hoped would be the first serious birding action of the trip. By the time we got there the weather had deteriorated into a full blown Mistral from the north west. I had heard of this famous weather phenomenon but it is something to be out in it. Aside from the gale force winds, it is often associated with clear sunny skies, especially in late spring which also brings the added risk of sunburn as the wind is cool but that does not stop exposure to the UV from the sun.

Still, we managed a bit of quality birding including a full set of egrets, Grey, Night and Squacco herons (lifer for me) all at close range, my first of many Black kites, a white Stork (L) and a Whiskered Tern (L) battling to make headway against the wind.

Lots of Black Winged Stilts were around and we also picked up a group of Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sands, a couple of Greenshank and large flocks of Glossy Ibis to make up a reasonable wader list. Ducks were a bit thin on the ground (or water for that matter) with Mallards and a single Shelduck the only representatives for the wildfowl.

As the Viguerat is the only sizeable wetland East of the Rhone and having abandoned our plans to go foraging in the Alpilles due to the wind we decided to head south and take the ferry across the river at Bac Du Suavage. 6 and 30 minutes later we were heading towards the Domaine de la Palissade reserve.

The path to the observation tower was blocked by a fallen tree brought down by the winds, which wasn't too much of a disappointment as we probably wouldn't have wanted to be up there anyway! we arrived at the first hide and immediately locked on to another lifer in the form of a pair of Gull Billed Terns which looked huge next to Little Tern sitting next to them. A pair of Gargany were spotted and Avocet, Redshank Stilts and Ringed plover were the only waders on show. By this time we were actually getting a bit nervous as tree branches were rattling the hide roof and the whole structure was shaking somewhat alarmingly in the wind so we decided to move on to another part of the reserve. A Purple heron (another lifer for me) tried a short flight but decided against it and quickly disappeared back down amongst the reeds. Just as we decided to turn back to the car park a single Greater Flamingo was spotted briefly before disappearing out of view again behind vegetation on the island.

We drove down to the Plage de Piemanson where several slender billed gulls, another lifer, were found sheltering on the shore of the salt lagoons beside the road. When we got to the car park I tried to open the car door but was worried that it would be ripped off its hinges so we turned round headed back inland.

A brief stop off at Marais du Verdier failed to produce anything of note other than a few bee-eaters near the start of the footpath.
So it was back home for a thai fish curry and more "local produce".

We were very impressed with the reserves we visited, all had well maintained paths, friendly staff and 3 seemed to be the going rate for entry fees (where a charge applied). so one full day down and 9 lifers in the bag for me and greater Flamingo the first lifer of the trip for Mark.

I should mention at this point that for anyone planning a trip to this part of the world should download the excellent free pamphlet produced by the Parc Naturel regional de Camargue.

http://www.parc-camargue.fr/getlibra...ue_English.pdf
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Tuesday 21st May 2019, 11:04   #3
MKinHK
Mike Kilburn
 
MKinHK's Avatar

 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Hong Kong
Posts: 4,328
The last report I read on the Camargue was a hardback book in my school library in the 1980s of an expedition during the 1950s. The comparison should be fun!

Cheers
Mike
__________________

Hong Kong: Glossy Ibis, Western Yellow Wagtail, Wood Warbler (475)
Greater China: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, European Golden Plover, Glossy Ibis (973)
Lifer: Many-Coloured Rush Tyrant, Diademed Sandpiper Plover
MKinHK is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Tuesday 21st May 2019, 19:29   #4
ClarkWGriswold
Carpe Carpum
BF Supporter 2019
 
ClarkWGriswold's Avatar

 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Caerbannog
Posts: 8,696
Blog Entries: 3
Some good birds there Paul. Good looking accommodation. But.... Thai green curry. Sacre Bleurgh!!!

Looking forward to the rest of the report.

Rich
__________________
"It's a million-to-one-chance, but it might just work" - Fred Colon, Carrot Ironfoundersson, Nobby Nobbs
ClarkWGriswold is offline  
Reply With Quote

BF Supporter 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Support BirdForum With A Donation

Old Tuesday 21st May 2019, 20:15   #5
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Quote:
Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
The last report I read on the Camargue was a hardback book in my school library in the 1980s of an expedition during the 1950s. The comparison should be fun!

Cheers
Mike
The only thing I knew about the Camargue before I started researching this trip was from reading Michael Moorcocks "history of the Runestaff" series when I was a teenager in the 70's. A Fantasy set in a dystopian future where mutated giant Flamingos were trained as battle steeds! (when you know that the author used to hang around with the band Hawkwind you can probably guess what was being smoked when he came up with that idea!

Quote:
Originally Posted by ClarkWGriswold View Post
Some good birds there Paul. Good looking accommodation. But.... Thai green curry. Sacre Bleurgh!!!

Looking forward to the rest of the report.

Rich
Actually Rich it was red curry . yes not a bad start
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Tuesday 21st May 2019, 21:36   #6
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Day 3 Monday 13 May 2109

We had decided to make an early start and so arriced at Peau de Meau reserve at around 7am to avoid the potential heat haze. It was all very quiet with nothing apart from three white storks overhead and a couple of Red-Legged Partridges which gave us a brief moment of excitement until we got the bins on them.
We gradually made our way to the observation point at the sheep barn where there were two large dogs tethered to a trailer which greeted us enthusiastically. We finally managed to find the entrance and climbed the somewhat rickety stairs. I was not quite sure what i was expecting but a modern hide it was not! With a very strong aroma of nervous sheep in the air we settled ourselves down and the shelf under the window promptly collapsed when I leaned my elbows on it to steady by bins. A quick running repair later and I had missed a Hoopoe that Mark saw from the other window. After much scanning and several common kestrels later we finally connected with one of our main targets of the morning a Lesser Kestrel. So first lifer of the day into the notebook and things were looking up. However, that is where things came to a standstill so we headed off to complete the circuit back to the car park (avoiding the several mice that were running around in the barn). The wind was again beginning to pick up but nothing like yesterday and the skylarks were beginning to venture out in force which gave us some encouragement and it was not long before my next two lifers were racked up in the form of an almost tame Tawny Pipit that was quite content to trot along the path ten yards ahead of us for some distance and a brief Short Toed Lark.

As we neared the car park a small [patch of scrub presented us with great views of a stunning Male Red Backed Shrike. Having only seen females/first winter birds here in the UK previously this bird really knocked my socks off - an absolute corker.

As it was still only mid morning we decided to explore more of the Le Crau area. At this point I need to give a shout out to Dave Gosney's excellent booklet "finding birds in the south of France" which gave excellent directions and GPS co-ordinates for the various sites around the area. So a quick consultation of the book over a coffee and we were heading east to the Chemin de Mas de Pointu where there is a small paring area at the end of the road. Once again apart from the ubiquitous skylarks nothing much gave itself up. After a long walk down the path finally a single Calandra Lark showed itself (L). Back at the car park and my first proper view of Roller in flight was enjoyed. A frustrating few minutes around the scrub beside the parking area where a couple of very flighty Phylloscopus determinately remained unidentified by refusing to stay still long enough for a decent view and we were off for the afternoon to the Chalet Reynard at Mt Ventoux.

We arrived at the car park and although still windy sunhats and factor 30 were the order of the day as the sun was shining in a cloudless sky. Crossing the car park I heard what I thought was a slightly off key Dunnock singing from behind the toilet block perhaps a French accent? As we set off up the path between the stoney slopes the area was alive with Black Redstarts and that same Dunnock was heard again but this time I was having some suspicions about it. However, I was then distracted by a Serin another lifer for me, a bird that I have had a couple of goes for back home but always managed to miss. Another hundred yards and I spotted a couple of rather chunky looking birds hopping around under a low conifer branch. Bins up and yes a pair of Rock Buntings, one our main targets for the afternoon and a Lifer for us both. At this point out came the ipad and the Collins app complete with the extremely useful sound tracks which confirmed that what I thought was on out of tune Dunnock was in fact Rock Bunting.

A rewarding couple of hours spent around the woods was spent with Firecrest and Crested Tit being the pick of the birds.

A drive up to the summit gave us stunning views of the distant snow capped alps but no birds. Not one to give up too easily we drove back down to the chalets area and on a hunch parked up beside the sheds where the snow ploughs are kept and sat at a picnic bench with a coffee and cheese sandwich to see what turned up. My birding "spidey senses" must have been at full power as within five minutes two small green birds landed on the verge at the side of the road. Green, long forked tail and grey head and nape, bright rump. Citril Finch, Bingo! Target acquired and another lifer for us both.

So in great spirits we headed home. Another 7 lifers in the bag for me and 2 for Mark (as he said it is along time since he got two in a day).

On the way home we were discussing the differences of birding at home. Not surprisingly, and the main reason we were here after all was the number of specialist species that we don't have at home, but you tend to forget that what is taken for granted back in Blighty is not so common on foreign soil. This was brought home to us when a woodpigeon flew across the road and we realised that it was the first we had seen since arriving. My abject failure earlier to identify Rock Bunting song was partially because I resorted to a default setting (also being somewhat tonally challenged) yet now realised that we had not seen a single Dunnock or Robin either, a situation which in the case of the former remained as the status quo for the remainder of the week.

1 Dave Gosneys excellent booklet
2 Snow covered distant Alps
3 Panaorama from summit of Mt Ventoux
4 Mt Ventoux summit
Attached Thumbnails
Click image for larger version

Name:	233359[1].jpg
Views:	11
Size:	86.9 KB
ID:	695832  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190513_171148.jpg
Views:	12
Size:	197.4 KB
ID:	695833  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190513_170838.jpg
Views:	14
Size:	702.1 KB
ID:	695834  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190513_170649.jpg
Views:	10
Size:	175.9 KB
ID:	695835  
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Tuesday 21st May 2019, 22:28   #7
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Day 4 Tuesday 14 May 2019

After a long day in the field yesterday we had opted for a leisurely start after a good old "petit dejeurner grande Anglais" (that's a full English to me and you) we set off for La maison des Vautours at Saint Pierre des Tripiers in the Jonte Gorge. It was a bit of a long trek involving a three hour drive but it was well worth it. Crag Martins around some of the villages en route provide another lifer for me and we arrived in brilliant sunshine, sheltered from what remained of the winds by the tall cliffs of the gorge. No sooner had we got out of the car than sveral Griffons were spotted circling around. As we watched, a small group of Alpine swifts buzzed around half heartedly mobbing one of the vultures that probably got too close to their nesting area. It was at this [point that I had a two second view of a black and white bird that promptly disappeared back behind the crag before I could get Mark on it. I was certain that it was an Egyptian vulture but it was too brief to totally nail it. fortunately it re-appeared several minutes later and my first instinct was confirmed.

Three lifers for me in the car park. not a bad start to the day and Griffon was also a lifer for Mark.

The vulture centre is well worth a visit, even though all the displays are in French only, there is lots of great stuff charting the history of their extinction in the area through persecution and re-introduction and establishment. The chap on the reception spoke good English and gave us a potted history, explaining that there are now over 600 pairs of Griffon in the area. There was a great video presentation with English subtitles.

Of interest was the fact that in the early days of the re-introduction scheme special dispensation to leave out dead sheep carcasses had to be granted from the French government and EU as, up until then farmers were required to bury or have cremated any dead animals to prevent potential spread of disease. Once permission was granted, several designated drop off points were allocated and now up to 150 farmers take part. It is a win-win really as the farmers no longer have to pay to dispose o carcases and the vultures get a free meal. And there are no shortages of sheep as there are huge flocks reared in the region, not for meat but for milk production used in the local cheeses (Roquefort being the most well known of these).

After a fascinating time spent where we were also shown a Black vulture chick in the nest (the guide even helping to train our own scopes onto it) we returned to the car park for a spot of lunch. We decided to sit at a picnic bench in the shade across the road. Good decision... As we munched our sandwiches a phyllosc was spied in the tree. After a series of partial views, not a Willow Warbler (dark legs), not a Chiff Chaff (no distinctive facial markings or tail dipping) it finally gave itself up and turned out to be a Bonellis Warbler, another Lifer for both of us.

My impersonation of a griffon Vulture
View along Jonte Gorge from the Vulture centre
Attached Thumbnails
Click image for larger version

Name:	20190514_135501.jpg
Views:	33
Size:	402.5 KB
ID:	695842  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190514_134013.jpg
Views:	17
Size:	795.3 KB
ID:	695843  
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 15:18   #8
birdmeister
Registered User

 
Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Eastern Pennsylvania
Posts: 2,022
Great report, Paul.

Interesting that you mentioned the lack of Woodpigeon, Dunnock, and Robin. I have been to Greece three times now (always in South-Central) and have never seen any of these.
birdmeister is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 16:38   #9
Scridifer
Registered User
BF Supporter 2019
 
Scridifer's Avatar

 
Join Date: Mar 2016
Location: Byala/Essex
Posts: 9,976
Nice report Paul, keep it coming! Very jealous of the Citril Finch, a bird we don't have here!

Chris
__________________
Latest Lifers: Manx Shearwater - Black Guillemot - Roseate Tern
My 2019 List
Latest Patch Tick: Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Scridifer is online now  
Reply With Quote

BF Supporter 2016 2017 2018 2019 Support BirdForum With A Donation

Old Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 17:23   #10
Larry Sweetland
Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
 
Larry Sweetland's Avatar

 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Bristol
Posts: 7,335
Nice one Paul. Hawkwind's 50th this year 😊
Larry Sweetland is online now  
Reply With Quote
Old Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 22:30   #11
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Quote:
Originally Posted by birdmeister View Post
Great report, Paul.

Interesting that you mentioned the lack of Woodpigeon, Dunnock, and Robin. I have been to Greece three times now (always in South-Central) and have never seen any of these.
Yes as I said we always think of the specialities of an area but often forget that what we take for granted at home can actually be a somewhat of a rarity elsewhere. It was also noticeable that once out of the villages, blackbirds were also a bit thin on the ground and song thrush was another that we never saw all week, it being mainly a winter visitor in that region.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scridifer View Post
Nice report Paul, keep it coming! Very jealous of the Citril Finch, a bird we don't have here!

Chris
Yes it was one of our main targets of the trip and real sight to behold, especially as we thought we might have dipped on it. There is more to come but have not had time to update today. stay tuned.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Sweetland View Post
Nice one Paul. Hawkwind's 50th this year 😊
God that makes me feel old. is that years or number of line ups


All apologies for no updates today but a serious work commitment (read post meeting jolly down pub) meant no time but will do more tomorrow. I really must try and cut down the waffle though
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 00:48   #12
Earnest lad
Registered User

 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Lancashire
Posts: 1,011
I enjoyed the downloaded pamphlet thank you. Are any of the snakes in the Camargue poisonous.
Earnest lad is online now  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 10:20   #13
MKinHK
Mike Kilburn
 
MKinHK's Avatar

 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Hong Kong
Posts: 4,328
Enjoying your report - especially the sense of winkling out the rewards by hard work and intuition.

Please keep the waffle - much more interesting than a dry list of what you saw!

Cheers
Mike
__________________

Hong Kong: Glossy Ibis, Western Yellow Wagtail, Wood Warbler (475)
Greater China: Buff-breasted Sandpiper, European Golden Plover, Glossy Ibis (973)
Lifer: Many-Coloured Rush Tyrant, Diademed Sandpiper Plover
MKinHK is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 11:56   #14
kb57
Registered User

 
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Durham, UK
Posts: 575
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Longland View Post
The only thing I knew about the Camargue before I started researching this trip was from reading Michael Moorcocks "history of the Runestaff" series when I was a teenager in the 70's. A Fantasy set in a dystopian future where mutated giant Flamingos were trained as battle steeds! (when you know that the author used to hang around with the band Hawkwind you can probably guess what was being smoked when he came up with that idea!
Oh god I'd forgotten I used to read the same books...I went to the Camargue in the 1980s for that reason but didn't do much birding, caught a train to Arles then hired a bike from the station, cycled down an insanely narrow and busy road to Ste. Maries de la Mer, then on to Aigues Mortes (of course...) where we stopped the night. Did see my first ever flamingos on the lagoon near there though.
It's lucky I waited a few more years before having a child, otherwise he might've been called Elric...
kb57 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 16:38   #15
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Quote:
Originally Posted by Earnest lad View Post
I enjoyed the downloaded pamphlet thank you. Are any of the snakes in the Camargue poisonous.
Not as far as I know (unless they have adders there) but I have to admit I am not up on my reptiles that much.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
Enjoying your report - especially the sense of winkling out the rewards by hard work and intuition.

Please keep the waffle - much more interesting than a dry list of what you saw!

Cheers
Mike
Thank you. I try to give a sense of the feel of the trip as much as the birds. Hence, partly why there are not really any bird photos as I do not carry camera gear, just my phone.


Quote:
Originally Posted by kb57 View Post
Oh god I'd forgotten I used to read the same books...I went to the Camargue in the 1980s for that reason but didn't do much birding, caught a train to Arles then hired a bike from the station, cycled down an insanely narrow and busy road to Ste. Maries de la Mer, then on to Aigues Mortes (of course...) where we stopped the night. Did see my first ever flamingos on the lagoon near there though.
It's lucky I waited a few more years before having a child, otherwise he might've been called Elric...
Or Erekose, Hawkmoon, Jhary or John Daker etc. I know the narrow and busy road to Ste Maries de la mer you mean as I drove down it. As I said in the first post now I know why many of the hire cars have scratches!
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 17:50   #16
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Day 5 Wednesday 15 May 2019

Thank you all for the kind feedback. I am glad you are enjoying my report so far.

So back to the birding. Wednesday dawned a warm but slightly overcast day. After another fairly leisurely start and good old fry up it was time to head a short 6 or 7 KM down the D5 towards Les Baux de Provence and La Caume which is the high point of Les Alpilles, a range of limestone hills and escarpments. Although this is reputed to be breeding site for Bonellis Eagle we did not really hold out much hope as they are notoriously elusive and so it proved.

We got off to a good start with a Dartford Warbler in the car park and then headed up the main path towards the radio mast on the summit. Although uphill, it is not too strenuous a climb, especially when there are plenty of distractions such a Crested Tits singing from the tree tops, our first Robin of the trip and lots of common finches around. About halfway up we heard a Sardinian Warbler of in the scrub so decided to investigate. It was being something of a skulker, if vocal so we decided to take a coffee break and sit it out. Although I had had my lifer for this species earlier in the week, it was only a fleeting in flight view. This bird performed no better and kept giving us tantalising brief views as it flitted around the bushes but resolutely refused to give come out into the open. As it darted off to the left and disappeared into a larger bush I thought I had finally got it as a bird suddenly appeared on an open branch. Raising my bins, I was actually delighted to find it was not our rather shy Sardinian, but a cracker of a male Subalpine warbler. Chalk up another lifer for me.

We reached the summit and there were Dartford warblers a plenty, a few great tits but apart from a mystery Bunting fly past not much else. There were plenty of birds singing from the scrub but nothing seemed to want show itself. A distant blue rock thrush was also heard.

The skies over the low ground were beginning to clear so we headed back down and set off for a bit more camargue birding at La Scamandre, figuring that now the winds had died down we might have a better chance at some of the reed bed birds that must have been well hunkered down at the start of the week.

We drove the 50 or so km west seeing the usual black kites and bee-eaters as we went but the highlights of the journey were a pair of Hoopoe in a car park where we had to turn around having taken a wrong turn when navigating roadworks through a town (I could have pretended this was down to superior field craft but that would obviously be a downright fib) and a white stork on the nest at the top of a water tower a few km before we reached the reserve. This was obviously a well established nesting site judging by the height of the nest and was attracting a lot of attention from passing tourists who were all stopping to take a good look at it, as did we.

The reserve is another great example of how it should done. there are boardwalks that go right through the middle so you can get close to the action, excellent paths, all wide enough for wheelchair users to pass and level access to the hides. Some of our reserves should go and take notes. On the other hand we could teach them something about birder friendly hides. One thing we did notice was that most of hides at the reserves we visited did not have a shelf to rest your elbows on to steady the bins (or put your coffee cup), had very narrow viewing slots, which made locking on to flying birds or using a scope difficult. Some even did not have any seating at all, just a few pallets to stand on.

Although we did get actual first visual sightings of Cettis, Reed Warbler and Nightingale apart from a flypast of a flock of around 20 Black tern, a few Kingfishers and a group of Red Crested Pochard there was nothing new. At one point we thought we might be on to a moustached Warbler but it turned out to be a Reed Warbler, albeit with some slightly unusual song phrases.

As we wanted to have go for the Eagle Owls this evening we decided to call it a day and head back to the Ranch.

After a quick Pizza for dinner (yes I Know, not very French but it was quick and took no effort) we were out again, arriving at the track behind the hotel Mas D'Oulivie just outside Les Baux around 8.30PM and settled down to wait.

Another Blue rock thrush was heard in the distance and an Alpine swift was darting around the rocky outcrop.

As dusk approached we heard voices and spied a group of people just down the track, obviously doing the same as we were. It turned out they were a group of birders from Northamptonshire on a guided tour. Nightjars began to Churr and, I had said to Mark earlier that I had a good feeling about the Owls as, they may have been restricted earlier in the week due to the high winds and so must be due to come out for a good hunting session now that the weather had settled. It sounded so plausible that I was convinced we would score. However, despite some outrageous cheating by the tour guide, playing amplified calls through some sort of sound box, we dipped and so headed home to drown our sorrows.

A cautionary note here. The roads through Les Alpilles , whilst good and wide are very twisty and so there is not much forward throw to the headlights, and I soon discovered there are no such things as Cats eyes on French roads. Its funny how much you don't notice things that you rely upon until they are there.

1&2 views from Les Alpilles
3 White Stork Nest
Attached Thumbnails
Click image for larger version

Name:	20190515_122522.jpg
Views:	8
Size:	651.3 KB
ID:	695954  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190515_122530.jpg
Views:	10
Size:	633.9 KB
ID:	695955  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190515_172717.jpg
Views:	11
Size:	43.9 KB
ID:	695956  
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 18:23   #17
etudiant
Registered User
BF Supporter 2019

 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: New York
Posts: 4,274
Thank you for just a great read!
It brings back happy memories of the Camargue.
The Eagle Owl was not a great sighting in my experience, a silhouette of the bird at dusk, at a considerable distance against the craggy rock face. If the bird were not so distinctive, that would not pass muster as a verified ID.

Surprised the Crau was not more productive.
Sandgrouse are reported there, although I did not see them, but the Lesser Kestrels, Little Bustards and Stone Curlews were numerous.

Think that driving in France must be to Britons as driving in England is to Americans, a chore best delegated to someone else....
etudiant is offline  
Reply With Quote

BF Supporter 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Support BirdForum With A Donation

Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 18:42   #18
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Quote:
Originally Posted by etudiant View Post
Thank you for just a great read!
It brings back happy memories of the Camargue.
The Eagle Owl was not a great sighting in my experience, a silhouette of the bird at dusk, at a considerable distance against the craggy rock face. If the bird were not so distinctive, that would not pass muster as a verified ID.

Surprised the Crau was not more productive.
Sandgrouse are reported there, although I did not see them, but the Lesser Kestrels, Little Bustards and Stone Curlews were numerous.

Think that driving in France must be to Britons as driving in England is to Americans, a chore best delegated to someone else....
Glad youi are enjoying it. Unfortunately the Little bustards were probably already nesting so I think we were a little late for the display flights and some of the grass was quite long. not to mention it was blowing a veritable gale that day. I think winter/early spring is probably a better time as they are still around in flocks. Ditto the sandgrouse, although they are reported to breed around the barn area they best found at dawn or dusk I believe.

Unfortunately as I was the one that did all the booking I ended up as the designated driver. Once I got the hang of "the wrong side" it was not too bad and I actually enjoy driving.
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 19:38   #19
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Day 6 Thursday 16 May 2019

Today we were going for a crack at Cevannes and Causses, so an early start (no breakfast today) and we set off heading north on the N106 towards Florac some 170km away. As we passed through Ales I spotted a Little Owl perched on some telegraph wires.

As we approached Florac we spied a distant raptor over the ridges ahead so pulled in beside a small stand of conifers to get the scope out for a better look. The first thing that struck me was the amount of Woodlark that could be heard from the trees. As we were getting the scopes set up our raptor was suddenly joined by several others rising above the ridge. After a few minutes there were 40 Griffons circling up on the thermals.

As we had stopped it was an excuse to stretch the legs and grab a quick caffeine intake after having been driving for well over two hours. A good decision as we scanned the cause across the road we were rewarded with another Red Backed Shrike, Yellow Hammer, Stonechats and Wheatears. A common Buzzard drifted over and there was a Kestrel hovering nearby.

Then it was on to Nivoliers. Following Dave Gosney's excellent directions it was not long before we had both gained another lifer in the form of W. Orphean Warbler. I was surprised at just how big this bird looked. Black Redstarts were everywhere and we clocked a Common Whitethroat too. we then followed the track out the other side of the village towards the horse reserve but despite meticulous scanning of the rocky slopes a few Cirl Buntings were spied but no sign of any Ortorlans. We did get a cracking Tree Pipit though, a bird that seems to be sadly declining back home.

A short 2km drive up the road where we parked up next to the stone cross as described by Gosney to partake of a lunch made up of fresh Bagettes and a selection of cheeses from the local supermarket back in St. Remy (don't get much more French than that. the only thing missing was the Vin Rouge but I was driving). Just as we were getting our snack out of the boot I spied a rather chunky looking bird fly across the road and watched its path until it settled on a small bush. Before I could grab my bins Mark was on it and declared Ortorlan Bunting, ten seconds later I was also on it and enjoyed a great view of yet another lifer for me before it took off again. The birding gods were smiling on us after all. I like to think it was my just reward for all the graft put in earlier scanning the hillside without luck.

Lunch went down a treat after that and we were soon on our way again stopping at the ruins of the little hamlet of Villaret. After finding only a great tit it was on to an abandoned quarry just past Hures.

As we walked round the top of the quarry a plain looking brown bird appeared at the top of a huge mound of excavated soil. With high hopes the scope was on it in a flash. Depite looking about the right size it was not the female Rock thrush that we were hoping for but a tawny pipit. However, as we rounded the top of the quarry by the old buildings a bird was spotted on the wire, This time I had a good feeling and a resplendent singing male Rock Thrush was soon in the bins. It very obligingly remain in situ while we got the scope on it. What a stunner. Another lifer for both and probably the bird of the entire trip. This magnificent specimen then flew down on top a spoil heap right in front of us and gave us a great view of his back (this is a bird that actually looks almost as good from the back as the front). I was totally mesmerised by this fine example of aviculture.

Eventually he disappeared down into the quarry and we departed absolutely buzzing and praising Mr Gosney to the hilt for putting us in the right place to see this bird.

After checking out a couple of the other sites recommended we decided to have one more crack around Nivoliers for the so far elusive Rock Sparrows.

Alas, no luck but we did clock another Orphean warbler and got a consolation Melodious warbler in a bramble thicket in one of the gardens. I was well pleased with this, as although I had seen the 2014(?)Nottinghamshire bird I had only got a very brief almost silhouetted flight view of that bird but this one was giving us quite a show. A Quail was also heard in the long grass on the edge of the village but unsurprisingly did not reveal itself.

The nightingales around here were much less shy and one or two were spotted higher up in the less dense trees and shrubs. Imagine our surprise though when three of them burst out of hedge right in front of us, chased each other around and then proceeded to engage in an almighty squabble in a small tree. Eventually two disappeared back into the hedge but the other bird then went settled at eye level in an open tree and proceeded to sign its head off. Most likely an established pair and an interloping male but not a sight I ever expected to see. So no Rock Sparrow but Gosney had put us right on the money otherwise and we departed on the drive home very happy bunnies indeed.

Once back at the cottage we went totally native and cooked a (although I do say so myself) very tasty Coq-au-Vin for a well earned supper.
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 23rd May 2019, 22:28   #20
Paul Longland
Registered User
 
Paul Longland's Avatar

 
Join Date: May 2016
Location: leicester
Posts: 713
Day 7 Friday 17 May 2019

The penultimate day of our trip and we arose to cloudy skies. Thankfully the thunderstorms predicted earlier in the week failed to materialise and the forecast was now for light showers. with this in mind we had already decided that this would be a day for the camargue where we could take refuge in hides if necessary.

We headed off towards Pont de Gau Parc Ornithologique. En-route we saw our only Lapwing of the trip as we passed a paddy field. Nothing special in that you may think except it was single handedly mobbing a male Montagues Harrier.

Once again a superbly set out reserve with a large car park, from which Great Reed Warbler was heard. As we entered and proffered our 7.50 entrance fee I clocked the binocular hire (all the reserves had bins for hire at very reasonable prices) and was gobsmacked when the offerings were all 8x32 Swaro CLs!! How is that for doing it properly. Hire charges were only a few Euros but you did need to provide an ID card or passport as security.

As we entered the park and followed the map provided there was a great display of all aspects of avian physiology, evolution, migration and general facts. OK so it was all in French but the whole place is designed to attract tourists and provide an educational experience as well as some great birding. As soon as we came into sight of the first pool the sheer numbers of Flamingos was astonishing as was the noise they made. (not unlike geese). They were also totally unfazed by the people and quite happily came right up to the edge of the pool while we stood watching from the path no more than a few yards away. One interesting thing we noted was that quite a few of them were almost pure white. We speculated that about a quarter of them remain over winter and that these pale birds were the stayers and therefore didn't feed on the brine shrimps in the African wintering from where they get their colouring. If anyone can corroborate this I would be interested to know. It was also noticeable that a higher proportion of the pale birds were ringed than the pinker ones which also added fuel to our theory. If we thought they were impressive at close quarters, then they were absolutely superb in flight when the dark pink and black wing flashes were on show.

Finally managed to get my first sight of Great Reed Warbler, albeit a brief flight view. This was soon followed by a great view of one singing from a small tree. There were the usual herons and egrets around along with Stilts and few Avocets. We also managed some great views of Sardinian Warbler and had a fly past Hobby that was quickly joined by another which locked talons with it briefly (food pass, courtship or a scrap?). We followed all the trails but were disappointed at the total lack of waders in the upper section of the reserve despite some good looking mudflats. It seems that the few we saw at the beginning of the week were probably late stragglers pinned down by the wind. We did however hear Purple swamp hen calling from somewhere in the reedbed.

We headed of towards Ste Marie de la mer and walked along the track along the beach. A large flock of full summer plumage Grey Plovers were a nice sight along with a couple of Turnstone and few Ringed Plover. Further along and we finally caught up with one of our main targets for the day and another lifer for me, Kentish Plovers. This was quickly followed by my third of the day, a brief Crested Lark.

We sat on the rocks by the car park watching a little Egret fishing while we had a late lunch of bread and cheese, then we decided to do a bit of off reserve camargue birding. Heading out of Ste Marie de la Mer we took the D85a and turned right up an gravel track road Pointe de Cacharel. According to Dave Gosney's guidebook this is a potential area for Pratincoles but we failed to see any. There were the usual collection of Flamingo, Glossy Ibis etc in the various pools we passed. One particularly well populated paddy field seemed worth stopping to check out for any errant waders. Lots of Glossy ibis and gulls a few stilts but otherwise waderless. This soon became of a minor concern as Mark suddenly spotted a large tern standing amongst the gulls. A Caspian Tern, and a real brute. A bonus lifer for me so well worth the stop. We saw plenty of crested lark along the track a we drove along and at the end of the track we stopped to check out another potential Pratincole site but nothing doing here either, apart from another nice Melodious warbler.

We took the D37 and the Route de Mas d'Agon until we came across a marshy area with pools either side of the road (also described by Gosney). This seemed a popular area as there was thrre Belgian birders and a couple of other cars parked up along the road. We had great close up views of Zitting Cisticola and Great Reed Warbler. Sardinian Warblers sang from the nearby bushes and the usual Nightingales were in the hedgerows. As I was checking out a small group of whiskered terns and noting the odd Black Tern in amongst them there was a sudden flash of white rump. A white winged Tern was then joined by a second. All three Marsh terns together and all in summer Plumage (again the black and white winged I have seen in UK have always been in winter/transition plumages). The day was rounded off with great views of Rollers on the wires and signing Corn Bunting

We eventually set off home as we had to start packing up and finish off the rest of the wine we had back at the cottage (well you can't take it with you)
Attached Thumbnails
Click image for larger version

Name:	20190517_105649.jpg
Views:	13
Size:	450.2 KB
ID:	695988  Click image for larger version

Name:	20190517_110736.jpg
Views:	9
Size:	102.3 KB
ID:	695989  

Last edited by Paul Longland : Thursday 23rd May 2019 at 22:36.
Paul Longland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Friday 24th May 2019, 07:37   #21
KenM
Registered User
 
KenM's Avatar

 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: London
Posts: 10,998
An excellent account Paul!, an area I must visit, I understand that Le Baux is the place to go for Wallcreeper in Winter, specialities all year round.
KenM is online now  
Reply With Quote
Old Friday 24th May 2019, 12:21   #22
kb57
Registered User

 
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Durham, UK
Posts: 575
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Longland View Post
Day 7 Friday 17 May 2019

As soon as we came into sight of the first pool the sheer numbers of Flamingos was astonishing as was the noise they made. (not unlike geese). They were also totally unfazed by the people and quite happily came right up to the edge of the pool while we stood watching from the path no more than a few yards away. One interesting thing we noted was that quite a few of them were almost pure white. We speculated that about a quarter of them remain over winter and that these pale birds were the stayers and therefore didn't feed on the brine shrimps in the African wintering from where they get their colouring. If anyone can corroborate this I would be interested to know. It was also noticeable that a higher proportion of the pale birds were ringed than the pinker ones which also added fuel to our theory. If we thought they were impressive at close quarters, then they were absolutely superb in flight when the dark pink and black wing flashes were on show.
I understood that 'white' flamingos were younger birds that hadnt' eaten enough brine shrimps to become pink...certainly the flamingos in the Algarve are thought to be younger non-breeding birds, and they are mostly white. But this doesn't account for your observations, as presumably these were older breeding birds?
My admittedly somewhat hazy memory of the Aigues Mortes flock in 1980 was it was definitely pink...so if the Camargue flamingos are becoming more sedentary (driven by climate change / milder winters?) then they may be getting 'whiter'.
One final point though: is it true brine shrimps form a higher proportion of their diet in Africa compared to southern Europe? I'd have thought in some of the very saline conditions they feed in S. Europe (like commercial saltpans) then brine shrimps would be the main / only thing they'd feed on?

Enjoying your report BTW!
kb57 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Friday 24th May 2019, 16:14   #23
wolfbirder
Registered User

 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Wolves
Posts: 6,137
Great read Paul, you have a very engaging style of writing, really enjoyed it.
Congratulations on what was clearly a really enjoyable trip for you.
__________________
Favourite birds:- Gyr, Pallid/Hen/Monty, Great Grey Owl,
wolfbirder is online now  
Reply With Quote
Old Friday 24th May 2019, 19:00   #24
ClarkWGriswold
Carpe Carpum
BF Supporter 2019
 
ClarkWGriswold's Avatar

 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Caerbannog
Posts: 8,696
Blog Entries: 3
Superb Paul. Really enjoyed.

Rich
__________________
"It's a million-to-one-chance, but it might just work" - Fred Colon, Carrot Ironfoundersson, Nobby Nobbs
ClarkWGriswold is offline  
Reply With Quote

BF Supporter 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Support BirdForum With A Donation

Old Friday 24th May 2019, 20:14   #25
JWN Andrewes
Poor Judge of Pasta.
 
JWN Andrewes's Avatar

 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Flintshire, UK
Posts: 4,305
Sounds like a great trip Paul. Seems nicely paced with some quality birds. Got a taste for foreign birding now?
__________________
Last Lifer - (2322) Savi's Warbler.
Last UK - (459) Savi's Warbler.
Last Garden - (93) Garden Warbler.
JWN Andrewes is online now  
Reply With Quote
Advertisement
Reply


Thread Tools
Rate This Thread
Rate This Thread:

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Beetle IDs, Provence Tri-Counties Birder Insects, Dragonflies, Arachnids, Beetles & More 5 Monday 26th May 2014 09:50
where to go? Provence? fields13 Birds & Birding 2 Monday 16th April 2012 08:32
Fritillary in Provence for id Andy Hall Butterflies and Moths ID 2 Monday 31st May 2010 20:14
Hi from Provence ollypenrice Say Hello 11 Friday 7th August 2009 07:43
A week in Provence, 21-28 April 2007 Capercaillie71 Vacational Trip Reports 14 Thursday 3rd May 2007 13:08

{googleads}

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites

Help support BirdForum

Page generated in 0.34827995 seconds with 40 queries
All times are GMT. The time now is 10:14.