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21 lifers on a tour of southern France (1 Viewer)

Pris Ris Scott

all the gear and no idea
ive only been actively birding for 4 years or so, and whilst i am impressed with how my knowledge and ability grows and grows, I am aware that I am painfully lacking certain areas… mainly gulls, terns and warbler types. im useless at identifying that lot unaided, and that’s in the UK let alone abroad. My passerines are pretty good and my waders are getting there too. So whilst I am personally so so happy with what I saw on this trip, I am aware that if I had a better knowledge of the gulls terns and little brown jobs I would probably have doubled my list.

Still…. i hope my ‘keen amateur’ report will be of some enjoyment/usefulness


Staying at the foot of the incredible old Cite in Carcassone, we were immediately blown away by the sheer number of swifts, swallows and house martins that were about. The curved roof tiles of the region are literally perfect for house martins and there was an abundance of active nests within view of our apartments windows. House sparrows were also far more numerous than at home in England. A real highlight was seeing many of the swifts coming in to roost in the evenings in nooks and holes within the old walls of the cite itself. This spectacle also involved the swifts bombing down to head height which was a close encounter I’ve not had before. Pied and white wagtails were around too as were the usual corvids and feral pigeons.

The first afternoon, directly after checking in, we made straight for the old cite for a nose about and a glass of wine, and whilst climbing the steep path up to the formidable and beautiful citadel walls I spotted my first lifer -Black Redstart- he was showing perfectly in an allotment next to the path, perched on a bamboo cane alongside a male black bird. The Black Redstart was even doing the characteristic tail twitch which was brilliant to see.

Next day we took a boat ride up the Canal Midi which was very nice, and produced my next lifer in the form of -Black Kite- which I was very excited by. I live in the Chilterns, in bucks, where red kites are hugely over abundant, so the shape and features were obvious immediately including the smaller proportions, and this bird was gracious enough to bank and show his back off as well which revealed the dark version of his markings, in comparison to our red kites.

Amusingly these two lifers I got in my first 2 days went on to become regulars over the next 10 days but that didn’t diminish the thrill of seeing them each time.


We ended up only having a day and a half here but I managed to get round to all the spots that I had hoped for. the exceptionally strong and relentless winds turned the reeds into waves and the etangs into very choppy waters, ultimately meaning I missed out on a huge amount of the smaller/warbler type bird (they would have all been holding on for dear life) but even so the abundance of large waders made my 36 hours an amazingly fruitful one. I can only imagine what a calm day would have produced.

The first amazing lifer came as soon as we checked into the ‘Mas saint germain’, on the cross roads at Villeneuve. In the field directly opposite, there were 10 or so -Bee Eaters- in the late afternoon sun. so exciting! These bee eaters were seen every time we checked the field, flitting between the fence separating the black bulls and white horses, and a dead tree which was easy to train the scope on. The most I counted at one time was 35, at about 8.30am. and according to the owners of the farm that field is one of the best place in area for guaranteed bee eaters, and it seems hard to disagree with that statement. House martins, barn swallows and house sparrows were all in big numbers here, as well as surprising amount of collard doves.

The observation platform at mas neuf, on the D37 road, has all the makings of a brilliant spot. But on my day there it was insanely windswept, to the extent that my bag and hat had to be tied to the railing in fear of them flying away. The odd warbler call could be heard, but the heaving reeds were giving nothing up, however I did immediately connect with a lifer in the form of -cattle egret- which were incredibly abundant throughout the Camargue, so I was able to watch and study them with ease. Two more pairs of lifers shot overhead projected by the wind but showing well enough to be instantly identified -Glossy Ibis- and -Black Winged Stilt-. Not bad at all for a wind battered half hour.

Next I headed up to the flooded fields and reed lined pools beyond Mas d’Argon, which is close to the platform at mas neuf. However the weather was turning to showers as well as gale force winds, nothing of note showed and after 30 mins we turned back to our accommodation, and consoled myself with a really good night out in the nearby town of Arles.

Next morning after the obligatory check on the stunning bee eaters, I headed down the D36B road to the ‘la capeliere’ reserve. En route I saw my first -Greater Flamingo- a truly bizarre and crippling bird, every time we saw a small group or individual we had to stop and stare. The wind continued to rage, but at least it was sunny and there was no sign of rain. The kind lady on the desk at la capeliere reserve, even offered me a discount on the already amazingly cheap entrance to the reserve (3 euros) on account of the wind. Pleasingly, whilst small waders/warblers and all the LBJs were keeping their heads down, I did still have a brilliantly few hours there. A relaxed coypu (giant water rat) was slowly weaving around the water, and I had much better views of black winged stilts, plus barn swallows zipping in and out of the observation windows, and attending nests inside the hides themselves were real treats. A marsh harrier rose above the tree line, and a falcon flew threw but I failed to make the ID to my frustration. Lifers picked up here include a spectacular -White Stork- which came in and plodded around for 20 minutes before obliging me with a brilliant take off display. A -Purple Heron- came in but landed hidden in long grasses, and a -Cuckoo- flew in and showed perfectly on the tree clump visible from the hide, which was just an amazing. Other nice spots were a pair of bee eaters and a female black cap.

After lunch back at our cottage, we drove all the way round to the D85a, stopping for a marsh harrier, and headed up the ‘Rue 5 Gorges’. We proceeded to do an impromptu car safari up the entire road until it joined the D37 again. Interestingly, we were prepared to have to turn around at some point as the map clearly states this road is not suitable for cars, but we made it very easily in our hire car, and were able to get very close alongside the gulls, stilts and flamingos, by not getting out. Sadly no bittern or black cap herons, but you can’t win them all. At one point we did get out the car to put our feet in the water and were rewarded with a pair of spoon bill which flew low and directly over us.

With the weather being brighter (though still ridiculously windy) we headed back to the platform at mas neuf (D37), passing black kites on the way, and were rewarded with views of another coypu and a pair of glossy ibis on the ground. Incredible! Also, very pleasing was the better views of a purple heron as it attempted to negotiate the wind and before dropping down out of site. Buoyed by the better experience at the platform we decided to retry the area north of mas d’argon and this time we connected with a lifer for me in the form of a group of –Black Tern- and another cuckoo. Little Grebe, crested grebe, mute swans, shell duck, and the other usual suspects all showing well.

After a long and successful day, we finished with a fair few beers at the bar on the cross road at Villeneuve, which is a truly spectacular converted farm building complete with stone walls and massive fireplace. On the walk back to our cottage we were buzzed by bats and witnessed an incredible sight in the form of a huge flock of flamingo passing over head honking like geese and indeed also making goose like flying V formations. A real highlight of the trip.

Next morning we departed after a quick last check on the bee eaters in the field opposite.

Western Herault region

Our next destination was a hamlet called Colombiers-sur-Orb, in the north west of the herault area. Buzzard, Black Kite and kestrel were seen on the drive up, and as we had made much better time than expected we decided to kill a few hours in the stunning town of Roquebrun with its impressive bridge spanning the river orb. In the glorious sunshine we enjoyed dipping our toes in the clean water and we spotted another lifer, being a group of very noisy and beautiful -Serin-. We decided to do some kayaking that was on offer by the birdge, and whilst waiting on the river bank, a spectacular -Hoopoe- flew passed back and forth 3 times, as clear as anything. This is probably the most excited I’ve been over spotting a bird, involving a whole bunch of swearing and air punching, what a bird! The Kayaking was amazing, not just because we got to enjoy the spectacular river orb and the mountains that provide its back drop, but because we saw a pair of -Golden Oriole- that crossed form bank to bank in front of us as we sauntered down the river. 3 lifers in about 2 hours.… amazing

Arriving at our accommodation in colombieres-sur-orb we were greeted with a wonderful amount of black redstart and a single male -Common Redstart- plus a surprise western whip snake in the grass by the pool

The next day we went on a long hike, up the ‘Gorge Colombieres’ and then turning off up onto Mt. Caroux to reach the summit, then turn and trace our steps back down to the start. Things started amazingly when a hoopoe flew passed the bedroom window as we were getting ready, prompting more noisy and sweary celebrations from me. The 3 hours or so it took us to get up the gorge produced the most amazing views and we refreshed ourselves from the beating sun with the crystal clear water falls and streams. A spectacular and unexpected find was a pair of -Dipper- attending a nest, hidden under a waterfall. We watched the pair dart up and down the gorge before punching through the falling water into the hidden brood for 20 mins or so. Amazing. At the big open plateau summit of mount caroux we were surprised to find a hot, green and almost pastoral landscape instead of the harsh and baron summits of most mountains we’ve been up. Flowers, short grasses and trees belied the fact that we were over a 1000 meters up. This landscape however did produce one of the spectacular birding moments of the trip though. A -Short Toed Eagle- came over slowly and perfectly clear in the binoculars. To my amazement it stopped and hovered like a Kestrel, feet hanging and head down, eyes focused on the ground, I couldn’t believe what we were seeing as it did it again, and again, before slowly quartering the area away from us and disappearing. When we returned to the cottage I opened my Collins bird book and discovered that the kestrel like hovering is indeed a behaviour of the s.t.eagle… incredible!

The last day we spent touring the incredible village of Olguares (Grey wagtails, sand martins) and the vineyeards of saint chinian (black kites and kestrel), with dinner back at roquebrun again.

Collioure, French Catalonia

After pounding the Mountains, and hillside villages and vineyards of herault, and nice Mediterranean seaside resort was just what we needed for the last few days. On the drive down we decided to take rural scenic route and keep away from the toll roads and motor ways. A great idea because somewhere between Beziers and Carcassone we chanced apon a -Roller- in the middle of the road we were able to watch it from the car before it flew near by onto fence post. Spectacular views.

In Collioure amongst the omnipresent House martins and house sparrows, swifts et al. was a large amount of handsome -Yellow Legged Gull-. (I’m claiming these gulls as lifers as gulls are not a strong point of my birding and whilst I have undoubtedly seen them many time in the UK, I cannot successfully tell a herring form a yellow leg yet, so can’t claim them. However my book tells me there are no herrings in that area so Yellow legs they are.)

After Scouting out which bars were good and generally relaxing in the afternoon, we decided to head up to the windmill which overlooks the harbour town. In the mixed pine and olive trees around the windmill, I found to my amazement 3 or 4 very noisy -Short Toed Tree Creeper- the call was the giveaway that they were infact the short toed variety.

The next (and final) day I wanted to head back to the windmill and see if I could reconnect with the s.t.tree creepers, and again their call gave away their presence easily, and I was able to see the long beak and study the wing bars which are the only other (tiny) difference form the common variety. Whilst was enjoying the serins, and a lone buzzard in the distance, I also collected another 2 lifers in the pine trees around the windmill –Crested Tit- and –Blue Rock Thrush- both of which gave me only brief but very clear views.


The lifer list:

Black redstart
Common Redstart
Black Kite
Cattle Egret
Black winged stilt
purple heron
Greater flamingo
Black Tern
White Stork
Bee Eater
Crested Tit
Blue Rock Thrush
Short Toed Eagle
Short Toed Tree Creeper
Glossy Ibis
Yellow Legged Gull
Golden Oriole


Well-known member
Nice interesting to read report, dont worry too much about difficult birds, I am struggling with large gulls after 40 years birding !
Thats partly why I am on this forum

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