Saturday, January 27, 2007

Anser Birding Mediterranean France trip report; The Camargue, Les Alpilles and La Crau

Les Paradis/Salin de Badon area at dusk.
Camargue skies are always impressive. Can you spot the flock of 7 Common Crane flying into view?

All images by M.J.McGill.

Wallcreeper at Les Baux en Provence

Lesser Flamingo (x 3) with Greater Flamingo flock near Saint Maries del la Mer

Alpine Accentor at Les Baux en Provence

Black-necked Grebe at La Romieu, Camargue. This species is very numerous in the area, thousands winter around the etangs and along the coast.

We travelled to the area to seek out the many speciality birds that occur. The unique habitats offer many species their only home in France. During our visit we were unfortunate to experience bitterly cold and strong northerly winds which had an effect on the birds and our comfort. It was so cold at times we could only bird in sessions and used the car as a hide. The first and last days were mild, warm and sunny, a huge contrast to the 23-25th period. Despite this we had sunny, dry days and the images above show we still had non-stop quality birding. Thanks to Jacky, John, Eve and Graham for their enthusiasm on this trip. We recorded around 115 species as a group during the visit.

22 January 2007 We flew from Bristol airport and arrive ina mild and calm Nice in the afternoon. As soon as we left the plane flocks of Crag Martin were buzzing around the terminal. After sorting the transport we had a look over the mouth of the River Var. A number of species were seen with many of the typical birds one would expect on show. Black Redstart, White Wagtail and Yellow legged Gull were present.

23 January 2007 The day was spent in the marshes as we systematically worked our way around the Camargue National Park. Our first birding stop was to look through the flocks of buntings and sparrows near Villeneuve. 100's of Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow were a treat to see, a Blackcap was in sub-song next to the car. Around the vast Etang du Vaccares and adjacent marshes we noted Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, dozens of Marsh Harrier, our first flocks of Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes. As ever the views of Greater Flamingo are spectacular here.
At La Capelliere we found our target bird, Penduline Tit feeding on phragmites and heard 2-3 more in the willow carr. We headed off to view Le Grenouillet marsh and soon discovered the first of many Sardinian Warbler and Stonechat and lots of wildfowl. Another viewpoint at Mas Neuf gave us great views of a hunting Merlin but the wind was keeping the regular Long-legged Buzzard on the ground and out of view. A coffee and comfort stop at a rather smoky cafe in Albaron did add a Great Spotted Woodpecker to the list. We drove to vantage points along the western shore of the Etang du Imperiaux where the thousands of Greater Flamingo revealed three smaller and brighter Lesser Flamingo among them. I have seen this species breeding among them on Etang du Fangassier in the past and up to 10 have been noted this winter. Up to 10 Red-breasted Merganser were also fishing/displaying here along with 800+ Avocet. A Wild Boar appeared on the saltmarsh and flushed some of the birds, a pack of hunting dogs were in pursuit with many hunters appearing later. The animal seemed to give them all the slip. Heading along the shore we picked up at least three stunning breeding plumaged Slender-billed Gull with the Black-headed Gulls. The wader flocks consisted of Redshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin and a couple of Little Stint. The Etang du Consecaniere was very rich in birds; 300+ Red-crested Pochard sheltered from the wind, one of which was a leucistic bird. A Spotted Eagle hunted over the tamarisk zones but did not show to all of the group, Marsh Harriers were always on view. The digue wall at Saintes Maries de la Mer allowed more close views of grebes, 5 Sandwich Tern and confiding Crested Lark as well as more flamingo and waders. Another short drive and we were attempting to bird at the Petit Camargue etangs of Scamandre and Charnier. It was too windy for passerines so scoping Charnier was the only option. At least three distant terns fed by picking of the surface, they may have been Whiskered or Common but they were not Sandwich Terns. One of the largest Coypu (established rodents from S America) of the trip was seen along the road. At Quartret a flock of nine Common Crane flew in to feed on the stubbles. We headed for Salon de Badon to see what would fly in to roost and were rewarded with eleven Common Cranes and 30 Greylag.

24 January 2007 We began the day at an extremely cold Eyguieres airfield, viewing was very difficult as the wind was blowing straight into our faces. Flocks of Lapwing and Starling fed but it was clear that no birds would be seen easily if at all in these conditions. The Etang du Entressen area was busy with Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls and the nearby rubbish tip and plain of La Crau had up to nine Red Kite together on the wing. A flock of 40 Serin was a nice boost, some very bright males were among them. The plain had Southern Grey Shrike, a Peregine on a kill, 40 Golden Plover and two Little Bustard. The latter were seen well in flight. At Mas Chauvet a Northern Grey Shrike was a good find. The town and castle of Les Baux porvided the scenery and Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Blue-rock Thrush and Black Redstarts plus three flowering Giant Orchid. Nearby at La Caume we had great views of Firecrest and Crested Tit. The day ended back at the airfield but only five Golden Plover and three very hunched and low-lying Little Bustard were noted.

25 January 2007 Back in the marshes of the Camargue we spent a full day exploring and added Kentish Plover, Spotted Eagle (brief views for GCM and MJM), Spotted Redshank, Goshawk, Cirl Bunting Water Rail, Booted Eagle as well as many more commoner birds and views of species already seen.
A return to the roosting area of Salin de Badon at dusk gave us another male Hen Harrier, 7 Common Crane, 300 Greylag and the two Bewick's Swans.

26 January 2007 A final look at La Crau was enjoyable as the wind had dropped and it was not cold. A Green Woodpecker and 5 Rock Buntings made it well worthwile. A twitch was undertaken to attempt to see the second Green Heron for France, we dipped and could not find it as it had moved to a different area of Berre l' Etang. Red-necked Grebe, dozens of Black-necked Grebes, Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail were all enjoyed in the sun but it was time to go. Great views of Firecrest and Crested Tit in the service area on Autoroute du Soleil rounded up the trip. The sun was warm and the wetaher mild as we left France, what a shame about the cold blip!