Norfolk Birders

Norfolk Birdwatching and beyond!

 

Trip Report to The South of France

 

10th  -  13th February 2007

 

Lee Evans, Sue Bryan, Robert Fuge and Joan Thompson

 

 

                                                              

 

 

Introduction

 

This short bird watching holiday was organised by Lee Evans, who booked flights, accommodation and car hire. Flights from Luton to Nimes were booked using Ryanair www.Ryanair.com . Accommodation in Arles was in a basic clean warm hotel, Premier Classe but there are others that would probably be better as the rooms were a little cramped and walls paper-thin. We paid 35 Euros per night for two of us, working out at about £10 each per night. Evening meals were taken at a nearby restaurant at around £14 for a two course meal plus a couple of drinks. Total cost for flight, car hire and petrol was £136 and I spent about £100 for accommodation, food and road tolls.

 

Lee acted as driver, guide and entertainer throughout our stay. The trip was designed as a short break for the target bird that has eluded me throughout my birding years. Wallcreepers are known to winter at Les Baux, a short drive from Nimes airport in the Camargue region of the South of France.

 

Itinerary

 

Feb 10th  Luton – Nimes- Les Baux

Feb 11th  Camargue – Vergiers – Berre l’Etang

Feb 12th  Nice – Berre l’Etang

Feb 13th  Camargue – Nimes – Luton

 

Climate

 

In February the Camargue was cold at around 12 degrees Celcius. We had a mix of sun, cloudy overcast weather for most of out time with rain whilst travelling back from Nice.

 

Habitat

 

The Camargue region of France is a mix of agricultural fields and lagoons running along the South of France coastline. Drainage ditches abound throughout the area with reed fringed edges giving good habitat for water birds, farmland birds and those that inhabit reed-beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         Lagoon suitable for waders                                                     Drainage ditches

 

Daily Log

 

10th February

 

I flew from Luton to Nimes at 11.20am after meeting up with Lee, Rob and Joan at the airport. The Ryanair flight was only an hour and a half and this left us plenty of birding time after Lee had sorted out the car hire at the airport on arrival. Lee drove the short distance to Les Baux. Being an hour ahead on time we were birding by 3pm. We piled out the car and were struck by the magnificent scenery that Les Baux offered, perched on the hill top. We walked beneath the citadel and stared up at the cliff face. After a few minutes searching Rob yelled that he had found a bird. A magnificent Wallcreeper was flicking its wings as it searched for food amongst the crevices of the rock-face. I was awe struck as I have searched the Pyrenees, Cyprus and Nepal for this elusive bird! Well done Rob! Lee soon followed this up with a second bird as once again I was impressed by it. These wonderful birds certainly put on a performance and my only disappointment is that I could not get closer for a decent photograph.

 

 

Continuing around the pathway beneath the citadel, Crag Martins flew overhead as Sardinian Warblers announced their presence in the bushes. We could hear a Serin in one of the high walled gardens but could not see it no matter how we tried. Blackcaps were numerous as Robins and Song Thrushes sang. On into the car park Alpine Accentors were feeding in the gravel in a very dark corner. Luckily a couple flew on top of a wall enabling me to take a couple of shots in the poor light.

 

 

Wallcreeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alpine Accentor

 

 

 

 

 

We drove to a rocky valley and listened to an Eagle Owl calling to its mate whilst a Woodlark and Blue Rock Thrush hopped amongst the cliffs.

 

 

11th February

 

Up for dawn and we headed to the Camargue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viewing platform near La Capeliere                                                                        View from platform

 

From the viewing platform Marsh Harriers were hunting the reed beds as Penduline Tits, Cetti’s Warblers, Fan-tailed Warblers, Crested Larks and Reed Buntings were singing away. Lee drove us on to the lagoons where Black-necked Grebes and Greater Flamingos were around in large numbers, as were Little Egrets and Grey Herons that seemed to feeding in every drainage ditch. Lee managed to pick out a Lesser Flamingo that was considerably smaller and brighter coloured than its close relative.

 

Surprisingly there seemed to be a shortage of waders on the mud but a Kentish Plover was watched as a large flock of Avocets flew around before settling to feed. A helpful birder picked out a Greater Spotted Eagle for us that was sat distantly on a bush and we were lucky enough to see it fly showing us its broad wings. A huge flock of over 900 Red-crested Pochards were sat on one lagoon as they over-wintered here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Flamingo                                                                 A Yellow-legged Gull sat on a post as we left the area.

 

 

A White Stork was seen by the roadside as we motored on to Vergiers to find a large rough grassy field strewn with rocks and boulders. On top of at least five bushes of the track that I followed were five Southern Grey Shrikes. By scanning through the scope six Little Bustards were walking around on the far side of the field. In an effort to get closer fifty-three Pin-tailed Sandgrouse were inadvertently flushed into flight. They were then joined by the bustards. What a sight! A little further on A Red Kite flew above a rubbish tip as we made our way to Berre l’Etang. Here we added Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Red-necked Grebe as well as big numbers of Black-necked Grebes on the sea.

 

 

Returning to Arles after eating a meal in a nearby restaurant we discovered the delights of an Irish Pub in the town centre. We spent a convivial evening, even if the four of us felt a little old amongst the rest of the company present!

 

 

 

 

 

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Black-necked Grebes

 

12th February

 

Today was destined to be a different day as we headed to Nice in search of some exotics. Lee drove us to Cap d’Antibes where a Sandwich Tern was diving for fish. We had good views of 3 Yelkouan Shearwaters over the calm seas. Near the airport in Nice, Indian Silverbills inhabited reed beds near the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Indian Silverbill

 

Mediterranean Gulls were amongst Black-headed Gulls loafing down on the riverside. Lee coped well with the Nice traffic as he drove to St Jean Cap Ferrat where Masked Lovebirds and Fischer’s Lovebirds were sitting in the trees and roof tops. A blue-morph was also present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fischer’s Lovebird                                 Fischer’s Lovebirds  A blue-morph Masked Lovebird feeds with the Common Starlings.                      

 

 

 

 

Rob and I debated a sparrow present amongst the Lovebirds and Starlings and concluded it was probably an Italian Sparrow as it had a clear white cheek patch and brown cap.

 

Returning to Berre l’Etang, Lee drove immediately to the area behind the harbour where we were rewarded to brief views of the Green Heron that had eluded us the day before. The day was completed when Lee’s extraordinary eyesight picked up the Eagle Owl calling to its mate that we had heard on the first evening. It was an amazing sight as the Eagle Owl puffed up its white throat feathers raising its tail as it uttered its whoooing sound. I don’t know who was more grateful for Lee’s observational skills, Rob, Joan or I, or the group that Hugh Harrop was leading, that were also stood at the site!

After a pleasant meal back near the hotel we returned to our hotel and were surprised at how tired we all were.

 

13th February

 

Our last morning was spent back in the Camargue trying to find a few missing species. I added Grey Plover, Dunlin, Little Stint and a Linnet before gripping Rob back with a Curlew. Our journey back to the airport produced a Booted Eagle and I finally caught up with a Serin as we unloaded the car at the airport. The staff at the airport seemed a little over-thorough as they delved through my camera and optics but as with the company on the trip were very pleasant. Thanks must go to Lee for organising the trip, doing all the driving and using his excellent observational skills acting as our guide.

 

 

 

 

 

Systematic Checklist

          1. Little Grebe Camargue  11/02/2007

          2. Red-necked Grebe Berre L'Etang 11/02/2007

          3. Great-crested Grebe Nimes 10/02/2007
    4.
    Black-necked Grebe    Camargue      11/02/2007

          5.   Yelkouan Shearwater Cap d'Antibes 11/02/2007

          6.   Great Cormorant          Nimes         10/02/2007

          7.   Little Egret                      Nimes       10/02/2007

          8.   Grey Heron                    Nimes       10/02/2007

          9.   White Stork                 Camargue  11/02/2007

        10.  Green Heron           Berre l'Etang   12/02/2007

        11.  Grey Heron                 Camargue   10/02/2007

        12.  Great White Egret      Camargue    11/02/2007

        13.  Greater Flamingo         Camargue    11/02/2007

        14.  Lesser Flamingo Camargue    11/02/2007

        15.  Mute Swan                  Camargue   11/02/2007

        16.  Common Shelduck      Camargue    11/02/2007

        17.  Eurasian Wigeon          Camargue    11/02/2007

        18.  Common Teal              Camargue   11/02/2007

        19.  Mallard                         Camargue   11/02/2007

        20.  Northern Pintail  Camargue    11/02/2007

        21.  Northern Shoveler       Camargue    11/02/2007

        22.  Red-crested Pochard   Camargue    11/02/2007

        23.  Common Pochard        Camargue    11/02/2007

        24.  Red Kite                       Vergiers     11/02/2007

        25.  Western Marsh-harrier Camargue   11/02/2007

        26.  Hen Harrier                    Nimes       10/02/2007

        27.  Common Buzzard           Nimes      10/02/2007

        28.  Greater Spotted Eagle Camargue    11/02/2007

        29.  Booted Eagle                  Nimes      13/02/2007

        30.  Common Kestrel            Nimes      10/02/2007

        31.  Red-legged Partridge   Camargue    11/02/2007

        32.  Common Moorhen        Camargue  11/02/2007

        33.  Eurasian Coot                Camargue 11/02/2007

        34.  Little Bustard                  Vergiers    11/02/2007

        35.  Pied Avocet                   Camargue 11/02/2007

        36.  Grey Plover                    Camargue   13/02/2007

        37.  Kentish Plover                 Camargue  11/02/2007

        38.  Northern Lapwing           Camargue   11/02/2007

        39.  Common Snipe               Camargue   11/02/2007

       40.  Eurasian Curlew    Camargue    13/02/2007

       41.  Common Sandpiper       Berre l'Etang 11/02/2007

       42.  Little Stint              Camargue    13/02/2007

       43.  Dunlin                             Camargue     13/02/2007

       44.  Common Gull                   Vergiers       11/02/2007

       45.  Yellow-legged Gull         Camargue     11/02/2007

       46.  Lesser Black-backed Gull Camargue11/02/2007

       47.  Mediterranean Gull         Nice         12/02/2007

       48.  Sandwich Tern   Cap d'Antibes       11/02/2007

       49.  Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Vergiers        11/02/2007

       50.  Rock Dove                      Les Baux 10/02/2007

       51.  Eurasian Collared-dove Camargue 11/02/2007

       52.  Fischer's Lovebird           Nice        12/02/2007

       53.  Yellow-collared Lovebird      Nice  12/02/2007

       54.  Eurasian Eagle-owl      Les Baux     12/02/2007

       55.  Common Kingfisher     Camargue    11/02/2007

       56.  Crested Lark                  Camargue 11/02/2007

       57.  Wood Lark                    Les Baux  10/02/2007

       58.  Eurasian Skylark          Camargue    11/02/2007

       59.  Eurasian Crag-martin Les Baux       10/02/2007

       60.  Meadow Pipit                Camargue 11/02/2007

       61.  White Wagtail                Camargue 11/02/2007

       62.  Grey Wagtail               Berre l'Etang 11/02/2007

       63.  Alpine Accentor Les Baux     10/02/2007

       64.  European Robin Les Baux     10/02/2007

       65.  Black Redstart             Nice            12/02/2007

       66.  Common Stonechat     Camargue    11/02/2007

       67.  Blue Rock-thrush         Les Baux     10/02/2007

       68.  Song Thrush                 Les Baux    10/02/2007

       69.  Cetti's Warbler             Camargue   11/02/2007

       70.  Zitting Cisticola   Camargue    11/02/2007

       71.  Blackcap                      Les Baux    10/02/2007

       72.  Sardinian Warbler        Les Baux     10/02/2007

       73.  Common Chiffchaff      Berre l'Etang 11/02/2007

       74.  Blue Tit                         Les Baux    10/02/2007

       75.  Wallcreeper                 Les Baux    10/02/2007

       76.  Eurasian Penduline-tit  Camargue    11/02/2007

       77.  Southern Grey Shrike Vergiers        11/02/2007

       78.  Black-billed Magpie     Nimes         10/02/2007

       79.  Eurasian Jackdaw        Nimes         10/02/2007

       80.  Carrion Crow    Nimes         10/02/2007

       81.  Common Starling         Nimes         10/02/2007

       82.  House Sparrow            Camargue   11/02/2007

       83.  Tree Sparrow              Camargue    11/02/2007

       84.  Indian Silverbill   Nice          12/02/2007

       85.  Chaffinch                      Les Baux    10/02/2007

       86.  European Serin              Nimes        13/02/2007

       87.  European Goldfinch     Camargue    11/02/2007

       88.  Eurasian Linnet             Camargue   13/02/2007

       89.  Reed Bunting                Camargue   11/02/2007

             90. Corn Bunting                Camargue  11/02/2007

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