Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
The Ebro Delta, Spain and the Ile de Re, France, May 2004,
Collared Pratincole near La Tancada, Ebro Delta, Spain.
During May we made a trip to France and northeast Spain, partly business, partly birding; there was no rigid birding itinerary. The Ebro Delta was the only site we had definitely planned to visit. In the event, we managed to squeeze in a fair amount of birding, including a few days at the Ile de Re, a large island in the Bay of Biscay. Although too late for mass migration, both sites were excellent for breeding birds, and the Spanish coast still held passage migrants. We returned to France via the Pyrenees, checking out likely looking areas en route. We managed some more birding in northern France, before taking the return ferry to Dover, four weeks after we set out, seeing a total of 198 species.
La Brenne, central France, a brief visit on 4/5/04.
Ebro Delta, Catalunya, Spain, visits on most days 8-14/5/04, whilst staying on the coast at L'Ametlla de Mar.
Pyrenees, Rabassa Forest, Andorra, Estany de Sant Maurici [Espot], Spain, 15-17/5/04.
Ile de Re, France, plus brief visit to Yves Marshes, 23-25/5/04.
Northern France, Orne estuary, Caen; Marquenterre [Somme], 26-28/5/04.
We took a tent and camping gear, camping in France when not staying with friends near Poitiers. In Spain we stayed in a log cabin at L'Ametlla de Mar. Exceptions to this were the Pyrenees and Marquenterre. In the Pyrenees we found that no campsites opened until 1st June, even those that were supposed to be open all year, according to the Alan Rogers guide. Here we used 2-star hotels. At Marquenterre we stayed at a 2-star hotel on our last night, mainly for that much needed soft mattress!
Accommodation at main birding sites;
An excellent base for birders, right on the coast and on its day a real migrant trap. Situated in a protected natural area, main interest lies in the terraced valley immediately adjacent to the camp on the north side, with two small lagoons, that opens out to the sea. Access is 100 metres from campsite entrance. Many birds were found inside the camp, particularly the north side overlooking the valley.
Facilities for tented camping, caravans and motor caravans. 80+ log cabins. 2 swimming pools, supermarket and restaurant. Food in the restaurant is superb and very good value. Cabins have hot water, showers, fridge and hotplate.
Total cost 179.31 Euros for 7 nights including tax [ £120 ]: not much more than a pitch as the camping is expensive.
The Ebro Delta starts about 15 kms south. There are plenty of camping sites on the delta, but most looked a bit dilapidated, and some weren't open.
Very nice campsite close to the main birding area of Lilleau des Niges.
Facilities for tented camping, caravans and motor caravans. Swimming pool and bar-restaurant. Large pitches and friendly staff.
Cost 15.50 Euros/night for pitch, car and two people [ £10.50 ]. There are many campsites on Ile de Re, all about the same price. Static on-site caravans are expensive, and only available for weekly rentals.
We used the Hotel Auberge de la Dune, 80550 Saint Firmin Les Crotoy, France, tel. 03 22 25 01 88; about 3km from the entrance to Marquenterre, between there and Le Crotoy. Quiet, comfortable with good food. Cost 50 Euros/room/night [ £34 ].
[WWBNES = Where to watch birds in north and east Spain, WWBF = Where to watch birds in France, BGFSL = A birdwatching guide to France south of the Loire.]
The site is covered by three very good websites, all in English, as well as WWBNES.
On the practical side, it's well worth going straight to one of the two excellent info centres at Deltebre [north side] or Casa de Fusta [south side] to pick up a free copy of their coloured map/info sheet. Both centres are sign-posted, Casa de Fusta being on the north side of the huge l'Encanyissada wetlands.
The Ebro has 50,000 inhabitants over 320 square kilometres, mostly involved in agriculture and the rice growing industry. That means a fair amount of traffic, particularly tractors. It's also a resort area, with dune-backed sandy beaches, fishing, cycling, etc. Some roads are narrow with rice paddies on either side. I would think it would be fairly chaotic trying to bird here during the summer holidays, Easter, or even most weekends in spring and summer at least. We managed to avoid weekend visits, and it was still quite busy. Beware the paddy field tractors with wide wheels - once they're on the road they don't like to stop!
The size of the delta is deceptive - in five days birding we still didn't see all the birding sites, missing out on Olles Lagoon, Fangar peninsula, Illa de Buda and Punta de la Banya. The Punta is reached by driving eight kms along the sandy isthmus. I attempted this once, but after a couple of kms hit deep, wet sand and basically bottled it! If I'd been in a hire car I may have chanced it. Huge lorries make it to and from the salt works on the Punta, but have equally huge ground clearance. The route may well be covered on a spring tide, as there are many wet bits. It's really up to the individual.
With 300+ species recorded it's a superb area to explore, and an excellent place for a few species that can be difficult elsewhere; Collared Pratincole, Gull-billed Tern and Slender-billed Gull are easily seen in fair numbers for example, as well as having the world's largest breeding colony of Auduoin's Gulls. It would be a good place for digiscoping.
On a more worrying note, 90+ percent of the rice paddies were completely birdless. Marsh Harriers were scarce and apparently no longer breed here; in fact it was very poor for raptors. Presumably heavy use of pesticides is the problem - see ramsar website. At least this does seem to concentrate the birds in certain areas.
The two main habitats of the Ebro: vast paddyfields and isolated wetlands.
Ile de Re, Poitou-Charentes, France.
Covered by one website mostly in French, also in WWBF and rather briefly in BGFSL.
Lilleau des Niges is definitely the best area I could find at this time of year, covered by WWBF. The Maison du Fier is the reserve information centre, well signposted along the main road to les Portes en Re. From here there is a network of paths and cycle tracks skirting the lagoons and saltings. Good for breeding waders, terns and gulls, quite good for raptors [5 species/day], excellent for breeding Bluethroats, and would clearly be very good during migration. 304 species have been recorded on the island up until 1995.
Access to the island is by 3 kilometre toll bridge from La Rochelle, cost 9 Euros [£6] from 12/9 to 19/6/2004, and a steep 16.50 Euros [£11] 20/6 to 11/9/2004; both return ticket prices per car.
There are many good beaches, restaurants and interesting old towns here, although it is very much a holiday island. As with the Ebro Delta, the roads become very congested at times, and summer holidays would be extremely busy.
Yves Marshes, south of La Rochelle, is accessed directly from the N137 southbound and is signposted. The info centre at Marouille was closed and looked permanently closed. We parked here and walked as directed in WWBF along the dunes but views of the wetland area distant. Not the ideal place for a scope as it's a nudist beach! The reserve is completely fenced off and without entry, although there are two hides up the north end. Saw little, but had good raptor passage with Montagu's Harrier, Honey Buzzard, 3 Hobbies and 3 White Storks all passing west, as well as Black Kites, Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and Kestrels over the marshes. www.marais.yves.reserves-naturelles.org -partly in English.
Situated c15 kms east of Sant Julia de Loria, Andorra, we found this site whilst staying the night at the Hotel Coma-Bella www.hotelcomabella.com , about 6 kms along this road and on the way to the ski station. At the top there are some marked trails. Very good for Citril Finch and Lammergeier, also Crossbill, Crested Tit and other high altitude birds.
Estany de Sant Maurici/Espot.
Covered in WWBNES, which I'd left at home, I thought I'd discovered a real gem. Anyway, worth doing for possibly the finest mountain scenery I've seen in Europe. It is now not possible to drive from Espot to the lake [ref WWBNES]; one must park about 3 kms west of the village, where there is parking and a reserve ranger on hand. A well-marked trail from here to the lake takes about five hours return, birding along the way. Birds seen included Citril Finch, Black Woodpecker, Lammergeier, Dipper, Rock Bunting, also Pine Martin, Roe Deer and Camberwell Beauty.
L'Orne Estuary and The Somme.
The Baie de L'Orne
A promising area barely covered in WWBF just north of Caen. La Maison de la nature et de l'estuaire, Sallenelles, [tel. 02 31 78 71 06] is the info centre for the reserve, open 14:00 to 18:00, and is signposted along minor route 514 just west of Sallenelles village on the east bank of the estuary. Available here is an excellent map of all the paths, cycle tracks and roads relevant to birdwatching. In a short visit, the area was good for warblers, gulls, terns, waders and Spoonbills around La Maison area, with the jetty opposite Ouistreham looking good for seawatching in season. There are some hides overlooking 2 or 3 lagoons near La Maison. Nice to do on a visit to Caen.
Both sites in French - the second site very good for species list, etc.
Well known to British birders and reasonably well covered by WWBF, I totally agree with John Cantelo's view [see references] that it's a love/hate thing - I loved it. Once through the 'zoo' [ two lagoons closest to the entrance], it's Minsmere, Dunge and Rye Harbour all in one. Volunteer birders/guides on hand for latest info.
Open all year except 1st Jan and 25th Dec.
02/1 to 30/1 and 12/11 to31/12: open 10 am to 5:30
pm, last entry 3 pm.
31/1 to 31/3 and 01/10 to 11/11: open 10 am to 5:30 pm, last entry 4 pm.
01/4 to 30/9: open 10 am to 7:30 pm, last entry 5 pm.
There is a restaurant, bar and shop.
Entrance 9.60 Euros [£6.50].
Where to watch birds in North & East Spain, Michael Rebane, Helm. The standard reference and a superb one at that - pity I didn't take it [it was supposed to be a business trip.].
Where to watch birds in France, LPO, Helm. 1992 translation of 1989 publication. Pretty awful, but the only one available to me on the trip. There is a 2004 edition but I understand it's a straight reprint. In France there's an updated version, obviously in French.
A birdwatching guide to France - South of the Loire including Corsica, Jacquie Crozier, Arlequin Press. I have to confess I overlooked this book as one of those small Arlequin guides; it's actually a full 288 pages. Having bought it since returning, it is excellent, a viable alternative to WWBF and actually much better, although coverage of Ile de Re is pretty scant. Has some great artwork by John Busby, adding charm to a very useful book. The companion book covering northern France looks very good as well, giving full coverage over two books and twice as many pages as WWBF.
Arnoud Van Den Berg's Where to watch birds in Holland, Belgium and Northern France, Hamlyn, must be good, but not sure of the range in France. Also I believe it's now out of print.
Spain and Portugal - Quality camping and caravanning sites 2004. Alan Rogers guide. Good, but not all sites mentioned as open all year are.
Michelin maps France, Regional, number 521 Poitou-Charentes. Ile de Re, etc.
Michelin maps Spain, Regional, number 574 Aragon, Catalunya. Ebro Delta, etc.
Other websites not already mentioned:
Internet trip report:
Cross Channel Birding by John Cantelo. Excellent reference for all sites easily reached via Calais/Boulogne ferry.
Full BIRD LIST.
Nick Ransdale, Witham, Essex.