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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Cross Channel Birding,John Cantelo
The Calais/Boulogne area harbours some very interesting species and has superb birding sites (despite many areas being heavily shot over). For birders based in south-east England the area makes a very good day trip, but a long weekend is really needed to explore all the sites mentioned. Visiting two or three sites in one day is usually quite enough. The new A16 (E402) south from Calais has greatly improved travel times southwards and makes it easier to reach sites like Sailly Bray. Where relevant I have given exit numbers off this road, but note that, confusingly, numbers start at 23 at Abbeville running northwards to 31 at Boulogne where they restart at 3 (!) and continue to 18 at Calais and beyond. This account has been compiled largely from my own visits, but I am grateful for the input from those who've both given me lifts and have kindly supplied information. Those sites I don't know, and hence I may have garbled and/or misunderstood the information, I've marked with an asterisk. These details are largely based on trips made in May/June and so I have little information on winter or autumn birding (information on birding in these seasons would be most welcome). Autumn birding has great untapped potential. A number of species rare or scarce across the Channel are tolerably easy to find in the Pas de Calais (e.g. Honey Buzzard, Melodious Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Golden Oriole, Kentish Plover, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Crested Lark, Bluethroat, Marsh Warbler, Crested Tit and Serin) and other good species are possible with luck or effort (e.g. Great Reed Warbler, Bee-eater, Common Rosefinch and Black-winged Stilt). Note that, although I have tried to list some of the better sites, any suitable habitat in the area may hold some of these ‘key’ species .
NOTE : Hunting remains a popular pastime in this area (and is probably the reason why many marshy areas still exist here). Frankly, whatever your views, it is best to avoid confrontations
WEBSITES: The website on this area (http://home.nordnet.fr/~grelepoutre/) seems to be redundant. However
a seawatching group (Association "Le Clipon", Maison de l'Environnement,
106 avenue du Casino - BP 21, 59941 Dunkerque Cedex 2; e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org) has its own website -
BOOKS: ‘Dakota Editions’ publish (in French) two ‘ecotourisme’ guides to the area (‘Balades nature en Pas-de-Calais’ and ‘Balades nature en Baie de Somme’ – €13). Although aimed at the rambling, rather than birding, market these books have good maps and useful notes on general natural history. The bird atlas for the area (‘Les Oiseaux de la Region Nord-Pas-de-Calais’) is excellent and much sought after, but out of print.
TRAVEL OPTIONS: Depending on your route and timing, using the tunnel can add up to 2 hours on your birding time in France and you don't have to book, but you miss out on the sea-watching en route and it is generally more expensive (but check with Eurotunnel 08705 353535, website: www.eurotunnel.com - for special offers). Birding the area is obviously easier by car, but birding on foot/cycle from the Calais ferry terminal can be rewarding and, unlike motorists, foot/cycle passengers generally needn't book onto the ferries in advance. Several operators sail to Calais via Dover (P&O Stena – tel 08705 202020, website www.poferries.com & Seafrance - tel. 08705 711711 , website: www.seafrance.co.uk and Norfolk Line 08708 701020, website: www.norfolkline.com). Stagecoach (tel. 01227-472082) currently operates a regular Canterbury -Folkestone- Boulogne coach service via the tunnel (allowing c6 hours in Boulogne). Connex South Eastern also runs a coach service through the tunnel from Ashford (tel. 0870-6030405)
ACCOMMODATION & TRAVEL IN FRANCE: If planning a weekend trip and you don't mind clean, but very basic, accommodation try the ‘Hotel Formule 1’ chain (Abbeville, Boulogne & Calais). Abbeville would make a fine base for exploring the south; Boulogne or Calais for the Cap Gris Nez/Platier d'Oye areas. St Omer is also a pleasant base and, lacking the huge numbers of British tourists, has more of a French feel.
MAPS: The best general map is the IGN 01 Abbeville - Calais 1:100000 (1cm = 1 km) which covers the whole area yet shows a good level of detail (including topographical features) and is reasonably priced (c£5). I have used the somewhat crude grid reference system on this map to give the rough location of sites in the heading for each site. IGN also produce very detailed 1:25000 (1cm = 250m) Serie Bleue maps at a similar price, but with over a dozen needed to cover all sites, cost is prohibitive. Larger scale Michelin maps of this area (236 Nord, 52 Calais and 53 Amiens-Dieppe-Le Harvre) are more widely available, but are not nearly so detailed. An alternative is to use the on-line maps available at www.concierge.com – these allow you to zoom down to an even larger scale than 1:25000 but lack topographical detail. In addition various road atlases of France are available, the best being the “AA Touring Atlas” (based on IGN maps) which not only has a relatively good scale (1:180000 or 1cm = 1.8 km), but also shows the location of many nature reserves. However, although this (and alternative atlases) are sufficient to locate most sites mentioned, the 1:100000 IGN map is much more useful.
1. DUNKERQUE and LE CLIPON* (IGN 01- A4)
The eastern of the two breakwaters that extends out to sea from le Clipon (north of Loon-plage) is reputed to be far better than Cap Gris Nez for seabirds (inc all three skuas, shearwaters, petrels etc). NW or NE winds are best. Following the example of Felixstowe and Zebrugge the well-lit docks ought to be a draw for migrants … The harbour can be good for divers, grebes and seaduck in winter. Crested Lark are present at the old 'Sally Line' car park and in other suitable habitat in the town. (There is also a newish heath land reserve on the French/Belgian border where Dartford Warblers have been seen and looks good for migrants).
Directions: Follow A16-E40 east from Calais to Junction 24 (c 30 km) turning north for Loon-plage. After 3km go straight ahead at the roundabout, swinging sharp right after another 3km and then on for c11km to some petro-chemical works and then to the coast turning left after the Canal de Dunes to double back on your route. Check the harbour and long jetty. The western side of the harbour may presumably be explored by minor roads north-east of Gravelines.
2. PLATIER D'OYE (IGN 01- A3)
Apart from a site near Les Attaques  this is the best site in the area for waders. A large hide, near the car park, overlooks a large 'scrape' which can hold good concentrations of Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Avocet plus all the usual migratory waders. Temminck's Stints are regular and rarities have included Lesser Yellowlegs, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint and Terek Sandpiper. (However, in recent years Kentish Plover seem much less easy to see here & near Calais than hitherto). About ½ mile further east there is a large shallow lagoon (with several hides around its perimeter) which is excellent for waders (Black-winged Stilt regularly breeds – 6 present May 2001), gulls (inc. Mediterranean Gull - colony increasing), terns (Whiskered Tern has been recorded in May), Spoonbill (e.g. 10 - May 2001) and Little Egret (e.g. 17 - May 2001). Good numbers of Garganey and Black-necked Grebe here in spring. The coastal scrub holds masses of Nightingale and should be good for migrants. Snow Bunting, Lapland Bunting and Shore Lark winter (look on beach towards Grand Fort Philippe - c130 Shore Lark & 100+ Snow Bunting in 97/98). The area also has Natterjack Toad.
NOTE – this reserve has been the subject of serious dispute between conservationists and hunters with each side mobilising hundreds of supporters for confrontations. I’ve not heard of British birders having any trouble, but don’t expect all the locals to be friendly!
Directions: Take the N1 off the A16 (junction 20) towards Oye Plage then turn north in the village towards Tapecul on the D119 where you turn right then left onto minor roads towards Les Dunes d’Oye (the reserve is signposted from Tapecul). Coming from the ferry port exit the A26 into Calais before the Hoverport, but quickly turning left on the D119 to Tapecul. At the reserve park in the large gravelled car park (with toilet block!) near first hide. Paths from here allow exploration of the scrub. Either walk or drive east to explore other wetlands.
3. CALAIS (IGN 01- A3)
The grassed areas near the Hoverport and the docks has Crested Lark. (Also try the Dunes along the beach to the west of the port). The beach can hold Kentish Plover. The Tioxide factory (off the first roundabout from the ferry terminal) holds Black Redstart. Behind the factory and near a football pitch is an area of woodland and scrub which has Icterine Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper and Golden Oriole. It should be excellent for migrants. Walk east along the dunes towards les Hemmes de Marck and you reach an area with bushes that also look excellent for migrants. For the energetic the coastal track here allows you to walk or cycle to Platier d'Oye (but note that the attractive shallow lagoons in the dunes are heavily shot over). One or two pairs of Fan-tailed Warbler have bred near Marck (just east of Calais) since 1997. Take the lane to the ‘equestrian centre’ towards the sea off the D119 (just east of the Calais bypass), drive all the way to where there’s a metal gate across what is by then a gravel track. The warblers are c100m back towards Calais on the landward side.
Directions: Simply explore the area east of the ferry terminal and behind the smoking chimneys of the Tioxide factory. This can easily be done on foot or cycle from the ferry terminal.
4. MARAIS DE GUINES* (IGN 01- B3)
This reserve consists of marshy scrub, a couple of lakes, a single hide and a loop shaped path round it. It holds Golden Oriole, Bluethroat Marsh, Grasshopper & Savis Warbler. Little visited, this site would probably repay further investigation. Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Melodious Warbler, Honey Buzzard, Hawfinch, Firecrest etc present in the nearby Guines Forest. For those with little time or on a shopping trip to Calais this would make a pleasant and worthwhile detour.
Directions: Marais de Guines is c10 km south of Calais east of the D127. Turn south-east onto the D248E (c 2-3km north of Guines). After about 2km park and take a path round the reserve (on your right) just west of St. Joseph's Hospice.
5. ROMELAERE & CLAIRMARAIS FOREST (St Omer) (IGN 01- C4)
An interesting area of small canals, pools, reedbeds and small ‘market gardening’ plots just north-east of St Omer. It has Marsh Warbler, possibly Great Reed Warbler, Bluethroats (which favour the grassy dyke crossed area in the middle of the reserve), Golden Oriole, Honey Buzzard (esp. in surrounding woods), several pairs of Bittern and Little Bittern (a revival in since the 1980s - 3 pairs in 1995 & 4 in 2000). The surrounding woodland have Golden Oriole, Honey Buzzard and, in all likelihood, Melodious Warbler & Short-toed Treecreeper ), Serin and Black Redstart can be found in St Omer. There is a small display about this area in the reserve centre. The town makes a pleasant base from which to explore the northern string of sites.
Directions: Take the A26 and then the N42 to St Omer (c 40 km from Calais). Skirt the north of the town on the D928 and turn right just after you pass under the railway line onto the D209. Continue to Clairmarais - the reserve centre is 400m past St Bernard's church.
6. ESCALLES and CAP BLANC NEZ (IGN 01- B2)
This used to be the best site for Common Rosefinch, but they seem to have disappeared in recent years. If they’re still around look early in the morning in late May/early June. They are best located in song (‘pleased-to-meet-you’) as they perch on isolated clumps of bushes along the road to the monument on the cap. You can try sea watching from here, but Cap Gris Nez or le Clipon are better. The whole area looks excellent for migrants (e.g. Ring Ousels, Grasshopper Warbler). In autumn the hilltop with a radio tower and overlooking a reservoir (across from the monument) is particularly good for migrating raptors which turn inland along the valley. A two hour watch here in August 1998 produced 64 migrating raptors - mainly Marsh Harrier, but including Montagu’s Harrier, Buzzard & Honey Buzzard)
Directions: Escalles and Blanc Nez are c11 km south of Calais along the D940
7. SANGATTE * (IGN 01- B2)
A large impounded area, originally formed to take sludge form the construction of the tunnel has now become a nature reserve. Although there is no public access it can be scoped from a track off a minor road just east of Sangatte. It holds Little Ringed Plover and Avocet, but is clearly well placed to attract a wide variety of waders. Taking care to continue for c1mile along this poorly maintained track, park and look back towards Calais. A gravel slope abutting chalk cliffs here hold Stone Curlew (although these can be hard to see). A bomb cratered depression running SE from here has proved excellent for migrants (inc. Ring Ousel, Grasshopper Warbler, chats, etc) In autumn the nearby hilltop with a radio tower and overlooking impounded area is particularly good for migrating raptors which turn inland along the valley. A two hour watch here in August 1998 produced 64 migrating raptors - mainly Marsh Harrier, but including Montagu’s Harrier, Buzzard & Honey Buzzard)
Directions: Take the D940 along the coast west of Calais, pass the D 243 E in Sangatte and after c600m at the far end of the village a minor road turns inland towards Peuplingues. Almost immediately this road turns sharp and the track mentioned above comes off here heading SE.
8. WISSANT MARSH* (IGN 01- B2)
Wissant marsh has Marsh, Savi's and Cetti's Warblers (plus Marsh Harriers and Bluethroat) and is very well placed to attract migrants (Gris Nez is just along the coast). The northern half is shot over, but the southern half is now a reserve.
Directions: Follow the D940 along the coast. The marsh is midway between the two Caps (c 20 km south-east of Calais). Just off the road at the northern end there is a good, if distant, view point over the area. Continue down the main road and turn right along a track at the southern end to reach the reserve.
9. CAP GRIS NEZ (IGN 01- B2)
Gris Nez is a well-known migration hot-spot and sea watching site (esp. NE or NW wind) - numbers of skuas, shearwaters (inc. Sooty) and petrels are greater than in across the Channel. An excellent site for visible migration, but there is little cover on the Cap to hold birds. Friends have had Snowy Owl, Rustic Bunting Corncrake, Booted Warbler and Long-tailed Skua around Gris Nez, but I've never been so lucky. Common Rosefinch has occurred, but Blanc Nez is better. The energetic may wish to walk c10 km east along the coast to Wissant Marsh (Site 7) . The walk takes in a small block of woodland (c6km) – a good potential migrant trap. A longer circular walk can be made by swinging inland at le Chatelet via Framzelle and back to Gris Nez. Another useful block of woodland can be found just to the south at Haringzelles.
Directions: Cap Gris Nez is well signposted from the D940 and N1 (c 30 km South-east of Calais) and is very handy for the Channel Tunnel.
10. AMBELTEUSE (IGN 01- B2)
Bee-eaters once bred here and may still turn up. The dunes and general area seem good for Grasshopper Warblers and various migrants. Crested Lark are also in this area. As with Rosefinch, remember that Bee-eaters are rare in this part of France so behave accordingly.
Directions: Just north of Ambelteuse (c 40 km South-east of Calais), turn down a narrow lane heading away from the coast (just beyond a small World War II museum - not to be confused with the museum at Audinghen). Park near the old rubbish tip (c150 m) and view along the small stream.
11. BOULOGNE and LE PORTEL (IGN 01- D2)
This is the area for gulls - esp. Mediterranean Gulls and has turned up some rare/scarce species (e.g. Ring-billed Gull, Yellow-legged and 'white-winged' gulls). Don't ignore the rest of Boulogne - the inner waterways can hold Mediterranean Gull (and has played host to an Audouin's Gull). In July 1997 I had a Saker Falcon (presumably a falconer’s bird) fly over the old town!
Directions: Follow directions to le Portel which is a suburb on the south side of Boulogne (c 35 km from Calais).
12. HARDELOT and MONT ST FRIEUX (IGN 01- E2)
Hardelot, esp. the area around the golf clubhouse and the swish houses nearby, is excellent for Redstart, Serins and Crested Tit. The Dunes de Mont St Frieux*, between the D119/D940 and the coast, a few km further south towards Dammes also has Crested Tit, Woodlark and Goshawk plus a pair or two of Black Woodpecker.
Directions: Follow directions off the D940 Boulogne - Le Touquet road for Hardelot (c 50 km from Calais) and thereafter for the golf club. A minor road west off the D940 (near Dannes) takes you to a car park from where paths take you up towards Mont St Frieux.
13. CAMIERS* (IGN 01- F2)
The Dunes Nature Reserve on the Canche estuary has three hides and a viewing platform. These overlook pools, scrub and marshy areas. As the Canche is shot over, this reserve should be a haven for waders and marsh birds, but I have no details. More information please!
Directions: Take the D940 south from Hardelot as it skirts Camiers (c 55 km from Calais) take a narrow track about 300m north of the British cemetery (take care it can easily be missed!) and park just before the railway bridge. Follow track under bridge to reserve and hides
14. MONTREUIL (IGN 01- G2)
Although large parts of the poplar plantation on the N1 near Montreuil have been heavily felled, it is still worth a brief pause for Golden Oriole, but the wet marshy areas now opened look very interesting. The wet marshy river valley (Vallee de Canche) that runs inland from here has many poplar plantations and probably hold many pairs of Golden Oriole. Montreuil would make an attractive base for exploration of this area.
Directions: The plantation, though now much has been felled, is still obvious where the N1 cuts round Montreiul (c 70 km from Calais). A small track runs parallel to the main road here with subsidiary tracks heading into the woods
15. CRECY FOREST (IGN 01- I2/I3)
Crecy Forest, a magical woodland of mature beech, oak and conifer, is easily explored via the network of tracks and roads that criss-cross the area. The mature woodlands hold Golden Oriole, Firecrest, Melodious Warbler, Tree Pipit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested Tit (esp. in conifers) and Hawfinch. Black Woodpecker colonised the forest in 1975 and the population is now 4 - 5 pairs, but with c500 ha of suitable habitat they are very hard birds to see. I have twice heard them in May, but a visit in early spring would optimise chances of seeing this species. Birds of prey here include Hobby, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and, reputedly, Goshawk. The open areas of mixed scrub with plenty of broom within the wood are favoured by Melodious Warbler, but note that Icterine Warbler are sometimes seen. Map Butterfly present.
Directions: The forest is some 90 km south of Calais. Take the A16/E402 south leaving at Exit 24 to connect with the southward bound N1. Turn left to cross a bridge over the A16/E402 at the junction of the D32 & N1 (as the exit road swings north, this bridge is just south of the exit you've just used). This road enters the forest at Forest-Montiers. If coming from Sailly Bray enter from the D111 south of Novion (before the junction of the D32).
16. SAILLY BRAY (IGN 01- I2)
A superb site best visited early AM. Combines well with a later visit trip to Crecy and/or Marquenterre. It has Blue-headed (and Yellow) Wagtails, Golden Oriole, Grasshopper, Savi's, Cetti's and Marsh Warblers, but the star of the show is Bluethroat (c14 pairs in 1997). These are best seen in the marshy area near the Pont-le-Dien picnic site. Spotted Crake, Garganey and Bittern also occur. Marsh, Montagu's and Hen Harriers have all been seen in spring. A reasonable drivable track, running along the southern edge of the marsh, links the Pont-le-Dien with Sailly Bray and allows good views of the marsh. The track on the northern side of the marsh to Bonnelle is just passable, if not advisable, for motor traffic and is better tackled on foot. There are also Bluthroat and Savi's Warbler near Bonnelle. A circumnavigation of the marsh on foot can make an excellent and profitable walk (c4 -5 miles). Wild Boar also occur. (Note there are shooting butts on this marsh & decoys on the pools).
Directions: Exit the A16/E402 west onto the D111 towards Noyelles sur Mere. Either turn off at Sailly Bray and bear left through the village to follow a good track along the south side of the marsh to the Pont-le-Dieu picnic site or continue to Nolette turning right in the village to reach the same site after c1 km. Bonnelle is just north of Sailly Bray
17 MARQUENTERE* (IGN 01- I2)
The area gets crowded with day trippers, but most head straight to the beach. A path loops round the muddy lagoons passing through oddly designed hides. This reserve has Little, Great White and even a few Cattle Egrets and a population of White Stork  The 'scrapes' hold a variety of waders including Kentish Plover, Avocet and all the expected migrant waders (Little Stint, plovers, Knot, Ruff etc). It is also a good site for vagrant waders (including, in recent years, Terek Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper). It is a regular stopping off point for Spoonbill. Crested Tit and Serin can usually be seen in the woods on the edge of the reserve. There have been a number of recent records of Black Woodpeckers here and the species may be colonising this area. People tend either to love or hate this reserve – the hides are legendary in the bizarreness of their design. If you hate it then many species can also be seen nearby around Crotoy. However, Marquenterre has a good reputation for attracting rarities.
Directions: Take exit 24 off the A16/E402 for Rue then follow the D 32 to the west of Rue (c90 km south of Calais). Then take the road signposted to the reserve. Entrance to the reserve is about €7 (c£4.50 – discount available for RSPB members) and is open from 9:30 - 19:00 April-September and 10:00 - 17:00 in the winter, but it would be wise to check details with the reserve in advance.
18 CROTOY* (IGN 01- I2)
The area offers an alternative to Marquenterre for those looking for storks and herons (Little Egret, Cattle Egret & occasional Great White Egret) plus a few waders (Little Ringed Plover & Black-winged Stilt) and Mediterranean Gull. Explore the D4 as it runs north on the eastern side of Crotoy. Check pools alongside this road near Madagascar and Bihen. species can be seen nearby around Crotoy. The coastal dunes at Le Crotoy and the shore may hold Crested Lark and Kentish Plover.
Directions: Take exit 24 from the A16 along the D32 turning right on thr D940 towards Le Crotoy.
19 OINTE DU HOURDEL* (IGN 01- I2)
This forms the southern rim of the Baie de Somme. With woodland, scrub, dunes and pools it has a good variety of habitats – Crested Lark occur as do Little-Ringed Plover, but it looks like a classic site for migrants jutting out as it does into the Baie de Somme and surrounded on three sides by water. It also has potential as a good site for observing duck and waders. The baie also has a good population of Common Seals. La Maison de l’Oiseau, a museum dedicated to the avifauna of the area, is just off the D3 – I’ve not been there but it might be a source of information, leaflets or books. This site could be usefully combined with a visit to sites 19 & 17.
Directions: Take the D3 off the D940 just west of St Valery-sur-Somme and then the D102 to Le Hourdel.
20 HAUBLE D'AULT (IGN 01- J2)
A series of pools along the coast between Cayeux-sur-Mer and Ault (9km) attracts a variety of species and it is possible, with care, to drive along the rough track that threads through this area. (An alternative may be to take the D140 at Brutelles towards Cayeux to park and explore on foot along tracks & paths). A reed fringed pool (holding a few Mute Swan) at the northern end of the area has a few pairs of Great Reed Warbler. This is a good area for Marsh Harrier (and surely holds a good variety of raptors in season). It is also a good area for migrants - Whiskered Tern are apparently regular in spring and there are often good numbers of Little Gull here (poss. Breeding) Little Ringed Plover present. Pools near Hautebut (and probably elsewhere) have Natterjack Toad. Good potential for migrants of all sorts in this area. The higher land to the east above the scarp (at the foot of which the D940 runs) holds Stone Curlew, but I have no precise details or location. Directions: Follow directions as for site 18 only continuing along the D3 into Cayeux-sur-Mer where you have to hug the coast until you head south along rough tracks. Alternatively, continue south on the D940 through Brutelles to turn right after 3km at Hautebut. Here a rough track snakes its way along the coast back to Cayeux
There are many interesting looking sites in this area which are begging to be more closely investigated here are some suggestions for the adventurous.
Authie valley between Nemport St Firmin (on the N1) and Willencourt – small marshes & woodlands
Somme valley south-east of Abbeville – the valley here is a maze of wetlands and lakes …..
Marshes north west of Ponthoile – I’ve yet to work out a route into these large marshy areas near Sailly Bray, but they should hold similar species.
Aire de service de la Baie de Somme – this service area between junctions 24 and 23 on the A16 south of Sailly Bray apparently has a tower giving good views of the surrounding area – good for raptors esp harriers.
Woodlands – good sized woodlands may be found around the following towns/villages - Hardelot, Boulogne, Desvres, Guines, Eperlecques & Hesdin. Most, if not all, hold Golden Oriole, Honey Buzzard, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Melodious/Icterine Warblers – for all but the Honey Buzzard early AM visits are best.
Le Bois de Cise – this narrow wooded chine just south of Ault looks like a fine migrant trap.
Canal de la Somme & Estreboeuf – marshes at the head of the Somme either side of the Canal look good if access can be sussed out. North-east of the village of Estreboeuf (south of St Valery-sur-Somme) there are some interesting looking marshes – do they hold Bluethroat?
Le Cap Hornu – it’s possible to walk along the southern edge of the Baie de Somme (west of St Valery-sur-Somme) here. Like much of the inner part of the ‘baie’ it’s probably too heavily shot over to be a pleasant experience ….
Merlimont – east of the D940 and squeezed in between this road and the D143 is the Marais de Balancom. Tall poplars here hold Golden Oriole and the few, of many, marshy pools you can actually see look very good. It looks marvellous, but is there any access other than for the depressingly ubiquitous shooters?
If you venture across the Channel for some birding, particularly if you visit sites not listed here, please let me know what you see so that I can update my database.
Feel free to photocopy/fax/email these sheets and pass them on to other interested parties.
Should you have a spare place in your car, I would be happy to act as your guide if you wish. If you just want to check on details, tell me what you've had, etc. then please write to me (either via email or by post).
John Cantelo, 17 Clyde Street, Canterbury, CT1 1NA
Email – email@example.com
APPENDIX - SOME KEY SPECIES
The population figures that appear in these accounts have been culled from the excellent regional bird atlas ('Les Oiseaux de la Region Nord - Pas-de-Calais' - 1985-1995) and refer to a 'core area' (i.e. the coastal strip c50km deep running from the Belgian border to the River Authie). Unfortunately this omits the excellent areas of marsh (e.g. Sailly Bray) and woodland (e.g. Crecy Forest) between the Authie and the Somme. Where I have indicated population shifts this is always between 1976 & 1995 and , unless stated otherwise, refers tp the whole region covered by the atlas (i.e. Nord-Pas-de-Calais) as detailed breakdowns are not given in the atlas.
Bittern - breeds at Romelaere
Little Bittern - variable numbers breed at Romelaere - 1995 - 3 pairs, 2000 4 pairs and birds present Summer 2001, but sometimes may be absent - and, as always, difficult to see.
Great-White Egret - few birds seen at Marquenterre.
Little Egret - can be seen at any suitable site in the area. As with Britain numbers fluctuate year by year and by season. Has bred at Marquenterre since 1978 and this remains the best site. A few pairs (4 in 1995) nest in the south of the 'core' area. Also often seen at Platier d'Oye.
Cattle Egret - seems to be seen more frequently of late esp. at Marquenterre – breeding pair reported 2001
Spoonbill - Platier d'Oye & Marquenterre are the best sites.
White Stork - whatever the actual status of the birds at Marquenterre are good to see.
Hen Harrier - seen in winter and spring in suitable habitat. Like all raptors it has benefitted from legal protection granted in 1972 and has markedly increased since 1976. 15-30 pairs, breed.
Montagu's Harrier - regularly reported in spring. Has also increased with possibly as many as 10 pairs in the 'core area')
Marsh Harrier - frequently seen in suitable habitat east of Calais (c20 pairs?).
Buzzard - common. Possibly as many as 100 pairs in the 'core area' - a huge increase since 1976.
Honey Buzzard - apparently increased since the first French atlas - every substantial woodland appears to support the species. I've never missed them in season. Reportedly between 35 -65 pairs, but this estimate seems low given how easily this often secretive species can be seen. Absent on the almost treeless Flamande coastal plain east of Calais.
Goshawk - reported to be present in a number of woodlands in the area (e.g. Crecy), but only reliable report I know of is from Mont St Frieux - probably overlooked. The atlas gives the population as between 2 -10. Regionally a big increase from 0 -1 to 25 - 75 pairs
Spotted Crake - may well breed at Sailly Bray and certainly to be found on the numerous small marshes in the area, but very elusive. A few birds may be present in the Authie valley
Corncrake - a small population apparently still persists in the Somme valley, but I have no details. Heard at Gris Nez in 1997. A few scattered records for the 'core area' in the atlas.
Black-winged Stilt - erratic breeder in the area; 1-2 pairs present most years at Platier d'Oye and odd birds elsewhere. Increasing since mid eighties (see also pools off the road around St Firmin on a minor road between Le Crotoy & Marquenterre)
Stone Curlew - reportedly still a few birds to be heard near Escalles, but obviously a rare bird in the area and one that has declined since 1976.
Kentish Plover - most easily seen at Platier d'Oye and Marquenterre; also feeding near the Hoverport and various other suitable sites along the north coast. Between 80-90 pairs reported on the Flamande coastal plain east of Calais in the atlas , but I have the impression of a decrease since then.
Mediterranean Gull - even a superficial scrutiny of the gulls around the ferry on docking at Calais usually produces a few Meds. In breeding season present at Platier d'Oye and Marquenterre. Large numbers in winter at Le Portel; can be seen almost anywhere in Boulogne. apparently increased at Platier d’Oye
Bee-Eater - Bred 1989. Since at least 1994 has bred regularly on the Channel coast. First on the Belgian border (1994) then at Ambelteuse (1995 - 1998?). Odd birds seen in the area since - probably still breeds. Note that this small, isolated colony is vulnerable and may desert any year so treat them with respect.
Black Woodpecker - increased since first French atlas (regional figures show a rise from 10-15 to 37-45 pairs) and increasing around Brugges in Belgium. It has now apparently colonised several woodlands (Crecy & Mont St Frieux) along the coast. Birds infrequently seen over Marquenterre and thought to be breeding nearby. Also present in woodlands south of le Crotnoy.
Middle-Spotted Woodpecker - a few pairs exist in the extreme east of Nord-Pas-de-Calais in Hainaut-Avesnois (95-145 pairs ), but I have no precise details.
Crested Lark - localised esp. in sandy coastal locations I've only seen them near the Hoverport in Calais. Present elsewhere e.g. old Sally Line car park in Dunkerque. Also in dunes just east of the port area in Calais - more details please! Between 45 - 70 pairs along the coast east of Calais (esp. near the Belgian border?) ans c20 pairs along the coast south of Cap Gris Nez.
Bluethroat - another species that has greatly increased since the '70s especially after 1984 (20-30 pairs to 350-700 pairs ) - Wissant Marsh, Romelaere, Guines and Sailly Bray all hold the species. The many small inaccessible wetland areas along the coast south of Le Touquet reportedly harbour Bluethroat. Between 25-50 pairs nest along the coast east of Calais (inc. St. Omer area) and 5-10 pairs between the Authie and Canche.
Black Redstart - common bird of town and industrial sites (Calais, Boulogne, St Omer, Le Touquet, etc). Between 2,500 -3,000 pairs in the core area!
Savi's Warbler - evidently a scarce and infrequent species; reported from Sailly Bray, Wissant and Romelaere. The main concentration in the 'core area' ain marshes along the first 20 km of the Authie(22-29 pairs). Regional population has declined from 50-75 pairs to 30-45 pairs (cf decline in UK)
Grasshopper Warbler - more frequent in suitable habitat (up to c350 pairs?) than in Kent where it is very scarce.
Marsh Warbler - common - frequenting damp (and not so damp) scrub throughout the area. Between 2,500 - 3,500 pairs in the 'core area'. Increasing 7,500-10,000 pairs to 9,000-15,000 pairs (cf increase in SE UK)
Great Reed Warbler - declining - I have only seen them at Hauble D'Ault. Until the early 90s bred around St. Omer/Romeleare. Up to 2 pairs in the Authie/Canche valleys. Regionally the population has decreased sharply from 200-250 to 4 - 20 pairs
Cetti's Warbler - as in UK numbers fluctuate with the hardness of the weather and consequently has declined since the 1980s (regionally from 500-1000 pairs to 15-150 pairs), but, as in SE England, the population has certainly bounced back in recent years. A few pairs in marshes south of Calais and around St.Omer, but the Canche & Authie valleys are strongholds (c10-90 pairs). Somme valley is probably better still. Usually heard around Sailly Bray, Wissant and Romelaere.
Fan-Tailed Warbler - once bred in a lagoon now covered by Calais docks and in the area up to 66 pairs may have bred in the wider area before the harsh winterof '84/'85. Two pairs reported 1997 near Marck. Likely to disappear with the first cold winter.
Melodious Warbler - commoner of the two hippolais warblers and advancing north since colonising the SE of the region in 1977. Either species can turn up in suitable habitat. Apparently prefers disturbed bushy areas with broom within established woodlands. Increasing - now frequent in suitable habitat in all areas except the Flamande coastal plain east of Calais and along the Belgian border (population in 'core area' now c400-1000). Best located by song - both this species & Icterine are highly mimetic, but to my mind Melodious has a more Garden Warbler/Blackcap quality whilst Icterine is reminiscent of Reed/Sedge Warbler.
Icterine Warbler - declining from c2000 to 1600 pairs with c250 pairs in the 'core area'. Still the commoner of the two hippolais warblers around Calais and the Belgian border (although I have had one in Crecy Forest and they could turn up anywhere); apparently prefers taller more established trees with a good canopy. Best located by song (see above)
Firecrest - thinly spread and not always easy to locate (c50 pairs in the 'core area'); I have only seen them in the Crecy Forest where they seem tolerably frequent.
Crested Tit - thinly spread throughout the area (except east of Calais and along the Belgian border. Most frequent in in coastal pine belts (e.g. the golf course at Hardelot - the easiest site for the species in my experience - Marquenterre & Mont St Frieux). Also in Crecy and numerous small pine woodlands in the region.
Short-toed Treecreeper - the 'creeper of the region, best located by call; found in woodlands throughout the area.
Golden Oriole - can be heard in any woodland in the area and esp. in poplar plantations (even in just a few trees can hold birds). Can be hard to actually see! Between c350 - 600 pairs in the 'core area' especially in woodlands east and south of Boulogne.
Serin - less frequent along the Flamande coastal plain (c400 pairs east & south of Boulogne - not including areas south of the Authie). I've always found Hardelot the easiest site to see this species, but it may be seen in any suitable habitat.
Seawatching - strong onshore winds bring in gannets, skuas, shearwaters, petrels; in spring strong westerlies can produced good movements off Cap Gris Nez; in autumn strong NW or NE bring birds past Clipon and Gris Nez. (see ‘BIRDING WORLD’ - (Vol 12 No8 334-338 )
 For example, in 1996, a year when there were 12+ Pallas's Warbler in Kent, this region had only its 4th record
 This site does not seem to have been updated for over a year – if this address doesn’t work search under ‘Skua’ .
 Check phone numbers and details
 See also an article on seawatching in Northern France in ‘BIRDING WORLD’ - (Vol 12 No8 334-338)
 This site - sugar beet settling pools - is not accessible to ‘casual’ birders. The ‘local bird report asks people not to trespass at this site and warns that the police may be called to deal with unauthorised trespassers. Although, British birders I know have birded the area without trouble from either local gendarmes or even site workers, this view should be respected.
 NOTE - The surrounding area is heavily, and sometimes indiscriminately, shot over. A number of illegal shooting blinds remain on the reserve and are the subject of continuing acrimonious dispute - the binocular carrying fraternity have apparently been harassed in recent years since large scale anti-hunting protests in the area - so exercise sensible caution!
 NOTE that the pools in the dunes are shot over and it is all too easy to wander into such an area without realising it with consequent potential for accidents/confrontations, so take car).
 Great Reed Warbler may now no longer breed.
 Bee-eaters bred Calais area, possibly from 1989 onwards, but have a history of shifting favoured breeding colonies (See appendix on bird species). This site seems now to be unused - only one report in 1999 - but they may well turn up elsewhere. They have bred on the Belgian/French border.
 NOTE - Please keep to the roads and respect the rights of local landowners - a locally based British birder has permission to watch this area and it would be a shame to prejudice this.
 I have been assured both that these birds are semi-feral AND that they’re definitely wild .... you pay your money & take your choice!