Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
La Brenne National Park, France, June 2007,
After a conference at the city of Tours in the Loire Valley, my wife and I had an opportunity to visit La Brenne National Park in central France. The park covers an area of several hundred square kilometres, and is situated about 80 km south-east of Tours. It’s an area of shallow man-made lakes, about 2300 of them in total. The first lakes were dug in the middle ages for rearing fish, and there are some fairly recent ones as well. From time to time, individual lakes are drained to harvest the fish.
In addition to the lakes, the park has a rich variety of habitats, including lush farmland, weedy fields, a forest plus many small woods, and heath-land. The area is sparsely populated, and is criss-crossed by a network of well-signposted good-quality roads. These are sometimes rather narrow, but as there is little traffic, this wasn’t a problem. There are many footpaths and trails.
There are direct flights from the UK to Tours and to Poitiers, but we flew from Birmingham to Paris (Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2) by Air France. The terminal is served by several TGV trains each day that run between Lille and Bordeaux. These trains wind round the east side of Paris, and then join the main TGV line south-west of the city, with a stop at Tours. The TGV trains actually stop at St Pierre des Corps, which is in the suburbs of Tours, rather than at Tours station itself. Travel time from Charles de Gaulle to St Pierre des Corps was about 1 h 40 mins. This was convenient, but there were two minor problems: (i) the platforms are very low and the carriages high, so that getting luggage on and off isn’t easy, and (ii) once on the train, luggage space is inadequate.
We rented a car from Europcar in Tours, picking it up just opposite the conference centre in the middle of the city, and dropping it off at St Pierre des Corps station.
We were in La Brenne for 4 nights, staying 2 nights at Auberge du Capucin Gourmand in Tournon-St-Martin, and 2 nights at a rather dull business hotel in Chateauroux. The Auberge du Capucin Gourmand is really a restaurant with accommodation, and serves excellent inexpensive dinners. The rooms were fine, but could do with a refurbishment one of these years.
Supplies for lunches were easily obtained in well stocked shops in larger villages. It was useful to visit the food shops early in the day before all the bread had been sold.
A phrase book or quick revision of school French would be useful before a visit to La Brenne, as little English is spoken.
The Michelin 1:150,000 series map 323 (Cher and Indre) covers the area, and also includes the nearby area of La Sologne.
Birding in La Brenne
La Brenne contains a mixture of species that are familiar in the UK, and others that would set off a twitch. Red-backed Shrike, Melodious Warbler, Whiskered Tern and Purple Heron proved to be common and widespread, while Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Stilt and Bee-eater were more localised but easily found. Species that are scarce or hard to find in the UK, such as Honey Buzzard, Cirl Bunting and Turtle Dove, are common in La Brenne.
There is a Nature Centre (Maison de la Nature) in the north of the park near Mézière-en-Brenne, open daily during summer. A British birder, Tony Williams, works at the Nature Centre. He is originally from our home town (Nottingham). Tony offers free advice to birders visiting La Brenne. A few weeks before the trip we called the information line at the Nature Centre (Tel number +33 2 54 28 11 04), and got a call back the same day. We arranged to meet with him on arrival at La Brenne, and that was very useful, because he was able to give us up-to-date information about the current best spots. We had some leaflets picked up from the La Brenne stand at the UK Birdfair, and there is a section in Jacqui Crozier’s book “A birdwatching guide to France south of the Loire” (Arlequin Press). We also downloaded a couple of trip reports from the internet. With this information, we knew where to go theory, but Tony’s first-hand information meant we could concentrate on certain areas with confidence.
The time of our trip (mid June) was good, because most of the song birds except Nightingales were still singing, and were hence easy to locate. It was outside the main holiday season in France, so everywhere was very quiet. The weather was somewhat mixed, but most of the rain was fortunately at night. Four days in the park was sufficient to see most of the target species, and to see others we hadn’t expected. A longer trip would have allowed further exploration, perhaps looking for more open-country species and owls.
We concentrated on the following areas in the north of the park (see attached sketch map):
La Cherine (areas around the Nature Centre): We took the D17 south from Mézières-en-Brenne, and turned right along the D44 towards St-Michel-en-Brenne, After 1 km there is a car park on the right, leading to a track which goes through excellent habitat, and leads to one hide overlooking Essart’s Lake. The north end of this path can be reached by parking at the Nature Centre, and walking north-west along the road towards St-Michel-en-Brenne. The area immediately around the Nature Centre was also birdy, and was the only place where we found Zitting Cisticola. Ricot Lake near the Nature Centre was drained at the time of our visit.
Etang de La Gabrière: Continuing south along the D17, the lake can be seen from outside the Auberge de la Gabrière, and viewed in comfort from some benches.
Etang de l’Hardouine: A further km south down the D17. This was the best site for Black-necked Grebe, with several families at close range.
Neons-sur-Creuse: There is a large Bee-eater colony here. At Tournon-St-Martin we crossed the river going west, and then took the next turn north to Neons-sur-Creuse. Immediately past the church we turned right, and the road leads down to the river. Just past a small park there is a parking area, and the Bee-eaters were easy to find just north of there. Walking further along the same small road, we got the only Wood Lark of the trip, and a couple of Golden Orioles flew over. Returning to Tournon-St-Martin, there were several Bee-eaters on roadside wires.
Etang Foucault: Along the D15 about 3 km north of Rosnay there is a car park, and a track to a hide.
Sentier du Blizon: From Etang Foucault, go north along the D15, and take the next left. After about 2 km there is a car park on the right, with a track that goes along the side of two large lakes.
Etang Massé: The car park is a few hundred meters west of the Sentier du Blizon car park. There is a track to another hide.
Foret du Lancosme. Good walks possible: (i) starting at D21/D11 junction and going south-west towards the Chateau Robert, (ii) at St Sulpice, a tiny chapel on the south side of the D21 a few km further east; from here there are tracks in several directions, giving access to a good range of woodland species including Western Bonelli’s Warbler and Short-toed Treecreeper.
Many birds can be seen from the roadside. The best bird of the trip was a Short-toed Eagle that flew out of a small wood, and landed on the ground allowing prolonged close-up views. Our only Goshawk of the trip flew over the road as we were driving along.
We tried the farmland area near Azay-Le-Ferron, and found a pair of Montagu’s Harriers, but couldn’t locate Stone Curlew or Little Bustard that are sometimes reported here. The crops were rather high by this time of year, so that any birds present may have been concealed.
We spent the last morning in the Foret de Chateauroux outside the park which was good for common woodland species. We heard a Black Woodpecker calling here, but didn’t manage to see it.
In addition to birds, the area holds much other interesting wildlife. We saw a party of about 15 Wild Boar, European Pond Tortoise, several Hummingbird Hawk-moths, and a range of butterfly species. Some of the butterflies were familiar from home. Marbled Whites were very common. Amongst the unfamiliar and unidentified butterflies, we could pick out Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral and Black-veined White.
Steve Newman, July 2007