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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Provence, Southern France. 18th. – 21st. June 2007,
Travelled with Ryanair. Dublin to Marseilles-Provence., Flight time. 2hr.20m. (GMT +1), €125.00 inc all taxes and baggage charges.
Car Hire. Hertz. Booked on Ryanair website., Opel Corsa 1.2L., €139.00 no extra charges.(provided car was returned with fuel tank full.)
Accommodation. Les Trois Puits. Congénies.about 15kms. SW of Nímes. ( Found on Fatbirder site).This is a beautiful area of rural France and a great base for exploring the Camargue and surrounding areas.
Francis and Caroline owners of the B&B are keen birders and gave great advice and marked areas on maps for me.
Useful maps showing detailed foot and cycle paths:
Both are available from.Institut Geographique National (IGN)
18th.June. Etang de Berre. (p.343) After leaving the airport at 12:00hrs. I decided to check locally. Leaving the airport I turned right on to the D9 and after 2km. took the exit for Marignane, from the centre of the town I followed the D48 sign for le jai.This road runs alongside the SW boundary of the airport, between the road and the airport is a landfill site which has turned to patchy scrub. Here was my 1st. tick of the trip a Stone Curlew flushed from almost under my feet the site also held a few Cetti’s Warblers lots of House Sparrows (these were to be my constant companions throughout the trip.) and White Wagtails.
On the opposite side of he road is a marshy area with reedy patches and some trees, there were a lot of Cetti’s Warblers in this area but weren’t showing. On this side of the road a little further on are more open areas of marsh with pools, There were lots of Black-winged Stilt and Little Egret.
A little further along this road is Plage de Jai. (p.344) The road runs about 5km. along a causeway, with Etang de Berre (visible from the car along all of its length) on the northern side and Etang de Bolmon on the other, hidden by scrub and shrubs, (this side is worth checking with random stops along the causeway) These areas had Yellow-legged Gulls, Great Crested Grebe, Zitting Cisticola, Hoopoe, Common Shelduck, Mute Swan, Black-winged Stilt, Black Kite, Common Coot, Little Grebe, Oystercatcher. Also in this area was a Carrion Crow? With light brown tail and wings. (unusual)
At the West end of the causeway there is a narrow bridge, after crossing this 200mts. on the right is a quarry with lots of scrub and some piles of sand, there are holes in these piles of sand (possible Bee-eaters, I didn’t see any.) This area had good numbers of Common and Alpine Swifts, across the road from here was another area of scrub with good numbers of Cattle Egret feeding on Grasshoppers and Crickets. Please take heed of the notice warning of Dogs guarding the quarry, I took my chances and didn’t see any.
When I left Martigues on the N568 (to Arles) just before Fos sur mer, on the right is Etang de I’Estomac. This area has Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. Further along the N568 which runs through the Plaine de la Crau,(p.347) I saw Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel and several Rollers perched on roadside wires. The last bird of the day was a Black Redstart from my bedroom window.
19th.June. Just alongside the town of Vauvert, SW of Nimes, is a canal, (access is via a dirt track beside the railway track about 100mts from the Lidl store, this track is in poor condition but can be driven with care. Probably best not driven after heavy rain or prolonged wet periods.) this is a reliable site for Bee-eaters. They didn’t let me down. I wasn’t prepared and when I saw them I was stunned by their colours and elegance, I watched them, perched on overhead cables for ages, they are so alert constantly flicking and tilting their heads as they watched for insects.
Also in this area were good numbers of Rollers, Great Spotted Cuckoo (5), Sardinian Warblers, Common Kestrel, Little and Cattle Egret, Nightingales sang from cover, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Common Starling, Cirl bunting, Collared Dove, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, White Wagtail.
Afterwards I went on to Etang du Charnier and Etang de Scamandre (p.177) South of Nimes.This is part of the Petite Camargue. The D779 runs SE from the village of Gallicican alongside the marsh.There is a canal running alongside the road for about 5km. There are many stopping places along the road and it has so little traffic it is possible to stop just about anywhere (at this time of year the reeds are very tall so huge areas of the marsh are hidden) This is a great place for Herons, with good numbers of Purple Herons smaller numbers of Grey Herons, also Little, Cattle and Great Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron and Squacco Heron. Unfortunately the only Little Bittern I saw had been struck by a car, I stopped to check it out and was surprised at how small and delicate it was, Sad… Other sightings in this area were Common, Sandwich, Little, Black and Whiskered Terns, Red Crested Pochard, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Coot, Moorhen, Black Kite, Goldfinch, a juvenile Golden Oriole and Cetti’s Warbler (not seen) and a pair of Bearded Reedling.
From there I went to St. Maries de la Mer.(p.350) This is a seaside town and as the weather was good it was extremely busy and so was best avoided. I took the D85A north from the town. About 4km. on there is a dirt road on the right that runs for about 12kms. alongside The Etangs de Imperial, de Malagroy and de Vaccarés all on the right and in a few places on the left are rice fields. Sightings in this area were Greater Flamingo, Black-winged stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Yellow-legged Gull , Blue-headed Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Black Kite, Crested Lark.
Making my way back to Congénies I stopped to check my map and in the field alongside the road was a female Little Bustard this was near Perrier, Source minérale, there was also a Barn Owl perched on a roadside post in the same area.
20th.June. Today I stayed in the Congénies – Sommiéres area. Francis had told me of a Male Montagu’s Harrier that was resident in the valley and put on a good show, this I decided would be my “must see” of the trip. Well not this time, but I did see some beauties, a juvenile Golden Oriole, Rollers, a pair of Southern Grey Shrike sitting on a low tree allowed a close approach, Woodchat Shrike, Eurasian Jay, Turtle Dove, Garden and Sardinian Warbler, Serin, Cirl Bunting, Black Kite, again Nightingales sang from somewhere in the bushes. On the way back to the car I spotted a Sparrowhawk and a pair of Short-toed Eagles, an adult and a juvenile together.
A little to the South are the Ruins of a Roman settlement of Ambrussum close to the village of Villetelle, this is a good area for Golden Oriole but there were none to be seen during my visit, I did see my only Melodious Warbler of the trip also a Common Kingfisher, White Wagtail, Jackdaws and great numbers of Common Swift, some of them using the Roman Bridge to nest in. The day was very warm (+30˚C) and there was little bird activity in the afternoon.
Later in the evening as it cooled I drove to La Crau (p.347) to try to see a few of its specialties. As I got out of the car in the carpark a Stone Curlew landed not more than 40mts. from me and crouched on the ground for a while before moving off into cover. I met 3 Dutch Birders and asked them if they had seen anything interesting, they hadn’t except for 4 Foxes. I decided to walk out to the Sheep-fold in the hope of seeing Lesser Kestrel and there was one present at the purpose built nesting colony. Also in this area were Common buzzard, Black Kite, Hoopoe, Roller, Cetti’s Warbler along the canal and a single White Stork flying to roost, there were also some Little Bustard calling.
21st.June. Started at 06:00. Congénies. This was a good time to go out before the day got too hot, I saw the same birds as yesterday morning but still no “Monty”
Afterwards I went back to the Etang du Charnier this time I did see the Nightingale it perched low in a Tamarisk and I had a good view for a short time also present were Reed and Great Reed Warblers, Goldfinch, House Sparrows, Cattle, Little and Great Egrets, Purple and Grey Herons, 5 species of Tern, Red Crested Pochard, Common Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Great Crested Grebe From there I went on to the Parc Ornitologique,
Du Pont-Du Gau. Near St. Maries de la Mer there is a small charge to visit this sanctuary and it is worth paying as it helps support the rehabilitation of injured birds and helps to make people aware of wild bird conservation which sadly seems to be far from the minds of the majority. There are a lot of interesting birds to be seen Eagles, Owls, Storks. But the colony of Mediterranean Gulls 100+ is something special, these birds are gorgeous in breeding plumage.
I returned to Congénies to have a last look for Montagu’s Harrier. Only 10mins. Into my walk I saw it, a male, and what a bird, it’s elegant, buoyant, unhurried flight was a sight to see.
I watched it for about 5mins before it left. It was the icing on the cake.
I never did get to see Cetti’s Warbler, maybe next time.
List of species seen. 82
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Little Grebe or Dabchick Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Great Egret Egretta alba alba
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Short-toed Snake-Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo.
Common or Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Lesser Kestrel Falco naummani
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Common or Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Stone-Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Little Tern Sternula albifrons albifrons
Black Tern Chlidonias niger niger
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Feral Pigeon Columba livia feral (introduced)
Common Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
European Turtle-Dove Streptopelia turtur
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Common Swift Apus apus.
Alpine Swift Apus melba
Common or Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Common or River Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
European Roller Coracias garrulus
Sky Lark or Skylark Alauda arvensis
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Sand Martin or Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Northern House-Martin Delichon urbica
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba.
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava (Blue-headed)
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Great Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Eurasian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Great Tit Parus major
Bearded Tit or Reedling Panurus biarmicus
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor (meridionalis).
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Common or Eurasian Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Eurasian Golden-Oriole Oriolus oriolus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus; P.d.italiae
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
European Serin Serinus serinus
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus