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A Report from


Mike King

Thursday 21st May 1998

Warm and sunny

We left home mid-morning and headed south in convoy for Plymouth where we would be catching our afternoon sailing to Roscoff. The trip down was uneventful and the only notable birds were six Common Buzzards scattered at different points along the route.

We sailed on time and had a very pleasant six-hour crossing. Seabirds were few and far between and all fairly common, there were 33 Gannets, 11 Manx Shearwaters, two Fulmars, a Guillemot and an adult and two juvenile Kittiwakes.

Arriving at Roscoff as darkness fell we then faced a fairly awkward journey in the dark, but eventually we found Kervilor. A Barn Owl flew across the road as we passed through Hanvec. We arrived at Kervilor around one in the morning and had difficulty finding anybody to let us in, however after a Franglais conversation with the night watchman we succeeded. As we wearily unloaded into the mobile home a Tawny Owl was calling and the frog and cicada chorus was very loud in accompaniment.

Friday 22nd May 1998

Very warm and sunny but breezy with some cloud

I always love the first birding sortie of a holiday, so I got up early and slipped out quietly to explore the surrounding countryside. I walked a longish circular route around the holiday camp. The birds were plentiful but mostly common. More notable ones included a male Bullfinch, two Green Woodpeckers, two Jays, two Nuthatches and a family party of Stonechats, male, female and four juveniles.

Arriving beside the estuary I found three Little Egrets, a Common Tern, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Turtle Dove. Later in the day I saw another two Little Egrets at Kerisper and five at Ancien. Walking back home for breakfast I found my first "French" bird, a lovely male Serin singing from telegraph wires.

Later in the day we all went to the beach at Carnac. Here I had a male Yellowhammer, a Common Buzzard and yet another Little Egret. All in all a quiet day but a very lovely restful place just the same.

Saturday 23rd May 1998

Warm and sunny but cloudy later

Another early morning walk but this time in a different direction. An early broken French conversation with a local left him thinking that clearly all the English were mad for wanting to watch birds at this hour of the day. There was a similar selection of birds as I headed towards Etang de Kerloquet on foot. A Common Buzzard was an early riser and another three Stonechats brightened my walk. When I reached the Etang two Nuthatches piped loudly and a Grey Heron took to flight from a quiet corner of the lake. At the entrance gate I was pleased to find a stunningly bright Firecrest feeding in a low conifer pausing occasionally to sing quietly.

A little further on as I started to pass the famous standing stones the quality of the birds also seemed to improve. In a short distance I recorded seven Serins, a Garden Warbler, a Whinchat carrying food, a superb pair of Cirl Buntings and an obliging singing Woodlark. Not bad in the space of 200 metres!

Back home for breakfast after which we headed into Vannes. This was an impressive partially walled town where shopping was the order of the day. My first White Wagtail of the trip was here.

After lunch I persuaded Bridgette to drop me off at a bird reserve on the outskirts of Vannes - Reserve Faguerec-Séné. Once I had negotiated a permit at the small reserve office I walked out to be greeted by masses of birds. The first thing that struck me was that everything was black and white, there were at least 20 pairs of Black-winged Stilts and 50 pairs of Avocets on the main scrape - and the noise was cacophonous. Other waders were represented by three Greenshanks, six Redshanks, four Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plovers (one in summer plumage), a Little Ringed Plover and a Dunlin.

There were also many terns here, at least twenty pairs of breeding Common Terns and two Black Terns, presumably passage birds. Around the site were seven Little Egrets, loads of common warblers, notably a Cetti's Warbler which showed very well, another three White Wagtails and three Turtle Doves, always a common bird in France.

There were several hides, full of enthusiastic French people and helpful wardens, telescopes were provided and it was clearly a showpiece reserve. I thought it was excellent and worth the admittance charge just to see so many stilts. I saw another adult White Wagtail with two juveniles in Vannes on the way home.

Sunday 24th May 1998

Warm and sunny becoming overcast and breezy

I went out before anybody had stirred again and walked the lanes in the direction of the standing stones. There were plenty of birds about again wherever I looked. One of the things I love about France is that there are old hedgerows and a traditionally farmed patchwork of land, which both attract lots of birds. My morning's list included four Turtle Doves, a female Siskin, three Serins, a Woodlark, two male Stonechats, a pair of Red-legged Partridges, a pair of Cirl Buntings and three fly-over Little Egrets.

A Red Squirrel was at Le Geant, one of the largest of the standing stones, and gave exceptionally close views.

As I reached the first village beyond the stones I was pleased to find my first Crested Tit of the holiday. I located it by its unmistakable trilling call, although it took a few minutes to sink in as to what I was hearing. It was an absolute pleasure to watch I only wish it had been in my garden. I turned around then and headed for home. When I was near the visitor centre for the standing stones I noticed a treecreeper on a low pine. I knew that it had to be a Short-toed Treecreeper, a life tick for me, as it was the only creeper of this area. In any case I was soon able to make certain when it called with a loud chaffinch-like 'chink'. Other distinguishing features included less white underparts, buff on its flanks, a pale flesh-coloured bill, which appeared to be long. Happy with the morning's haul I returned for breakfast.

After breakfast we set out for a day on the coast. Our first stop was Port Blanc where we flew kites for an hour. A pair of Rock Pipits was on the beach here. In the cliff top scrub a male Whinchat and a pair of Dartford Warblers showed well.

We moved on down the coast and decided to have our picnic lunch on the beach at Fort de Penthièvre. We spent some time beach combing and as we sat down to lunch twenty Sanderlings and a Dunlin joined us at close range. A Common Tern and a Shag fished just offshore.

In the evening on a walk round the grounds of the campsite I was lucky enough to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on decaying birches near the stream. After a barbecue we sat down with a couple of bottles of red wine and listened to the sounds of the evening. A Tawny Owl called close-by but more tantalising was a Nightjar, which reeled away at a greater distance.

Monday 25th May 1998

Warm and cloudy, breezy again

This morning I went for a long circular walk taking in a pleasant coastal area. My first notable bird was a Marsh Tit near the riding school where I also saw a Red Squirrel. Cirl Buntings were much in evidence around the lanes; I saw a male, a pair and two males together. It was nice to see a British scarcity with such ease. I also saw three Serins, another cracking little bird. When I got to the coast I counted eight Little Egrets on the beach. A Common Tern fished offshore and a lone Whimbrel probed the mud. Also here was a Rock Pipit. I saw a Dartford Warbler near a garage just before the beach. This garage had a very noisy, very large, unchained Alsatian. When it saw me it came running towards me, snarling viciously. I thought 'Oh God I'm going to die' and just froze. It stopped dead, within a yard of me, when its French owner thankfully called it off.

Just back from the shore was a small lake. Here were two male Stonechats, a Cetti's Warbler heard calling from the depths of a reedbed, a swirl of at least a hundred Swifts and a marauding Sparrowhawk which sped through the middle of the flock without catching one. The Swifts were brilliant flying all around me and coming within touching distance; one's wings even flicked my shoulder as it passed.

Returning to the camp I paused to watch a Goldcrest feeding two hungry juveniles.

I met up with the family and we set off for a day at Pont-Scorff Zoo. We had a very pleasant day, although the restaurant there shut at lunch-time! I noted a Grey Wagtail in one of the enclosures and my second Short-toed Treecreeper was gathering nest material in the car park.

We stopped on the way home at Nestadio, where I hoped to add Savi's Warbler to my life list. I did hear two, which seemed to be very close. However I didn't manage to see either. Very frustrating! 

Tuesday 26th May 1998

Warm and sunny, still breezy though

Today I had a lie-in as all the early mornings and late nights were taking there toll. We all went to the dunes of Etel for a picnic. Out of the breeze it was very warm and we enjoyed relaxing in the sun. But birders don't sit still for long, so I went for a wander amongst the dunes. Turtle Doves were everywhere, I counted at least ten; I had probably seen more this holiday than I would in five years at home. There were also many Skylarks and I scrutinised every one because there were supposedly Crested and Short-toed Larks here, but every one I saw was definitely a Skylark. A male Wheatear used an old wartime bunker as a lookout post as did a pair of Stonechats. I almost stood on the next species as they were so well camouflaged on the sand and shingle, I had found three Kentish Plovers, two males and a female. I enjoyed watching them for a long time as I have only seen two or three before.

Next came a life tick, not a bird though but a butterfly, I found three Swallowtails amongst the shingle. These large colourful butterflies were much enjoyed by all the family.

As we were packing up I picked up on a distant raptor over a headland, however because of the heat haze I could not identify it but I favoured either Black Kite or Marsh Harrier.

On the boating lake in the village there was a Little Egret, two White Wagtails and two Great Black-backed Gulls. Nearby a male Serin sang from wires.

We stopped for bread at La Trinité sur Mer and spent ten minutes watching the Common Terns fishing in the harbour. 

Wednesday 27th May 1998

Warm and sunny after heavy overnight rain

I awoke to find the world outside steaming in the early morning sunshine after heavy overnight rain. I decided to have a walk around close to the camp as today we were relocating to Carantec on the coast. Almost immediately I found my third Short-toed Treecreeper of the trip. A little further along in a stand of pines I found four Crested Tits, including an adult feeding a juvenile. Three White Wagtails were around a nearby campsite's lake and a noisy Green Woodpecker flew over. A male Stonechat sat perched with a juvenile here and I saw another male Serin.

After breakfast we packed up and headed north where we would overnight at Carantec before making the crossing back to England.

The journey north seemed to take forever but we arrived to find a very nice campsite and semi-unpacked for one night under canvas. After an evening meal Bridgette, Michael and I walked along the shore where we saw three Little Egrets, a Curlew, six Whimbrel, three Sandwich Terns, a White Wagtail, a Sand Martin and a Cuckoo.

Thursday 28th May 1998

Warm and sunny

I awoke before the rest after a restless night, never again in a tent, however modern. I strolled along the shore seeing only two Oystercatchers, two Little Egrets and a Sandwich Tern. After breakfast we packed up and drove the short distance to the port. The crossing home was gentle and fairly quiet. I saw 52 Gannets, a Manx Shearwater, a Fulmar, a Guillemot and a mid-channel Swallow.

So ended another lovely holiday in France with nice weather, good company and lots of birds.

© Mike King 1998 The Gloster Birder

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