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A Report from

Mousterlin, Brittany, 31 Aug- 6 Sept 2002,

Jason Smart

This was not meant to be a birding holiday. I let my wife choose the place and just tagged along meekly ("No, dear, this is your break: I'm honestly not bothered about the birds.") Unwittingly, she picked somewhere right on the doorstep of a nature reserve..


Mousterlin is a south-facing coastal village between Bénodet and Beg-Meil, due south of Fouesnant in the Quimper region of Brittany. It is situated on a low-lying, rocky point flanked on either side by long, sandy beaches.

Maps of the area show large areas of water behind both beaches, but this is misleading. The wetland behind the western beach, 'La Mer Blanche', is a flat, grassy area crossed by a stream and muddy channels. It looked slightly boggy at best, though I could imagine that it might flood on occasion.

The area behind the eastern beach is an extensive conservation area: the Marais de Mousterlin (Mousterlin Marsh). It starts on the doorstep of the holiday camp where we stayed, the 'Camping le Grand Large', and stretches in a strip behind the beach for about a mile. There are car parks providing access to the beach (and marsh) at either end and about half-way along.

These car parks provide convenient reference points since the mid-way one coincides with a slight change in habitat. Between Mousterlin and the middle car park the beach is bordered by a thin belt of conifers, gorse, brambles and Tamarisk. Behind this is a lake with not very much in the way of reeds. Beyond the middle car park, the Tamarisks disappear and the conifers become little more than a line. The wetland here has silted up and is now just a stream bordered by wider areas of rank grass backed by willows. Behind the willow scrub the vegetation has developed into proper, mainly deciduous woodland with a couple of stagnant streams running through it.

The whole reserve is bordered on the landward side by farmland and a couple of holiday camps. All this, coupled with the linear nature of the reserve, means that there is ample habitat 'edge' and, consequently, every chance of seeing a wide range of species. The reserve is very well networked with footpaths and there are few nooks and crannies that cannot be adequately explored.

A more scientific description of the site (in French) can be found at:

The map on this page includes La Mer Blanche within its definition of the Marais, but other websites and the local on-site signage restrict the term to the eastern section alone and, since this is where nearly all the birds were, it is the usage I have followed here.

If my experience is anything to go by, the site is underwatched. The whole time I was there I saw only two other birders: a pair that dropped in briefly one day just to check out the seabird roost.


The area has few of the Brittany specialities most sought after by British birders and certainly there are spots further south where the range of species is less "British", but, considering that I stumbled on this site by accident and without any agenda, I found the general birding very rewarding indeed.

La Mer Blanche was thoroughly unproductive on the one evening visit I made. No doubt it holds Snipe and I could imagine it proving popular with Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers in winter (or wildfowl if it floods), but all I saw was seven Little Egrets.

The rocks at the point have a high-tide roost of waders, gulls, terns and Cormorants. The variety was not that great. The waders were mainly Sanderling (around 100 of them I would guess) and Turnstones, plus a few Ringed Plover and Oystercatchers. I also picked out seven Dunlin, five Bar-tailed Godwits and two Knot. The gulls were nearly all Black-headed, but there were also several Herring Gulls, the odd Great and Lesser Black-back and, on one visit, a Yellow-legged Gull. The only terns present were Sandwich and Common. As the tide drops the waders and gulls spread out eastwards along the beach towards the Marais and offer close views from the seawall.

On 2 September I noticed five white birds slowly soaring high over Camping le Grand Large. Something told me they were not gulls and a quick dash for the binoculars revealed broader, blunter wings than gulls, all-white plumage and long, straight, black bills with spatulate tips. Spoonbills, obviously, but the treetops around me hindered my view and I did not see where they went.

On the reserve, the conifers had several pairs of Crested Tits, Goldcrests and Short-toed Treecreepers (and also one or two Red Squirrels). Green Woodpeckers were quite unmissable - every day there seemed to be several commuting between this area and the woodland beyond - and there was at least one pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. On cloudy days few birds would show themselves, but when the sun was shining the Tamarisks would invariably be bouncing with Chiffchaffs and it was much the same everywhere: it seemed to be quite the most abundant species on the reserve. In contrast - and curiously - I saw only one definite Willow Warbler the whole time I was there.

The open lake held little of interest - mainly hawking hirundines of all three usual species, Mallards, Coots and Moorhens, with one or two Grey Herons and Little Egrets. I did see a Little Grebe here and heard Cetti's Warblers both by the lake and on the drier marsh to the east. Kingfishers also visit. A late evening visit in the unduly optimistic hope of finding a Night Heron or an owl yielded a large mammal of some kind standing on a stone. By then it was truly night and all I could make out was a large grey shape. Initially I thought it might just be a Night Heron bending over the water, but all thoughts of that evaporated when it slid into the water and swam out of sight. Goodness knows what it was: it seemed large enough to be a Beaver.

Where the road to the middle car park crosses the wetland, the Tamarisks and willows held two probable Melodious Warblers though I could not get good enough views of either to clinch the ID. Compared to the Chiffchaffs, both looked big and heavy with rather dull greenish upperparts and chests washed the palest primrose. Their "lumbering" action, more akin to a Blackcap than a phyllosc., had the right feel, too, but they both vanished as quickly as they materialised.

The area to the east of the middle car park produced the same passerines as the lake area and more. The denser patches of scrub and brambles were particularly popular with Blackcaps and, at last, I had brilliant views of a young Melodious Warbler in the willows at the western end of the marsh. The marsh was notable for three or four pairs of obliging Fan-tailed Warblers (a couple of which were still song-flighting). Proper little show-offs, they were: the reedbed equivalents of Stonechats, almost. Every muddy pool seemed to sport at least one Water Rail. On the largest, viewable only from a distance, I was watching three of them picking around the barely moist mud. Suddenly they all scarpered in different directions and a moment later a Red Fox sauntered out from the reeds and stood looking around for a minute or so before continuing on its way.

I wondered whether the bordering scrub would have Bluethroats, but if it did, it was not going to admit it. A wider patch of gorse here produced a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, though as I only saw it on one occasion I have no idea whether it was a resident bird or a migrant. A Spotted Flycatcher, a Tree Pipit and two or three Wheatears certainly gave the impression of being the latter and there was no doubt about the late Swift which steamed through south-east on 31 August, never to be seen again. About halfway between the middle and easternmost car parks a footpath leads back from the beach through the woods. Here the conifers near the beach were favoured by Greenfinches (doing quite good impressions of Crossbills as they searched the pine cones), two or three Yellowhammers and at least two Wrynecks. Goldfinches and Stonechats were much in evidence, too. The woodland itself seemed fairly birdless, but I suspect it might be quite rewarding in spring: parts looked dense enough to harbour Nightingales and the Wrynecks seemed to emanate from there.

All in all, I saw most species that I would have expected to see in comparable habitat in England, plus one or two more besides; but I was puzzled by those I was quite unable to find. No Stock Dove for example, no Skylark, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Coal Tit, Jackdaw, Rook, Linnet. I suppose I shall just have to go back one spring.

Species List (75)

Little Grebe
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Water Rail
Ringed Plover
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-headed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Collared Dove
Tawny Owl
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Sand Martin
House Martin
Tree Pipit
Meadow Pipit
White Wagtail
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Reed Warbler
Melodious Warbler
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Crested Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper
Red-backed Shrike
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow


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