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A Report from

Camargue France, 5th to 15th October 2004,

Ron & Val Moat

After reading a few trip reports for the Camargue notably Geoff Dickers report Jan 04, we decided to try the Camargue in early October knowing we were too late for many of the summer visitors and too early for the winter specialities listed in the report.       

We knew we should be happy seeing large numbers of Greater Flamingos, having only seen flocks of at maximum a couple of hundred, usually at a great distance in Portugal, Spain (Coto Donana) and the Balearics (Mallorca), and then wherever you go bird watching there is always the unexpected.

From Geoff Dickers report we contacted Pat and Poppit Rogers who run Mas de Auphan, a farm on the west side of the Rhone near Le Sambuc a small village  in the Camargue and arranged self catering accommodation for the duration of our stay. or e-mail

Pat & Poppit were very hospitable and helpful with information as to where we might see wildlife and other queries, such as where to shop; French translations etc and we would highly recommend them to prospective birders.

The maps we used were the Michelin Provence Camargue 1cm : 1.6 km map and the Plein-Air Parc Naturel  Regional de Camargue both available at several outlets within the Camargue area or through the internet before you visit, the Geant supermarket in Arles had a large selection covering all the regions you could possibly wish to visit.

We flew by Ryan Air from Stanstead to Nemes £0.99 each way per person, though the total cost with the various taxes was £33:40 return per person.

Car parking at Standstead was £80:40 for 12 days.

Our outward flight on a Tuesday only had 50 passengers and our return flight on a Saturday had around 100 passengers, we found the no frills flight prompt and courteous, arriving back at Stanstead 20 minutes early.

We took advantage of Ryan Airs discounts with Hertz car hire and booked a Renault Megane with air-con for the duration from Nemes Airport for £ 182.67 with the minimum collision damage waver and minimum theft protection. As is usual for us we din't get the car we ordered but a Ford Focus Estate with air-con at the same price, this car was a diesel and while it made for cheap motoring fuel consumption wise, we both felt on many occasions the noisy engine did little to improve our species list.

Weather for the first week Tuesday to Tuesday was very good, warm and pleasant but with some overcast periods.

Tuesday, of the second week was overcast at times with some light rain, but still pleasant, later on Tuesday afternoon we had a substantial thunderstorm which went on for most of the night, around this time the evening temperatures dropped but it warmed up by around 11:00 am. Wednesday was overcast with some rain and again a heavy overnight thunderstorm. Thursday came over very black and we had a daytime thunderstorm with lightning and torrential rain, buy this time many of the marshes and Etangs showed a substantial rise in their water-level.

Friday was overcast with a small amount of rain. Saturday when we left on the 10:15 am flight was rather cold but clear blue skies with full sunshine. 

Species seen at Mas de Auphan were Redstart, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtails, (flavissma) the British race, White Wagtail, up to two Hobby, hawking above the Mas, Green Woodpecker (daily), Cettis Warbler (daily) Crested Larks,                                    Great Spotted Woodpecker, Little & Cattle Egrets, House Martin & Sand Martin flyovers with groups of up to 100 Swallows, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard  also flyovers, Tawny Owl heard most nights.

Etang de Vaccares, visited several viewing points and platforms on the east side, species seen were large numbers of Greater Flamingos, Great-crested Grebes & Black-necked Grebes, also Yellow legged Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Common Terns, Common Sandpipers, Kingfishers, Great White Egrets, and  three Bearded Tits flew over the water between reed-beds & an Osprey perched in a nearby tree, small groups of Meadow Pipits moved along the shore.

Etang de Vaccares northern shore, Mas d Argon platform, Marsh Harrier, Kingfishers, Tree Sparrows, Whiskered Tern, Cettis Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Greater Flamingo, and Coypu, don't miss the marshes visible over the road from the viewing platform, also there is a minor road signposted Mas d Argon nearby which eventually comes to good areas of marshland, viewable from both sides of the road, these look as though they could be very good for birds at the right time of the year.

La Capelliere the visitor and information centre for the Camargue, with a trail including several hides, only the first 3 hides were worth the walk on our visits, entrance fee was 3 euros per person which included permission to visit another reserve a few kilometres away at Salin de Badon with another three hides.

At La Capelliere we saw  Hobbies, Kingfishers, Greeshank , Curlews, Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Little & Cattle Egrets, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal,  Pintail,Wigeon, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaffs, and a  family group of Long tailed Tits.

Salin de Badon from the three hides we saw a single Marsh Sandpiper with a large group of Spotted Redshanks and Redshanks, one of the birds of the trip for me, though a local professional ornithologist said they got up to twenty birds on occasion, other birds seen were a group of 400 plus Avocets, large numbers of Greater Flamingos, also Great White Egrets, Grey-lag Geese, Greenshanks, Curlews, Marsh Harriers, Snipe, Sardinian Warbler, Coypu and a fleeting glimpse of a Wryneck.

The viewing platform at Marais de Grenouillet  most of our visits were cut short due to shooting parties  parked in the viewing platform car park and terrorising the wildlife in the vicinity, we soon learned if any cars were in the car park area but no birders on the platform not to stop as shot would soon be flying around us, birds seen  were masses of ducks mostly Teal, Mallard and Shoveler , Grey-lag Goose, and large numbers of Greater Flamingos, some, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, good numbers of Ringed Plover, on the roadside nearby  Wheatear,  Stonechat, and Corn Bunting,  also crashing through the marsh vegetation 4 Wild Boar 2 adults & 2 young crossing the shallow open water with a great deal of noise before disappearing into a distant reedbed hopefully out of range of the shooters.

In roadside bushes near between La Bonborinette & Etang du Fangassier a group of 6 male Blackcaps, also a group of Chiffchaffs & Blue Tits.

The tracks around Etang du Fangassier and Etang du Galabert were a good place to watch Greater Flamingos in flight in the evenings,  on one of these evening visits we also saw a group of between 16 and 20 Caspian Terns which flew close over our heads, the adults with an unbelievably harsh rasping call followed by a pathetic begging call from the juveniles, nice birds to see especially such a large group and so close overhead, several Shelducks also in this area and a mixed group of , Little Stints, Ringed Plovers, and Dunlins.

We also visited Salin de Giraud saltworks Grau de Piemanson and Saintes Maries de la Mer mainly hoping for Slender-billed Gull but it was not to be, we saw lots of birds but all of previously noted and expected species.

Parc Ornithologique Pont de Gau near Saintes Maries de la Mer, entrance 6.5 Euros per person with a warning of mosquitoes on the rampage.

 The park consisted of two areas between the road and Etang de Gines on a series of stocked pools with lots of wild freeloaders especially Greater Flamingos  present in large numbers, we saw pinioned birds and lots of freewinged birds all enjoying the rice which was fed to keep them present.

A collection of  wild disabled birds of  prey,  were on exhibit and of some interest for identification purposes,  the only wild birds of note seen here were a party of 6 Wood Sandpipers, a Common Sandpiper and way off in the far distance a large Eagle Sp which I think may have been an immature Bonnelis.

Despite our insect repellent Mosquitoes bit us, and the increasing size of the bites on our exposed parts made up our minds to withdraw from Parc Ornithologique without visiting the much larger wild part of the reserve.

On the junction between Mas Avignon and Tour du Vallat road on our last morning we saw a White Stork.

In the Chat de I Armelliere area on our trips to and from Mas de Aufan we saw several Marsh Harriers, Buzzards, Kestrels, and on occasion a single Black Stork another very good bird to watch as it was mobbed by Jackdaws and Carrion Crows who seemed to think this large black bird must be some kind of bird of prey much easier sport to chase backward and forewards than a Black Kite, which plummeted vertically into the nearest cover to escape.

Peau de Meau: A large area of unique steppe type landscape partially a reserve on the right bank of the Rhone called De La Crau .

A two day permit is obtainable from CEEP Ecomusee de la Crau (Boulivard de Provence). 13310 Saint Martin de Crau at a cost of 3 Euros per person.

After obtaining your permit you may choose to look around the rather interesting museum at the Ecomusees offices.

When you decide to leave, drive eastwards out of town looking for signs for Etang des Aulnes, follow these until you reach the Etang which on our visit was a large expanse of water with great promise, but all we saw was one Coot and a Little Grebe.

You then follow the permit instructions until you reach the Peau de Meau car park.  Follow the map to an observation hide in the top of a sheepbarn, we found this a rather long walk with few birds, we saw Wheatear ,Whinchat, Meadow Pipits,  and  a group of Chiffchaffs down a hedge in the first section of the walk, Crested Lark, Skylark, one of only two Blackbirds on the entire trip, Kingfisher, Cettis Warbler, and way in the distance from the sheepbarn a group of 9 Kestrels which we wondered may have been Lesser Kestrels, if they are still here at this time of year, the only one which came near enough to scope for identification proved to be an ordinary Kestrel. We also saw 3 Little Owls, perched on some of the rock piles.

On our return walk we were desperate enough in finding a feather to think it may have  belonged to a Little Bustard.

Other places visited:

Eyquieres Airport is noted as a winter site for Little Bustard & Rock Bunting, we saw Wheatear, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Larks, Skylarks and Hobby, our visit was on a Saturday afternoon, motor cycle racing, full size and model aircraft flying were popular and perhaps one of the reasons for so few species seen, we also noted a number of shooting hides at the rear of the airfield.

Nearby La Jasse looked a more favourable habitat from a distance.

Le Baux:  a much visited tourist area in the Alpilles, short of  parking spaces during October.

Birds at this time of year were pretty mundane with a dozen or so Crag Martins over one of the peaks, Sardinian Warbler and Redstart being the only other species worth mentioning.

Mt Ventoux: We visited Mt Ventoux in the French Alps, on the way up saw mostly expected common woodland species, plus Nuthatch on fir trees which seemed unusual, near the summit on the open rocks we saw Black Redstarts and a small group of Water Pipits the Alpine equivalent of our Meadow Pipit.

Throughout the trip we found it hard work to see many Passerines even when leaving our noisy diesel car and walking down country lanes and field edges, spring summer or early autumn may have been better for smaller birds.


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