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A Report from

Provence, Southern France, Feb 24- March 3 2006,

Mike Robinson

A team of three spent a week in Provence based at La Barben east of Salen seeking the winter specialities of the area whilst still finding time for sampling the local food & culture. A gentle approach was taken but still most key birds seen; however no doubt a slightly more dedicated effort would have yielded more.


Harry Ashcroft [HA]       Leader & organiser through Watchers Wildlife, Grange over Sands specialising in tours to Provence.
Mike Robinson [MR]     North West Birds
Anne Robinson [AR]


Easyjet Liverpool to Nice £64.38
Out Friday Feb24 12.45 – 4.00
Return Friday March3 3.55 – 5.55
EST 1 hour ahead of GMT


Gite in La Barben. This location was chosen as nearer the winter specialities and also the Friday to Friday booking that was necessary to fit in with other commitments. The location worked pretty well but possibly better still would have been a little further north & west.


Renault Kangoo from Europcar at Nice. Very satisfactory for the purpose.

Target Species [Potential Ticks for MR in bold - 9]

Yelkouan Shearwater, Wallcreeper, Snowfinch, Citril Finch, Little Bustard, Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Bonelli’s Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor, Eagle Owl, Calandra Lark, Slender billed Gull, Greater Flamingo, Moustached Warbler, Pin tailed Sandgrouse, Southern grey Shrike, Crag Martin, Indian Silverbill, both Choughs

Supporting cast

Penduline Tit, Bearded Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Black Redstart, wintering Eagles, Richard’s Pipit, Pine Bunting


Coypu, Beech Marten, Marmot, Chamois, Ibex, Wild Boar


Most of this unnecessary in view of HA’s long experience of the area. However past trip reports [found on John Girdley’s] were very useful and up to date information posted on the UK400 club group, especially –

Chris Batty    Feb 2003
Stuart Piner   Jan 2005
Jez Robson  Jan 2004
Ron Moat       Oct 2004
Lee Evans     March 2005
Thanks also to Chris Griffin [via UK400 club] for up to date info on Little Bustard site.


Finding Birds in Southern France by Dave Gosney.                                         ISBN 1 8981110 12 3
A Birdwatching Guide to France south of the Loire by Jacquie Crozier*       

* We had a very enjoyable few days with Jacquie & husband Brian in 2005 for Wallcreeper[successful] in the Aveyron Valley. See Wallcreeper Breaks


Fri                  Feb 24   A little birding by the east side of River Var during hire car pick up. Then drive to La Barben.
Sat                Feb 25   Camargue East[*1] including La Capiliere and a short seawatch at Plage de Piemanson.
Sun                Feb 26   Eyguieres Airport[*2], Les Baux[[*3] and surrounding hills. L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie [*4] at dusk
Mon               Feb 27   Mount Ventoux[*5]
Tues              Feb 28   La Grand Crau[*6], Entressen Tip[*7], Les Opies[*8], Eyguieres Airport
Wed               Mch 1     Camargue West[*9] including seawatching at Saintes Marie de la Mer, Pont du Gard[*10]
Thurs             Mch 2     Mount Ventoux, Les Baux, L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie at dusk
Fri                 Mch 3     Frejus[*11] seawatching & reedbed, Nice[*12] by Var river mouth west side

Directions to key sites shown at end with *.

Trip Report

Feb 24
Arrived late pm. Had a quick look at the river from beside the car hire pickup. First views of Crag Martins. Green Sandpiper, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff.

Feb 25
Wryneck heard from Gite.

Eastern Camargue[*1] explored. On the way Cattle Egret & 1 Med Gull. Despite good weather almost no reedbed birds seen at La Capeliere – Moustached Warbler, Penduline Tit, Bearded TitHowever a number of Lizards seen on walls of visitor centre. Any info on species please? Wall Lizard?

Plenty of Greater Flamingo, Great white Egret, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Yellow legged Gull. Corn Bunting, Tree sparrow, Dartford Warbler, Black necked Grebe, Kingfisher also seen. At tip – Plage de Piemanson – No Slender billed Gull and few waders. A short seawatch in calm weather produced no Shearwaters just Continental Cormorants and a Tern species logged as probable Sandwich. One Coypu on return trip.

Feb 26
Quick visit to Eyguieres Airfield[*2] but no Little Bustard. Sardinian Warbler and plenty of Red legged Partridge.

Les Baux[*3]. No problem with Alpine Accentor in the town itself or Blue rock Thrush on the cliffs and Sardinian Warbler below but despite spending most of the morning round the south[sun] side and an hour late afternoon by the ‘Black Virgin’ site all we had to show with Wallcreeper was a probable flight view flying from the ‘Black Virgin’ cliffs across the valley. We watched from the road – was this wrong? Would we have done better going up closer? In the afternoon we did not tackle the walk to La Caume radar station for Bonelli’s Eagle but went up that direction a little by road watching for an hour or so the same valleys. Nothing seen. In the evening male & female Eagle Owls calling continuously right & left for 45 mins at L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie[*4]; then as HA predicted one appeared on the ridge in the centre. On scoping it was seen to fly off followed almost immediately by the other bird previously unseen but from the same rock at 6.45pm. The day finished particularly well as on the way down near Mausanne a Beech Marten crossed the road in front of us.

Feb 27
Mount Ventoux[*5] Morning at Chalet Reynaud[south side] produced Alpine Accentor & excellent Rock Bunting. Also Citril Finch & lots of Crossbills & Crested Tit. This site is meant to be good for Snowfinch but all we saw were 2 flocks seen by 1 of the party in each case that were probably this species. In the afternoon we went round in search of this species to the north side to the resort of Mont Serein – excellent views of Citril Finch & Crested Tit but still no Snowfinch.

Feb 28
Started by exploring La Grand Crau[*6][the southern part of the Crau] in hope of Little Bustard. The morning was spoilt by a really strong wind making it almost impossible to scope outside the car. However early on we saw a Red Kite flying which appeared to flush a lone Little Bustard which at least took the pressure off our subsequent difficulties in finding the species. Apparently the area is good for Calandra Lark but we found none; however we did see a good flock of Short toed Lark. Apparently also the many stone piles[glider defences from the war] can harbour Lesser Kestrel even in winter – not for us though and the wind made it almost impossible to scan properly anyway. By a stream halfway across were a number of Water Pipits as well as Meadow. At the north east corner was a male Hen Harrier before the track came out to the well known Entressen Tip[*7].This to us in a short visit did not produce apart from a few Red Kites & Yellow legged Gulls. Apparently it can have Black Kite and various Eagles & occasionally Gulls, ie Caspian? Late morning we scanned from a layby just south of Eyguieres Airfield just as c50 Little Bustard flew in from the south. A brief look at the time failed to find them on the ground; however a return visit late afternoon saw them fly into the airfield again from the south and we viewed them from the model aircraft huts on the west side of the airfield looking east. Anecdotal discussion & other reports afterwards suggests that late afternoon is good for this species and as the winter goes on this, what is effectively the northern Crau is better than La Grand Crau though obviously they do move about. This site should have been good for Southern grey Shrike & Pintailed Sandgrouse but not for us; should we have walked for the latter to try to flush? It would not be popular at the site! Before returning to the airfield mid afternoon we went to a watchpoint east of Les Opies[*8]. Very quickly we saw a fairly distant view of a single Bonelli’s Eagle following which 3 birds showed in the air together 1 of which was clearly another Bonelli’s. One was a Buzzard mobbing another apparently larger Eagle which seemed most likely 2nd W(?) Golden Eagle – is this likely or are we too far south? Logged as a probable. Then 2 Bonelli’s showed above the ridge flying away west. However thanks to the local knowledge of HA we went round to the north & west of the mountain being able to scan where apparently the Eagles often perch. Sure enough brilliant views perched and in flight were obtained. We continued on round the mountain finding a Serin in a picnic site before stopping in Aureille where apparently Wallcreeper can be seen. Not for us.

March 1
A relatively uneventful trip down the eastern Camargue[*9] – best bird Hen Harrier - took us down to the coast and a short seawatch at Saintes de la Mer which we had heard was promising for Yelkouan Shearwater. The wind was very strong but from the north west – little to show for a freezing hour and a half. In the brackish pools there were few waders – Little Stint, Avocet & Greater Flamingo – but we searched hard for Slender billed Gull. There weren’t many Gulls anyway but eventually one probable was seen in flight which landed out of sight. On the return a pair of nesting White Storks were seen but no large wintering Eagles – we had no precise up to date local info.  Another Coypu seen but we had hoped for more. At the end of the day one of the party was dropped in Arles for the ruins while the team itself went to the aquaduct at Pont du Gard [*10] – impressive in itself. We arrived about 5pm and there were no Rock Sparrows, only Crag Martins. A nervous 45 mins followed before c15 appeared almost unnoticed on the very top on the sun(west) side at 5.50pm. They would have been missed had we been watching from the wrong side.

March 2
A final trip back to Mount Ventoux Chalet Reynard to try again for Snowfinch in a snowstorm was only partially successful. Good views of Citril Finch, Siskin & Crossbill but a probable in flight was all we got of the target species. Driven down by the snow we returned to Les Baux to try again for Wallcreeper; no luck but we flushed what must have been a newly arrived female Rock Thrush in a little grove south of the town. Again plenty of Blue rock Thrush on the cliffs. The day finished well though with brilliant views of Eagle Owl at L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie. Interestingly almost no calling but it appeared on the same rock in the centre from the viewpoint at 6.35 while still quite light before flying an extended flight above the skyline at 6.50.

March 3
Making our way east to Nice for the return flight we tried a short seawatch at Frejus[*11] rewarded by a group of 5 Yelkuouan Shearwaters flying west along with Terns presumed to be Sandwich. Very interesting that the coastline here does not in any way suggest a seawatching headland in conventional terms; a major bonus just the same! The most wanted tick of them all. The reedbeds here can be fruitful apparently. We got a Zitting Cisticola and the first House Martin of the year. We finished at the conventional site in Nice[*12] on the west side of the Var river mouth for Indian Silverbill which were seen without problem along with Kingfisher, Mediterranean Gull & Eider.

Maps used

Overall – AA Provence & French Riviera 1:180000 IGN No 15        
La Camargue – Plein-Air 1:50000 IGN                                                 ISBN 3 282118 207718
Les Alpilles – Plein-Air 1:50000 IGN                                                     ISBN 3 282118 206513

Key Site Directions

*1 – Camargue East. Follow road south from Arles west side of R Rhone heading west to Villeneuve; then turning south again to the visitor centre at La Capiliere[apparently best for Moustached Warbler, Penduline & Bearded Tits]. Worth a visit anyway. This is on the eastern shore of the huge inland lagoon Etang de Vaccares. From there head south through St Bertrand to Salin de Giraud. To reach coastal pools[Slender billed Gull & Waders] & sea[Shearwaters] carry on south east to La Palissade turning right to Plage d’Arles ou de Piemanson. We were there at the weekend when it was fairly well disturbed by beach sports. After that we found a nice track amongst the lagoons by backtracking to St Bertrand and heading a mile or two west.

*2 – Eyguieres Airfield. This is a well known site. It is due south of the town of Eyguieres just north of the N113 from which it is easiest accessed by the D 569. We eventually first connected with Little Bustard in flight from a layby on this road just south of the airfield itself.  The entrance is on the left as you come level with the buildings and a track takes you in and across the north of the airfield. A good viewpoint is the model aircraft sheds reached by turning left as you reach the other side. From there you can scan Crau de la Jasse.

*3 – Les Baux. This is also a well known site particularly for Wallcreeper. Whilst the UK400 club directs you to the Black Virgin Cliffs on the northwest side, I understand this species can be found all the way round the suggestion being that it might follow the sun; thus being on the south side for the morning before turning to the Black Virgin cliffs in the afternoon. The directions to these are as follows – Take the minor road that hugs the town to the north side to where it is very close to the cliffs and a footpath goes back up to the town. The Black Virgin is just the other side of the fence. You can park on the other side of the road and scope the cliffs. Alternatively you can park on the south east side of the town and footpath takes you right round so you can view the south cliffs and eventually you get round to the Black Virgin again. The Alpine Accentors are mainly in the town itself for which you need to go through the barrier and pay for parking in the town.

*4 – L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie. Another well known site. Continue on minor road from north side of Les Baux on road to Fontvieille. Turn right up dirt track behind Hotel. Park by chain across track. What is important is to walk on about 600yds from there to a pump. View the cliffs ahead. Female usually calls from extreme right end of cliffs and male from way over to left. However the both tend to perch on a prominent rock in the middle just to left of the two halves of the rock face before flying over the back.

*5 – Mount Ventoux (a) south Chalet Reynard & (b) north Mont Serein. Take D974 out of Carpentras through Bedoin on to Mount Ventoux. As this roads climbs you reach the Café & Car Park at Chalet Reynard. This car park frequently has Snowfinch & certainly they frequent the gullies just behind the Café. A Car Park on the left just a little further up is said to be good also as is a gully just further on the right by a sharp left turn for Rock Thrush in the summer. The north side at Mont Serein can be visited in theory by carrying on up and over but it is usually blocked with snow. We went back and round via Bedoin & Malaucene climbing back up to the ski resort. Apparently there can be Snowfinch there; we saw none but plenty of Citril Finch.

*6  – La Grand Crau. Leave St Martin de Crau south west on D24. Just past La Dynamite turn left on a rough track leaving Etang des Aulnes on your right. On through Vergiere across a little bridge zigzagging picking up the following points on the map – La Grosse, Le Grand Carton Berg, Mas d’Ampboux to end up at -

*7  – Entressen Tip. See above or from N113 go south D5 towards Entressen. Before the town turn right to hug Etang d’Entressen on the right. Keep going to Mas d’Ampboux. The tip is on the right.

*8  – Les Opies. From the town of Eyguieres head west on main road to Aureille but take tiny road north just where it crosses the river. After a couple of miles there is a good place to stop and scan west to Les Opies. It is then possible to carry on up to St Pierre de Vence and turn west going round the mountain. 2-3 miles along while the road is still in woodland it is possible to scan the mountain from the north side. The Bonelli’s Eagles often perch on these crags – they did for us.

*9  – Camargue West. Again the staring point for the Camargue is Arles. Head west nearly to Salieres then Albaron, Pioch Badet and down to Saintes de la Mer where there is an obvious breakwater for seawatching which is apparently good for Shearwaters despite the line of the coast not looking sufficiently far out for true seawatching. A zigzag route can then be taken back to Arles.

*10 – Pond du Gard. This is a Roman aqueduct found on the D981 west of Ramoulins north east of Nimes. It is just a matter of parking in the tourist car park walking alongside the river towards the aqueduct. Sometimes the Rock Sparrows can be seen on the ground here but normally it is a matter of waiting until roost time.

*11 – Frejus. A successful but unlikely seawatching spot was found by going through to the coast slightly west of the town itself and watching from the beach. The reedbeds are obvious on the approaches to the town from the north.

*12 – Nice. The site for the Silverbills is found by parking in the shopping centre car park St Laurent de Var Cap3000 right at the coast and on the Var river mouth[west side] – just the other side from the Airport. Good views of the river can be had from here but the Silverbills are seen in the scrub by the riverbank by walking along the footpath – all within 100yds of the car park.

Full List

Great Crested Grebe


Black-necked Grebe


Yelkouan Shearwater


Continental Cormorant


Little Egret


Grey Heron


Great White Egret


Cattle Egret


White Stork


Greater Flamingo


Mute Swan












Tufted Duck


Common Eider

Var River mouth

Red Kite

La Grand Crau, Entressant Tip

Marsh Harrier


Hen Harrier

Camargue, La Crau



Common Buzzard


Golden Eagle - Probable

Les Opies

Bonelli's Eagle

Les Opies



Red-legged Partridge

Eyguieres Airfield





Little Bustard

La Grand Crau, Eyguieres Airfield










L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie

Common Snipe




Green Sandpiper

Var River mouth

Little Stint




Yellow-legged Gull


Black-headed Gull


Slender-billed Gull - Probable


Mediterranean Gull

Var River mouth

Sandwich Tern


Feral Pigeon


Collared Dove



L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie


Var River mouth, Camargue

Wryneck – Heard only

La Barben

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Small grove south of Les Baux

Green Woodpecker

Small grove south of Les Baux

Grey-headed Woodpecker - Probable

La Grand Crau

Short-toed Lark

La Grand Crau



Crag Martin

Var River mouth, Les Baux, Pond du Gard

House Martin


Meadow Pipit


Water Pipit

La Grand Crau

White Wagtail




Alpine Accentor

Les Baux, Chalet Reynard

Black Redstart

Les Baux




Small grove south of Les Baux

Blue Rock-thrush

Les Baux



Song Thrush


Mistle Thrush




Cetti's Warbler

Var River mouth, Camargue

Zitting Cisticola

Frejus Reedbeds


Les Baux

Sardinian Warbler

Les Baux

Dartford Warbler


Common Chiffchaff

Var river mouth

Long-tailed Tit

La Capiliere

Coal Tit


Crested Tit

Mount Ventoux

Great Tit


Blue Tit


Wallcreeper – Probable in flight

Les Baux







Carrion Crow



Mount Ventoux



House Sparrow


Tree Sparrow


Rock Sparrow

Pont du Gard

Snowfinch – Probable in flight

Chalet Reynard

Indian Silverbill

Nice. Var river mouth





Citril Finch

Chalet Reynard, Mont Serein




Chalet Reynard






Chalet Reynard, Mont Serein

Yellowhammer - Probable


Rock Bunting

Chalet Reynard

Reed Bunting


Corn Bunting

Eyguieres Airfield





Beech Marten


Prob Pygmy Shrew

L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie


Wall Lizard

La Capiliere

Not successful

Calandra Lark

La Grand Crau. Only visit in strong wind; not seen.

Pin tailed Sandgrouse

Eyguieres Airfield. Not seen in 2 visits

Southern grey Shrike

Eyguieres Airfield. Not seen in 2 visits. V windy

Moustached Warbler

Only tried at La Capiliere

Penduline Tit

Possibly seen at La Capiliere

Bearded Tit

Possibly seen at La Capiliere

Wintering Eagles

Camargue east. Never had precise site info

Richard’s Pipit

Le Mas Chauvet. Never tried

Pine Bunting

Mas de Lauricat. Never tried

Both Choughs

Never got into the mountains


Marmot, Chamois, Ibex

Never got into the mountains

Wild Boar

Not seen in Camargue

Post Mortem/Review

A super trip with lovely weather except once when in the Crau we had an awful wind. This probably cost us Southern grey Shrike & Pin tailed Sandgrouse. Perhaps Calandra Lark as well. We never really had a good try for these species. Other major targets were in the main achieved but disappointing that we could not connect properly with Snowfinch & Wallcreeper. Major bonus was connecting with Yelkouan Shearwater against the odds. An area thoroughly recommended for winter birding but of course the days seem short at this time of year; so a week seems to go pretty quickly!

Mike Robinson

March 2006


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