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A Report from

Charente-Maritime, France, 22nd July - 6th August 2004,

Les Hull

Staying in an English owned gite in Lossandiere, near St Leger,

Not really a bird watching holiday although I did take my telescope in the hope that I may get the opportunity to do some bird watching particularly near the coast.  Also lack of local knowledge and tide times was quite a disadvantage, although I was quite lucky with the tides, which was pure chance.

Ile de Re

First two days stayed on Ile de Re staying at Rivedoux Plage, plenty of birds in the sea, flying past and on the shore with plenty of Little Egrets present.  We did go to The Lilleau des Niges Nature Reserve that is at the far end of the island.  There is a visitor centre there but no hides or map but they do speak English. Follow the path then any of the numerous paths that skirt some of the salt marshes.

Birds:  Avocet, Sabine's, Mediterranean and Yellow Legged Gulls, Little Egrets, Sandwich Terns, Black Kite were some of the highlights on the island.                                                                    

From Lossandiere it takes about 1 ¼ hours and probably another half hour to the nature reserve if you are going straight there.  If you are going to the island it is worth visiting la Flotte and St. Martin de Re.  There is also a 16 euro toll to cross the bridge, well worth it.

We also went to Ile D Oleron to visit some friends and it took an age to get there, we thought about 1 ¼ hours it was nearer 2 ¾.  We had no time to bird watch but we did see Cirl Bunting, Black Kite, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and Little Egrets near our friends gite.

On the way to our gite we followed the coast passing through Chatelaillon Plage, Les Boucholeirs and The Yves Marsh Nature Reserve which is on the main (N137) La Rochelle/Rochfort road but you need to be on the Rochfort side.  Visitor centre closed on the Saturday we went.  The tide was out and the birds were too far away to be able to identify. 

Les Boucholeirs is a pleasant stopping off place and if the tide is out you might be able to see muscles being collected. 

Birds: Large number so of Little Egrets as well as a variety of Gulls and waders.

Bird list for this area:  Avocet, Blackbird, Cirl Bunting, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Coot, Cormorant, Carrion Crow, Curlew, Collared Dove, Tufted Duck, Little Egret, Gannet, Black headed Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Sabine's Gull, Yellow legged Gull, Heron, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Black Kite, Magpie, Mallard, House Martin, Sand Martin, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Raven, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black Redstart, Sanderling, Shelduck, House Sparrow, Swallow, Mute Swan, Swift, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, White headed Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon.

Lossandiere and surrounding area i.e. St Leger:

Having resident Barn Owls was certainly a bonus even my wife and in-laws, Moy and Brian, who probably thought I was a bit  "anorakish." to put it mildly didn't appear to share my enthusiasm for the natural world were smitten by the Barn Owls and wouldn't go to bed before they had seen then several times ferrying food to their brood and the street light acted as spot light giving excellent views.  We may have even seen the owlets take their first flights.  They all left their roost on 3rd August just in time for my friends, Chris and Sue, not to see them.  However they were still around until we left.

We stayed in the "new property" which looked onto the fields behind and a pylon, which served as a perch for several species, and I managed to get excellent views through my telescope of Turtle Dove, Cirl Bunting, Buzzard, Kestrel, Hoopoe, Black and Red Kites, Rook, Raven and Carrion Crow.  On one particular day when the light was even more perfect than normal I managed to espy a Hoopoe in profile which was totally, in the words of my wife, Barbara, "Brilliant".  A convert?  If so that solves the problem of thinking up a Christmas present for her, actively looking up prices of binoculars.

Also in the fields around St Leger I saw a pair of Montagu's Harriers as well as Hen Harriers and the road leading to the N137 as you leave St Leger there was always raptors in the fields with Buzzards often perched on the bales of hay.  This is where I saw the Montagu's Harrier.  The Hoopoes were also very prominent and a favoured spot appeared to be as you approach St Leger from the gite and the first modern bungalow on the right, I think they may have been nesting in the roof or in the garden.  James also said they were regular visitors to his garden. When Chris and Sue came at the back of the gite a pair of Black Kites were in the fields at the back with the male performing in the sky whilst his mate perched on a hay bale.  I also saw Green Woodpeckers and Corn and Ortolan Buntings.  In the garden there were large numbers of Greenfinch, Goldfinch and House Sparrows.  On our final day I saw three Black Kites mobbing a Buzzard.

Surprisingly when we walked in the nearby woods we didn't see or hear any birds.  Another surprise was what I didn't see apart from a solitary Blue Tit I didn't see any other members of this family, no Skylarks, Song or Mistle Thrushes.

Bird list for this area:  Blackbird, Cirl, Corn and Ortolan Buntings, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Chaffinch, Cormorant, Carrion Crow, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove Black headed Gull, Heron, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Jackdaw, Jay, Kestrel, Black Kite, Red Kite, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, House Martin, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Raven, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, Swallow, Mute Swan, Swift, Blue Tit, White headed Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Melodious and Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker.

Towards the coast

Mortagne s Gironde

Is probably the nearest stretch of coast to the gite although it isn't that close to the Gironde.  Not knowing the area I drove around for quite awhile before I came across suitable viewing locations and the first location was some salt marshes just before you reach Talmont easily recognised by the white cliffs on either side.  Here is saw Common Sandpiper, Little Egrets, Yellow legged Gull, Curlew and Whimbrel. Ringed Plover. There were one or two, as usual, that I didn't or couldn't recognise.

Small area of salt marsh close to Talmont.

Taken froma view point in Mortagne giving a view of the pools which are on the map.

Les Monards and St Seurin d Uzet are worth pulling into at the latter I saw a Marsh Harrier performing its ariel acrobatics.

On my first visit to this area it was getting a bit frustrating because I couldn't find any other suitable spots until I started to head back to Mortagne.  A couple of kms from Mortagne I found a place where I could over look a couple of large pools (A & B).  There was plenty of bird life on one of them identification was difficult because the birds were along way off and the only way of identifying them were by shape or silhouette.  I did eventually manage to find a way to get closer but it was time to return to the gite. Later I discovered a panoramic viewpoint in Mortagne with wonderful views across the Gironde and above the harbour.  From here one can locate where the birds are.  To get to the pools A & B which I found to be the most profitable it is best to go down towards the harbour at the bottom of the bank there is a minor road which leads to them, white cliffs should be on the right.  A dirt track goes off to the left, above is a farm with fromage on the side of an agricultutal building.

My second visit was cut short abruptly due to thunder, lightning and torrential rain, when I got back to the gite where there had only been a few rumbles of thunder.  I did return a few days later with Barbara.

This final time was with Barbara and I wanted to walk to pool A, which was furthest away from Mortagne, where there was a cycle path, which was where I had seen great numbers of the birds and I had seen from an elevated position.  Two workmen with diggers barred the way but luckily they had just finished and were on their way home and they had taken off the hard crusty layer of the cycle path leaving quite damp soil/mud, which was difficult to walk on.  Another piece of luck was that most of the birds had moved to pool B where it was easier to gain access, and observe them at close quarters there were a good variety of birds and some in large numbers.  


When we arrived a rustic looking Frenchman arrived on his bike and he was scanning pool B with his telescope, a Lord nelson type.  Once the workmen were out of the way he started to walk towards where they had been walking which he found difficult because of the damp mud and he gave up very quickly.  As he walked past us I pointed to my telescope indicating would he like to look through it, I don't speak French but I think I made myself understood.  Before looking he shook both our hands and greeted us in French, I demonstrated how to use the scope.  He started to scan the area and I could tell by the noises, not words, he made that he appreciated being able to view the birds through my scope.  After ten minutes he shook both our hands and then he set off in the direction of Mortagne.  Once I had finished my birdwatch we drove up the coast towards Talmont and about an hour and half later we past our French friend on his bike some 12 miles from where we had met him.  A keen birder indeed?

Other areas:

Foret de al Coubre.

On a day I had to myself I headed towards the Foret de la Coubre and my first port of call was the lighthouse at Pointe de la Coubre, there were masses of people around here so I went back down the road and found a spot in the woods that overlooked Bonne Anse.  There was very little to see probably because the tide was well out.  Lack of local knowledge again!

On another day when we were touring this area from Royan along the D25, past the zoo and D268 there were cars parked on both sides of the road in every parking space and orifice that could be found, including the D268 for about a mile.  Quite obviously this area isn't very good for bird watching when it is the French holidays because so many people of all nationalities flock to the seaside.  It is possibly better well out of the holiday season; any bird with any sense would decamp to somewhere else until the vast hordes of holidaymakers have well gone. 

Just before I reached Ronce le Bains I found an area by the side of the road, which was very good, this is where the D25 virtually does a right angle towards Ronce.  Here I saw the largest numbers of Ringed Plover and Sanderlings (not used to seeing them in summer plumage) I had ever seen and it was obviously a nesting site for both species.  There was also plenty of other sea birds either static or passing by, needles to say there were an abundance of Little Egrets.

Parcs a Huitres North of La Tremblades.

From la Tremblade a new D14 road runs south of Parcs a Huitres and it is mainly farmland.

At the roundabout for Avallon I saw a pair of Montagu's Harriers and I managed to watch them for over half an hour.  There were also Buzzards and Black Kites. There were raptors in the distance but too far away to be able to identify.  Driving around the various unclassified roads proved to be interesting with birds in various pockets were oysters were "cultivated", always Little Egrets but plenty more of interest.

La Tremblade:  On our visit here, in the heart of the oyster beds, where the D14 leads to Parcs a Huitres and to the left of the jetty for the ferry there were flocks of waders, unfortunately I didn't have my telescope with me so it was difficult to identify them through my binoculars because they were a fair distance away.  Ringed Plover and Dunlin could be seen at closer quarters.  On the other side River Seudre there was plenty of bird activity as I also observed when I was at Chatressac but unfortunately I didn't manage to visit that side ------- hopefully another time.

I saw three Red Kites as I drove through Mornac s Seudre and fortunately there was a conveniently placed car park so I could observe them through my telescope for quite some time. 

My journey back through the country lanes, as always, threw up several Buzzards either flying around, sitting on a fence post, on top of a telegraph pole or in a field.

Bird list for this area:  Avocet, Blackbird, Buzzard, Coot, Cormorant, Carrion Crow, Curlew, Collared Dove, Tufted Duck, Dunlin, Bar tailed Godwit, Black tailed Godwit, Greenshank,  Little Egret, Gannet, Black headed Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow legged Gull, Heron, Purple Heron, Jackdaw, Hen, Marsh and Montagu's Harrier, Kestrel, Black and Red Kite, Knot, Magpie, Mallard, House Martin, Sand Martin, Oystercatcher, Feral Pigeon, Pheasant, Raven, Redshank, Rook, Black Redstart, Ringed Plover,Raven, Sanderling, Shelduck, House Sparrow, Starling, Black winged Stilt, Little Stint, Stonechat, White Stork, Swallow, Mute Swan, Swift, Common Tern, Whimbrel, White headed Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon.

Since this wasn't a specific bird watching holiday I was delighted to see a total of 82 different species and in addition I saw 14 species for the first time.  Seeing the resident Barn Owls perform every night was probably the highlight of the holiday.  Seeing so many raptors and some for the first time was also something special.

Address of gite if anyone is interested:

James Wood, "Pierreries", 2 rue des milles fleurs, Lossandière, 17800 St Léger.

Report from:

Les Hull, Highcroft Close, Hebburn, Tyne and Wear, NE31 1EP.

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