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A Report from

Marais Poitevin, France.  7th August to 21st August, 2010,

Clive and Jack Oldham.

Whilst enjoying a peaceful family holiday in l'Anglee, southwest of Fontenay-le-Comte my son and I managed a few early morning trips to some well known birding sites in the area.

Prahecq - agricultural plains south east of Niort. 11th August.

An early start ensured we were sat in the car on a tiny side road just before first light. With the windows down we quickly identified two Quail calling. As the light improved we could make out quite a few birds flying in the surrounding fields - landing and taking off - Montagu's Harriers were plentiful- males, females and juveniles. One of these birds managed to flush a small number of Quail which quickly took cover again. Later in better light we found one male Hen Harrier and one male Marsh Harrier patrolling in typical flight mode. A small flock of Corn Buntings were spotted foraging in a stubble field before flying off.

Of course we were really looking for rarer steppe birds and after moving around to a couple of suitable looking fields and patient scoping we found two Stone Curlew one revealing itself by flying over the road. After landing it soon 'hunkered down' just leaving its head visible in the scope. Lapwing and Starling were numerous in the area.

Aiguillon Point - viewing east over Aiguillon Bay at high tide. 13th August.

Another early start and we were scanning the shoreline and a couple of close sand banks as the sun rose on another beautiful day. Whimbrel, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover were immediately obvious. On further scanning we identified Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Redshank. About 50 Little Terns flew onto one of the banks accompanied by one or two Common Terns. We soon realised that the two Terns stood on the far sand bank with some Whimbrel were indeed Caspian Terns - eventually we noted four in total. Around the corner on the sandy beach we had excellent close views of Kentish Plovers. Close up on the breakwater concrete blocks two Common Sandpipers landed noisely. On top of the low bushes behind the beach we had good views of Linnet, Melodious Warbler, Whinchat and Sedge Warbler. Skylarks were in evidence and four Short-toed Larks flew over our heads. Six Shelduck flew in, circled, landed on the sea briefly before moving off further down the bay.


Our second site of the morning took us round via La Dive onto the D60 leading us eventually onto a dirt track which terminated at a dyke and canal overloking saltmarsh. Here we saw a Montagu's Harrier hunting over the fields. By the dyke there were two Common Sandpipers. On the surrounding bushes were two Whitethroat briefly joined by a juvenile Bluethroat. Walking back to the car in the reeds fringing the track we saw a Sedge Warbler and a Reed Warbler both very noisy. Overhead there wae a 'zitting' Fan-tailed Warbler.

Earlier in the week we had visited the nature reserve just outside St Denis-du-Payre only to find it closed due to the pools having dried up during the exceptionally dry Spring. How would this go down in the UK?

Fortunately both the nest platforms visible from the road were still occupied by a White Stork on each.

Rochefort Sewage Works and Yves Marshes.  17th August.

Our third early start saw us sat outside the sewage works waiting for first light. We soon decided to follow the road parallel to the Charante river from where we could see parts of the settling pools. A Common Buzzard was spotted perched on a nearby chimney as the thick mist started to clear. A male Reed Bunting sang in the reeds with one or two Yellow Wagtails in evidence. There were quite a few Greenfinch 'trilling' in the trees nearby. One or two Cetti's Warbler called from thick cover with one showing in the ditch adjacent to the road. A Wheatear kept ahead of us landing on fence posts as we walked. Little Egrets were fairly numerous either flying or hunting in the pools. Two Grey Herons were also noted, plus plenty of Coot. One of the pools had about twenty Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the raised bank.

On the road leading to the works we noticed about 200 Sand Martins which kept settling on the road in the early morning sunshine, only to be disturbed by the occasional cyclist and promptly resettling.

After this spectacle we decided to move north for Yves Marshes and the coast.

We chose to turn left off the D203 and walk down between the sea wall and the Yves Marshes reserve.

A Marsh Harrier was hunting over the reserve and immediately over the sea wall we had close views of splendid summer plumaged Turnstones. After scanning we recorded Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Cormorant out on the mudflats and waters edge. From what we could see of the reserve there were quite a few Little Egrets and a Little Ringed Plover flew onto a stony bank above one of the mostly concealed pools.

Aiguillon Bay - viewing west from Esnandes and Charron

Not such an early start we actually left our gite in daylight!

On the way we spotted a Black Kite circling just off the road. Also there were Common Buzzards and Montagu's Harriers showing as we went along. A Kingfisher flew to a dyke up one of the many canals that tend to run alongside the minor roads in this region. We came across two Coypu in the middle of such a road - one scuttled off into the canal the other remained, Unfortunately it became evident that it had recently been struck by a car - it was still alive (barely) so we moved it to the side. On the way back it had vanished but we would be surprised if it survived.

Viewing over the bay west of Esnandes we scoped Knot, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck and four Avocet busily feeding in typical fashion. Later as the tide came in we spotted a couple of Sanderlings bustling along the shoreline. In amongst a small gathering of Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls there were two Sandwich Terns. On closer observation we spotted an immature (2nd winter) Mediterranean Gull as well. A few Meadow Pipits were noted.

A brief visit to Charron by the 'Port' at the river mouth revealed some Common Terns fishing plus some Curlew on the far bank. A Bluethroat was calling from deep within some bushes close by.

L'Anglee and La Langon area throughout the holiday.

Our gite was strangely situated in a local Nature Reserve! The Reserve Naturelle Voluntaire du Marais Communal le Poire-sur- Velluire. There was even a Bird Observation Hide two minutes down the road! This housed a strange periscope affair which could be used with practice - we preferred to stick with our scopes.

During our holiday we were always on the lookout for wildlife around about the house, plus sometimes slightly further afield (no further than 5 miles at most).

We knew we had struck lucky when on our very first evening at the house a Purple Heron was discovered hunting stealthily at the front and 5 Cattle Egrets were feeding with some sheep in the field at the back.

Purple Heron

Green Woodpeckers, Swallows, House sparrows, Blackbirds,  Blue Tits, and Great Tits were to be seen easily every day.

Next morning Golden Orioles were calling from the poplar trees round the house. Eventually they were seen as well. Also we spotted Hoopoes, Melodious Warblers, Willow Warblers, Mallard, Moorhens and a juvenile Cuckoo on a fence post behind the gite.


On the vast plain over the road at the front (overlooked by the hide) we saw during our stay; Rooks, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws, Lapwings, Cattle Egrets far more numerous than Little Egrets, Wheatear, Black Redstart (around the cattle pens), Common Buzzard, Montagu's Harrier, Kestrels, Yellow Wagtails, Magpies, and Brown Hares.

Cattle Egret

Also seen from the house were Goldfinch, Robin (quite shy), Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, and Spotted Flycatchers (two with territories either side of the property), Woodpigeons, Turtle Doves, and Collared Doves (least numerous of the three).

Once, when we were leaving for an excursion we stopped at the end of the drive on noticing about ten large birds soaring over the trees on the far side of the plain. We quickly got out of the car and identified them as Storks, once in the scope we realised they were mainly Black Storks with at least 2 White Storks amongst them. Also on another occasion as we were leaving my son spotted a Short-toed Eagle hovering over the house, a splendid sight indeed.

Night Heron

About 500 metres down the road we discovered a secluded pool occupied by a family of Coypu and one day an adult Night Heron. When we checked the location again another day we discovered a juvenile Night Heron. Towards the end of the holiday at dusk 5 Night Heron flew over the gite and landed at the far side of the back field.


Other birds seen in the immediate vicinity (especially La Langon area) were; Grey Partridge, Red Legged  Partridge, Yellowhammer, Red-backed Shrike, Kingfisher, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Nightingale, Swift, House Martin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Stonechat, White Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Jay, and Hobby. On one particular morning it was a thrill to discover a noisy family of Black-winged Stilts - 2 adults and 4 juveniles,

All in all an excellent location if you want to commune with nature. Thanks to my long suffering wife who tolerated our early morning disappearances whilst looking after a very lively two year old, who would ,no doubt, have loved to have come with us - we wonder how many birds we might have seen if this had been the case.........


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