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A Report from

Provence 10th - 16th January 2004,

Jez Robson

In recent years the south of France has presented an appealing prospect to keen Eurobirders. With the publication of  Lancashire birder Chris Batty's trip report to the area in 2003 and with flights from Stansted to Montpelier retailing at 1p (each way), I hastily organised a team comprising Malcom Goodman, Alan Clewes, Phil Davison and Matt Mulvey in order to see a mouth watering selection of birds.

Overall the trip was a success although a number of potential good birds were missed.


Our tickets were booked through . The flight from Stansted to Montpelier takes approximately. With the booking fees the total cost of the flight was £27 each. Montpelier is considerably nearer to the relevant area than Nice to where a number of operators fly. In retrospect flying to Nimes may have been even nearer. It took us a mere twelve minutes from touching down at Montpelier to have disembarked collected our baggage and be at the hire car - the fastest time I have ever achieved.


We paid £202 for a five seater Renault Scenic with There was no surcharge for extra drivers.


We arranged a hotel through Our initial choice was unavailable and the only hotel available was the Hotel Montmajour in Arles. This was priced at 45 euro for a twin room however an extra 86 euro tax was added. The hotel is very basic but adequate and we were the only guests for the duration of our stay. Arles is an ideal base for the region.


The weather was generally mild and similar to the sort of conditions that would be expected in Britain in early October. There was very little wind and only an occasional shower. It was daylight from approximately 7:45 until 5:30


11th January  Les Baux - La Caume - Pont Du Gard - Mas d'Oulvie
12th January  Mas Neuf - La Capilliere - Digue a la Mer - Salin de Badon
13th January  Mont Venoux (Chalet Reynard) - Eyguieres airfield - Peau de Meau - Eyguieres airfield - Le Destet
14th January Eyguieres airfield - Le Ventillon - Plage de Piemancon - Le Sambuc - Salin de Badon area - Le Destet
15th January Saintes-Maries-de la-Mer - Pont de Gau - Mas Neuf - Mas D'Agon - Mas de Lauricet
16th January Les Baux


Les Baux

This clifftop village is an excellent winter site for a number of Montane species. From Arles the village is well signposted. It is a popular tourist attraction so early visits are advised. The car park by the village costs 4 euros and parking by the roadside is metered. We observed two Wallcreepers here, both at the roadside. The D27a runs from Fontvielle northwest towards to Les Baux. Just before Les Baux signposts on the left side of the road indicate "le village." Following the path to the right brings you to a statue of the Virgin Mary (le Viege Noire). One bird favours the cliff face looking right from here. The second bird was seen by driving past the main car park and back down the hill towards Maussane-les-Alpilles. There is roadside parking by a sharp left hand bend. The Wallcreeper can be found on the cliff face on the opposite side of the road to the village. A footpath leads from here around the base of the cliff to the north side of the village. The scrub at the base of the cliff and the nearby gardens held a number of Sardinian Warblers, Serin, Blackcap, Siskin and Crested Tit. Crag Martins were often seen circling over the village (The peak count being 18 on the 16th) and Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Redstarts can be easily located on the cliff face.

Wallcreeper © Alan Clewes 2004

The village of Les Baux contains good numbers of wintering Alpine Accentors which are very confiding as they feed along the cobble streets. A favoured site is a farm pen in the village centre where we saw a flock of 8 birds.

Alpine Accentors © Alan Clewes 2004

La Caume

From Les Baux this site is reached by following the road south west towards Maussane and turning left at the first junction and then left again at the next junction. The car park and picnic area are obvious approximately 2km north of this. An uphill walk of 4km is required to reach the radar station. From the plateau here we had brief views of two Bonelli's Eagle as we looked east. These birds both disappeared out of sight behind an outcrop. A party of Crested and Coal Tits were seen by the car park but very few other birds were noted in our early afternoon visit.

Pont du Gard

This site is a Roman aqueduct and a popular tourist attraction near the town of Remoulins it is approximately 45 minutes drive from Les Baux. On arriving in Remoulins follow signs for the west car park (5 euros). Access to the site itself is free. From the car park walk north and pass underneath the aqueduct to look back and view the north side. A Wallcreeper was found feeding on this side of the bridge. From approximately 4:15 parties of Rock Sparrow flew into roost. Some went straight into crevices in the bridge but some perched on the top giving reasonable views. We counted 19 birds.

 A large flock of passerines by the side of the river near the car park contained at least 11 Cirl Buntings. Other birds present included Chiffchaff and Black Redstart.

L'Hotel Mas d'Oulivie

 An evening visit to this site located on the side of the Fontvielle to Les Baux road failed to located any Eagle Owls.

Mas Neuf

This concrete viewing platform on the north side of Etang de Vaccares is sometimes referred to as Mas d'Agon (which is in fact about 2km to the north). The viewpoint is well signed and is by the Albaron to Grand Romieu road.

The wintering Long Legged Buzzard is usually easy to locate as it favours a bush looking south west from the platform.

Long Legged Buzzard © Alan Clewes 2004

Other birds noted here (although easily found elsewhere) included Common Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Cetti's Warbler, Fan Tailed Warbler, Water Pipit and Water Rail. A road runs north from this junction past the farm at Mas D'Agon. There are number of interesting area or reedbed here.

La Capilliere

 A roadside stop just north of this site yielded a White Tailed Eagle flying north and a party of 5 Penduline Tits.

The visitor centre here is the best site to obtain bird news. The staff are helpful and willing to give directions. The centre is closed on Tuesdays and between 13:00 and 14:00. A permit fee of three euros allows access to the hide and viewing platforms. From the first hide south of the centre good views were obtained of a wintering Purple Swamphen along the edge of the reeds. Common wildfowl and Snipe were also present as were a party of Wild Boar.

Purple Swamphen © Alan Clewes 2004

A further Penduline Tit was seen. Etang de Vaccares itself contained enormous numbers of Coot and Black Necked Grebe.

Salin de Badon/La Borboniette/Digue a la Mer

The area around the private reserve at Salon de Badon had held a number of good birds in the week prior to our visit including Imperial Eagle, Black Shouldered Kite and Black Stork. This is a large area and only viewable from the road. Four of us eventually obtained brief and distant views of the wintering Greater Spotted Eagle on the 12th. Drive south past Salon de Badon for approximately 1.6km. The road bends to the left slightly (on the right here is an area where vehicles have obviously been pulled over). Continue until the hedge/scrub on the right hand side stops. Park here and look through the hedge immediately to the east. The eagle was seen perched on the trees about 750m away for about two minutes at approximately 16:20 until it dropped out of sight having been mobbed by gulls. It did not reappear by dusk. We did not see it on our subsequent visit but on another day another birder saw it fly in at about 17:30.

The Black Shouldered Kite was apparently in the area between Salid de Badon and the turning to Le Sambuc. The Imperial Eagle was seen looking towards la Digue a la Mer (the sea bank).

The road along Digue a la Mer produced large numbers of Greater Flamingo and Yellow Legged Gull, Water Pipit,Avocet, Sanderling and Dartford Warbler.

Le Sambuc

There are a series of tanks just west of the village. The best way to view these is to take the track west by the snack bar and park by the rubbish tip. To see over the bank it is necessary to climb the mounds here. Two White Storks were seen to the south of here.

White Stork © Alan Clewes 2004

The road sides in this area harbour large numbers of passerines especially Corn Bunting.

Mont Ventoux

This site is approximately an hours drive north of Le Crau. We visited the car park at Chalet Reynard where Snow Finch and Citril Finch had been seen a week prior to our visit. The car park is accessed north west of Carpentras via Bedoin. Due to very low cloud cover visibility was abysmal and there was very little bird life (the café is closed on Tuesdays and it may be that birds come to feed on scraps. The road past Chalet Reynard around the north side of the mountain is closed (possibly until Easter). The only birds of note were two Alpine Accentors on scree above the main car park and a few Crested Tits.

Eyguieres Airfield

This site is easily located by heading south of Eyguieres towards the E80. South of the airfield is a track along its' southern edge signposted towards a go-cart track. The area is best viewed early in the morning or in the evening by driving onto the aerodrome itself. A dirt track leads past the buildings and along the northern edge of the airfield. On the evening of the 13th we had a flock of 31 Little Bustards. These birds were only seen in flight when they were flushed by a vehicle. The next morning we located 6 on the ground. These were viewed by following the track around the airfield to near the buildings used by the model aeroplane club on the western edge and looking back towards the buildings. A number of Rock Buntings were noted in the small scrubby bushes by the track. Other birds present included at least two Southern Grey Shrikes, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Red Kite, Red Legged Partridge and Dartford Warbler. A Richard's Pipit is reported to be wintering at this site.

Rock Bunting © Alan Clewes 2004

Peau de Meau

A permit is required to access this site. These can be obtained from the Ecomusee which is located next to the Church in Saint Martin-de-Crau. The permit is 3 euros for two days. The centre is closed from 1 - 2 for lunch. Directions are available from the centre. Apart from 11+ Red Kites distantly over Entressen tip we saw no birds of note at this site despite a long walk to the hide.

Le Ventillon

This site at the southern edge of Le Crau is reported to be productive. We saw nothing here. This site is signposted east from the E568 northbound just north of the railway on the edge of the industrial zone of Port de Bouc

Les Destet

This is a reliable site for Eagle Owl and we heard a bird calling on each occasion we visited. The village of Les Destet is sign posted north from Mouries village centre. After 2 or 3 km the road bends to the left. (This is a few hundred yards before the village itself is reached). There is a sign for a motocross here. Park in the open area here (There is an aqueduct next to this area. (There are no longer any large barrels by the side of the road). Cross over the road and take the track that runs west. A male Eagle Owl was singing from the ridge here from approximately 5:15. The bird was eventually located perched in the top of the small pine trees that are silhouetted along the top the ridge.

Plage de Piemancon

From the southern Crau it is easy to get across the Rhone via the ferry to Salin de Giraud. A road runs south from here past a number of salt pans until it stops at the beach. An hours sea watch from here in not particularly suitable weather produced a distant Yelkouan Shearwater, several Razorbill, two Eider, several Sandwich Terns and at least two Red Throated Divers. Waders present in the roadside pools included Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin.

Saintes-Maries-de la-Mer

A track runs east along the south side of the Etang dit l'Imperial. A Crested Lark gave brief views along the track in this area. A Common Sandpiper was also seen. Several Sandwich Terns were present around the Etang.

Parc ornithologique - Pont de Gau

This site can be found at the site of the A570. It is effectively a large captive bird collection (although a number of Sacred Ibis, Night Heron and other obviously captive birds were free flying.) The parc opens at 10am and costs 7 euros. Although a path leads away from the captive collection around the edge of the reedbed we did not feel this justified the entrance fee. Highlights were a party of three Firecrest by the roadside, Bearded Tit, Penduline Tit and Kingfisher. The Etang here can be effectively viewed from the free visitor centre next door. There were large numbers of duck including Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall here. We failed to locate Moustached Warbler here.

Mas de Lauricet

This was the site where Pine Buntings roosted in 2003. Large numbers of Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting come into roost here. Many of the birds are flighty and disappear into cover before it is possible to view them. Birders may be advised to visit this site earlier in the day with seed and come back later. This site is reached by taking the N37 north from Albaron and then the first left signposted towards Figares. On the right hand side of the road before some farm buildings is a large expanse of scrub. This is where the birds roost. A group 76 Common Crane were observed in flight over Albaron.

Trip list

Red Throated Diver
Black Necked Grebe
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Yelkouan Shearwater
Cattle Egret
Great White Egret
Little Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork
Greater Flamingo
Mute Swan
Bewick's Swan
Greylag Goose
White-tailed Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Bonelli's Eagle
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Long-legged Buzzard
Red Legged Partridge
Water Rail
Purple Swamphen
Little Bustard
Ringed Plover
Little Stint
Common Sandpiper
Black Headed Gull
Yellow Legged Gull
Sandwich Tern
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Eagle Owl
Green Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Crag Martin
Water Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Alpine Accentor
Black Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush
Song Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Dartford Warbler
Bearded Tit
Long Tailed Tit
Crested Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Southern Grey Shrike
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Cirl Bunting
Rock Bunting
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting

Jez Robson 26/1/04


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