Monday, April 09, 2007

France Holiday - Day 5

The last day in France we set off on our own to explore the Camargue. The maps we bought showed a vast landscape but with very limited access. The land is split between roads and private land; the French don't really appear to have the 'walking bug' like we do in the UK so access to those on foot is highly limited. This is a shame as I'd love to spend a lot more time in the Camargue (I'm sure I'll be heading back), there are clearly hundreds of birds to be seen throughout the year, but I don't fancy trying to do all my birdwatching from a few footpaths or the car. Next time I'll hire a much smaller car, so diving off at the side of the road is less of a gamble!

Having bought progressively bigger scale maps to realise there really are only 2 footpaths in the Camargue we picked the longest, a 12km seafront path. We didn't complete the walk as I picked up a strain and the wind was howling, so that whatever you were wearing it felt absolutely freezing and your eyes watered as soon as you tried to look through your bins.

We walked from the car park at the front into the salt marsh area, and my wife spotted this bird, a Black-eared Wheatear, which was alone, it's plumage made it really stand out from the surrounds. My guess is it had just landed for a breather as part of its northerly migration, so we didn't hassle it for long.















In the air over the salt marshes, I snapped this Lesser Black-backed Gull, which is interesting as the field guides show this spot as beyond their range:

















In a lagoon we saw our first French Oystercatcher:












There were a large number of Greater Flamingos but the proximity of this one, together with the sheer brightness of the plumage (look at that Crimson) 'forced me' to take a few snaps:














Finally we did happen upon some Avocets, quite a large number in fact:















I don't know what disturbed them but shortly after we headed away from the lagoon, they had taken flight:











We headed further out but the weather was hostile so we made the walk into a circuit and looped back toward the sea which was much more sheltered, so we could prolong the walk. We followed a path along reedbeds and disturbed this Song Thrush:

















I love the way its wings are fully extended in flight and that it's clearly looking at me while I am taking the photograph! Talking of fly-pasts, on the same path I spotted this Hoopoe but he took off and disappeared very quickly, this is the best snap I managed, and it's not very good:
















On the last section of the shrub on the edge of the saltmarsh before we hit the main path back to the car park, I spotted an unusual looking bird, which was atop a shrub singing. I followed the bird around for a while before it settled long enough for me to take this snap. It turned out to be a Spectacled Warbler, another lifetime first:

















The second half of the day was spent walking up the 'other' footpath in the Camargue. This was a linear walk, basically you have to decide where to turn around and head back. We parked up and reached for our lunch (bread and cheese again!) when my wife spotted a Kestrel. I was way too slow to capture it, but did spot this Yellow Wagtail in the nearest tree:



















After lunch we set off along the path. As usual there were plenty of Flamingos around and a number of Little Egrets, this one let us get quite close before taking off from the path. You can see it's courtship plumage being wind-buffeted here:

















In the pools we saw just a few waders (it being low tide) including this Spotted Redshank, which appears to be halfway between its winter and summer plumages:
















Along the path we spotted another Black Redstart, this one kindly showing its rufus tail feathers with the central black bar:

















Blackcaps appear far more common in the south of France than in the UK but they are still very tricky to photograph, this male hung around long enough for me to get this snap though:

















Once we'd got back to the car, the tide was coming in, and with it an increasing number of waders were visible. Here you can see a Kentish Plover:
















And again, this time showing its head markings clearly:
















There was a small flock of these Plovers and they were joined by a small flock of Sanderlings, you can see an individual here :















Delighted with the days walking and birding we headed back to Aigues-Mortes to pick-up our host and hostess before returning for a night in Port Grimaud and our early morning flight to the UK. As we headed back my wife spotted a raptor off to the right. We pulled over, and risking the wrath of the local drivers, I near blocked the road while I took a few snaps of this Short-toed Eagle soaring close-by:















We had been hoping to see an Eagle in the Camargue and this, being the last bird of the holiday, was a fantastic result, we will be back, though we may need to trespass a little to get around and stay locally for some time to make sure we get to see more. I'd also go just 2-3 weeks later as I think there'll be a lot more about.

2 Comments:

Blogger Katie said...

I've been birding in the Camargue a couple of times (in February). It's true there aren't a lot of footpaths but there is the excellent reserve at La Capeliere where you pay a small entry fee and can wander around (Penduline Tit, egrets, waders, wild boar, Bittern, raptors, wildfowl).

Also, cars make excellent hides - you can see a lot by the roadside in many parts of Europe, and in many places you can pull over safely and wander around - so you shouldn't necessarily be in a rush to jump out!

http://bogbumper.blogspot.com

8:15 am  
Blogger Michael said...

Katie,

That's good information and advice, thank you. Good blogs too :)

Michael

9:46 pm  

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