|Little egret portrait|
Whilst we had a new kitchen being fitted, me, not liking being in when builders are about, booked a quick trip to one of my favourite destinations, The Camargue on the Mediterranean coast, Rhone estuary, Southern France. Flight from Stansted to Nimes where I picked up a Citroen C1 hire car at a reasonable rate and headed off to check out local places I knew and others I hoped to stumble upon.
I had booked 4 nights in the Hotel Bleu Marine in the splendid town of Saintes Maries de la Mer, right on the coast and known as the capital of The Camargue. Here, there are plenty of restaraunts and bars where a good local meal with drinks will be around £30 per head. However, beer, served in tiny 25cl glasses can cost over £3.00 a glass! After a long 10 mile wander in 24C heat, 25cl is gone in seconds. However, good Cotes de Rhone wine can be bought in the local mini markets for around £5.00 a bottle, so a glass in the hotel room before venturing out for the evening. In May, the town is quiet with very few tourists so easy to wander around and chose a restaraunt. However, in high season, over 20,000 tourists descend upon the town and it can all become a little hectic, plus by August, the famed mosquitos are everywhere, meaning an evening sitting outside eating a meal can be interrupted by waiters spraying you with citronella! Whilst I was there I got a few bites as I stood by brackish pools, but none in the evening as I ate my meals.
I left the airport, having recorded a black redstart as my first bird of the visit, feeding on the grass outside the arrivals hall and headed to St Gilles where miles of rice fields offered chances to see waders in muddy fields and larger birds in the flooded ones. Quite quickly it became apparent there were no smaller waders about but huge numbers of glossy ibis along with white storks, grey herons, swallows and house martins as well as numerous cattle egrets and little egrets. A black kite soared overhead, one of many seen during the visit. A pair of sandwich tern flew over one particular field, not an everyday bird for me in this region. House sparrows and starlings were everywhere whilst yellow legged gulls and black headed gulls stood around in the rice fields, doing very little as gulls are prone to do.
I arrived at my hotel and dumped my rucksack, packed up my optical gear and was ready to wander out along a footpath I know well, Le Digue de la Mer, a path that takes you east from Sts Maries and has the Mediterranean on one side and numerous large pools and shallow lakes on the other. A pair of yellow legged gulls swam along a canalised sluice. A kestrel got on to the list whilst shelducks fed on the mud and mute swans swam in the deeper water. All around me, Greater flamingoes. After a few miles, I turned back. One area I had planned to check, where there were a few reedbeds and deeper water was now chained, locked and had a sign telling me it was private. On previous occasions I have got some good birds at this site, including hoopoe and small waders. Pity, but this was soon made up for by a close by Slender billed gull. Usually, these can be found some miles away at Etang du Fangassier and are then a little distant, so great to get better photos of this gull species.
|Yellow legged gulls|
|Slender billed gull|
|Continental Speckled Wood butterfly|
I sat outside my room, planning the following days walks with a good glass of wine. My main problem was the fact it was very windy, with gusts up to 30mph and consequently, I was not going to get too many small birds singing from treetops so I needed to head where they may be a little cover. I then headed back into town for a meal and a few beers in a bar where prices were much more acceptable to my budget! Just a few hours birding had realised 29 species. A good start.
Started off fairly early and drove to La Capeliere reserve to the East of the National reserve. As I drove via Albaron spotted more of the same birds as yesterday in the fields, including a white stork's nest at Pioch-Badet on the main road. I also stopped off as Mas Neuf viewing point where I heard nightingale before stopping several times to scan the waters of the largest lake, Etang de Vaccares where great crested grebe were in reasonable numbers and plenty of black winged stilt in muddy fields. Fan tailed warblers (now called Zitting cisticolas) called from hedgerows and flitted across the road, a skylark rose in the distance and a pheasant called loudly.
Upon arrival at La Capeliere, I paid the 3 Euro entry and wandered around the 4km route that offers views from a few hides and viewing screens. A cuckoo could be heard in the distance but on the lake from one hide, just mallards and black winged stilts. I walked over the heathland habitat, seeing very little before popping into the reedbed hide where a reed warbler called, as did a reed bunting and a few Sardinian warblers popped up before disapperaring again before I could get a photo. This was my 4th visit to this reserve and have to say, never been over impressed with what is on offer. Considering that there are a superb variety of habitats (wetland, reedbed, heathland, open grassland and woodland) the list from here has always been disappointing.
I returned to the car and headed south along lanes towards Etang du Fangassier on the coast, adjacent to extensive salt flats. Plenty of bee eaters before I stopped at small lake. Here, several crested lark on the gravel/sandy track, yellow wagtails (sub species cinereocapilla) and best of all, a pair of Squacco herons. I pointed these out to a pair of birders that joined me leaning upon the gate before off to check roadside trees for rollers, but none were noted. A scan over the saltflats at Fangassier gave a view of a wheatear but nothing else new.
|Saltflats looking towards the lighthouse Phare de la Gacholle|
|More glossy ibis|
|Cattle egret in breeding plumage|
|Superb wing plumage on Greater flamingo|
|Little egrets having a territorial dispute|
|Recently fledged Little egret|
|Another wing shot|
|Nest building grey heron|
|Black winged stilt|
|Adult avocet being ignored by hatchlings|
|The scrape at Pont-de Gau.|
I awoke early, grabbed a quick coffee and headed off to Le Paty de la Trinitie, just off the main Arles - Sts Maries road, the D570, some 18km north of base. I parked outside the Resto de la Paty and headed further along the road. On the final bend, a farmhouse after which a good path which I have checked many times. Indeed, on previous occassions I have taken this path all the way back to town, some 22km, a good day's wander.
The fields here are good for regular birds: bee eaters a plenty, egrets but overhead, always a chance of birds of prey and it wasn't long before a Short toed eagle glided over along with common buzzards and black kites.
All along here is heavy vegetation, mainly bramble which contained numerous warbler species: blackcap, fan tailed warbler, nightingale. In high summer there are literally 1000's of dragonfly species, particularly scarlet and red veined darters, both of which I recorded on this walk. Also a large grasshopper species, including today, an Egyptian locust, a first for me. Several species of butterfly, too with Painted lady, Red admiral and several unidentified blues being noted. A wonderful place. I eventually arrived at the junction where south takes you the long way back to town whilst north leads to the Paul Ricard ranch, Les Mejanes. I tunred around and headed back to the village, seeing another short toed eagle and managed a short recording of a nightingale in full song.
Back on the road, a largish bird flapped lazily into a tree: a hoopoe, first and only one of the trip.
|Short toed eagle|
|Female red veined darter (it has yellow veins!!)|
|One of the reasons you don't wander off the track on to private land!|
|Frequently seen sign|
|Great white egret|
|Crestted lark, photographed through the windscreen|
|Greater flamingoes at the beginning of the track at Mas de Cacherel|
|Heat haze shot of a tawny pipit|
|Roller, also affected by the heat haze as it was now very bright and 24C|
|Gloriously colourful bee eater|
|White winged black tern|
|white winged black tern and whiskered tern|
I woke early and was back at Mas d'Agon by 7.15. The light was good but no sign of the white wingers. However, both reed warbler and great reed warbler were noted, singing from the reed beds by the side of the road, affording good photo opportunities. A strange bleating call, not dissimilar to a lamb attracted my attention, coming from the waterlogged ditch. There, 3 coypu were washing and eating. A common mammal for this area. The noise was coming from a juvenile, obviously wanting attention. Black tern numbers seemed to have increased but as I scanned across the mud I realised that the whole wetland went back a good half mile, behind more reeds and here were many more terns, too far away for a photo. 2 Great white egrets and several spoonbill were also present before I decided that a drive inland and up into the hills to Le Baux would be good. This is a medieval walled hilltop town where, to reach the remains of the chateau at the top, there is an 8 Euro entry fee. I had a quick look around, scanned the nearby mountains for any birds of prey, just another black kite. However, crag martins and alpine swifts whizzed around, too fast for the camera whilst serins and black redstarts called from plenty of the conifers present. A worthwhile trip with fascinating history.
|Great reed warbler|
|Great reed warbler in full voice|
|Great white egret|
A Clouded buff moth was flushed as were several red veined darters and another scarlet darter before several blue butterfly species were noted. I suspect this place would be brilliant to spend a night running a few moth traps and netting with a headtorch.
|Possibly Amanda's blue but not convinced. Any offers?|
|Clouded buff macro moth, a new moth for me.|
|Green underside Blue, a mating pair|
|Red veined darter female|
So back to Rue de Cacherel and another brief walk up the track before back to the hotel and my last evening out, having a couple of beers in a local bar after my meal. The following morning I planned on making the most of my time before having to return the car at about 3pm at the airport for a 16.25 flight home.
|Flamingoes arriving at Mas d'Agon fields|
|Air brakes applied|
|House martin resting on purpose built shelf next to its nest.|
I awoke around 5.30am, got dressed and packed my gear which had been charging overnight. Locked the hotel door, stepped outside to find it wonderfully calm but raining! I thought I may as well drive a little inland to see what was about at first light and hoped the rain would stop, which it did for a while. I intended to check roadside pools along the main road so headed towards Albaron for a strong coffee at L'Agachon hotel and bar, a place I have visited many times. From here I made my way to an old bridge not far from the lookout point as Mas Neuf where, in previous years, I have had great views of bee eaters. I scanned to the north, whilst listening to nightingales and fan tailed warblers. a Sardinian warbler popped up and down before my camera had focused. A bird shot out from a bush, hovered in fly catching mode before returning to the far side of the bush, a Pied flycatcher, female. A first for me in the region. A good start to the day. I scanned even further afield and latched on to a very distant (2 miles+) large bird of prey. I tracked it as it slowly came my way, noting a white rump and a flash of black on the wing. A Montague's harrier, another first for The Camargue for me. A red legged partridge got on to the trip list as it scuttled across the road.
I returned to the car just as the rain began again, so worked my way back down the main road, checking roadside habitats from the car. I eventually got back to the hotel and checked out. This hotel was perfect for me, a clean, well presented room that was tidied and remade every morning, space for all my gear and a patio door out to a small swimming pool, all for less than £60 per night. Very helpful and friendly owners and receptionist and handy for all that the town of Saintes Maries de la Mer has to offer. I shall use it again.
I then set off west towards the Petit Rhone, again, checking roadside habitats before turning towards St. Gilles and the rice fields I visited upon arrival. Nothing new but plenty of good birds.
I knew of a habitat next to the airport, so thought I may as well drive the last 10km, fill up the tank and return the car. All done by 1.30pm so off down the lane to the right of the airport as you leave the building and before you cross the dual carriageway by bridge.
Past the offices and airport infrastructure industries there is a area of scrubby waste land surrounded by trees and having good stands of bramble in which many warblers skulk. A blackcap called as did a reed bunting. Jackdaws, wood pigeons, goldfinches and numerous starlings were all here as were several small, unidentified butterflies and a moth, I think to be a Four spotted, or continental similar. However, the highlight was seeing 2 bee eaters sitting symmetrically on a branch. Sadly I was far off so just managed a quick photo before they flew off as I tried to approach unseen. Great view to finish a marvellous trip
Soon time was up, check in, board the flight, a g&t on board and I was back at Stansted by 5.45pm. Good to be home and checking my pedometer, over 37 miles walked in the time I was there.
|Glossy ibis from the car at Albaron|
|Bee eaters near Nimes/Garons airport|
|What I think to be 4 spotted moth, a first for me.|
|Yellow wagtail sub species cinereocapilla|
- Black redstart
- common swift
- house martin
- sand martin
- glossy ibis
- cattle egret
- little egret
- black kite
- sandwich tern
- house sparrow
- yellow legged gull
- slender billed gull
- grey heron
- mute swan
- greater flamingo
- mediterranean gull
- black headed gull
- bee eater
- cetti's warbler
- great cretsed grebe
- great tit
- black winged stilt
- zitting cisticola
- sardinian warbler
- reed warbler
- reed bunting
- squacco heron
- yellow wagtail, sub sp cinereocapilla
- Crested lark
- collared dove
- common sandpiper
- purple heron
- spotted redshank
- wood pigeon
- little grebe
- great white heron
- great reed warbler
- bearded tit
- lesser black backed gull
- tawny pipit
- whiskered tern
- white winged black tern
- gull billed tern
- icterine warbler
- kentish plover
- grey plover
- ringed plover
- green woodpecker
- song thrush
- mistle thrush
- black tern
- crag martin
- alpine swift
- montague's harrier
- pied flycatcher
- white wagtail
- red legged partrisge
- red kite
- common buzzard
Sure there are a few I have missed but a pleasing total nevertheless.
|Purple heron over Mas d'Agon|
|Saintes Maries de la Mer on my way home|
|Moon over the town church.|