Saturday 18 May 2019

The Camargue: 13th - 17th May

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.
Day 1:
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

Glossy ibis

Continental Speckled Wood butterfly
As I wandered back a quck check on a large flock of gulls gave views of Mediterranean gull. A Cetti's warbler exploded into song, several bee eaters overhead. A good start before I wandered into the town for a drink and to get some local photos for a presentation I am giving at the UK Birdfair, Rutland Water. I heard, but could not find a serin singing from deep inside a conifer tree, whilst on a small pool as I headed back to my room, a great crested grebe.
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.

Day 2:
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.
Squacco heron

Saltflats looking towards the lighthouse Phare de la Gacholle

More glossy ibis
I got back in the car and had a drive around the lanes from here towards Port St Louis but by now it was so windy there was little chance of noting much along the roadside, so an about turn and off to a favourite spot, the lane by Mas D'Agon where loads of birds were noted in the rice fields (Rizieres) Again, the wind meant many of the tern species would be grounded, so decided to return when the weather was calmer and headed off to another good reserve, the Parc Ornithologique at Pont-de-Gau. Here, a 7 Euro entry where the first part of the trail is rather zoo like. However, good views of a nightingale and melodious warbler were had near the entrance and then a few caged birds but some interesting info boards dotted around before the trail leads you to open lakes upon which are 100's of wild flamingoes. This is where to get best photos of these birds. However, once beyond the main part, by crossing a bridge you come to a 4-5km trail around a large scrape where there are plenty of hides and screens. Again no waders apart from a common sandpiper and a solitary summer plumaged spotted redshank, but continually calling nightingales and an overhead purple heron became my 50th species for the trip.

Melodious warbler

Cattle egret in breeding plumage

Superb wing plumage on Greater flamingo

Little egrets having a territorial dispute

Recently fledged Little egret

Another wing shot

Flamingo portrait

Nest building grey heron
I continued around the scrape, listing  avocet, an adult with 4 recently hatched youngsters before I arrived back at the bridge and a quick, unsuccessful check for black crowned night heron which I normally record here. I got back to the car and headed off along the 6km back to the hotel to check photos, catch up with the list before heading off into town for another restaraunt and a wonderful meal. I intended on an early start on the Wednesday, so back to my room early.
Black winged stilt

Adult avocet being ignored by hatchlings

The scrape at Pont-de Gau.

Grey Heron
Day 3:
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!!)

Egyptian locust

Same creature

Hiding hoopoe

White stork
Back at the car, I headed back towards town to the other end of the main path at Mas du Cacherel to see what I could add to the ever increasing list. I parked near the hotel and got my first (and only) oystercatcher of the trip from the roadside. I then decided to take a walk northwards and glad I did. Little grebe called from unseen pools behind stands of reeds where several bearded tits also called. 3 Spoonbill flew overhead and a great white egret could just be seen wandering around in the reeds. The first of many Great reed warblers could also be heard before I turned back and decided to drive the whole length of the unmade road, eventually emerging on the D37 not far from Albaron.
One of the reasons you don't wander off the track on to private land!

Frequently seen sign

Great white egret
I hadn't driven far when a crested lark landed on the road, a quick photo through the windscreen. Several gadwall were recorded upon pools and then, as I turned a corner, a Roller! Always a great bird to see. A Lesser black backed gull in with lodas of yellow legged gulls and my first tawny pipit upon a barbed wire fence. I stopped on several occassions just to see what was calling but the only thing new was a scratchy warble that I couldn't identify from behind an old bar, cafe, long since abandoned on the shore of Etang de Vacarres. Possibly Spectacled warbler but I didn't get a glimpse, ceratinly a call I am not familiar with.
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
Following this drive, I returned to Mas d'Agon to check the fileds where I met 2 fellow birders. The wind had now dropped from the previous day, although still gusty but over the tops of the reeds black terns, whiskered terns and 5 white winged black terns dipped for food. Spoonbills, little and great white egrets, flamingoes, a hobby overhead, great reed warblers, reed warblers, glossy ibis etc. A great place and typical roadside birding that The Camargue offers. Sadly, the birds here are easily identifiable with binoculars, but a scope would be good. I had opted not to bring mine so hope I didn't miss too much. Consequently, distance plus heat haze and gusty wind meant not great photos, especially of the immaculate plumage of the white winged black terns. I chatted with a chap who does guided tours and heard about one or two other hotspots which I shall visit on my next trip.
White winged black tern

white winged black tern and whiskered tern
 I left, planning on returning here early the next morning where more may be seen and hopefully the wind will have dropped. Also, the heat haze would not be an issue. I headed off to the hotel, parked the car and took another wander along a path from the hotel to Le Digue track. Here, I took a path into the middle of the area where a pair of Kentish plovers were flushed. An icterine warbler popped up from a tamarisk tree as I scanned the distant mudflats. Here: ringed plover, 4 summer plumaged grey plovers along with one still in winter colours, several dunlin all made the trip list. I continued, spotting regular birds for the area before I returned to the hotel before off into town for another meal.

Day 4:
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

Reed warbler

Great white egret

Male serin

Black redstart

Female serin
Le Baux was becoming very busy so I took a final walk around the top of the hill before descending through the narrow streets to the car and off to St Martin de Crau and a walk around Etang des Aulnes. This is a heathland type habitat with well established deciduous trees and a wonderful place for butterflies and dragonflies as well as regular bird species. On the lake, just mallard and great crested grebe, 2 gadwall flew through but in the trees were trip listers in the form of song thrush, mistle thrush, green woodpecker, Jackdaw, Greenfinch and chaffinch.
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
From this excellent habitat I made my way back via dual carriageway to Arles and, once again, Mas d'Agon. Here more coypu but nothing to add apart from a flyover purple heron. The white wingers were nowehere to be seen as I chatted with a British couple cycling their way back to their hotel in Arles.
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.
Contented coypu

Flamingoes arriving at Mas d'Agon fields

Air brakes applied


House martin resting on purpose built shelf next to its nest.

Day 5:
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
Species list:

  1. Black redstart
  2. swallow
  3. common swift
  4. house martin
  5. sand martin
  6. glossy ibis
  7. cattle egret
  8. little egret
  9. black kite
  10. sandwich tern
  11. house sparrow
  12. starling
  13. magpie
  14. yellow legged gull
  15. slender billed gull
  16. kestrel
  17. grey heron
  18. Mallard
  19. shelduck
  20. mute swan
  21. Serin
  22. greater flamingo
  23. mediterranean gull
  24. black headed gull
  25. bee eater
  26. cetti's warbler
  27. coot
  28. moorhen
  29. great cretsed grebe
  30. nightingale
  31. great tit
  32. chaffinch
  33. black winged stilt
  34. zitting cisticola
  35. skylark
  36. pheasant
  37. sardinian warbler
  38. cuckoo
  39. reed warbler
  40. reed bunting
  41. squacco heron
  42. yellow wagtail, sub sp cinereocapilla
  43. Crested lark
  44. wheatear
  45. goldfinch
  46. collared dove
  47. avocet
  48. common sandpiper
  49. purple heron
  50. spotted redshank
  51. wood pigeon
  52. hoopoe
  53. blackcap
  54. oystercatcher
  55. little grebe
  56. great white heron
  57. spoonbill
  58. great reed warbler
  59. bearded tit
  60. gadwall
  61. Roller
  62. lesser black backed gull
  63. tawny pipit
  64. whiskered tern
  65. white winged black tern
  66. hobby
  67. cormorant
  68. gull billed tern
  69. icterine warbler
  70. kentish plover
  71. grey plover
  72. dunlin
  73. ringed plover
  74. jackdaw
  75. jay
  76. greenfinch
  77. green woodpecker
  78. song thrush
  79. mistle thrush
  80. black tern
  81. crag martin
  82. alpine swift
  83. montague's harrier
  84. pied flycatcher
  85. white wagtail
  86. red legged partrisge
  87. red kite
  88. blackbird
  89. 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.

This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird. September 2009

Caley Wood view

Caley Wood view
sunshine through the canopy 29.05.08

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007
Best birds on this walk: black and middle spotted woodpecker and short toed treecreeper

About Me

My photo
A primary school teacher for 30 years, I retired from teaching in July 2009 to set up my own science enhancement and communication company. The Primary Works offers science clubs, workshops and staged science shows nationwide. I have always been interested in bird watching since my early years. Apparently my first tick was after inquiring about a chaffinch and then receiving the Observer book of birds. By the age of 9 I had moved on to Tory Peterson's collins guide and was now involved on YOC birding holidays to Northumbria, Essex coast, Slimbridge and Yorkshire. My twitching rule is that I will willingly travel 1km for each gram the bird weighs. However, I have had many rarities just by being in the right place. I have travelled widely throughout Europe and also visited Australia and Sri Lanka. In 2016 I spent time at Portland Bird Obs and two trips to Aviero, Portugal. 2017 found me back in Sri Lanka in Feb/March, then July and back for New Year's Eve celebrations in December. Also returned to The Camargue in May for a 4 day trip. Few plans for 2018, but nothing yet booked apart from a trip to the IOW.

Grey heron

Grey heron
Over the allotment 28.09.08

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Ridge footpath 27.08.08

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)
Note the stripes, denoting a bird fledged this year.

common blue

common blue
Ash Valley G.C. 15.08.08

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)
River Ash

azure damselfly

azure damselfly
River Ash 28.07.08

marbled white

marbled white
Discovered at Westland Green 22.07.08

ruddy darter

ruddy darter
Bush Wood 21.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08
growing in hedgerow in Chapel Lane

cinnabar moth caterpillar

cinnabar moth caterpillar
Photographed on ragwort 19.07.08


Study of petals 11.06.08

male yellowhammer

male yellowhammer

common blue butterfly

common blue butterfly

River Ash

River Ash
looking south from the bridge at Hadham Ford

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)
in rape field 29.05.08

Caley Wood sunshine

Caley Wood sunshine

Millenium Wood fox

Millenium Wood fox

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)
06.05.08 banks of the River Ash

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)
flowers, leaves and fruit edible . Good in salad and pesto

April showers

April showers
Double rainbow 30.04.08

Caley Wood bluebells

Caley Wood bluebells

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel
Chapel Lane (20.04.08)

sunlight 16.04.08

sunlight 16.04.08
looking south west from Bush Wood

snowy buds

snowy buds
06.04.08 in Bush Wood

Looking north west

Looking north west
05.04.08 evening shower approaching

Back Garden

Back Garden
Easter Sunday (23.03.08)

Brick Kiln Hill

Brick Kiln Hill
Looking east (23.03.08)

No play today

No play today
The 2nd hole at Ash Valley golf course

Teasel head

Teasel head
Bush Wood (21.03.08)


daffodils at Bush Wood pond (21.03.08)

Swollen River Ash

Swollen River Ash
The river at the bottom of Winding Hill 16.03.08

Daybreak over the chapel

Daybreak over the chapel
Thursday 13th March

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)
growing in Bush Wood

January snowdrops

January snowdrops
Banks of River Ash, north of Much Hadham

Good Moon

Good Moon
From garden 24.01.08

Village Green

Village Green
Looking east towards Acremore Street

Looking south before Hadham Ford

Looking south before Hadham Ford
rare January blue sky

Useful sites

The following are some useful websites that may interest readers of this blog.
Firstly, Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. The official herts bird club website. Frequently updated, listing bird sightings around the county. Offers links to many other websites. Both of these sites also offer links to yahoo discussion groups. An international site. You can enter as a guest but become a member( free) to post comments, bird sightings and just about anything to do with wild birds. Good news updates, classified section for binoculars, cameras etc. A new site set up where you can contact people worldwide who will help you find good birds in their country. UK section being set up presently.
Fellow birders blog. Strtford resident, Graeme Smith regulary birds the area south of Stortford as well as around Spellbrook and the River Stort from Spellbrook to Twyford Locks. Some superb bird photography: Graeme uses a digital camera attached to his powerful telescope to get detailled images of the birds he sees. Well worth a browse.
Two local sites that may be of interest can be found at

South Easterly walk

South Easterly walk
black, normal, red extended walk

South Westerly route.

South Westerly route.
Black usual, red extended

North Easterly walk

North Easterly walk
black short, walk. Red, extended

North West Patch

North West Patch
black route regular. Red route the extended wander