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Monday, January 09, 2006

Camargue, January 2006

Tuesday 3 January - Nimes

Arrived in Nimes (Garons) airport about 2.30 from Luton by Ryanair with travel companion Stuart Coleman, collected the Hertz hire car and headed for Hotel Imperator on Quai de la Fontaine in good time to look around the city and see the Roman amphitheatre before dusk. Also looked round the gardens of the Fontaine with the Roman water water channels and constructions, opening our bird list with Grey and White Wagtails, Black Redstarts and Chiffchaffs foraging in the crevices of the masonary. Later a suitable restaurant was found between the Carée d'Art and the amphitheartre, finishing the meal with what was to become a customary glass of Calvados.

Wednesday 4 January - Camargue

Early breakfast then off down to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in clear, fine but cold and windy weather. First proper birding began at the Pont de Gau ornithological park where we found our first Greater Flamingoes, egrets, herons, White Storks, Kingfishers, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier and various waterfowl. Then onward to the coast we found Black-necked Grebes on the sea, Sardinian Warblers in the tamarisk and various waders (including Kentish Plover, Turnstone and Little Stint) in the lagoons.

A picnic lunch in the car park at Les Saintes Maries turned up Crested Lark before we retraced our tracks to Albaron then began the circuit of the north edge of Étang de Vaccarès down to Salin de Giraud to find the track to Phare de la Gacholle. This road is always good for general birding but the strong wind made things difficult to find. The Nature Reserve at La Capelière was more sheltered and we had fine views of Great White Egret, Teal, Shoveler and Pochard.

We drove as close to the Phare de la Gacholle as possible and walked to the lighthouse in the setting sun, picking up Dartford Warbler, Avocet and Hen Harrier on the way.

Thursday 5 January - Les Alpilles

We arrived at Les Baux de Provence at first light to a bitter cold, clear day with a penetrating cold wind. The first task was to search the numerous rock faces of the Val d'Enfer for Wall Creeper which are allegedly to be found there during winter. Drawing a blank on this species, we were rewarded instead by a flock of Crossbills wich dropped into the pine trees and afforded us some excellent close views. Moving up into the ancient walled mountain town of Les Baux itself we investigated the shops and views and ascended to the plateau to the castle and discovered Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Black Redstarts among the ruins. Of special interest was a flock of some 20 Alpine Accentors creeping around the ground seeking seeds and insects. These high altitude birds decend to Les Alpilles in winter and allow approach too close to focus on! Whilst training binoculars on distant rock faces, Crag Martins came into view. Incipient hypothermia on the plateau was forestalled by a warming glass of mulled wine (vin chaud) beside a roaring log fire in the bar of l'Hostellerie de la Reine Jeanne.

The afternoon was spent exploring Les Alpilles further, in particular a trek to the summit of La Caume, again in a vain search for Wall Creeper. The staggering views of mountain scenery made the walk worthwhile with closer views of woodland birds (Coal Tit, Goldcrest and Firecrest) gained on the ascent, and Black Redstarts and Dartford Warblers at the summit.

As the light faded we slipped down to Entressen for a short walk through part of La Crau in a forlorn attempt to locate Sandgrouse or Little Bustard, we nevertheless notched up Woodpigeon and Stonechat and Stuart found some interesting plants clinging to an existance in this harsh stony habitat.

By evening it had started to rain so it was a dash to to the nearby Restaurant Carée d'Art for lamb burgers and other tasty items in what was agreed the best meal of the trip. Oh yes, there was the ensuing glass of Calvados of course.

Friday 6 January - Sur le Pont d'Avignon

The weather had changed and was now overcast with intemittant rain. But it was a little milder and the biting wind had ceased. It was a day for bridges and cities. Heading first for Pont du Gard to view this splendid Roman three-tiered monumental aqueduct of staggering size. Moreover the Romans evidently had conservation in mind as the higher masonary houses a colony of Crag Martins! The trees around the site provided Short-toed Treecreeper.

Pont du Gard: Roman aqueduct is a haven for Crag Martins

From Pont du Gard to the ancient walled town of Uzès where we added to the trip's bird list Song Thrush and Dunnock in local gardens . From Uzès to Avignon where a parking spot near the Palais de Papes was found and GPS navigation allowed to us to find our way around in this walled city. A visit to the Pont St-Bénézet (the Pont d'Avignon) was a must, followed by a stroll along the Rhône and a café-cognac in a local bar.

Saturday 7 January - Vaccarès

The day dawned overcast but dry and, importantly, the wind had dropped. The bird list stood at 79, four more than for my same trip last January. So a decision was made to explore again the route between Albaron and La Capelière round the north side of Étang de Vaccarès, in an attempt to reach 80 species. It soon became clear that the windless conditions were a great aid to finding birds and in no time we added a further 11 species includng Golden Plover, Cetti's Warbler, Brambling (a very large flock), Little Grebe and Wigeon, a final list of 90 species.

Back to the airport in time to check in for the afternoon flight back to Luton.

Bird list.

1.Magpie; 2.Kestrel; 3.Chaffinch; 4.Goldfinch; 5.Blackbird; 6.Jackdaw; 7.Black Redstart; 8.White Wagtail; 9.Chiffchaff; 10.Grey Wagtail; 11.Mallard; 12.Mute Swan; 13.Starling; 14.Blue Tit; 15.Buzzard; 16.Carrion Crow; 17.House Sparrow; 18.Collared Dove; 19.Snipe; 20.Lapwing; 21.Red Kite; 22.Black-headed Gull; 23.Yellow-legged Gull; 24.Grey Heron; 25.White Stork; 26.Moorhen; 27.Cormorant; 28.Teal; 29.Shoveller; 30.Coot; 31.Pochard; 32.Greater Flamingo; 33.Little Egret; 34.Cattle Egret; 35.Greenfinch; 36.Robin; 37.Kingfisher; 38.Greylag; 39.Goldcrest; 40.Sardinian Warbler; 41.Dunlin; 42.Redshank; 43.Kentish Plover; 44.Ringed Plover; 45.Grey Plover; 46.Little Stint; 47.Meadow Pipit; 48.Linnet; 49.Shelduck; 50.Sandwich Tern; 51.Black-necked Grebe; 52.Great Crested Grebe; 53.Great Spotted Woodpecker; 54.Crested Lark; 55.Turnstone; 56.Tufted Duck; 57.Bullfinch; 58.Great White Egret; 59.Wren; 60.Dartford Warbler; 61.Common Sandpiper; 62.Hen Harrier; 63.Avocet; 64:Sparrowhawk; 65.Great Tit; 66.Jay; 67.Serin; 68.Crossbill; 69.Blackcap; 70:Alpine Accentor; 71.Coal Tit; 72.Firecrest; 73.Crag Martin; 74.Stonechat; 75.Raven; 76.Short-toed Treecreeper; 77.Song Thrush; 78.Dunnock; 79.Woodpigeon; 80.Corn Bunting; 81.Golden Plover; 82.Cetti's Warbler; 83.Tree Sparrow; 84.Green Woodpecker; 85.Curlew; 86.Water Rail; 87.Fan-tailed Warbler; 88.Brambling; 89.Little Grebe; 90.Wigeon.


Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

The heading of your blog made me laugh and start reading further! I have been to some of these parts of France. I loved the Pont du Gard and went walking a little further upstream on a lovely calm day. I stood on the Pont d'Avignon on a bitterly cold and wet day when I got drenched but still have the photo of me standing there.
I am heading back to France about April and will pass some of this way again. I will have to watch out for some handsome bird-watchers to enlighten me about things I have no knowledge of!!

8:27 am  
Blogger carwynfowler said...

Surprised you found a parking space nr. Palais du Papes...

11:05 am  
Blogger simon said...

Well I am UTTERLY jealous of your trip to France really, & now I am jealous of Kiwi Nomads Bike tour plans as well!


Your birding list looks good too mate.

1:21 am  

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