Camargue, France 2008

...with Mark Finn

February 23rd - 28th

This tour was arranged as a private trip for clients from West Sussex and France. Although slightly later in departure we managed to find most of the regions specialities including Little Bustard, Calandra Lark, Wallcreeper, Citril Finch, wintering wildfowl and birds of high-alpine habitats. A few surprise birds were observed notably large flocks of Black-necked Grebes and Mediterranean Gulls near Berre and in the town itself a wide range of shorebirds. In woodland above Carpentras an amazing sight of four Black Woodpeckers in a single tree.

February 23rd: Marseille, Beaucaire.

Weather: Dry and sunny with a cool wind 16 C

Today was essentially a travel day to Marseille on the Mediterranean Sea. On arrival we passed through passport control and picked up our bags. Outside the airport a singing Common Chiffchaff, Magpie and House Sparrow. We joined the motorway network and headed west to Arles. Along the way Little and Cattle Egrets, Marsh Harrier and a White Stork feeding in a field. After crossing the Rhone we entered the small town of Beaucaire our base for the next five nights. After checking in, we then visited the local supermarket to pick up supplies for the next few days.

February 24th: Beaucaire, Etang de Vaccares, La Capeliere, Marais du Grenouillet, salt pans and estuary south of Arles.

Weather: Overcast with cool south winds 16 C

After breakfast we drove towards Arles. In and around the hotel car park Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Robin, Greenfinch and Goldfinch. Our first birding stop was at an elevated platform on the edge of Etang de Vaccares. Careful scanning here produced Bewick's Swans, Common Shelduck, Sardinian and Cetti's Warblers. We turned left up a minor road and stopped where the road dissects two areas of marshes. A surprise find was a party of 16 Glossy Ibis plus Great and Little Egrets, Mute Swan, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Bearded Reedling and Reed Buntings. Retraced our steps to the main road and visited a sheltered part of Etang de Vaccares holding Great Crested Grebe, Common Sandpiper, Common Coot and the first of many Greater Flamingos. At La Capeliere we wandered around the nature trail recording Mallard, Common Teal, Green Sandpiper, White Stork and Blue Tits by the reception area - rather disappointing birds here today. Whilst having lunch a pair of Common Cranes flew southwards. Next on the agenda was the aptly named Marais du Grenouillet which was full of wildfowl. Abundant species included Mallard, Gadwall, Common Teal and Common Shelduck plus lower numbers of Greylag Geese, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plovers. Another surprise here was two Barn Swallows flying along the canal. Further down the road Common Kingfisher and many Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. Retraced our steps and headed towards the sea recording large flocks of House Sparrows and Corn Buntings. The mud and salt flats held few birds apart from the 'commoner' gulls and a party of Common Redshanks. Returned to base after an enjoyable first day in the Camargue.

February 25th: Beaucaire, Les Baux-de-Provence, Mas-de-Cacheral, Quatret.

Weather: Overcast with cold south winds 13 C

Today we headed to the beautiful village of Les Baux-de-Provence which is surrounded by cliffs and conifer trees. En route we noted our first White Wagtails and Great Tits of the tour. On arrival at the village we parked up at a closed hotel and walked slowly along the street and lower fields. Large numbers of Blackcaps were present with Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin and Sardinian Warblers. Careful scanning of the huge rock face produced at least two Wallcreepers, Black Redstarts and Eurasian Jackdaws. Back to the car park where we found Crested Tits and calling Firecrests. We decided to head back towards the sea and Mas-de-Cacheral a large flat expanse of reeds interspersed with lagoons and the saline Mediterranean Sea. The first lagoon provided us with Greater Flamingos, Common and Spotted Redshanks and a calling Water Rail. I turned down the rutted road at Mas-de-Cacheral stopping for flocks of Avocets, Grey Plovers and Dunlin. Reed Buntings and Eurasian Skylarks were present in good numbers singing and displaying over the expansive saltmarsh. After lunch we travelled inland to the hamlet of Quatret with its wintering Common Cranes. As dusk started to fall we returned to Mas-de-Cacheral to see if any raptors were coming into roost. A superb male Hen Harrier, Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and a flight of Black-tailed Godwits were observed. Back to base after another great day in the Camargue.

February 26th: Mont Ventoux, La Crau.

Weather: Overcast with light southeast winds 5 C/16 C

Today we headed north towards the ski resort at Mont Ventoux. Our journey took us through the busy town of Carpentras and eventually the long climb to Mont Ventroux. The pine woods held a few species notably Eurasian Jay and Mistle Thrush. At Chalet Reynard we parked up and walked on the lower piste towards an old building. In the pines several Common Crossbills, Fieldfare, Coal and Crested Tits the latter being present in high numbers. Snow melt attracted Rock Buntings and at least four Citril Finches. We drove up to the barrier checking for birds with a pair of Common Ravens, calling Firecrests and flocks of Chaffinches. A bonus here was a displaying Woodlark. At 1320 we retraced our journey down the mountain stopping at a picnic area for lunch. This proved to be a master stroke as we quickly found two pairs of Black Woodpeckers, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch and Hawfinch. I decided to visit a small section of La Crau with a stop at a lake en route. The latter held Great Crested Grebes, Yellow-legged, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The road to La Crau passed through light woodland and meadows and eventually a vast stony area with isolated buildings. The first stop produced Red Kites, Common Buzzard, Red-legged Partridge and Corn Buntings. Further along the track we met a French birder from Paris and exchanged information. Southern Grey Shrikes were dotted around the area with flocks of Linnets and Corn Buntings. At the end of the day we visited a site for Eurasian Eagle Owls without success. Back to Beaucaire after another great birding day in Provence.

February 27th: La Crau, Berre-L'etang, Berre.

Weather: Mist giving way to hazy sunshine 14 C/24 C

Today we headed back east to visit another area of La Crau. We stopped at the first field and started scanning the fields dotted with flowering fruit trees. Common birds here included Common Stonechat, Black Redstart, Meadow Pipit and Cirl Bunting. Caroline then located a pair of Stone Curlew sitting motionless in the field - excellent views. Next on the agenda was a light aircraft landing strip. We parked up on the entrance road and scanned the grassy fields in front of us. In no time at all we found 20 Little Bustards, Calandra and Eurasian Skylarks and a pair of Green Woodpeckers. We then returned to the same area of yesterday afternoon. Similar birds with the addition of Crested Larks. Time was pressing as we travelled eastwards to the large Berre L'etang. Open waters here held substantial numbers of Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Yellow-legged, Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls. Our last birding stop was at Berre a town at the end of a long peninsula. The saltpans here held several species of waders - Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin, Curlew and Green Sandpipers, Little Stint and over 40 Avocets. Returned to base for our last night in Provence.

February 28th: Beaucaire, Les Baux-de-Provence, Marseille.

Weather: Sunny and clear with light south winds 22 C.

Our last day in Provence, with a return to the historic village of Les Baux-de-Provence. We parked at the village and started to walk along the cobbled streets looking for wintering Alpine Accentors without success. Above the village a few Eurasian Crag Martins were floating about looking for insects. Black Redstarts and European Serins were also present. Before heading east we stopped to watch two Wallcreepers climbing up the extensive cliffs. Time was getting on as we joined the autoroute back to Marseille and a visit to a lake complex close to the airport. The tricky road system made location difficult but we eventually found the lake next to the D9. Here we added Tufted Duck and Common Pochard to the trip list but little else of note. After lunch we made the short journey to Marseille airport where the tour concluded. I said goodbye to Basil and Caroline and checked in for the flight to London which was delayed by 30 minutes.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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