31/01 Arrive, La Crau
01/02 Les Baux, Mont Caume, Etang de Consecaniere
02/02 La Capeliere
03/03 Etang de Berre
La Crau - 31/01
We arrived for a brief tour of Provence's hotspots. Marseille Airport sits on the shores of the Etang de Berre, and soon after arriving and picking up our hire car we encountered plenty of Greater Flamingos. On the drive to the plains of La Crau, we saw our first of many Hen Harriers, as well as several Little Egrets.
The Peau-de-Meau reserve at La Crau held 3 Little Owls, a female Merlin, Kestrels, a Southern Grey Shrike, Black Redstarts, Great White Egrets and Lapwings, as well as many Linnets, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings. This area usually holds Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but we didn't find either of these species on what is a very vast plain. Returning to our car, a line of 15 White Storks flew over, apparently heading to a roost site.
Les Baux - 01/01
An early start from our cheap Etap hotel in Arles allowed us to reach Les Baux before 8 a.m., allowing us to enter for free and have an undisturbed perspective of this delightful village. The target species here was Wallcreeper , and, after a brief walk, we spotted one going about its business on the castle ruins. We had great views, as the 'mouse of the rock face' fluttered and probed away. In the castle courtyard, we also enjoyed good views of a male Blue Rock Thrush, a pair of confiding Sardinian Warblers, 3 Blackcaps and several large flocks of Serins. 2 Ravens flew overhead, and a Sparrowhawk sped through the ramparts.
Next on the agenda was Mont Caume, home to Bonelli's Eagles. To access this site, take the road from Les Baux to St-Remy de Provence. About halfway, the road climbs thorugh a series of bends before reaching a car park on the right at the summit. Park here and follow a road for about 4 kms to reach a huge radio/TV mast (very obvious). Unfortunately by the time we had arrived, the weather had turned nasty, with high winds and heavy rain making conditions undesirable for both us and the Bonelli's Eagles. They are said to favour the Eastern side of Mont Caume, however, for our stay, they sensibly remained hunkered down and out of view. Consolation came in the shape of 2 more Wallcreepers on our descent. Also at this site, we saw Crag Martins, Jays and Goldcrests.
Etang de Consecaniere
Located on the western side of the Camargue, this is a preferred hunting spot for Greater Spotted Eagles (Aigle Criard). The Lake held Shelducks, Shovelers, Pintails, Greylag Geese and over 300 Red-crested Pochards. Also in the vicinty were 2 Hen Harriers, half a dozen Marsh Harriers, plenty of Buzzards, as well as the common Great White Egrets, Little grets and Greater Flamingos. A flock of 20 Avocet flew by, but our Eagle drought continued with the weather conditions making sustained viewing near impossible. Nearby, we found Golden Plovers, 22 wintering Little Stints and a handful of Dunlin.
La Capeliere - 02/01
The visitor centre here was closed, but from the hides, we found plenty of Pochards and Tufted Ducks, which were obviously grateful to find refuge from the shooting which we noted at most of the sites we visited in Provence. Nearby, there were 2 Green Sandpipers, a Kingfisher, the usual Hen Harriers, Buzzards and Egrets, and on the Etang de Vacceres, at least 18 Black-necked Grebes close in with hundreds of Great-crested Grebes. With a flock of Yellow-legged Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, we found 2 Slender-billed Gulls.
Etang de Berre - 03/01
On our way back to the airport we stopped off for a quick scout around the Plage La Jai (signposted from Marignane), which seperates the Etang de Bolmon from the Etang de Berre. There were over 300 Black-necked Grebes wintering here along with similar numbers of Great-crested Grebes. Some Gadwall flew over, but the bird of note here was a Spotless Starling in with a large flock of Common Starlings.
We took 'Where to watch Birds 'France'' as a guide, but didn't find this book particularly helpful and certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone planning a trip here. Site descriptions are vague, with maps not detailed enough and species lists dubious. Further, key sites such as Les Baux and Mont Caume are left out completely.
We had an excellent trip with plenty of good banter to match the birds, including being almost blown off Mont Caume, grobbling down Pizzas in a rush to get to the next site before it went dark, and the La Crau scramble.
Black-necked Grebe - 200+
Cattle Egret - 12 near Arles
Great Egret - increasingly common it seems
White Stork - 15 La Crau
Greater Flamingo - throughout the Camargue
Red-crested Pochard - 300 Etang de Consecaniere
Hen Harrier - common, 12 noted
Merlin - La Crau
Slender-billed Gull - 2 La Capeliere
Crag Martin - Mont Caume
Blue Rock Thrush - Les Baux
Sardinian Warbler - 2 Les Baux
Wallcreeper - Les Baux and 2 at Mont Caume
Southern Grey Shrike
Not a great haul, but not bad considering time restrictions and weather.