During a two week family holiday in Centre Parcs in Chaumont-Sur-Tharonne in the centre of the Sologne, I managed to escape for a few days birding (three days and en evening) in this most fascinating of regions. Information was somewhat hard to come by with a brief mention in the old 'Where to Watch Birds in Europe' by Gooders, the 'Where to Watch Birds in France', and by far the best, the 'A Birdwatching Guide to France South of the Loire' by Crozier. I am indebted; however, to a trip report in 1998 by Mark and Sandra Dennis that I downloaded from the Urs Geiser site, and which gave some more exact guidance on my target species Grey-Headed Woodpecker
and other interesting species. http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/tripreports/TripReports.html
I concentrated my birding on the Canal du Sauldre near Pierrefitte, the lakes around St Viâtre and the Vierzon Forest. We drove from Le Havre to Chaumont mostly on motorways but did use some minor roads on the way back. The huge crop fields of the Beauce south of Paris are almost birdless, although I did manage to see a Black Redstart
and a Black Kite
in this area; the Channel was also calm and quiet with only a few Gannets
being of any note. We did make a few tourist trips to the Loire Valley around the wine growing areas of Sancerre and Pouilly, but the area did not produce much birdwise. The banks of the Loire are look good for waders, although all I saw were some Grey Wagtails
I would recommend the area as an excellent stopover for those venturing further south, rather than for a birdwatching holiday in its own right. Much of the area is private, and many of the lakes are inaccessible. The main activity in the region is hunting, as there are wooden shooting platforms all over the place. However, the network of roads is very quiet, with viewing places for some of the most productive lakes (Étangs), and there are some public footpaths and cycle tracks. The Canal du Sauldre was delightful and I hardly saw a soul during my three visits. The Forêt de Vierzon, which is a public forest, was also very accessible.
Access to the Canal du Sauldre is along the D24 road from Chaon to Pierrefitte, just before you get to the crossroads where the road joins the D923 is a bridge over the canal; there is plenty of parking space here. It is best to walk west along the canal on either towpath. I walked for about 3 miles stopping just after the second lock. The canal was a real 'woodpecker alley'
although I failed to find Grey-Headed here, compared to Mark & Sandra Dennis' report in May 1998 when they heard and saw several. There were a number of old aspen trees said to be favoured by this species along the banks with nest holes, so a walk earlier in the year might be more productive. I did, however, manage to see five species of woodpecker
along this route. The overgrown area just east of the bridge was good for butterflies.
The C6 road from Marcilly-en-Gault to La Ferté Beauharnais was good for viewing some of the most productive lakes: Étangs de Bièvre, Marcilly, and Marguilliers. Turn right where the D63 crosses this road and view the Étang de Favelle, which was excellent for grebes, herons
Another good area is the Étang de la Giraudière reached off the D104 east of Montrieux-en-Sologne. You can park by the lake and walk through woodland along its southern shore. The area was good for ducks, herons, grebes
and woodland birds.
The minor road from La Marolle-en-Sologne to Yvoy-le-Marron was very productive. I stopped by a farm track, which went off the left and scanned both side of the road. There were Tree Sparrows
nesting in the pylons, Red-Backed Shrike
and Melodious Warbler
in the scrub, Hen Harrier
hunting over the fields, and Turtle Doves
on the telegraph wires. The area of rough ground next to the track was particularly good for butterflies: there being a species of Fritillary and several Blues that I could not get close enough to identify.
The Forêt de Vierzon has open access. I stopped by a clearing from where the undergrowth had been recently cleared on the D29 between Orcay and Vierzon. There was a number 943 painted on the entrance to the forest track. The clearing was excellent producing a Grey-Headed Woodpecker
, several Great
and a Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker
, and a Honey Buzzard
. The tree canopy was full of young birds including Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher
and Marsh Tit
Frankly I found a lot more notable species than I expected in July. These included, Black-necked Grebe, Great White
and Little Egrets, Purple Heron, Whiskered Tern, Honey Buzzard, Grey-Headed, Black, Middle
and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Red-Backed Shrike, Tree Sparrow, Turtle Dove, Melodious Warbler, Firecrest, Short-Toed Treecreeper, Crested Tit
, and Serin.
1. Great Crested Grebe.
2. Little Grebe.
3. Black-necked Grebe - several seen including juveniles on the Étang de Favelle on the D63 near St Viâtre.
4. Gannet - noted from the Channel Crossing.
6. Little Egret.
7. Great White Egret - 5 birds on the Étang de Favelle. I had been told by some French birders that I met in Eastern Austria in the early 90's that this species had started breeding in the Sologne; it would seem that their success is continuing.
8. Grey Heron.
9. Purple Heron - seen in flight over the Étang de Bièvre on the C6 road between Marcilly-en-Gault and La Ferté Beauharnais; an adult bird seen preening in the same location; another adult seen feeding at the Étang de Favelle.
10. Mute Swan.
12. Pochard - a relatively common breeding species, seen with young at several sites.
13. Tufted Duck.
14. Hen Harrier - an adult female seen hunting over a crop field from the minor road La Marolle-en-Sologne and Yvoy-le-Marron.
15. Honey Buzzard - several seen near to St Viâtre and a pale phase bird in the Forêt de Vierzon.
16. Black Kite - a single bird circling over a crop field near Anet during the drive home.
17. Buzzard - the most common raptor.
23. Black-Headed Gull - many still lingering from a large breeding colony of the Étang de Marguilliers viewed from the C6 road.
24. Great Black-Backed Gull - seen on the Channel crossing.
25. Herring Gull - seen on the Channel crossing.
26. Whiskered Tern - a few still in evidence at the Étang de Marcilly from the C6 road and the Étang de Favelle. This species breeds on lilypads, but had obviously mostly dispersed on July.
28. Stock Dove.
29. Collared Dove.
30. Turtle Dove - common, although an evening visit was needed to see them when they came out to sit on telegraph wires.
31. Nightjar - a single bird churring most nights from our 'cottage' in Centre Parcs; the bird was seen flying over a clearing on one occasion.
33. Kingfisher - regular along the Canal du Sauldre - park by the bridge on the D24 between Chaon and Pierrefitte and walk west along the towpath.
34. Black Woodpecker - one bird heard and another seen well along the Canal du Sauldre.
35. Grey-Headed Woodpecker - my bogey bird for France - an adult female seen and watched at close range in a clearing in the Forêt de Vierzon accessed off the D29 between Orcay and Vierzon.
36. Green Woodpecker - relatively common in all parts of the Sologne.
37. Great-Spotted Woodpecker - very common.
38. Middle-Spotted Woodpecker - a single bird seen along the Canal du Sauldre, and another in the forest at Centre Parcs near Chaumont-Sur-Tharonne.
39. Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker - at least four birds seen and heard along the Canal du Sauldre; another heard in the Forêt de Vierzon.
41. Sand Martin.
42. House Martin.
44. Tree Pipit - one still in song along the Canal du Sauldre.
45. White Wagtail.
46. Grey Wagtail - only from the banks of the Loire near Cosne.
49. Black Redstart - a single on a house near to Epernon on the drive home.
52. Song Thrush.
53. Reed Warbler.
54. Melodious Warbler - two birds seen in tangle of blackthorn and brambles along the minor road from La Marolle-en-Sologne and Yvoy-le-Marron.
56. Wood Warbler - a family group seen feeding high up in oak trees in the Forêt de Vierzon.
58. Willow Warbler.
61. Firecrest - fairly common in mixed woodland.
62. Spotted Flycatcher - common in the whole area.
63. Marsh Tit - very common, especially along the Canal du Sauldre.
64. Crested Tit - common in coniferous and mixed woodland around Chaumont-sur-Tharonne and the Canal du Sauldre.
65. Blue Tit..
66. Great Tit.
67. Coal Tit..
68. Long-Tailed Tit.
70. Short-Toed Treecreeper - noted from the Canal du Sauldre and the Forêt de Vierzon.
71. Red-Backed Shrike - a pair noted just outside Marolle-en-Sologne on the road to Chaumont, and a juvenile seen of the road between Marolle and Yvoy.
75. Carrion Crow.
76. Tree Sparrow - several pairs breeding in roadside pylons along the minor road from Marolle to Yvoy.
77. House Sparrow.
79. Serin - several seen and heard around Centre Parcs.
82. Bullfinch - a few along the Canal du Sauldre.
Butterflies & Moths
Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail, Silver-Washed Fritillary, Clouded Yellow, and Painted Lady were among the more notable species.
Hummingbird Hawkmoths were abundant and I also saw a perfectly camouflaged Pine Hawkmoth in the forest just outside Centre Parcs. The area was also excellent for dragonflies and damselflies, although I am not an expert in this field.
Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Coypu.
Basically, the message is to obtain a copy of any of the local maps, I used the Michelin Local map no 381, and to have a good drive or cycle round the area stopping at any likely lake, roadside scrub or forest and you will find birds, and other wildlife. Good birding!