Participants: David Arch, Michael East, Tony Moverley, Roy Goodacre, Stephen Patmore, Mark Hows and Andy Sapsford.
Members of the Bishops Stortford Birdwatching Group, flew with Ryanair from Stansted to Nimes (Garons) for £49 return and stayed in an ETAP (basic) hotel in the Fourchon district of Arles, this is an easy 15 min walk into the centre of town. This was pre-booked on the internet for EUR32 per room per night with a EUR1 supplement for a second person sharing. Arles is a town ideally located in the centre of the three main areas of birding interest; namely the Camargue to the SW, Les Alpilles (centred around the very scenic if touristy hilltop village of Les Baux en Provence) to the NE and the Le Crau area lying to the SE. We hired two cars from Hertz (having pre-booked on the internet with the Ryanair link) for a cost of around EUR250 each for the 3 days. The total cost of the trip per person (excluding food, drink & fuel) was around £150.
Friday 12th March 2004
The 7 of us arrived from snowy Stansted to an equally unappealing Nimes, with very blustery weather and serious wind chill - hardly what we were promised. We picked up the hire cars and headed for the Camargue, stopping after short distance for Common Buzzard (4), House Martin (1, over a nearby village), Tree Sparrow (10+, amongst large feeding finch flock), Chaffinch (100+), Goldfinch (60+), Serin (2, amongst large feeding finch flock), Cirl Bunting (1, heard singing). We continued into the Carmague just north of the Mas Neuf, from the roadside we had Great White Egret (3), Little Egret (2), Greater Flamingo (6) the first new bird for most of the group, Marsh Harrier (6), Stock Dove (1), Skylark (2), White Wagtail (3), Cettis Warbler (2, singing), House Sparrow (100+).
Birding was difficult due to the high winds and biting cold conditions. We continued to the concrete observation platform at Mas Neuf (a former pumping station on the D37 road, From Arles, take the D570 signed to Sainte Maries de la Mer.
At Albaron, turn left on to the D37 signed Etang de Vaccarès) where a White-tailed Eagle passed briefly over the line of trees immediately South of the platform, flushed all the waterfowl but failed to reappear in the strong winds, were also present Little Egret (10), Teal (100+), Black-tailed Godwit (60+), Kingfisher (1), Cettis Warbler (1). In the high winds we failed to identify a small group of ducks in a pool visible from the tower, possibly we would relocate them on a subsequent visit. The famous horses and bulls were easily visible from here.
We followed the eastern shore of Etang de Vaccares to La Capeliere stopping several times for interesting pools and one turned up a Slender-billed Gull, adult-winter feeding in a shallow roadside pool just N (500m) of the entrance to the reserve at La Capeliere. There were Little Grebe (1), Great crested Grebe (200+), Black-necked Grebe (260+, sheltering in small parties close to the roadside), Continental Cormorant (20), Great White Egret (5), Little Egret (50+), Grey Heron (10+), Greater Flamingo (25), Pochard (2), Tufted Duck (20), Marsh Harrier (5), Hen Harrier (1, ringtail), Common Buzzard (5+), Coot (2000+), Snipe (4), Spotted Redshank (3, winter-plumaged on a roadside pool), Western Yellow-legged Gull (100), Kingfisher (1), Cettis Warbler (2).
With the wind so strong we birded mainly from the cars continuing south to the Tour de Valet area These roadside stops produced Little Egret (30), Greater Flamingo (270), Mute Swan (3), Wigeon (100), Teal (200), Shoveler (2), Red-crested Pochard (1, adult drake in a roadside ditch!), Marsh Harrier (4+), Common Buzzard (5+), Lapwing (15), Starling (500+)
We drove back to Arles from the Sambuc area and had Cattle Egret (7), Little Egret (30), Great White Egret (3), Common Buzzard (4) and a Mink from the road. We checked the hotel and headed into town for some food as we had not stopped for food all day. We had Black Redstart (1, female) on the bridge by McDonalds and Jackdaw (1000+, at roost in the MacDonalds car park). We visited the sites in the ancient walled town of Arles, amphitheatre, town walls etc. before finding the delightful restaurant of which had the added bonus of English translation on the menu, the food was excellent and washed down with beer and wine.
Saturday 13th March 2004
Entressen tip, Le Crau, La Caume, Les Baux.
We drove to MC Donalds for a quick breakfast, between the hotel and the bridge North of MacDonalds: White Wagtail (2), Black Redstart (3, singing males), Mistle Thrush (1), Blackcap (2), Chiffchaff (4), Tree Sparrow (40), House Sparrow (20), Greenfinch (10), Serin (2).
The weather was overcast but no rain and more importantly no wind. We drove to the rubbish tip at Entressen, and had Cattle Egret (15), Little Egret (1), Red Kite (2), Common Buzzard (14) from the road. We stopped along the shores of Etang d'Entressen Black-headed Gull (300, loafing on the water), Western Yellow-legged Gull (1000+, loafing on the water), Kingfisher (1, calling), Grey Wagtail (2) we continued on towards the tip at Entressen stopping by the houses before reaching the tip: Mediterranean Gull (2, winter-adult and a second winter loafing in field with BHG flock), Black-headed Gull (2000+, loafing in one flock in fields), Common Gull (3, amongst BHG flock), Green Woodpecker (2), Robin (2), Black Redstart (1, male), Tree Sparrow (5). The area around the Rubbish Tip itself proved very productive, White Stork: at least one circling over the Tip and descending to feed amongst the Kites and Gulls, with at least a further four individuals in the NW corner of the tip perched in trees by the wooded pond. The wintering Greater Spotted Eagle: was spotted (no pun intended) soaring high over the trees and bushes viewed looking NW from the N side of the tip. Lesser Kestrel: at least two females in the area, one flying low SE over the Tip and one perched in bushes viewed along the drainage ditch W of the track around the Tip. Also: Cormorant (1), Little Egret (6), Great White Egret (3), Black Kite (100+, feeding over the tip and perching in trees and bushes all around the area), Red Kite (50+), Kestrel (3), Green Sandpiper (1, at the pond in the NW corner), Western Yellow-legged Gull (500+, feeding over the tip), Lesser Black Backed Gull (20+, over the tip), Swallow (1), White Wagtail (15+), Meadow Pipit (50+), Black Redstart (1, female), Stonechat (4), Cettis Warbler (2), Sardinian Warbler (6, in scrub alongside the tip), Blackcap (1), Chiffchaff (20+, feeding in vegetation around the pond in the NW corner), Chaffinch (15+), Goldfinch (40+), Greenfinch (15+), Serin (30+, feeding in vegetation on the outskirts of the tip), Reed Bunting (6)
We left the highly productive site but stopped just East of Entressen at an obvious bridge over the railway line here we spotted a Booted Eagle: one, dark-morph individual flying low NE towards the distant hills and Sardinian Warbler (2, a pair in scrub beneath the bridge). We stopped further along the road in the direction of Eyguiries Airfield our destination, by a small bridge over a drainage ditch with some farm buildings just to the SW further back along the road: Short-toed Lark: up to six singing and calling in the arid areas SW and NW of the bridge, hopping about in the grass, Southern Grey Shrike: one, perched atop the scrubby bushes to the NW of the bridge but very flighty., also: Little Egret (7), Grey Heron (1), Red Kite (10), Black Kite (25), Common Buzzard (8), Stone Curlew (2, in the arid field W of the farm buildings), Green Sandpiper (1), Meadow Pipit (10+), Grey Wagtail (2), White Wagtail (10+), Chiffchaff (30+, in the drainage ditch) Nearby: Cattle Egret (25+, in a field at the roadside). We stopped by a small bridge over a drainage ditch with some farm buildings just to the SW further back along the road, on the edge of Eyguiries Airfield. (As you drive north along the D569 towards Eyguieres there is a track which runs west along the south side of the airfield towards a go-karting stadium). Little Bustard: a flock of at least 112 individuals flushed from the fields W of the Go-Kart area by a low-flying helicopter; on landing they proved impossible to see in the tall grass, Calandra Lark: a group of five high-flying larks also flushed by the helicopter were deemed to be this species, Rock Bunting: one-two full breeding plumaged males were showing very well perched on the perimeter fence of the airfield along the track leading to the Go-karting centre. Also: Grey Heron (1), Skylark (2), Meadow Pipit (20), Black Redstart (2, a pair in scrub adjacent to the perimeter track), Magpie (10), Goldfinch (20).
Les Mosquetairies From the supermarket car park where we stocked up on supplies and lunched: Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (1), Green Woodpecker (2), House Martin (7), White Wagtail (2), Black Redstart (3), Chiffchaff (1), Chaffinch (2), Goldfinch (5), Serin (2)
We stopped at Les Destet where Eagle Owls are said to be present (From Mouriès turn left towards le Destet. Just before reaching the village of le Destet you will see a motocross on the right hand side, turn right onto the motocross and follow the dirt track of the motocross, always keeping the range of hills on your left) In scrub near the motocross: Kestrel (1), Sardinian Warbler (1), Blackcap (1), Great Tit (3), Chaffinch (4), Greenfinch (2), Serin (4), no sign of the Eagle Owl. At a bend in the road just N of Les Destet: Golden Eagle: one, near adult (at least fourth, most probably fifth calendar-year individual) low over the roadside Stonechat (1, male). At a roadside car park: Common Buzzard (3), Chaffinch (20+), Serin (20+).
As the weather improved, we walked up the trail to the radar station at La Caume, (From Arles take the D17 east to Maussane-les-Alpilles. Turn left at Maussane on the D5 towards Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. After about 10minutes you will come to a car park and picnic area on the right hand side. Walk up the road to the radar station). Bonelli's Eagle: a pair displaying over the mountains from the path to the radar station, Booted Eagle: a probable pale-morph individual seen distantly tussling with a Black Kite. Lesser Kestrel: one flew low over the coniferous woods at the base of the mountain in the evening. Alpine Swift: at least 17 individuals over the mountains, Crag Martin: at least nine individuals, initially over distant mountains before coming much closer over the path to the Radar Station. Wallcreeper: a partial summer-plumaged male showing extremely well on the cliff-face beneath the radar station. Three probable Rock Sparrows landed but could not be located at the summit. Citril Finch: one-two individuals showing along the track to the Radar Station but giving brief flight views only. Also: Black Kite (2), Cuckoo (1, flying over), Sand Martin (6, over), House Martin (2, over), Sardinian Warbler (10+), Goldcrest (2), Firecrest (1, in scrub along the track), Crested Tit (4, in the pines), Coal Tit (2), Jay (4), Jackdaw (30), Raven (6), Chaffinch (70+), Cirl Bunting (1).
We passed Les Baux and from the roadside by the car park: Crag Martin (4), Blackcap (2, singing) to our destination at L'Hotel Mas d'Oulivie, Eagle Owl: one, calling between 1830 and 1840 on the cliff-face and giving distant views in the fading light, one of our group could not make it out. Wallcreeper: a full-breeding plumaged male roosted in a crevice on the rock face at 1820, Rock Bunting: a group of eight buntings flying NW overhead were probably of this species. Also: Cettis Warbler (1), Sardinian Warbler (2), Chiffchaff (1). L'Hotel Mas d'Oulivie can be found by taking the minor D78f southwest from Les Baux for about 3km. On your right, just before the D78a junction to Maussane is a hotel - Mas de l'oulivie, pull in on the small road alongside the hotel and park at the end, walk along the track for 100m or so and view the cliffs.
Sunday 14th March 2004
Carmague and Les Baux
With the weather much better and another McDonalds breakfast inside us we headed back to the Carmague, at Gageron roadside stops produced Grey Heron (2), Common Buzzard (2), Kestrel (1), Golden Plover (30, over), Lapwing (100+, over), Stonechat (3), Cettis Warbler (1), House Sparrow (100+, in a large mixed flock), Tree Sparrow (20+), Chaffinch (50+), Corn Bunting (100+), and at De St Cecile Common Buzzard (1), Kestrel (2), Snipe (1), Green Woodpecker (1), Stonechat (2), Black Redstart (1, female), Cettis Warbler (1), Blackcap (1), Chiffchaff (1), La Chassagne: Little Egret (1), Great White Egret (4), Common Buzzard (1), Golden Plover (6), Lapwing (50), Redshank (1), Skylark (30), White Wagtail (2), Starling (100), Reed Bunting (1). Further West by some Bull fields: Cattle Egret (1, perched on a post), Grey Heron (1), Skylark (5), Meadow Pipit (10), White Wagtail (10), Cettis Warbler (1), Tree Sparrow (20)
We stopped a short distance before reaching Mas Neuf at Mas D'Agnon to survey the two lagoons here, it was quite productive, Little Egret (10), Great White Egret (3), Greater Flamingo (20), Teal (30), Mallard (100), Pintail (50), Goosander (1, drake flew N overhead), Marsh Harrier (6), Water Rail (1, calling), Black-winged Stilt (10, on pools), Little Ringed Plover (2), Ruff (15), Black-tailed Godwit (200), Curlew (1), Skylark (2), Swallow (12), Fan-tailed Warbler (3, calling), Cettis Warbler (10+, singing), Chiffchaff (3), House Sparrow (30+), Chaffinch (100+), Yellowhammer (2)
We returned to Mas Neuf as a our last visit was difficult in the high winds, birding was so much easier today. A Bluethroat: a first-summer female feeding alongside the scrub at the edge of the lagoon looking SW from the platform, also: Great White Egret (2), Little Egret (5), Shelduck (10), Teal (100), Garganey (7, including five drakes), Kestrel (1), Black-winged Stilt (2), Little Ringed Plover (30), Ruff (30), Snipe (40), Black-tailed Godwit (100+), Meadow Pipit (10), White Wagtail (15), Song Thrush (1), Fan-tailed Warbler (2, heard), Cettis Warbler (4), Sardinian Warbler (2, pair at the back of the pools), Chiffchaff (1), Reed Bunting (30), those problem ducks were located in the same pool, and we realised they were plastic decoy ducks, shows how bad the weather was on Friday!
We followed the same route as Friday down to La Capeliere and located the Slender-billed Gull: adult-winter again feeding in the same roadside pool just N (500m) of the entrance to the reserve at La Capeliere. Black-necked Grebe (30), Little Egret (5), Great White Egret (6), Greater Flamingo (5), Shelduck (5), Garganey (2, calling from a roadside pool), Shoveler (50+), Marsh Harrier (2), Common Buzzard (3), Water Rail (1, calling), Black-winged Stilt (1), Curlew (1), Kingfisher (1, hovering at the roadside), Fan-tailed Warbler (4, calling), Cettis Warbler (1, in song) We paid the 3 euros to enter the La Capeliere trail and hides, the long staying Long-legged Buzzard: showed very well perched in a tree just NE across the pool viewed from the second hide. Slender-billed Gull: one near summer adult flew N over the roadside pools. Moustached Warbler: up to six individuals singing and calling in the reed-bed on the opposite side of the road to the reserve, between the two viewing platforms but only giving fleeting views. Penduline Tit: up to fifteen calls heard but only three individuals seen well; a pair in the reeds looking SE from the second viewing platform and one on the opposite side of the road in the reeds in the SW corner of the lagoon. A hummingbird hawk moth tried to enter one of the hides giving good views Also: Little Egret (5), Great White Egret (3), Grey Heron (5), Greater Flamingo (20), Teal (60), Shoveler (2), Pochard (6), Tufted Duck (200), Marsh Harrier (2), Hen Harrier (1, ringtail), Water Rail (4, calling), Coot (10), Little Ringed Plover (2), Snipe (40), Black-tailed Godwit (30), Swallow (4), Meadow Pipit (5), Cettis Warbler (30+, singing all around the reedbed), Sedge Warbler (1, singing), Chiffchaff (20+, all around the reedbed), Goldcrest (2), Bearded Tit (10+, in the reedbed along the road opposite the reserve), Long-tailed Tit (2), Chaffinch (50+). In the car park we found a bright green frog and the only other birder we saw all trip.
We left the Carmague and headed back to the mountain area at Les Baux.
We parked at the top car park 4 euro charge, and we paid 7 euros to enter the museum for the Alpine Accentors reported there, at least 24 seen; up to nine in the museum grounds around the old castle ruins and 15+ coming to food near one of the streets, they were very approachable. Blue Rock Thrush: up to six individuals observed; two in the museum grounds on the highest point of the castle ruins and up to four showing on the cliff-face below the village. Wallcreeper: a winter male or adult female was on the cliff-face below the village viewed from near the statue of the Virgin Mary. Park on the D27a just as the parking bays end as you leave the town towards Arles. follow the footpath signed le village, but turn right at the first opportunity to after a few yards you pass the Virgin Mary statue and walk on along the face of the cliffs
Also: Green Woodpecker (2), Crag Martin (15, over the cliffs in the evening), Dunnock (1), Black Redstart (7+), Dartford Warbler (3, singing along the undercliff), Sardinian Warbler (9+, including at least six in the museum grounds), Blackcap (7+, in the museum grounds), Firecrest (3, in scrub near the Virgin Mary Statue), Jackdaw (20+), Raven (2+), Chaffinch (10+), Goldfinch (9), Serin (20+, in the museum grounds). There were also some lovely orchids here which we were unable to identify.
We returned to L'Hotel Mas d'Oulivie, the Eagle Owl: obliged, calling again from 1830 and 1840 with excellent views obtained on the cliff by the entire group, Also: Red-legged Partridge (1, calling), Black Redstart (1) and a small bat flying round us. On our return from the restaurant we had a Tawny Owl (calling at 23:45).
Monday 15th March 2004
We left at 6.30 to a Black Redstart singing in the hotel car park, we headed straight to Mas Neuf to get in some birdwatching before our 11,20 plane, through the mist we had Little Egret (10), Great White Egret (1), Greater Flamingo (3), Shelduck (4), Teal (30), Water Rail (2, calling), Black-winged Stilt (12), Little Ringed Plover (30), Curlew Sandpiper (1), Ruff (10), Snipe (15), Black-tailed Godwit (20), Redshank (1), Green Sandpiper (2), Swallow (1), Meadow Pipit (10+), White Wagtail (10+), Grey Wagtail (1), Fan-tailed Warbler (2, including one showing very well at the roadside), Cettis Warbler (6+), Chiffchaff (5), Tree Sparrow (20), Reed Bunting (5) and a coypu walked across the road giving good views.
The mist lifted as we arrived at Mas D'Agnon where Black Stork: two, flew NE towards Mas Neuf as the mist lifted and the sun beat down for the first time, Whiskered Tern: one, flew N over the road, Also: Little Grebe (2), Little Egret (15), Great White Egret (1), Grey Heron (10), Greater Flamingo (12), Shelduck (4), Gadwall (2), Teal (100), Garganey (2, heard at roadside), Common Buzzard (5, in area), Little Ringed Plover (20), Golden Plover (10), Lapwing (50), Ruff (20), Snipe (2), Whimbrel (1), Curlew (4), Black-tailed Godwit (50), Green Sandpiper (1), Kingfisher (1), Meadow Pipit (10), Fan-tailed Warbler (1), Cetti's Warbler (5, singing), Penduline Tit (2, calling at roadside), Bearded Tit (1, male in roadside reedbed), Reed Bunting (10). Time was against us and the only stop was at La Chaussagne Common Buzzard (4), Stone Curlew (7, in an arid roadside field), and a possible Calandra Lark (one flying) we passed De Tinternot, where in roadside fields/scrub: Cattle Egret (3), Grey Heron (1), Black Redstart (2), Blackcap (1, singing) were seen.
We arrived at Nimes (Garonec airport) in plenty of time and a few birds were seen as we waited for the plane. Short-toed Eagle: one, circling and hovering lazily over the airfield (viewed from the terminal and plane!) Also: Kestrel (1), Red-legged Partridge (1), Swallow (5), Black Redstart (4, including 3 singing males), Blackcap (3), House Sparrow (20).
Highlight birds were:
Eagle Owl One at L'Hotel Mas d'Oulivie, Wallcreeper One at Les baux, La Caume, Long legged Buzzard One at La Capeliere Greater Spotted Eagle One at La Chaussagne Black Stork Two at at Mas D'Agnon Little Bustard lots at Eyguiries Airfield Rock Bunting One at Eyguiries Airfield and others at L'Hotel Mas d'Oulivie. Booted Eagle One at La Caume and another near Entresse Short toed Eagle One at Nimes aeroport Alpine Accentor Lots at Les Baux Blue Rock Thrush Several at Les Baux Slender-billed Gull One near La Capeliere Penduline Tit Lots at La Capeliere Fan-tailed Warbler Two near Mas Neuf Moustached Warbler Several near La Capeliere Bonelli's Eagle At least 2 at La Caume Bluethroat One from Mas Neuf Short-toed Lark Several near Entresse Citril Finch Two at La Caume White-tailed Eagle One at Mas Neuf White Stork Several at Entresse Calandra Lark Several at Eyguiries Airfield and one at La Chaussagne. Rock Sparrow At La Caume Lesser Kestrel Two at Entresse Crag Martin Several at La Caume and Les Baux Alpine Swift Several at la Caume Southern Grey Shrike One near Entresse Golden Eagle One near Le Deteste
And of course the Greater Flamingos common on the Camague.
We tried to balance the winter visitors and spring migrants to the area by going at this time of year and were fairly successful and if the weather had of been a little better we could have had a whole lot more. The trip was a great success despite the poor weather on the Friday most of us had double figure numbers of lifers, and would recommend this quite cheap trip to do some great birding.