TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Camargue & Pyrenees

17 - 26 June 2000


Leaders:
Mike Read

Programme

Saturday 17th June

Our arrival at Gatwick was greeted with chaos and huge queues. The air-traffic control computer at Market Drayton had crashed and was causing huge problems. Many flights were cancelled but fortunately ours was not. However we did depart about 2 hours late but some time was made up and we arrived at Montpellier, made the journey to Beaucaire and enjoyed a light, late evening meal. (Unfortunately, Cynthia and Ian's flight from Leeds was cancelled and they failed to make Gatwick on time for our late departure).

Sunday 18th June

The day began with the usual pre-breakfast walk near the hotel. The Musée Camarguais provided our first taste of the Camargue area where many of the typical species were seen, including Bee-eaters, plenty of Tree Sparrows and colourful Greater Flamingos. After lunch at the Musée, we visited the eastern side of the Camargue where higher than normal water levels had reduced the areas available for waders. A few good herons were seen near the Mas d'Agon and the Étang du Fangassier area held plenty of Flamingos but where strong breezes were bringing small items of food to the shore of the étang, a flock of 50-60 Slender-billed Gulls found the conditions ideal for feeding. This far exceeded the usual four or five individuals we would normally see. Our return route took us via le Sambuc and produced one or two good birds.

Back at the hotel, we were pleased to find that Cynthia and Ian had arrived.

A hot, dry day with very little cloud. Early on there had been virtually no breeze but by late afternoon, there was a force 4 south-easterly wind to help keep us cool.

Monday 19th June

Pre-breakfast walk near the hotel. En route to the Pont du Gard, we stopped for a while in Remoulins to view the river and the ground and gardens near the car parking area.

At the Pont du Gard itself, considerable changes have been made; a new larger car parking area (with no shade as yet!) has been constructed along with a new visitor reception area. Fresh concrete produced glaring light reflection. Smaller modifications to the Roman Aqueduct itself, may have been responsible for the reduced numbers of swifts and martins, but thankfully the usual Rock Sparrows were still in residence.

The Chaine des Alpilles was our venue for lunch after which we took a walk to seek out one or two special species of the rock cliffs. A drive to look at one particular cliff-face in the Luberon seemed for a while to have been a fruitless journey when careful scanning failed to find the target species - but it was eventually located on a ledge in full view! (Thanks Ian!)

The day was hot with clear blue skies and little or no wind throughout.

Tuesday 20th June

A short drive enabled us to take our pre-breakfast walk where the River Gardon joins the Rhone. This provided a marked contrast to the morning venue - the vast, stony plane of La Crau. This former estuary of the River Durance is strewn with fist-sized stones and sparse vegetation and here we searched for Stone Curlews and Little Bustards as the heat haze increased. After lunch, we searched other areas of La Crau beside the main Arles to Fos-sur-Mer road before returning to Beaucaire via Daudets Mill.

Another hot and dry day with clear blue skies. Winds were very light and failed to keep us cool!

Wednesday 21st June

Our pre-breakfast walk from the hotel produced a few tantalising glimpses of birds and also good views northwards along the limestone ridge. The western part of the Camargue was our destination today. A minor road westwards from Arles produced a few good species, as did an area south of Vauvert. Although this latter area is not actually part of the Camargue National Park, the wetlands always hold plenty of good birds. South of Gallician is another good area especially near the Étang du Charnier. After lunch at the Centre d'information du Parc, we went to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and drove a short way along the beach road and searched for typical waders of the area. We began our journey back towards Beaucaire by driving along the western side of the Réserve des Impériaux and through to the Domaine de Méjanes.

It was another hot day with light breezes but some cloud throughout, although there were always some patches of blue sky.

Thursday 22nd June

Pre-breakfast packing for our journey to the Pyrenees took precedence over a walk in search of birds. After loading the minibus with our luggage and yet another superb Hotel Robinson picnic, we set off north towards Nimes where we joined the major route westwards. Occasional raptors were seen as we drove along and we made our way towards Toulouse before stopping for lunch.

From Toulouse to the Pyrenees we saw and increasing number of Buzzards on roadside fence posts and after leaving the AutoRoute we headed into the foothills south of Lourdes. A stop near Ayzac Ost produced some good birds and we then set off along the winding road to complete the journey to Luz St Sauveur.

Beaucaire was hot with clear skies but as we drove westwards cloud cover increased until it was complete. Those who left Beaucaire in shorts were regretting it by journeys end as the weather had cooled considerably.

Friday 23rd June

Following overnight rain, a walk along the road seemed the sensible option for the pre-breakfast walk (thus avoiding slippery slopes and dripping trees!) As clouds were thick and low, we decided to drive to the high areas in the hope of getting above the clouds. The Col du Tourmalet produced the usual 'car-park-birds' but we were still unable to drive towards the 'Observatoire' on the Pic du Midi. However, we were able to walk along some of this route (unlike previous years) and, in the top layers of cloud, this produced some good birds and fascinating mountainous views. One of the tunnels along this track was entered in thick mist/cloud but as we came out of the far end, the 'Pic' was revealed as the views cleared for a short while. As we returned to the car park for lunch, the views improved so we decided to try Hautacam. This proved to be a mist(y)ake!! The upper level at this location is much lower than the upper level at Tourmalet and so t here were times when seeing birds was impossible as seeing the road was difficult enough!

Having failed on Hautacam, we lingered a while by the River Pau (or the River Gavarnie - take your pick) near Argelès Gazost before returning to the Hotel Montaigu.

Overnight rain cleared to early morning drizzle and then it was dry. Only on the very high ground did the sun break through, yet at no time was it cold.

Saturday 24th June

Drier conditions gave the opportunity for a pre-breakfast walk to the castle (and beyond) above the Hotel Montaigu. Again low cloud dominated the views so we decided to head up to high ground, this time at the Cirque de Troumouse. This decision was rewarded by fantastic views of the entire Cirque - to begin with. Cloud began to spill upwards into the Cirque from the valley below but the hot sun and light winds both played their parts in revealing an ever changing scene as we walked in search of birds and flowers. Lunch was enjoyed back at the car park before we descended (in ever improving conditions) to the Barrage des Gloriettes for further birding and botanising. The day's outing ended with a gentle drive back along the Héas Valley and then to Luz.

The overcast morning cleared around lunch time to leave a hot and sunny afternoon. Winds were very light throughout the day.

Sunday 25th June

Our pre-breakfast walk was again to the castle and beyond. After breakfast, in clearing weather, we drove to Gavarnie and began the walk to one of the best known locations in the Pyrenees; the Cirque de Gavarnie. At first the walk is fairly level along tumbling melt-water river. Then a steepish rise takes us to broad-leaved woodlands. Again the track levels as we cross flower studded grasslands and then another climb sees us heading for the Hotel du Cirque through pine woodlands. After well-earned refreshment (liquid of course!) we walked a little further on to enjoy our picnic surrounded by pines and great walls of snow-capped rocks - a truly fabulous place enhanced by flocks of Alpine Choughs. The down-hill walk back to the mini-bus was naturally, much more speedy than the up-hill drag. We then drove to the Ossoue Valley to enjoy our final high-round views and birding of the trip. Whether it was orchids in the valley meadows, vultures soaring above the high ridges or foxes skulking amongst rock-strewn slopes, this location was thoroughly savoured before we returned to the Hotel Montaigu for our final Pyrenean night.

Early cloud soon cleared - especially on the high ground - to produce a hot day with a fairly high sunburn factor. Again, light winds prevailed through the day.

Monday 26th June

Again, pre-breakfast packing took precedence over a birding walk. Just before we began our journey to Toulouse, news of an air-traffic controllers strike the previous day reached us. We set off for the airport knowing two things: 1. The strike may end just as quickly as it had started and the planes would depart on schedule. 2. If we did not turn up at the airport, booking seats for a later flight home would not be easy.

As we had plenty of time and the weather was clear, we tried another visit to Hautacam - this time with a few birds visible and the surrounding mountains providing an appropriate backdrop. Reluctantly we began our decent to Argeles Gazost (for a quick visit to the supermarket) and then lunch near Ayzac Ost where an unusually tame male Red-backed Shrike gave us excellent views. Various raptors soared over the ridge as we ate our lunch and then we set off for Lourdes, the AutoRoute and Toulouse. High numbers of Black Kites (because of hay cutting activities?) and lesser numbers of Common Buzzards were seen throughout much of the journey.

At Toulouse airport, smaller than usual numbers of queuing passengers indicated a problem - flights were cancelled and the earliest we could be re-scheduled was for early Wednesday morning. We booked places at a hotel nearby and, after securing the minibus for an extra couple of days, we drove to Colomiers for an evening meal and a nights sleep.

A hot day and very calm - until the airport.

Tuesday 27th June

After a leisurely breakfast and some picnic shopping, we headed for the Forêt de Bouconne for a walk in search of birds and other wildlife. Despite many people dog-walking, jogging and cycling, a few good birds were seen or heard, including Golden Oriole, Honey Buzzard and Long-tailed Tits. Butterflies were about in good numbers (perhaps encouraged by yet another hot day) and amongst the species seen were Glanville Fritillary, Marbled White, Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral. A relaxing back road route took us to a lake north of L'Isle-Jourdain for a prolonged lunch (the one piece of 'French' we were all able and willing to try!) Here, adult and juvenile Night Herons were a pleasant surprise and the leader 'whistled-up' a Golden Oriole, however, despite its presence throughout lunch, no one ever saw it. It just proves how elusive this brilliantly coloured bird can be!

We then returned to the hotel for an hour or twos rest before we did justice to another fine French meal. This un-planned, extra day produced a number of good wildlife sightings.

Another very hot day with almost constant sunshine in light breezes.

Wednesday 28th June

An early start and arrival at Toulouse airport for our 06.50 flight home. Thankfully no strikes, computer failures or any other problems materialised and everything went smoothly. Also, our luggage came on to the Gatwick carousel quite quickly and we bade our farewells.

Hot and sticky in Toulouse and, typically, cloudy and cool in England.

SPECIES ACCOUNTS

BIRDS

Great-crested Grebe: Seen on 3 days: On 18th on the étang near the Mas d'Agon, on 22nd during the journey to the Pyrenees and on the 'extra' day (27th) north-west of Toulouse.

Grey Heron: Seen every day in the Camargue region (18th - 21st), on the two main journey days (22nd and 26th) and also on the extra day (27th).

Purple Heron: Only noted on 18th and 21st in various parts of the Camargue.

Cattle Egret: Usually but not always seen near cattle and horses. Seen on 18th and three consecutive days from 20th.

Little Egret: Well seen on each of the first four days in various parts of the Camargue and surrounding areas.

Squacco Heron: At least 5 very well seen near the Mas d'Agon on 18th and a few rather more distant birds south of Vauvert on 21st.

Black-crowned Night Heron: A single adult bird gave us excellent views near Mas d'Agon on 18th and we also saw 2 or 3 south of Vauvert. Most unexpected was to see an adult openly perched for some considerable time and a juvenile flying around the lake where we had lunch on 27th.

Little Bittern: A single adult bird was seen on 21st; it flew along the waterway beside us (south of Gallician) for perhaps half a kilometre at a steady 35 kph!

(Great) Bittern: One was heard calling during the Musée Camarguais walk on 18th and another was seen in prolonged flight near Saliers on 21st.

Greater Flamingo: Hundreds seen near the Fangassier breeding colony on 18th and smaller numbers were much closer near Stes-Maries on 21st.

White Stork: Three seen at the usual site south of Vauvert on 21st (breeding birds) with a further three at the Centre d'information du Parc later the same day. Whilst these were expected, most unexpected was a single bird seen in flight the following day between Toulouse and Tarbes.

Common Shelduck: Seen on 18th and 21st in the more coastal parts of the Camargue.

Mallard: Seen on the first five full days in France and also the last two.

Honey Buzzard: Seen on the 19th at Remoulins, 24th near the Cirque de Troumouse during the journey to Toulouse on 26th (all singles) but the best views were reserved for the extra day (27th) with one pale bird during the morning walk and a further two at our lunch site.

Red Kite: 2 seen during the journey to the Pyrenees on 22nd and another 2 the following day near Argeles Gazost. Also seen on 25th on the way to Gavarnie and at least 4 during the journey to Toulouse on 26th.

Black Kite: Seen every full day in France except 24th. Surprisingly, during the journey to the Pyrenees, numbers nearly matched the quantity of Common Buzzards and during the drive from Luz to Toulouse we saw four times the number of Black Kites (99) as Buzzards (23).

(Eurasian) Griffon Vulture: Over a hundred sightings in the Pyrenees with minimum numbers each day being 22nd-4, 23rd-10, 24th-30, 25t -50 and 26th-15.

Egyptian Vulture: 2 on 22nd and 3 on 26th at the usual site near Ayzac Ost.

Lammergeier: One, distantly, near Tourmalet on 23rd, 3 juveniles above Barrage des Gloriettes on 24th and 2 in the Gavarnie area on 25th.

Short-toed Eagle: Singles seen on 18th, 19th, 22nd and 26th.

Marsh Harrier: Many seen on 18th, 20th, 21st and 22nd.

Montagu's Harrier: A fine male well seen on 18th during our Musée Camarguais walk; the only sighting.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: Single birds seen on 4 days.

Common Buzzard: Seen every day except 20th with smaller quantities than usual between Toulouse and the Pyrenees.

Booted Eagle: Two pale phase birds seen near the Musée Camarguais on 18th and a further three individuals (2 dark, one pale) near Argeles Gazost on 23rd.

Lesser Kestrel: Two in the Chaine des Alpilles on 19th was a pleasant surprise and these were followed by another two at La Crau the following day.

Common Kestrel: Seen every day including a nest with at least 4 young near the Musée Camarguais on 18th.

Eurasian Hobby: Just a single bird seen briefly from the minibus on 19th; a poor showing for the Travelling Naturalist emblem.

Peregrine: Just a single bird seen briefly (by those facing the right direction!) during lunch at Troumouse on 24th.

Red-legged Partridge: 3 on 18th and 2 on 20th during the pre-breakfast walk from the Hotel Robinson.

Common Moorhen: Only seen on 3 days.

Little Bustard: 2 seen poorly through severe heat haze on La Crau on 20th.

Eurasian Oystercatcher: 2 adults with 2 young near Stes. Maries on 21st was the only sighting.

Black-winged Stilt: Good quantities of this long-legged yet elegant wader were seen on 18th and 21st.

Stone Curlew: Nine seen during our Peau de Meau walk on 20th and another 2 at a different part of La Crau later the same day.

Collared Pratincole: At least a dozen seen in the northern Camargue on 21st.

Little Ringed Plover: Two seen at some old sand and gravel workings on the way to the Pont du Gard on 19th.

Kentish Plover: Absent from many of their usual haunts but we did find at least 8 near Stes Maries on 21st.

Eurasian Curlew: A single bird during the Musée Camarguais walk on 18th was the only sighting.

Yellow-legged Gull: Seen every day in the Camargue and during the journey to and from the Pyrenees.

Black-headed Gull: Seen on each of the first five full days in France.

Slender-billed Gull: The strongish breeze in the afternoon on 18th produced ideal feeding conditions for this species as tiny items of food were blown to the shore of the Étang du Fangassier. Between 50-60 individuals were feeding along the roadside and gave us excellent views as we watched from the minibus. A further 9 were seen just north of Stes Maries on 21st making this our best year for sightings of this very rare species.

Mediterranean Gull: Two seen down the eastern side of the Camargue on 18th and two on the western side on 21st.

Gull-billed Tern: 4 during the Musée Camarguais walk on 18th was the only sighting.

Sandwich Tern: Two or three off the beach at Stes Maries on 21st.

Common Tern: Just noted on 18th and 21st in the Camargue area and on 27th near Toulouse.

Little Tern: A few near Stes Maries on 21st were the only birds seen.

Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon: Seen every day.

Wood Pigeon: Seen every day except 20th and 25th.

European Turtle Dove: Seen on 19th and 21st.

Collared Dove: Seen every day.

Common Cuckoo: Only heard during the Musée walk on 18th and south of Vauvert on 21st but surprisingly neither were actually seen.

Eagle Owl: One found at the usual site in the southern Luberon on 19th. Despite original difficulties in finding it, he (presumably the female was nesting nearby) was in full view all the time.

Alpine Swift: As usual, seen at the Pont du Gard on 19th and later the same day in the Chaine des Alpilles. On 25th, two or three were seen high over a ridge in the Ossoue Valley, close to a Griffon Vulture. Despite being large members of the Swift family, they were really dwarfed by the vulture.

Common Swift: Seen every day.

Common Kingfisher: One seen briefly in the western Camargue on 21st - but sadly, not by everyone.

European Bee-eater: This superb species was firstly seen during the Musée Camarguais walk on 18th and then later that day near Étang du Fangassier. Also noted north of Beaucaire on 19th and in the northern Camargue on 21st. Numbers seemed to be down on previous years.

European Roller: First seen on 18th - briefly - as we drove back towards Beaucaire at the end of the day. Also seen on La Crau on 20th and near Vauvert (2) on 21st.

Eurasian Hoopoe: The only one was a 'fly-past' near Vauvert on 21st. Unfortunately some of the group missed it as they were concentrating on a Roller flying in the opposite direction! A poor showing for this species.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker One heard calling and then seen flying away (very briefly) during the pre-breakfast walk on 25th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Heard during the pre-breakfast walk on 19th, one seen to fly across in front of the minibus on 22nd and also heard in the Forêt de Bouconne on 27th.

Green Woodpecker: Seen or heard every day from 21st onwards.

(Greater) Short-toed Lark: Seen on La Crau in the morning and afternoon of 20th and also heard near Stes Maries the following day.

Crested Lark: Seen on 18th during the Musée Camarguais walk, in the afternoon of 20th on La Crau, down the western Camargue on 21st and during the journey to the Pyrenees on 22nd.

(Eurasian) Skylark: Seen or heard on 5 days in widely scattered locations.

Crag Martin: First seen on 19th at the Pont du Gard and in the Alpilles then seen in varying numbers in the Pyrenees on 22nd, 23rd, 25th and 26th.

Barn Swallow: Seen every day.

(Common) House Martin: Seen every day.

Yellow Wagtail: Only noted on 18th and 21st in short vegetation in the Camargue.

White Wagtail: Seen on 19th and then every day from 22nd.

Grey Wagtail: Seen on 4 consecutive days in the Pyrenees from 23rd.

Tawny Pipit: A single near Peau de Meau on 20th was followed by a couple near Stes Maries the next day.

Tree Pipit: Heard during the Gavarnie walk on 25th and then well seen on Hautacam the following day.

Water Pipit: Constantly present on high 'meadows' in the Pyrenees from 23rd to 26th.

Red-backed Shrike: A single bird during the journey to the Pyrenees on 22nd was the first, then seen on 24th, 25th (5 or 6 individuals at least) and then very closely on 26th. Strangely missed in the Camargue region.

(White-throated) Dipper: Two seen near Gèdre on 25th was the only sighting.

(Winter) Wren: Seen or heard on 7 days.

Alpine Accentor: Three on the walk near Tourmalet on 23rd and another the following day at the Cirque de Troumouse.

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock): Seen or heard on 4 days.

(Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush: Two near the Barrage des Gloriettes on 24th and 2 more in the Ossoue Valley the following day.

Blue Rock Thrush: Just a single male well seen near Les Baux on 19th.

(Common) Blackbird: Seen or heard on 8 days; more numerous in the Pyrenees than the Camargue.

Song Thrush: Seen or heard on each of the last 5 days.

Mistle Thrush: Only seen on 25th and 26th.

European Robin: Seen or heard every day except 18th.

Common Nightingale: Heard every day in the Camargue area (18th - 22nd).

Black Redstart: Seen close to the Hotel Robinson on 19th and 20th then seen every day in the Pyrenees (22nd - 26th), including near the Hotel Montaigu.

Common Redstart: A male, well seen during the pre-breakfast walk on 21st was present the following day.

Whinchat: A pair on Hautacam on 26th was the only sighting.

Common Stonechat: Seen on 5 days.

Northern Wheatear: Seen on the high ground in the Pyrenees on 3 consecutive days from 23rd.

Fan-tailed Warbler: Seen in the Camargue on 18th and 21st and also heard briefly

(Zitting Cisticola) during a minibus journey on 27th.

Cetti's Warbler: Heard on 18th, 19th and 21st but sadly this skulking species was not well seen - as usual.

(Eurasian) Reed Warbler: Heard near Saliers on 21st then seen south of Gallician later the same morning.

Blackcap: Heard or seen every day.

Garden Warbler: Not seen until 25th during the Gavarnie walk and then heard the following day on Hautacam.

Sardinian Warbler: Noted during the first five full days in France - particularly on the pre-breakfast walks. As usual, the species was very elusive but it did give one or two brief good views.

Common Chiffchaff: Only heard during the pre-breakfast walk on 23rd.

Goldcrest: Seen during the Gavarnie walk on 25th and heard north of Ayzac Ost on 26th.

Firecrest: Much more elusive than normal but the species was heard (including at very close quarters) during the pre-breakfast walks of 25th and 26th.

Long-tailed Tit: A presumed family party was near the Hotel Robinson on 21st and we also saw some in the Forêt de Bouconne on 27th.

Coal Tit: Well heard during the Gavarnie walk on 25th but unfortunately not seen.

Crested Tit: Possible 4 seen during the Gavarnie walk on 25th.

Great Tit: Seen or heard every day.

Blue Tit: Seen at the Hotel Robinson before breakfast on 20th then seen every day from 24th.

(Eurasian) Nuthatch: One well seen in riverside trees near Argeles Gazost on 23rd then heard on 27th in the Forêt de Bouconne.

Eurasian Treecreeper: Seen during the Gavarnie walk on 25th and heard in the Forêt de Bouconne on 27th.

Short-toed Treecreeper: Seen near the Pont du Gard on 19th and heard the following morning during the pre-breakfast walk.

Eurasian Jay: Seen on 8 days.

(Black-billed) Magpie: Seen every day.

Red-billed Chough: Heard in the mists at Tourmalet on 23rd then seen at Troumouse and in the Ossoue Valley on the following 2 days.

Alpine Chough: Seen at Troumouse and Gloriettes on 24th and at Gavarnie and the Ossoue Valley the following day.

Eurasian Jackdaw: Seen on each of the first seven full days in France.

Carrion Crow: Seen every day.

Common Raven: A poor showing for this species with 2 adults and 3 well grown nestlings in the Ossoue Valley on 25th being the only record.

Golden Oriole: Heard just near the Hotel Robinson before breakfast on 18th but then not encountered again until 27th (the extra day) when one was heard in the Forêt de Bouconne and then 2 or 3 serenaded us during lunch-at-the-lake a little later. Despite whistled encouragement from the leader these birds never did show themselves!

European Starling: Seen every day except 19th and 24th.

Yellowhammer: A male in the Heas Valley on 24th was followed by some good sightings on Hautacam on 26th.

Cirl Bunting: Heard much more often than seen usually during early walks on the first 6 days.

Reed Bunting: Only heard on 21st south of Gallician.

Corn Bunting: Seen at Stes Maries de la Mer on 21st only.

(Common) Chaffinch: Recorded every day.

European Serin: Seen on 19th at Remoulins and for 5 consecutive days in the Pyrenees from 22nd.

European Greenfinch: Seen on 5 days.

European Goldfinch: Seen every day.

Common Linnet: At least a couple of dozen seen in the western Camargue on 21st and then high in the Pyrenees on 24th, 25th and 26th.

House Sparrow: Seen every day.

Tree Sparrow: Plentiful in the Musée Camarguais area on 18th and also seen the following day at Remoulins.

Rock Sparrow: 3-5 birds seen at the usual Pont du Gard site on 19th.

Eurasian Snowfinch: Only seen on 23rd at the Col du Tourmalet where we saw perhaps 10 individuals. Occasionally they would hop by at very short range and thus gave excellent views.

MAMMALS

Red Fox: Just a single sighting of one skulking about amongst a jumble of rocks in the Ossoue Valley on 25th.

Isard: At least 11 on high slopes at the Cirque de Troumouse on 24th. (Originally classed as Chamois but now sufficiently different from its Alpine cousin to be regarded as a separate species).

Red Squirrel: Just a single sighting from the dining room at the Hotel Robinson on 21st.

Alpine Marmot: Heard in the mist on Tourmalet on 23rd and then at least 20 seen on each of the following days (at Troumouse/Gloriettes and Gavarnie/Ossoue).

Coypu: Just a single individual, well seen in the western Camargue on 21st. Another swimming mammal seen distantly on 27th may have been of this species or perhaps a Muskrat.

Rabbit: Seen on 4 days in the Camargue region.

Pine/Beech Marten: One gave such brief views as it ran across the track in front of the minibus that it was not possible to be sure of the species. However it was near Ayzac Ost on 22nd.

Polecat: Another brief view of a dark coloured mustelid running across the road near L'Isle-Jourdain on 27th was possibly this species.

BUTTERFLIES

Swallowtail

Scarce Swallowtail

Apollo

Yellow Brimstone

Black Veined White

Large White

Orange Tip

Green-veined White

Clouded Yellow

Cleopatra

Painted Lady

Small Tortoiseshell

Marbled White

Lefèbvre's Ringlet

Piedmont Ringlet

Meadow Brown

Small Heath

Wall Brown

Small Skipper

Dingy Skipper

Grizzled Skipper

White Admiral

Red Admiral

Ilex Hairstreak

S'washed Fritillary

Spotted Fritillary

Prl-borded Fritillary

Glanville Fritillary

A few frogs, lizards and a snake were also seen but it was not possible to specifically identify

them.

Bearing in mind the difficulties of getting there in the first place (due to the air traffic control computer crash) and getting home again (French air traffic controllers strike!) everyone remained in good humour throughout. To see how well the members of the group got on was most pleasing. The sparkling eyes, broad grins and expressions of delight when a new or sought after species was seen or we obtained good and enduring views of even a common species was most pleasing for the leader.

Slightly higher water levels than usual in the Camargue reduced the available mud and shallows available for waders. Perhaps recent rains we had also reduced the salinity to render formerly regular Avocet haunts unsuitable for this elegant wader; none were seen throughout the trip. Also European Bee-eater numbers seemed lower than usual but perhaps they had arrived a little early and the females were already incubating eggs.

The Pyrenees were as usual magnificent. Birding here improved as the weather did so over the three full days there.

With a total of 132 bird species this was another good tour. Butterflies seemed to be plentiful and I'm sure there were many more present than the 28 species we definitely identified. What were the blues for instance?

One of these fine trips, I will actually get to see my first ever Wallcreeper and on that day it will be 'drinks all round'. Sorry it did not happen on this trip folks - but perhaps next year.

Mike Read


© The Travelling Naturalist 2000