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TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Camargue & Vercors

19th - 28th May 2001


Leaders:
Mike Read

Daily diary

Saturday 19th May

The flight to Montpellier was on schedule and once we had collected the minibus, we made the journey to the Hotel Robinson in Beaucaire in good time. During the drive, we did see 2 or 3 Common Kestrels and a Cattle Egret and a few other things to begin our bird list.

The weather in France was quite warm with a fair amount of cloud.

Sunday 20th May

The birds during the pre breakfast walk proved typically elusive in the maquis behind the hotel. We did see a Cirl Bunting and a Turtle Dove and also had Grey Heron and a Honey Buzzard in flight. Sardinian Warblers and Nightingales sang from the scrub but sadly none were seen.

After breakfast we headed for the Camargue and steadily drove the road west of Arles in search of Collared Pratincoles. About a dozen were seen. Also of note along this route were Black-crowned Night-Herons (2 sightings), Cattle Egrets (a hundred or more), plus the usual Black-winged Stilts. The Musée Camarguais walk proved interesting with insect dispersal and leader's duties being the major topics of conversation; why do the mozzies always go for the leader?!

Skylarks sang above the open ground, Reed and Great Reed Warblers sang from the reeds, Cetti's Warblers from the waterside scrub and Nightingales sang from everywhere! The lake at the far end of the walk supported a good array of birds including Grey, Purple and Great White Heron, a flock of feeding Whiskered Terns and a lone Great Crested Grebe. As we left the hide, a Hobby, our second of the day, was mobbed by the Terns.

After a latish lunch we headed for the eastern side of the Camargue to check out the breeding colony of Greater Flamingos. As usual, thousands were present and there were also a few waders including Greater Ringed and Kentish Plovers and 3 Avocets. Some distance out on the Etang, 44 Slender-billed Gulls were busy feeding and some occasionally flew past us at close range to give us really good views of this very rare gull to complete our day's birding.

A fine warm day with a fair breeze from a northerly quarter. Rain began in the late evening.

Monday 21st May

During the pre breakfast walk it began to rain, which certainly did not help our efforts, though we did see a Honey Buzzard and a Red Squirrel and we heard Sardinian Warbler and Cirl Bunting in the scrub.

After breakfast we headed north towards the Pont du Gard but made a couple of stops before we reached there. At a sand 'quarry' a male Little Ringed Plover was keen to return to its nest as the light rain persisted. At Remoulins we began an intended brief stop with somewhat distant views of male Serin and Black Redstart, the latter typically singing from a television aerial. A male Blackcap was feeding amongst the vegetation along the edge of the field. The River Gardon held its usual Yellow-legged Gulls and up to 3 yellow-footed Little Egrets. A pair of White Wagtails were feeding a family of at least 4 full sized, fledged young and a lone Grey Wagtail fed on a log over the far side of the weir. A distant Kingfisher gave prolonged views as it perched on a branch beneath overhanging branches waiting for the rain to stop. As the weather improved, we stood more openly to listen to singing Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler when a Hoopoe flew past and into the field we had been scanning earlier. Field scanning began again but we only saw the bird fly up and over a fence where it was lost from view. Constant watching of this area through binoculars brought another reward as a female Golden Oriole was seen collecting nesting material. A little later we had good, though somewhat distant views of the male to complete our 'brief' stop.

At the Pont du Gard, there were a few Alpine Swifts and Crag Martins flying around but numbers seemed to be reduced from previous years. One has to wonder if the recent bridge repairs had reduced the nesting opportunities for these two species. Obviously not affected were the Rock Sparrows that were still about in good numbers. A pale phase Short-toed Eagle flew past and caused some confusion, as it had no barring on the wings or tail at all.

Lunch was enjoyed at Collias where a bridge crossed the Gardon; it was not an ideal location as there were no tables or chairs but the view was good and there were a few birds to be seen including perhaps the same Eagle as earlier.

We drove to the Chaine des Alpilles and went for a walk in search of wildlife. A few Sardinian Warblers sang from the depths of the bushes but never did reveal themselves. A Chalk-hill Blue butterfly was much more co-operative as it landed on the track for everyone to see. Jackdaws, Crag Martins and more Alpine Swifts could be seen as we scanned the limestone cliffs but unfortunately only one person managed to catch a glimpse of the hoped for Blue Rock Thrush. Soon we headed back to the hotel in good time for a relax before dinner.

Tuesday 22nd May

The riverbank a couple of miles north of the Robinson was the destination for our pre breakfast walk however the birds were equally elusive here too. Nightingales sang from the thickets, Short-toed Treecreepers called from the riverside trees and Cetti's Warblers burst forth their song from occasional patches of scrub .......... but none were seen! A Great Spotted Woodpecker gave a couple of calls in a group of trees but only one person managed to even glimpse it. The walk ended with a Cirl Bunting landing briefly, close to the mini bus.

After purchasing our permit in Saint Martin de Crau, we visited the Peau de Meau reserve to seek the typical birds of this very different place. Just before reaching the car park, one person in the bus spotted a bird in the Îditchâ and it turns out to have been a female Little Bustard. Large numbers of Black Kites could be seen in the distance over the Entressen rubbish tip and a few flew overhead on their way to or from that highly salubrious location. Dragonflies and damselflies were common along the stream and a Hoopoe called from the trees beyond. Another couple of raptors rose above these same trees and it turned out to be our first Common Buzzards of the tour. The main birds that we were seeking began to be found as a Stone Curlew stood preening itself some distance from the track and a few Greater Short-toed Larks rose to give their briefly phrased song above us. At the actual hide, a Little Owl was pointed out to us, a Short-toed Eagle flew over and a Tawny Pipit was found despite its stone-coloured plumage.

As we arrived at the Etang des Aulnes for lunch, a flight of Red-crested Pochards flew around then promptly disappeared and a male Golden Oriole flew past. Amongst the trees a female Oriole flew out of the branches above us and a second male 'serenaded' us while we dined. Entressen rubbish tip was attracting the usual flocks of Black Kites and Yellow-legged Gulls and as we drove away from the area, we saw a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes and a Lesser Kestrel flew past.

In the Chaine des Alpilles, we spent some time looking towards La Caume and here we found an obliging Crested Tit amongst the pines. We were also entertained by raptors including a 'fly past' Peregrine, possibly 3 Hobbies hunting for insects directly overhead and a pair of Short-toed Eagles hunting a distant ridge. A Black Kite landed on a rocky outcrop before becoming intent on disturbing the peace that a pair of Common Ravens seemed to be enjoying. Perhaps the Ravens had young to defend but they launched a combined attack when the Kite entered their air space. The Kite was obviously the most agile flier as it easily dodged attack after attack.

This ended our birding for the day and we returned to the hotel.

Wednesday 23rd May

Birds during the pre breakfast walk were typically elusive and we still failed to see a Sardinian Warbler though many were heard. The rather misty conditions seemed to suppress bird activity but it did suggest a fine, sunny day was ahead.

Over on the western side of the Camargue to the south of Vauvert we watched a marshy area for a while where White Storks had two large young in the nest. Egrets (Cattle and Little) and Black-winged Stilts fed in the open, wetter areas, Grey and Purple Herons dropped into reed bed pools and Reed and Great Reed Warblers sang from the reeds. A walk further on had us looking at more herons including our second Great White Egret of the tour; not usually an easily found species in this region. Nightingales and Cetti's Warblers were singing well and a Common Cuckoo was perched in a dead tree not far away. A couple of Marsh Harriers drifted over the reeds, a Glossy Ibis flew past, Gulls feeding on insects overhead included at least 4 Mediterranean Gulls, and a Hobby joined in the feast. Most of the insects being devoured by these birds were some of the thousands of recently emerged Common Darter dragonflies, which were encouraged out by the now excellent weather.

As we drove towards our lunch venue, we paused south of Gallician to check some extensive reed bed areas. A little before our stop we had a Bearded Tit fly across the road in front of us. Whiskered Terns hawked over pools and numerous Marsh Harriers hunted the reeds from where a Great Bittern called.

Cetti's Warblers called frequently from close to our picnic table at the Centre d'Information du Parc but sadly we did not see one though a Black-crowned Night Heron did fly over.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer was exceptionally busy as the famous gypsy festival seemed imminent; people were everywhere and various caravans occupied all of the open space. We drove down the beach road and eventually found an area occupied by waders and terns. The only wader species present were about 10 Kentish Plover and a lone Eurasian Oystercatcher. We were pleasantly surprised to find four species of Terns namely Common, Little, Sandwich and two Caspians and we also had good views of up to about 24 Slender-billed Gulls.

Looking in towards the Etang dit l'Imperiaux, plenty of Greater Flamingos and a smaller pool held 6 Pied Avocets. Little else of particular interest was seen here or during the journey back to Beaucaire.

The day had started misty and still. The mist soon cleared to give a sunny, hot day.

Thursday 24th May

There was no pre breakfast today to allow time for packing ready for the journey to the Vercors.

A stop on the southern side of the Luberon proved exceptionally worthwhile when one of the group found one of the resident Eagle Owls. Instructions were given regarding its location and everyone was soon looking into the deep orange eyes of an adult bird .......... except one person who was also saying how wonderful the bird was but was obviously gazing at a different part of the cliff. He had found a different bird, this time a well grown juvenile! In the end we saw 1 adult and 2 large chicks.

During the northwards journey on the autoroute we saw occasional Common Buzzards and a few Black Kites and Common Kestrels. During lunch at a roadside rest area we were joined by House Sparrows and a Brown Rat! Throughout the rest of the journey to the Vercors we saw a few more raptors,

Just as we entered the Vercors we found a couple of wild orchids growing on the roadside verge (Man and Violet Bird's Nest) and park up to spend a few moments enjoying these lovely flowers; we also found a Bee Orchid. This was just beside the River Bourne where overhead were 5 Black Kites, 6 Common Ravens and 7 Hobbies feeding on insects rising from the river

The winding route from Pont-en-Royans to la Chapelle-en-Vercors is lined with masses of wild flowers, which is so typical of the area. Between these two towns we add Military, Monkey, Twayblade, Pyramidal and Greater Butterfly Orchids.

We meet our local guide Bruno Veillet at the hotel and then after dinner we try searching for some of the owls of the high pine forest but without success. However, during this outing, we do add Song Thrush and Ring Ouzel to the (both heard) as well as seeing a Woodcock in its roding flight. On the grassy bank where we search for owls, both colour forms of Elder-flowered Orchid are growing.

On the way back to La Chapelle our headlights pick out a Badger which gives us very brief views as it trundles off up the hillside, and a Brown Hare which ran along the road in front of us for some distance.

Friday 25th May

Our day begins early as we head out at 5 am to visit the high Vercors. In the early morning light we catch Brown Hare, Roe Deer and a Wild Boar all heading off to the safety of their daytime hideaways. We reach the Maison Forestiere de la Coche in good time and begin a fairly brisk walk (by Travelling Naturalist standards!) in the hope of finding Black Grouse. Early during the walk a Willow Tit gives a different song from the one which British birders are used to. Bruno informs us that it is some authorities believe it to be a different species, the Alpine (Willow) Tit. Some distance before we reach the 'grouse clearing', we hear a male calling but have already enjoyed the songs of Tree Pipit and a Woodlark. We sneak up behind a pine tree to gain views over the clearing and see a fine male Black Grouse displaying in the top of a tree, though it soon descends to the ground and continues to display there. While in this area we also see Mistle Thrushes, Ring Ouzels, Citril Finches, Lesser Whitethroat, & hear some Common Crossbills. During the walk back to the minibus we see Crested and Coal Tits.

After a late breakfast we drove to the Col de Rousset and saw some Griffon Vultures, which are part of a reintroduction scheme. A few Common Ravens are typical 'hangers on' at the feeding station and an unexpected Red-billed Chough flew along the cliff above us. On a nearby slope at least 7 Chamois were feeding.

We then drove to Font d'Urle where we were amazed by the amount of wild flowers which carpeted the ground. A couple of Water Pipits flew overhead and a Northern Wheatear hopped among the rocks. In a strong, keen wind we walked to the Port d'Urle and were able to look down on 3 female Chamois each with a youngster in tow. Alpine Marmots were seen nearby and we entered a cave where a group of Alpine Choughs continued with their nesting activities oblivious of our close presence.

We then drove through the Foret de Lente to the Col de la Machine for lunch and superb views after which we returned to the hotel for a mid afternoon siesta. After our evening meal, we then went out owling again this time with more success; at about 9.30 p.m a Pygmy Owl began calling and after a while it perched in a tree quite close to us. We all had fabulous views of this rare species. A brief stop during the return journey failed to add anything else to the list so we returned to the hotel seeing just one Roe Deer in the car headlights as we went.

Saturday 26th May

In the hotel garden, Common & Black Redstarts are well on view before breakfast. As we loaded the minibus, a calling Wryneck attracted our attention and we soon enjoyed good views with second one calling in the distance. A brief stop at the Col de Rousset produced 2 Chamois but the Vultures must have been elsewhere feeding, as there was no sign of the free flying birds. From there we took a very pleasant drive through the forests with occasional stops for various butterflies but few birds were seen.

Around the village of Plan-de-Baix was quite good for birds and we saw 2 Woodlarks and a male Cirl Bunting just before, and a Short-toed Eagle and some Alpine Swifts just after the buildings. At Beaufort-sur-Garvanne, a Common Whitethroat was singing from scrub, which also held our first Red-backed Shrike, a fine male. A little further on we found some Rock Sparrows and a male Ortolan Bunting. At one time we had these last three species perched close to each other along a supply cable and had to zoom out to get all of them in one 'scope view! During lunch nearby, 2 Red & 1 Black Kites drifted past and Bonelli's Warblers sang from the oaks.

Masses of orchids lined our route as we headed over the hills to Die then after a brief stop to see a dam made by European Beavers (but sadly we saw no animals) we drove on through Chatillon-en-Diois and turned into the Archiane Valley. Two 'hoped for' species were not seen but a Red Fox was wandering about in a meadow searching for a meal.

Another Short-toed Eagle circled near the Col de Menée before we drove through the tunnel and descended to Chichilianne and our hotel on the slopes of Mont Aiguille.

Sunday 27th May

An hourâs pre breakfast walk close to the Hotel au Gai Soliel added Marsh Tit, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer to our list and we also saw only our second Nuthatch of the tour. Further on a group of Long-tailed Tits gave excellent views.

As we drove through the forest towards the Col de Menée, one stop had us enjoying good views of a Sparrowhawk circling just above the tree tops and further on a few Pale-flowered Orchids were growing on the treed banks.

As we emerged from the tunnel at the Col we parked to admire the fabulous view and see 4 Honey & 1 Common Buzzards circling in the distance. We descend to an area of pines and scrub and saw a female Whinchat before we returned to the bus. We heard first one then two Black Woodpeckes calling but despite prolonged attempts to see them we fail to gain even the briefest glimpse.

In the Vallée de Combeau we spent ages looking at the wonderful array of wild flowers including Wild Tulips, Elder-flowered Orchids plus carpets of Globe Flowers and Violets plus many more. Birds were in short supply but during lunch we saw a couple of Common Buzzards and another Sparrowhawk.

Time spent in the Archiane Valley still failed to produce the species we missed yesterday but the butterflies, flowers and a number of Ascalaphids seemed to make up for that. The latter species looks something like a short tailed dragonfly in flight but it is more closely related to the ant-lions and lacewings.

During the return journey to the hotel we added Bird's Nest to the already impressive orchid list.

Monday 28th May

After breakfast we set out for Montpellier at 06.30 in glorious early morning sunshine. There was little to be seen as we made our way up to the Col de Menée except the profusion of wild flowers that lined the roadsides and carpeted the meadows. Beyond the Col, the downhill slope made the driving easier and we made fair time towards the Autoroute. After stopping for a coffee, we began heading west and soon were seeing a number of Black Kites, ... but very little else.

Arrival at the airport was in good time and we were soon checked in and relaxing prior to departure. We departed a little late but time was made up during the flight and we landed back at Gatwick actually on schedule.

SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Birds

Great Crested Grebe Noted on 3 days with the most being 7 or 8 on 24th in the western part of the Camargue.

Grey Heron Seen on 5 consecutive days in the Camargue area from 20th and also during the journey to Montpellier.

Purple Heron A couple during the Musée walk on 20th, 1 at the Etang des Aulnes on 22nd and many south of Vauvert on 23rd.

Cattle Egret Seen every day from 19th to 24th.

Great White Egret One during the Musée Camarguais walk on 20th plus another south of Vauvert on 23rd.

Little Egret Seen on 4 consecutive days from 20th.

Squacco Heron About 10 prior to and during the Musée walk on 20th then, surprisingly no other sightings.

Black-crowned Night-Heron 3 in the northern Camargue on 20th and at least 2 on 23rd south of Vauvert.

Great Bittern Only heard calling south of Gallician on 23rd.

Greater Flamingo Probably in excess of 3000 in the area of the usual breeding colony on 20th plus plenty in the Saintes-Maries area on 23rd.

White Stork 1 adult and 2 well-grown chicks at the usual nesting site south of Vauvert on 23rd.

Glossy Ibis 3 feeding in a wet field near Salin de Badon on 20th was a very pleasant surprise and this was enhanced by another sighting south of Vauvert on 23rd.

Mute Swan Just a single bird near the Centre d'Information du Parc on 23rd.

Common Shelduck 6 at the Etang du Fangassier on 20th and about 8 near Saintes-Maries on 23rd reflects this species coastal 'bias'.

Mallard Seen every day up to 25th when we 'took to the Mountains'.

Red-crested Pochard A group of 3 or 4 males and a single female were seen in flight over the Etang des Aulnes on 22nd.

Griffon Vulture At least 4 'wild and free' individuals seen at the re-introduction site near the Col de Rousset on 25th.

European Honey Buzzard 7 sightings on 20th beginning on the pre breakfast walk then more in the northern part of the Camargue later. Also singles were seen on 21st and 22nd and a group of 4 moving through the mountains at the Col de Menée on 27th were encouraged to keep moving by the local Common Buzzard.

Red Kite Just a couple seen during lunch on 26th.

Black Kite Seen every day in the Camargue from 20th to 24th including at least 200 on 22nd near Entressen. Also a single bird seen during lunch on 26th and during he journey to Montpellier on 28th.

Short-toed Eagle 3 on 21st, 3 on 22nd, 1 on 23rd and 2 on 26th; a fairly good series of sightings.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier Only seen during the 2 days spent exploring the wetlands of the Camargue namely 20th & 23rd when we saw at least 8 birds each day.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk A single bird glimpsed by some of the group on 22nd was the first and we also had sightings on 24th, 26th (2) and 27th (2+).

Common Buzzard Seen every day from 22nd with at least 5 on 27th.

Lesser Kestrel Just a single bird seen near Entressen on 22nd.

Common Kestrel Seen every day.

Eurasian Hobby 2 on 20th during the Musée Camarguais walk, 2 or 3 in Les Alpilles on 22nd, one feeding low overhead south of Vauvert on 23rd then finally (and most spectacularly) 7 feeding over the River Bourne as we approached Pont-en-Royans on 24th.

Peregrine Just a single sighting in the Chaine des Alpilles on 22nd. There was possibly a second sighting high over a ridge close to Chichilianne on 27th but it was too distant to confirm its identity ............... so we called it Eric!!

Red-legged Partridge Just a single bird seen near Entressen on 22nd.

Black Grouse A single displaying male seen about one hour's walk from the Maison Forestiere de la Coche on 25th.

Moorhen Seen on 3 days in the Camargue area.

Coot Seen on 4 days in the Camargue area.

Little Bustard A female glimpsed by the roadside by one lucky member of the group as we approached La Crau on 22nd.

Eurasian Oystercatcher 4 seen on 23rd in the area of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Black-winged Stilt Commonly seen on 20th and 23rd in various parts of the Camargue.

Pied Avocet 3 at the Etang du Fangassier on 20th and twice that number close to Saintes-Maries on 23rd.

Stone Curlew Just a single bird seen on La Crau on 22nd though another was heard later the same day.

Collared Pratincole A group of at least 10 at the usual site near Saliers on 20th was our only true sighting though we did see some 'look-alikes' near the Musée Camarguais later the same day. These were presumably decoys to hopefully attract birds to nest in a second location.

Greater Ringed Plover A group of about 10 were at the Etang du Fangassier on 20th but this was our only sighting.

Little Ringed Plover Just a single male seen on a nest north of Beaucaire on 21st.

Kentish Plover A couple at Fangassier on 20th and at least 10 east of Saintes-Maries on 23rd.

Woodcock One on 24th and probably 2 on 25th as we searched for owls high in the Vercors.

Lesser Black-backed Gull 3 or more in with other gulls east of Saintes-Maries on 23rd.

Yellow-legged Gull Commonly seen on the first 6 days and also on 28th.

Black-headed Gull Just seen on 19th, 20th and 23rd.

Slender-billed Gull Another good year for this species with 44 at Fangassier on 20th and 24 near Saintes-Maries on 23rd.

Mediterranean Gull At least 4 aerial-feeding on insects, with Black-headed Gulls, south of Vauvert on 23rd.

Whiskered Tern As expected, seen on 20th and 23rd on various Etangs around the Camargue.

Gull-billed Tern We somehow missed the usual quantity of sightings of this species though one was seen on 20th west of Arles.

Caspian Tern 2 resting amongst gulls east of Saintes-Maries on 23rd was a pleasant surprise.

Sandwich Tern A group of about 15 east of Saintes-Maries on 23rd.

Common Tern Noted on 3 days; 20th, 22nd and 23rd.

Little Tern 3 at Fangassier on 20th were our first but the 20 or so individuals east of Saintes-Maries on 23rd gave excellent views including of courtship feeding.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Seen most days.

Wood Pigeon Seen on 6 days.

Turtle Dove Seen on 5 consecutive days from 20th then on the way to the airport on 28th.

Collared Dove Seen every day except 25th and 27th.

Common Cuckoo Seen or heard every day from 23rd.

Eurasian Eagle Owl An adult and two well-grown juveniles were at the usual site on the southern side of the Luberon on 24th.

Long-eared Owl A bird probably of this species was heard on two nights at the Hotel Robinson.

Pygmy Owl A bird was well seen and another was calling in the distance high in the Vercors on 25th.

Alpine Swift Seen on 21st and 22nd at the Pont du Gard and in the Alpilles and also seen on 3 consecutive days from 25th in the Vercors.

Common Swift Seen every day.

Common Kingfisher We had 2 very brief sightings during the Musée Camarguais walk on 20th and this was followed by more prolonged views on the River Gardon the following day.

European Bee-eater Seen on 5 consecutive days from 20th on which day we probably had in excess of 30 individual birds.

European Roller A single bird gave excellent views close to Tarascon on 20th, which was just as well because we only had one other sighting - and that flew across in front of us as we drove along in the western Camargue.

Eurasian Hoopoe Seen or heard on three consecutive days from 21st when we had our best views as a bird flew back and forth presumably carrying food to young in a nest.

Eurasian Wryneck Heard on 25th then one seen and a second individual was heard the following day behind the Hotel Bellier.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Seen on 3 days in the Vercors.

Black Woodpecker 2 heard close to the Col de Menée and a third was in the Vallée de Combeau all on 27th. Sadly none of these birds were actually seen.

Green Woodpecker Heard on 4 days in widely scattered locations.

Greater Short-toed Lark 4 close to the Peau de Meau hide on the Crau on 22nd.

Crested Lark Strangely, we only had a single sighting of this usually common species and that was east of Saintes-Maries on 23rd.

Wood Lark Seen during the early morning walk on 25th close to the Maison Forestiere de la Coche and also close to Plan-de-Baix the following day.

Skylark Seen on 2 days in the Camargue region and on two days in the Vercors.

Crag Martin Seen at the Pont du Gard and in Les Alpilles on 21st and then on 4 days in the Vercors from 24th.

Barn Swallow Seen every day.

House Martin Seen every day.

Yellow Wagtail 5 during the Musée Camarguais walk on 20th and also seen on 23rd and 24th.

White Wagtail Seen on 21st in Remoulins and then on 4 days in the Vercors from 24th.

Grey Wagtail Seen on 21st in Remoulins and then on 26th and 27th in the Vercors.

Tawny Pipit Just a single bird close to the Peau de Meau on 22nd.

Tree Pipit Seen on 25th and 27th in the Vercors.

Water Pipit Just seen close to the Col de Rousset on 25th.

Red-backed Shrike Only noted on one day when we saw at least 10 close to Beaufort-sur-Garvanne on 26th.

Southern Grey Shrike A pair close to Entressen on 22nd was our only sighting.

Winter Wren Seen or heard every day except 19th.

Hedge Accentor Only noted on 21st, 25th and 27th.

Blue Rock Thrush Just a single bird seen by one member of the group close to Les Baux on 21st.

Ring Ouzel Heard in the high Vercors late on the 24th then 3 individuals early the following morning when we were watching a Black Grouse.

Blackbird Seen or heard on 6 days.

Song Thrush Seen or heard in the Vercors on 4 consecutive days from 24th.

Mistle Thrush Seen in the Vercors on 3 days from 25th.

European Robin Seen or heard every day except 19th.

Common Nightingale Heard on 5 consecutive days from 20th with a couple of good sightings (for such an elusive species) during that period.

Black Redstart Seen on the final 8 days of the tour.

Common Redstart Frequent around the two hotels in the Vercors where there were territory holding males singing almost constantly.

Northern Wheatear Just a single sighting of one near the Col de Rousset on 25th.

Whinchat 2 seen on 27th close to the Col de Menée (female) and in the Vallée de Combeau (male).

Stonechat Seen on two days in the Camargue region and once in the Vercors.

Bearded Reedling Just a brief sighting as one flew across in front of the mini bus south of Gallician on 23rd.

Fan-tailed Warbler Seen or heard on 5 consecutive days from 20th in the Camargue region where they are relatively common now.

Cetti's Warbler Seen or, more usually, heard on 5 consecutive days from 20th.

Eurasian Reed Warbler Just as expected, seen on the 2 days in the Camargue when we were close to reed beds (20th and 23rd).

Great Reed Warbler Seen as per the last species but especially where the reeds seemed tallest.

Melodious Warbler Noted on 4 or 5 days; a good year for this species.

Common Chiffchaff Seen or heard in the Vercors on 4 days from 24th.

Western Bonelli's Warbler Seen or hard on 3 days in the Vercors from 25th.

Blackcap Seen or heard every day except 19th.

Garden Warbler Heard on 25th near La Chapelle and then well seen during the pre breakfast walk at Chichilianne on 27th.

Whitethroat Just a single sighting near Beaufort-sur-Garvanne on 26th.

Lesser Whitethroat A single sighting of this regionally rare bird close to the Maison Forestiere de la Coche on 25th.

Sardinian Warbler Frequently heard close to the Hotel Robinson, and at other locations, on 5 days from 20th. However it proved to be an exceptionally elusive species this year with just a couple of glimpses during that time.

Firecrest Heard on 3 days in the Vercors including in the grounds of the Hotel Bellier on 25th and 26th.

Goldcrest Heard on 2 days in the Vercors, 25th & 26th.

Long-tailed Tit Seen on 21st at the Pont du Gard and then at least 8 during the pre breakfast walk on 27th were well seen.

Marsh Tit A pair close to the Hotel au Gai Soliel on 27th gave good views.

Willow Tit 2 or 3 of the 'Alpine' species or sub-species were heard and briefly seen during the early morning walk at the Maison Forestiere de la Coche on 25th.

Coal Tit Seen on 21st, 25th, 26th and 27th mostly during the pre breakfast walks.

Crested Tit 1 near La Caume in Les Alpilles on 22nd and also near the Maison Forestiere de la Coche on 25th.

Great Tit Seen every day except 19th.

Blue Tit Seen every day except 19th and 20th.

Eurasian Nuthatch Single birds seen at the Hotel Robinson on 22nd and close to the Hotel au Gai Soliel on 27th.

Short-toed Treecreeper Another species which proved to be unusually elusive! Recorded on 21st, 22nd and 25th.

Common Treecreeper Heard close to the Maison Forestiere de la Coche on 25th.

Eurasian Jay Seen on 21st, 22nd, 24th and 27th.

Black-billed Magpie Seen every day except 27th.

Red-billed Chough A single bird was seen at the Col de Rousset on 25th. Apparently this is outside the usual location for this species in the Vercors.

Alpine Chough About 15 were at the Porte d'Urle where we obtained really good views, including of birds nesting in a cave, on 25th. Also seen the two following days over various high ridges.

Eurasian Jackdaw Seen on each of the first 6 days of the tour.

Carrion Crow Seen on each of the first 8 days of the tour.

Common Raven 2 in Les Alpilles were involved in a spectacular aerial 'dog fight' with a Black Kite on 22nd. The species was also seen in the Vercors on 24th, 25th and 27th.

Golden Oriole A good year for sightings of this elusive bird. Views of a female collecting nesting material, at Remoulins on 21st, were quickly followed by good views of a male across the River Gardon. 2 males and a female were seen at the Etang des Aulnes the following day and the species was also heard on 24th.

Common Starling Seen every day except 25th & 27th.

Yellowhammer Just a couple seen in the Chichilianne area on 27th.

Cirl Bunting Certainly more noticeable in the Camargue region where we saw or heard them on 4 days from 20th. However we did also get some good views of a male close to Plan-de-Baix on 26th.

Ortolan Bunting Just a single sighting of a male close to Beaufort-sur-Garvanne on 26th.

Corn Bunting Surprisingly only 2 birds seen during the whole trip and these were close to the Musée Camarguais on 20th.

Chaffinch Seen every day except 19th and 20th.

Citril Finch At least 8 seen on 25th during the early morning walk at the Maison Forestiere de la Coche.

European Serin Seen or heard every day except 19th & 20th.

European Greenfinch Heard on 22nd during the pre breakfast walk by the River Rhone then not noted again until 25th in the Vercors where we saw the species on 3 consecutive days.

European Goldfinch Seen every day.

Common Linnet Just 3 seen on the roadside at Font d'Urle on 25th.

Eurasian Bullfinch A fine male seen during the pre breakfast walk at Chichilianne on 27th was added to with another later the same day. A couple also flew away from the roadside as we drove out of the Vercors the following day.

Common Crossbill Only heard on 25th during the early morning walk at the Maison Forestiere de la Coche.

House Sparrow Seen every day except 27th.

Tree Sparrow Seen on 20th and 23rd in various parts of the Camargue area.

Rock Sparrow At least 3 at the Pont du Gard on 21st and also seen close to Beaufort-sur-Garvanne on 26th.

Mammals

Red Fox Just one seen in the Archiane Valley on 26th.

Roe Deer One seen on 22nd and 2 on 25th.

Chamois At least 14 at the Col de Rousset and Port d'Urle on 25th and a couple at the former location the following day.

Red Squirrel 3 seen close to the Hotel Robinson on 21st and one crossing the road near Entressen the following day.

Alpine Marmot 5 seen at Font d'Urle on 25th.

Coypu Many seen on each of the 'wetland' days (20th & 23rd) in the Camargue.

Brown Hare One seen on the road late on 24th as we returned from our first owl prowl and perhaps the same individual was seen as we went out early the next morning.

Rabbit Seen on three days.

Brown/Norway Rat One seen during lunch as we headed towards the Vercors on 24th.

European Badger One seen briefly in the headlights as we returned from our owl prowl on 24th.

Wild Boar Just a single animal seen early on 25th.

Reptiles & Amphibians

Species seen included:-

Green Lizard

Wall Lizard

Montpellier Snake

Common Toad

Marsh Frog

Common Frog (This latter species refers to our 'Lone Ranger' frog high up in the Vallée de Combeau. This is the only species that I can come up with that occurs in the area)

Butterflies

Swallowtail

Scarce Swallowtail

Spanish Gatekeeper

Small Skipper

Clouded Yellow

Yellow Brimstone

Chalkhill Blue

Orange Tip

Red Admiral

Painted Lady

Wall Brown

Large White

Small White

Green-veined White

Speckled wood

Marbled White

Large Skipper

Meadow Brown

Almond-eyed Ringlet

Small Copper

Small Heath

Small Tortoiseshell

Adonis Blue

Spotted Fritillary

Grizzled Skipper

Green Hairstreak

Pale Clouded Yellow

Mazarine Blue

Dingy Skipper

Wood White

Silver-studded Blue

Small Blue

Dragonflies & Damselflies

Black-tailed Skimmer

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Common Darter

Coenagrion lindenii

Crocothemis erythraea

Scarlet Darter

Demoiselle Agrion

Banded Agrion

Platycnemis acutipennis

Scarce Chaser

Emperor Dragonfly

Lesser Emperor Dragonfly

Azure Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

Orthretrum albistylum

Ruddy Darter

Sympecma fusca

Broad-bodied Chaser

Orchids & other 'special' plants

Lizard Orchid

Violet Bird's Nest Orchid

Man Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

Common Twayblade Orchid

Monkey Orchid

Military Orchid

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

Greater Butterfly Orchid

Fragrant Orchid

Bee Orchid

Lady Orchid

Elder Flowered Orchid

Early Purple Orchid

Pale-flowered Orchid

Bird's Nest Orchid

Marsh Orchid

Sword-leaved Helleborine

Fly Orchid

Burnt Orchid

Saint Bernard's Lily

Meadow Clary

Wild Tulip

Another good tour with a grand total of 149 species of birds. Flowers (especially orchids), dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and mammals were also much in evidence ö but then again, so was excellent food, wine and humour.

The weather was much kinder than during our previous visit to the Vercors. This is very much an under-rated region of France with splendid scenery. Mountains rise to over 7,000 ft, many of the slopes are cloaked in excellent forest and then there are the fabulous flowering Alpine meadows.

This contrasts starkly with the flatness of the Camargue region where just about all of the usual species were found.

Thanks go to the entire group for making this such a pleasurable tour to lead.

I certainly hope that we can meet up again on some future tour.

Mike Read


© The Travelling Naturalist 2001