Champagne & Cranes

22nd - 25th February 2001

Mike Read


Thursday 22nd February:

Due to delayed flights from the U.K., we were rather later leaving Paris Charles de Gaulle airport than anticipated. Finding the correct route away from the airport proved difficult, as road signing was not as clear as it might be and road junctions off the major routes did not necessarily correspond with the map! That and a minor exploration of Meaux all added to our slightly late arrival at the Auberge de la Plaine. We saw a few species of birds on the way including Yellowhammer and a few flocks of Lapwings.

The weather started out fine as we left the Paris area but light showers increased and the final half-hour of the journey was completed in continuous rain.

Friday 23rd February: Lac du Der Chantecoq and area.

We left the hotel at about 08.30 and headed for the Lac. The first bird of note that we saw was first assumed to be a lump of plastic or paper rubbish caught up in a tree. However, as we pulled up to check, a very pale, almost albinistic Common Buzzard flew! After a brief stop in Montier-en-Der for some liquid 'supplies', we headed towards the Lac du Der and had brief though sometimes quite close roadside Common Cranes. We then soon found a flock of feeding Curlews and as we watched these, a group of closer Common Snipes were flushed. A view over the reservoir from the Port du Chantecoq produced good views of various ducks including Wigeon, Gadwall and Goosanders. Flights of passing Greylags were well watched but surprisingly one group contained a Snow Goose. A couple of White Wagtails ran about on a roof and a Water Rail called from nearby reeds but typically it remained hidden. At Larzicourt, a fine male Hawfinch stayed long enough for everyone to get good views of it. In the same area we added a variety of species included Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Willow Tit. More views over the reservoir during lunch added Northern Pintail and there were large flocks of Lapwings out on the low islands. At Arrigny we paused on a bridge to watch a group of Green Sandpipers and despite earlier traffic passing us without problem (including a heavy tractor), one irate Frenchman seemed incapable of steering around us. The tirade of abuse was in none of our groups' knowledge of French but his arm waving, manner and hand gestures were international!!

A drive past the 'Ferme des Grues' was not that good for Cranes (Grues) but we did have rather close views of a few. However, we did add Hen Harrier (a female) to the list and this was closely followed by a Great Grey Shrike. Further on we found a productive small pond which held a male Smew, 7 Tufted Ducks and a Great White Egret. On a silage heap next to a farm there were 2 Yellowhammers and about 30 Tree Sparrows.

We returned to the Lac du Der to watch Cranes arriving to roost in long 'V' formations etched against overcast yet colourful skies before returning to the hotel.

A cool day with sunny periods and occasional wintry showers turning much cooler as the afternoon progressed.

Saturday 24th February:

It was no real surprise to wake to find snow lying on the fields adjacent to the hotel but the roads were perfectly clear. After a delayed start (breakfast was a little later this morning) we set off via Brienne-le-Chateau to find birds around the area of the Parc Naturel Regional de la Foret d'Orient. Along the road towards Piney we made frequent stops to view feeding Cranes and occasional Common Buzzards and at one place we had good views of a lone Long-tailed Tit. Further on, Fieldfares and Lapwings shared the same field.

Heading from Piney towards the Lac du Temple, we paused to look over the Etang des 15 Deniers (!) and promptly added Common Pochard and Moorhen to the list - but there was not a pair of stockings in sight! While trying to flush out possible wild boar, from lakeside cover, a Woodcock put in a brief appearance. After lunch, we spent a while looking from the tower hide over the Lac d'Orient and saw some more Goldeneyes but precious little else. As we drove along the southeast side of the Lac, we frequently paused to check for birds. At one stop, a small group of Redwings flew up from the ground and an elusive Middle Spotted Woodpecker was well seen by some. At Mesnil-St-Pere hundreds of Black-headed Gulls were checked and a much paler backed bird caught our attention. Sadly, it was just a pale individual of the same species. A few Common Gulls completed our watching at this location.

A visit to the Maison du Parc soon had us enjoying more glimpses of another Middle Spotted Woodpecker plus a couple of Goldcrests, 3 Marsh Tits and a feeding group of 5 or 6 Song Thrushes. We aborted a walk in the forest nearby as the cool, overcast conditions seemed to be suppressing bird activities. This proved to be a good choice because as we approached the northern corner of the Lac du Temple, the sun began to break through and shone superbly on a large, close flock of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and about 40 Dunlins. After watching the near-setting sun cast golden sparkles on the Lac, we returned to the hotel to prepare for another sumptuous meal.

The day remained quite cold throughout but by mid afternoon, most of the snow which fell during the night had melted.

Sunday 25th February:

We left the hotel at 08.30 to begin a fairly leisurely journey to Paris - Charles de Gaulle Airport. Birds were duly noted with Kestrel and Common Buzzard appearing on the list before we even reached Brienne-le-Chateau and on the outskirts of town, a few Jackdaws seemed to be playing 'chicken' as they walked in the road in the face of oncoming traffic. I wonder if we can count jackdaw and chicken for the list?!!

Small birds feeding in a 'weedy' field turned out to be Corn Buntings and a little further on, our first Goldfinches were in the company of another group of Tree Sparrows. A medium sized bird flying across the road (thankfully just behind the minibus!) turned out to be one of a pair of Grey Partridges while further on, 4 Linnets flew up and away and our second female Hen Harrier drifted low over a stubbly field in obvious hunting mode.

We made an early lunch stop in the Foret de Brecy but recent gales have devastated many trees and probably reduced our hoped-for Black Woodpecker which we did not see despite keeping an almost constant watch throughout the duration of the meal.

As some of the group needed to reach the Eurostar station in good time, we headed for Terminal 1 at the airport in good time and we arrived there at approximately 13.45 and bade our farewells. The tour ended as it began with Mike taking a wrong turning as he tried to return the minibus to Terminal 2 and he embarked on a whole new journey discovering lots of woven airport roads and confusing signs!!


Little Grebe Just a single bird on the Lac du Foret on 24th.

Great Crested Grebe In excess of 20 on the Lac du Der on 23rd was greatly eclipsed by over 80 on the rather small Port Dienville lake, which was rather low and showing more mud than water, on 24th.

Great Cormorant Plenty on Lac du Der on 23rd, at least 15 on Port Dienville the following day and finally one on a 'pond' near the airport on 25th.

Grey Heron Numerous on 23rd & 24th.

Great White Egret A single bird on a small pond not far from the Lac du Der on 23rd was apparently part of a growing trend of birds over-wintering in the area.

Little Egret Just a single bird in the bay at Larzicourt on 23rd.

Mute Swan 2 flying past the Port de Chantecoq on 23rd were followed by about 10 the following day on the Lacs du Temple and d'Orient on 24th and 2 in flight not far from the airport on 25th.

Whooper Swan At least a dozen on Lac du Der on 23rd.

Bewick's Swan 4 on Lac du Der on 23rd.

Greylag Goose Hundreds on, over and near Lac du Der on 23rd but far fewer (perhaps only 25 or so) the following day in the Orient/Temple area.

Snow Goose Local birders did not know if the single white phase bird in the company of Greylags on 23rd was an escape or a genuine wild bird ............... so we included it on the list (purely in the interest of completeness you understand!).

Eurasian Wigeon At least 100 at Lac du Der on 23rd and just a few the following day at Lac du Temple.

Gadwall 20 or more at Lac du Der on 23rd.

Common Teal Noted on 23rd at Lac du Der and at Lacs du Temple and d'Orient on 24th.

Mallard Seen commonly on 3 successive days from 23rd.

Northern Pintail 6 at the Lac du Der on 23rd were the only ones seen.

Northern Shoveler At least 10 on the Lac du Der on 23rd and 3 or 4 at Lac du Temple the following day.

Common Pochard The first ones (2 or 3) were on the superbly named Etang du 15 Deniers on 24th. (One can only wonder how this etang actually got it's name!!!!) Others were then seen on the Lac d'Orient later the same day.

Tufted Duck 7 on a small pond near the Lac du Der on 23rd were our first but then we saw a reasonable number the following day at the Lacs du Temple & d'Orient.

Common Goldeneye 3 at Larzicourt on 23rd and a few more on Lac d'Orient the following day.

Smew A single male on a small pond to the west of the Lac du Der on 23rd was our only sighting.

Goosander About 25 on the Lac du Der on 23rd was followed by just a singleton the following day at Port Dienville.

Red Kite Just a single, somewhat distant bird to the west of the Lac du Der on 23rd.

Hen Harrier A female to the west o Lac du Der on 23rd was followed by another during the journey to Paris - Charles de Gaulle airport on 25th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Just a single sighting of a bird skimming low over a bay of the Lac du Der on 23rd.

Common Buzzard Regularly seen with very pale birds being seen on 4 or 5 occasions.

Common Kestrel Seen every day.

Grey Partridge Presumably a pair seen on the way towards the airport on 25th.

Water Rail A brief call was unmistakably this species near the Port du Chantecoq on 23rd.

Common Moorhen Just a single sighting of one on the Etang des 15 Deniers on 24th.

Common Coot Common at the Lac du Der on 23rd and at the Lacs d'Orient and du Temple on 24th.

Common Crane There were probably well in excess of 5000 in the area of the Lac du Der on 23rd. They were feeding in the fields in various directions from the Lac during the day with perhaps the largest quantities flying towards the island roost from the South (new arrivals?) and from the east. This seems to be different to the usual Autumn pattern. The following day there were fewer to be seen around the Parc Naturel Regional de la Foret d'Orient but numbers easily exceeded 500.

European Golden Plover There was a flock of about 20 in with a large group of lapwings near the western end of the Lac du Temple on 24th. This was followed by just a single bird, again with lapwings, on the way to the airport on 25th.

Northern Lapwing Hundreds seen every day.

Eurasian Woodcock One flushed from scrubby vegetation beside the Lac du Temple on 24th was our only sighting.

Common Snipe A group of about 15 flushed from a wet field beside the Lac du Der on 23rd was the lone record.

Eurasian Curlew There was a flock of about 150 near Giffaumont-Champaubert on 23rd and we saw more (or perhaps the same ones had moved!) later the same day on an island in the nearby Lac du Der. On 24th there were a few near the Lacs du Temple and d'Orient.

Green Sandpiper There were 5 along the 'canal' just west of Arrigny on 23rd until we (and they!) were so rudely disturbed by the previously mentioned irate Frenchman.

Dunlin About 40 were gathered with the lapwings and golden plovers near the Port Dienville on 24th.

Common Gull On 24th, about 8 at the marina near Mesnil-St.-Pere were in with hundreds of Black Headed Gulls.

Yellow-legged Gull A single bird at the Lac du Der on 23rd was followed by 5 or 6 near the Lac du Temple the next day.

Black-headed Gull Commonly seen every day.

Stock Dove Two birds of this species were seen on the way to the Lac du Der on 23rd.

Common Wood Pigeon Seen every day.

Eurasian Collared Dove Seen on three days from 23rd.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker One heard then very briefly seen on the Larzicourt Peninsula on 23rd.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker One along the wooded side of the Lac d'Orient on 24th then one near the Maison du Parc soon afterwards.

Green Woodpecker Heard on 2 or 3 occasions near the Lac du Der on 23rd then one was heard and briefly seen the following morning near Brevonnes.

Sky Lark The first were about 20 in fields near Piney on 24th. We also saw a fair number on the way to the airport he following day.

Crested Lark On 25th, 4 or 5 individuals seen near Arcis-sur-Aube in their typical roadside/industrial car park habitat.

Meadow Pipit Seen in various locations on 23rd and 24th.

White Wagtail Well seen at the Port de Chantecoq early(ish!) on 24th and at various locations from then onwards.

Winter Wren Noted on 3 days. The best views were of a bird searching for food on a roadside 'fence' near Piney on 24th.

European Robin Seen on 3 days from 23rd.

Common Blackbird Seen every day.

Fieldfare 8 seen in a field with a flock of Lapwings on 24th near Piney.

Redwing 3 or 4 along the eastern side of the Lac d'Orient on 24th then also seen during the journey to the airport on 25th.

Song Thrush Heard during a brief stop on the way to the hotel on 22nd and 5 or 6 well seen at the Maison du Parc on 24th.

Mistle Thrush Single pairs seen on 23rd and 24th only.

Goldcrest A couple well seen at the Maison du Parc on 24th.

Long-tailed Tit Just a single bird seen in roadside trees and bushes on 24th.

Marsh Tit At least 3 near the Maison du Parc on 24th.

Willow Tit A single bird heard then seen on the Larzicourt Peninsula on 23rd.

Great Tit Seen every day.

Blue Tit Regularly seen in suitable habitat on 23rd and 24th.

Wood Nuthatch Heard on 23rd &25th but 2 well seen in the Foret d'Orient on 24th.

Short-toed Treecreeper At least 3 in various places on 23rd and also seen in the Foret d'Orient on 24th.

Great [Northern] Grey Shrike Just a single bird well seen to the west of the Lac du Der on 23rd.

Eurasian Jay Regularly seen on 3 days from 23rd.

Black-billed Magpie Seen every day.

Eurasian Jackdaw Just seen close to Brienne-le-Chateau on 25th.

Rook Seen every day.

Carrion Crow Seen every day.

Common Starling Seen every day.

House Sparrow Seen every day.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow A good trip for this species began with a couple in a flock of their more common cousins close to Louze early on 23rd and we then saw a flock of about 30 feeding to the west of the Lac du Der later the same day. We also saw at least 15 near Pougy on 25th.

Chaffinch Commonly seen on 3 days from 23rd.

European Goldfinch Not seen until 25th when a couple of groups of 3 were seen during the journey to the airport.

Common Linnet A group of 4 were very briefly seen as we drove towards the airport on 25th.

Common Bullfinch Just a single very brief view of one in the Petit Orient forest on 24th.

Hawfinch 5 or more flew up in to the trees as we arrived at the Larzicourt Forest on 23rd. One male was exceedingly helpful as it allowed close-up views through a 'scope.

Yellowhammer Seen every day.

Reed Bunting 2 or 3 seen by one member of the group on 23rd at the Lac du Der.

Corn Bunting At least 10 in a stubble/weedy field on 25th.


Wild Boar Plenty of signs where they had been feeding in various patches of woodland on 23rd and 24th and one was well seen on the 'shores' of the Lac du Der on the first of these dates. Sadly, only one member of the group actually saw it.

Roe Deer 11 seen in various fields on 23rd, at least 7 on 24h and a further 5 on 25th.


With a total of 84 species of birds recorded plus two mammals species seen, this was a productive tour. There was also plenty of good humour (well there would be with one of the group hailing from Yorkshire!), lots of good food and wine ................. if only every day had been as sunny as the final one. Despite the cold conditions, we still managed 'outdoor' picnics every day. We did however wish it was somewhat warmer as the cool breezes certainly took the red wine below the required 'room temperature'. Perhaps we should all meet up again in the Camargue in May or the Pyrenees in June. What do you think?

On the final evening, the 'Ode to Mike Read' (reproduced below) was much appreciated as was the pleasure of everyone's company. I really do hope we meet up again in the near future.

Mike Read.

Ode to Mike Read

by Sue Francis

Our leader's Mike Read

He's a real good bloke

For every occasion

He's got a daft joke

There's just one of him

And seven of us

And he drives us around

In his mini bus

We race round the lanes

As fast as can be

All counting how many

Birds we can see

Every so often

He'll screech to a stop

And point to a buzzard

On a distant tree top

If that's not enough

His ears pick up sounds

To identify any

Bird that's around

We've seen many birds

From a wren to a kite

But of that Black Woodpecker

There was never a sight

Without his help

We would have no luck

Distinguishing between

A crane or a duck

Then it's off again

with bladders-a-bursting

Every bump in the road

Had us a-cursing

On Friday came

His best joke yet

When he upset a Frenchman

Qui a mal la tete

He's plied us with wine

And batons of bread

Just so we'd follow

Wherever he led

We go home tomorrow

It is the last day

Let's hope we make it

Will Mike find the way?

So thank you young Michael

We've all had such fun

We've learnt lots of new things

You're our number one.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2001