The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Provence Trip - Day 3


It was a long drive, but we felt it was all going to be worth it, as we visited the world-renowned vast wetland of The Camargue.
Even before we got there, I had spotted a Squacco Heron on the edge of a rice paddy field, and we drove slowly past a dry field that had a few Crested Lark in it.  A distant flock of Glossy Ibis were also spotted.
As soon as we exited the vehicles at the first stop, we were hit with an appallingly strong wind.  Would this put a real downer on the day?
The first place we stopped had reedbed and freshwater pools on both sides of the road, and although these were hidden by reeds, we had a constant stream of birds making their way from one to the other.
Several male Red-crested Pochard were seen in flight, a Hobby flew over, Purple Heron were building their nests…


…and Whiskered Tern were on the move.


It was amazing that anything was making itself heard in the wind, but I was still able to pick out the grating song of a Great Reed Warbler, alongside their smaller cousins.
At one point, I noticed three darker herons flying in the distance. Surely Night Heron, I thought.
Black Kite were the commonest bird of prey, and a few Marsh Harrier were quartering about.  Just before we were about to leave, two Great White Egret took flight.  A smart spot!   

We headed for a comfort stop at a visitor centre.  In the car park, the ubiquitous Melodious Warbler sung.


The ‘song’ of the Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler) was all around, but they were only distantly seen in flight. 
Andrew wanted to show us a White Stork nest, but was surprised to discover the tree had gone!  Probably fallen in winds like those we were experiencing!
We moved on to a fabulous viewpoint over the marsh, and our first views of the famous Greater Flamingo.


Before this, as I got out of the van, I disturbed a huge Locust, probably a Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria), but it fled before I could get a photo.
The lifers came thick and fast at this spot.  A male Sardinian Warbler sung nearby, and I eventually saw it, although briefly.  Over the wetlands two Gull-billed Tern hunted. We went on to see a few more, including one resting in a flooded field.


After a great deal of squinting, I somehow managed to find some of the hoped-for Collared Pratincole, but they were right at the back, mostly hidden by vegetation.  Just occasionally one would fly up and show off its distinctive flight and white rump.

Meanwhile, a Fox was worrying the colony of Black-winged Stilt.


To add to the birds hunting low over the water, two young Little Gull were found, as were a few Black Tern.  Last, but not least, Craig found us a sparkling adult White-winged Black Tern into the bargain.  That’s all the European marsh Terns in one spot!
Just before we left, I managed to get a good view of a Zitting Cisticola finally, sitting on a bush.

We reluctantly moved on, but it wasn’t long before we ground to a halt once again.  First, we came across some intact White Stork nests…


 …and then we had a couple of Bee-eater fly over.  Some movement in a horse field revealed themselves to be the bulk of the Collared Pratincole colony, so finally we could get good views.


The Bee-eater we had seen earlier, were now hawking about over the same field, and as we left they were sitting in bushes right by the road.  The only Tree Sparrow of the week flew past.
We moved on to a lunch spot, chosen more for the shelter it offered rather than anything else!

It didn’t stop us looking for wildlife though, and I found this Birthwort, a rare farmland plant in the UK.


The only unusual ornithological observation here was a distant loose group of four Kestrel hunting.  I’ve never seen so many Common Kestrel hovering so close to each other for so long before, and Andrew suggested they were probably Lessers.  Unfortunately, they were just too distant and into the sun to pin them down, but I did try!

We then started to make our way slowly towards the sea, alongside the saltpans and the mouth of the Rhone.  There was a myriad of small waders about, such as the plentiful Kentish Plover.


This Curlew Sandpiper was a treat in summer plumage.


And, there were a lot of Little Stint about (plus Sanderling).


But, one of the main targets was the Slender-billed Gull, and we had no trouble seeing them as they flew past to bathe in a nearby tidal pool.


Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) were everywhere, as were Yellow-legged Gull and Avocet.

We eventually made it to the sea, but the strong wind meant we were battered by a sand storm!  In the brief moment we were out of the van scanning the sea, we were able to spot distant small Shearwater, probably Yelkouan Shearwater, and I found one or two huge brown Shearwater in addition, no doubt Cory’s Shearwater.  We also had a few Black Tern go past, and then fly off inland.

We stopped off at another viewpoint and comfort stop on the way back, and I flushed a Night Heron from by the entrance.  Plus, I finally got a glimpse of a distant Great Reed Warbler singing from near the top of a reed stem.  Another tight flock of Black Tern whizzed by, clearly migrating.

We made it back home eventually, and we commented how we’d seen all that on a very windy day.  What must the birding be like in perfect conditions!?  It was another long day, but a very satisfying one!

Later in the evening, someone found this Oak Hawk-moth roosting on a fence.  This was the only nocturnal moth I was able to see all week, as although a moth trap was available, it wasn’t being run sadly.



Back up the mountains tomorrow…


  1. Great stuff, enjoyed the re-read of this as I am off there on the 14th for a few days. Know the area well but interested to know of the Visitors' Centre you stopped off at. Le Capeliere? Am hoping to visit areas new to me so shall be heading west from Ste Marie de la Mer towards Aigues Mortes, searching for new habitats. Need to hire a push bike, so that'll be a sight. Haven't ridden a bike for 40 years!

  2. Sounds good Jono! No idea where we stopped I'm afraid! The only thing I remember about it was that it had an interpretive board on the wall with a colony of bats hiding under it! You couldn't see them, but the floor below was covered in their droppings.