The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 30 May 2014

Provence Trip - Day 6

The view from my veranda at dawn on our last full day was completely obscured by fog.

Luckily, it slowly burnt off.


 I took a short walk out the village, just to enjoy the local area one last time.  A family of Cirl Bunting, Melodious Warbler and Western Bonelli's Warbler in full view, plus this striking Red-and-black Shieldbug (Graphosoma italicum) were the highlights.
The destination for our French birding swansong was the unique area of La Crau.
On the way, we stopped at the Alpilles mountain range, where Andrew's 'best ever Bonelli's Eagle site I've ever found', was.
It was indeed perfect, in full view, with a plenty of cliff visible from the ground.  Best of all, as soon as we got there, the female Bonelli's Eagle was in the nest!
We were then treated to a great show, as the male then flew in to furnish the nest with greenery. 
Whilst we were here, Craig somehow spotted a Blue Rock Thrush on the same cliff, which went on to show as well as it could do at the distance.  With this and the Eagles in view at the same time, I really did not know where to look!
We eventually got to the vast arid plains of La Crau.

The first stop by an airfield looked promising, but besides a Southern Grey Shrike, there was little to see.
Eventually though, Andrew heard a calling Little Bustard, and a great deal of scanning the long grass later, and the male was spotted.
It took a while, but he did eventually come out into the open, along with two female.
We moved on to an even bigger area of pristine habitat, where we stopped for a comfort stop. 
We had searched every wire on he way here, for a Roller, but without any luck.  Then, as we were just re-entering the vehicle from this stop, I spotted one flying out towards some distant bushes.  A good score!
We drove out into the middle of the plain to have a very special alfresco lunch, surrounded by the calls of Little Bustard, and the songs of three types of lark.  The rarest of these, being the Calandra Lark with its more scratchy song, which we later saw well from the van.
A flock of Cattle Egret was an odd sight over the dry stuff, and another Southern Grey Shrike was about.  I got a glimpse of a probable Red-rumped Swallow whizzing by, but couldn't quite clinch it. 
There was plenty of interesting insects around, such as Southern Marbled White, this striking beetle, Mylabris variabilis..., a gigantic Robber Fly, Dasypogon diadema.
After lunch, we continued driving slowly along the rough tracks, scanning.  We failed to find any hoped-for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but we did see a number of Lesser Kestrel.  One bird helped us with the identification by flying right over us calling.  A strange squeaky call, nothing like Common.  It's a good thing we saw them here, as we ran out of time to visit a nearby colony.
We saw a number of other things from the van, such as Short-toed Lark, and a Montagu's Harrier sparring with a Black Kite and a Hobby.  The van I wasn't in spotted a pair of distant Stone Curlew.  It was surprising we didn't see more.
We eventually got back to our starting point, and the Roller that we had seen on the way out was still around.  We went on to see two more birds just down the road, one of them sitting on it!  A real crowd pleaser.
We got back, very happy indeed.
In the evening, I had a go at hearing Nightjar just outside the village, but the strong wind thwarted me.  I very nearly got poured on with rain too.
We all got home safely the next day, though I couldn't resist looking for birds from the train.  I somehow had the fortune of seeing a displaying Honey Buzzard as we zoomed by!  Just goes to show the richness of this area of France.
It was an amazing trip, and I really have run out of superlatives.  A huge thank you must go to all how organised it, but particularly Andrew and Ruth of Wildife Provençale.
We did miss one or two things, but that means something to come back for, and I hope it's sooner rather than later!
I didn't identify enough of the insects of plants to come up with comprehensive lists, but needless to say they are all surely extensive!
Total birds recorded by me: 153 (24 lifers!).  The group recorded 156.  These included 18 species of raptor, the same amount as I've seen in the UK in my whole life!
Greylag Goose
Mute Swan
Red-crested Pochard - Camargue
Red-legged Partridge (heard)
Quail (heard)
Pheasant (heard)
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Greater Flamingo - Camargue
Cory's Shearwater - Camargue
Yelkouan Shearwater - Camargue
White Stork - Camargue and La Crau
Grey Heron
Purple Heron - Camargue
Great White Egret - Camargue
Little Egret
Cattle Egret - Camargue and La Crau
Glossy Ibis - Camargue
Egyptian Vulture - Barronies
Honey Buzzard
Black Vulture - Barronies
Griffon Vulture - Barronies
Short-toed Eagle - Everywhere!
Golden Eagle - Barronies
Bonelli's Eagle - Alpilles
Marsh Harrier - Camargue and La Crau
Montagu's Harrier - Barronies and La Crau
Goshawk - Barronies
(Red Kite - seen from train)
Black Kite - Everywhere!
Little Bustard - La Crau
(Stone Curlew - La Crau)
Black-winged Stilt - Camargue
Avocet - Camargue
Kentish Plover - Camargue
Ringed Plover
Curlew Sandpiper - Camargue
Little Stint - Camargue
Collared Pratincole - Camargue
Slender-billed Gull - Camargue
Black-headed Gull
Little Gull
Mediterranean Gull - Camargue
Yellow-legged Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Little Tern
Gull-billed Tern - Camargue
Black Tern - Camargue
White-winged Black Tern - Camargue
Whiskered Tern - Camargue
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Feral Pigeon
Stock Dove
Turtle Dove
Collared Dove
Cuckoo (heard)
Scops Owl (heard)
(Tawny Owl (heard))
Alpine Swift - Everywhere!
Bee-eater - Barronies and Camargue
Roller - La Crau
Hoopoe - Barronies
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
Lesser Kestrel - La Crau
Red-footed Falcon - St Jalle
Red-backed Shrike - Everywhere!
Southern Grey Shrike - Barronies and La Crau
Alpine Chough - Vercors
Carrion Crow
Calandra Lark - La Crau
Short-toed Lark - La Crau
Crested Lark - Camargue
Crag Martin - Barronies and Alpilles
House Martin
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Crested Tit - Mont Ventoux
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper
Dipper - Vercors
Cetti's Warbler
Western Bonelli's Warbler - Barronies
Melodious Warbler - Everywhere!
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler - Camargue
Zitting Cisticola - Camargue and La Crau
Garden Warbler
Western Orphean Warbler - Barronies
Subalpine Warbler - Barronies
Sardinian Warbler - Camargue
Black Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush - Alpilles
Mistle Thrush
Blue-headed Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Tawny Pipit - Everywhere!
Cirl Bunting - Everywhere!
Ortolan Bunting - Barronies
Corn Bunting
Citril Finch - Mont Ventoux
Serin - Everywhere!
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Rock Sparrow - St Jalle
Off to Italy on a non-birding trip tomorrow!  I promise I won't have as much to relate afterwards!

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