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It's always a thrill to get a below-eye-level look at a raptor like a Red Kite! Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
September is a lovely time to visit southern France. From the Camargue, where golden fields of ripening rice stretched to the horizons and reed beds thrashed before strong winds, to the Pyrenees, where rumpled mountains scraped craggy fingers against blue skies and conifer forests massed darkly against the rocks, the landscape provided a beautiful backdrop against which to look for the region's special birds. And there were plenty to search out! Our weather in the lowlands was hot and dry -- and rather windy for a couple of days -- and the vegetation around the Camargue was parched and crispy after months with no rain. The fine, settled weather may have impacted somewhat the number of migrants we saw (no need for them to stop!), but it also allowed us to enjoy our superb Provençal dinners al fresco, under the dense cover of well-cropped trees in our hotel's courtyard. The lovely weather continued in the mountains, with cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures (mostly -- though some of those mornings were chilly) making birding pleasant. Again though, the settled weather seemed to impact migration, with little movement seen during our stay.
We started our tour with four days in the Camargue region, near the mouth of the Rhone River. Here, among salt pans, reeds and wind-tossed rice fields, we connected with many of region's lingering (or resident) breeders and smaller numbers of migrants. Clouds of dusty pink Greater Flamingos massed in brackish lagoons. Busy flocks of European Bee-eaters flashed golden wings as they chased insects overhead -- or sat strung along telephone wires like tastefully bright beads. Eurasian Hoopoes flew past in a flurry of black and white wings. Lesser Kestrels hovered low over the stony Crau steppe or perched on scattered piles of rocks, while a little group of Red-legged Partridges scurried away from us. Frosty-winged Mediterranean Gulls trickled past a roadside pond. Two Eurasian Thick-knees crept across a scruffy field, keeping a huge watchful yellow eye (or two) on us. A pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers clung to slender canopy branches, peering around. Flock after loose flock of European Honey-Buzzards, in an array of color morphs, drifted over, headed south. Crested Larks trotted along the roadside, topknots blowing in the wind. Little Ringed Plovers huddled along the edge of a salt pan, close enough we could see their yellow eye rings. A trio of Slender-billed Gulls took splashing baths in a windy lagoon. Jewel-bright Common Kingfishers flashed past, and little parties of Long-tailed Tits swarmed through wilting Tamarisk trees.
Then it was the long transfer to the high Pyrenees, trading the flat coast for spectacular jagged peaks and glacier-carved valleys, tumbling mountain streams, and a whole new suite of birds. A White-throated Dipper bobbed on rocks in the midst of a tumbling mountain stream, then plunged into the torrent. Three strikingly peachy Bearded Vultures (aka Lammergeiers) snoozed on a ledge against an equally peachy cliff, occasionally waking enough to preen a feather or two back into place. An Alpine Accentor picked its way across a nearby scree slope, nibbling seeds. After a few ghostly flyovers, a Tawny Owl perched on a thick branch in a tree across the road from our hotel, shouting challenges -- and soon joined by its mate. Massive Eurasian Griffons glided overhead. Jaunty Crested Tits called from thick pine trees. Yellow-billed Choughs poked and prodded on grassy hillsides or formed loose "bird tornadoes" above mountain peaks. A couple of Short-toed Snake-Eagles (one adult, one youngster) patrolled the Vallee d'Ossoue, where the adult caught a slender, 2-foot long snake and proceeded to devour it on the wing -- at one point even peeling several coils of the still-struggling snake off its beak. A male Eurasian Bullfinch perched for long minutes mere feet off the ground and only a few yards from us. Citril Finches attacked thistle seeds in the boulder-strewn Cirque de Gavarnie. A couple of stripey-faced Rock Buntings crept through a scrawny bush. And how about those lamb chops cooked on the 18th-century hearth of our Gedre hotel?!
Marcelo and I enjoyed sharing some adventures -- and some fine wining and dining -- with you. We hope to see you all again in the field, somewhere, some day! -- Megan
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Early morning on the Crau steppe -- with some increasingly rare and challenging things to search for. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor)
BLACK SWAN (Cygnus atratus)
COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
It was great to see so many youngsters among the Greater Flamingoes we found on the tour. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)
RED-CRESTED POCHARD (Netta rufina)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE (Alectoris rufa)
GREATER FLAMINGO (Phoenicopterus roseus)
The restored walled city of Carcassonne looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
LITTLE GREBE (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)
COMMON WOOD-PIGEON (Columba palumbus)
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
We had plenty of up-close and personal views of massive Eurasian Griffons in the Pyrenees -- like this one at Lac des Gloriettes. Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
LITTLE BUSTARD (Tetrax tetrax)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
WATER RAIL (Rallus aquaticus) [*]
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus chloropus)
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)
WESTERN SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio porphyrio)
EURASIAN THICK-KNEE (Burhinus oedicnemus)
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-WINGED STILT (Himantopus himantopus)
PIED AVOCET (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
NORTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)
KENTISH PLOVER (KENTISH) (Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus)
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius dubius)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)
We were light on shorebirds this year -- no thanks to high winds and high waters -- but Black-winged Stilts certainly showed well. Photo by participant Henry Feilen.
RUFF (Calidris pugnax)
LITTLE STINT (Calidris minuta)
COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
Participant Judie Dunn snapped this lovely landscape shot in the Pyrenees.
GREEN SANDPIPER (Tringa ochropus)
COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
COMMON REDSHANK (Tringa totanus)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
SLENDER-BILLED GULL (Chroicocephalus genei)
A couple of Little Gulls -- one adult, one youngster -- were a nice find on a windy day in the Camargue. Photo by participant Henry Feilen.
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
LITTLE GULL (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
MEDITERRANEAN GULL (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)
YELLOW-LEGGED GULL (Larus michahellis)
LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons)
GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)
Philippe Pujo, one of our hosts in the mountains, cooks us lamb chops over the fire on our first night at their hotel. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
BLACK TERN (EURASIAN) (Chlidonias niger niger)
WHISKERED TERN (Chlidonias hybrida)
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
WHITE STORK (Ciconia ciconia)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
GREAT CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)
PURPLE HERON (Ardea purpurea)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
LITTLE EGRET (Egretta garzetta)
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
SQUACCO HERON (Ardeola ralloides)
A couple of Red-billed Choughs quarter the ground in the Port de Boucharo. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
BEARDED VULTURE (Gypaetus barbatus)
EGYPTIAN VULTURE (Neophron percnopterus)
We may have set a Field Guides France tour record for the number of European Honey-Buzzards seen on one tour! Photo by participant Henry Feilen.
EUROPEAN HONEY-BUZZARD (Pernis apivorus)
EURASIAN GRIFFON (Gyps fulvus)
SHORT-TOED SNAKE-EAGLE (Circaetus gallicus)
BOOTED EAGLE (Hieraaetus pennatus)
The gorgeous French countryside -- here the Vallee d'Ossoue in the Pyrenees -- makes a lovely backdrop against which to spot France's birds. Photo by guide Megan Edwards Crewe.
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
EURASIAN MARSH-HARRIER (Circus aeruginosus)
MONTAGU'S HARRIER (Circus pygargus)
EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter nisus)
We saw plenty of jaunty Black Redstarts in the mountains, but only a few adult males like this one. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
RED KITE (Milvus milvus)
BLACK KITE (Milvus migrans)
COMMON BUZZARD (Buteo buteo)
LITTLE OWL (Athene noctua)
We had multiple fine encounters with Bearded Vultures (until recently known as Lammergeiers) in the mountains. Photo by participant Henry Feilen.
TAWNY OWL (Strix aluco)
EURASIAN HOOPOE (Upupa epops)
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis)
A couple of Crested Larks strutted past us at Fangassier, defying the wind. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
EUROPEAN BEE-EATER (Merops apiaster)
EUROPEAN ROLLER (Coracias garrulus)
MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocoptes medius)
The view from the top of the Col du Tourmalet was spectacular this year, thanks to the great weather. Photo by guide Megan Edwards Crewe.
LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dryobates minor)
EURASIAN GREEN WOODPECKER (Picus viridis)
BLACK WOODPECKER (Dryocopus martius)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
LESSER KESTREL (Falco naumanni)
A Eurasian Kestrel attempts to escort a Short-toed Snake-Eagle off the premises -- without much luck! Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
EURASIAN KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)
EURASIAN HOBBY (Falco subbuteo)
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
RED-BACKED SHRIKE (Lanius collurio)
IBERIAN GRAY SHRIKE (Lanius meridionalis)
The Tour Carbonniere, a former watch tower for the medieval city of Aigues-Mortes, loomed behind us as we scanned for shorebirds and raptors. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
EURASIAN JAY (Garrulus glandarius)
EURASIAN MAGPIE (Pica pica)
RED-BILLED CHOUGH (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
YELLOW-BILLED CHOUGH (Pyrrhocorax graculus)
EURASIAN JACKDAW (Corvus monedula)
ROOK (Corvus frugilegus)
CARRION CROW (Corvus corone)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
EURASIAN SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis)
CRESTED LARK (Galerida cristata)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
Participant Judie Dunn snapped this portrait of a Camargue horse -- an ancient breed endemic to the region.
EURASIAN CRAG-MARTIN (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
COMMON HOUSE-MARTIN (Delichon urbicum)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
COAL TIT (Periparus ater)
A couple of jaunty Crested Tits enlivened a mixed flock on our trek up to the Cirque de Gavarnie. Photo by participant Henry Feilen.
CRESTED TIT (Lophophanes cristatus)
MARSH TIT (Poecile palustris)
EURASIAN BLUE TIT (Cyanistes caeruleus)
GREAT TIT (Parus major)
Yellow-billed Choughs are birds of high elevations in Europe. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)
LONG-TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus)
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (Sitta europaea)
SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER (Certhia brachydactyla)
Water Pipits are another widespread species in the mountains; we saw dozens striding through the short grasses and bathing in roadside puddles. Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
EURASIAN WREN (Troglodytes troglodytes)
WHITE-THROATED DIPPER (Cinclus cinclus)
GOLDCREST (Regulus regulus)
COMMON FIRECREST (Regulus ignicapilla)
The subtle nonbreeding plumage of the Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush helps it to blend in with its surroundings. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
Scotocercidae (Bush Warblers and Allies)
CETTI'S WARBLER (Cettia cetti)
Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)
WILLOW WARBLER (Phylloscopus trochilus)
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus collybita)
Acrocephalidae (Reed Warblers and Allies)
EURASIAN REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
Seeing all of the likely small plovers in quick succession at the Salin de Giraud salt pans was helpful. Here, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers show their distinctive yellow eye rings, long wings, and pale, skinny legs. Photo by participant Henry Feilen.
Cisticolidae (Cisticolas and Allies)
ZITTING CISTICOLA (Cisticola juncidis)
Sylviidae (Sylviid Warblers)
EURASIAN BLACKCAP (Sylvia atricapilla)
SARDINIAN WARBLER (Sylvia melanocephala)
GREATER WHITETHROAT (Sylvia communis)
A small murmurration of European Starlings -- where they belong! Surprisingly, this species is declining across much of Europe. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
SPECTACLED WARBLER (Sylvia conspicillata)
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (Muscicapa striata)
EUROPEAN ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula)
EUROPEAN PIED FLYCATCHER (Ficedula hypoleuca)
We had to work for our Alpine Accentor, but were (FINALLY) rewarded with super views of a close bird in the Col du Tourmalet. Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
BLACK REDSTART (Phoenicurus ochruros)
RUFOUS-TAILED ROCK-THRUSH (Monticola saxatilis)
WHINCHAT (Saxicola rubetra)
EUROPEAN STONECHAT (Saxicola rubicola rubicola)
There were still a few things flowering, including some Acanthus-leaved Carline Thistles, which are popular with the dried flower trade. Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
MISTLE THRUSH (Turdus viscivorus)
EURASIAN BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula)
We found a few familiar faces among the strangers; this Bank Swallow is widely known as "Sand Martin" in the Old World. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)
ALPINE ACCENTOR (Prunella collaris)
DUNNOCK (Prunella modularis)
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea)
Mas de la Feniere, our base in the Pyrenees, nestles among horse pastures near Raphele-les-Arles. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla flava)
WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba)
TAWNY PIPIT (Anthus campestris)
WATER PIPIT (Anthus spinoletta)
We had multiple nice encounters with Long-tailed Tits -- small birds which have tails longer than their bodies! Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
COMMON CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs)
EURASIAN BULLFINCH (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
EURASIAN LINNET (Linaria cannabina)
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)
EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (Carduelis carduelis)
We found a Eurasian Jay snoozing in the sunshine below the wall where we ate our lunch in the Ciruque de Gavarnie. Photo by participant Judie Dunn.
CITRIL FINCH (Carduelis citrinella)
EUROPEAN SERIN (Serinus serinus)
Emberizidae (Old World Buntings)
CORN BUNTING (Emberiza calandra)
ROCK BUNTING (Emberiza cia)
Osprey is another familiar face -- and one of the most widespread birds of the world. Photo by guide Marcelo Padua.
YELLOWHAMMER (Emberiza citrinella)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)
EUROPEAN BROWN HARE (Lepus europaeus)
ALPINE MARMOT (Marmota marmota)
EUROPEAN RED SQUIRREL (Sciurus vulgaris)
EUROPEAN SNOW VOLE (Chionomys nivalis)
NUTRIA (Myocastor coypus)
PYRENEAN CHAMOIS (ISARD) (Rupicapra pyrenaica)
COMMON WALL LIZARD (Podarcis muralis)
Totals for the tour: 151 bird taxa and 6 mammal taxa