Finding Birds in

s france update

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All the page and site numbers here have been updated to match the 2017 book, Finding Birds in the South of France, not the original Finding Birds in Southern France.

French Alps

6-13 July 2019 (Chris Dorney)

Site 1 was as easy as you said for Wallcreepers finding a pair nesting right by the bridge (along with a few Crag Martins and the only Short toed Eagle of the trip). Another Wallcreeper was seen taking flight about 5 minutes drive further up the gorge and another one was by the top waterfall halfway(?) up: you cross a nice looking bridge and get a really nice view up the valley to another bridge with a small waterfall behind it. We were enjoying the view looking down when it flew past (possibly been using the area below that bridge)and onto the rock faces to the right of the road as you look down the valley.

Site 3 was absolutely superb for Griffon Vulture but these were seen well pretty much wherever we went. Two pairs of alpine accentors (one at the top of the col and one further down below the café on the Barcelonette side). The highlight here was a Bearded Vulture which perched up above us briefly. One of the locals told us ‘chapat’ in the Ubaye valley was a good place for these but I couldn’t work out where he meant. Also had Snowfinch at the top.

Site 4 Rock Sparrows nesting in one of the villages en route up the valley. I took the path past the refuge and into the valley and had some great views of Rock Bunting and Bonelli’s Warbler.

Site 9 is still good for Rock Thrush as we had two males (in a territorial tussle) and a female around the chalets.

Site 12 Citril Finch and a Wallcreeper (directly opposite the lay-by). At Col d’Izoard some easy Citril Finch and another Alpine Accentor; there’s a path behind the shop that leads up to the left - just before it cuts a diagonal across the ‘scree’ there is a notice board and I flushed the accentor from here.

Site 13 Rock Sparrows were present in Villar St Pancrace right by where you turn off for Les Ayes.

Site 14 The war memorial did have singing Lesser Whitethroat but no Marsh Warbler for me. Fieldfares were using the pines near the museum at the top of the hill.

Site 15 Lots of Snowfinch and a pair of Alpine Accentor (on the hill behind the chalet to the right). Further up the hill behind the chalet brings you to the head of a valley where we found a single Alpine Accentor and an absolutely magnificent view.


24th May 1998 Wallcreeper at site 8 - obviously not just a site for late summer (Julian Lawson)

The Camargue

July 95. The road along the north side of the Etang de Vacares has an observation platform opposite the turning to site 12. This was worth using to get views of Gull-billed Terns and Pratincoles. At site 12 high water levels in 1995 attracted lots of terns including Black Tern, Gull-billed Tern and over 20 Whiskered Terns (Louise and Michael Field).

June 96. Long-eared Owl and Night Heron by the road at site 10. Site 21 was good for Collared Pratincole and Gull-billed Tern as well as Slender-billed Gull (Richard Attenborrow)

July 97. The first lagoons along the track at site 3 had 24 Slender-billed Gulls, 1 Caspian Tern, 1 Gull-billed Tern, 50 Little Egret, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and hundreds of other terns. The saltmarsh had at least 5 Spectacled Warblers. 8 Med Gulls and site 4 and 17 Collared Pratincoles at site 10 (Graham Megson)

1994 and 1998. Great Spotted Cuckoo in both years plus Squacco Heron near Espeyran, Little Bittern by the Canal du Rhone near Gallician and Rollers and Bee-eaters near Aigues Mortes - in a colony beside the Canal du Rhone, 3 miles west of the town (Julian Lawson).

June 1998. Gull-billed Terns were breeding at site 12 where Pratincoles have bred in the past (Mischa Indeherberg)

June 1998. At site 12, a Red-footed Falcon plus over 60 Mediterranean Gulls and a Caspian Tern (Howard Orridge et al).

2001-2006. There is an interesting review (with an English summary) of changes in bird populations on the Camargue during 2001-2006 at  In a nutshell, new or increasing species include Great White Egret, Squacco Heron (now over 500 pairs), White Stork (19 pairs by 2006), Spoonbill, Cormorant, Glossy Ibis (14 pairs in 2006) and Purple Swamphen (new in 2006) but gull and tern populations have 'dramatically decreased'. Lesser Spotted eagle overwintered in 2001/2 and a Black-winged Pratincole paired with a Collared Pratincole in 2001.  Site 1 has about 50 calling Great Bitterns (about 2/3 of the entire Camargue population) and up to 10 calling Little Bitterns. Up to 9 Spotted Eagles overwinter from late October to March; they are seen regularly at site 14, amongst others. A Baillon's Crake nest was found near site 14 in 2003 and chicks were later seen. There was only one other sighting in the Camargue during 2001-2006. Little Crakes are not found every year on the Camargue but are most likely in March and, especially, April. Autumn sightings are rare. Up to 5 Purple Swamphen have been seen together at site 1 where breeding was confirmed in 2006  In 2002 there were 8 colonies of Collared Pratincole on the Camargue, of which 5 were located at or near site 10 and one was near site 12 Up to 6 Richard's Pipits have overwintered around site 14. (DG)

  1. 2011.The visitor centre at site 13 is open from 9am to 6pm every day but closes for an hour at lunch and, in winter (October to March) it closes one hour earlier and all day Tuesday

12th Feb 2016 Black-shouldered Kite hunting by the road between St Gilles and Sylvereal (Harry and Denise Failey)

May 2018 Site 1 was the highlight of the Camargue area. We had Squacco Heron close to reception and Great Spotted Cuckoo at the top (reedbed) end of the reserve. Site 3 is nowhere near as productive as it was in 2000; we had only 1 Slender-billed Gull and no Gull-billed Terns (Richard Brown)

La Crau

April 95. At least part of site 1 page 24 is now open to the public. A Pallid Swift flew over the lake at site 1 and there were three Calandra Larks at site 4, page 24. At site 13 page 26 we had Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Short-toed Lark and 18 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Stuart and Sue Burnet)

July 95. You now need a permit (15 francs) to visit site 4, page 24. To get hold of one, you first have to stop at the Ecomusee in St Martin de Crau (easily recognised by the large Hoopoe on the side of the building). (Louise and Michael Field)

July 97. Several birders, including myself, failed to find Calandra Lark, Lesser Kestrel and Lesser Grey Shrike on La Crau indicating how rare these have now become [though Lesser Kestrel, at least, has subsequently increased (see below) - DG]. I did however find lots of Rollers, including more than 10 in one day. There were 25 Little Bustard at site 3, page 22 but the best site proved to be Site 1, page 22 with up to 15 Little Bustard, 4 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, 3 Iberian Grey Shrike, plus Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed lark and Tawny Pipit (Graham Megson)

June 1998. One, maybe 2, singing Calandra Larks at site 3, page 24 (Howard Orridge et al)

June 1998. An area of heath just north of the Vergiere turn-off (site 3, page 24) had 4 Iberian Grey Shrikes, a Stone Curlew and a female Red-footed Falcon (Mischa Indeherberg).

2001-06 The numbers of Lesser Kestrel have more than doubled since 2001, reaching 136 pairs.  There is apparently a post-breeding dispersal of 10-15 Bonelli's Eagles, mostly young birds, to the general Camargue area, especially La Crau.  Flocks of over 1000 Little Bustards have been counted in winter on La Crau where up to 1800 are thought to winter. About half of these are thought to come from elsewhere in France. Up to 650 calling males have been counted on La Crau of which about a third are on the reserve at site 4  The wintering population of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse has increased to over 200 birds in the last 10 years but this is fewer than the 400+ present in the seventies.  60-70 pairs of Calandra Larks breed and winter flocks can exceed 100 birds. (Only) 2 pairs of Lesser Grey Shrike bred in 2006. Pine Buntings, although regularly found in winter in the 1990's have become more scarce since 2000, with only a couple of sightings per year, rarely of more than one bird and rarely staying for more than a few days. (

April 2017 Over several visits, birds at Peau de Meau (page 24) included 7 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (once only), Little Bustard (twice but distant), 3-5 Calandra Lark, 2-3 Lesser Kestrel and 3-4 Red-footed Falcons per day.

Site 1 page 22, 6-7 displaying Little Bustard; to get access here I entered to the north just west of the warehouse having parked outside the front. Seems you can enter here but further in came across signs which indicate no entry.

Site 1 page 24. Up to 4-5 Caspian Tern on 28th/29th (Paul Varney).

May 2018 Your directions on Le Crau were spot on, although no Tawny Pipits were seen. All the larks showed readily, we had a couple of stone curlews and at least 5 little bustards were calling but could not be seen due to the height of the grasses. We had no shrikes at all anywhere in the camargue area. (Richard Brown)

The Vigueirat Marshes

April 95 There were lots of Moustached and Savi's Warblers, over 10 Marsh Harriers, 12 Night Herons, Bearded Tits and a pair of Montagu's Harriers, amongst others (Stuart and Sue Burnet).

May 2018 The un-numbered site for Rollers shown on the map produced 3 on one day and two the following day. (Richard Brown)

Les Alpilles

1995 to 1998. At site 5 several observers have commented that the wine barrel has gone, but they still managed to find the site and the Eagle Owls (April 1995, July 1995, Dec 1995, June 1997, June 1998).

May 1998. The lines of poplars just south of the D17 at Paradou were good for Golden Oriole (Ian Osterfield).

June 1998. At least 2 Pallid Swifts at Maussane les Alpilles (Howard Orridge et al)

2001-06 A pair of Egyptian Vultures are still breeding at site 4 but Bonelli's Eagle no longer does (probably not since 1994 although there are still occasional sightings here). There is no longer an observation hut and the area is closed to the public in July and August due to the risk of fire.

April 2017 At site 4 despite 3 visits and 8 hours had only one sighting of Bonelli’s Eagle but also had 5 Griffon Vultures overhead on one visit. (Paul Varney)

Gorge de Vallon

April 2017 Eagle Owl - just before you enter Eyguieres coming from Aureille on left road goes under large cliff face. Heard one and saw briefly in flight but Mistral wind was fierce and blowing straight on to cliff so Owl nipped over the top as soon as it emerged from roost (Paul Varney).

Gorges du Tarn

July 1998. The viewing point at site 2 is called the Belvedere des Vautours but it's a tourist trap that isn't worth visiting since the views you get are no better than elsewhere. There's a chance of Black Vulture here too as it is being reintroduced into the area. I had two of them at a carcass with 15 Griffons and 2 Egyptians on the plateau between Boyne and le Massegos, to the west of the main gorge. Other birds on the plateau (site 5) included Stone Curlew, Rock Bunting and Cirl Bunting. (Edward Powell-Jackson)

Mont Ventoux

April 1995 We had a Bonelli's Eagle here as well as singing Citril Finches (Stuart and Sue Burnet)

French Alps

1998 I have been assured by French birders that Sites 4 and 6 are probably the best two sites in France for Rock Partridge but I still haven't seen them myself. They are found particularly on south-facing slopes, offering a combination of grassy slopes, rocky patches and, often, a few scattered trees. Walk for long enough in this habitat and you should find them. They tend to have vertical territories, one pair occupying a particular slope or gully from about 1800 metres upwards. However, in the summer months they are more likely to spend their time in the upper reaches of their territories so you must expect to climb above 2000 metres to find them. It might be easier to locate them by their calls but they seem to be mostly silent except at dawn or dusk in the second half of May. One research team had only 4 sightings on one visit, but 18 sightings in the same place a week later when the birds were singing. Of the 5 Rock Partridge sites I've visited, I would say Site 4 looks the most promising, even though I failed here in July 1998. I recommend that you stay at the hostel in Maljasset itself, then you can be up at dawn and in the right habitat straight away. Take the well-marked path from the settlement, heading north towards the next valley, zig-zagging up the south-facing slope. Another really good-looking spot is at Les Fraches, in a valley a few km east of Cervieres near Briancon. (DG)

Pont du Gard

The old Roman bridge over the River Gard, 30 km north of Arles by the town of Remoulins, is a well-known site for Rock Sparrow; birders often stop here en route to the Camargue

July 1995 Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Cirl Bunting and over 8 Golden Orioles (Louise and Michael Field)

09-08-2014 Alpine Swifts, 25 at least. (Diedert Koppenol)


The Haven campsite, 60 km west of Arles, makes a cheap base for exploring the Camargue and has a few good birds of its own

June 1998 At the Haven campsite at Lac des Reves, a few miles SE of Montpellier, we saw several Great Spotted Cuckoos, a family of Long-eared Owls and lots of waterbirds including over 1000 Flamingos, a Gull-billed Tern and several species of herons (Howard Orridge et al)


Finding Birds in the South of France

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