The mighty Rhone River splits at Arles about fifty km. before entering
the Mediterranean Sea, the two branches enclose a triangular delta called
the Camargue, which comprises salt and freshwater lakes and marshes,
woodlands and farmland in the north, and contains many birds from seabirds
and waders through to songbirds and raptors, most being migrants, but with a
permanent population of thousands of Lesser Flamingos.
Flamingos looking like flying walking sticks with red and black
wings flew overhead as we booked into one of the many lodges just inland
from Stes.de Marie sur Mer on the Mediterranean edge of the Camargue.
Flamingos, flying and feeding, were everywhere on the lakes, and, along
with many European ducks and even breeding White Storks, were habituated to
oglers in the nearby Bird Park, which was like a living field-guide to many
of the local birds.
We spent a morning there with a throng of tourists and birdwatchers
plus a few mosquitoes. There are even a few cages near the entry, mainly
owls and less commonly seen local stuff, a good introduction for novices
like us.There is an elevated tower overlooking reedbeds and lakes, but you
need a scope. We had a small Kowa and lightweight tripod which made all the
difference, the locals have been putting birds into pies for thousands of
years, and outside the Bird Park birds are exceptionally unapproachable.
Colourful Hoopoes, Rollers, European Bee-eaters and Common Cuckoos were
around on the back-roads, particularly a gravel road going east skirting a
large lake and eventually ending up at a Bull-fighting ring. Saw a Harrier
with very white topsides and black
wingtips, probably Montagues, as a booklet on the Birds of the Camargue in
French and English from the Information Centre near the birdpark notes that
Hen Harriers are absent in midsummer. Also Yellow Wagtails and a Green
Sandpiper in drains alongside that road. A pair of Kentish Plovers on the
lakeside gravel, Crested Larks. Long-tailed Tits and Green Woodpecker,
Osprey and other uncertain raptors. Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls
all over, two only Slender-billed at a remote lighthouse.
Northeast, the prehistoric Rhone delta is now a stony plain called La
Crau, mostly now irrigated farmland but with one largish area where we saw
Stone Curlews, Short-toed Larks and drove by Lesser Bustards. A few Raptors,
but difficult to ID in the heat haze. Lesser Kestrel the best, Harriers
common, Black Kites the commonest. In another place were three families of
red-legged Partridges, ie parent and many chicks, running away between
shotgun cartridge empties in a hunting club area.
Within raptor commuting distance of La Crau to the north is a small
attractive mountain range called Les Alpilles. We crisscrossed every part of
them but only saw a shy Blue Jay, juvenile Roller and Kestrel, although
around the perched mediaeval town of Les Baux were Crag Martins and Black
Redstarts.A distant giant Roc turned into one of many gliders.
The Gorges du Tarn northwest of Arles was an unexpected scenic delight,
with colony of maybe forty Griffon Vultures on the way out to the south. Saw
Black Vulture, Golden and Short-toed Eagle and Buzzards.
Due no doubt to jetlag, not to mention the local vino, we somehow
lost a day and missed a few choice raptors nearby, but managed over a
hundred spp. in a brief multifaceted journey to what most Frenchmen regard
as the centre of the earth.
50km west of Sydney Harbour Bridge
50km west of Sydney Harbour Bridge
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