This was a family holiday to Port
Camargue, le-Grau-du-Roi, near
The Camargue is an amazing and unique habitat – it is a huge wetland which doesn’t dry out, despite the incredible heat in the summer. Alongside the wetlands are areas of sandy heathland – or ‘garigue’. Then there are the large number of salty lakes dotted around everywhere – all with Greater Flamingos on them. But the thing that really makes it stand-out are the paddyfields – yes they grow rice here, and these fields are absolutely alive with birds: herons, waders, terns, gulls and hirundines. Little Egret and Black-winged Stilt are in virtually every field, Cattle Egret are with any livestock, every time I scanned an area for raptors a Purple Heron was found flying (although only two seen on ground), House Sparrow (with some Tree Sparrow) are in pest proportions along the field edges, Bee-eater are heard everywhere (if not always seen), Gull-billed Tern are to be found over every rice field.
We stayed at the Port Camargue Eurocamp site, in a static caravan. The list of birds from the caravan is impressive:
Golden Oriole – woken at 7am most mornings by up to 4 males singing (“Pay-per-view”!) in the Poplar trees above the caravan, accompanied by 4+ juveniles/females. They disappeared if anyone was around, and were virtually never heard or seen here after 8am.
Hoopoe – one flew low past in early morning.
Wryneck – one singing in pine tree early morning.
Bee-eater – heard overhead several times.
Scops Owl – bloody thing kept everyone in the campsite awake !
Short-toed Treecreeper – one in pine tree.
Also, Swallowtail butterfly and Hedgehog.
Monday 28th July – Walked along horse tracks across ‘garigue’ to le-Grau-du-Roi, 8-11am
4 Golden Oriole – male and juv/female seen well in poplar trees
Bonnelli’s Warbler and Red Squirrel in pine woods.
Spectacled Warbler in low heath plants.
Grey Mullet and a Carp in the river and a Swallowtail butterfly.
Tuesday 29th July – Drive from Aigues-Mortes to Le P. Sauvage (ferry river-crossing, near St Marie-de-la-Mer) on the D58 and D85 roads.
First stop by a small marshy lake next to the road by a vineyard (“Promenade du Cheval”) and Farm shop (“Produit de Camargue” sign), near Sylvereal. One of the best spots I found for getting close to the herons and waders: 3 Night Heron, 1 Squacco Heron, 3 Great White Egret, 5 Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, 2 Purple Heron over, Fan-tailed Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler.
At Mas du Juge on the D85 I stopped at the bridge and walked along the dredgings by the side of the canal, as I could see 10 Bee-eater over the water. They didn’t let me get close, but there was also 10 Crested Lark, a couple of Turtle Dove and a Black Kite in a tree.
Along the road at Pin-Fourcat a Roller sat on a wire right by the road.
(Photo taken while lying across passenger seat of car with telescope stuck out of passenger window! As soon as I got out of the car, it flew – hence second photo.)
Further along the road at Le Ferradou was my first encounter with an area of paddyfields and my first 4 Gull-billed Tern, accompanied by a Marsh Harrier and 2 Black Kite. (A possible Corncrake briefly stuck a head up.) A Great Reed Warbler cackled in the roadside reeds.
(It’s not a bad morning’s Birdwatching !)
Wednesday 30th July – Drove to Etang du Fangassier in afternoon.
Found the first Short-toed Eagle sitting in a dead tree
near La Capeliere, on
Etang du Fangassier is one of the lakes where Greater Flamingo can be found in numbers, and there were several thousand spread out over its shallow waters. There were also c50 Curlew Sandpiper, c50 Little Stint and 1 Redshank on the shore.
Thursday 31th July – A short morning walk near the campsite revealed a male Golden Oriole (seen well), 1 Hoopoe in flight and several Bee-eater.
In the evening, ate at restaurant near Pharo de L’Espiguette (lighthouse south of Le Grau-du-Roi), which has a hide overlooking a saltmarsh. Kentish Plover, Avocet and Black-winged Stilt were all breeding there and also saw Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Kingfisher, Common Tern and large roost of Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull and Yellow-legged Gull.
Friday1st August – Drove around minor roads to north and east of Etang de Vaccares.
The road from Mas D’Agon to Bouchard (via St Cecile) produced lots of Whiskered Tern, 2 Stone Curlew in a protected area or “Zone Protegee” (the only ones I found), Green Sandpiper, 12 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Snipe, Squacco Heron, 2 Roller on roadside wires, 4 Lapwing, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Hobby and Clouded Yellow butterfly.
At Gageron there was a newly flooded field (presumably about to be planted with rice) which was swarming with dragonflies and packed with birds, including 30+ Gull-billed Tern with other terns and gulls.
While searching through the gulls, I noticed they were tilting their heads to look up at the sky with one eye and when I did the same a Short-toed Eagle was overhead, and beginning to dive downwards. It swept down and landed on a pylon. A check of the other pylons nearby revealed another. Also there were 3 Black Kite circling in thermals.
In another field nearby, was this Purple Heron.
At La Capeliere 6+ Little
Tern were diving into some small lakes and on the huge
On scanning the horizon at the second viewing area (past La Capeliere) I found 2 Stork sp. circling in the heat (looking towards La Sambuc).
The road from Fielouse to Tour du Valet (where there is a viewing platform) is a superb area for scanning for raptors. In my brief visit I saw 3 Short-toed Eagle, with one on a pylon only 100 yards from the road and being mobbed by a Marsh Harrier ! Another Marsh Harrier was nearby and 5 Black Kite and 1 Red Kite were seen. Also: 1 Stonechat, 2 Great White Egret, 1 Squacco Heron and 2 Mute Swan.
Another freshly flooded field at Villeneuve had c300 Black-winged Stilt on it !!
Saturday 2nd August – I visited a roman bridge and tower to the north of Aigues-Mortes (a superb 13th century walled town), which turned out to be probably the grandest bird hide in the world !
It is completely surrounded by marshland, and from the top (free to enter) I saw: 5+ Squacco Heron, 2 Great White Egret, c50 Greater Flamingo, 3 Green Sandpiper (high over), Common Sandpipers, 1 Greenshank and a Coypu sitting on the bank of a ditch before swimming along it.
The best place for getting close to Greater Flamingo was on a small lake right by a main road (D62) on the outskirts of Grau-du-Roi
Last revised: 4 August 2008.