Somewhat disappointing birding at the Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau

Of course no time spent with birds should be disappointing in any circumstances, but when it comes to a foreign birding trip for potential life birds, it is a bit disappointing when one has to leave the area without seeing the desired lifer.

We started our Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau adventure in the dark based on some information from my Facebook friend, Hugo Tuzé. Unfortunately, we enterered this massive semi desert from the wrong direction but after all we got there and it shouldn’t have affected the outcome of this morning’s birding.

Stunning sunrise over the La Crau. © Gyorgy Szimuly

My main target for the area was to find the stunning Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, my only potential life bird. By approaching the northeast corner of the reserve we saw a Little Owl along the paved road. We left the car behind in twilight and bird songs started to fill the bushes and the nearby woods. European Scops Owl, Sardinian Warblers, Common Nightingales, Cetti’s Warblers and Corn Buntings were all around that brightened up the disastrous trekking in the prickly and stinging lower vegetation. It probably wasn’t a good idea to walk in shorts.

The beautiful Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the north, the reserve was surrounded by bushes where Red-legged Partridges were roosting. As we entered the actual steppe area we soon saw our first low flying Little Bustards for Dani’s pleasure. White Storks roosted on trees started feeding on grasshoppers and small flocks of Western Cattle Egrets flew over the area. It didn’t take long to see the firtst Calandra Larks while European Turtle Doves were calling from the trees. A larger flock of European Bee-eater flew over the area in the early phase of the morning.

Birding in grasslands has been one of my favourites (probably because it’s a flat landscape and requires no climbing) since I started birding, and this morning brought back nice memories of bare foot birding on the steppes of the Hortobágy National Park in Eastern Hungary. As the undisturbed sun brough the heat, kestrels appeared on the famous Crau stone heaps. I tried hard but ended up finding only a single Lesser Kestrel in the haze. That wasn’t too satisfying for Dani. Most of the kestrels were Eurasian Kestrels.

Not with my basic bridge camera, but with a decent lens, it is not a big challenge to photograph Black Kites in southern France. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the kettles of Black Kites around La Crau. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Abandoned barn in the northern part of the reserve was a shelter for a Little Owl family. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is looking for grounded Greater Short-toed Larks with the brilliant Viking ED Pro 80 scope. iPhone © Gyorgy Szimuly

In an abandoned barn we found a family of Little Owls while Greater Short-toed Larks were singing over the bare land with sparse vegetation. Next to the opposite building European Thick-knees were calling and we had very nice views on them. Two stunning Montague’s Harriers were hunting over the southern fields and by midday the number of Black Kites peaked. Several large group of kites formed incredible kettles totalling 81 birds.

This barren ground is ideal habitat for European Thick-knees. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Hoopoe were often seen in the reserve. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

After 6 hours of birding our water supply has gone and we had to return to the car. European Rollers and Eurasian Hoopoes were hunting around the bushes and I found another lifer for Dani. Two Southern Grey Shrikes were percing on dead trees just where we parked. Over a hundred Common Swifts were flying above us while having our camping style but very enjoyable lunch.

More and more Black Kites arrived by midday. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Storks were flying with Common Swifts over the pastures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Camargue horses grazed the bushy pastures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Storks enjoyed the uplifting thermals. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from La Crau

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) 18
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 27
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 7
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 26
Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) 2
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 81
Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) 13
Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) 12
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 3
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 11
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 4
European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) 4
European Scops-Owl (Otus scops) 1
Little Owl (Athene noctua) 4
Common Swift (Apus apus) 145
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) 6
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 4
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 80
European Roller (Coracias garrulus) 4
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 4
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 3
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) 2
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 8
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 11
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 5
Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) 7
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) 8
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 9
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 2
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 5
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 5
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 12
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 11
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 46
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 7
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) 41
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 1

The conclusion of birding in the La Crau is that it requires multiple mornings for proper coverage. In the afternoon I found the route where we should have entered the area by car. This habitat was amazing to bird in despite missing some key species.

The Côte d’Azur is a popular and crowded touritst destination in Summer and almost all year long. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Relaxing time at the beach with Dani. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After a short and refreshing swimming we left the girls in bikinis behind for more birds. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The rest of the afternoon we spent swimming south of Marseille and had a short visit to the Cap Croisette. Before sunset we wanted to get to our next birding spot, the Verdon Natural Regional Park. I continue from there…

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

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Rarity hunting in the eastern Camargue

Continueing the report from the second day of our trip, our next stop was at the Collared Pratincole colony on the northeast side of the Camargue. This one would have been missed easily if we didn’t get location information including a fine find from the previous days. A very rare Black-winged Pratincole was found among the Collared Pratincoles and we hoped to see this long time seen shorebird.

Overfying White Stork at the Collared Pratincole colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s always a pleasure to see White Storks whereever I am. I’m missing these birds in the UK. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the many beautiful Collared Pratincoles over the colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the location (Coordinates: 43.4892, 4.7058 and relevan eBird checklist is here) we soon found the stunning Collared Pratincoles just nearby the main road D36 south of Le Sambuc. We could safely park at a dirt road junction and we set up the spotting scope. Birds were landing on the adjacent arid field but vegetation was too high to overlook the whole colony. We could observe a few closer birds through the scope but soon we put focus on the overfying birds. It took a good 15 minutes to find the suspected Black-winged Pratincole which was first found on the 6th of July. As the lights were rather harsh, I had to wait until it flew with a better angle to be ble to see the all dark secondaries with no white trailing edge. Identifying it by the colour of the underwing wasn’t always helpful as in certain angles Collared Pratincoles underwing seemed completely dark too. While enjoyed the view of this stunning bird I spotted a Short-toed Snake-Eagle soaring high in the sky.

Birds seen at the spot:

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 2
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 4
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 1
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 1
Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) 36
Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 3
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 9
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 2

Temperatures rose ridiculously to 33.5°C and we were hoping to get some relief at the sea again. Before we could do that we were birding on the southeastern side of the Camargue which is an extensive saltworks system. On 14,000 hectares 500,000 tonnes salt is extracted each year what became the core element of the local chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Some core parts had no access for the public while other parts especially along the road D36D was easily accessible. We stopped at every pond along the road and despite the burning temperatures it was a pleasure to watch some shorebirds.

The famous pink ponds of the salt works resulted by the proliferation of microscopic algae Dunaliella salina. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kentish Plover nesting site with ver high salinity. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

First salt works experience for Dani. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Exposed salt around the shallow canal system. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Almost lifeless habitat due extreme salinity. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our first stop was at the Salt Pan Observation mound, along the Route de Salin-de-Giraud where there wasn’t much to see but we found a few Kentish Plovers at the adjacent salt pond.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) 5
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 2
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 4
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 1

Further down towards the beach larger number of birds, mainly Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts, gulls and terns were seen on the evaporating ponds.

Étang de la Dame

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 3
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 28
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis) 56
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 2
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 2
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 1
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 2

Common Shelduck on one of the salt ponds. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Landscape view of the Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Larger feeding bird community with Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks and Black-headed Gulls on the Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilt in harsh light. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 22
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 107
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 15
Whimbrel (European) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus) 2
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) 5
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 2
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 35
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 9
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 507
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 4
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 90
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 1
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3

Large flock of Greater Flamingo on the They de Sainte-Ursule. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

They de Sainte-Ursule

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 1200
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 6
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 40
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 55
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 5
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 49
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 59
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 1

Inviting and refreshing Mediterranean Sea at the Plage de Piemanson what is a popular nudist area. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After all we didn’t bother swimming in the sea as we decided to find our accommodation get some rest before tomorrow’s early birding. I booked our accommodation for €32 through Airbnb in Istres which located just a short distance drive to the Réserve Naturelle des Coussouls de Crau. The owner was an English speaking kind woman. The accommodation was fine although we were stuggling by the hot night temperatures due to the lack of air conditioning or fan.

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Exploring the amazing Camargue continues

Early morning we started birding where we finished the previous evening. I scanned the feeding bird community at the Trabas de Jusiou with the Viking ED Pro scope and also wanted to test its capabilities in low light conditions. The 80mm front lens worked pretty well and even with the first lights I was able to read the colour rings of marked Slender-billed Gulls. On higher magnification there was some degree of light loss but it was still acceptable. As lights improved it gradually but quickly became a top notch field gear. I loved every moment with it and despite it was a new product for me, I have never ever missed a bird due to unfamiliarity.

Roosting Black-headed Gulls and Slender-billed Gulls early in the morning. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Not sure these Little Egrets were roosting somewhere nearby at all. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Yellow-legged Gull is the most abundant gull in the western Mediterranean. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

For a bird photographer it is not a big challenge to create cool photos of these feeding Little Egrets. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is watching Slender-billed Gulls on the mudflat. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another close encounter with a Yellow-legged Gull. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Simple-looking but characteristic Slender-billed Gull. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Feeding Little Egret group in the rising sun. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds seen at the Trabas de Jusiou

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 16
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1
GrEy Heron (Ardea cinerea) 20
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 180
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 16
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) 2
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 1
Whimbrel (European) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus) 1
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 106
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 228
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 16
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 2
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) 7
Common Swift (Apus apus) 23
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 28
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 14
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 1

The coastal part of the Camargue at the . iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the Golfe de Beauduc in the Mediterranean Sea from the seawall. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Too bad we had another plan but technically it would have been possible to walk along the coastal part of the Camargue lagoons, called étang, from the werstern part to the eastern beaches. We drove a bit on the seawall with multiple stops, then stroll a short distance. Zitting Cisticola with territorial flight was brand new experience for Dani and we had to work hard to spot these little birds in flight. The coastal part of the Étang de Imperial I watched a larger flock of Eurasian Curlews through the spotting scope. Later I was surprised getting an email from the regional eBird reviewer about this unusual count/observation.

Birds seen from the seawall (500m radius)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 2
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 110 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 2 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 7
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 4
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 1
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 1
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 9
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 57 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 3
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 5+45 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 4+35 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) 2
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 11
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 2
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 2
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 9
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 51
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 31
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 1 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 9
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 3
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 1
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 2
Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 47

Sardinian Warbler is one of most stunning of the Mediterranean Sylvia warblers. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

It took a while while this Sardinian Warbler was flitting to a relatively open space in the bush. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Although it was not in its brightest breeding colours it was still an attractive bird. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

This short-cut road runs through salty steppes and dried out lagoons. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Bee-eater with a massive dragonfly. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

This bird was quite cooperative after this successful predation on this giant dragonfly. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Distant and crappy Tawny Pipit shot. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

An even more crappier photo of a perching Zitting Cisticola. It provided satisfying views for Dani. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the coastal areas we headed to the other side of Camargue. Following detailed location informations kindly provided by my Facebook friend, Hugo Touzé, our next main stop was a Collared Pratincole colony where a mega rare Black-winged Pratincole was reported earlier. Instead going on the quicker route I took the road D85a (Route de Cacharel) from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and turned to the first dirt road on the right. This road actuall runs on the western side of the Étang de Malagroy through dried out salt marshes, steppes and tamarisk bushes. I made a combined list from the sevaral kilometers route.

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 1
Great Egret (Eurasian) (Ardea alba alba) 1
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 1
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) 5
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 2
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 8
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis) 18
Little Owl (Athene noctua) 1
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 22
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 14
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 6
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 3
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 6
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
‘Western’ Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans cantillans) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 7
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 84
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 6
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 7

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Mediterranean specialities in the scorching hot Camargue

After the very productive morning in the Alpilles we headed south towards the western part of the Camargue National Park. It is the largest river delta ecosystem in Europe with vast salt lagoons, marshes and network of canals agriculture long the borderline. It’s special position along the River Rhône contributed to the development of its unique wildlife. This Important Bird Area is under pressure by heavy tourism but it seemed to be well regulated and under control. Large part of the delta is used for salt works.

Preening Western Cattle Egrets at one of the rice-fields. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

From Arles we took the road D572N which runs through large flooded rice-fields. These fields attracted a lot of birds including Western Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers. We heard our first Zitting Cisticolas here but couldn’t manage to see one.

Combined list of multiple stops provided the following bird list along the rice-fields:

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) 1
Great Egret (Eurasian) (Ardea alba) 1
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 6
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 29
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) 33
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 1
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 1
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 9
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 24
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 2
European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 20
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 18
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 2
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 2
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 2
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Massive and probably quite old White Sork nest on this little roadside tower. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Stork landed on its nest for our pleasure. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Along the road D179 we had nice views on White Storks, European Roller and European Bee-eaters and multiple Black Kites. At a little pond (43.6138,4.4079) we saw the following birds:

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 2
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) 1
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) 6
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 2
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 2
Common Swift (Apus apus) 15
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 8
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 17
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 2
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) 4
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 2
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Glossy Ibises were feeding in the rather eutrophic pond. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The view on the stunning Glossy Ibises through the Viking ED Pro spotting scope, kindly provided by Viking Optical, was amazing. Details on the iridescent feathers were cracking. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Squacco Heron was feeding just meters away from the road allowing comfortable photography from our car. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

We saw both heavily worn adults and juvenile Western Swamphens. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Western Swamphen feeding along the muddy shore. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilts favoured this small pond even for breeding. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

After turning northwards on the road D779 we stopped for a good half an hour at a small pond on the left. This was the Western Swamphen site, which is just a small part of the massive Étang du Charnier marsh. This shallow, drying out marsh was full of Black-winged Stilts, Little Egrets, some Glossy Ibises and Little Ringed Plovers. Along the northern part of the pond we found Western Swamphens feeding at the edge of the reedbed. They were in rather washed out colours and but Dani was happy to see another life bird. Several pairs of Black-winged Stilts had downy chicks. Black-crowned Night-Herons, Squacco Herons and Yellow-legged Gulls were flying over the area.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 4
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 6
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) 9
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) 2
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) 6
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 3
Western Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) 5
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 8
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 88
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 9
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 6
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 4
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 1
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica) 6
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 1
Eurasian Reed-Warbler (Eurasian) (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1

Very pleasant swimming in the Mediterranean Sea was a complete refreshment after the first rather hot birding day. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Feeding group of Little Egrets in the drained Trabas de Jusiou. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Despite their beauty, Little Egrets are quite aggressve hunters when it comes to occupying the best feeding spots. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We decided to camp on the eastern beach of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (Plage Est) which cost us €5 including overnight. Needless to say that sitting at the beach for watching shearwaters wasn’t the first thing we did, but rather enjoyed the much needed swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Birding during fun times provided multiple Sandwich Terns, Yellow-legged Gulls and a Eurasian Oystercatcher. After swimming Dani pulled another life bird. On the nearby eBird hotspot, the Trabas de Jusiou we had cracking views on roosting Slender-billed Gulls and hunting Little Egrets. Several Slender-billed Gulls were colour ringed with green rings. Surprisingly not many shorebirds were present on this muddy lake but a Whimbrel was actively feeding in the middle of the lake. From the sea, low flying Sandwich Terns carried food and one of them was flying with an adult Gull-billed Tern.

Seawatching through the excellent Viking ED Pro spotting scope. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Peaceful waters resulted no seabird specialities. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Unfortunately, seawatching resulted neither shearwaters nor storm-petrels, despite I could identify hunting Sandwich Terns from quite a distance.

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 12
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 4
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 77
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) 1
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 46
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 230
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 11
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) 1
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 6
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) 4
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 40
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 30
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 16

Wonderfully refreshing rosé from Provence. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A lovely dinner, a cold rosé in the Bambou Palm Beach Restaurant and the swimming naked French girls only a stone’s throw away, made the night pretty cool…

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Bonelli’s Eagle chase at the Massif des Alpilles

It’s been more than a year I had a holiday so it was about time to organise another one. This time southern France became the birdwatching holiday destination and after a month of preparation my son and me landed on Marseille for a bit of tropical European feeling.

Moments before landing in Marseille we had stunning views to the Camargue and the Réserve Naturelle des Coussouls de Crau steppes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We flew by EasyJet from Gatwick Airport in London and a little more than one and the half hours later we landed in Marseille. Europecar served us a budget car through HolidayAutos, what proved to be a great support during our whole journey as the car was supplied with Apple CarPlay. It made navigation from my iPhone so easy. Our biggest problem was to find a supermarket for some food. Unfortunately, shops were closed so the only option was to get something for breakfast is to go to a nearby McDonald’s. A lovely young staff member with sexy french accent offered help to find a non-stop shop. That wasn’t the most healthy food we have ever bought but we survivied till we made a full shopping in the E’Leclerc in Arles. After this hassle we soon hit the roads to the Chaînes des Alpilles.

Dani didn’t have to wait long for the first lifer. At random stops we heard European Scops Owls and one of them was close enough to go for it. It took less than ten minutes to locate one in the complete darkness and enjoying a perfect views of this calling bird. It’s been more than 20 years I’ve seen this bird in Hungary. On the way up we heard a several other birds at the foothills of the Alpilles.

Alpine Swifts were hunting around the tower and the cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular sunrise over the Alpilles. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Huge limestone cliffs are emerging on the northern side of the Massif des Alpilles. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panoramic view from the watchpoint where Bonelli’s Eagles were seen. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We had a beautiful view to the Alpilles and the distant lowlands of Provance. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We woke up with twilight and headed up to the Massif des Alpilles on foot. A few miles walking to the summit provided nice birding opportunities and gave us a hint of the difficulties having proper views on the Mediterranean Sylvid warblers. Patience payed out but we also had to focus on our primary target bird, the Bonelli’s Eagle. Since my first foreign birding trip to Turkey I have been chasing this bird. On my previous trip to southern France I failed to find one, although that wasn’t entirely a birding trip. Before sunrise at least one European Nightjar was heard calling. The Sun was high up when we got to the tv or radio tower (not sure what is that for). That was the time for the Viking Optical’s ED Pro spotting scope to shine and support our quest to find this majestic eagle. It did a GREAT job! I’ll put up some thoughts on this optics later. Alpine Swifts with Common Swifts were flying low around the tower and Western Subalpine Warblers were carrying food around our spot. Technically this warbler is a life bird for me but as IOC hasn’t been accepted this split so I cannot list it as a lifer. Another life bird was the Spectacled Warbler. Walking on the summit towards northeast, multiple Dartford Warblers crossed the path. Amazing number of butterflies were all around and I just wished I could identify a single one.

It’s hard to call this a bird photo but there is an Egyptian Vulture in the frame. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

An adult Egyptian Vulture was soaring over us for a few minutes before disappearing behind the east slope. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Back from the short walk on the summit, we soon had our first excitement with a close encounter of an Egyptian Vulture. It must have spent the night in one of the nearby cliffs. After a few circles it glided down to the valley and disappeared temporarily. Later when wind picked up it was soaring just above us. Temperature rose rapidly and as drinking water supply decreased dramatically we were close to leave the summit. When I walked towards the deep walley to find the singing Cirl Bunting a large soaring raptor appeared on the west horizont. It glided towards to foothills and slowly emerged higher and higher. Soon after a second, a third and a fourth bird joined to this soaring bird. There was obvious size difference between the birds. Two with same size were Bonelli’s Eagles and two smaller ones were dark phase Booted Eagles. One of the Bonelli’s was flying towards us providing great views. A distant flying Black Terns distracted the view and I lost the bird forever. Later we learned that Booted Eagles are rather uncommon here this time of the year but their breeding grounds is relatively close to this place.

If time allows there are a lot to explore in this fascinating natural park. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds counted from the car park near the road D5 to the tower on the summit:

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) 1
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) 2
Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) 2
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 2
Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) 1 heard only
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 16
Common Swift (Apus apus) 50
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 3
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 2
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 10
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) 1
Western‘ Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans cantillans) 5
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) 4
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) 5
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 2
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis) 4
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 1
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) 3
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) 3
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 12

It wasn’t a bad start of the trip. Dani ended the day with 6 life birds for his happiness.

This trip was Supported by Viking Optical.