Life bird number 2,192…

Time by time I have crazy ideas for finding life birds. This time everything came together for a potentially wonderful birding day in Cornwall. As I live in the middle of England every prime coastal area several hours of driving away. Cornwall is among the ‘worst’ of all. It requires 5 hours 30 minutes drive in ideal scenario. Yet, I thought I could squeeze everything in one day.

Spectacular sunrise over the cliffs of Porthgwarra. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s hard not to be sentimental by those morning colours. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Reading multiple reports about Great Shearwaters and European Storm Petrels, two of the several missing European seabirds from my life list, made me want to give it a try. My original idea was to have a day at sea traveling by the Scillonian III ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. Sadly, having a bank holiday Monday, the return ferry was fully booked and we had to give seabird watching a try from the land.

On the Biritsh Facebook Birders group a few sites have been recommended by experienced British birders and big thanks to them for the information. Dani and me arrived to Porthgwarra at 4:30AM and enjoyed the view of the spectacular Milky Way and the absolute silence. I don’t even remember when was the last time there wasn’t any noise around me. After a bit of rest in the car we started our walk uphill to the local RSPB Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). From the first higher point we had spectacular view of the sunrise and the beautifully calm sea.

Hundreds of Northern Gannets passed by during our entire stay. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another flock of Northern Gannets. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sevaral flocks of European Shag were among the firsts to go out feeding followed by the constant flow of Northern Gannets. The biggest spectacle, however, was the incredible number of feeding shearwaters within a close distance from the cliffs. We found a perfect viewing spot just in front of the coastwatch station of Gwennap Head and started browsing the calm waters through the excellent Viking Optical’s ED Pro 80 spotting scope. We have been blown away by the large number of seabirds. Thousands of Manx Shearwaters flew all around and I thought it was impossible to spot something different from the ‘crowd’ but despite having not much seabirding experience, it turned up less challenging to find other species as well.

Great shearwater

Great Shearwater became my latest life bird. © Andrew Malcolm Photo was legally embedded from Andrew Malcolm’s Flickr stream with direct link to his portfolio. Check out his work.

Gear in action: The Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope delivered perfect views of thousands of seabirds. The swwet spot (size of sharp area of the whole image) was large enough. Early morning means colours are dull and lights are dim. Thanks to the excellent ED 80mm front lens this scope allowed us watching birds with the first lights. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Scillonian III has crossed the sea in front of us with fully packed deck. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The view from the headland to the Celtic Sea. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another view to the very distant Isles of Scilly. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The first surprise was a juvenile Sabine’s Gull which could have been easily be mistaken with juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake. I was happy to show it to Dani and he scored his second lifer of the day. Soon after I lost the juvenile Sabine’s Gull, a shearwater with dirty-looking underwing appeared. It was a Balearic Shearwater and Dani was happy again. We didn’t have to wait long for something larger and different. A Great Shearwater landed on water gently mobbed by a stunning Sooty Shearwater. The size difference of this capped shearwater was obvious even on water. Further watching the sea a ‘yellow-nosed’ Cory’s Shearwater turned up that was sadly missed by Dani.

Meadow Pipits were actively feeding on the headland. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

Meanwhile songbirds landed around us. Small flocks of Western Yellow Wagtails, Grey and (British) White Wagtails, Meadow, Tree and Rock Pipits, Barn Swallows, European Jackdaws were regularly seen.

Coastwatch station of Gwennap Head with the lovely birdwatcher lady. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A lovely birdwatcher lady approached me while Dani went back to the shop for getting a parking ticket. She was local and was very kind especially when she highlighted the chance to misidentify juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake as Sabine’s Gull.

Stunning bay at Porthgwagga with amazingly freezing waters. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Seafront at Land’s End with splashes on the right by a feeding Basking Shark. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Terrible digiscoped photo of an adult Sabine’s Gull. Sadly we had no adapter for a much better photo but Dani tried it hard.

This is again a digiscope video still. Dani held and positioned the iPhone in the air. Anyway, the bird is identifiable.

Dani ended the day with 5 life birds and obviously was happy about it. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

All of a sudden almost all the shearwaters flew towards the waters of Land’s End, the place we wanted to see anyway. Land’s End, that is just a few miles from Porthgwarra, is the most westerly point of England. As expected on the bank holiday Monday, it was fully packed with tourists but that didn’t stop us watching birds despite the £6 parking fee! Right after I set up the tripod and scope, came another lifer, but it wasn’t a bird this time. A massive Basking Shark was feeding right to the light house. During our stay it was hunting at the same area providing spectacular views through the scope. What an animal it was.

From this spot I found more Sooty Shearwaters but unarguably the best find was an adult Sabine’s Gull with a company of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Black-headed Gulls and a few Europen Herring Gulls.

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

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Persistence for life birds payed off

The random and necessary change of the trip plan offered a not so comfortable bight in the car. Dani spent ‘some’ time outdoors with his lovely company from the creperie, and I tried to sleep a few hours. While I set the car for sleeping, I heard two different European Scops-Owl calling.

After sunrise we walked to the viewing point and dedicated the whole morning to spot at least one Cinereous Vulture. Soon after we finished our breakfast sandwiches I had a short chat with a local bird guide about my target bird. It turned out that the Rougon viewing point wasn’t exactly the right spot for finding them. Our best chance to spot them was browsing the sky for gliding vultures over the opposite hills south to Rougon village. That turned to be a very useful advice.

Vautour moine - Aegypius monachus - Cinereous Vulture

Incoming Cinereous Vulture. © Olivier Teilhard (Photo was legally embedded from Olivier Teilhard’s Flickr photostream. Check out his work.)

We have been recommended to walk up to the cliffs behind the houses for better chances for Cinereous Vultures. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is at the viewing point. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Viking Optical’s ED Pro 80 flagship scope proved to be a perfect companion for our thip and delivered unforgettable views on many birds including lifers. It’s optical performance isalmost unbeatable at this price point. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

At around 11AM Dani walked back to the car for more water while I spotted a slowly soaring Cinereous Vulture through the spotting scope. I quickly called him and he run back to the viewing point for catching a glimpse of the disappearing bird. What a bird it was. Soon another bird joined it offering some good views before they glided behind the peak. As the guide suggested it might have been the pair breeding just a few miles away to the south. The bird activity was quite high during our stay. Dani had another life bird when a single Red-billed Chough flew over while calling. We enjoyed good views of 2 Alpine Swifts, a singing Wryneck and Cirl Bunting,

Soaring Short-toed Snake Eagle over the rocky slopes of Rougon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Short-toed Snake Eagle flew over the viewing point quite low. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon gliding just above the créperie. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

I’m very grateful for the unknown guide who shared this little but much needed information with me that eventually helped looking at the right directions for this long wanted lifer. Also we are grateful for Viking Optical’s tremendous support. Without the Viking ED Pro 80 scope this bird couldn’t have been spotted.

Limestone hills south to Rougon where Cinereous Vultures flew over. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Different view to the village of Rougon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the morning:

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) 2
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 42
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 2
Common Swift (Apus apus) 42
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 2
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 1
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) 6
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 3
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 21
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 4
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 3
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 2
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 4
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 4

One of the roadside lavender fields in Provence. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

By saying a final goodbye to the place and the staff of the restaurant our holiday came to an end. The rest of the day was quiet, and as always, a little sad by ending our short but rather intense holiday.

Was it it a successful trip after all? Yes, it was. The weather was awesome (my kind) and the whole region is one of my favourites in Europe. There is still plenty of reasons to return to Provence.

We are so grateful for Viking Optical’s tremendous support for this trip. Thank you Stuart and the Team!

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Vulture heaven along the Gorges Du Verdon

Leaving the coastline behind we headed to the spectacular Gorges Du Verdon where we hoped to find the long chased life bird of mine, the Cinereous Vulture. We spent the night near the bridge where the turquoise-green Verdon River enters the lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. We were about 20 minutes drive away from the vulture breeding area near the gorgeous little mountain village of Rougon.

While being prepared for the short drive through a spectacular Verdon River valley we had a stunning Short-toead Snake-Eagle over our car with a snake in its bill and we saw 4 Alpine Swifts and Eurasian Crag-Martin flying over the limestone cliffs.

 

Almost unreal water colour of a river. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tourists love kayaking under this breathtaking cliffs. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panorama photo of the Verdon River from the bridge. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By arriving to the Rougon area we were not 100% sure about the best observation spot to watch vultures but we found one spot along the breathtaking serpentine road. The map bellow shows where we looked for birds. I have to admit this place was one of the most beautiful I have ever birded or been. The view from the small parking lot to the river valley and the giant vertical cliffs is just jawdropping.

Egyptian Vultures provided excellent views through our perfectly performing Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Some of the Eurasian Griffons stayed on the roosting sites until midday. iPhone SE through Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope (handheld) © Daniel Szimuly

It is rather painful not having prime photo gear with you as opportunities to photograph vultures, like this Eurasian Griffon, are endless. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon clearly is a majestic and ruling bird of Rougon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon used the uplifing thermals close to the cliffs to elevate to incredible heights. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular view from the Rougon viewing point to the Gorges Du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the many Eurasian Griffons in a roosting (or nesting?) hole. iPhone SE + Viking ED pro 80 spotting scope © Daniel Szimuly

We soon started to feel the stuck heat between those massive cliffs and the comfi fleece soon landed in the back of the car. Euriasian Crag-Martins flew just over our car and Black Woodpecker flew over the river to the opposite slopes. Western Bonelli’s Warblers and Eurasian Treecreepers passed by next to our car. As heat picked up we had a Golden Eagle flying over the cliffs from the direction of Rougon village. Short-toed Snake-Eagle was looking for lizzards or snakes in lover elevations providing excellent views.

We got excited when the first Eurasian Griffons took flight. Dani spotted a beautiful adult Egyptian Vulture dropped from the cliffs of the northern side. My favourite Alpine Swifts flew over us with larger flock of Common Swifts and slowly moved towards northwest. As no Cinereous Vulture showed up we decided to go to Rougon village for finding a good spot for overlooking the entire valley.

What a charming and picturesque little mountain village Rougon is. Just a few houses on a top of a hill with a little shop kind residents and a yummy creperie. But more about it a bit later…

Lovely crest of Rougon on the wall of a small well. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cliffs over the the houses of Rougon provides an amazing 360° view to the wider region. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming Eurasian Griffon. Photo was taken from the creperie. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Topside view of Eurasian Griffon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

We saw great variety in plumages of Eurasian Griffons. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

If we understood correctly these birds are marked in a special way. Some of the primaries or secondaries are clipped (cut) allowing identification of individuals. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful (probably undulatus asperatus) cloud formation over the Gorges du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Egyptian Vulture gliding over the valley. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A group of Eurasian Griffons climbing higher and higher in increasing temperatures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Luckily a vulture viewing point just hehind the creperie was well signed and for obvious reasons we spent the rest of the afternoon there. Lots of Eurasian Griffons elevated by thermal spells using the eastern slopes of the village as heat peaked. A pair of Red-backed Shrike fed youngs under the viewing point, Black Redstart was hunting for insects in the garden of the houses behind us and a nice male Rock Bunting was singing on the top of the nearby buildings. Common Ravens attacked and mobbed another Egyptian Vulture very close to us.

The terrace of the family run La Creperie Le Mur d’Abeilles. Delicious food, quick service and breathtaking views to the valley and vultures gliding over. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Oh yes, that creperie… having a tiny open terraced family run restaurant next to viewing point means you don’t have to stand on your feet all day. It came very handy sitting there and watching the soaring while eating the delicious crepes ala Provence. The staff was more than friendly what made the whole experience even more memorable. This is a highly recommended place to visit.

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) 3
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 32
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 2
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 19
Common Swift (Apus apus) 78
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 2
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) 3
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 10
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 33
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica) 1
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 1
Great Tit (Parus major) 5
Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) 2
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) (Troglodytes troglodytes) 1
Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli) 2
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 8
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 1
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 5
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 2

After several hours of birdwatching we gave up looking for Cinereous Vulture as we had to follow our plan. We headed to another spectacular alpine reserve, the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre what is part of the extensive Parc National du Mercantour.

Panoramic view of the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre and its spectacular surroundings. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just had to take another pano photo at the ‘U’ turn. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is searching for perching Citril Finches. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We had not much time left for birdwatching at the spot as roads were closed for a long time due to a traffic accident in the Gorges Du Verdon. The reason of our visit was to find the Citril Finch and Rock Partridge. We parked nearby the hotel at the elevation of 1,906 meters (6,253 ft). It was fantastic to listen to all the bird songs from the valley and the slopes. During my short walk towards the sharp ‘U’ turn I spotted two Citril Finches landed on the top of a small tree just above me. Sadly Dani was not around but I was very happy to see this species. I saw a Citril Finch in the Austrian Alps a few years back but the bird was flying away from me and had no chance to have proper views. Shortly after the two Ctril Finches flew off the tree we had two more birds calling and flying over us. It was already worth to have a trip here.

Venturone alpino - Citril Finch

Perching Ctril Finches. © Fabrizio Moglia (This photo was legally embedded from Fabrizio Moglia‘s Flickr photostream. Please check out his work)

After dusk we tried for European Pygmy-Owls at lower elevations but we had no luck.

List of birds we saw around the hotel:

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 1
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 9
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) 2
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 3
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 2
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 1
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 1
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) 2
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella) 4
European Serin (Serinus serinus) 6

 

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

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.

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.

Preface for testing the Viking Optical flagship spotting scope

Early July I’m heading to southern France with my son, Daniel for various reasons. Obviously, the main attraction beside enjoying the warm and azure Mediterranean Sea, the gentle food and refreshing wines of Provance, will be exploring the birdlife between the famous Camargue Natinal Park and the Provance Alps of Côte d’Azur.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse by Nimit Virdi on 500px.com

One of the most beautiful of all sandgrouses is the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Photo was legally embedded from the photographer portfolio. © Nimit Virdi

Not surprisingly, there are a few potential life birds for me (a lot more for Dani) from the area and what a great opportunity we got to much easily find and to have splendid views on those life birds. The Britain based Viking Optical has granted us to use their flagship spotting scope during the entire trip. The scope has already been received and we had a short run with it. It is an impressive glass and I’m fully convinced I can easily spot the desired Bonelli’s Eagle or Cinereous Vulture in the sky or the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in the semi desert, just to mention a few.

Viking ED Pro 80mm Spotting Scope. Image courtesy of Viking Optical

During the trip (or shortly after) I will be posting bits and photos including a non-professional review (rather just a personal impression) of the set we will have used. Thanks for Viking Optical for the opportunity to try these products. Should you be at the BirdFair, pop in to Viking Optical stand in the Optics Marquee this August.

A day for Red Grouses

After our lovely dinner in Tarbet we drove through some spectacular landscapes in northwest Highlands towards Inverness. Our destination was another RSPB reserve near Corrimony just west of Loch Ness. We arrived late in the night with the last lights and were welcomed by the calls of Eurasian Curlews and Eurasian Oystercatchers from the nearby fields.

A relatively birdless scenery near Laxford Bridge, nortwest Highlands, Scotland. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Classic Scotish landscape with Loch Stach in the background. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We woke up early morning to be in the reserve with the highest bird activity. Over the car park 3 Common Merganser chased each other and a stunning Common Redstart were feeding from the fences along the road. This upland reserve is a combination of different habitats such as pine forest, moorland and Caledonian forest plantations managed by RSPB. Growing birch plantations in the moorland make the reserve even more interesting. We failed to see two target species in the forest, the Crested Tit and the Scottish Crossbill. In fact we couldn’t see any crossbills. We also couldn’t manage to see Red Grouses and Black Grouses although we heard them both. Red Grouse called right after we were out of the forest and we heard the bubbling calls of Black Grouses from the opposite hillside. We tried hard in the heather covered moorland but failed to find any grouse.

The small River Enrick runs across the reserve. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Most of the Spotted Flycatchers we saw along the River Enrick. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mixture of pastures and woodland on the lower elevations of the reserve. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Willow Warblers were singing everywhere from open habitats to birch covered moorland. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Moving further into the reserve we got to the Loch Comhnard where I hoped to see one of the local breeding waders, the Common Greenshank but again, we were not lucky. The route of a cycling event was through the reserve and there were lots of human activity on the trail in the morning. That might have affected our luck, but anyway we enjoyed the 5 km long trekking. 10 Sand Martin and a Barn Swallow were flying over the loch, Little Grebe was feeding with a company of Black-headed Gulls.

The most abundant species in the whole reserve was the Common Chaffinch (26 birds) followed by singing Willow Warblers (22). We had excellent views of singing Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatchers, Mistle Thrush, European Siskins and 5 Lesser Redpolls. On the way back we saw a family of Eurasian Treecreeper with freshly fledged youngsters.

Loch Comhnard surrounded with heather. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From Corrimony I drove to the other side of Loch Ness through Inverness in a hope to find a Red Grouse or two. We stopped at the famous Loch Ness which obviously attracted a lots of tourist around the viewing points. Loch Ness itself is probably the simplest and most boring lake in Scotland, so generating this monster story is a quite understandable movement by the locals. From marketing point of view the legend of the Loch Ness Monster works well, judging it from our single visit in a very expensive gift shop.

A view to the famous Loch Ness. As we didn’t try hard enough we failed to see the Scottish monster. iPhone 6s Plus (Gyorgy Szimuly

From Inverness we drove across some extensive heathland when accidentally found ourselves in the car park of the RSPB Loch Ruthven Reserve. Thsi is one of the few nesting location of the gorgeous Slavonian Grebe or Horned Grebe. it was already raining when we walked to the bird hide but was heavily pouring while we were sitting in the hide with two other trapped Scottish birdwatchers. It wasn’t too difficult to find the Eared Grebes in immaculate breeding plumage. An attractive Little Grebe was also swimming just in front of the hide.

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Another lovely and special RSPB Reserve at the Loch Ruthven. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We didn’t want to waste too much time in the hide so we walked back to car. We got totally soaked in the downpour but we soon left the rain behind and continued searching for Red Grouses.

We experienced the unpredictable face of Scotland. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the way to Fort Augustus we drove through some beautiful upland moorland areas. We came across our first Scottish Red Kite near Aberarder. I made several stops for quick scanning for Red Grouses. On the hillside of Cairn Ardachy I spotted six Black Grouses feeding on the heather. As they were distant we set up the spotting scope and watched them for a few minutes.

In a hope to get a lovely coffee we made a short turn to the Foyers Falls. It was probably the worst experience during our whole stay in Scotland. The aged staff wasn’t too keen to focus on customers and above that some rude customers and the rubbish coffee made this break rapid. The only good thing was about this detour the finding of two singing Wood Warblers behind the coffee shop.

Continuing our way on the road B862 towards Fort Augustus, Dani spotted two Red Grouses just a few hundred meters from the Suidhe Viewpoint to the north. I Stopped immediately and we shortly found the constantly but slowly moving birds. The pair was with 8 chicks. We could enjoy clear view of a few chicks but the adults were quite elusive and escorted the chicks down to the valley. Our hard work paid off after all and Dani got another life bird. Happy times.

This is the only record shot I could take of the Red Grouse while escorting their chicks into safety. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A wider perspective of the upland moorland where we found the Red Grouses. iPhone 6s Plus© Gyorgy Szimuly

Once we were around we included a short visit to the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct which was opened for public railway services in 1901 after 4 years of construction. The viaduct has been a popular location choice for film makers including the Harry Potter movie series as probably the most known. Birdlife around the area was not any special but screaming Common Swifts and chirping Common House Martins over the viaduct created a nice atmosphere. It’s too bad that a train was passing on the viaduct when we were on our way back to the car.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct from one of the viewpoints. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Under the Glenfinnan Viaduct. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Crystal clear water of the River Finnan running under the viaduct into the Loch Shiel. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From this point birdwatching was ruined by family issues and we headed back home. All in all this Scottish trip was a wonderful escape from dailly pressure and almost permanent working without any holday since 2010. Based on what we experienced I am sure I will return to Scotland once I am able to get my professional bird photography gear again.

We love Scotland!