Archive for France 2008
There are still a couple of spaces open on both of my spring 2009 WINGS tours. Both are relaxed experiences, staying at a single location, expressly designed not just for birders but for anyone interested in getting to know the natural and cultural landscapes of two of the most fascinating regions I know.
A Winter Week in Arizona is based at a beautiful ranch in the high grasslands of Sonoita, with sparrows and raptors right out the door and easy access to every single one of southeast Arizona’s famous hotspots. Or rather coolspots: the February weather is breathtakingly beautiful, with fine warm days and cripsp pull-up-the-covers nights.
France: Birds and Art in Provence is centered at a fine modern hotel in Arles, the cultural and artistic capital of southern Provence–just minutes away from one of the continent’s most productive birding destinations, the Camargue. We’ll split our time between the marvelous birds and the even more marvelous cultural treasures of a 2,000-year-old landscape, from Roman ruins to nineteenth-century barns and more.
Come catch some oysters with us in Provence in May!
Details on the next tour are available on line now, along with a brief report about this year’s.
Michael put me onto this title while I was planning our Camargue trip, and I can’t recommend it enough: not only does it have a fine set of clearly described itineraries for birding the most important sites (one of which we lifted nearly wholesale for this year’s trip), but this attractively produced book also provides a really wonderful introduction to the geology, history, and ecology of an area that for most first-time visitors can be entirely exotic and strange.
Separate chapters treat the flowers, the insects, the reptiles and amphibians, the mammals, and, of course, the birds one is likely to see in the Camargue, the Crau, and the limestone cliffs of the Alpilles, and there are thorough lists in the appendices. For many casual visitors to the area, the stunning and accurately labeled photographs will make it unnecessary to consult any other guide: sturdily bound, the book fits easily into a pocket or a fanny pack, and again and again on this trip my copy was among the most in-demand volumes in our traveling library.
Crossbill also produces guides to Spain, Hungary, and Poland, with more to come, and the first step I will take in planning my next visit to any of those countries will be to read and relish those books. I am not aware of any US distributor of these titles, unfortunately, but they are widely available in English in Europe and directly from The Crossbill Foundation.
Just 40 miles from Arles is one of the great achievements of Roman engineering, the aqueduct and bridge known as the Pont du Gard.
Two thousand years old, the bridge can still be walked, but birders come here less for the splendor of its ancient stones than for the excitement of its birdlife. Alpine Swifts and Crag Martins nest under the arches, and they can be seen at dizzyingly close range as they shoot up and down the river. Gray and White Wagtails are common on the rocks out in the current, and Common Redstarts almost live up to their name here, nearly outnumbering their abundant cousins the Black Redstarts. We were very lucky to find the habitual perch of a Common Kingfisher, and the spectacular scope views this bird gave us more than made up for the unobliging behavior of the only other individual seen on the tour, a flash of turquoise rump and a sharp call as it disappeared beyond the bend in a Camarguais canal.
The great birding begins, quite literally, in the parking lot, and we had arrived early enough that the usual common passerines–Goldfinches, Serins, Greenfinches–were still feeding undisturbed in the vegetation between the parking spaces. A Cirl Bunting, a bird that had given us only fairly lousy views up to this point, teed up on a dead twig for great views, and the third and final Woodchat Shrike of the trip was waiting for us when we returned to the vans.
Photo Darlene Smyth
This evocative photo shows well the huge white primary patch and the extensive pale edging on the tertials characteristic of the race senator, the breeding Woodchat Shrike of central Europe.
We wished him well before we headed off to lunch in Nîmes, site of a slough of Roman monument, including the structure that has graced the covers of more French grammars than any other, the Maison carrée.
Built in honor of Augustus’s children, this incredibly well preserved temple somehow, improbably, fits perfectly into the urban streetscape of a large and bustling city, and for me at least it became the emblem of the charming matter-of-factness with which the French treat these priceless remnants of their past.
Les Baux, barely half an hour from St-Martin, is everyone’s favorite medieval village, perched high in the limestone hills of Les Alpilles with a ruined castle brooding above.
Black Redstarts love the place, but birders know it for a number of other specialties, most of which behaved nicely for us on the beautifully bright day we visited. Crag Martins and Alpine Swifts nest in the cliffs and the ruins, and we were fortunate enough to see them coming off the roost and feeding low over our heads. A distant Blue Rock Thrush perched on a stony ridge, giving us prolonged scope views of a bird we saw nowhere else on the tour. And Sardinian Warblers, a life bird for nearly everyone in the group, were building a nest in the chaparral-like scrub while a fine male Serin fed a fledgling just a few feet ahead of us.
And how do birders at Les Baux celebrate a good morning? With lunch, of course!
I had the pasta.