Thursday, 26 August 2010

Provence, France: 18th-24th Aug 2010.

This was a family orientated holiday and NOT a dedicated birding holiday... Mission priority directive: to engage in quality time with Wife and my Parents!

Above: View from the apartment balcony in Vence (Alpes-Maritimes area of Provence) looking east. Below: Looking north.

The ridge simply demanded to be scanned for raptors and during the course of five days, I managed to put in 20hrs+ scanning the ridge in the mornings before/or inbetween family orientated activities. Optics wise, I left the Kowa 883 at home and went armed with the Leica APO 62 and smaller carbon tripod to save on weight in the luggage case. Forsman's raptor book alone weighs 1.2kg!

The birding from the apartment balcony gave me sufficient ornithological fix to be able to enjoy, sorry, concentrate on family orientated activities. Honey Buzzard (max 14 > SW on morning of 22nd Aug) was the most regular larger raptor noted and inc. a couple of wing-clapping males, smaller numbers of Common Buzzards (Max 4 on one date), Short-toed Eagle (presumably the same bird flew north on the same flightline on two consecutive mornings between 09:00-09:15. 4 Hobby, two sightings of Peregrine (one adult), frequent Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. A pair of Raven were noted on a few dates.

Other notable birds seen from the apartment balcony included: Golden Oriole (Max 6 on 23rd Aug), Serin (Max 4 on 19th Aug), one Western Bonelli's Warbler (19th), 1 Short-toed Treecreeper (19th), Green Woodpecker (regularly calling), Great-spotted (regularly calling) and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (the latter, a male calling on four dates, at times frustratingly close, but never seen), Red-backed Shrike (one female, on 18th Aug), several Crag Martin and 20-30 Alpine Swift which were amongst a flock of 50+ Swift hawking over the ridge prior to 09:00 one morning, the rest being Common/Pallid Swifts. Padders included Blue & Great Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinch Blackcaps and Nuthatches.

Above: Golden Oriole from the balcony.

On a couple of days my Dad, who was the only person eligable to drive the hire car, drove me up into the hills for a couple of hours, stopping off for scans, which on the first occasion was eventually productive close to the village of Coursegoules where 2 distant Golden Eagle and an excellent Short-toed Eagle were seen. The second time was brief as plans had been made for the evening but produced several Serin, presumably the same Short-toed Eagle in the same area and this female Red-backed Shrike.

The historic 9th century perched village of Saint-Paul De Vence was the main destination on the 19th.

Above & below: This male Honey Buzzard wing-clapped as it flew south over the bell tower in the photo above, Saint-Paul De Vence.

Above: Pam & I at the viewpoint from the walls at the southern end of Saint-Paul De Vence. Below: Moments later this Honey Buzzard drifted past just above eye level.

The forecast for the morning of the 20th was for rain, which presented me with the opportunity to get the parents to dump me at the Var Estuary, Nice, for a few hours until the weather improved as was forecast around lunchtime whilst they visited the adjacent Shopping Mall, the largest on the Cote D'Azur apparently. Unfortunately, for two of the three hours I was onsite, the rain was torrential, but stopped for the final hour.

Birds seen in the area included: 15 Mediterranean Gull amongst numerous Black-headed Gull, 40+ Yellow-legged Gulls, 100+ Common Tern, 100+ Sandwich Tern, 5 juv Black Tern, 6 Ringed Plover, 3 juv LRP, 3 Common Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Little Egret, 1 Melodious Warbler, 1 male Cetti's Warbler, 7 Indian Silverbill, Sparrowhawk and 5 Crag Martin.

Above: Indian Silverbill, Var Estuary, Nice.

Above: Little Egret.

Above and below: Mediterranean Gulls.

As predicted, the weather improved around midday and the rest of the afternoon and evening was spent at Antibes. Ornithological interest was restricted to a few Yellow-legged Gull, 1ad Med Gull and a few Indian Silverbill's along the seafront.

Prior to visiting our favourite perched village in the region, the stunning Gourdon, for an evening meal, a walk around the perched village of Tourrettes-Sur-Loup on the evening of 22nd saw a family party of Crag Martin giving stunning, point blank views from the viewpoint at the southern end of the village. Sadly, i didn't have the DSLR to hand. A Golden Oriole also did a nice flypast.

The 23rd Aug and final day saw a trip to Sainte Marguarite Island, location where 'The Man In The Iron Mask' was imprisioned for eleven years. A couple of Crag Martin and Swift sp (Common/Pallid) patrolled the seafront at Juan les Pins whilst we awaited the boat to the island. Once on Sainte Marguarite and following a lengthy and interesting tour of the Fort and Museum, I sped off to spend the final hour at a hide overlooking a pool on the island. 2 Black-winged Stilts, inc. a smart juvenile, saved the day ornithologically. Other birds on the pool included 2 Little Egret, 18 Grey Heron, 5 Common Tern, 40 Black-headed Gull, 2 juv Yellow-legged Gull, 4 Common Sandpiper and 2 juv Common Redshank.

Above: Black-winged Stilts.

Above: The pool on Sainte Marguarite.

Above: Group photo from the walls of the Fort on Sainte Marguarite with Canne in the background.

Above & below: Posing at the village viewpoint in Vence.

The final decent bird of the trip was a Crag Martin which flew and landed on a ledge above the entrance of the multi-storey car park at Nice Airport as we were driving in.

So, in summary, The primary mission objective was achieved. Ornithologically, given the nature of the holiday I can't complain either!