Perpignan and Pyrenees August 2017

Perpignan Region of South France

Although a veteran of French trips, and being a quarter French, I had never made it down to this part of the South of France before 2017. I was very excited. It was first and foremost a family  holiday with the extended family, but the sheer abundance of birds and diverse, accessible habitats made it very easy to “pop in quickly and see if anything is about,” much to the slightly disgruntled groans of the children who could see right through my thinly veiled plea.

Arriving at our villa, just outside Perpignan late at night, we had no idea what the habitat was, what birds and wildlife might be around.

I woke up at around 5 a.m. to the sound of a roller sitting on the wires outside our room. I took this as a sign of things to come over the next two weeks…and it only got better. Read on for details of the locations visited and the birds seen.

Around the Villa (Mas Latour de Rey  – Mas Sisqueille O, 66140 Canet-en-Roussillon, France 

The villa turned out to be nestled in classic med habitat: a mixture of scrub, vineyards, grassland and woods. I couldn’t believe my luck. In the gardens of the villa, red squirrels scurried around as black redstarts, sardinian warblers and zitting cisticola zitted around. We were surprised to find a young hedgehog one afternoon, pottering around the driveway, posing for some lovely shots. European mantis, swallowtail and palm moth were invertebrates of note, the latter an introduced species from South America brought over with palm trees – not great.

As we ventured out of the villa grounds, birds were everywhere (42.682450, 2.979121).  Hoopoe travelled in flocks along the line of trees each day, no doubt a family of recently fledged young. Rollers were common as were one of my favourites, the golden oriole. I seriously can’t think of many better sounds to wake up to than a male golden oriole calling. I’ll never forget it. Bee-eaters flitted through daily, turtle doves did a great job hiding way up high in the poplars and scops owls were pinging every evening, giving close up views several times.

While we are on evenings, we had loads of success seeing nightjar around this site (42.685079, 2.975195). At least 5 were churring each evening and walks up to the scrub fields gave the whole family views to remember. Nightjar walks as we eventually called them, also gave views of stone curlew as they sounded their alarm calls.

In addition to the villa, I explored a few more local spots. Here are a few of my favourites.

Narbonaisse Natural Park

We parked at La Boucle du Castelou (43.124413, 3.022502) and walked a circular route anti-clockwise around the reserve. 

This was a fantastic reserve. Easy to reach and park up. Great paths around to explore. I imagine in spring, this place is at its maximum. A hot summer’s day still gave us some great species including purple heron, white stork, a flock of black kites, spoonbill, black-winged stilt and flocks of bee-easters constantly moving through. We also spotted tons of muskrats as we walked along the paths. Spotted fritillary made an appearance too.

Leucate Penninsula  (42.917494, 3.056743)

Parking: Chem. du Phare, 11370 Leucate, France 

I zoomed over here one morning on my own to explore the site. It’s another gem of a location. Habitat is largely med scrub but the cliffs provide the chance for some other species too. A walk around the scrub gave amazing views of 20+ woodchat shrike, a mix of adults and young. I have never seen so many in one visit. Hoopoe played hide and seek. Golden oriole also put in brief appearances as did serin and firecrest. Scanning the cliffs provided views of blue rock thrush which was nice. An adult male pied flycatcher, likely moving through to Africa.

I had hoped to hang out into the evening to view Eagle Owl at the. site, but ran out of time.

Etang de Canet-Saint-Nazaire 

Parking: Park at the bottom of Re de L’Etang just outside of Saint Nazaire. (42.668636, 2.995736)

This was a great little spot nearby why we were staying. It is easy to get to and park up. I visited a couple times and enjoyed the short walk around a small “peninsula”. Early morning proved best for the birds, with way less dog walkers around and a lot of activity. Over two mornings there I had great views of Montagu’s  Harrier on both occasions (quartering the Canterrane area, just North of the town (42.665512, 2.998627), the only wryneck of the trip, bee-eaters, spoonbills, glossy ibis, turtle dove, roller and a lovely lesser-grey shrike proving the absolute star of the show. Highly recommend a visit if you’re nearby.

Minerve 

a castle town nestled up in the hills, this is a fantastic tourist spot  well worth battling the summer crowds to visit for the location alone. It’s also pretty good for birds with a large colony on crag martins as well as a good number of red-rumpled swallows. Plenty of Griffon vultures too .

The Pyrenees – Baga Area

We booked a day out with Stephen at Catalan Bird Tours http://www.catalanbirdtours.com to see some species that I had dreamed about seeing since I was a child – the big one being the bearded vulture. We woke up early and got to the small town of Baga for 7:30 from which point we were straight into the species list with dipper, hawfinch and tons of alpine swifts zooming around the town.

We made our way up the mountains, stopping here and there on the way. I couldn’t believe how many water pipits were up there to start with. Coming around a bend, a patch of water on the roadside had attracted a large flock of crossbill down to get a drink. Wonderful to see them so close. Another stop closeby gave us our first citril finch of the day. Gorgeous bird!

Soon after we reached the peak, we got the first glimpse of what we were looking for – a bearded vulture. It glided high above us. Magic but I really wanted better views. This came later whilst we were on foot on a wooded slope, suddenly two bearded vultures flew over our heads, metres above and headed out across the valley. Wow! Amazing moment. 

We also found a rock bunting at the same spot, a new species for me. Other species of note included short-toed treecreeper, short-toed eagle, chough, rufous tailed rock thrush, red-backed shrike, alpine chough, crag martin, woodlark and griffon vulture.

A brilliant day with a chap that really knows his stuff.

Anyways, here are some photos from the trip. These were taken in 2017, before i really got into photography, hence the quality of images 😉

Total bird species list for trip = 129

  1. Mallard
  2. Mute swan
  3. Common pheasant
  4. Red-legged partridge
  5. Cormorant
  6. Night heron
  7. Cattle egret
  8. Little egret
  9. Great egret
  10. Grey heron
  11. White stork
  12. Purple heron
  13. Spoonbill
  14. Glossy ibis
  15. Greater flamingo
  16. Bearded vulture
  17. Griffon vulture
  18. Black vulture
  19. Osprey
  20. Short-toed eagle
  21. Black kite
  22. Red kite
  23. Marsh harrier
  24. Montagu’s Harrier
  25. Common buzzard
  26. Honey buzzard
  27. Sparrowhawk
  28. Kestrel
  29. Hobby
  30. Moorhen
  31. Coot
  32. Oystercatcher
  33. Avocet
  34. Black-winged Stilt
  35. Stone curlew
  36. Little ringed plover
  37. Ringed plover
  38. Redshank
  39. Black-tailed godwit
  40. Black-headed gull
  41. Yellow-legged gull
  42. Mediterranean gull
  43. Sandwich tern
  44. Common tern
  45. Woodpigeon
  46. Turtle dove
  47. Collared dove
  48. Cuckoo
  49. Great spotted cuckoo
  50. Scops owl
  51. European nightjar
  52. Swift
  53. Pallid swift
  54. Alpine swift
  55. Hoopoe
  56. Kingfisher
  57. Bee-eater
  58. Roller
  59. Great spotted woodpecker
  60. Wryneck
  61. Skylark
  62. Wood lark
  63. Crested lark
  64. Sand martin
  65. Crag martin
  66. Swallow
  67. Red-rumped swallow
  68. House martin
  69. Water pipit
  70. Rock pipit
  71. White wagtail
  72. Yellow wagtail
  73. Grey wagtail
  74. White throated dipper
  75. Dunnock
  76. Robin
  77. Black redstart
  78. Wheatear
  79. Stonechat
  80. Song thrush
  81. Mistle thrush
  82. Blackbird
  83. Blue rock thrush
  84. Rufous tailed rock thrush
  85. Blackcap
  86. Whitethroat
  87. Sardinian warbler
  88. Subalpine warbler
  89. Zitting cisticola
  90. Reed warbler
  91. Cetti’s warbler
  92. Reed warbler
  93. Sedge warbler
  94. Goldcrest
  95. Firecrest
  96. Wren
  97. Spotted flycatcher
  98. Pied flycatcher
  99. Great tit
  100. Blue tit
  101. Long-tailed tit
  102. Coal tit
  103. Nuthatch
  104. Treecreeper
  105. Short-toed treecreeper
  106. Lesser grey shrike
  107. Red-backed shrike 
  108. Woodchat shrike
  109. Magpie
  110. Jay
  111. Jackdaw
  112. Alpine chough
  113. Red-billed chough
  114. Carrion crow
  115. Raven
  116. Starling
  117. Golden oriole
  118. House sparrow
  119. Chaffinch
  120. Linnet
  121. Goldfinch
  122. Greenfinch
  123. Serin
  124. Citril finch
  125. Bullfinch
  126. Hawfinch
  127. Common crossbill
  128. Ortolan bunting
  129. Rock bunting

Other species of note:

  1. Dark green fritillary
  2. Swallowtail
  3. Rock grayling
  4. Two-tailed pasha
  5. Palm moth
  6. Hedgehog
  7. Pyrenean Ibex
  8. Wall lizard
  9. Mantis

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