Monthly Archives: July 2014

The salt marshes of Southern France

The town of Gruissan sits on the Southern french mediterranean coast next to Narbonne.

L'etang de Gruissan

L’etang de Gruissan

The salt marshes there are harvested for table salt and the water is the most extraordinary colour…

Salt pans

The shallow salty water attracts a large number of waders. They are shy and I was unable to get closer than about 20 metres to any (and many stayed much further than that), but walking in between the salt pans…

Salt pans

… allowed me to get just about within photography distance of:

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

and the closely related Black-winged Stilt (which I last saw on Safari in Africa)…

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

I was also pleased with a life-first view of a Kentish Plover (albeit at great distance for such tiny birds), seen characteristically scuttling up down looking for food:

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Another life first for me was this Little Tern:

Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)

Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)

And most pleasingly was the view I got of a bird I just do not associate with Europe at all. Whilst not a life first, I was delighted with my European first sighting of Greater Flamingo:

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

As the sun beat down harshly, and a strong hot wind blew salt into my face as I walked for a couple of miles out through the marshes and onto the mediterranean beach, I reflected on how I was in one of only a small handful of sites in France where you can see Flamingos. To misquote some communists, there is an irrepressible joy and lightness of being in the wild:

Gruissan plage

A Big Birding Year: Part XVI (tree creeping)

Today I returned to see a tree. A Sweet Chestnut that I saw last weekend to be precise… Except, of course, I am not being very precise at all. I did not travel to see a tree; I travelled to see a bird.

But alas, the perch on which the Little Owl is known to sit on a, seemingly, daily basis in the Kensington Gardens was empty. My third owl for the year eludes me still (thinking ahead to my possible fourth, does anyone know anywhere I am likely to get good photos of Barn Owls?). But I comforted myself by finding my second species of owl to photograph again.

The Tawny Owlets in the park are maturing fast and I found one in a tree next to where I saw them last week:

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

It then took off and flew back to the tree where I had seen them last week. There was a cacophony as other birds, including ‘squawkers’, or Ring-necked Parakeets, took flight making alarm/distress calls at the sight of the bird of prey. The juvenile owl was then promptly followed by two siblings that I hadn’t initially spotted before it stared down quizzically at me:

Watching me, watching you! Aha!

Whilst in the park, I also got a picture of an obliging female Blackbird (to be contrasted with the exceptionally shy Blackbirds I shall be seeing shortly in the South of France):

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

I then found a tree alive with a family (or two) of Nuthatches busily scouring the bark for insects:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

I then nipped down to the London Wetland Centre (where I negotiated a mortgage over the phone whilst wandering around, and…) where I saw my 87th species of bird for the year: a bird even more suited to scaling up and down tree trunks than the Nuthatch. I seem to have spent the day creeping around trees for views of different birds, so it seemed apt that I would be rewarded with my first photo of a Treecreeper for the year:

Eurasian Treecreper (Certhia familiaris)

Eurasian Treecreper (Certhia familiaris)