Monday, 19 March 2018

Bassin d’Arcachon a bird watching paradise

The Bassin d'Arcachon, affectionately known by the locals as "le Bassin" situated south of Bordeaux, in the département of the Gironde on the Atlantic Southwest coast of France.
  At the high tide, the Bassin is a mass of 150km² of water, but as the tide ebbs the water level reduces to 40km²  laying bare a vast feeding station for the thousands of birds that over Winter and the many others that breed here throughout the summer.
It is also hugely important for migrating birds, so much so that there are only a few days of the year when there is not a passage migrant to be seen.
There are great birdwatching opportunities to be found all around "le Bassin," none perhaps better than at Le Teich and its Parc Ornithilogic.
Here are seen some of those birds taken during a couple of recent visits.

I think we should have called this post Bills and reflections!

Snipe (Common) Gallinago gallinago.

Great Egret, Casmerodius albus.

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta.

The previous photo shows the Little Egret treading the water, nearly dancing in an effort to disturb the hidden invertebrates, then it seems frozen in concentration whilst awaiting the results.

A sleeping Avocet (Pied) Recurvirostra avosetta.

Enjoying the sunshine a Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus.

(Northern) Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus.

A Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, getting airborne.

Early morning sunlight reflects across this Great Egret.

Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus.

Kingfisher (Common) Alcedo atthis.

This one is a Female, identified by the red base to the bill.

Always alert to the danger of predators.

In a quiet and dark corner, a Little Egret takes a bath.

Subsequently, it appears to stand on water.

Elsewhere this Little Egret is very busy searching a meal.

A juvenile Spoonbill (European) Platalea leucorodia, prepares for landing.

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea.

The tide is out and so too is this Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus.

A great place to Birdwatch especially when the sun is shining, which it is a great deal of the time!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

One of natures greatest wonders, Common Cranes (Grus grus) on their migration.

One of the most enthralling wildlife experiences in Europe and the World is taking place. The Crane migration is underway, they are passing North back to their breeding grounds.
Their deep trumpeting calls filling the air as wave after wave of these magnificent birds passage overhead.

Their journey North from the Winter feeding grounds found in North Africa, Spain, Portugal and the Landes region of France.

 It is not long before the unfavorable winds bring large numbers of Cranes lower, spiraling around as they seek the thermals that will convey them higher, returning them to their passage route.

At this time of the year here in the Southwest of France, it is normal to witness hundreds of Cranes a day heading North, and for us, this is normally found to be the afternoons. One day though in every year is a very special day, this is when literally thousands of Cranes cross our skies, and this was one of those days.

With the headwinds hampering their journey, many have become tired, looking like parachutists the first birds start to break from the ranks.
Some of these will be individual family groups that will stay together if one becomes too tired to continue.

Battered by the strong winds it was not long before hundreds were seeking a safe roost.

Here on the floodplain at La Brousse we could see them descending on to the fields between
 the rivers  Dronne and Brousse.

Overhead more arrive, many seeming to make it through the now Crane jam, only to be forced back by the high winds.

They return to join the melee of what is now becoming thousands.

Cranes stand over one meter tall with long necks and legs their wingspan of just over two meters.
They have to avoid hitting each other, we observed two birds with broken legs.

By the late afternoon, it is truly a spectacle.

All the time more birds join the mass confusion many are struggling to land with some birds also taking off caused by their uncertainty of what to do.

The sun starts to set across the floodplain tinging the Cranes a pinkish red.

The Sun may have set for the day. This, however, is not discouraging for the Cranes, with more arriving after dark.

The following morning with Sunshine spreading across the fields the first birds of the day get airborne. It is still very windy so they are likely to feed rather than continue their journey.

Installed in a hedgerow, out of their sight I wait! It is not long before a few hundred started to arrive.
The sound of their wing beats as they fly directly over my head and the wonderful trumpeting calls.

Unsure some start to eat whilst others appear alert.The ground was frozen, the temperature still minus four degrees in the Sunshine.

An adult bird with last years juvenile.

Another group of Cranes flew overhead suddenly unnerving the settled group.

They are off and following.

More and more are rising from the roost, joining the search for food.

I could see them settling on a far field, sensibly forming a line stretching along its crest, perfect security, with so many pairs of eyes on the lookout!

This pair of adult birds looking quite splendid.

From their arrival on Sunday, they had stayed with us through the following week. On Thursday, forecasters warned of Winter storm Emma passing through the area. Fortunately for us and the
Cranes we only received some interesting daytime skies!

Thursday evening we watched the Cranes come to roost for the last time.

Friday and Saturday morning we awoke to beautiful weather in the Southwest of France, the Cranes grasped this moment, heading onwards on their incredible journey.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Gallocanta “The Rooster sings”

Early Sunday morning and it was trying hard to snow, the "Rooster has sung" and the rising sun flooding light across the Laguna de Gallocanta and the Ermita del Buen Acuerdo.
We were in Aragon south of Zaragoza and north of Teruel.

 Gallocanta is sighted one thousand meters above Calamocha and Daroca. The mountains all around soar even higher, this is a continental plain, ice cold winds blow needles through your skin, it's also a spiritual place.

As an important stopover site within Spain for migrating Cranes (Grus Gravel) from late Autumn to  February, the skies here can be filled with these beautiful birds and their calls that so endear people to them.
 The Laguna can sustain twenty thousand Cranes and more at peak times of the migration.

It is early February, the water level was close to none existent and there were few Cranes there, for us this is not a problem as we have seen them there on many occasions. The water level was the lowest we had ever witnessed. Deer tracks could be seen from one side to the other through the mud.

The small road leading into Gallocanta village, Gallocanta standing for "Rooster sings"

There were not many Common Cranes to be seen, we counted approximately sixty out on the fields feeding.

As the dusk starts to settle, onlookers brave the cold to watch the spectacle of the Cranes arriving for the night's roost. Sadly its still a little early in the month for large numbers of the migrating birds. They arrive back here from Africa, Portugal and other Wintering sites across Spain, congregating in their thousands before pushing North to the breeding grounds of Northern Europe.

Small groups of Cranes arrived from the local fields where they have been feeding.

For more Photos and information on the Cranes see here.

We were just passing through on our way home and after our night stop at Gallocanta. Our journey continuing the following morning. As we snaked down the mountain towards Daroca, snow showers could be seen obscuring the distant view.

As we traveled North towards our next stop at Olite, South of Pamplona the sky had become brighter.

Our journey had taken us across part of the Bárdenas Reales and we knew of a small laguna that would make a good place for lunch.

 Reed Buntings are found in their hundreds there. Following the construction of the canal de las Bárdenas and a massive irrigation project, some areas of the dry badlands have been changed into agricultural land and rice fields, Steppe birds have suffered huge declines in this new landscape, however, seed-eating birds are now found in very large flocks.

A Zitting Cisticola makes a brief appearance.

As the sun once again sets on our journey, a Goldfinch flies off the thistles to its night-time roost.

We had moved on to our night's roost at Olite.

The Palacio Real de Olite, once the home of the Kings of Navarra.
In its time this was one of the most luxurious castles in Europe.

The last of the Sunday visitors heading home through the medieval streets.

Olite is also the wine capital of Navarra.

Good health!