Monday, 10 September 2012

FRANCE September 2012: St. Valery-sur-Somme

A family holiday based in a mobile home at Drancourt, just outside St. Valery-sur-Somme, would hopefully offer some slightly different birding to Sussex without having to travel too far (although including a delay on the ferry it took about as long to get to as it normally would to Cornwall).

We had excellent weather, although unchanging sunshine and light winds wasn’t good for migrants.  Neither were neap tides helpful in viewing waders in the massive Baie de Somme.

Areas visited looking for birds were the area around Drancourt, coastal pools of Hable D’Ault, pine forest and beach at Marquenterre, the small promontory of Le Hourdel, mudflats & roadside pools at La Maye, marshes at Sailly-Bray and the Forest of Crechy.  Megan and I also visited Eu, Abbeville and Ramburelles while I dipped out of trips to City Europe and Sea Centre Nausicaa (in Calais & Boulogne respectively). 

We had an enjoyable time and I saw 65-80 species each day and about 110 in total, including several I don’t often see in Sussex. 

At Drancourt at least 3 Hen Harriers including a fine male were seen hunting over the fields behind the camp site as were 2 Hobbies with several coveys of Grey Partridges, 1200 Lapwing and 2 Wheatears, but no buntings at all (none were seen all trip).  Around the campsite were at least 3 vocal Tawny Owls, a House Martin colony, a Lesser Whitethroat, a family of 4 Spotted Flycatchers, pair of Crested Tits, our only Coal Tits (a flock of 5) and up to 5 Serins, including a male.  On our last morning 22 Jays flew south including a flock of 13.

We couldn’t find how to get close to the marsh at Sailly-Bray although as there was a shooting party there I’m not really sure that we wanted to.  A Hobby over nearby fields was some compensation.  We saw our only Red Squirrels in woodland at Ramburelles along with another Spotted Flycatcher family and lots of Nuthatches.  A couple of hours walking in Crecy Forest produced 2 Firecrests, 7 Marsh and 3 Crested Tits (with no pines in sight!) and 7 Nuthatches.  A large raptor flushed inside the forest might have been a Honey Buzzard but disappointingly didn’t give identifiable views.

Our visit to Hable D’Ault produced a Wood Sandpiper, 8 Black Terns and a Wheatear but almost every pool had a pillbox overlooking a flock of plastic ducks.  Life expectancy of wildfowl there probably isn’t great.  The good weather made Le Hourdel pretty much a waste of time with a single Tree Pipit the best migrant seen during two visits although distant Spoonbills were seen from the western side of the Baie both times, along with thousands of gulls, usually too far out to check through (the one colour-ring seen was too distant to read) although Yellow-legged and Mediterranean Gulls were seen a couple of times.

On the east side of the Baie de Somme (predominantly from La Maye), despite unhelpful tides, I saw 2 Little Stints and 5 Curlew Sandpipers amongst Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone.  The shore hides overlooking the reserve at Marquenterre produced a Great White and 4 Cattle Egrets, 120 Spoonbills, 1000 Knot, 500 Black-tailed Godwit, 15 Greenshank and a Kingfisher.  The pines in this area (predominantly the car park and along the northern edge where a long path leads to the sea) were good for Crested Tits with 12 seen over two visits.  Crested Tit seems much commoner than Coal Tits in pines and was seen in deciduous trees too (at Crecy) which makes its distribution in the UK somewhat puzzling.  More so as ‘Continental’ Coal Tit always looks a more robust species than ours, yet ours seems to have ousted Crested Tits, or prevented them spreading, in a way that CCT clearly hasn’t.

The best site I found was a roadside pool just north of La Crotoy and just before the La Maye turning.  Here over three short visits I saw 2 White Storks, a Spotted Crake, a Water Rail, 6 Black-winged Stilts, 7 Black Terns and last but not least, on a stop on our last morning, 82 Jays flying south including a loose flock of 54.

Abbeville Cathedral, no birds here
Eu, none here either 

Ramburelles 'castle', we didn't appreciate it was closed from 12.30-2pm and after looking around the grounds had to climb out over the side of the gate
a family of Spotted flycatchers were hunting from the turrets

St. Valery-sur-Somme harbour and tourist steam train

fields behind Drancourt

Megan looking for Hares (and flushing Grey Partridges) behind Drancourt
Crecy Forest

Colour-ringed Black-headed Gull at St. Valery, probably of Polish origin, Yellow-legged Gull behind
most likely TAJW
shooter's bunker and plastic ducks, a common sight on any open water outside of a reserve in the Baie de Somme area. It doesn't seem very sporting to me but maybe the wildfowl shoots back?
Black-winged Stilt on roadside pool north of Le Crotoy
one of  four present on our second visit
White Stork at the same location
one of two seen on our second visit
Spotted Crake on the same pool, my first for 15 years but well worth the wait

impersonating a puffer fish

perhaps not entirely unexpected but a very nice surprise all the same


  1. Interesting to read about your recent visit to Baie de Somme. I went there for 5-6 days end of June/early July this year. Birds were still pretty vocal then - and plentiful! We visited similar spots to you - Marquenterre, Le Crotoy, Sailly Bray, Hable D'Ault, Foret de Crecy, Bois de Cise etc. while camping at La Saffriere just outside Morlay near the southeast side of the Baie. Hope to get back there next year some time - wonderful area.

    1. Thanks Mike. I thought it was a very enjoyable area that I'd happily visit again. Spring would be nice when no shooters about (not that we found out how to access Sailly Bray but it was rather academic when two men with guns & dogs were there). September would be good again although preferably with higher tides and less settled weather!


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