Saturday, 5 September 2015

A week in Somme (29 August-5 September)

Megan and I spent an enjoyable week staying in a mobile home at Drancourt, just outside St. Valery-sur-Somme.  We had stayed at Drancourt for a week in 2012, and as a stop-over in 2014.  It was nicely situated, enclosed by trees and backing onto big open fields. Previously we had travelled on the Dover-Calais ferry but to avoid any possible disruption we changed to Newhaven-Dieppe.  A longer crossing but less distance to travel either end, the journey to St. Valery couldn't have been easier, or less stressful.

leaving Newhaven, so much for the west arm being closed?
evolving Brighton skyline with the i360 tower now complete
Seaford Head, some Sisters and Belle Tout, as views by a spring Pomarine Skua
Birling Gap and Beachy Head
Birling Gap and East Dean, I hadn't appreciated how much the latter might standing out to arriving migrants
Gannet from the Ferry, we were on the Seven Sisters.  I saw about 45 and 4 Great Skuas on the crossinng
sister ship Cote d' Albatre heading to Newhaven
the Alabaster coast at Dieppe, not dis-similar to ours, the extreme left hand building under the cliffs is a nuclear power station
On 12 September 2014 we spent a night at Drancourt on our way back from Brittany.  The following misty morning I saw what appeared to be a Rough-legged Buzzard hunting over the fields behind Drancourt (i.e. white head, black belly, white rum and upper tail with black terminal band, dark carpals) before disappearing into the mist.  It seemed early but the habitat looked good.  Our first evening Megan and I walked the same area and I was amazed to see the same bird again, even earlier in the year.  We repeated the walk every evening and I did it several mornings too and I saw the bird four times.  Unfortunately never close but it still lookedto me very much like a Rough-legged Buzzard. I took some very poor photos:
Buzzard at Drancourt presumed to be Rough-legged
this gives a reasonable impression of its bulk, but unfortunately not much else

several days later it was sitting in a field, pale head and white in tail just about visible
it didn't allow any closer approach and flew into a nearby wood, white rump and in tail just about visible
There were usually some interesting birds in the fields and I saw a Hen and 2 Marsh Harriers, 3 coveys of Grey Partridges, up to 3 Great White Egrets, 5-6 Kestrels, 2 Hobbys and a flock of 250 Lapwing.  There were few hedges though and I saw no larks, pipits, buntings and only one small flock of Linnets.  Three Wheatears were the only migrants.  Also as I was out early ad late most days I might have expected a Barn Owl or two, after all there was clearly enough food for Kestrels and harriers.

Hen Harrier at Drancourt

Marsh Harrier at Drancourt, harriers came no closer than buzzards

fields behind Drancourt, note Great White Egret, deer and wind turbines

Drancourt was surrounded by thick hedges with a line of conifers, three rows thick, on the western perimeter.  On previous visits I had seen Crested Tits in these trees and i looked every day for them.  The first day a Pied Flycatcher was decent compensation but it wasn't until the 4th day I bumped into two Crested Tits, seeing another on our penultimate day. The belt of trees was also home to two Red Squirrels although they were very elusive.  Several times I saw Short-toed Treecreepers, once from our decking, and Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher were the best of a small number of migrant species seen.  They were probably still breeding as the flycatchers looked very juvenile and all the phylloscs were Chiffchaffs - I didn't see a single Willow Warbler in France.

Crested Tit at Drancourt
why are they not present in southern England?
Red Squirrel at Drancourt
another with acorn

We visited St. Valery most days and walked along the promenade beside the estuary.   Some very high tides that flooded the whole estuary and made it appear we were on the coast.

Megan on one of St. Valery's more scenic streets
Spoonbills at low tide from St. Valery promenade
looking across to Le Crotoy with the tide half-way out
Yellow-legged Gull at high tide

the view across to Le Crotoy during a very high tide, the black 'boxes' are the top of shooting hides which normally overlook pools hosting plastic decoy ducks
part of an estimated 3200 Shelduck in the mouth of the Somme, all but invisible at low tide.  I saw a Ruddy Shelduck in this area once, but at a lower tide
The southern entrance to the Somme is at La Hourdel which we visited twice.  At low tide large numbers of Common Seals are visible on the sand banks.  Waders too but mostly too far to identify even with a telescope.
view north across the mouth of the Somme at La Hourdel, 
looking east to Le Crotoy from La Hourdel
Spoonbill at La Hourdel, on this day I saw 175 out in the estuary 

Sanderling and Dunlin in a high tide roost a bit further along the coast towards Cayeux-sur-Mer at Brighton

very well camouflaged
We visited the eastern side of the Somme twice.  A couple of pools where I had seen Spotted Crake in 2012 and Black-winged Stilt in 2014 were much fuller with no muddy edges for crakes or waders.  Six Cattle and two Great White Egrets were present though and we saw two White Storks on telegraph poles on our return to St. Valery one afternoona.

one of two Great White Egrets on roadside pools between Le Crotoy and La Maye

the second bird was less wary

Ruff at La Maye
Common Crane from a viewpoint on the seawall at Marquenterre
Spoonbills over a public hide at Marquenterre
as the tide came in more Spoonbills flew onto the reserve from the estuary.  I counted at least 90 but there were probably at least twice as many

we had walked out from La Maye intending to follow the edge of the estuary around the saltmarsh to reach the public hides overlooking pools at Marquenterre.  At a particularly difficult muddy section alongside a deep channel Megan decided to return to the car park and try another track through some woods.  I had short wellingtons on and decided to continue.  The hides were good although Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Garganey were the best I managed.  On my return I nearly came a cropper as the tide had come in and in one place was above the level of my wellingtons
Further afield we visited Le Treport, Cap Griz Nez, Saint-Riquier and Foret de Hesdin.  The latter was to look for an introduced population of Reeve's Pheasants but I only remembered the day before we left that I'd not found out where in the forest to look.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around seeing little other than Marsh Tits, finally giving up when drizzle became persistent.  Pretty much the only poor weather during our week.  Note to self - be better prepared next time!
Le Treport, half-way between Dieppe and St. Valery 
the funicluaire featured in the recent French TV drama Witnesses which was centred on Le Treport although we recognised locations at La Hourdel (an old WW2 bunker 'stranded' on the beach) and Cayeux-sur-Mer (beach huts in the opening sequence)

Cap Griz Nez, white cliffs of Dover just about visible below the far white clouds
Dover is not far away but the channel provides quite a barrier to a number of summer visitors
Wheatear at Cap Griz Nez, pretty much the only migrant seen on another disappointing visit
at least Megan enjoyed Cite Europe afterwards and very long queues of lorries along the entrance road to the Channel tunnel made us feel our switch to the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route had been a sensible one
All too soon our week was over and we were heading home ...
leaving Dieppe

It was a slightly better crossing going back, again on the Seven sisters, with 140 Gannets, 8 Great and an Arctic Skua
first sight of the Sussex coast - Seven Sisters, Birling Gap and Beachy Head
two Sisters, Birling Gap and Beachy Head
Birling Gap
Seaford Head

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