Saturday, 14 September 2019

FRANCE 2019: St. Valery-sur-Somme (7-14 September)

Megan and I spent a relaxing week in a mobile home at Drancourt, near St. Valery-sur-Somme and just over an hours drive up the coast from Dieppe. It was the fifth year in a row we have been, four at this time of year, so I wasn't really expecting any surprises. I didn't get any, other than how few passerine migrants there appeared to be, at least compared to even the poorer sections of the Sussex Coast. As with previous visits we appreciated how quiet the roads were and laid back the people, Megan speaking fluent French helping a lot. I saw 107 species in France, about an average showing, 112 including heards and species seen in French waters.

Saturday 7 September. I saw six Great Skuas from the ferry, half in English and half in French waters, 31 Gannets and 2 Fulmars. Three juvenile Shags were on the breakwater at Dieppe as the ferry docked. We drove the hour or so north along the coast and once settled into our mobile home at Drancourt we drove into St. Valery seeing 2 Yellow-legged Gulls from the waterfront. Early evening two or three Tawny Owls were very vocal at Drancourt but although I got close to one a couple of times it always slipped away unseen.

leaving UK, last sight of Beachy Head, quite imposing cliffs for passerines at sea level
juvenile and adult Yellow-legged Gulls at St. Valery
Sunday 8 September. A look around the campsite and fields behind it produced 8 Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper and 2 Nuthatches. Later we drove to Le Hourdel but being a Sunday it was exceptionally busy and we continued on to Cayeux-sur-Mer where we parked and walked a circuit around some pools to the south. There we saw four Spoonbills, a Great Egret, Marsh Harrier, 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls, 30 Sand Martins, 9 Stonechats and a Wheatear. Back at Drancourt a Jay was heard.
early morning in the fields behind Drancourt
Spoonbill at Cayeux-sur-Mer
Monday 9 September. A look around the campsite and fields behind it produced 5 Grey Partridges, the hoped for Crested Tit (I've seen them here on every September visit), 5 Blackcaps and the only 2 Greenfinches of the holiday. After breakfast we drove to Le Treport, parking on the clifftop and taking the funicular down into town. We walked across to Mer-les-Bains and around the hill behind. Sadly a Wheatear on one of the many beach huts was the only interesting bird. We drove a few kms down the Bresle Valley and walked around some fishing pools at La Bassee seeing 6 Pochard, 5 Tufted Ducks, a Kingfisher, a Marsh and 18 Long-tailed Tits.  A brief flava Wagtail was seen in one of the fields on our evening walk around Drancourt.
Wheatear on one of the many beach huts at Mer-les-Bains
Le Treport from Mer-les-Bains
Ault from Mer-les-Bains
Le Treport beach huts. We were glad of the free funicular to take us to the top of the cliffs
Tuesday 10 September. A Tawny Owl called briefly before dawn but had stopped before I decided to get up and look for it. I looked around Drancourt before breakfast seeing 3 Willow Warblers, 8 Chiffchaffs, 6 Blackcaps and 2 juvenile Bullfinches. We drove to Abbeville and wandered around the town for the rest of the morning, a male Black Redstart on a roof being my highlight. We stopped at the Réserve ornithologique de Grand-Laviers on the way back and had a picnic before walking around. It was not overly impressive but at least provided some pools where wildfowl are not regularly shot. We saw an eclipse plumaged Garganey, 20 Teal, 6 Shoveller, 2 Pochard, 6 Avocets, a Black-winged Stilt, 8 Ruff and 40 Common Snipe. Early evening we went to Le Hourdel on the rising tide, although it was still a long way out and most birds seen very distant. They included a single Spoonbill, 36 Avocets, 1400 Oystercatchers, 30 Sanderling, 60 Sandwich and 20 Common Terns. It was our only visit to Le Hourdel and I was sorry not to be able to spend longer there.
Common Snipe at the Grand-Laviers bird reserve

Wednesday 11 September. My pre-breakfast walk around Drancourt produced 3 Green Woodpeckers, 2 Jays, a Crested Tit (probably that seen on Monday), my only Goldcrest and 3 Short-toed Treecreepers. We caught the steam train to Le Crotoy seeing a Great Egret on the saltmarsh and 9 Grey Partridges running away through a stubble field. It was a slow journey not helped by a lengthy stop to change engines half way around the bay at Noyelles-sur-Mer. We wandered along part of the sea wall by Le Crotoy but a strong wind made it unpleasant, although we had a good view of a Kingfisher. We found somewhere sheltered for lunch and after wandered around the town. With the tide was going out at least 1000 Shelduck were viewable on the edge of the estuary as was a single Spoonbill. Our evening walk at Drancourt was very quiet. 

Green Woodpecker at Drancourt
End of the line, water tower and engine shed at Le Crotoy
Kingfisher at Le Crotoy
poor light, strong wind and obtrusive vegetation not helping photography
steam engine back at st. Valery
Thursday 12 September. A Wren on my pre-breakfast walk was the first I'd seen, with just 2 Chiffchaffs and 3 Blackcaps. We drove back to Dieppe and on to the gardens at Bois de Moutiers, Varengeville. The walk down through the wooded valley of native and planted exotic trees was pleasant although we felt a certain amount of artistic licence had gone into the description of 'themed' areas. A Crested Tit and Firecrest made our visit worthwhile. We saw a Marsh Harrier on the drive back to St. Valery and on our evening walk at Drancourt we disturbed 11 Grey Partridges and 4 Meadow Pipits. The latter were my first of the week - the huge fields were very poor for small birds with small flocks of Linnets usually all I could find. 
Megan in the wilder part of the gardens at Bois de Varengeville
Megan outside the 'Art and Crafts style' house designed by Edward Lutyens - no I'd not heard of him either. It was not open to visitors although Megan was probably more disappointed by this than I was
Friday 13 September. My pre-breakfast walk produced Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Crested and a Long-tailed Tit and a Red Squirrel but little else of note. We drove to Parc du Marquenterre, half an hour or so around the bay, arriving just before it opened at 10 am. It is a premier bird reserve although its late opening time isn't my only bug-bear, and less of an issue in September than say late May. The accessible part of the reserve consists of several largish lagoons which can only be viewed from the worst designed hides imaginable. Few have seating and one would need to be seven feet tall to sit and still see out of most of them. Others have brick sized holes to look through, set at heights that require a normal sized person to either crouch or stand on tiptoes or preferably a box to look out of. Hides are also spaced too far apart to allow adequate viewing of all of the lagoons. None are also on the seawall, although public hides are, reached only by a long and sometimes very muddy walk. So why did I go? Waders can be attracted to the lagoons and at high tide, and a big late morning high tide was why we delayed until our last day to visit, many from the estuary come in to roost. That at least was the theory. In practise I saw 2 White Storks (they breed, no dubious introduction programme needed here), 110 Spoonbills, 21 Cattle Egrets, 500+ Cormorants, 25 Avocets, 250 Black-tailed Godwits, single Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper, 20 Dunlin, 4 Common and 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Common and 12 Spotted Redshank and a Greenshank. A Black-necked Grebe on one of the lagoons was nice while Wigeon (20), Gadwall (10) and Pintail (15) were also new for the holiday. A bit disappointing really, perhaps the tides weren't a high as I'd thought. Walking around an Osprey flew overhead and several Cetti's Warblers were heard. After lunch in the car park it didn't take long to find 3 Crested Tits and a Short-toed Treecreeper in the adjoining pines. Leaving Marquenterre we drove down to the edge of the estuary at La Maye but the tide was already receding fast. In the scrub by the car par were 3 Wheatears and 5 Meadow Pipits, unfortunately about as good as migrant passerines got this year. We saw 9 Grey Partridges around Drancourt on our evening walk.
White Stork at Marquenterre 
Cattle Egrets and Henson horses at Marquenterre




Cattle Egret and Spoonbills on one of the islands at Marquenterre
Spoonbills and Black-tailed Godwits



trying to stitch this image and the next failed


a continuation of the previous image



mainly Spoonbills
Osprey over Marquenterre
Saturday 14 September. I saw Red Squirrel, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 8 Chiffchaffs, 9 Blackcaps, a Wheatear and a Wren on my final pre-breakfast walk around Drancourt. Driving to Dieppe added Sparrowhawk and a flock of 10 Mediterranean Gulls to the holiday list. A Fulmar and a male Black Redstart were seen while waiting to board the ferry and 3 juvenile Shags were again on the east harbour arm. The crossing to Newhaven was calm and the warm sunny weather made it hard for me to keep my eyes open at times. When I was awake I saw 5 Fulmars, 180 Gannets, a Cormorant mid-channel flying south, 2 Sandwich Terns and 9 Great Skuas (5 in French and 4 in English waters).
Red Squirrel at Drancourt
Seven Sisters, Birling Gap and Beachy Head
Beachy Head


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