Pas-de-Calais, Somme - dry, mild and cloudy, nw 2 - Spent the day birding in northern France lounging in the back of the Chelsea tractor; while the Joker and Marshman did the important stuff up front. First stop Sailly Bray where we had superb views of a pair of Bluethroats feeding juvs amongst the tussock grass. There were birds everywhere with Turtle Doves `purring` from cover, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow, Sedge, Marsh and Cetti`s Warblers, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Reed and Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Skylark, Lapwing and Long-tailed Tits at the first stop. A couple of Shelducks flew over the marsh and the first of many Great White Egrets and White Storks, plus 2 brown hares. The raptor count was impressive too with a pair of Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards, Kestrel and best of all a stunning male Hen Harrier. Further down the track towards Bonnelle (while the Joker was impressing a local farmer with his linguistic skills...) we were surprised to see a cock Common Redstart, plus Yellowhammers, Linnets and Garden Warbler, but couldn't find Marsh Warbler at the usual spot, although a singing Black Redstart in the village was noteworthy.
However, on the lane towards Ponthoile a singing Golden Oriole was a nice surprise in a poplar wood; we even heard the Jay-like call, but as per usual a sighting eluded us. Better still were two Marsh Warblers singing from roadside herbage, of which we had brief views, plus another good view of a third bird nearby. Short-toed Treecreeper was also noted here, plus more Turtle Doves, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, Kestrel, Lapwings with chicks and more fly over egrets, phew! Who said mid-summer birding is dull!
St Valery - This part of the Somme was new for me and very impressive it was too. The railway line bund overlooked a huge area of saltings full of Yellow Wagtails (one Channel type), Mipits, Great White and Little Egrets, Grey Heron, 2 Spoonbills, Avocet, Shovelers, Shelducks, Redshanks, Marsh Harrier and Oystercatcher. To the south of the estuary the freshwater pools attracted loads more herons and egrets, Med Gulls, Dabchick, several White Storks and Green Sandpiper, but further along the bund we found our target bird, 8 stunning Black-winged Stilts. Butterflies along the track included Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Red Admiral.
Scanning a distant wooded ridge we noted a couple of buzzards, one a Honey and the other an unusually marked, white-tailed Common Buzzard. We then drove round to the woodland gaining protracted and crippling views, from the car, of a pair of Honey Buzzards as they cavorted above the canopy, wing-clapping, calling and stooping on one another - without doubt some of the best views any of us had ever had of courting HBs. Elsewhere along the valley we encountered more White Storks, egrets, Med Gulls, Garden Warblers, Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Great Crested Grebe; while two of us managed to be on the wrong side of the canal when the swing-bridge was opened...
Stella Plage - Our final port of call was at a potential Crested Lark site on the coast, and while we didn`t connect (probably more to do with the time of day) the area did look spot on. Along the beach a few gulls and 2 Sandwich Terns, plus Kestrel, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Mipit in the dunes.
Yet again another cracking days birding `over-the-water`, with two old blokes (one who can tell a joke about any subject matter) and our driver who somehow has retained the eye sight of a 20 year old! Oh, yes and they both agreed that the navigator was brilliant, and he even managed to usurped the Sat Nav!