Pas-de-Calais - cold, misty start, sunny later, light airs - Together with MH, CP & PB, spent the day over the water birding the area around coastal Calais searching for passerines.
Bleriot Plage, Calais - Scanning the car park and adjacent scrub in thick mist did not look promising. However, we fanned out and spirits were quickly lifted as eight Crested Larks were located along the foreshore by the beach huts; not only were we surprised to find the larks so soon, but a flock of eight! None of us could remember seeing this number in one flock in northern France. They spent most of the time foraging above the high water mark in the sand dunes with crests erect. Every so often they would fly up, twittering away to one another, with one bird perching briefly on a wooden groyne and showing off a rusty underwing. Photography was difficult in the poor light but I did manage one record shot of a perched bird.
Also noted plenty of Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Chaffinches in the sea buckthorn and a single Black Redstart singing from an old gun emplacement.
Les Hemmes - To the east of Calais lies a vast area of inter-tidal foreshore, slacks, dunes and ponds where a number of wintering passerines had recently been reported. We flogged around for a couple of hours but could only locate a flock of 130 Linnets, 40 Skylarks and single figures of Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Little Egret, and Teal.
Sadly one of the down sides of visiting this part of the French coastline is that wildfowling is common place with every pond laden with decoys and hunters either recceing or laying in wait for their quarry. One beautiful little Teal was found dead in the mud, such a pointless waste.
Around the car park plenty of common thrushes, finches, sparrows, tits and Green Woodpecker.
Oye Plage - Further east, in bright sunshine, we had another go at the foreshore where this time we were more lucky locating a flock of 70 Snow Buntings, several of which were colour ringed. A couple of the males were in cracking breeding plumage, amongst the many juveniles. More Skylarks and Mipits here plus a lone, approachable Brent on the foreshore (probably winged), 20 Ringed Plover, 10 Dunlin, two Grey Plover and a Sparrowhawk.
From the newly constructed bird reserve hide a wide range of wildfowl were on show on the freshwater lagoon. The birds are relatively safe here so it was standing room only with hundreds of Shelduck, Teal, Lapwing, Shoveler, Mallard and the like, plus Curlew, two Snipe, Dabchick and a lone White-fronted Goose. As we left site a flock of 45 White-fronts flew over high, sensibly keeping out of gunshot range. Also noted in the area four Redshank, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Chiffchaff.
Another great day out across the Channel with plenty of jokes and anecdotes along the way, plus the standout species of Crested Lark and Snow Bunting. Thanks to CP for driving, MH for the gags and check out Plodding Birder blog for quality piccies.