Dunkirk/Calais - cold, cloudy, NW 3 - For a change of scene I joined CP and MH for a day out in northern France in overcast weather conditions with occasional drizzle. We drove to the industrial coastal complex of Dunkirk where we checked out the various canals and waterways around the port. Two smart Slavonian Grebes amongst a small flock of Great Crested and Little Grebes on Bassin Maritime was a good start. Further east, from the lookout at Avant-Port Quest 12 Red-breasted Mergansers showed well in the harbour mouth along with two Brown Seals hauled out on the sands. Also noted, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Kingfisher, Little Egret and small numbers of Mipits, Greenfinches and Reed Buntings in the sand dunes, plus three possible Snow Buntings that flew off high to the east. There was plenty of action on the sea with hundreds of Gannets, auks, divers, Kittiwakes, scoters, Brents and three Eiders. Stonechat, Skylark, Blackbird, Kestrel and Goldfinch noted elsewhere around the complex.
We then moved down the coast to Grand Fort Philippe where we soon located seven Shore Larks on the saltings, characteristically hugging the sands and feeding on weed-seeds. Super little birds and a species we don't see very often back home. They showed like good `uns right in front of the car park, including flying around calling, in company with 50 Chaffinches and 10 Linnets.
Onto Oye-Plage and good numbers of common wildfowl were on the nature reserve pools, sensibly avoiding the hunters who lay in wait with their decoys and guns on the inland side of the coast road; this is only down side to coming here during the shooting season, gunners are everywhere. We finished off on the beach searching for Snow Buntings which we failed to find. However, a Cattle Egret was unusual to see on the salt marsh in company with three Little Egrets. Hundreds of distant gulls and shorebirds were on the foreshore of this vast beach stretching westwards to Calais.
Another great day birding in northern France in fine company. As always many thanks to Chris for driving and Mark for a steady flow of jokes and anecdotes.