Pat and I have just returned from a road trip to a wet and windy northern France, mostly in Brittany followed by a stay in Caen and finally at Le Crotoy on the Somme estuary. Driving around few birds were noted in passing apart from the odd Buzzard and Kestrel, corvids, gulls and Starlings.
Our first stop was at a remote forest camp site at Douarnenez in Brittany overlooking the bay. Although not the best time of year for woodland birds there was still plenty of interest with roving passerine flocks containing Crested and Marsh Tits, Goldcrests and Firecrests. Migrant Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were everywhere in the canopy whilst amongst the falling acorns and chestnuts the expected resident Short-toed Treecreeper, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Jay, Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush and, at night, Tawny Owl were all noted.
One morning I awoke to the distinctive call of Hawfinches outside the tent where a flock of 12 were feeding in a clearing. Also of interest was a range of moths attracted to the wash house block lights including the distinctive Merveille du Jour.
Coastal Brittany is very similar to Cornwall and the birdlife reflected the rocky habitat with Linnet, Stonechat, Grey and White Wagtails, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Raven, Shag and at one location a flock of Choughs. A few remnant seabirds from breeding colonies such as Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet were noted off headlands, while the estuary attracted a few Sandwich Terns, Little Egrets and Redshanks.
At Le Crotoy several Serins were noted around the town parks while a walk out onto the causeway one morning to check the harbour delivered three Crested Larks. The mudflats was full of Black-headed Gulls and a few egrets at low tide, although waders and wildfowl were scarce due to the many gunners on the prowl here and in the adjacent sand dunes.
On the way back to the Tunnel we called in at Marquenterre nature reserve. Having always visited this site in the spring I was keen to see what an autumn trip delivered - and we were not disappointed.
The usual large numbers of Little, Great White and at least four Cattle Egrets were noted, plus 150 Spoonbills and the long-staying Common Crane that was unable to fly due to a shotgun injury. Roosting Redshanks and Blackwits numbered in the hundreds along with 20 Spotted Redshanks, several Ruffs, Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers. Ducks were everywhere, presumably enjoying safe sanctuary from the shooters and included hundreds of Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Pintail.
The icing on the cake was a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope which showed well from one of the hides, and I later found out from the warden had been present for a week or more. The bushes held plenty of Chiffs and crests while numerous south bound Swallows and Mipits passed overhead. Also noted across the site, three Black Terns, Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail, Black-necked Grebe, Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Crested Tit.
So, an enjoyable week in northern France with some good birds and plenty of good food (even at the uncrowded motorway service stations), and not a pot-hole encountered anywhere on a road network that puts our crumbling infrastructure in the UK to shame.