Tuesday 22 May 2018

French Hippos!

Baie de Somme - warm, muggy, light airs - Monday morning kicked off with an early start, in the company of CP and MH, for a birding trip down to the Somme estuary at the wetlands and woodlands of Picardy.
  The fresh marsh, water meadows and farmland of Sailly Bray was our first port of call where the highlights were: four Bluethroats, four Black-winged Stilts and a White Stork, plus 10 species of singing warblers, including Marsh and Grasshopper Warblers. A flock of 20 Mediterranean Gulls on a sugar beet field also held two Wheatears, nesting Lapwings and Grey Partridge and, oddly enough, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. Also noted in the general area, Great White Egret Shoveler, Teal, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Buzzard, Grey Partridge, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Turtle Dove, loads of nesting Lapwings, Cuckoo, Blue-headed and White Wagtails, Mipit, Skylark and Stonechat. Singing Serins, Black Redstart, House Martins, Linnets, Swifts, more Turtle Doves, Marsh Warblers, Stonechats, Corn Buntings and Grey Partridges noted around the surrounding  farmsteads and countryside, and a Nightingale sang from small patch of scrub in the middle of roundabout on the outskirts of a village! The water meadows at Sailly Bray were a delight and would have satisfied a botanist for weeks, where Brown Hare and Roe Deer also noted. We could`ve spent all day just at this one site and during the three hours didn't see another person. A fantastic place and good to see plenty of birds such as Turtle Dove, Lapwing and Grey Partridge so easily, species that are in terminal decline here.

                                Sailly Bray marshes

                               Stonechats were commonplace

  We then moved on to a couple of wetland sites on the coast where more surprises awaited. At one a Savi`s Warbler sang and showed briefly from a reedbed stacked out with acrocephalus warblers, plus Bearded Tit, two White Storks, Cuckoo, Turtle Dove, Nightingale, Blue-headed Wagtail and Kestrel. At another, a tiny marsh hosted 18 nesting Black-winged Stilts, plus six Avocets, three Spoonbills, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Snipe, Greenshank, a male Whinchat and loads of Grey Herons, Little and Great White Egrets and White Storks; while back at the car, by a busy main road, Mark had located a singing Icterine Warbler in a hedgerow - phew! 

                                Breeding Black-winged Stilts

  Our final stop was in the magnificent Crecy Forest, a 12 sq mile block of mixed woodland made famous by the battle of 1346 AD and the effectiveness of the English longbow. However, by now it was mid afternoon, the storm clouds were gathering overhead and bird song was much suppressed; possible the worst time of day to visit a wood, but undeterred we checked a couple of plantations searching out our target bird and 14th warbler species of the day. At the second stop, in amongst the babble of Garden Warblers and Blackcaps we eventually heard and located a Melodious Warbler our second hippolais of the day, singing from atop a Silver Birch, which even afforded scope views.
  The rain eventually came ending another superb days birding in northern France, in great company, with many thanks to Chris for driving.   

                Avocets, Spoonbills and White Stork around the Somme wetlands

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