Trip Report: Champagne Lakes (France), January 11-17, 1997

Liz Watson, UMIST, Manchester, UK;

Weather was unusually cold with all the lakes we visited frozen solid and very little open water. Snow still lying thick on the ground.

11/1 Stayed up on deck from Dover to Calais, rewarded with views of 2+ Med Gull, 100s Kittiwake, Common Gull, Great Crested Grebe etc. Drove to Paris to stay with my brother and family where spent 12/1 as a non-birding day.

13/1 Drove late morning from Paris to Lac du Der Chantecoq. Many Buzzards roadside as we got further east, plus splendid male Hen Harrier. As neared Lac du Der, saw our first Cranes of the trip -- 3 at roadside, plus Fieldfare and Redwing, and Roe Deer. Went to Maison des Oiseaux et Poissons for latest info, Brambling and Tree Sparrow at feeders. Flushed single Snipe from roadside. No sign of any White-Tailed Eagles, c. 100 Cranes flying to islands on frozen lake. Lots of Buzzards, including very pale ("snow") individuals. Brilliant close views of Hawfinch at Port Nuisement.

14/1 Started day on icy forest roads NE of lake, nice male Firecrest in tit flock, Short-Toed Treecreepers near lake. At ice-free inflow to Reservoir de Champaubert male Smew, male Eider, Goosander, Greylags etc predominantly Wigeon and Mallard. In woods N of Frampas, Black Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, 100s Jay. Near Frampas, 2 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers in tall hedgerows. Back on western dyke, still no sign of WTEs. 1000+ Cranes flying to roost.

15/1 Early am at Ferme des Grues, no cranes, 17 Greylag Geese present. Met French LPO birders engaged in counting Cranes, told us that 2 White-Tailed Eagles are still present at Lac du Der but ranging widely and not frequenting famous tree at Le Gros Chene. Returned to marina at Giffaumont-Champaubert, good views over lake. From 11.00-11.30, c. 800 Cranes flew in long skeins of up to 80 birds S over lake. Decided to follow. On road to Montier du Der, stopped for very close encounter with excellent male Hen Harrier, then heard Cranes -- c 1000 crammed into small stubble field near road. Met LPO guys again -- the four of us twitched a single Barnacle Goose in amongst the Greylag/Whitefront flock in the same fields. LPO guys also told us of their sighting earlier that morning of a bird that looked like a classic Rough-Legged Buzzard. We went to the spot and the bird was still there -- sure enough a superb adult Rough-Legged.

Decided on a change of scene, went to Lac Amance, most easterly lake in Lac de Forêt D'Orient complex where there had been a report of 3 WT Eagles in early January. Ice free water at inflow gave good concentration of waterbirds including 31 Smew, 3 Pintail, Pochard, Cormorant etc, also Peregrine. No WTEs. Went to hide at NE corner of Lac d'Orient, Short-Toed Treecreepers in woods, hide dead.

16/1 Early am visit to hide at NE corner of Lac d'Orient -- rien! Drove up through forest track towards Lac Amance, encountered 3 Crested Tit in mixed flock. At Lac du Temple, 2 Hawfinch, Short-Toed Treecreeper, Red Squirrel in woods, 4 Smew among ducks crammed in ice free pool. Back at Lac Amance, Hen Harrier flushed a Green Sandpiper.

Started journey home. Stopped at Aire Champs Roland service station on A26 20 kms N of Reims on info received -- sure enough 4 Crested Lark. Fed them cheese. Carried on along motorway, Buzzards every few hundreds yards for miles.

17/1 Drove to Boulogne, visit to Le Portel beach on recommendation from EBN. Excellent views of Med Gull - 80+ birds present. Also Crested Lark on beach (from Landguard?). Cap Gris Nez -- 6 Brent Geese. Trip ends with Channel Tunnel mid pm.

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This page served by Urs Geiser;; January 29, 1997