The trip utilised the Canvas Holidays network of tents and was comparatively cheap. The company offers cheap, family tent type accommodation at a number of well placed sites some of which have wildlife reps. With good old hindsight, our trip could have been cheaper as we had booked four nights in hotels when we really could have got away with one. A saving of £95.00!. Canvas Holidays: 12 Abbey Park Place, Dunfermline, Fife, KY12 7PD. 01383 644000
Ferry to Caen from Portsmouth - hotel in Tours - four nights at Biron near Bergerac - four nights at Luz St Sauveur in the Pyrenees - hotel at Limoges - three nights at Pierrefitte near Vierzon - hotel in Caen - ferry to Portsmouth. We ended up dropping one night at Biron in favour of an extra Pyrenees night. We also scrubbed the Limoges night and pressed on to Pierrefitte for an extra night there, a sound decision. If anyone was to plan a trip from this report I would suggest the first three nights at Pierrefitte, four at Argeles Pyrenees (easy access to Spanish steppes and Bay of Roses), four at Luz and then two or three in Britanny.
The Canvas costs were £473.00 for two people including ferry, insurance and breakage waiver. This price included all accommodation except at Portsmouth (hotel Ibis, £37.00). Fuel came out at £166.17 (@ ff9.6 to £1.00. We covered 2557 miles (4330km) and used 55.37 gallons of petrol (251.75l) @ 40.76mpg. Spending money was £300.00 with c£15.00 left over. so total cost £976.00 all in. Better planning would have meant less miles, only one hotel and better birding sites (see site summary).
Biron: Nice site, poor birding choice. Nothing here that was not at better sites except for frequent gun shots and extremely nervous and hard to see birds. Luz St Sauveur: Excellent, well placed for all the sites with Gavarnie only 12 miles away and the option of a jaunt into Spain. Raptor watching from the campsite was very good with ten species seen. Pierrefitte: Excellent, good local birding (especially for woodpeckers) and handily placed for the Brenne, only 200 miles from Caen.
Pyrenean sites are well covered in most guides. We birded Gavarnie daily and enjoyed it thoroughly. Sites to pay attention at Gavarnie include the rather obscure rubbish tip which has Rock Bunting frequently. To find it take the road from Gavarnie (a right turn as soon as you enter the village) and continue past the ski resort turn. The road crosses a stream and then climbs .75Km before you begin to drive down the Vallee d'Oussoue; there is a short track to the left of the road, that is the rubbish tip!. The road to the ski lodge from Gavarnie was marked closed when we were there but we ignored this, à la locals, and had good birding to the snow line. Alpine Chough were here each time. Alpine Accentor had moved up to the highest possible point, and a scope was needed to obtain poor views. Snow Finch were also absent but we did find some at the highest drivable point in the area. Take the Col du Tourmalet road until you reach the kiosk selling drinks etc. We scanned the remaining snow patches here and found several Snow Finch.
Pierrefitte is in the Solonge region (just south of Orleans) and a good base for at least a week. Our campsite was near Salibris which is north of Vierzon off the A71 - E9. The nearby canal (Canal de la Sauldre) was very good for Middle Spotted, Black and especially Grey-headed Woodpecker. The best section was just west of Brinon sur Sauldre. Leave Brinon sur Saldre on the D923 and take the first right turn which crosses the canal. Walk west on the northern towpath. This area was also good for butterflies. To the west of the campsite were many lakes with Whiskered Tern particularly plentiful, breeding on every lilypad. Further still (about 1.5 hours) was The Brenne where we spent one day and saw lots of birds. it seemed a good place for a family holiday with lots for kids to do on the campsite and good local birding. A good map of the whole Sologne are is published by the Institut Géographique National (3615 IGN) and available from the campsite at Pierrefitte.
Easy, especially on motorways (fee paying); most roads are good. The French try to overtake every English car they see, wherever you are. After two days driving you are ready to fight back. Speed limits seem irrelevant although we did see several spot checks. Toilets are few on the roads. No need to guess wind direction, just look to see which way French motorists are peeing. Even they don't pee upwind. Pre-trip we utilised reports from the foreign trip report service run by Steve Whitehouse. We also tried to use the Where to Watch in France guide but it really is awful and not at all recommended.
Apart from Biron, everywhere we stayed at was good for birds, and we ended up with 158 species for the trip. Raptors in the Pyrenees where excellent with watching from the campsite productive. Lammergeier were seen daily. The only disappointment was not finding Wallcreeper at Gavarnie, they are difficult. A friend of mine knows someone who lives near Tarbes who has had them in their garden in winter so maybe they are easier then. The list gives all the species with summaries for the 'better' birds (from a UK perspective). Finally, as far as I'm concerned the ticking starts at the French coast as we land.
We clearly missed a few species although it seems that large parts of France are completely birdless. We did pass one 'grey' shrike which was probably Northern Grey but we saw no Woodchats. We tried for Eagle Owl with no success, and we could not find any Scops although there were supposed to be some at Pierrefitte.
Small Heath - Speckled Wood - Spotted Fritillary - Lge White - Sm White - Brimstone - Orange-tip - Bath White - Black-veined White - Green-veined White - Red Admiral - Painted Lady - Small Tortoiseshell - Meadow Brown - Common Blue - Small Blue - Small Copper - Swallowtail - Wood White - Green Hairstreak - Wall - Large Wall - Olive Skipper - Red-underwing Skipper - Lge Skipper - Mallow Skipper - Grizzled Skipper - Chequered Skipper - Clouded Yellow - Mountain Brown Argus - Duke of Burgundy - Oburthur's Grizzled Skipper - Grayling - White Admiral - Marbled Fritillary - Provencal Fritillary - Heath Fritillary - Provencal Short-tailed Blue - Silver-studded Blue
Four-spotted Chaser - Broad-bodied Chaser - Black-tailed Skimmer - White-tailed Skimmer - Keeled Skimmer - Emperor - Lesser Emperor - Club-tailed Dragonfly - Yellow Club-tailed Dragonfly - Brilliant Emerald - Downy Emerald - White-legged Damselfly - Common Darter - Beautiful Demoiselle - Banded Demoiselle - Scarlet Darter - Scarce Chaser - Sympecma fusca - Common Blue Damselfly - Azure Damselfly - Goblet-marked Damselfly - Southern Damselfly - Red-eyed Damselfly - Blue-tailed Damselfly
Red Deer - Otter - Coypu - Wild Boar (heard) - Noctule Bat - Long-eared Bat - Water Vole - Alpine Marmot - Hare - Rabbit - Grass Snake - Common Toad - Common Frog - Marsh Frog - European Pond Tortoise - Sand Lizard - Green Lizard - Common Wall Lizard - Ocellated Lizard
Return to trip reports.