Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Baie de Somme in Northern France.

On the 17th May (Thursday), four of us, Steve Ray, Tim Gutsell, Alan Ashdown and yours truly, met early and caught the 05.50 am train from Folkestone to Calais and drove the hours journey down to the Baie de Somme in the Picardie region of Northern France. We booked an overnight stay in a small hotel in Crecy en Ponthieu, a village on the edge of the Crecy forest and fairly central to all the places we intended to visit.

Photo courtesy of Alan Ashdown.

Although weather condition were not too bad, there was a very cold Northerly wind blowing on the Thursday and our first port of call were the reed beds alongside the Somme in between the towns of Le Crotoy and St Valerie where we were hoping to see Savi's Warbler, the wind being the winner on this occasion. We decided to have a look around the car park area of the Marquenterre reserve where we have seen Black Woodpecker on previous visits but most of the access to the wooded area was now restricted, the red and white bunting preventing us from having a good look around the wooded dunes. We did manage to see a few Crested Tit's here so it was not a complete waste of time.  A look along the roadside pools at Le Crotoy produced one noteworthy bird, a Spoonbill that dropped in as we were scanning the pools, it was not looking good. We then decided to move on, driving the 12 kilometres to our hotel, stopping briefly at Sallie Braie but it was far too windy to hear anything. We checked in and then straight off out to take a look around the Crecy forest. We had a few directions to find the best areas of this vast forest but now being late in the afternoon, it was not the best time of the day to start a bit of forest birding. We had a couple of sightings of what were probably Honey Buzzards but they were out of view before proper id could be made. Woodland birding is not for me (the tree to bird ratio is too heavily stacked in the tree's favour) and it was not long before we all decided to return to the hotel for dinner, stopping to get a few images of a female Black Redstart that we noted in the hotel car park. We also saw a pair of Crested Tits here as well. My only images from day one, a Spoonbill at  the roadside pools in LeCrotoy and the female Black Redstart in our hotel car park.

Early to bed meant I was up and showering at 03.00 am next morning, having plenty of time to spare for our pre-arranged rendezvous at 05.00am. Mind you, the noise I made showering and boiling kettles ensured the other three in adjoining rooms were also up so no one was late on parade. Our first stop was back to Sallie Braie where we stopped in the car and listened to the dawn chorus by the reed beds just before the picnic area. There was very little wind on the second day and we heard 2 Grasshopper Warblers and a Bluethroat here along with most of the other expected reed bed inhabitants. We then moved on, back to the reed beds on the road between Le Crotoy and St Valerie and walked down the track towards the Somme estuary.

Photos again courtesy of Alan Ashdown.

Down the bottom of the track it turns left and goes out to the shoreline of the Somme and this is where Tim got a lifer in the shape of a Savi's Warbler. We heard probably 4 birds and although seeing them I soon realised that they would not likely come close enough to get images so I returned back along the track to where I saw a pair of Bluethroat's on the way up. They remained fairly distant but a few record images were obtained. I was then joined by the others and it was here that Tim got his second lifer and Alan his first when Steve picked up the call of a Zitting Cisticola, or Fantailed Warbler in English. After waiting patiently it alighted from a bush and flew over us and out onto the marsh. We waited for a while but never re located the bird. Although no images, it was my bird of the trip.

Other birds of note here were White Stork, 2 Common and possibly 2 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Black-Winged Stilts, Great White, Cattle and Little Egret, Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Cetti's and plentiful numbers of Sedge and Reed Warblers. There seemed to be a lot more Swallows and Swift's here than at home.  As we had not done too well with the cameras to date, we decided on the reserve at Marquenterre for the remainder of the day and arrived there at opening time which was 10.00 am. (Why open half way through the day ? ) On previous trips we found that Black-Necked Grebes would often be in front of hide number 6 but you need to get there as early as possible before the sun moves around and in front of you. This we did and had 8 birds out in front and all in summer attire, hence a lot of shutter clicking.

The view from the Black-Necked Grebe hide, courtesy of Alan Ashdown.

and dressed for summer, the smart looking Black-Necked Grebes.

We did have a pair of Black-Crowned Night Herons arrive and landed briefly on a log not far from the hide but a loud bang, the result of a large camera lens hitting the side of the hide opening slot, spooked them and all I managed was a few images of them flying away to the top end of the pool. I will not mention the perpetrator of the loud bang but for the rest of the day Tim got a bit of ribbing and the new nickname of carthorse Tim. I think a Bull in a china shop was also mentioned lol. After the sun came round we called time in the hide and returned to the first pools where we sat out the afternoon under the flightpath of returning birds to their nests in the nearby heronry, all very pleasant under the warm afternoon sun. A mere hours drive back up the motorway to Calais, arriving in plenty of time for our return shuttle home and another successful trip to this superb part of Northern France was over. The overnight stop allowed for a full two days birding which was a good idea and thanks to Steve, Alan and Tim, as always, great company throughout the two days

A few images from our afternoon, lazing around in the sunshine waiting for Storks and Spoonbills as they landed on the islands of the first pools to wash and preen.

Thanks for looking.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Cuckoo's and Hobbies.

The time of the year dictates what suitable subjects for the camera are available and being May, Cuckoo's and Hobbies are normally readily available around the various sites in east Kent that I choose to visit. For one reason or another and unlike previous years, Cuckoo's for me have been a little difficult to get close to but I did stumble across three birds chasing each other down the sea wall at Reculver close to the Coldharbour lagoon. This enabled me to get a few images and a bonus was a bird landing in a bush that I was quite close to.

I was also able to get a few flight shots as the birds chased each other along the wall and out over the arable fields of the Reculver marsh.

Hobbies have been plentiful now on the Grove/Stodmarsh reserve and make great subjects for the camera as they often come down low in pursuit of dragonflies. If you are lucky and sat down low, they can fly past quite close.

I was able to get a few images of a Reed Warbler collecting nesting material whilst waiting for the Hobbies to appear.

I can never get tired of watching Cuckoo's and Hobbies going about their business on their arrival back to the U.K. Next up, a trip report from our visit to the Baie de Somme in Northern France.