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The Cévennes, France September 2012/June 2013 - Part 1

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Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) male, Barrandon


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Cévennes September 2012 gallery

Cévennes June 2013 gallery

THE JUNE 2013 PART OF THIS TRIP REPORT IS STILL IN PROG...

The Cévennes form the southern end of the Massif Central in southern France. From here it’s about two hours drive to the Mediterranean coast at Montpellier, and just over two hours drive to Clermont-Ferrand in the northern Massif Central. The Cévennes National Park is the only mid-altitude National Park on the French mainland whose central zone is inhabited year-round. That said, this is the most sparsely populated part of France and the Cévennes are one of the European regions whose biodiversity has increased most over the past thirty or so years. This increase is partly due to several re-introductions carried out in the National Park: Griffon and Black Vultures, Beaver, Red Deer, Roe Deer, and Western Capercaillie. But de-population and species protection have also allowed some species to re-establish themselves naturally: Golden Eagle, European Otter, Black Woodpecker, Tengmalm’s Owl, Egyptian Vulture, and apparently Wolf – see Independent article. Believed to be young wolves dispersing westwards from the Alps since the 90’s, I would think that even in modern-day France these creatures stand absolutely no chance what-so-ever of not being shot or poisoned. In fact, on our first walk on the Causse Méjean we found, near to a flock of grazing sheep, a huge cage-trap baited with a large lump of red meat…
Among the 2,410 species of fauna catalogued in the Park to date, there are 89 species of mammals (two-thirds of the French total), 208 of birds (of which 135 breed), 17 of reptiles, 18 of amphibians, 24 of fish, 1,824 of insects, 53 of arachnids, and 12 of crustaceans.
The huge variety of flora in the Park (2,300 species have been catalogued since 1820) is the result of the climactic diversity (oceanic, continental and Mediterranean); the chemical composition of its soils (granitic, chalky or schistose); and by the altitudinal range of the protected zone (from 378 to 1,699 m).
The purpose of our trip was to visit for the first time the gorges of the Tarn and Jonte, and to check out the causse habitat above them – the limestone plateaux of karst and steppes.
Renown for the flora and birds that can be seen here in spring and early summer, we hoped to see some raptor migration in September, and basically do some reconnaissance for a further trip in the spring. In the event, the birding was disappointing, but the insects, butterflies and eventually dragonflies more than made up for the relative lack of birds. That in itself was surprising for September, and even some flower species were still in bloom.

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The Causses - dry limestone steppes; this is Causse Méjean. The only cultivation is in the shallow troughs (dolines)

SITES VISITED

Page numbers refer to A Birdwatching Guide to France south of the Loire - see Reference Sources.

Le Point Sublime

Situated overlooking the Gorge du Tarn, and well sign-posted; access from route D907 (which runs alongside the Tarn river) on a minor road from Les Vignes. Good panoramic viewpoint, although vultures never flew that close when we were there. Unfortunately a major tourist trap, with lots of people there even in September.

Causse Sauveterre

This was our first day intro to the causses, and we hadn't managed to source a large scale map so just followed our noses. The area above La Canourgue overlooking the Lot valley was quite good - we took any rough track that look productive. Our first Saddle-back Bush-crickets and a surprisingly good selection of butterflies and plants for September.

La Maison des Vautours (site ii page 231)

In the Gorge de la Jonte on route D996. With a visitor centre and viewing platform this site also attracts large numbers of people; admission fee charged for exhibition centre/viewing platform, although viewing from the car-park was adequate. On two visits vultures were far too high for photography as the centre is at a fairly low level just above the river.

Causse Méjean (site iii page 233)

The area of causse between the Rivers Tarn and Jonte, directly north of Meyrueis. With all the breeding birds gone, we had hoped to find some of the sedentary birds of the causse and maybe some winter raptors. In the event we saw very little birdlife, but plenty of butterflies and other insects - including our first Moorland Hawkers. Fantastic habitat making a visit in spring a mouth-watering prospect.

Mont Lozère (site iv page 235)

Accessed via route D20 north from Le Pont-de-Montvert. A super site that although disappointing for sedentary/wintering birds on our visit, excelled in most other aspects, not least of which the habitat and scenery. Parking at Col de Finiels (1540m) there are a number of marked trails to choose from. Good for butterflies and insects even in September.

Etang de Barrandon

Accessed from a dirt track off route D35, north-west of Le Pont-de-Montvert. Suffering from odonata withdrawal symptoms, we resolved to find some water, and found this etang on the map. It is in fact well sign-posted and well-known locally as a trout fishery open to the public. There were plenty of people there as the weather was nice, and a high summer or Bank Holiday visit is probably best avoided. However, in the non-fishing zone the reeds have been left and we were rewarded with sight of many hundreds, if not a couple of thousand pairs of both Black and Yellow-winged Darters 'in cop'. An amazing sight, we were definitely lucky with the timing, and eventually we saw nine odonata species at this site.

PART 2 - SPECIES LIST

ACCOMMODATION

We stayed at two campsites, one near Riviere-sur-Tarn, the other at Le Pont-de-Montvert; both were good.

Camping Moulin de la Galinière**
Boyne
12640 RIVIERE SUR TARN
Camping Moulin de la Galinière
+33 5 65 62 65 60
Outside the season: +33 5 65 62 87 25
Campsite open from 01/05/2012 till 30/09/2012
Spoken languages:
FR, NL, D, GB

Camping municipal de Gilliaou**
Le Pont-de-Montvert
Camping municipal de Gilliaou
+33 (0)4 66 45 80 10, +33 (0)4 66 45 82 88

REFERENCE SOURCES

A Birdwatching Guide to France south of the Loire. J. Crozier, Arlequin Press, 2000.

Again we used Jacquie Crozier’s excellent book as our main source of reference. This book went to reprint in 2007 and is now available from both Amazon UK and Amazon France – as is …France north of the Loire.

Crossbill Guides - Cévennes and Grands Causses, published 2009.

Cévennes and Grands Causses

This book arrived after we left for the Cevennes, so I’ve only used it in retrospect.
For various reasons I’m not a big fan of the Crossbill Guides, having bought the Camargue one… On flipping through this one I immediately found a couple of mistakes, the second thing I noticed was no index… believe it or not! So why buy a copy in the first place? The answer is there’s no alternative that I’m aware of. To be fair, there’s lots of info in here, hopefully most of it is accurate… the real test will be to use it ‘in anger’.