News, Trip Reports, etc

La Camargue, France 14th to 21st June 2008

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Blue-eyed Hooktail, female, at Peau de Meau

Location of St-Martin-de-Crau click here

Camargue June 2008 gallery

Inspired by Jacquie Crozier’s book and research of websites covering nature reserves in the area (see Reference Sources), we decided to make base at a campsite near St-Martin-de-Crau. The Camargue is still one of the greatest wetlands in Western Europe, so a logical place to look for dragonflies and damselflies. In fact, we concentrated more on the Crau, an area with a growing reputation amongst odonata watchers, and did more birdwatching in the Camargue. We also visited the hills of Les Alpilles, north of La Crau, when too hot to walk the open areas.
In the varied habitats of the Camargue, the Crau and associated marshes, and Les Alpilles, 61+ species of odonata have been recorded.
The Camargue Regional Park south of Arles lies between the two arms of the Rhone as it forms a delta and enters the Mediterranean Sea. The Park covers 850 square kilometres and has the variety of habitats one would expect, including rice paddies and saltworks, saline, brackish and freshwater lagoons.
The Crau, with its’ unique stony desert landscape and bizarre weather, is well-known to birders because of the specialist breeding birds. The areas we visited here were all within 20 kilometres and to the south of St-Martin-de-Crau.
Les Alpilles are a chain of rugged limestone hills c28 kilometres long, covered in pine forest and garrigue, the highest point being just 493 metres.
We also checked areas local to our campsite at Mouries, nine kilometres north-east of St-Martin, mainly at points along the Canal de la Vallee des Baux, west of Mouries.
The weather was cool, 12-15 degrees and very wet for the first three days, quickly turning to a stifling 34+ degrees and dry for the remainder, this apparently being more normal for mid-June, but too hot to look for odonata by midday. The Camargues’ reputation for mosquitoes proved totally valid in wet weather, exceeding both in numbers and persistence anything we’ve encountered elsewhere in the world !
We made no attempt to see the specialist breeding birds of the Crau, the birds recorded were those seen whilst looking for odonata species; in the Camargue we did more birdwatching, depending on the weather or lack of dragonflies.
The timing here was at least a week too early for the maximum odonata species, particularly in a ‘late’ year – the last week in June would be good, after that the temperatures would be very hot, with more tourists and more traffic. The Camargue is a busy tourist area.

SITES

Peau de Meau Reserve, La Crau

Peau de Meau is well-known to birders looking for the Crau specialities. A permit is needed here, obtainable from Ecomusee de La Crau, on a corner in the main high street in St-Martin. Price at the time was 3 Euros per person for 2 days, proceeds going towards upkeep and improvement of the reserve. The trail and information boards have just been upgraded, and you get a map and info, in English, with the permit.
The Peau de Meau stream is the area of prime interest here for dragonfly watchers, it runs from the parking area in a straight line south-west towards the main highway N 568. Although it looks fairly mundane, the rich vegetation on the banks and below the water, and the purity and steady flow make for an abundance of odonata; around 50 species have been recorded here.

Etang des Aulnes, La Crau

Known to birders en route to Peau de Meau as a site of little interest, we saw few birds here either. About 1.5 kilometres south of La Dynamite and the junction with the D24, along the approach road to Peau de Meau, there is parking and an information board.
For dragonflies, we found the best area to be the course fishing zone, sign-posted on the road. Here there are three fishponds with a high density of odonata – we saw 15+ species in less than two hours.

Vigueirat Marshes, south of La Crau

A wetland reserve on the south-west side of La Crau, with a nice 2km trail through reedbeds, swamp forest and fields. The reserve centre is 2kms south-east of Mas Thibert, a few kms west of Peau de Meau, and is sign-posted from the town. Access to the core part of the marsh is by guided tour only, on a horse-drawn carriage ! We did the trail, but I suspect the best habitat is the central area.
Disappointing density of dragonflies seen, perhaps better after dryer conditions; a key site that we should have seen more at. Very good for mosquitoes…

Canal de la Vallee des Baux, north of La Crau

The Vallee des Baux lies between Les Alpilles to the north and La Crau to the south, with the canal running east-west along the valley. We checked road bridges over the canal, particularly the D33 and D27, both quite good for odonata, and found a ruined roman aqueduct south of Fontvieille on the D33 to be good also.

Parc Ornithologique, La Camargue

4 kilometres north of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the first part of the park is a bird hospital/recovery centre with victims of the ‘hunters’ guns, and the traffic, in large aviaries, mostly raptors and owls. After that there are good freshwater and brackish lagoons along a 7 kilometre trail. Probably good for dragonflies without the rain that we had.

Etang du Charnier and Etang de Scamandre, La Camargue

In the north-west Camargue, we looked at two freshwater etangs and the Sete canal. Route D779 runs NW – SE between the two etangs, and at the junction with D179 to the south there is a small reserve with trail and visitor centre. Along the south bank of the Sete canal is a drivable track giving views over Etang du Charnier. Good area for freshwater birds and some odonata species. The reserve looked good and deserved more time than we could give it.

We also drove down to the coast on routes D36 B, C and D, along the east side of the Etang de Vaccares and the Digue – all well-known birding sites amply covered by books and birding trip reports.
The Camargue has the largest Greater Flamingo population in Europe, c50,000 birds, and all the European herons breed there, the latest being Great White Egret. On the down side, this being France 150,000 ducks are shot each year….

Les Alpilles

La Caume is a communication station east of Les Baux, on the east side of route D5, where there is parking and the start of a track towards the summit. Well-known to birders looking for Bonelli's Eagle, etc, by the time of our visit there was no flowing water, so it produced little in the way of dragonflies.


Copper Demoiselle, male, at Peau de Meau

ACCOMMODATION USED

Camping du Devenson
13890 MOURIES
Tél +33 (0)4 90 47 52 01

E-Mail devenson@libertysurf.fr
Website www.camping-devenson.com


REFERENCE SOURCES

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

Vigueirat Marshes website www.marais-vigueirat.reserves-naturelles.fr

Conservatoire du littoral, government department which owns reserves around the French coast www.conservatoire-du-littoral.fr

Ecomusee de la Crau www.espaces-naturels-provence.com/ecomuse.htm

Parc Ornithologique website www.parcornithologique.com

Camargue Regional Park website www.parc-camargue.fr


SPECIES RECORDED

DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES (ODONATA)

Main source of reference - Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe. Dijkstra/Lewington, BWP 2006.

30 species seen. A poor total, I believe 35+ is possible even in mid-June, although probably too early for Orange-spotted Emerald Oxygastra curtisii, or Dusk Hawker Boyeria irene, definitely too early for Banded Darter Sympetrum pedemontanum. The migratory Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger is described by Dijkstra as ‘uncommon, scattered and/or irregular’ throughout the Mediterranean.
Worst ‘miss’ was Yellow-tailed Demoiselle Calopteryx xanthostoma at Peau de Meau, a site known for holding all the European demoiselles. Dijkstra states that this species replaces C. splendens in southern France, we found and photographed only C. splendens.
The variety of blue damselfly species seen, two, was disappointing, and Scarce Blue-tailed Ischnura pumilio, must be here somewhere. Perhaps more time should have been spent at Etang des Aulnes

1. BANDED DEMOISELLE Calopteryx splendens – Peau de Meau, Vallee des Baux, etc
2. BEAUTIFUL DEMOISELLE C. virgo – Peau de Meau only
3. COPPER DEMOISELLE C. haemorrhoidalis – Peau de Meau only
4. WILLOW EMERALD Lestes veridis – Etang des Aulnes
5. WINTER DAMSELFLY Sympecma fusca – Vigueirat marshes, Etang des Aulnes
6. BLUE-TAILED DAMSELFLY Ischnura elegans – recorded throughout
7. AZURE DAMSELFLY Coenagrion puella – Vigueirat marshes
8. SOUTHERN DAMSELFLY C. mercuriale – Peau de Meau, the only ‘blue’ found there
9. SMALL RED-EYED DAMSELFLY Erythromma viridulum – Vigueirat marshes, Etang des Aulnes, where hundreds were mating on the fishponds
10. GOBLET-MARKED DAMSELFLY E. lindenii – Vigueirat marshes, Etang des Aulnes, where again hundreds were mating on the fishponds
11. SMALL RED DAMSELFLY Ceriagrion tenellum – Peau de Meau
12. ORANGE WHITE-LEGGED DAMSELFLY Platycnemis acutipennis – Vallee des Baux, Vigueirat marshes, Etang des Aulnes
13. WHITE FEATHERLEG P. latipes – recorded throughout
14. MIGRANT HAWKER Aeshna mixta – 6+ Les Alpilles, La Caume
15. GREEN-EYED HAWKER A. isoceles – 2 Peau de Meau, 2 males Etang des Aulnes
16. EMPEROR Anax imperator – recorded throughout Camargue and Crau
17. LESSER EMPEROR A. parthenope – 2 over rice paddies, 2 females Etang du Charnier, c4 [1+ female] Etang des Aulnes fishponds, the best place to watch them
18. YELLOW CLUBTAIL Gomphus simillimus – 1 male, 1 female Peau de Meau
19. WESTERN CLUBTAIL G. pulchellus – 1 male Vallee des Baux
20. BLUE-EYED HOOKTAIL Onychogomphus uncatus – recorded at all flowing water sites
21. SCARCE CHASER Libellula fulva – Peau de Meau, Etang des Aulnes
22. BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER Orthetrum cancellatum – recorded throughout
23. WHITE-TAILED SKIMMER O. albistylum – Vigueirat marshes, Etang des Aulnes
24. KEELED SKIMMER O. coerulescens – Peau de Meau
25. SOUTHERN SKIMMER O. brunneum – Vallee des Baux roman aqueduct site, max. 6

Southern Skimmer, female, at the Roman aqueduct

26. RUDDY DARTER Sympetrum sanguineum – common later in the week, freshwater marshes
27. RED-VEINED DARTER S. fonscolombii – 2 imm/females Vigueirat marshes only
28. COMMON DAERTER S. striolatum – started to appear later in week, inc. Les Alpilles
29. SOUTHERN DARTER S. meridionale – Etang de Scamandra area, common at Etang des Aulnes fishponds by 21st June
30. SCARLET DARTER Crocothemis erythraea – recorded freshwater sites throughout

BUTTERFLIES

1. SMALL SKIPPER Thymelicus lineolus
2. SWALLOWTAIL Papilio machaon
3. SCARCE SWALLOWTAIL Iphiclides podalirius
4. CLOUDED YELLOW Colius crocea
5. LARGE WHITE Pieris brassicae
6. GREEN-VEINED WHITE P. napi
7. SMALL WHITE P. rapae
8. BATH WHITE Pontia daplidice – fairly common Peau de Meau
9. BLUE-SPOT HAIRSTREAK Satyrium spini – only Les Alpilles, La Caume, where common
10. FALSE ILEX HAIRSTREAK Nordmannia esculi – common in lightly wooded areas
11. SMALL COPPER Lycaena phlaeas
12. MAZARINE BLUE Cyaniris semiargus – Etang des Aulnes
13. COMMON BLUE Polyommatus icarus
14. COMMA Polygonia c-album
15. PAINTED LADY Vanessa virginiensis
16. RED ADMIRAL V. atalanta
17. WALL BROWN Lasiommata megera
18. MARBLED WHITE Melanargia galanthia
19. GREAT BANDED GREYLING Brintesia circe – Vigueirat marshes
20. GATEKEEPER Pyronia tithonus

ORCHIDS

1. BEE ORCHID Ophrys apifera - 4-5 at Etang des Aulnes, gone over
2. LIZARD ORCHID Himantoglossum hircinum – c30 Parc Ornithologique, gone over

BIRDS

Not a birding trip, but you can’t go to the Camargue without birdwatching !

Some Camargue breeding data in brackets.

1.Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
2.Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
3.Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
4.Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle Egret, Camargue

5.Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
6.Little Egret Egretta garzetta
7.Great Egret Egretta alba
8.Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
9.Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
10.White Stork Ciconia ciconia
11.Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus [20 pairs] 1 over Parc Ornithologique
12.Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber [25,000 pairs]

Greater Flamingoes, Camargue

13.Mute Swan Gygnus columbianus
14.[Greylag Goose – feral]
15.Shelduck Tadorna tadorna [500 pairs]
16.Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
17.Shoveler Anas clypeata
18.Pochard Aythya ferina
19.Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina [80 pairs] 3+ pairs Etang du Charnier
20.Black Kite Milvus migrans
21.Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
22.Bonelli’s Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus 1 juvenile La Caume
23.Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
24.Buzzard Buteo buteo
25.Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
26.Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni 1 pair La Crau, Peau de Meau
27.Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
28.Quail Coturnix coturnix
29.Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
30.Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
31.Coot Fulica atra
32.Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus [300 pairs]

Black-winged Stilt, Camargue

33.Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
34.Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus 1 Peau de Meau
35.Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
36.Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
37.Dunlin Calidris alpina 1 La Digue
38.Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1 Parc Ornithologique
39.Slender-billed Gull Larus genei [250 pairs] 4 La Digue
40.Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
41.Mediterranean Gull Larus melonocephalus [150-200 pairs] Breeding colony, Parc Ornithologique
42.Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans ssp. michahellis
43.Little Tern Sterna albifrons [500 pairs] Breeding Parc Ornithologique
44.Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
45.Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica 2-3 Parc Ornithologique, also La Digue
46.Common Tern Sterna hirundo [1800 pairs]
47.Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus 1 Etang Scamandre
48.Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
49.Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
50.Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
51.Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
52.Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
53.Swift Apus apus
54.Alpine Swift Apus melba
55.Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
56.Bee-eater Merops apiaster
57.Roller Coracias garrulus
58.Hoopoe Upupa epops
59.Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
60.Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
61.Skylark Alauda arvensis
62.Crested Lark Galeridacristata
63.Woodlark Lullula arborea
64.Swallow Hirundo rustica
65.Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
66.Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
67.House Martin Delichon urbica
68.Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
69.Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
70.Stonechat Saxicola torquata
71.Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
72.Blackbird Terdus merula
73.Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
74.Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
75.Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
76.Reed Warbler Acrocephelus scirpaceus
77.Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
78.Melodious Warbler Hypolais polyglotta
79.Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
80.Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
81.Crested Tit Parus cristatus
82.Great Tit Parus major
83.Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
84.Jay Garrulus glandarius
85.Magpie Pica pica
86.Jackdaw Corvus monedula
87.Carrion Crow Corvus corone corone
88.Starling Sturnus vulgaris
89.Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
90.House Sparrow Passer domesticus
91.Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
92.Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
93.Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
94.Linnet Carduelis cannabina
95.Serin Serinus serinus
96.Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
97.Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra