Saturday, 21 November 2015

Five days in the French Alps 15th - 19th November

I've visited the Grand Massif area in the French Alps many times over the years primarily in the winter and summer but have never been in the month of November before. Fortunately the weather was fantastic with blue skies everyday and temperatures rising to 17 centigrade.
Each year I have watched the Bearded Vultures which were reintroduced back in to the area in the early 1990's and which have increased in number as the years have passed. A pair nest in Salvagny which is only about 10Km from the village of Morillon where I base myself. The views at Salvagny tend to be rather distant so I decided to try the Col de la Columbiere. This involves more walking up to the Lac de Peyre but the chances of close views are much higher. I watched at least three individuals from some distance before an adult flew directly over me giving amazing views. 

Bearded Vulture - adult ISO 500 1/1250 f7.1 300 f2.8 +2x III
This is also a good spot for Griffon Vultures which turned up about 10 years ago and have also increased in number. Other than Alpine Choughs sharing my lunch there were no other birds or mammals.
Alpine Chough ISO 500 f6.3 1/1250 300 f2.5 +1.4xIII
Whilst in the area I wanted to try for Chamois and Mouflon in the Roc D'Enfer , my brother had seen both the previous weekend so I made the hike from the Col de l'Encrenaz to the Col Ratti. There were around 20 Chamois on view from the col but no sign of any Mouflon. The Mouflon are also seen on the nearby Pointe d'Uble so probably roam quite a wide area.
Chamois ISO 800 f8 1/250 300 f2.8 + 2xIII
Chamois ISO 800 f5.6 1/500 300 f2.8 +2xIII

A Golden Eagle gave brief views but the only other birds were again the Alpine Choughs with a flock of over 100 feeding on rose hips on the upland pasture.
The Dipper is a reasonably common bird of the upland rivers and streams. These birds are of the Central European race aquaticus which has a broad rufous belly which continues to the legs unlike British birds which have a fairly narrow rufous band which shades to black well before the legs.
Dipper Cinclus cinclus aquaticus ISO 800 f5.6 1/500 300 f2.8 +2xIII

Another bird I wanted to photograph was the Crested Tit, I have taken reasonable photos in the past but they have often been spoilt by poor light. Most of the mixed tit flocks comprised of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits with usually one or two Crested and Goldcrests.
Crested Tit ISO 800 1/1000 f5.6 300 f2.8 + 2xIII
In the end I found a group in a reasonably open group of pines at Samoens 1600 and took plenty of photos, hoping that some would catch the sunlight coming through the trees.

Whilst at Samoens 1600 I photographed the Alpine Coughs, again they were feeding on rose hips, and I presume these most form a significant part of their diet at this time of year. 
Alpine Chough ISO 1000 f7.1 1/1000 300 f2.8 +1.4III
Alpine Chough ISO 1000 f5.6 1/640 300 f2.8 +2xIII

Always difficult getting the light right with the all black chough. I think the Nikon cameras have a much better dynamic range than Canon which is an area they need to improve.
I flew Liverpool to Geneva for £30 each way with EasyJet and hired a small car for £18/day.

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