Monday, 11 April 2016

Samoens and the Grand Massif

Still very overcast when I arrived in the valley of the Haute Giffre, with low cloud cover so I decided to stay down in the valley and visit the Fer-a-Cheval just a few kilometres east of Samoens. As I was getting out of the van with the camera a local guide asked me what I was hoping to photograph and said there was a small group of Bouquetin, or Alpine Ibex, just a few hundred meters down the road. I soon located them, it looked like four youngsters, the smallest of which looked to be in a very precarious position on the cliff face. 
Bouquetin - youngster
I took a few photos then headed further in to the valley on foot, there was a mother group of about 8 Bouquetin this party including 2 adult males with decent horns. There were Ravens over the cliff tops and Crested and Marsh Tits among the trees but not sign of the Alpine Swifts which breed on the cliffs having returned yet.
Bouquetin - males
Returning to Sixt I went to Salvagny and a well known breeding site for Lammergeier. A French birdwatcher was the only other person in the car park and he was watching a Lammergeier as I arrived. A second bird soon appeared, both adults and they circled in front of the cliff for 15 or 20 minutes before finally landing, one bird in a cave and the other nearby. Not close for photography but a good view through a telescope.
The following day, Sunday, was forecast to be clear and so it was, a clear blue sky all day. I decided to get up high using the ski lift in Flaine which goes up to 2200m. I walked on the snow to the Tete de Pelouse, an area where I have regularly seen Snow Finch. It was 20 minutes or so before I first heard and then saw a Snow Finch. It was quite a distance away, several more appeared but were feeding on an inaccessible cliff face. I spent several hours in the area, an Alpine Accentor started singing from the rocks and I eventually picked it up having a preen.
Alpine Accentor
I followed the Snow Finches and eventually two birds came a little closer on to an area where there had been a small avalanche. The disadvantage for me was that stood watching them every so often a rock would come bounding down the slope to land on the snow quite close to where I was stood.
Snow Finch
Sometimes when I have been in this area the Snow Finches have come to the cafe by the lift but not today. I returned to the lift and took some more photos of the Alpine Choughs. When the light reflected off the snow catches the birds underside it is amazing how it lights up the black plumage.

Alpine Chough
This morning I did a walk towards the Refuge de Bostan in an area of old deciduous woodland. I was very pleased early on to flush two Hazel Grouse off the side of the path. They landed and ran in to the cover of the woodland giving no opportunity for a photo. That's the first time I have seen Hazel Grouse in all my years of visiting this area so I consider myself lucky to have seen them. It's a bird I would like to photograph so hopefully will get more chance later on.
Having reached the French Alps this really concludes Part 1 of my trip. I had decided at the outset that I wanted to spend more time in eastern Europe and Scandinavia than in western Europe so I have purposely dashed around Spain and France. Tomorrow I am heading for Slovenia and Croatia to begin Part 2.
Route completed at 11th April

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