Thursday, 10 November 2016

Gruissan & Carcassonne 3rd - 12th October

Pam and I took up Ryanair's offer of cheap flights to Carcassonne in southern France in early October, it was about £8 outbound and £25 for the return, plus baggage etc. so a very good offer.
We stayed at the Hotel Port Beach in Gruissan for four nights then 5 nights at the Residence Adonis La Barbacane in Carcassonne. Neither were particularly cheap but provided decent accommodation in good locations.
The pools and salt pans in the immediate area around Gruissan had plenty of common birds with large groups of Greater Flamingo and the usual Srardinian Warblers and Crested Larks. The area of Etang de Ayro Ue a couple of kilometres SW of the town had Woodlark and Firecrest and plenty of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps.
Just inland from Gruissan there is a wooded area with deep valleys known as La Clape this area is home to Eagle Owl and possibly Bonelli's Eagle but I didn't see much here but didn't spend a lot of time looking but came across a Preying Mantis.
La Clape

Preying Mantis
The area that impressed me most was the Lac de Pissevache on the coast just north of St Pierre la Mer. This is an area of coastal pools and salt marsh. Although it appears to be a bird reserve there are shooting butts around the perimeter so some hunting must be permitted.
Lac de Pissevache
There were a couple of Black-necked and single Great Crested Grebes on the pool by the campsite and about half a dozen Kentish Plover with Ringed Plover and Dunlin but the site has produced many rarer waders.
Black-necked Grebe
About 100 Yellow-legged Gulls roosted on the pools.  The salt marsh had a decent population of Dartford Warblers. One morning we had three Common Crane circle the pools before continuing south to Spain.
Common Cranes
Just inland there is an interesting deep pool called the Gouffre de L'Oeil Doux which had Blue Rock Thrush and Cirl Bunting.
Gouffre de L'Oeil Doux with Pissevache in background

We made several stops at the migration watch point at the Roc de Conhilac and picked up small numbers of Booted Eagle, Honey Buzzards and what could have been resident Marsh Harriers. On a good day with the right winds several hundred raptors may pass over the rock.

Booted Eagle

We encountered several more Booted Eagles as we drove around with up to 6 in a day.
This late in the year butterflies were not seen in large numbers but most coastal places we stopped had Long-tailed Blue and we saw about half a dozen Two-tailed Pasha including inland around Carcassonne.
Two-tailed Pasha

The birding around Carcassonne was quieter with Black Redstarts and Jackdaws around the old town but we made the two hour drive up to the Pyrenean migration watch point at Eyne.
Black Redstart - male
This is a wide valley at around 1700m which is manned almost continuously through the autumn with sightings posted on the LPO Aude web site

Watch Point at Eyne
The numbers of birds passing here is impressive, whilst we were there flocks of Chaffinches, Siskin, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit and White Wagtails were moving in the hundreds with several Serin and Citril Finch. Raptors were visible in small groups most of the time but many were distant and a telescope is needed to put a name to the majority although some must fly directly over the watch point. We had 37 Griffon Vulture and Booted and Short-toed Eagles. The wooded areas bordering the valley had good numbers of Firecrest and Crested Tit.
Crested Tit

The area is well worth a visit particularly when there are cheap flights on offer but the migration of birds of prey doesn't compare with Tarifa either for numbers, variety or views. 

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