Sunday, 13 July 2008

Day Trip to France

"Chut!" - the sound that a birder makes when an unidentified bird disappears into the scrub.
Three of us took a trip to the NW edge of France, rarely out of sight of England, birding all the way. It started well with a Mediterranean Gull in Dover harbour and a flock of nine Gannets flying down channel.
White Cliffs of Dover (spot the kittiwakes)

Sandy beach of Calais

The first stop was Oye Plage and the five or so miles from Calais tested my map-reading skills to the limit (I failed, and SteveR had to do a 5-point turn in a field). The main hide held just one other birder and there were only a handful seen all day. SteveR had seen a lifer before Pete had put up his telescope - a Great White Egret showing large as life in the lagoon in front of us. More great sights were one each of Spoonbill, Wood Sandpiper, Black-Tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover (not Kentish, dammit) and Greenshank, with a scattering of Lapwings, Grey Herons, Mute Swans, Little Egrets, Shovellers, Coots and a family of Tufted Ducks. Three Marsh Harriers were perched in the same bush and lifted off from time to time to survey the area.
We then walked the circuit around the lagoon area, hearing and seeing about five Turtle Doves on the way. At one point was an area of scrub and Rosebay Willowherb - classic territory for....a superbly singing Marsh Warbler. The display was extraordinary with phrases and cadences of other birds' calls tumbling over each other. I can understand the description of 'a jazz-influenced nightingale'.
Young chiffchaff (more obliging than the Marsh Warbler)

The path traversed the dunes, and a Ringed Plover (still not Kentish!!) and a few Common Terns were on the beach, while Sandwich Terns laden with food passed overhead. A strange and irritatingly repetitive 'sitt' was heard in the grass but not identified until we were further along the walk, when it occured again, this time with a small bird attached to it. The memory was cajoled into some kind of action, and matching 'irritating call' with 'little bird' came up with Zitting Cisticola, aka Fan-Tailed Warbler. I didn't realise that they bred this far north, despite a brief visit of one to Bockhill in August 2006.

We were using John Cantelo's excellent guide to birding in northern France, and although time was short we decided to visit Guines marshes. There was little to see or hear, but we were able to watch Water Voles and dragonflies from the hides, and occupied our time deciding if a nearby hoarse Sedgie could in fact be an Aquatic Warbler. SteveR should know, since he spends most of his weekends in the reeds, and he concluded that it wasn't.
We also had good views of a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by House Martins, which struck us as unusual.

Finally back to the port, via the old hoverport which is reputedly worth checking out but is now covered with trucks from all over Europe. A family of Ringed Plovers (you guessed it - not Kentish) and another Med. Gull were seen but it wasn't until we were nearly inside the terminal that we spotted our quarry, in the unmistakable form of a Crested Lark by the side of the road. They are quite frequent here, but there are only two records of them appearing in Kent, in 1879 and 1975.
Another Med. Gull and more Gannets and were seen as the ferry approached Dover, concluding a great day. We sometimes wonder why more of the land birds that are relatively common just twenty miles away don't appear more often in Britain - I think the wonder is that any fly across at all.


Warren Baker said...

Sounds like a good day out steve,
I enjoyed reading about it.

Boulmer Birder said...

As Wallace and Grommit would say - a grand day out!

Mary said...

Just for the record, I'm pretty sure that "chut" is not the sound I make when a bird disappears. You saw so many different birds I lost track! That was a very fat caterpillar and I love the photos of the birds flying at the end. The birds outside that hide looked must have gotten lots of terrific shots there! All in all a wonderful day out!

Greenie said...

Ahoy there !
Wot , no Little Owls on the list !
Really enjoyed reading the blog .
What a great list .

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

Wonderful! Can't imagine a "day trip to France." :-) Nice that you can do that. Your pictures are fantastic!

Adam said...

Great day - making me want to take a trip!


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