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France - The Vendee May 1st – 8th 2004 based at St, Jean-de-Monts

(“Oscars Tours” merge with Rossell’s Tours”)

Introducing the gang:

Mark “the Prawn re-cycling plant” Rossell: Travel & accommodation organiser
Louis “Desperado” Csizmazia: Driver & Bar-B-Chef
George “Monsieur Haw He Haw” Dodds: Identification consultant and language tutor
Pete “Forrest Gump” Thornton: Entertainments officer (where is Alexis now?)
Howard (Oscar) Orridge: Navigator through France, No. 2 chef and bird / site researcher (well one of us has to take control!)

Itinerary:
April 30th leave Asfordby by 16:45 to get ferry at Portsmouth at 23:00
May 1st drive from Cherboug to Foret de Rennes for short birding stop then on to Haven Europe Caravan site at St. Jean-de-Monts, Vendee.
May 2nd Local birding around St. Jean-de-Monts – shop for food supplies at Super U
May 3rd Am Port du Bec, L’Epoids area, Port des Champs
Pm Ile De Noirmoutier: Du Gois crossing, Le clere plage, L’Herbaudiere
May 4th Ile D’Olonne, Foret Domaniale D’Olonne, E.Leclerc supermarket in Le Sables D’Olonne
May 5th Guerande to Le Croisic area near St. Nazaire. Le Parc Briere Nationale at St. Lyphard
May 6th Le Lac Du Grande Lieu (4 sites around the lake)
May 7th Chateauneuf
May 8th Return home – sea watch from ferry

Acknowledgements & References:
Trip reports uploaded to various Web sites were used to gain some information, but Gosney’s Guide “Birds in Northern France” was still useful even after 14 years, and Where to Watch Birds in France was also a useful guide for a few sites.

We met at Marks house Friday 30th April, loaded Louis’s car up with the kit and made quick time to Portsmouth in order to catch the overnight Ferry “Pride of Bilbao” to Cherbourg.
We had a quick evening meal prior to setting sail, and enjoyed a couple of pints before retiring to fairly comfortable cabins to get some sleep.

May 1st
George and I woke as the dawn was breaking, we must have woke Pete as we got dressed and went up on deck to see what was flying by.
A Gannet was the first bird on the list followed by Blackcap and Whitethroat! A few migrants in great need of a rest, but did they not realise they were going back the way they had come?
As we approached Cherbourg, a peregrine came swooping around the boat, obviously hoping for a passerine snack, but it was unlucky on this occasion as the warblers remained out of sight.
We were quickly off the boat and on our way towards our first stop at Rennes. Many common species were seen on route, Wheatear, Common Buzzard and a party of 5 White Storks were the highlights.
I had made some rather basic calculations of where one of our target species should be in the Foret de Rennes. Within moments of us parking the car in an area that “looks good” we had a female Black Woodpecker flying around us. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. This was a lifer for most of us, and the image of the bird flying through the tree trunks and landing on a nearby trunk will remain with us all for a very long time. This was Louis’s first trip with us and he was absolutely amazed that we could make such a fantastic start to the tour! You ain’t seen nothing yet!
We added a few more common species here plus Short-toed Treecreeper a bird that was still a lifer for me!
We continued on our journey to the Haven campsite “Bois Masson” at St.Jean-de-Monts
Picking up more species including BW Stilt and Montagu’s Harrier along the way.
The caravan itself was an “Elite” model, large enough for 5 guys to sleep without sharing any beds and getting intimate. There was plenty of living space and cooking and dining room as well.
We used the camp shop for a few provisions (beer, breakfast, lunch and more beer) to see us through until we could get to a super market the following day.
A very good meal was had at the local Restaurant – and was not too pricey until the beer was added! Very expensive!

May 2nd St. Jean-de-Mont campsite
First birds of the day were 3 Hoopoes “whoop whooping” nearby, they showed themselves, a little bit of display and then disappeared not to be seen again.
A couple of Crested Tits were feeding on a fence by the caravan, and a Black Redstart perched and sang at the top of a leafless tree.
Following a shopping trip for necessary provisions we decided to visit the Beach and Dunes area nearby.
A few Wheatears, Linnets and Sand Martins were seen, then one of our targets a Tawny Pipit made us work hard to get good views. A Cuckoo spent a little time working its way along the dunes in parallel with us, occasionally calling. Butterflies included Wall Brown and Scare Swallowtail.
A Turtle Dove had landed on the sandy track in front of us, we don’t get many opportunities to see these super birds in Leicestershire any more, so it was worth spending a little time looking at it.
As we made our way back towards the car a Hairy Dragonfly, a blue headed Yellow Wagtail and Red-legged Partridge were seen.

We moved a mile or so away from the sea towards Notre Barre de Monts and into some marshy areas with lots of ditches and dykes. Fan-tailed warbler (Zitter) Reed Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler were all added here along with scores of Little Egrets, BW Stilt, Avocets and double figure counts of Montagu’s Harriers. There were birds, dragonflies, butterflies and various beetle species everywhere you turned. What a fantastic area to be in!
We returned back to base and knocked up a bar-b-que bonanza. Unfortunately we forgot about the sardines left on the cooling bar-b, but when we remembered, and went out to get them, they had all gone! Tell tale footprints indicated a moggy had staked us out and made a quick snatch and grab. We joked that if we could find the culprit we would have put it on the bar-b!

May 3rd St. Jean-de-Mont campsite
The Black Redstart and Crested Tits greeted us again this morning, but there was no further sign of the Hoopoes.
I had a few good sites planned for today and we began at Port du Bec, moving through L’Epoids to Bouin and then onto Ports des Champs.
Birds included 20+ Montagu’s Harriers, at least 5 Bluethroats (Gorge Bleu) Med Gulls, Yellow legged Gulls, Whimbrel, Stonechat, Melodious Warbler, several singing Corn Buntings and the star attraction was a Short-toed Eagle hovering over the marsh about 200 metres away.
The afternoon was spent travelling around the Ile de Noirmoutier, we did not find some of the recommended sites, but we were pleased with those we did find. The Du Gois crossing on the D948 was superb for many wader species, with 500+ dunlin feeding and whirling around us.
A stop at Le Clere Plage added a few terns to the list: Black, Sandwich, Common and Whiskered all in good numbers. Moving around the Ile we saw Serin, Cirl Bunting (the only one) and 4 Sacred Ibis at L’Herbaudiere.
Back at the site we polished off a Curry, a Kilo of prawns and some sardines that the cat had not been able to get at (fortunately placed in the fridge) along with the mandatory bottles of beer.

4th May
A Serin was singing on the campsite early in the morning, and was probably the best bird of the day as we experienced quite a lot of rain.
We visited a reserve at I’le D’Olonne and also the Foret Domaniale D’Olonne where we had a Red Squirrel and a Firecrest.
A shopping trip was scheduled and we stocked up on wine, beer and provisions at a huge Leclerc supermarket near O’lonne. Very good prices on wines and a massive variety to choose from.
The evening’s entertainment was unfortunately watching Newcastle get beaten by the French favourites in the Cup Final. Never looked liked scoring!

5th May
We travelled about 60k up the coast over the Loire to an area called Guerande and also around Le Croisic. New birds were to be a bit harder to find here but we did find a couple of Black-necked Grebes and Rock Pipit to add to the list along with the more common species.
In the afternoon we moved on to Le Parc Briere Nationale at ST. Lyphard.
Here we saw 10 Sacred Ibis, our first Black Kite of the trip, 2 male and 1 female Garganey, heard Savi’s Warbler and watched a Coypu swimming around for a few minutes.
It must have been a lousy evening because I can’t remember anything about it, other than cooking up some egg noodles and sweet and sour mushrooms to go with our selection of Prawns and Meat that Louis was so expertly grilling.

6th May Le Lac du Grand Lieu
We made 4 stops at selected site around this huge lake, the first stop at St. Aignan Grandlieu
Was a haven for long legged birds with 12+ Cattle, 1 Squacco Heron, 5+ Great White Egrets and a Spoonbill to open play with.
A couple of Purple Herons put in an appearance, along with hundreds of Black and Whiskered Terns. There were many thousands of Swifts, 18 Sacred Ibis, kingfisher, Whinchat and a couple more Garganey.
This site is an absolute must for any visiting birder, with magnificent views across a tiny part of the lake.
We moved to the next site at Passay where we saw a single Night Heron and our first Sedge Warbler of the trip. High water levels stopped us from walking along the edge of the lake, and I would recommend having a look another time.
Next stop was a quick detour for Croissants and then to Pont de St. Martin.
This place was really nice; a walk alongside a slow moving river, through a tree lined meadow and into some mixed woodland.
Grey Wagtail, Golden Oriole showing off rather well and a Duke of Burgundy Fritillary Butterfly were new for us here.
The last site at St. Lumine-de-Coutais had another fantastic view across the lake, but it was the Hirundines and Great Crested Grebes that were most numerous here, with Tree Pipit and a Green Woodpecker added to the list.
Who was it that walked through the only pile of dog shit for miles on the way back along the road?
On the way back through the Marais Bretone we saw 4 Spoonbills along with the usual long legged waders and Montagu’s Harriers.
As I recall, Chelsea were playing in the final of the Champions league and we had a couple of beers. What exactly they had done to the beer I do not know, but the next day my guts were absolutely churning.

7th May
Pete and Lou felt as bad as me today but I decided to stay behind and rest up. I felt a bit better by midday and had a walk around the block adding Nightingale to the site list and had another look at our Black redstart. The others went to ChateauNeuf Abbey to see the nesting White Storks, and also added a Long-eared Owl to the tally.

8th May Cherbourg – Portsmouth
Today we had to make our way home. We had an early start in order to make Cherbourg in time for the Ferry. Birds were seen en-route, but no notes were taken (the post holiday blues setting in early?) We managed a quick spot of lunch before setting sail for Blighty, and then made our way on deck for a bit of sea watching. Well we saw plenty of sea, but birds were a bit harder to find. Along with a few Gulls and Gannets we managed Kittiwakes, Fulmar, a single Manx Shearwater, Razorbills and a Great Shearwater.
The entrance into Portsmouth was a little special, with war ships old and new in dock.
The Victory was a fine specimen of past glory, but was dwarfed by the new Ark Royal.
We were soon unloaded and on the road home, Louis making very good time and allegedly only breaking the speed limit twice (once when going over it and the second time coming back down through it!)
George was keeping score of the species as we went along and we ended up with a fine total of 144

Many thanks to all participants for your company, humour and enthusiasm. And also for
allowing me once again to create the itinerary.


Oscar

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