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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Birding around the Gulf of Morbihan

We miss going birding as there are few places near where we live, so when I discovered that the area around the Gulf of Morbihan on the south coast has some nature reserves and marshy places which are good for birding, my mind was made up. It's migratory season right now and all we needed was for the weather forecast to look good. I picked a day, packed a picnic and off we set! We visited three sites, all on the east side of the gulf - the Marais de Duer, not far from Sarzeau, the Salines de Lasné near Saint Armel, and finally the Réserve Naturelle des Marais de Séné. These places are all about 1 hour 50 mins from home which is OK for a full day out, but oh how I wish we had the same kind of sites on the north coast!
Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The first place we visited was the Marais de Duer. Here there are two hides and various pathways leading to them. From where we parked we walked through a mini pine forest and there was a board showing that Black Woodpeckers inhabit this area. This is my most want to see bird, that I have looked for from the Alps to the Pyrenees, in vain! Of course we didn't see one, but almost as good, we saw three Crested Tits - my favourite bird. They were common garden birds visiting our feeders when we lived the other side of France, and we did see a few when we first moved to Chateau Moorhen, but not a one in the last eight years, sadly!

The first hide was a high one with two flights of steps up with a great view over the lagoons. I lugged my dslr around with me just to take landscape shots (and then cursed it for the rest of the day as most of where we visited was flat and I didn't dare leave it in the car). My SX50 superzoom was of course the camera needed to get the bird shots as even a 300mm lens on the dslr is pointless with the birds often being far away.

Just a note - we were very surprised in this first hide to find that all the windows were padlocked shut and we had to shoot through the plastic, which was a nuisance. We then found the same at every single hide, including the ones at the Nature Reserve at Séné. Very annoying, and it also made them rather hot and stuffy instead of nice places to have a good sit down and spend time in. :-(

View from the tall hide at the Marais de Duer taken with my dslr.
On the island are the Spoonbills seen in the picture below.

Not a good shot obviously having seen the distance,
but it was really cool to see these Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia).

We saw tons of Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) both here and later on in the day, so here are a selection of photos of them! I can't remember when I last saw any, although it must have been around the Med.

In the collage below, top left the bird is tending an egg in the nest which is just a scrape in the ground on the island.

Next stop was the Salines de Lasné. A saline is a an area where salt is made in salt pans, but we couldn't see any sign of this. All the salines looked drained and full of mud, the same for the area given over to oyster farming! There is an island very close to the salines which can be reached at low tide and the inhabitants can drive over during this time.

View out to the sea within the Gulf. The tide was coming in.

In terms of water birds there were very few seen here, but the walk along the 'digue' (sea wall) was very interesting for other species. We saw Wheatears, Linnets and for me a very exciting sighting of a Green Hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi). I've only ever seen them 18 years ago in south west France. I wasn't into butterflies back then but who can forget a tiny emerald green butterfly? Unfortunately my photos were rubbish!!

We also saw (and heard!) Zitting Cisticolas and saw a Cattle Egret in a back garden! My photos of the Egret were not very good as it was very distant, but were good enough for a definite ID.

Took a while to ID this pair, but they are Linnets (Carduelis cannabina).
The male however is not in breeding plumage which is the familiar pink chest
and pink top of head. We did see a male with those colours along this walk.
The female at the bottom is collecting nesting material.

This is a male Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).
We saw quite a few of them (or the same bird many times!)
I think they are really handsome birds.

We then moved on to the Nature Reserve at Séné. Here there is a visitor centre, picnic tables, toilets and a rooftop observation centre. If you want to visit their hides you have to pay though, but at €5 a head that was pretty reasonable I thought. By this time it was warming up quite a lot as this area is flat and inland a little bit from the main gulf (near a tidal river) and is sheltered from any cooling breezes from the sea.

My OH. Why are those viewing holes always at the wrong height?!
At least this was one place where you can take photos without
annoying plastic windows in front of you!

There were boardwalks leading to the hides (5 in total) and the blackthorn
was in blossom, butterflies were about and it was very pleasant
strolling through these sheltered areas.

Redshank (Tringa totanus)

The next two collaged photos show the two lifers that we saw that day. (A lifer is a bird (or other species) that you see for the first time).

Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus).

Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa).

The most common duck was the Shelduck which was at all the sites we visited. In fact there were very few ducks at all, and we only saw a few Mallards which made a nice change!

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), a very handsome duck.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) - the one on the left is a female.

Lastly, here is a test, dear readers. Who knows what this species is? ;-)

No prizes for guessing, though. Sorry. :-)

All in all, a fabulous day out seeing loads of migratory species. We plan to go back next month. I also found a website of the Friends of this nature reserve with a photo list of all species seen at the reserve, including butterflies, insects, spiders and Odonata (dragon and damselflies). They have such an amazing amount of butterfly species spotted here, including various Fritillaries and something I'd never even heard of which is a Mediterranean species, so I'm planning to go back in September too (once the kids are back at school and tourists gone) for the butterfies and Odonata! :-)

Species seen (not including very common birds):

1.  Shelducks
2.  Black Winged Stilts
3.  Avocets
4.  Spoonbills
5.  Little Egrets
6.  Crested Tits
7.  Blackcap
8.  Chiffchaff
9.  Zitting Cisticolas
10. Linnets
11. Wheatears
12. Cattle Egret 
13. Skylark
14. Black-tailed Godwit
15. Spotted Redshank
16. Redshank
17. Whitethroat (my OH saw it, I didn't)
18. Ringed Plover (possible, it was very distant)

Also heard many Cetti's Warblers.

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  1. What a great selection of birds ... and mostly one's I've never heard of. My favourite was the Shelduck - especially that photograph with the single one and it's reflection

    1. Hi Rosie and thanks. I'm not very clued up on waders myself as I don't see them very often. My OH is more knowledgeable and he ID'd the Spotted Redshanks. It also helped that there were pictures of the more commonly seen birds in the hides with the names in both French and English!

  2. Aww, the only time I would gotten an ID right I get no prize, Mrs. Moorhen :-((
    Reading your report of your wonderful day out makes me happy! Indeed very strange, that plastic covering, are they expecting the birds to fly in by any chance? ;-))
    Love the collection of species, dear Mandy! That redshank seems a determined guy and that shelduck is very appealing too! Funny little story to be invented in that avocet collage : the egg first lay safely on that patch, but then the male did something stupid and now its fallen into the water! He's looking for it while being watched and scolded by his wife!
    I'm sure you'll see many other species next time and glad for you your discovered this wonderful place!

    1. Hi Jan, thanks for visiting and I'm so sorry I'm not giving out prizes! In all the hides I've been in so far you open up the window and latch it open then close it again when you leave. One place in Spain last year there were swallows nesting inside and that was fun, looking out at the view, with swallows whizzing past your ear coming in to feed their babies. :-)

      I'm glad you noticed that pic in the collage of the avocet. I had thought about posting that separately because it looked to me like the bird was looking for its head which appeared on the other side! I thought it was funny. :-)

      I'm really pleased about discovering this place as it seemed very different to 'up here' and a bit more exotic than the north coast. The north coast is very rocky with cliffs and in some places amazing rock formations, and the south side flatter. But both have nice beaches!

  3. Looks like a great day out..with a good range of birds to see,shame the hide windows were locked..did you find out why ?

    1. Hi Amanda - it was a great day. Stupidly I didn't think to ask when we left. When we go back if the windows are still shut I will ask, because it would be horribly hot in summer and even in April there were flies inside trying to get out. Imagine that in July or August. Ugh!

  4. Morning Mmm (always makes me smile typing that), good birdy day out pics. I know we've been near the Golfe driving/cycling but never explored round the edges because we haven't camped there - we were just passing. As you say quite diffrent to your rocky north coast. Your little super-zoom manages to do the business and it was obviously a nice bright day. Google just popped a big zoom lens advert up (I'd been doing lens searches recently) £1980 for a big f2.8 200mm lens. I don't think so.

    Like the Avocet photos, especially the long necked one. Spoonbills I haven't seen in the flesh. Redshanks I've seen on farmland in Angus but I doubt if I'd realise I'd seen a Spotted one.

    Linnets I used to see frequently as a kid (in Angus again) along with Redpolls too, but I almost never see them round here - or even recently :-( Wonder if Rosie still sees them up Perth way.The woods round Rannoch were still pretty empty of birds when we there.

    Take it you'll be going back there occasionally now? We're off tomorrow for a couple of days in the campervan - Aberfeldy - to, nominally, celebrate my birthday. Wifi not advertised on the campsite - may 'disappear' till Monday.

    1. Sorry Nick, bit slow to reply to this. But you probably are having a great time without wifi anyway. :-)

      We've only seen a very little of the south coast of Brittany when we had a 5 day tour around south and north coasts with my mum, years ago. It all looks exotic compared to where I live, but I guess it would, wouldn't it? :-)

      It was very sunny so I set the camera on TV (shutter priority). The SX50 is not so easy on manual - too fiddly. By the way I looked at some lens prices too, not 200mm but more like 500mm plus. Was just looking at Canon prices for a laugh. Oh how I laughed at those prices! So short of winning the Lotto I'll have to put up with my SX50!

      You've seen a fair few birds then. I've never seen a Redpoll. Don't seem to see anything interesting at home anymore, always same old same old.

      Plan to visit this place again, definitely! Just not during 'les vacances', god forbid!