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France NEW! Dordogne in Autumn

A 5-day, small group birdwatching tour to the Dordogne region of southwest France

A delightful autumn birdwatching tour to the Dordogne, seeking Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor and other wintering birds, Eagle Owl, woodpeckers and two species of kite. Designed and led for us by David Simpson, author of the books ‘Birding Dordogne’ and the ‘Crossbill (Wildlife) Guide Dordogne’, and one of Dordogne’s many English residents who visited - and, somehow, never left! Enjoy the autumnal colours in this picturesque region of southwest France, with its pretty, honey-coloured stone-built villages and imposing chateaux set amidst a rich and varied rural landscape.

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
David Simpson

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 5 Days

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Cost: £1095

inc return flights from London Gatwick-Bordeaux, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £135
Land Only: £995

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The spectacular riverside cliffs of the Dordogne harbour wintering Wallcreepers, which desert their high mountain breeding haunts during the coldest months and can sometimes be seen here at close range © Robert Dolezal, birdwatcher.cz

Around 10° of latitude due south of the UK sits the landlocked Dordogne département, in southwest France. The landscape feels instantly recognisable to British visitors whilst the weather is warmer and with more chance of an Indian Summer. For the naturalist there are a wide range of interesting habitats including dry rocky hillsides, arable plains, heathlands and wetlands. However the area is dominated by oak forests set amongst mixed farmland with fine limestone meadows, cut through by the great Dordogne River itself beneath some impressive cliffs. Traditional farming and other land practices have left many wildlife habitats intact, making almost any location of interest.

November is a fine time for birding in the Dordogne. The region's winter visitors arrive, while its resident birds are still active and the climate can still be very comfortable.

Wintering alpine birds are a regular but little known feature of the Dordogne, coming to the lower levels here to escape the harsh conditions in Europe's high mountains. If you know the sites, Wallcreepers can be relatively 'easy' to find on the cliffs and ancient buildings beside the main rivers - our groups have seen up to three birds in one day! Come early November, a few Alpine Accentors often accompany them amongst the rocky ledges, too. Peregrines and Ravens are active in good weather, while Crag Martins - which only leave the Dordogne for a short period during the winter months - should still be cruising past the cliffs in the autumn sunshine.

With its extensive forests, the Dordogne is rich in woodpeckers, with up to five species to be found in autumn. Green and Great Spotted are the commonest species, but we will also visit woodlands that harbour the majestic Black Woodpecker. With sharp eyes, we could spot the tiny Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (which has a penchant for thinner branches in the treetops) and, with luck, we may encounter the elusive Middle Spotted - surely Europe's most attractive woodpecker and always a delight to see.

We have a chance of seeing Common Cranes - which migrate across this region in their thousands - and will be present during the Red Kite autumn migration, as birds move south into Spain. The localised but beautiful Black-winged Kite is now becoming established in this corner of Southwest France.

There are plenty of other interesting ‘locals’ to watch out for on our travels, including Cattle Egret, Hen Harrier, Stone-curlew, Crested Lark, Dipper, Crested Tit, Firecrest, Dartford and Cetti’s Warblers, Rock Sparrow, Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting - even Eurasian Eagle Owl, if we are lucky. If the sun smiles on us, there may be the chance of finding a few late butterflies – perhaps the last of the year’s Speckled Woods, Clouded Yellows, Red Admirals and Long-tailed Blues. Late flowers are another bonus with many species flowering well into the autumn here.

A visit to Le Teich bird reserve, at Arcachon Bay on the Bay of Biscay coast, will add variety and help to ensure our birding gets off to the best possible start. November shorebirds can include Great and Little Egrets, Spoonbill, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and Black-tailed Godwit.

Our guide David Simpson lives in the Dordogne and is author of the books ‘Birding Dordogne’ and the recently published ‘Crossbill (Wildlife) Guide Dordogne’. He designed and led our first two tours to the Dordogne (in May 2012 and 2013), as well as our first trip for Wallcreepers here back in February 2014 - all quickly sold out. He has continued to lead tours to Dordogne and these inaugural November breaks will be our ninth and tenth visits to Dordogne with David. Set yourself up for the winter with this delightful late season tour to rural France!

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In autumn, Cirl Buntings are to be found in scrubby hedgerows of the Faux Plateau © Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Day 1                                                                      
FLY BORDEAUX & LE TEICH BIRD RESERVE (BAY OF BISCAY)

Our late autumn birdwatching tour to France begins with a morning flight from London Gatwick to Bordeaux Mérignac Airport, where our resident guide David Simpson will be waiting to welcome us.

From Merignac, we travel 30-minutes westward to visit Le Teich bird reserve, at Arcachon Bay on the Bay of Biscay coast. Of international importance for its birdlife, Le Teich covers 110 hectares of coastal marshes with pools, reed beds, meadows, scrub and woodland. It is an 'RSPB style' reserve with an information centre, shop and restaurant - where we have lunch today - and 6km of paths to explore with many hides and viewpoints. The reserve's bird list is impressive (more than 300 species so far recorded), with Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night Heron, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Marsh Harrier all possible here in November. We'll stay until mid-afternoon before heading off eastward for the two and half hour drive to Mauzac.

Early evening arrival at our cosy riverside hotel in Mauzac, in the picturesque Dordogne, which will be our base throughout. If conditions are suitable we aim to pay a dusk visit to an Eagle Owl site on one evening during the holiday. Night Mauzac

Day 2
WALLCREEPERS & MORE!

The spectacular riverside cliffs of the Dordogne harbour wintering Wallcreepers, which desert their high mountain haunts during the late autumn and winter months and can sometimes be seen here at close range. We will spend time today concentrating on getting good views of this incomparable bird. Though patience is often required, our groups have enjoyed many superb views over the years - including several particularly photogenic individuals on the stone-tiled roof of a medieval church!

As we search for the crimson-winged climber, there will be plenty of other birds to enjoy: Ravens, Peregrines and Crag Martins should be about and, with any luck we might add Alpine Accentor and Water Pipit, too. Night Mauzac

Day 3
FOREST AND HEATHLAND DAY

Until comparatively recently, the Dordogne landscape was a much more open landscape. However, since the 19th century progressive abandonment of traditional extensive grazing on the hills and marginal farming has led to a great increase in the area of woodland such that today nearly 50% of the département is classified as 'forest'. Indeed, to the visitor the overriding impression of the region is one of being largely wooded.

Although we have other woodland opportunities during the trip, today is our main 'forest and heath' day. We'll spend time visiting a variety of woodland sites – some dominated by pine, others by sub-Mediterranean habitat of Downy and Holm Oaks - searching for resident birds such as Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch and Crested Tit. We will keep an eye (and especially ear!) out for the mighty Black Woodpecker and its distinctive call. Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are quieter, but once known their distinctive calls help to locate them. Amongst scrubby patches of garrigue and heath, we hope to find Dartford Warbler and Woodlark.

Checking the skies, Red Kites pass through in numbers on their way south - and we may also be lucky to see a flock or two of migrating Common Cranes. In the evening, we return to our hotel in Mauzac. Night Mauzac

Day 4
PLATEAU DE FAUX

The Plateau de Faux is one of the best bird-watching areas in the Dordogne, its landscape of fields, scrub, small woods and overgrown hedgerows contrasting with the well-wooded majority of Dordogne.

As we start our search for farmland birds perhaps a ghostly male Hen Harrier will quarter a field or a Crested Lark or small flock of Rock Sparrows might be seen foraging on a recently tilled field. In autumn, perky Stonechats and Cirl and Corn Buntings perch on the scrubby hedgerows.

This area of the Dordogne has been blessed by a recently established population of Black-winged Kite, which are slowly colonising from Spain. We will spend time searching for one perched atop an isolated tree or hovering above an open field. There is even a chance of the localised Southern Grey Shrike on winter territory.

Late autumn migration will still be underway so we could well find Black Redstart, Serin and perhaps the last Swallows. We will search for a regular pre-migration flock of Stone-curlews, which favour large fields in the area, as do the odd covey of Red-legged Partridges. If time allows, we will visit a local stream for Dipper and a reservoir for waterbirds including egrets before returning to our hotel for dinner. Night Mauzac

Day 5            
BERGERAC & MARAIS DE BRUGES (BORDEAUX), FLY LONDON

We leave our hotel at Mauzac after breakfast this morning and head back west towards Bordeaux. If time permits, we may stop at the pasturelands near Bergerac for another quick look for Cattle Egret and the elusive Black-winged Kite.

After lunch at a restaurant in Bordeaux, we head to the nearby Marais de Bruges, which lie close to the River Garonne. One of the last remnants of the Grand Marias de Bordeaux, the Bruges Marshes reserve is an important wetland with hides and we will spend the afternoon here watching for White Stork, wildfowl, waders and passerine migrants as our autumn tour to Southwest France draws to a close.

Our birding over, we travel the short distance to Bordeaux Merignac Airport for farewells to David and check-in for our evening flight back to London Gatwick, where the tour concludes.

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Almost 50% of Dordogne is forested, and we'll spend time searching for resident birds such as Firecrest (above), Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch and Crested Tit © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

A 5-day, small group autumn birdwatching tour to the Dordogne, in southwest France, seeking Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor and other wintering birds, Eagle Owl, woodpeckers and two species of kite. Designed and led for us by David Simpson, author of the books ‘Birding Dordogne’ and the ‘Crossbill (Wildlife) Guide Dordogne’, and one of Dordogne’s many English residents who visited - and, somehow, never left!

Enjoy the autumnal colours in this picturesque region of southwest France, a land of pretty honey-coloured stone-built villages and imposing chateaux set amidst a rich and varied rural landscape.

November weather in Dordogne is changeable but there are often sunny days, with afternoon temperatures in the range of 5-15C (41-59F). Some rainfall is likely at this season and frosts are possible overnight.

Birds

90-100 species

Accommodation

4 nights accommodation at Hotel La Barrage- a small, fairly simple but cosy riverside hotel with good food in the sleepy village of Mauzac. All rooms are en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 5. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Lunches will usually be taken in auberges to sample the local cuisine ‘du terroir’.

Please note that David will take lunches and evening meals with the group but as he only lives nearby breakfasts will be 'sans David' - he will call by and pick you up from the hotel after breakfast each day.

Walking

Easy. The scenery around here is beautiful and the location perfect for easy, relaxed birding, much of it possible on foot. Stout walking shoes or lightweight boots with good, corrugated soles for grip recommended.

Travel

Return flights London Gatwick to Bordeaux Merignac, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport   By minibus.

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Dwindling in the UK, farmland species such as Corn Bunting are doing well in dry farmland areas of the Dordogne © Brian Small, Limosa

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