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France Wallcreepers, Camargue & Provence

A 7-day, single-centre birdwatching tour to the south of France

Set yourself up for the spring with this delightful small group tour to Provence, in the south of France. Watching for Wallcreeper, Eagle Owl and Alpine Accentor amid the beautiful limestone hills of Les Alpilles; Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Calandra Lark on the Crau; and Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis and Penduline Tit in one of Europe’s premier wetland sites - the Camargue. Join us for a bird-filled, out-of-season holiday led by David Fairhurst, making his ninth visit to the region.

Tour Dates



David Fairhurst

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 7 Days

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Cost: £1560*

inc return flights from London Heathrow to Marseille, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £160*
Land Only: £1435

* Prices Provisional (tba)

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Wallcreeper Czech Republic tour Dec 2015 Robert Dolezal copy resized

Our winter tour to the Camargue and Provence is an excellent trip for anyone wishing to see Wallcreeper, which has a penchant for the low limestone hills of Les Alpilles - where it can be found alongside Alpine Accentor! © Robert Dolezal, birdwatcher.cz

Situated at the heart of the immense Rhône delta in southwest Provence, the Camargue is one of Western Europe’s largest and most important wetland sites. Though rightly famous for its spectacular colony of Greater Flamingos in summer, the fact that this wonderful corner of France has been largely ignored by birdwatchers during the winter months is surprising. For not only do large numbers of flamingos remain but the marshes are an important refuge for a wealth of wintering birds. When the nearby stony flats of La Crau, picturesque limestone hills of Les Alpilles and the alpine habitats of Mont Ventoux are included too, then the bird-life of this quiet corner of France assumes even greater appeal.

In addition to its beautiful flamingos, Provence boasts an impressive and wide-ranging list of speciality birds in winter - including a number that can be difficult to see elsewhere in Europe. Glossy Ibis, Great Egret, Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Slender-billed Gull, Eagle Owl, Alpine Accentor, Penduline Tit and Citril Finch are all possible on our visit here in March - and this is an excellent trip for anyone wishing to see Wallcreeper, which has a penchant in winter for the limestone hills that lie inland of the coast.

Common Cranes winter in the south of France and the cereal fields of the Camargue offer a good opportunity to see these majestic birds. We'll check one or two favoured spots for the oft-elusive Western Swamphen and keep watch for the first spring migrants such as Garganey, Black Kite and White Stork; come early March, some of the latter may already be back at their nests. The Iberian form of Southern Grey Shrike is resident (occurring here at the northernmost limit of its range), while farmland fringing the Crau is a regular wintering site for Richard’s Pipit (which breeds in Siberia). These much larger cousins of the Meadow Pipit normally winter in Southeast Asia, but a handful of birds also occur in Western Europe - and in March we have a chance of seeing them here!

On one day, we'll head north to explore Mont Ventoux (1912m), where upland forests of beech and pine offer chances of Black Woodpecker, Firecrest, Common Crossbill and Citril Finch.

To make the most of our stay, we spend all six nights at Mas de la Feniere, a converted rural farmhouse hotel set in countryside a few miles outside Arles. The hotel has a reputation for serving delicious Provençale food using locally sourced ingredient and its location is perfect for easy access to all the best birdwatching spots - including our favourite cliffs for Eagle Owl!

Our 2018 tour will be guide David Fairhurst's eleventh trip to France and his ninth visit to the Camargue and Provence in winter.

Hundreds of Greater Flamingos can be seen at Bonanza saltpans © Stephen Daly/www.andalucianguides.com

The Camargue is famous for its colony of Greater Flamingoes, large numbers of which remain on the wetlands there in winter © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife


Our winter birdwatching tour to the south of France begins with a British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Marseille. From here, an easy 50-minute drive brings us to our hotel a few miles southeast of historic Arles, a fine medieval town set beside the River Rhône, where we stay for all six nights of our tour.

We should arrive at our hotel in time to enjoy a light lunch there and afterwards our first taste of winter birding in Provence. Night near Arles

DAYS 2 - 6

With roads radiating out to the north, south, east and west, Arles gives excellent access to the region's key birding sites, including Les Alpilles, the Crau, the remarkable Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, Mont Ventoux - and of course, the famous Camargue.

Few of Europe's wetland sites can rival the Camargue for birds. While much of the northern part of the immense Rhône delta has been converted to rice fields, further south there are still wide expanses of reedmarsh, lakes, saltpans and Mediterranean steppe. During a typical Provençal winter (when there is no snow or ice), the whole area remains rich in birds and spring comes early. Our March visit is designed to catch the best of the region's winter birds before they disperse as well as offering chances of early returning migrants such as Black Kite, Stone-curlew and Fan-tailed Warbler. Even Hoopoe is possible.

In winter, clusters of Black-necked Grebes, Cormorants, Red-crested Pochard and other waterfowl gather on the vast Etang de Vaccares, at the heart of the reserve. About a quarter of the Camargue’s 20,000 Greater Flamingos remain year-round, affording excellent views from the roads that skirt the reserve. Winter waders might include Avocet, Kentish Plover, Spotted Redshank and Little Stint. We should also find Sandwich Terns along the shore and will check carefully through the flocks of loafing Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls for the scarce Mediterranean Gull and an early Slender-billed Gull or two.

In the reedbeds and fringing scrub we’ll listen for the spring songs of Cetti’s Warblers and Chiffchaffs, and the booming of Bitterns; all three species are resident in the Camargue and can be heard on bright sunny days from late February onwards. Water Rail, Water Pipit and Bearded Tit also frequent the winter marshes, and one or two Whiskered Terns are sometimes about - as is the diminutive Penduline Tit (though the latter is often heard, it can be tricky to find!). Little and Cattle Egrets lend a definite ‘Mediterranean’ flavour - and winter brings small numbers of stately Great Egrets, too - as we keep an eye out for the first Garganey and Swallows of spring. The incredible sight of at least 35 Western Swamphens in an area of cut reed was a highlight on our March 2017 tour!

The Camargue is an excellent spot for birds of prey in winter. Marsh Harriers are plentiful here and, in March, we may add the odd Merlin, Hen Harrier, Black Kite and Booted Eagle, too.

Northeast of Arles, the wooded limestone cliffs and canyons of Les Alpilles are prime breeding habitat for Eagle Owl. These enormous birds are also at their most vocal in late winter, making this the optimum time to look - and our 2017 group enjoyed superb views. The sight of one glaring back at us with fiery orange eyes is never to be forgotten!

Below the bare limestone crags and bluffs, the scrub-covered hillsides of Les Alpilles conceal skulking Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, while the pine-clad lower slopes hold Woodlark, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper and Cirl Bunting. Raven, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush also frequent these picturesque hills in winter.

In March, we also have excellent chances to see Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor, two high alpine specialities that come down from Europe's highest mountains to spend the winter months in the lower and warmer limestone hills of Provence. Both species can be very confiding.

Covering an area of 600 sq. km, the Crau is a dry, stony steppe-like plain characterised by low growing herbs such as Rosemary and Thyme. This unique habitat holds some specialist birds including Little Bustard, Calandra Lark and an isolated - and elusive - population of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Red Kites roam the Crau in winter and the scattered trees and bushes make perfect lookouts for the Southern Grey Shrike.

In recent winters, small numbers of chunky Richard’s Pipits have been found wintering in farmland fringing the Crau and we'll check a couple of 'traditional' haunts. This is a bird which breeds in Siberia and normally winters in Southeast Asia, so it's quite a surprise (not to mention a challenge) to find them here!

Further north, Mont Ventoux rises to 1912m (6273ft). Well known to devotees of the Tour de France, its sheltered southern slopes are clothed in forests of beech and pine, where Black Woodpecker, Crested Tit and Common Crossbill can often be found. In March, we have further chances of seeing Alpine Accentor here and may again be lucky to find the elusive Citril Finch.

We will also visit the stunning Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. Built in the first century AD, this fantastic bridge has three tiers of arches and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not just the culture we are after here, for the bridge is a popular winter roost site for the difficult-to-find Rock Sparrow. In the late afternoon, small parties arrive to pass the night tucked safely within the small nooks and crannies within the bridge. As a nice little bonus, the Pont du Gard is also a reliable spot to see Crag Martins - and both our March 2016 and 2017 groups enjoyed seeing Alpine Swift and superb close views of Wallcreeper here, too!

If the sun comes out to warm the day, early spring butterflies in the Camargue can include Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Clouded Yellow, Bath White, Western Dappled White and Green Hairstreak. Giant Orchid is an early flowering species and some years there can be impressive stands to enjoy. Five further nights Arles


We make our way back to Marseille this morning and catch a British Airways flight back to London, where our tour concludes.

Limosa group Pont du Gard France 0317 David Fairhurst DSC05317 resized

Built in the first century AD, the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard has three tiers of arches and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's also happens to be a great spot to look for Wallcreeper and Rock Sparrow! © David Fairhurst

What To Expect

A 7-day, late winter birdwatching tour to the Camargue and Provence, in the south of France. Watching for Wallcreeper plus Eagle Owl and Alpine Accentor amid the beautiful limestone hills of Les Alpilles; Richard's Pipit, Little Bustard and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse on the unique Crau 'steppe'; and Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis and Purple Swamphen in one of Europe’s premier wetland sites - the Camargue.

In early March, the weather in the south of France is usually mild and sunny, with temperatures in the range of 6-15C (43-59F), and daily averages of 11C/51F and 9 hours of sunshine. March is by far the driest of the winter months (average of 7 rainfall days). Note that it can feel cold on days when the northerly Mistral is blowing down the Rhone valley; also at altitude on Mont Ventoux - so be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing to 'layer up' as required.


120-140 species

If the sun comes out to warm the day, early spring butterflies in the Camargue can include Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Clouded Yellow, Bath White, Western Dappled White and Green Hairstreak.

Giant Orchid is an early flowering species and some years there can be impressive stands to enjoy.


6 nights accommodation at Mas de la Feniere (French Tourist Board 3-star), a converted 19th century farmhouse hotel set in countryside a few miles southeast of Arles. We've been coming here for years and it’s the ideal base for our winter tour.


All main meals are included in the tour price, usually commencing with lunch on Day 1 and concluding with breakfast on Day 7. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel, where the restaurant serves delicious Provençale home cooking. Lunches will usually be taken as picnics in the field.


Easy. The countryside around the Camargue and La Crau is flat and the going easy. Some hill trails in Les Alpilles and at Mont Ventoux, but nothing too strenuous and always taken at a gentle pace.

Sturdy waterproof walking shoes or boots recommended in the hills; lightweight walking shoes or trainers should be suitable elsewhere.


Direct flights from London Heathrow to Marseille with British Airways.

Ground Transport is by minibus.

Alpine Accentors put on a great show at the Port de Gavarnie © Arnoud van den Berg

Alpine Accentors can often be confiding at their winter home in Les Alpilles © Arnoud van den Berg, Limosa Holidays

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