France

French Pyrenees In Summer

An 8-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching tour to the French Pyrenees

Limosa’s summer birdwatching tour to southwest France is a single-centre, small group holiday centred on the glorious Gavarnie Valley, right at the heart of the beautiful French Pyrenees. Against a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery and the dramatic rock wall of the magnificent Cirque de Gavarnie, we look for an unrivalled range of alpine birds - including Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Rock Thrush, Citril Finch and Snowfinch - and 50 or more species of butterfly. For wildlife and walking, our summer birding tour to France finds the Pyrenees at their very best - and in June, the Pyrenean plants can provide a wonderful distraction, too!

Tour Dates & Prices

Wed 16th June 2021

Wed 23rd June 2021

  • Spaces

4 Spaces Available

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1795* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £300Single Supp: £195*Land Only: £1675*Group Size: 7Leaders:  David Fairhurst

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Return flights - London Heathrow to Toulouse, nonstop with British Airways
  • 7 nights accommodation in France, staying at a good and comfortable hotel in the Gavarnie Valley
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (hotels, etc) & taxes
  • Map & Limosa Checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • A wonderful week of alpine birdwatching and butterflies in the beautiful French Pyrenees
  • Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Alpine Accentor, Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Citril Finch, Snowfinch
  • Clouded Apollo, Piedmont Ringlet and Gavarnie Blue among 50 or more possible butterflies
  • Summer wildflowers include Alpine Snowbell, orchids and High Pyrenean endemics
  • Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers possible - even Wallcreeper, if we are very lucky!
  • Easy walking, delicious picnics and great birding amid spectacular mountain scenery
  • Single-centre, small group holiday - maximum of 7 participants
  • Expertly led by Limosa guide and all-round naturalist David Fairhurst

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Heathrow-Toulouse. We drive west via a stop at some excellent butterfly meadows in the Pyrenean foothills to reach our hotel in the Gavarnie Valley. Night Luz St. Sauveur

  • A programme of easy walks and excursions in search of Pyrenean birds and butterflies. Six further nights Luz St. Sauveur

  • We return to Toulouse via the pre-Pyrenean foothills. Fly Toulouse to London Heathrow

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
Alpine Accentor Gavarnie AvdB tabbed.jpg
The chunky Alpine Accentor is an undemonstrative but confiding resident of Gavarnie's higher elevation slopes © Arnoud van den Berg, Limosa

For this delightful and long-running summer tour to the French Pyrenees we base ourselves at a comfortable hotel in the small Pyrenean town of Luz St. Sauveur. Just a few miles to the north, the towering rock wall of the spectacular Cirque de Gavarnie is classified as an Exceptional Heritage Site and home to one of Europe’s rarest and most sought-after birds - the Lammergeier (or Bearded Vulture). We will visit a number of favoured haunts in search of this immense bird, and where all our previous groups have enjoyed marvellous views. A lucky few have even been treated to the dramatic sight of a Lammergeier ‘doing its thing’ - dropping bones from height to break them into pieces small enough to swallow!

In fact, this is a terrific tour for anyone with a penchant for birds of prey, for a good number of Europe’s most impressive raptors also breed in these mountains. Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Hobby are among species we are likely to see.

Crag Martins float above the upland towns and villages, Dippers haunt the chill streams that tumble down the valleys and Crested Tits and Firecrests frequent the forests of pine and beech that cling to the slopes. And although June isn't the best time of year to look for woodpeckers, we sometimes find the big Black Woodpecker, too.

At higher elevations, specialities to watch for include Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Snowfinch, Citril Finch and Rock Bunting. Our June 2018 tour even struck lucky with Wallcreeper - a bird that’s become very hard to find here in recent years - enjoying superb views of this crimson-winged cliff-climber!

The Gavarnie area is a veritable mountain paradise - but one that is only fully accessible during the summer months. Pyrenean Chamois and Alpine Marmot frequent the highest slopes, the latter’s distinctive bird-like whistles carrying far in the crystal air. And it’s only at this season that we have an opportunity to enjoy both the frenzy of alpine plants that grace the uncut hay meadows and upland pastures, and the bounty of montane butterflies that make their home in the High Pyrenees. Most trips produce upwards of 50 species of butterfly - weather permitting, of course - with the slow-flying Apollo, Piedmont and Bright-eyed Ringlets, Purple Emperor and Little, Turquoise and Gavarnie Blues amongst the tally of now more than 100 different species our groups have recorded here over the years!

By travelling to the mountains via Toulose we also have chances along the way to enjoy the fabulous, butterfly-rich woods and meadows of the pre-Pyrenean foothills - as well as to look for lowland birds. Possibilities include the scarce Black-winged Kite (a species that's only recently spread to southwest France), Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Melodious Warbler.

If you are seeking to combine the joys of summer birding in Europe with good food and a comfortable hotel, rewarding wildlife walks and a wider appreciation of the natural world, this easy-going trip to the south of France is for you.

Limosa has been running holidays to France for more than 25 years. Guide David Fairhurst led Limosa's tours to the French Pyrenees in June 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 - and can't wait to return again this year! Join him for a feast of alpine birds and butterflies against a backcloth of fine summer blooms and stunning mountain scenery in the spectacular French Pyrenees.

Common Apollo switzerland 0618 BS crop ck.jpg
Bee off with you!... The Common Apollo is a large, slow-flying butterfly frequenting higher elevation slopes © Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1
FLY TOULOUSE, TRANSFER TO LUZ VIA THE PRE-PYRENEAN FOOTHILLS

Our summer birdwatching and butterflies tour to the French Pyrenees begins with British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow direct to Toulouse, in southwest France. From here, we drive west through a changing and ever-more lovely landscape of wooded hills, meadows and rustic French villages and towns, enlivened by the cheerful gabbling of Serins and 'gravel-gargling' Black Redstarts.

Hobby, Red Kite and Common Buzzard may be soaring above the forested foothills of the pre-Pyrenees, where we take to the back roads to explore flower-filled meadows and shady lanes that, in June, can be alive with butterflies. Great Banded Grayling, Queen of Spain Fritillary and the exquisite Map are among a wealth of species we have recorded here, while birds to watch out for include Little Egret, Black Kite, Red-backed Shrike and Cirl Bunting.

We rejoin the autoroute to Lourdes, where we turn south and wind our way up into the Hautes Pyrénées. Our hotel for the week is situated in the small upland town of Luz St. Sauveur, in the scenic Gavarnie Valley. Night Luz St Sauveur

Days 2 - 7
GAVARNIE VALLEY & BEYOND

With no changes of hotel to worry about during our holiday, we shall be free to devote ourselves fully to enjoying the beautiful Pyrenees National Park. From our base at Luz, we are especially well placed to visit sites up and down the superb Gavarnie Valley, including the higher cols and cirques - the great rock walls that divide France from Spain. Our precise itinerary may be determined by the weather (usually good here in June), but we will aim to spend time seeking the more interesting specialities of the region.

Our comfortable hotel offers good French food and is ideally situated, allowing easy access to a wide variety of different habitats and elevations. Our walks above the treeline will provide plenty of opportunities to watch for soaring Griffon Vultures and Golden Eagles. With an increasing population in the High Pyrenees, the mighty Lammergeier should also sail into view and we have good chances of finding Short-toed Eagle, Peregrine and other birds of prey, too.

In the highest areas, where flower-rich alpine slopes give way to sheets of rocky scree, song-flighting Water Pipits, Crag Martins and the confiding but surprisingly unobtrusive Alpine Accentor await our discovery. We may be fortunate to find White-winged Snowfinch (we haven’t yet missed them here in summer), which should be busy feeding recently fledged young about now. Schools of Red-billed and Alpine Choughs soar playfully over the slopes and Alpine Marmots punctuate the stillness with sharp whistles that warn others in their clan of our approach - or alert them to the presence of an eagle soaring high overhead! High on the most precipitous slopes, sure-footed Pyrenean Chamois (or ‘Izard’, en francais) go about their death-defying daily business.

Feeding quietly on the ground, Citril Finches can be easy to miss - but once found this attractive alpine denizen will often allow close approach. Babbling mountain streams are patronised by white-shirted Dippers and vivacious Grey Wagtails, and craggy passes echo to the fluting notes of the gorgeous Rock Thrush, the males looking especially resplendent at this time of year in their summer finery of rufous, blue and white. Less obvious will be the soft, Dunnock-like jangling of the Rock Bunting's song, which we'll listen for along stonier tracts.

Woodlands at these higher elevations are dominated by Silver Fir - a tree much liked by Crested Tits, Firecrests and Common Crossbills - while our visits to the lower slopes will reveal large stands of Beech. Honey Buzzard, Red Kite and Sparrowhawk are among birds of prey to watch for here and, although June isn’t the best month to see woodpeckers, we have sometimes been lucky to find the elusive Black Woodpecker - wild-eyed and unmistakable when seen, with its striking pale bill and crimson topknot.

If the weather is good, it is also possible to see 50 or more butterfly species during the week. Some years, the sheer volume of insects on the wing can be staggering, with clouds of Little Blues coursing the upland meadows and dozens of other species, including Meadow and Heath Fritillaries, Turquoise, Mazarine and Gavarnie Blues, Lefèbvre’s and Piedmont Ringlets, Clouded Apollo and the slow-flying Apollo.

For those with an interest in wildflowers, the range of species can be quite overwhelming. With this in mind, we shall not labour over every individual species, but concentrate instead on enjoying some of the specialities of the region. Flowering periods for many species are long, with individuals at higher altitudes flowering later than those lower on the slopes.

As we near the snowline, we are likely to find scattered colonies of Dog’s-tooth Violet, Hepatica and the fabulous Alpine Snowbell, flowering immediately the snow recedes. Lower down, the grassy slopes may be studded with the intense blue of Spring and Trumpet Gentians, whilst summer orchids can include the exquisite Black Vanilla and Burnt Tip Orchids. Among a number of showy Pyrenean endemics, we may find Ramonda, Pyrenean Saxifrage and Long-leaved Butterwort.

All in all, whatever your particular interest in the natural world, we are assured of a busy wildlife week in the mountains! Six further nights Luz St. Sauveur

Day 8
PRE-PYRENEAN FOOTHILLS & FLY LONDON

Although we bid farewell to the Pyrenees after breakfast today, our leisurely journey back to Toulouse allows time to enjoy another picnic in the lovely pre-Pyrenean foothills.

The scarce Black-winged Kite, Golden Oriole, Melodious Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper and Middle Spotted Woodpecker could be among possible new additions to our bird list today. We’ll also welcome another opportunity to enjoy the throng of summer butterflies on the wing - perhaps including White Admiral, High Brown Fritillary and the superb Cleopatra.

Returning to Toulouse, we catch British Airways late afternoon flight back to London Heathrow, where our French Pyrenees tour concludes.

Rock Bunting Pyrenees Gillian Thompson tabbed.jpg
The attractive Rock Bunting is another upland bird that's easy to overlook as it goes quietly about its business, occasionally drawing attention to itself by its soft calls © tour participant Gillian Thompson

WHAT TO EXPECT
A single-centre, small group holiday looking for birds and butterflies in the glorious Gavarnie Valley - right at the heart of the beautiful French Pyrenees. Against a backdrop of spectacular Pyrenean scenery and the dramatic rock wall of the magnificent Cirque de Gavarnie, we look for an unrivalled range of alpine birds - including Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Citril Finch and Snowfinch - and usually see upwards of 50 species of butterfly, too. In June, the Pyrenean plants can be wonderful!

Travelling via Toulose, we also have opportunities along the way to explore the fabulous, butterfly-filled meadows of the pre-Pyrenean foothills - as well as to try for some localised birds such as the scarce Black-winged Kite, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Melodious Warbler.

In mid-late June, the weather in the French Pyrenees is typically warm and sunny, with daily temperatures in the range of 12-26C (54-70F). As with any upland area, periods of rain or showers, low cloud or poor visibility are possible - even in mid-summer. However, in the mountains, it is often possible to avoid localised bad weather by moving to a different altitude - up or down! - and we have sometimes found ourselves birding in glorious sunshine above the rain clouds!

Good to excellent incidental photo opportunities on this tour, especially butterflies and flowers. Some alpine birds can also be confiding - once we’ve found them! Landscapes are superbly scenic in the French Pyrenees.

BIRDS
80-100 species

MAMMALS
Up to 5 species

BUTTERFLIES
45-65 species likely, depending upon the weather. Every year is different, but we’ve now recorded more than 100 different species of butterfly on this remarkable tour!

PLANTS
June is an excellent time of year for wildflowers in the French Pyrenees, especially alpines and including some Pyrenean endemics. A joy to behold even if you're not a botanist!

ACCOMMODATION
7 nights accommodation at a good and comfortable family-run hotel (French Tourist Board 3-star and Logis de France 3-cheminées award) in the small Pyrenean town of Luz St. Sauveur, right at the heart of the glorious Gavarnie Valley. 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 8.

Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel, with menus following in the best traditions of French cuisine. Lunches will usually be taken as delicious picnics in the field.

WALKING
Predominantly short walks along good tracks in the mountains and foothills.

During the week we plan to take one full-day walk, up to the breath-taking Cirque de Gavarnie and back - a round trip of ca. 7 km. The unmade stony track is wide and safe, and the going on this day is mostly easy, but there are inevitably a few uphill stretches - including one relatively short section that's a little more strenuous than the rest on the way up. But we take everything gently - and the rewards at the top are well worth the effort, with the enticement of a cafe and a refreshing glass of beer at the furthest point... Plus it’s downhill all the way back again!

Wear stout walking shoes or lightweight walking boots with sturdy corrugated soles for grip.

TRAVEL
We fly London Heathrow to Toulouse, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport   By minibus.

Blues puddling Pyrenees David Fairhurst tabbed.jpg
Butterflies often 'puddle' on damp patches of ground, where they gather to drink minerals... here, a bevy of bewildering blues in the Gavarnie Valley © David Fairhurst, Limosa

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