France

Wallcreepers, Camargue & Provence

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

France Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Set yourself up for the spring with this delightful, small group birdwatching tour to the south of France. Watching for Wallcreeper, Eagle Owl and Alpine Accentor amid the beautiful limestone hills of Provence; Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Calandra Lark on the stony Crau; and Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis and Penduline Tit in one of Europe’s premier wetland sites - the Camargue. Chock full of excitements, this March birding tour to France offers a rewarding, out-of-season holiday. Led by Limosa’s David Fairhurst, making his 11th & 12th visits to the area.

Tour Dates & Prices

Sat 6th March 2021

Fri 12th March 2021

  • Spaces

Tour Cost: 7 Days from £1645* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £300Single Supp: £195*Land Only: £1525*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 Marseille, nonstop with British Airways
  • 6 nights accommodation in France, staying at a converted rural farmhouse hotel near Arles
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips and taxes
  • Map & Limosa checklist of birds for the tour

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

  • Join us for a wonderful week of late winter birding in Provence, in the south of France
  • The legendary Camargue wetlands, Les Alpilles and the arid Crau ‘steppe'
  • Specialities in March include wintering Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor and Richard's Pipit
  • Greater Flamingo, Bonelli’s Eagle, Little Bustard, Western Swamphen, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Eagle Owl
  • Good chance of seeing the season’s first Black Kites, Booted Eagles and White Storks
  • Mont Ventoux for Black Woodpecker and Citril Finch
  • From stands of Giant Orchids to Rock Sparrows roosting on the famous Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard
  • Small group tour - maximum of 7 participants
  • Expertly led by Limosa guide and all-round naturalist David Fairhurst

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Heathrow-Marseille, transfer to hotel. Afternoon birding in Provence. Night near Arles

  • We explore the bird-rich habitats of the Camargue and Provence, including La Crau, Les Alpilles, the historic Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard and day trip to Mont Ventoux. Arles (5 nts)

  • Return to Marseille; fly London

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
Group watching Wallcreeper Pont du Gard David Fairhurst.JPG
A Limosa group watches a Wallcreeper as it picks its way around the historic Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard - which is a good spot to see Rock Sparrow, too! © David Fairhurst, Limosa

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 here then, 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 added too, 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 March 2020 and 2021 tours will be guide David Fairhurst's eleventh and twelfth visits to the Camargue and Provence in winter.

alpine accentor card brian Small.jpg
Alpine Accentors take a 'winter break' from Europe's highest mountains and, in March, can be found at lower elevation in Les Alpilles © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

DAY 1
TO MARSEILLE & ARLES

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
CAMARGUE, CRAU & LES ALPILLES

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

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

In winter, clusters of Black-necked Grebes, Cormorants, Red-crested Pochard and other waterfowl gather on the vast Etang de Vaccares, which lies at the heart of the reserve. About a quarter of the Camargue’s 20,000 Greater Flamingos remain here year-round, affording excellent views from the roads that skirt the reserve. Winter waders can 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, 'zitting' Fan-tailed Warblers and booming Bitterns; all four of these 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 generally easier to hear than to see! Little and Cattle Egrets lend a definite ‘Mediterranean’ flavour - and winter brings increasing numbers of stately Great Egrets, too - as we keep a keen eye open for the first Garganey and Swallows of spring. We may see flocks of Common Cranes passing overhead, and the incredible sight of at least 90 Western Swamphens feeding in an area of cut reed was a highlight on our 2019 tour!

The Camargue is an excellent spot for birds of prey in winter. Marsh Harriers are plentiful here and, come March, we may add the odd Merlin, Hen Harrier, Black Kite and Booted Eagle, too. Our March 2019 group enjoyed all of these - plus cracking views of a wintering Spotted Eagle!

Northeast of Arles, the wooded limestone cliffs and canyons of Les Alpilles are prime breeding habitat for Eagle Owl. These enormous birds are typically at their most vocal in late winter, making this the optimum time to try for them. No guarantees, of course - but the sight of one glaring back at us with fiery orange eyes would be something never to be forgotten!

In March, we also have an excellent chance of finding Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor here, two high alpine specialities that come down from Europe's highest mountains to spend the winter months in the lower and rather warmer limestone hills of Provence. Once found, both species can be very confiding.

With luck, we might spot a Bonelli's Eagle soaring over the bare limestone crags and bluffs of Les Alpilles, while the scrub-covered hillsides below conceal skulking Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. We’ll check the pine-clad lower slopes for Woodlark, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper and Cirl Bunting, and keep an eye out for Raven, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush, which also frequent these picturesque hills in winter.

Covering an area of 600 sq. km, the Crau is an arid, 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 scarce 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 that we know. 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 more sheltered southern slopes are clothed in forests of beech and pine, where Black Woodpecker, Crested Tit and Crossbill can often be found. In March, we have further chances to see Alpine Accentor here and may again be lucky to find the elusive Citril Finch.

Our route back from Mont Ventoux may take us via the stunning Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard. Built in the first century AD, this fantastic bridge has three tiers of arches and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not just the culture we are after here, for the bridge is also a regular winter roost site for the oft 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 bonus, the Pont du Gard is also a reliable spot to see Crag Martins in March - and we’ve often seen Alpine Swift and 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 near Arles

DAY 7
RETURN TO MARSEILLE, FLY LONDON

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

HOOPOE card KEVIN ELSBY.jpg
A March visit to the Camargue offers good chances of early returning migrants such as Hoopoe © kind permission Dr Kevin Elsby, wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

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 Western Swamphen in one of Europe’s premier wetland sites - the Camargue.

In early March, the weather in the south of France is typically mild and sunny. Expect temperatures in the range of 6-15C (43-59F), with daily averages of 11C/51F and 9 hours of sunshine. March is by far the driest of the winter months (average of just 7 rainfall days).

Note that it can feel cold however on days when the northerly Mistral is blowing down the Rhone valley; likewise at altitude on Mont Ventoux, which rises to 1912m (6273ft). So, although this is the south of France, be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing to 'layer up' as required.

BIRDS
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.

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

MEALS
All main meals are included in the tour price, usually commencing with lunch in France on Day 1 and concluding with breakfast at the hotel on Day 7 (meal plan can vary according to flight schedules).

Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel, where the restaurant serves delicious Provençale home cooking. Lunches will usually be picnics.

WALKING
Easy. The countryside of 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; walking shoes or trainers should be suitable elsewhere.

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

Ground Transport is by minibus.

Ophrys forestieri David Fairhurst.JPG
Ophrys forestieri (unhappily named Dull Orchid) flowers early and can be seen on dry sunny patches © David Fairhurst, Limosa

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