Pont du Gard, Provence

Highlights from Provence in Spring

Tour Leader Neil McMahon reveals the highlights of guiding his recent tour to Provence, France, this spring. 

Our last trip to Provence was pre-pandemic in April 2019, so, with three years elapsing, we wondered what might have changed in that time. Actually, very little! Our first day was all about heading to the very traditional and historic town of Sault and to our regular accommodation Hotel Le Louvre. This hotel was considered by the occupying Germans in the Second World War to be the base for the local resistance – and the historic records indicate that the invaders endured a tough time! However, there was no repelling of ardent Naturetrekkers and we were made to feel very welcome during our 4-night stay there. En route we had made a start on the impressive list of over 280 plants and flowers recorded during our time in the south of France, and the best of the birds included Little Bustards and vocal Short-toed Eagles as they migrated over us.

The next couple of days saw us exploring the high area of Mont Serein with its Citril Finches and Black Woodpeckers, the beautiful village of Brantes and the much closer Gorges de la Nesque. A day out to Saint-May was special for a variety of flowering orchids and of course the wonderful vultures, with close views of Griffon and Cinereous (Black) but also Egyptian and a Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) with its 9-foot wingspan. Our night drives yielded plenty of sightings of Brown Hares, Red Foxes and Roe Deer and we also encountered a couple of Badgers and heard plenty of Scop's Owls. Singing Western Bonelli's Warblers and plenty of Common and Black Redstarts were daily encounters around the town and neighbouring oak woodlands. One morning we came across a Brown Hare that had become entangled in an electric fence but we managed to successfully free the traumatised animal.

Griffon Vulture (Neil McMahon)
Greater Flamingo

Our second part of the trip was based just outside the historic town of Arles and en route we visited the commune of Les Baux-de-Provence within Les Alpilles National Park. Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, this medieval settlement is encompassed within a limestone-based fortification with commanding views over the lands to the south. The song-flighting Blue Rock Thrushes certainly relish the views and we enjoyed pottering along the path around the base and the walk through the village to the ramparts above (with a few ice creams sampled along the way!).

The itinerary permitted us two whole days in and around the Camargue and we enjoyed visits to the stony plain of La Crau and the freshwater marsh reserve of Marais du Vigueirat. The latter site provided us with close views of Ferruginous Duck, Garganey, Squacco Herons and of course the Camargue’s white horses! Our second day took us to Mas d'Agon and the giant saltwater lagoon of Etang de Vaccares where we notched up delights such as Great Spotted Cuckoo, Caspian Tern, Slender-billed Gull and plenty of the Camargue black bulls, some of them grazing out on the saltmarsh. Our last afternoon at Parc Ornithologique is always an amazing flamingo experience with hundreds of birds at extremely close range, plus many other waterbirds also showing very closely such as Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Glossy Ibis and a host of heron species. We managed views of the cute Coypu, a Ladder Snake and the impossibly green and turquoise Western Green Lizards. Yet again ‘Provence in Spring’ proved to be both bountiful and beautiful.

Provence in Spring
An 8-day holiday focusing on the wonderfully rich spring flora, butterflies and birds found in Provence and the Camargue.
Provence at Christmas
An 8-day holiday featuring the best of the birdlife of southern France in winter.