Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Cranes Trains and Automobiles

Just back from an amazing trip to Lac du Der Chantecoq to help out with the monitoring of the annual migration of the Common Crane from wintering grounds in Spain and Italy to their breeding sites in Germany, Poland, Estonia and Scandinavia. We were at the end of the migration period but still saw plenty of cranes. Around ten thousand birds roosted at night on islands out in the lake and each day we counted birds using the special feeding areas organised by the League Pour Oiseaux.

Being mid March, migration was in full swing for several species. Tens of thousands of Chaffinches poured north in flocks of twenty to one hundred birds, several containing Brambling. We also saw a small flock of the northern form of Long-tailed Tit with pure white heads.

Resident species of the area were also much in evidence. I was particularly happy to see Middle Spotted Woodpecker which was a new species for me.

We spent most days from dawn until mid-afternoon watching the comings and goings of the cranes but there was always a lot of interesting viewing in the supporting cast of birds. A Firecrest led us a merry dance before we finally got a half decent photograph.

I can thoroughly recommend the areas around Lac du Der and the Lac D'Orient for a few days of good birding. While February is the time many birders go, mid-March still gives lots of Cranes, the spring migration is underway and a few winter visitors still remain. We saw Black and Red Kite, Smew, Bewick's Swan, Willow Tit, Black Redstart, Great White Egret, Black Woodpecker, Hawfinch, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Crested Lark, and good numbers of common birds such as Yellowhammer and Stonechat. One thing that surprised us was the lack of traffic on the roads. After the queues in the UK, once we crossed though the Channel Tunnel and got off the train, the roads were relatively deserted.

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