The area around Nice and the Baronnies

Dates of the trip: 16 to 29 April 2005.

If you want to go directly to the list of species observed, please click here.

16 April

We had decided to drive through Switzerland and Italy but as the weatherman had forecast a spell of bad weather we finally decided to take the Rhone Valley. It was a good idea because we learnt some time later that all the roads had been blocked by the snow there. As for us, we were luckier but it was still something strange to see the snow fall in Valence, all the more so as I saw a Common Cuckoo fly over the highway in front of my car. A little further down south, while taking a rest I spotted a Cirl Bunting and a Short-toed Snake-Eagle. We reached Nice late in the afternoon, having spent 11 hours on the road.


17 April

We took a stroll in town and to have a good view of the Baie des Anges, we climbed to the château. It was very lively up there, with a lot of tourists, especially Russians. I only saw pretty common birds but there was also a Eurasian Hoopoe and, as I went down to the Promenade des Anglais, I spotted 6 Common Terns fluttering above the sea.

18 April

The best birdwatching spot is of course the river Var mouth in Saint-Laurent and this is where I decided to spend my day. There were several Mediterranean Gulls together with 3 Whiskered Terns and a Common gull. As I walked along the bank, a Black-crowned Night-Heron flew across the river where I spotted another bird. A couple of Mute Swans were nesting on a very small islet and this was a first for this area. A few moments later, all the gulls flew away, panic-stricken. This led me to think there must be a bird of prey somewhere although I know the Grey Heron sometimes provokes the same reaction. I was right, because a Booted Eagle, in the pale phase, was hovering slowly above the river bed and then flew off.

The Var river mouth

Two Lesser black-backed Gulls were resting in the middle of a group of Yellow-legged Gulls, next to 4 Little Gulls. There were also Indian Silverbills in the reeds, nearer the bank. Only twenty yards away, in a tiny pool, a female Little Bittern was standing motionless, trusting its cryptal plumage to pass unnoticed. There were also a few common waders.

My wife and my sister-in- law sometimes interrupted their window-shopping at Cap 3000 to come and see me and basked in the sun, like many other people living there. As far as I was concerned, I had decided to skip my lunch to make the best of this spot and watch the birds.

Cattle Egret

19 April

Another birdwatching day at Saint-Laurent-du-Var. The common waders were still there but there were also 2 Purple Herons, about twenty Sanderlings, a Temminck's Stint and a Least Sandpiper. An immature Black-legged Kittiwake was present, not far from two adult Little Gulls, close to the bank. The two Black-crowned Night-Herons I had seen the day before were there too and a large Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta) was basking in the sun, near a little pond. I spent the day walking along the Var, from the Pont Napoléon to the mouth of the river, talking with other birdwatchers or with ordinary people who were wondering what all these telescope carriers were looking at. Most of them thought we were watching the planes take off or land not far from there.

The Pont Napoléon at Saint-Laurent duVar

20 April

The weather was still nice so we decided to go to the Principality of Monaco. Prince Rainier III had just died and his son, Albert II, took over from him. The square in front of the palace was still full of wreaths which had been deposited there to pay tribute to the deceased sovereign and people were queuing up to meditate at his tomb in the nearby cathedral.

A tribute to Prince Rainier III

In spite of this mourning atmosphere, Monaco lived on. It is a modern business-minded principality, and you can see it all around. The streets are very clean and the shops are full of luxury items, especially in the "Métropole" mall in Monte-Carlo. Before returning to Nice, we took a stroll in Menton but the weather had got worse and I couldn't see many birds.

A view of the Métropole

21 April

Another day at Saint-Laurent du Var where I saw an immature Greater Flamingo. A Sardinian Warbler was singing at the river mouth and there were still 4 Whiskered Terns swooping on the water. A Eurasian Oystercatcher with a wounded leg was wretchedly hopping on the pebble stones and there were many more Little Egrets. I counted about ten of them. At a little distance, a Mediterranean Gull cleaned its belly bouncing several times on the surface of the river. I had never seen this behaviour before. A Hooded Crow flew by and landed near 2 Water Pipits taking a rest before going to the mountains in the hinterland. A Whimbrel was taking sleeping near the water, regaining some strength for its trip way up north.

Common Redshank

22 April

We started off with a visit of the Parc Phoenix, near the airport. You will find all sorts of plants and birds there, especially water birds. Of course, it looks like a zoological garden but it's a good opportunity to have a close view of the birds. We didn't stay very long and chose to go and visit the Picasso museum in Antibes where you can find a lot of pieces of pottery. I had expected something like the Fernand Léger museum in Biot and was therefore a bit disappointed.

Picasso museum in Antibes

Maurice Boët, a prominent local ornithologist called me on the phone to let me know that a Glossy Ibis was present at the Var river mouth. Of course, we stopped there on our way back to Nice and the bird was there indeed, taking a rest.

Glossy Ibis (Photo Christophe Jallais)

23 April

I spent yet another day at Saint-Laurent du Var where I knew I was bound to see something worthwhile. I had hardly arrived when I saw 2 Squacco Herons on the distant huge rocks near the airport. The difference in the plumage indicated clearly that there was an adult bird and a younger one. A short time later they flew off and left the river mouth. On that day, I also saw about 80 Ruffs and the same species I had seen the previous days plus a smallish bird walking in the high grass which I had some trouble determining because of the distance. I finally put a name on it. It was a Great short-toed Lark. As the day ended, 5 Pied Avocets flew up north and there were two Temminck's Stint in the middle of the river bed. Above the water, I noted that the House Martins and the Barn Swallows were trying to catch insects on either side of the river, hardly ever mixing. Eight Barn Swallows were perched side by side on a branch. Their backs were dotted with white spots, which is often a sign of nutritial deficiency. Perhaps they fed in the same area in Africa and migrated together.

Common Shelduck

24 April

We decided to go and spend the day in the hilly area north of Nice so we drove along the coast and up to the Fort de la Révère, in the Natural Park of the Grande Corniche, near Eze-village. The view on the sea was magnificent but it was not very warm. I spotted a male Dartford Warbler while rambling in the middle of the gorse. In the distance, a Common Raven flew by, very quietly.

The Mediterranean from the coast road

Yet a little further up

25 April

Our stay in Nice came to a close and we left the Côte d'Azur to go to the Baronnies in the Drôme Provençale area, via the Vésubie Valley. The road winds through high cliffs and the scenery is breath-taking there. We made a stop at Entrevaux and visited, among other sites, the cathedral of this town fortified by Vauban. Medieval festivals take place there in the summer attracting thousands of people. We were now in the Alpes de Haute Provence and the fauna was already different. At the same time, I saw a Red Kite, a Short-toed Snake-Eagle and 2 Honey Buzzards. Not far away, a White-throated Dipper disappeared behind a boulder in the torrent.


It was raining when we reached Rémuzat in the Drôme département and we were met by Nicholas Bentley and Margot Milner who were going to accommodate us in a former school building, the École de la Combe which they had nicely restored. We moved in and felt we were going to like it there. The cooking is good, the rooms are clean and the hosts are very friendly. This is really a place to stay at. That very evening I tried to see Eurasian Griffons and I indeed saw about 20 of them near the cliffs of Rémuzat and along the Saint-May Gorges.

The École de la Combe

The cliff at Rémuzat

26 April

We wanted to visit the area and started with Nyons and its very beautiful church of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours whose clock-tower is so artistically carved.

Notre Dame de Bon Secours at Nyons

We then drove on to Vaison-la-Romaine where we remembered the havoc caused by the torrent in 1992. Looking down to it from the bridge, we found it difficult to believe the waters went above it and destroyed everything.

Vaison la Romaine

We took a stroll in the market, along the steep roads of the old town, up to the castle, then went to Buis-les-Baronnies. In the meantime, I had seen a Short-toed Snake-Eagle with a snake in its bill. The area is full of reptiles and on the way back to Rémuzat, I saw a Western green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) near a waterfall.

In the Saint-May Gorges

At Rémuzat, I spotted two Cinereous Vultures soaring with Common Ravens and other raptors like Red and Black KitesCommon Buzzards and Eurasian Griffons. Soon afterwards, a Golden Eagle and an Alpine Swift flew by, high up in the sky.

27 April

The weather was still nice and we wanted to drive up Mount Ventoux. It however proved impossible because the snow still blocked the summit of the pass. So we went up and down each side and made a pause at the chalets Liotard and Reynard, driving through the magnificent Nesque Gorges.


The Nesque Gorges

Near the summit of Mount Ventoux

We went into raptures over the views from the road winding above the gorges and at the Belvédère, I was fortunate enough to see a couple of Subalpine Warblers. On the slopes of Mount Ventoux, I also spotted a Northern Wheatear and a splendid Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush. Driving down the pass I heard a lot of Bonnelli's Warblers and I imagined how beautiful the landscape must be in summer with all those lavender fields.

A view of the flora of the area

28 April

We once more took our car to visit the vicinity of Rémuzat going through Villeperdrix, Léoux and Pommerol. The roads are narrow and winding there but we drove slowly, making frequent stops to make the most of the sun and to cool off our feet in the torrents. As for birds, I saw a Short-toed Snake-Eagle and, in the overheated garrigue, a few Woodlarks, a Cirl bunting and a Tawny Pipit. I also observed several butterflies in the area, the commonest of which seemed to be the splendid Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius). I came across about twenty of them feeding in a mud pool at Rémuzat.

Scarce Swallowtails

Near Rémuzat

29 April

Our holidays came to a close and we quietly returned home, having logged about 3000 km.

List of birds:

01 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo At the Var mouth.
Ixobrichus minutus
A female, quite easy to see at the Var river mouth.
Nycticorax nycticorax
2 birds at the Var mouth.
04 Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis One bird at the Var mouth.
05 Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides 2 migrating birds stopping over at the Var mouth.
Egretta garzetta
Several at the Var mouth.
Ardea cinerea
2 birds at the Var mouth.
Ardea purpurea
2 birds stopping over at the Var mouth.
09 Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Very rare. One migrant at the Var mouth.
10 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus An immature stopping over at Saint-Laurent du Var.
Cygnus olor
2 birds at the Var mouth.
12 Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna A few at the Var mouth.
Anas platyrhynchos
14 Black Kite Milvus migrans A few, especially in the Baronnies.
15 Red Kite Milvus milvus Rare. In the Baronnies.
16 Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Rare. At Rémuzat.
17 Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Very easy to find in the Rémuzat area.
Accipiter nisus
Around Rémuzat.
Pernis apivorus
2 migrating birds at Serres (Hautes-Alpes).
Buteo buteo
Rather common indeed.
Aquila chrysaetos
One at Rémuzat.

Booted Eagle

Hieraetus pennatus
One at the Var mouth.
Circaetus gallicus
A few, especially in the area of Rémuzat.
Falco tinnunculus
Gallinula chloropus
Several at the Var mouth.
26 Common Coot Fulica atra At the Var mouth.
27 Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus One wounded bird at the Var mouth.
Himantopus himantopus
Pretty rare.
Recurvirostra avosetta
5 migrating birds at the Var mouth.
Charadrius hiaticula
Some at the Var mouth.
Charadrius dubius
Some at the Var mouth.
Charadrius alexandrinus
Some at the Var mouth.
33 Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 8 birds at the Var mouth.
Calidris alba
Some at the Var mouth.
Calidris minuta
A few at the Var mouth.
Calidris temminckii
Rare migrating bird at the Var mouth.
Philomachus pugnax
Up to 43 at the Var mouth.
38 Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus One migrating bird at the Var mouth.
Tringa totanus
Some at the Var mouth.
Tringa erythropus
One at the Var mouth.
41 Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia Some at the Var mouth.
Tringa glareola
Several at the Var mouth.
Tringa hypoleucos
A few at the Var mouth.
Larus melanocephalus
Several at the Var mouth.
Larus minutus
A few at the Var mouth.
Larus ridibundus
47 Common Gull Larus canus One bird at the Var mouth.
48 Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla One at the Var mouth.
49 Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis Common around Nice.
Larus fuscus
Pretty rare.
Sterna sandvicensis
One bird at the Var mouth.
Sterna hirundo
Common at the Var mouth.
Chlidonias hybrida
A few at the Var mouth.
Columba palumbus
Several birds.
Columba livia
Common. A few nesting birds in the cliffs at Beaulieu, on the Côte d'Azur.
Streptopelia decaocto
57 European Turtle-Dove Streptopelia turtur One migrating bird at Saint-Laurent du Var.
Cuculus canorus
59 Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba One bird at Rémuzat.
Apus apus
Upupa epops
One bird at the Var mouth and another at the Château in Nice.
Lullula arborea
A few on the sunny slopes of the Baronnies.
Calandrella brachydactyla
One bird at the Var mouth.
Hirundo rupestris
Some at the Var mouth.
Riparia riparia
Some at the Var mouth.
Delichon urbicum
67 Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta 2 birds stopping over at the Var mouth.
68 Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris On the sunny slopes in the Léoux area, Baronnies.
Motacilla alba
Motacilla cinerea
A few birds.
Motacilla flava
Apart from Motacilla flava flava, I also saw M. f. cinereocapilla and M.f. thundbergi at the Var mouth.
72 White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus One bird at Serres (Hautes-Alpes).
Troglodytes troglodytes
Erithacus rubecula
Luscinia megarhynchos
76 Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus A bird stopping over near the Pont Napoléon at Saint-Laurent du Var.
Phoenicurus ochruros
Saxicola rubetra
Stopping over near the Pont Napoléon.
Oenanthe oenanthe
A male on the slopes of Mount Ventoux.
Monticola saxatilis
A male on the slopes of Mount Ventoux.
Turdus merula
Cettia cetti
Common but very shy.
83 Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus One bird, singing very shyly at the Var river mouth.
84 Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata In the mountains north of Nice.
85 Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans A couple at the top of the Nesque Gorges.
Sylvia communis
Sylvia atricapilla
Sylvia melanocephala
Phylloscopus bonelli
On the sunny slopes of the Baronnies.
90 Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus One bird at the Var mouth.
91 Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita A few birds.
Regulus ignicapilla
In a conifer forest in the Baronnies.
93 Marsh Tit Parus palustris One bird in the Hautes Alpes.
Parus cristatus
In conifer woods, especially in the Mount Ventoux area.
Cyanistes caeruleus
Parus major
97 Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus At the Var mouth.
Certhia brachydactyla
Heard along the river Var.
Sturnus vulgaris
Garrulus glandarius
Pica pica
102 Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula Seen at Vézon la Romaine and in the Nesque Gorges.
Corvus corax
A few birds in the mountains.
Corvus cornix
One bird at the Var mouth.
Corvus corone
Passer domesticus
Lonchura malabarica
Very easy to spot at the Var mouth.
Fringilla coelebs
Serinus serinus
Carduelis chloris
Carduelis carduelis
Carduelis cannabina
Emberiza cirlus
A few in the Baronnies.

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