The area around Nice


Dates of the trip: 21 April to 2 May 2003.

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

We left on the by night train because we intended to rent a car in Nice rather than use my large 4-wheel drive vehicle which is so difficult to park in large cities. After a night's sleep, we woke up in the morning and had our first glimpse of the French Riviera: wisteria in full bloom, palm-trees and a few eucalyptus trees against the blue of the sky and the sea.

We spent a night in the hotel Nikaïa which was not too expensive for the services provided. It is located in a quiet street and our triple room was large and very clean. There was plenty to eat at the buffet and there was also a garage which we might have used if we had taken our car. I can recommend this hotel if you want to spend a few days there. We spent the remainder of our stay in a small flat in the rue Gambetta, right in the centre of Nice.

24 April 2003

I collected the car I had rented with Hertz and ran into a few unexpected problems. Although I had made my reservation a long time in advance, no small 4-door car was available so they gave me a larger model for the same price. I was quite taken aback when I noticed the car administrative documents were missing, which later prevented me from going to Italy. Moreover, the left back fender was dented.

I was glad I had checked because the excess that you have to pay in the event of an accident or even the Collision Damage Waiver are very expensive. As it is very difficult to park your car in Nice and as the police will fine you very easily, we thought it would be better to buy a parking ticket at the Thiers car-park, next to the railway station. It cost me €70 for a week, which is not too expensive if you don't feel like spending hours just to be able to double park.

We nevertheless enjoyed our first trip to the hinterland. We went through Aspremont, Tourette-Levens and then stopped over in an abandoned village on the road to Contes and drove on as far as Peillon, a very picturesque village with a fountain dating back to 1800 and classified as historic monument. It was very pleasant to walk up the narrow shaded streets. We did not see many birds and went farther to Peille, another picturesque, medieval village. Then, just for the sake of leaving the main road, we took a smaller one going round the Pic de Baudou, through the woods. Once out of the forest, we had a splendid view of the village of Ste-Agnès perched in the mountains, in the middle of the clouds. All day long, we drove on, stopping here and there to have a look at the enchanting scenery around the villages of Èze or La Turbie till we reached an altitude of 1100 m, only a few miles from the sea. The roads are lovely there and even if they are winding, they are not really dangerous if you drive like a civilized person. Still, do drive carefully, especially when it rains as rocks may come off the mountain sides.


Ste-Agnès from the road around the Pic de Baudou

25 April 2003

While my wife did some shopping at Cap 3000, a huge supermarket in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, I did some birdwatching at the Var river mouth. This is a fantastic birding spot although you would never believe it at fist sight. The Var edges its way between the Nice airport and the supermarket. To go there easily, starting from Nice, you should stay on the Promenade des Anglais and head for Antibes until you see the sign "Cap 3000" in St-Laurent-du-Var where you leave the main road. Just after the tunnel going under it, turn left in the direction of "Parking Nord", i.e. Northern car park or right, in the direction of "Parking Sud" (no translation needed). Leave your car there, walk up onto the Var bank and watch the birds from the Napoléon III bridge as far as the river mouth. The river flows between the pebble beds, along reeds and mudbanks. The unceasing noise of the numerous planes taking off or landing doesn't bother the birds which you can see in very good conditions, even without a spotting-scope. If like me, you forgot yours, the local birdwatchers you will meet there will let you have a look if there are any waders you might find difficult to determine.

Right at the start, I saw about 10 Indian Silverbill which seemed to be nesting in the reed beds. To find them, just stay north of the second fig-tree, starting from the river mouth and wait. The numerous Common Terns which are hard to see among the pebbles were making a terrible noise, covering that of the planes and the cars around. There were also a lot of Yellow-legged Gulls. Something odd happened to one of them. It had caught one of its legs in a nylon shopping-bag. This cumbersome object acted like a parachute when the bird was flying so it quickly decided to land on the river. This was not a happy decision because the bag filled with water and the bird could no longer take off. Its fellow birds, very considerate, came along and gave it a few pecks. The poor bird managed to get away but it took quite a long time before it managed to get rid of that embarrassing bag. Apart from this, I was also surprised at the great number of Eurasian Crag Martins flying between the buildings of the supermarket.

26 April 2003

Hardly any birdwatching on that day devoted to cultural activities. In the morning, I went to buy a book in Nice and, looking up, I was quite surprised to see 2 Golden Eagles soaring in the sky and then fly towards the near-by Mercantour National Park. Later on, we visited the Marc Chagall museum in the borough of Cimiez. You're bound to be moved by the large paintings, glass-windows and mosaics you can see in this beautiful museum as they are so luminous and full of exaltation. There was little time left so we did some shopping and visited the city for the rest of the afternoon.

27 April 2003

We started off with another cultural visit in Biot where we admired the paintings, mosaics, tapestries and glass-windows by Fernand Léger in the museum called after his name. Just like the Chagall museum in Nice, the very building is a work of art and visiting the park is quite rewarding. Then we left for Grasse, going through la Tour d'Opio. This is where Coluche, the famous French comic artist met his death crashing into a lorry. The cenotaph there induces you to drive carefully because the roads are winding and the local people, who know them very well, drive too fast for the tourists who take all their time. Once in Grasse, we visited the Fragonard perfume manufactory and we learnt all about the differences between Eau de Cologne, eau de toilette and perfume. A very pleasant museum indeed, both for your eyes and your nose. Do pay a visit to the marvellous collection of perfume flasks in the same building. Besides this, there's not much to write about this town.

Then, we drove on to another village, called Gourdon, perched high in the mountains and I wished I had never gone there. I had an argument with three different people about parking-places and, to make a long story short, let's say the bigger you are, the better chance you have to find one. The village itself is quite nice but the numerous pizza joints and shops selling soaps and various stupid keepsakes ruin everything. I left this tourist trap after only 20 minutes and had a walk in the area around. This is how I found a couple of Cirl Buntings. Trying to get away from the crowd, we took the Chemin des Claps and moved on to the Plateau de Caussols. I saw very few birds there and was somewhat disappointed but this place is really worth seeing. This limestone plateau looks like the Causses area in the Massif Central mountains but is more populated and not so large, which may account for the limited number of species I saw.

The Fernand Léger museum

28 April 2003

We went to St Jean Cap Ferrat where you can find plenty of luxurious villas. The little chapel St-Hospice with its huge statue of the Virgin and her child is a real shock in this environment. We stayed a long time in this town because it was so difficult to move along the very narrow streets and, quite frankly, there's nothing interesting to see except for the Villa Epphrussi belonging to the Rotschilds if you like what's uncommon. When we went to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, I saw a Blue Rock-Thrush for a few moments on the cliff. A little further east on the coast, we visited the pleasant little town of Menton. How quiet it was after the hustle and bustle of Nice! The number of churches there still remains a mystery to me. We had a good look at the rococo Chapelle des Pénitents blancs, the Immaculée Conception chapel, the St-Michel Archange basilica and St-John's Church, an Anglican chapel.

As for bird watching, something unusual happened to me. A Eurasian Collared Dove came to eat some cake in my hand while I was sitting at the table of a café on a pavement. We rested a bit in the little park in front of the town hall and took shelter under the palm trees. "LUXE, CALME ET VOLUPTE" as Beaudelaire would have said! We drove back to Nice via Eze, yet another touristic village. It's on the way going up to the village that Frédéric Nietzsche composed the 3rd part of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". It may be worthwhile going to the exotic gardens and to the the top of the village, but I chose to take a little walk in the Parc Naturel Départemental de la Grande Corniche where I only saw a Northern Wheatear but I admit that I did not spend enough time there because the night was falling and the view on the sea was so beautiful that it would have been a sin not to watch it.


29 April 2003

The day began with a visit of St-Jeannet, a nice little village in the hinterland where the film "To Catch a Thief" starring Grace Kelly, was shot. Nothing particular except a beautiful view from the village and a little Romanesque church. Obviously, we couldn't go to the area of Nice without going to St-Paul-de-Vence and that's what we did

. The big underground car park located at the entrance to the village gives an inkling of how many people come there in the high season. It is true that some tourists come here just hoping to see famous people. In the numerous galleries which line the crowded streets you can find a lot of works of art on sale. I somehow had the impression that the higher you go in the village, the less beautiful and the cheaper the art galleries were. For those who want to see Marc Chagall's grave, walk as far as the 2nd part of the graveyard. It is located on the right when you go down. You may be surprised to see the pebble stones on the grave itself. As flowers were rare in the desert, the Jews used to replace them with what they could find around them, i.e., beautiful little pebbles. It somehow reminded me of the old Jewish graveyard in Prague. We then went to the Maeght Foundation. The site is very pleasant, even though the access road is very steep but we were nevertheless a little disappointed. Apart from Giacometti's and Miró's works, I didn't like what I saw. And yet, I'm usually fond of modern art. After seeing so many people, we appreciated the calm of the roads to the "Gorges du Loup" by the "Col de Vence" and Coursegoules.

30 April 2003

At the beginning of the day I tried in vain to find Pallid Swift at the War Memorial in Nice, where someone had told me I could find this bird. Unfortunately, it still hadn't come back from its winter quarters. So I spent the rest of the day at St Laurent du Var to watch out for the return of migrating birds and to observe those taking a rest there. What is wonderful in this place is that you can always get a close view of new birds.

While a Grey Plover was walking in the bed of the Var river, a Curlew Sandpiper was feeding in the mud only 2 m away from me, not showing the slightest sign of fear. On that day I also noticed an influx of Sanderlings and saw 2 Purple Herons and 15 Whiskered Terns fly in. In the reeds, I had a glimpse of a Moustached Warbler and saw a House Sparrow whose remiges and rectrices were all white. As there are more rarities here than elsewhere, I checked if it was really such a common bird. 


1 May 2003

We spent the day in the vicinity of the Mercantour nature reserve. There are many villages set high up in the mountains and a favourite of mine is Luceram. As everywhere else there are very steep narrow alleys, arches, churches, ramparts but only very few tourist shops. I do not know how long this is going to last. Then, we took a winding road with superb views to go to Peira Cava and drove down the Turini pass again to reach Sospel. I would have liked to make a stop at Notre Dame de la Menour, built on a steep rock but the car park holds only 4 cars and it is dangerous to pull up along the road. The Gorges du Plaon are very picturesque and give a different image of what is usually expected on the Côte d'Azur. In Sospel, we made a little tour in the Cathédrale St Michel whose ceiling is really in a pitiful state. At the top of the Col de Braus we were very surprised to see a little monument on which there were the funeral urns of Mrs Vietto and her husband René, who wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. While taking a walk in the game reserve, we saw a Rock Bunting and Western Bonelli's Warblers.


2 May 2003

In the evening of the day before, I had returned the car, having logged 684 km and I paid €249.84 for that. The man working at the rental agency was not very pleasant and didn't seem to enjoy what he was doing. As it was our last day in Nice, I once more went to the War Memorial homing to see Pallid Swift but none of them were there. A slight shower increased my disappointment but the view from the Château was great and I spotted 9, and then 28 migrating Little Egrets. I took a stroll in the Old Nice and visited the Ste Réparate Cathedral, named after the patron saint of the city. It is a Romanesque building, embellished with baroque adornments, as is often the case in the area.

The train took us uneventfully back home where the weather was much colder.

List of birds seen:

1 Little Bittern Ixobrichus minutus One bird observed 3 times in very good conditions at the Var mouth.
2 Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis 3 at the Var mouth.
3 Little Egret Egretta garzetta 9 on 30 April at the Var mouth and 9 + 28 on 3 May, migrating eastwards in the Baie des Anges,
4 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1 at the Var mouth.
5 Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 2 at the Var mouth.
6 Mute Swan Cygnus olor 2 at the Var mouth.
7 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Common.

Common Teal

Anas crecca 1 male at the Var mouth.
9 Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1 in the hinterland.
10 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Not many.
11 Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 2 of them over Nice.
12 Short-toed Snake-Eagle Circaetus gallicus 4 birds on the road to Peira Cava.
13 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Several, especially at the Nice War Memorial.
14 Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus In a game reserve near Eze.
15 Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Some at the Var mouth.
16 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Some at the Var mouth.
17 Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 3 at the Var mouth.
18 Great Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Some at the Var mouth.
19 Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Some at the Var mouth.
20 Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus Some at the Var mouth.
21 Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1 at the Var mouth.
22 Sanderling Calidris alba About 30 at the Var mouth.
23 Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea A few at the Var mouth.
24 Little Stint Calidris minuta 1 at the Var mouth.
25 Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii 1 at the Var mouth.
26 Ruff Philomachus pugnax 43 at the Var mouth.
27 Common Redshank Tringa totanus Some at the Var mouth.
28 Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 1 at the Var mouth.
29 Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 1 bird at the Var mouth.
30 Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos Some at the Var mouth.
31 Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 4 birds migrating eastwards in the Baie des Anges.
32 Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 23 at the Var mouth.
33 Little Gull Larus minutus 3 at the Var mouth.
34 Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Common.
35 Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 430 at the Var mouth.
36 Llesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4 at the Var mouth.
37 Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 2 at the Var mouth.
38 Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3 at the Var mouth.
39 Common Tern Sterna hirundo Common, among which one bird with no black at the end of the bill.
40 Little Tern Sternula albifrons About a dozen at the Var mouth.
41 Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 15 at the Var mouth.
42 Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus One in the hinterland.
43 Rock Dove Columba livia Several nesting in the cliffs.
44 Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Common.
45 Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Common.
46 Common Swift Apus apus Common.
47 Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 at the Var mouth.
48 Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Not many.
49 Woodlark Lullula arborea One singing on the Caussoles plateau.
50 Eurasian Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris Very common, even in the city centre of Nice.
51 Sand Martin Riparia riparia Some at the Var mouth.
52 Northern House Martin Delichon urbicum Common.
53 White Wagtail Motacilla alba Common.
54 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 3 in Sospel.
55 Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava Some migrating at the Var mouth.
56 Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Common.
57 Dunnock Prunella modularis Common.
58 European Robin Erithacus rubecula Common.
59 Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos Common.
60 Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Common.
61 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra One male in the Vence pass.
62 Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus Common.
63 Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1 male at the Var mouth, another in Coursegoules and a couple near Eze.
64 Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius One male on a cliff near Beaulieu-sur-Mer
65 Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula Common.
66 Zitting Cisticola Cisticola jundicis 1 at Tour d'Opio.
67 Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti Common.
68 Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus 1 at the Var mouth.
69 Moustached Warbler Lusciniola melanopogon 1 at the Var mouth.
70 Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis Common.
71 Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Common.
72 Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Common.
73 Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli Singing in the Braus pass.
74 Goldcrest Regulus regulus Common.
75 Crested Tit Parus cristatus Common.
76 Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus Common.
77 Great Tit Parus major Common.
78 Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla One bird heard singing in the hinterland.
79 Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common.
80 Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Common.
81 Common Magpie Pica pica Common.
82 Common Raven Corvus corax In the hinterland.
83 Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1 at the Var mouth.
84 Carrion Crow Corvus corone Common.
85 Carrion Crow X Hooded Crow Corvus corone X Corvus cornix A hybrid bird seen at the same time as the Hooded Crow.
86 House Sparrow Passer domesticus Common. One female with totally white remiges and rectrices at the Var mouth.
87 Indian Silverbill Lonchura malabarica This species can be observed in the reed beds of the Var mouth.
88 Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Common.
89 European Serin Serinus serinus Common.
90 European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Common.
91 European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Common.
92 Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina Common.
93 Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus One couple at Gourdon.
94 Rock Bunting Emberiza cia 2 birds, among which a male singing in the Braus pass.

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