The Causses

Date of the trip: from 16 to 27 August 2001.

Accommodation:

Grand Hotel de France 48150 Meyrueis

Telephone: + 33 (0)4 66 45 60 07

Fax : +33 (0)4 66 45 67 62

You get a lot for the price you pay in this medium-class hotel. The food is pretty good and the staff very friendly. We had booked a large enough double-bedded room. There is a private car-park although it is more appropriate for 4-wheel drive cars than ordinary vehicles which nevertheless came there. There is a swimming-pool, a pleasant garden and a large room on the terrace where groups can convene. Meyrueis is a small town very conveniently located between the Causse Mejean and the Causse Noir, on the eastern side of the Jonte Gorges. The Causse de Sauveterre, the Tarn Gorges and the Cevennes, where Mont Aigoual is located, are close by.

Description of the Causse Mejean.

This is a 33,000 ha limestone plateau lying at an average height of 950 m, with a population density of 1.4 inhabitants in a kmē and 18,000 sheep. The plateau is slightly undulated, covered with vast stretches of grass interspersed with a few black pine wooded areas, stones gathered by the farmers and box-trees and various thistles, one of which the local people call "Cardabelle". The flower of this beautiful plant is sometimes nailed on barn doors because it opens up when the weather is nice and is thus used as a barometer. Water is scarce on the plateau because it seeps into the ground and creates caves, and to allow cattle to drink, people have lined the bottom of the sink-holes with clay to retain the precious liquid, thus creating those ponds called "lavognes".

The Causse is bordered on the west by the Tarn Gorges and on the south by the Jonte Gorges. Roads are winding and narrow and you should be extra careful while driving.

The Causse Mejean

If you want to go directly to the list of birds I saw, please click here.

The Trip

16 August 2001. We drove all day as far as Meyrueis.

17 August 2001. We drove right up to the Causse Mejean and went to Hyelzas to visit the "Ferme Caussenarde". This was an excellent start to understand the mentality of the Causse people and it gave us some time before our lunch at the "Fromagerie Fedou". I recommend the "Assiette Caussenarde", and if you like ewe-milk cheese, the "Gousta". The place affords a nice view over the valley and while eating, we were able to watch as many as 15 Griffon Vultures, 3 Cinereous Vultures and a Short-toed Snake-Eagle. Near the village of Le Buffre we spotted a Southern Grey Shrike, several Montagu's Harriers among which one individual in the dark phase, and a Little Owl.

Going to Le Mas de Val, we came across many odd specimens of the Human fauna who were having a "rave-party". 15,000 people had gathered there illegally, bang in the middle of a sheep pasture land. Pit-bulls were living side by side with teenage couples and their babies, rocked by pounding music that could be heard miles around. As a result of this meeting, 16 people had to be evacuated, one of whom in a coma after an overdose, a boy mutilated himself and goods were stolen in shops and in the village hall. Surprisingly enough, a few days later, little was left of the 5 tons of rubbish strewing the site. All this might not be relevant to "tourism and ornithology, which is the subject of this website, except that several acres of meadows had been trampled and were littered with broken bottles, much to the joy of the sheep or other cattle which will scrape their feet and mouths trying to feed once the grass has grown again.

At Le Villaret, we saw 40 Przewalski Horses reared there to be re-introduced in Mongolia and maintain the Causse while grazing. I spotted a horse whose legs were striped like a zebra's. There were also 40 Red-billed Choughs feeding among them.

The "lavogne" in Hures

18 August 2001. We spent another morning on the Causse Mejean and visited the "Chaos de Nimes le Vieux", a picturesque chaotic piling up of rocks. The walk will take you around very typical natural surroundings for about 2 hours. There again, we found 40 Red-billed Choughs. We then decided to drive to Mont Aigoual which towers at an altitude of 1567 m in the Cevennes. Right at the top of it, there is a meteorological museum which we visited before driving back to Meyrueis by the Causse Noir which is not so wild. There, we found a European Pied Flycatcher. In the evening, a violent thunderstorm broke out on the Causse Mejan and being under a tent must not have been very pleasant then.

19 August 2001. We went to the Causse Mejean and stopped at the crossroads of D63 and D986. 40 Rock Sparrows were feeding in the mown fields. We had to change our course as the police were blocking the road because of the "rave party". We were rather surprised to see the numerous calvaries made of stone or wrought iron along the roads and there were also beautiful Romanesque churches. A flight of about 30 Fieldfares apparently showed that migrations had started. At Le Fraissinet de Poujouls, I saw 15 Red-legged Partridges. At the "lavogne" of Hures, on the road to Le Buffre, a Little Owl and 2 Eurasian Stone Curlews were present in the same field, not far from a Southern Grey Shrike. At Drigas, I was able to watch a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatalis) for quite a long time and, later on at Les Herans, 30 Griffon Vultures were gaining altitude in a thermal. All together, I spotted at least 50 of them flying with a Cinereous Vulture. I was even more thrilled when I saw a Golden Eagle over the Causse Noir near Meyrueis.

20 August 2001. We travelled to the Jonte Gorges where we once again spotted a Golden Eagle. At Le Truel, we saw 10 Alpine Swifts and a Eurasian Hobby just before visiting the " Belvedere des Vautours". I enjoyed the exhibit but was a little disappointed because one of the people on duty there did not show much enthusiasm answering my questions. We drove on through the Tarn Gorges and as I had expected, 2 cars collided and broke their outside mirrors. However, this did not spoil our ascent to the Point Sublime on the Causse de Sauveterre where the view is absolutely marvellous.

21 August 2001. The weather was still gorgeous on the Causse Mejan where I saw an immature Golden Eagle. After the "ravers", we came across the "Goumiers" wearing their long woollen coats. Talking with them, I learnt they were on a spiritual walk to find their true ego. They wander about, come rain or come shine, everybody at their own pace and come together again in the evening. Everybody can have their own trips on the Causse. I must admit I liked these people much better because they take themselves in hand and leave you alone. There were fewer and fewer Montagu's Harriers and at the crossroads I mentioned above, I saw 65 Red-billed Choughs and 6 Rock Sparrows in the nearby stone-quarry. We were now able to pass along the airfield, although some of the "ravers" pressed us for a hike. On our way to the hotel, a SUV had just been hit by another car in a bend which reminded us that you really have to drive carefully there.

22 August 2001. On that day, we went for a long walk between the Jonte Gorges and the Tarn Gorges. Setting out from the village of Le Rozier, we went up the "Chemin des Vases". The "Vases" are huge blocks of rocks balanced on the edge of the cliffs and adding to the beauty of the path hanging along the sides of the gorges. I advise you to take the Louis Armand path, not the J. Brunet path where you will have to climb iron ladders at times. The walk under the scorching sun took us 5 h 30 including a few pauses to have a look at the site and the Alpine Swifts. Don't go there when the weather is bad because rocks and roots become very slippery then. It is also strongly recommended to wear good walking boots, a hat and to have enough water.

23 August 2001. We went up the Causse Mejean again, as far as Ste Enimie. Go to the small local museum to get some information about the saint after whom the town was called. Back on the Causse, we drove to Cassagnes, near St Pierre des Tripiers, where we got an idea of what living alone means. I finally managed to find a Tawny Pipit and a Southern Grey Shrike, not far from the stone quarry near the crossroads already mentioned above.

24 August 2001. The weather was absolutely marvellous and we returned to the Causse Mejean. At Aures, I saw a Red-legged Partridge with its chick and 2 Tawny Pipits and at Saubert, 2 adult Southern Grey Shrikes with a juvenile and yet another Tawny Pipit. We made a short ornithological break at the beginning of the afternoon because the weather was so hot that we could not see many birds. We then visited the Aven Armand cave for only FRF49. This is not much considering the beauty of the site. It is the most impressive cave I have ever seen and I have seen many of them. You will find the most beautiful chalk stones there. We left the cave filled with wonder and drove as far as the "lavogne" in Drigas where I saw a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and a European Pied Flycatcher. The "ravers" had left Le Mas de Val, so we went there but there were not birds to see, just angry farmers. At Le Villaret, I spotted another Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and 60 Red-billed Choughs.

25 August 2001. While we drove to the little town of Roquefort, between Le Rozier and Aguessac, we saw bridges made of ropes which you can use to climb in the canopy of trees. They somehow ridiculously called it the "Foret d'acrobates" (the Acrobats' wood). I just hate cheese but learning how they mature it in the Roquefort caves was quite interesting. Fortunately enough, the cheeses were made of plastic because the sheep had no milk at that time of the year. We made a detour through the Northern part of the Causse du Larzac where they were extending the A75 highway, cruised through the lovely, beautifully flowered town of Millau and drove to the site of "Montpellier le Vieux" on the Causse Noir. There, you will find beautiful calcareous rocks in the middle of the pines. The road is very picturesque and while we made a pause at La Rouajerie, I saw a Cinereous Vulture roll over, apparently just for the fun of it.

Montpellier-le-Vieux

26 August 2001. This was our last day on the Causse Mejean and the weather was still beautiful. Near "La Citerne", 2 Tawny Pipits and 2 Short-toed Larks were visible for a few seconds. At Les Herans, 31 Griffon Vultures and a Cinereous Vulture were flying round in circles in a thermal. This was the end of our stay there and in spite of my trying to find snakes, I had not been able to see but one of them. At Hures, the Little Owl was still visible and as many as 160 Rock Sparrows were feeding in the mown fields, flying up to the electric lines every now and then for a rest.

27 August 2001. The return home of this 2795 km long trip was uneventful. 

List of bird species

01 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Few. On the Jonte in Meyrueis.
02 Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Here and there. The most beautiful observations were made between Hyelzas and Les Herans.
03 Hooded Vulture Aegypius monachus Far less common. Over the Causse Mejean but also over the Causse Noir.
04 Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus Many at the beginning of the stay, including a bird in a dark phase.
05 Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos Rare.
06 Short-toed Snake-eagle Circaetus gallicus Visible every day.
07 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Not that common.
08 Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Not very common.
09 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Very common on the Causses.
10 Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo One individual.
11 Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa Seen twice.
12 Eurasian Thickknee Burhinus oedicnemus At Hures.
13 Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Fairly common.
14 Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto In Meyrueis.
15 Little Owl Athene noctua At Hures.
16 Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba In the gorges.
17 Eurasian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis In Meyrueis.
18 Sky Lark Alauda arvensis A few on the Causses.
19 Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla Rare.
20 Eurasian Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris Fairly common in the gorges.
21 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Common.
22 Northern House Martin Delichon urbicum Very common.
23 Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris Rare.
24 White Wagtail Motacilla alba Common in the gorges.
25 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea In the gorges.
26 White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus In the gorges.
27 Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes In the woods.
28 European Robin Erithacus rubecula In the woods.
29 Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus One individual.
30 Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros A few.
31 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra A few migrating birds.
32 Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus Common indeed.
33 Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Very common on the Causses.
34 Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatalis Not very common.
35 Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula Common.
36 Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus A flock of 30 birds.
37 Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla A few.
38 Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Not very common.
39 Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Fairly common.
40 Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla A few in the woods.
41 Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata One bird.
42 European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca Pretty rare.
43 Crested Tit Parus cristatus Fairly common in pine woods.
44 Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus Fairly common.
45 Great Tit Parus major Common.
46 Coal Tit Parus ater One bird heard.
47 Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus One small party..
48 Wood Nuthatch Sitta europea One bird heard.
49 Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla One bird heard.
50 Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio Fairly common.
51 Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis Pretty rare.
52 Common Magpie Pica pica Fairly common.
53 Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius A few birds in the woods.
54 Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax A few flocks.
56 Common Raven Corvus corax Fairly common.
55 Carrion Crow Corvus corone Fairly common.
57 House Sparrow Passer domesticus In towns.
58 Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia A few flocks in some places.
59 Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Common.
60 European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Common.
61 Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula One bird heard.
62 Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina Common.
63 Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Fairly common.



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