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The Camargue, in Provence,is undoubtedly France's -and indeed one of Europe's- best known wetlands. Lying tothe south of the historic Romantown of Arles in central southernFrance, at the very heart of the vast RhôneDelta, it covers about 750 squarekilometres and provides a veritable oasisfor a great many resident and migratorybirds, in an area otherwise acclaimed forits sunny Mediterranean beaches, ancientRoman ruins and fine Provençal cuisine. We begin our holiday with a flight toMontpellier, a modern airport to the west ofthe Camargue. The final approach to therunway typically passes over the Etang deMauguio where flamingoes are numerousand may be seen from the plane as weland! Our base for the next four nights is asmall and pleasing family-run hotel on theoutskirts of Arles, conveniently located justa short drive away from the Camargue,and for the next few days we will explorethis legendary region of white horses andfighting black bulls. The Greater Flamingois probably the best known denizen of thisarea, and we will spend time exploring thesaline habitats of La Digue and the Etangdu Fangassier where nearly 15,000 pairs offlamingoes breed alongside Avocets,Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers, andboth Slender-billed and MediterraneanGulls whilst, in the nearby scrub, theelusive Spectacled Warbler may also befound. In peaceful lagoons and backwaterssmall numbers of Red-crested Pochardcan be seen, whilst the extensivereedbeds, dykes and shallows of theCamargue support many herons andegrets, including Bittern and Purple Heron,Little Egret, Little Bittern, Squacco andNight Heron. Whiskered, Black and Gull-billed Terns feed along the ditches, whilethe surrounding grazing pastures andvineyards are ideal areas in which to seeEuropean Bee-eaters, European Rollersand Hoopoes. The rice fields in andaround the Camargue are yet another ofthe region's rich habitats, beloved ofherons, egrets, waders and terns, andwhere it is also possible to see France'sonly breeding population of CollaredPratincole. Raptors are another highlight ofthe region, a healthy population and varietyattracted by the abundance of prey. MarshHarriers and Black Kites drift continuouslyover the delta, Hobbies dash madly afterdragonflies and hirundines, whilst a Short-toed, Booted or perhaps even an elusiveBonelli's Eagle may occasionally be seen.We will visit Le Marais de Vigueirat, a well-managed reserve where it is possible tofollow a walking trail into the reedbeds insearch of such breeding birds as GreatReed, Moustached, Fan-tailed and Cetti'sWarblers and also, perhaps, bothPenduline and Bearded Tits. On thewestern side of the reserve, near thevillage of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, is theParc Ornithologique. Originally a birdhospital caring for the many birds injuredas a result of illegal shooting, it nowsupports not only those birds that have notrecovered fully enough to be returned tothe wild, but also their offspring.Additionally, many wild birds are attractedto the site, for example the wild WhiteStorks that breed on top of the aviaryhousing injured storks! The habitats withinthe Parc are continually being developed,and now hold large breeding colonies ofMediterranean Gulls, Black-winged Stiltsand various herons and egrets, all of whichcan be seen at close quarters. We mayalso visit the saline lagoons just inlandfrom the beach at Piemanson which attractmany species of waders at this time ofyear, along with Little, Common and,occasionally, Caspian Terns.Other habitats are also within easystriking distance; for example, the drystony steppe known as La Crau whichcovers some 50,000 hectares. This aridhabitat, which in ancient times was actuallythe delta of the River Durance, has beenextensively irrigated and supports suchcrops as melons and the famous Crau haywhich is used to feed race-horses. Thesurviving areas of original habitat supportgood numbers of Little Bustard - rareelsewhere in France - and the country'sonly population of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.Other noteworthy residents includeMontagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, StoneCurlew, Short-toed and Crested Larks,Tawny Pipit and Southern Grey Shrike. North-east of Arles lie Les Alpilles, a rangeof limestone hills - an extension of theLuberon range - rising to 387 metres andcovered with aromatic herbs and scatteredpines. The spectacular cliff-top fortress ofLes Baux attracts many raptors and, duringour visit, we will search for such specialitiesas Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli's and Short-toed Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owl, AlpineSwift, Woodlark, Blue Rock Thrush,Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers, andShort-toed Treecreeper.This area of France is especially rich inwildlife, history and local culture and, onthis short holiday, we hope to enjoy aflavour of this diversity with an easy-paceditinerary that includes some qualitybirdwatching, good photographicopportunities, a visit to the Romanamphitheatre in Arles and ample time each day to enjoy our famous NaturetrekFrench picnic lunches!SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMPARISCAMARGUEARLESTOULOUSEMONTPELLIERBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCE56Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Montpellier, transferArles.Day 2/4Daily programme ofbirding walks andexcursions in theCamargue region.Day 5Drive Montpellier; flyLondon.Accommodation A charming, family-run hotel (withprivate facilities) serving excellentlocal food.Food All included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy birdwatching walksonly.Focus Birds and other wildlife.LeaderIan Nicholson or James Lees.Single room supplement£95.Web quick search: FRA19The Camargue in SpringA 5-day holiday focusing on the wetlands and Rhône Delta of the Camargue and featuring the best of the birdlife of southern France in spring.Wednesday 8th May - Sunday 12th May Cost: £895Greater FlamingoesNight HeronCamargue Wild Horses

57Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Toulouse and driveto Lot Valley.Day 2/7A daily programme ofnatural history walksand excursions in theLot Valley and Caussecountry.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation A charming rural hotel withswimming pool and privatefacilities, serving excellent localfood.Food All included in the price.Grading Grade B. Moderate day walks.Focus Plants, birds and butterflies.LeaderMark Galliott or Jason Mitchell.Single room supplement£150.ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: FRA15Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFrance - The Lot Valley An 8-day holiday in search of the plants, birds and butterflies of a region of rural France especiallyblessed with scenic, cultural and wildlife riches.Saturday 11th May - Saturday 18th May Cost: £1,295The Lot Valley is a charming region ofrural France that holds abundantattractions for its visitors. There aresome lovely old towns such as Figeac,and Cahors where the meandering RiverLot is spanned by the famous medievalbridge, 'le Pont Valentre'. Quaint riversidesettlements include the spectacular'hanging villages' of St. Cirq-Lapopie andCalvignac, both seeming to defy gravity asthey cling to cliffs above the river. The areaalso boasts some impressive prehistoricsites, amongst them the numerousdolmens scattered about the landscapeand the superb Neolithic paintings ofmammoths and horses to be found in thecaves of Pech Merle. What is often notappreciated, though, is the amazingly richwildlife of this enchanting valley and itssurrounding area. Here, myriads ofbutterflies and other insects may still befound, plus a long list of birds -especially raptors - and a reallyspectacular variety of flowering plants,including many orchid species. There are many reasons for this wonderfuldiversity; they include the preponderanceof limestone bedrock, the practice of old-fashioned subsistence farming withoutthe use of fertilisers and sprays, and thearea's geographical position within France.The latter explains the presence of a finerepresentative selection of Mediterranean,Atlantic and Central European elements toboth the flora and fauna. Additionally, thetime of our visit coincides with the peakseason for wildlife-viewing, with thevegetation still lush and green before thegenerally hot and dry summer takesits toll. We will be based for the week, close to theriver, in a charming rural hotel servinghearty local food and fine wines. Each daywe will explore the surroundingcountryside on gentle natural historywalks, making use of the many paths,tracks and quiet country lanes - adelicious picnic lunch ensuring we makeample time for a midday break! Amongstthe week's highlights will be excursionsonto both the Cajarc and LimogneCausse, north and south of the riverrespectively. These are plateaux ofJurassic limestone that rise to around 400metres and offer extensive areas of dry,stony grassland - known as karst -interspersed with scrub of juniper, oak andpine. In times past these arid areassupported a huge population of sheep,supplying the local people with meat, wooland cheeses. Today, with the reliance onsuch livestock farming reduced, we shouldfind instead a wide variety of orchids,including Lady, Monkey, Military, Lizard,Bug, Burnt-tip, Pyramidal, Man, Tongue,Bee, Woodcock and Late Spider Orchid,plus both Red and Sword-leavedHelleborines. Many different species ofrockroses, flaxes and clovers also abound,together with numerous British raritiessuch as Narrow Hare's Ear (Bupleurumbaldense), Rough Mallow (Althaea hirsute)and Wild Candytuft (Iberis amara). Thenumber and diversity of butterflies to beseen is quite staggering, and it is notunknown to see nearly 40 species in asingle afternoon. Scarce Swallowtail,Black-veined White, Clouded Apollo,Turquoise Blue, Southern White Admiraland Queen of Spain Fritillary are just a fewof the many that we hope to record, alongwith other interesting insects such aspraying mantis, hawk moths and thestrange, but beautiful, dragonfly-likeAscalaphids. Birds which may be seen orheard include Short-toed Eagle, LittleBustard, Stone Curlew, Crested Lark,Hoopoe, Nightingale and abundant andvarious warbler species.Amongst other habitats we will visit duringthe week are the spectacular cliffsalongside the River Lot, home of suchplants as Round-headed Leek (Alliumsphaerocephalon) and Small YellowFoxglove (Digitalis lutea). Here, the liquidcalls of Golden Orioles fill riverside poplarsand Black Kites and many other birds ofprey choose to breed. Less precipitousparts of the gorge are clothed in extensivewoodlands of oak and Box; HoneyBuzzards and Red Kites breed here, andmany more orchids may be found,together with Dianthusspecies, BastardBalm (Melittis melissophyllum) and CrestedCow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum)amongst other notable plants. Finally, we will spend a day in the hillsbehind Figeac, in a region called theChâtaigneraie. The area is so named onaccount of its extensive Sweet Chestnutforests, though it also holds many smallcultivated fields which provide a refuge forrare cornfield weeds such as Corn Cockle(Agrostemma githago) and Cornflower(Centaurea cyanus). The underlying rockhere is made up of granites and schists,which erode to form soils of an acidnature, creating a stark contrast invegetation to that we will haveencountered up until now. Heathers arenumerous, while birds like Goshawk, CirlBunting and Firecrest are commoner here.Such further variety complements a weekfilled with rural charms, and a diversity andabundance of natural history long sincelost from the English countryside.SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMCALAISPARISLOT VALLEYTOULOUSEBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSMASSIFCENTRALPYRENEESSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCE DORDOGNEVALLEYTongue OrchidSt. Cirq-LapopieRed Kite