Gerry Griffiths, managing director of Avian Adventures, a leading UK wildlife tour operator, reports on his company’s first tour to Alderney, supported by the Living Islands team:
Day 4: Tuesday, 28th April (Alderney >> Cherbourg >> Mare de Vauville >> Foret de St. Sauveur >> Bricquebec)
Today’s programme began earlier than normal, because we were flying by ‘Private Charter’ to Cherbourg in France and then travelling south to visit nature reserves in Normandy during the next two days. Leaving the Airport, we travelled in a south-westerly direction to a coastal reserve at Mare de Vauville, where the habitat consisted of dunes and freshwater lagoons. There were several species of duck, including Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Reed and Sedge Warblers were numerous, singing from many areas of Phragmites and small sections of Willows, but Cetti’s Warblers although very vocal were difficult to see and in fact only allowed the slightest glimpse. Continuing south, our next birding venue was Portbail and its much visited beach by people on holiday and also dog walkers. First impressions were that there would be little in the way of birdlife – wrong, for we were soon to encounter fine selection of migrant shorebirds, including Whimbrel, Sanderling, Dunlin and Common Ringed Plover.
The other species we wished to see at this site was Kentish Plover, which breeds here. Our close scrutiny of the area eventually reaped reward, when we located several pairs of the species, watching them for some time. Unfortunately, it seemed evident that at least one nest had been lost, possibly to dogs not being kept on a lead. After this excellent spell of birdwatching it was time to set off to our accommodation, a medieval chateau at Bricquebec. A lovely piece of woodland vied for our attention at Foret de St. Sauveur Le Vicomte. This did not reveal any unusual species only the more common forest species. Later we arrived at our chateau accommodation and enjoyed its excellent French Cuisine.
Day 5: Wednesday, 29th April (Foret de St. Sauveur >> Marais de la Taute >> Marais du Milieu >> Chateau de la Riviere)
This morning we returned to the woodland site (Foret de St. Sauveur), which was much more successful, with bird song very much in evidence. A Garden Warbler was uttering its throaty warble from deep cover at first, but then moved to a prominent perch to continue its singing, this allowed us first class views for some time. Next in line was Goldcrest but soon followed by a Short-toed Treecreeper that moved from tree to tree at quite close range. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker then appeared and called before disappearing and finally re-appearing. At the end of our short walk we had certainly encountered a little treasure chest of birds.The marshland at Marais de la Taute was our next venue, which proved to be an excellent reserve. As we approached there was a drake and a female Garganey in a ditch, but they flew away on our vehicle’s close approach. When we got out of the minibus a number of both Willow and Sedge Warblers were singing and we saw three species of Egret – Cattle, Little and Great.
However the star bird was a female Montagu’s Harrier that was circling for some time, before passing directly overhead. Common Kestrel and several Common Buzzards (some of which were extremely pale in colour) were also seen. The next reserve we visited was Marais du Milieu, where once again the habitat was a combination of marsh and meadow. As we walked the track we observed a few Yellow Wagtails and again several Whinchats. Then as we drew close to a small section of reeds a female Marsh Harrier flew out and joined another that was already airborne. What happened next was fantastic, for we witnessed the mid-air food pass – brilliant. Our final bird watching of the day was at Chateau de la Riviere, where there is a large colony of White Storks. A few birds appeared to be incubating eggs, some still adding material to already large nest structures on the old chateau ruins, while others were still performing mating ceremonies. It all made wonderful viewing and allowed great photographic opportunities – this was a great finale to our birding in Normandy. After another excellent Farewell Dinner and wine at our Chateau we completed our final bird log.
Day 6: Thursday, 30th April (Bricquebec>>Cherbourg>>Alderney)
Today we were leaving Bricquebec after breakfast and driving to Cherbourg for our return private charter flight to Alderney. After arriving, we took a taxi from the airport to Braye Beach and then had lunch at the hotel. With plenty of time in hand before flights back to the UK Mainland, a visit was made to the Bayeux Tapestry, on show in St. Anne Library. The project (The Alderney Finale) was conceived by three Alderney residents and completed in February 2013. It was then exhibited in 2014 for 3 months in the same Bayeux Museum as the original. We returned to the hotel, collected our luggage, said our fond farewells to Martin & Anne-Isabelle then went to the airport for our flights back to the UK – the end of an excellent tour to Alderney & Normandy.
A big vote of thanks to Martin, for his organisation of the ground arrangements in both Alderney and Normandy, his support in co-leading the tour, his companionship and friendly manner. Also a big thank you to Anne-Isabelle for her support to Martin and myself and with translation in Normandy – she was a delight to have along and a ‘Great Asset’ to our group!