We all flew into Montpellier where the tour began. If history is your thing, some of the buildings in Montpellier date back to 1363. Sure, that's old... but the first record of the city actually dates back to 985. Seriously now, that's a lot of history!
We started birding just around the airport where we enjoyed a flock of LITTLE BUSTARDS, our first EUROPEAN ROLLER, and both COMMON and ALPINE SWIFTS. Here's the latter, a beautiful, boldly-patterned, and big swift:
We spent the next several days birding the Camargue region along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. One of the many highlights was seeing gull species like SLENDER-BILLED, BLACK-HEADED, LITTLE, and MEDITERRANEAN. Here's the latter, albeit a rather ratty/molty one:
Alongside the gulls out in the salt flats were several species of terns as well including SANDWICH, CASPIAN, BLACK, and COMMON. Here's a Common Tern flying over with a snack:
In a crazy TERN of events, we stumbled on an orange-billed tern roosting in a big flock... but what was it? We initially suspected Lesser Crested, a crazy rare but possible species. It wasn't until later, after passing some pics around, that its true identity surfaced (thanks to TJ and DG)... it was actually an ELEGANT TERN! Yes, the same species from the west coasts of North and South America. Woah.
We bumped into several fun shorebird species out in the flats too including PIED AVOCET, BLACK-WINGED STILT, COMMON REDSHANK, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, RUDDY TURNSTONE, BAR-TAILED GODWIT, EURASIAN CURLEW, LITTLE STINT, and even a RED-NECKED and RED PHALAROPE (both of which are quite rare).
Certainly bigger and flashier were the GREATER FLAMINGOS that were common as ever:
Being in September and being situated on the north shore of the Mediterranean Sea, a lot of south-bound migrating raptors were piling up along the shore (many raptors don't like flying over big bodies of water). One of the most noticeable species were the EURASIAN SPARROWHAWKS, a sharp little accipiter:
We enjoyed other raptors like OSPREY, COMMON BUZZARD, EURASIAN MARSH-HARRIER, EURASIAN KESTREL, and this awesome EURASIAN HOBBY:
Another species I found interesting was the SHORT-TOED SNAKE-EAGLE. We ended up seeing 3 or so on tour... here's the first one:
It took us a while to track one of these down but in the end, we did. It's the slender-winged MONTAGU'S HARRIER gliding low over some fields:
We also worked some rather barren, open-country looking for more specialties and we eventually found things like LESSER KESTREL, LITTLE OWL, EURASIAN THICK-KNEE, and EURASIAN DOTTEREL. We also found some cool larks including this EURASIAN SKYLARK:
... and this CRESTED LARK:
In the brushier habitats we stirred up other new species like SOUTHERN GRAY SHRIKE, CORN BUNTING, RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE.
But before long, our time there had come to a close and it was time to drive east towards the Pyrenees. We ate our picnic lunch at a roadside rest... but not just any roadside rest. Get a load of what was visible from there:
Yep, that's the walled city of Carcassonne! There's a lot of human history in the area, some of it has been dated back to 3500 BC. The actual hilltop location was fortified by the Romans around 100 BC. Crazy stuff!
Another stop on the way to the Pyrenees was at a rest area specifically to look for this sharply-marked vulture:
This high-flying species is an EGYPTIAN VULTURE and we barely caught up to any before they migrated south and out of France.
We spent the next 4 nights in the little town of Gèdre up in the French Pyrenees. It's a neat little town with very different architecture... like these doors and windows:
We started our birding the following morning and enjoyed long looks at several ALPINE ACCENTORS, a high-elevation specialist:
In the same area as the above marmot was this stunner perched up on a rock:
This is a RUFOUS-TAILED ROCK-THRUSH and it certainly was one of my favorites of the trip.
When looking up, you might find yourself face to face with a giant carrion-eater of high elevations. I was rather impressed by the many EURASIAN GRIFFONS; their wingspans can top 9 feet!
But you keep looking up to sort through the griffons. The main reason? Most likely to hope to see the nearly-mythical LAMMERGEIER, or BEARDED VULTURE as they're now called. We did that for a while before, amazingly, one came drifting out of the fog. Here's one, my favorite species of the trip:
This species can be hard to see, living up in the high elevations on remote and inaccessible cliffs. Lammergeiers will sometimes find bones of carcasses, carry them high into the air, and then drop them on rocks so that they shatter. They then swoop down and gobble up the bone fragments! Yes, this bird actually eats bones. Incredible.
Although this isn't a tour that nets you a dozen species of woodpeckers or anything, we still had some quality ones. Imagine a woodpecker, slightly bigger than our Pileated, that was ALL BLACK except for some red on the head. What you have there is the sneaky BLACK WOODPECKER! We had several fly over but we eventually tracked down a perched one:
One of the bigger surprises of the tour came when this BLUETHROAT popped up near Gavarnie!
Here in the states we have the Brown Creeper. Over there, you could see Short-toed Treecreeper and Eurasian Treecreeper. Although the two are rather similar to each other, there are some subtle differences in bill length, toenail length, patterning in the wing, distribution, etc. Here's a EURASIAN TREECREEPER that performed quite well for us:
Nearby, a little flock of kinglets caught our attention. Except, they aren't called kinglets there. There are Firecrests and Goldcrests. This one, with the pale eyering, is a GOLDCREST:
In terms of pipits on tour, we saw TAWNY PIPIT several times near the Camargue, many WATER PIPITS in the high elevations of the Pyrenees, and this lone TREE PIPIT on one of our final days. Lucky for us, it didn't seemed to be bothered by us at all:
It shouldn't surprise you that I kept an eye out for new dragonflies and butterflies along the way as well. Here's a BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER that chose a less-than-scenic perch:
If you want scenic vistas though, this tour really was spectacular. Here are a couple of views from our time in the Pyrenees:
So with that, our tour was a wrap. It was fun adding some flight lines on my map across the Atlantic, too. You can see how my flights came in via London and then departed via Madrid:here on our website.