Southern France: Alps, Crau, Béziers, Causses  23 June - 7 July 2012
Birding trip report - John van der Woude
Nollie and I made an early summer trip to southern France, by car and from hotel to hotel, in fine weather. We had consulted our friend André for birding sites, and successfully used Crozier's birdwatching guide for southern France. Of course in the Alps the plant life was very rich at this time of year, and we saw many butterflies. Halfway the trip we stayed a few nights in a nice cabin at the Chasteuil campsite in the Gorges du Verdon where we visited relatives on holiday.
Our best birds were Wallcreeper, Bonelli's Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Rock Partridge (heard only), Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Roller, Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Dipper, Alpine Accentor, Rock Thrush, Orphean Warbler, Lesser Grey Shrike, Iberian Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Nutcracker, Snow Finch, Citril Finch, Rock Sparrow, Ortolan Bunting, Rock Bunting. This is more than we had expected. Apparently late June/early July is still a good time, and not only in the Alps.
See the photo captions below for more info about the sites and the sightings.
At the bottom is an annotated species list, with English and Dutch bird names.

1 = Vercors     2 = Col du Lautaret & Galibier     3 = Col d'Izoard     4 = Queyras-Ristolas    5 = Col de Vars
6 = Col de la Bonette   7 = Bachelard gorge & Col de la Cayolle     8 = Gorges du Verdon
9 = le Crau     10 = les Alpilles     11 = Lespignan
12 = Causse Blandas     13 = Causse Méjean     14 = Gorge de la Jonte

First stop: the Vercors park, with a large group of Alpine Swift overhead. Note the narrow road right, the first of many such roads to come.

Also our first Alpine (Yellow-billed) Choughs (Alpenkauw), in the Vercors.

Col du Lautaret. Lesser Redpoll, and with time for a longer walk Ring Ouzel is said to be possible here too.

Wheatear seems a bit paler grey here.

Col du Galibier. Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor at the Chalet du Galibier (the building in the foreground).

The first of several chamois (gems), in front of the snow field. Below Col du Galibier.

Alpine Lily.

The 'desert' just East of the Col d'Izoard. Wallcreeper should occur on the rocks rising from this 'desert', but we did not find it here (we scoped from the road). We had our first Nutcrackers flying around the tree line.

Col d'Izoard as seen early morning from the viewpoint just above the pass. Heard our only Rock Partridge of the trip, calling from the huge slope which just begins on the lefthand side of the photo.

Alpine Marmot was common at most cols (passes).

In the Queyras park, near Ristolas. Another chance for Rock Partridge here, but we did not hear it or see it (scoping from the road).

Grey Wagtail sunbathing in the early morning.

Alpine meadow on a short walk to the "Petit Belvédère" (for Mount Viso) above Ristolas in the Queyras regional nature park. Nutcracker was stealthily moving around in the open forest.

Back at the start of the Belvédère walk near Ristolas, we saw many butterflies (at c. 1700 m above sea level). From left to right: Swallowtail (Koninginnepage, Papilio malachaon), Knapweed Fritillary? (Knoopkruidparelmoervlinder, Melitaea phoebe), an Erebia (meolans?), a Pyrgus (dikkopje), Idas Blue? (both sides; Vals heideblauwtje, Plebeius idas), Black-veined White (Groot geaderd witje, Aporia crataegi). 
Elsewhere on this trip, we saw the impressive Apollo butterfly several times, and many Great Banded Grayling (Witbandzandoog, Brintesia circe). See also the two butterfly photos further below (Scarce Swallowtail and Southern White Admiral).

Col de Vars SE of Guillestre. Several Ortolan Buntings singing here in competition, at midday. One even singing from the ground.

Up to the Col de la Bonette, the 'highest surfaced road of Europe' (2800 m at the pass), and hence good for Snow Finch too.

Near the pass of the Bonette. Snow Finch photos below were taken here.

Nice plants here in the barren environment of the Bonette.  Toadflax (leeuwebek) above and gentian below.

In the Bachelard gorge S of Barcelonette we were lucky to spot a male Wallcreeper closeby.

Going higher up from the Bachelard gorge. Rock Bunting here (photo below).

Stop at a classic rural French restaurant terrace, at Four St. Laurent below the Col de la Cayolle.

A walk at the tree line of Col de la Cayolle produced our best sightings of Citril Finch (and Crossbill).

Scarce Swallowtail - Koningspage 
Iphiclides podalirius

The very scenic Gorges de Daluis South of Guillaumes (which is S of Col de la Cayolle). Peregrine here.

Near the Gorges du Verdon.

Gorges du Verdon.

Verdon river seen from above.

Griffon Vultures perched on a rock wall in the Verdon gorge, and in flight above the gorge.

Nollie on the foot bridge at the bottom of the Verdon gorge.

Our walk along the bottom of the Verdon gorge. Remarkably cool at some spots, and hence (?) Wrens etc.

In the Crau plains 3 km SW of Entressen. Iberian (Southern) Grey Shrike. At this eastern end of the Crau plains we saw more bushes than at the western end (S of St. Martin de Crau), where the official reserve walk from a parking lot is (for which permits can be obtained at the Ecomusée in the western end of St. Martin, Monday - Saturday 9-17h; 3 euro pp, valid for two days).

Juvenal Great Spotted Cuckoo, in the company of at least four Magpies (this cuckoo is brood parasite on Magpie). At the SE border of Entressen village.

Calandra Lark at the Crau plains 3 km SW of Entressen (far more heard and seen here than at the more western part S of St. Martin).

Short-toed Lark was at both ends of the Crau (SW of Entressen, and S of St. Martin).

Roller was locally common in the border areas of the Crau.

Impressions of the Crau plains. Around 8.00 h in the morning we had four times Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flying overhead, the largest group being 6 individuals. All four groups along the official reserve walk.

Tawny Pipit was rather common in the Crau, and often singing, in display flight.

Three Little Owls on an old barn in the Crau.

Lesser Kestrel was present in small colonies at both ends of the Crau.

Our scope view of Little Bustard at the Crau reserve S of St. Martin, from the hide in a barn. It is the small dot just below the middle of the photo! The bird (a male) was often typically bobbing its head.

View from the Alpilles onto the Crau plains and even the Camargue in the distance.

Our site for Bonelli's Eagle (photo below) in the Alpilles.

Southern White Admiral  -  Blauwe IJsvogelvlinder 
Limenitis (Ladoga) reducta

From a few websites we had learned that SW of Béziers, near Lespignan, Lesser Grey Shrike and other nice species were possible. It is a moist, flat area between the hills. It is partly cultivated with vineyards, so it took some time to find the right place, with the help of a local winegrower who exactly knew which species we were looking for.

Lesser Grey Shrike.

Cirl Bunting was common here too, as was Ortolan Bunting, Golden Oriole, Bee-eater and Fan-tailed Warbler. Also our only Turtle Dove of the trip here.

Between the vineyards we also had Hoopoe.

"Bien étonnés de se trouver ensemble". Is Hoopoe so small or is this a very big hare?

The air above this moist area of Lespignan was full of Swifts.

Causse de Blandas, with the famous Cirque de Navacelles.

Red-backed Shrike (above) and Woodchat Shrike (below) on the Causse de Blandas.

On the Causse Méjean, North of Meyrueis (where we again stayed at the lovely hotel Mont d'Aigoual; good food too). Rock Thrush, Ortolan Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Tawny Pipit and Orphean Warbler at this spot SW of Nivoliers.

Rock Sparrow was easy to find in the small villages we visited on the Causse Méjean (Drigas, Hures, Nivoliers). Once we knew their calls well, we heard them also in some rocky areas outside the villages.

Ortolan Bunting.

Rock Thrush.

Feather Grass gives the Causse Méjean a particular appearance.

Red-billed Chough (Alpenkraai) above the Causse Méjean.

Causse Méjean at the western end of the so-called Nîmes-le-Vieux karst rock formations (where we dipped both Blue Rock Thrush and Western Black-eared Wheatear this time, although we probably heard the thrush singing once).

At the Griffon Vulture rock wall in the Gorges de la Jonte.

Griffon Vulture in the Gorges de la Jonte at Le Truel. One of the last birds of this succesful trip before we hit the toll road A75 for driving back home.

Species list
            Koereiger  Cattle Egret
   Kleine Zilverreiger  Little Egret
    Grote Zilverreiger  Great White Egret
         Blauwe Reiger  Grey Heron
          Purperreiger  Purple Heron  -  Crau and Lespignan
              Ooievaar  White Stork  -  Crau
              Bergeend  Shelduck
            Wilde Eend  Mallard
           Zwarte Wouw  Black Kite  -  far more common than Red Kite
             Rode Wouw  Red Kite
             Vale gier  Griffon Vulture -  Verdon gorge, Jonte gorge
          Slangenarend  Short-toed Eagle  -  2 Alpilles
               Sperwer  Sparrowhawk
               Buizerd  Buz zard
            Havikarend  Bonelli's Eagle  -  2 adults Alpilles (+ poss. 1 subad.)
      Kleine Torenvalk  Lesser Kestrel  -  Crau Entressen and reserve
             Torenvalk  Kestrel
            Slechtvalk  Peregrine
          Steenpatrijs  Rock Partridge  -  heard calling Col d'Izoard
          Rode Patrijs  Red-legged Partridge - a few times, mainly Crau.
               Kwartel  Quail  -  flushed at 4 m on Causse de Blandas; also heard above Lautaret!
                Fazant  Pheasant
             Waterhoen  Moorhen
              Meerkoet  Coot
           Kleine Trap  Little Bustard  -  Crau reserve, scoped from barn hide
            Steltkluut  Black-winged Stilt
                 Griel  Stone Curlew  -  Crau reserve a few pairs
         Zwartkopmeeuw  Mediterranean Gull  - Crau, Lespignan
              Kokmeeuw  Black-headed Gull
         Geelpootmeeuw  Yellow-legged Gull
             Lachstern  Gull-billed Tern -  group passing by on Crau
          Witwangstern  Whiskered Tern  -  Lespignan
 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse  Witbuikzandhoen  -  Crau reserve sev. groups, largest group 6 indiv.
             Holenduif  Stock dove
              Houtduif  Wood Pigeon
         Turkse tortel  Collared Dove
           Zomertortel  Turtle Dove -  Lespignan 1 in flight
           Kuifkoekoek  Great Spotted Cuckoo  -  juvenal at Entressen, 1 at Crau reserve
               Koekoek  Cuckoo
           Dwergooruil  Scops Owl  - heard Verdon gorge campsite
              Steenuil  Little Owl  -  3 on barn Crau reserve
                Bosuil  Tawny Owl  -  heard Verdon gorge campsite
               Ransuil  Long-eared Owl  -  heard at Pra Loup Barcelonnette
            Gierzwaluw  Swift  -  common, also in the gorges (and then between Alpine S)
       Alpengierzwaluw  Alpine Swift  -  groups at Vercors, gorges and Alpilles
             Bijeneter  Bee-eater  -  only at Lespignan
           Scharrelaar  Roller  -  many in the Crau, a few at Lespignan and southern causses
                   Hop  Hoopoe -  a few, e.g. at Lespignan (see photos)
         Groene Specht  Green Woodpecker
         Zwarte Specht  Black Woodpecker  -  heard Pra Loup Barcelonnette
    Grote Bonte Specht  Great Spotted Woodpecker
   Kleine Bonte Specht  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker  -  Verdon gorge, Lespignan
     Kalanderleeuwerik  Calandra Lark  -  sev. at Crau S of Entressen
     Kortteenleeuwerik  Short-toed Lark  -  sev. at Crau both sides
         Kuifleeuwerik  Crested Lark  -  remarkably few, mainly Crau and Blandas.
         Boomleeuwerik  Wood Lark  -  rather common
         Veldleeuwerik  Sky Lark  -  many! (at all open areas)
            Rotszwaluw  Crag Martin  -  rather common at rocky habitats
          Boerenzwaluw  Barn Swallow
            Huiszwaluw  House Martin  -  also at gorges (natural habitat)
            Duinpieper  Tawny Pipit  -  sev. singing Crau (both sides), also on Causses.
            Boompieper  Tree Pipit
           Waterpieper  Water Pipit -  sev. singing above tree line Alps
 Grote Gele Kwikstaart  Grey Wagtail  -  sev. along streams
      Witte Kwikstaart  White Wagtail
          Waterspreeuw  Dipper  -  only seen along Guil river NE of Guillestre
          Winterkoning  Wren
              Heggemus  Dunnock  -  remarkably: at tree line in Col de la Cayolle
         Alpenheggemus  Alpine Accentor  -  Col du Galibier, Col d'Izoard
             Roodborst  Robin
            Nachtegaal  Nightingale  -  many shortly calling, a few singing
     Zwarte Roodstaart  Black Redstart  -  common at rocks and in towns
  Gekraagde Roodstaart  Redstart
                Paapje  Whinchat  -  a few only
       Roodborsttapuit  Stonechat  -  a few only (Lespignan, Causse Méjean)
                Tapuit  Wheatear  -  common above tree line and at causses
      Rode Rotslijster  Rock Thrush  -  Col du Galibier, Col dÍzoard, Causse Méjean.
                 Merel  Blackbird
           Zanglijster  Song Thrush
         Grote Lijster  Mistle Thrush  -  sev. sites, small groups.
        Cetti's Zanger  Cetti's Warbler  -  Crau, Lespignan
            Graszanger  Fan-tailed Warbler  -  common Lespignan
      Orpheusspotvogel  Melodious Warbler  -  Crau, common Lespignan.
  Provencaalse Grasmus  Dartford Warbler  -  Alpilles a few
        Orpheusgrasmus  Orphean Warbler  -  one singing Causse Méjean (and seen)
               Grasmus  Whitethroat  -  Col de la Cayolle
           Tuinfluiter  Garden Warbler
              Zwartkop  Blackcap
           Bergfluiter  Bonelli's Warbler  -  common
              Tjiftjaf  Chiffchaff
          Vuurgoudhaan  Firecrest  -  Verdon gorge
  Grauwe Vliegenvanger  Spotted Flycatcher  -  Lespignan
            Staartmees  Long-tailed Tit
              Glanskop  Marsh Tit
                Matkop  Willow Tit
              Kuifmees  Crested Tit
           Zwarte Mees  Coal Tit
            Pimpelmees  Blue Tit
              Koolmees  Great Tit
            Boomklever  Nuthatch -  below Col de la Cayolle
           Rotskruiper  Wallcreeper  -  Bachelard gorge S of Barcelonnette
      Taigaboomkruiper  Treecreeper
           Boomkruiper  Short-toed Treecreeper
             Wielewaal  Golden Oriole  -  sev. Lespignan
       Grauwe Klauwier  Red-backed Shrike  -  rather common
     Kleine Klapekster  Lesser Grey Shrike  -  Lespignan a few
  Iberische Klapekster  Iberian Shrike  -  one at Crau S of Entressen (photo above)
       Roodkopklauwier  Woodchat Shrike  -  a few at Causse Blandas
                  Gaai  Jay
                Ekster  Magpie
           Notenkraker  Nutcracker  -  Col d'Izoard and Ristolas (Queyras)
             Alpenkauw  Alpine (Yellow-billed) Chough  -  groups above tree line and Vercors
            Alpenkraai  Red-billed Chough  -  a few groups, esp. at Causses
          Zwarte Kraai  Carrion Crow
                  Raaf  Raven
               Spreeuw  Starling
               Huismus  House Sparrow
               Ringmus  Tree Sparrow
               Rotsmus  Rock Sparrow  -  common in small villages Causse Méjean N of Meyrueis
            Sneeuwvink  Snowfinch  -  mainly Col du Galibier and Col de la Bonette
                  Vink  Chaffinch
      Europese Kanarie  Serin  -  common in villages
           Citroensijs  Citril Finch  -  mainly Col d'Izoard and Col de la Cayolle
                Putter  Goldfinch
                  Kneu  Linnet
              Barmsijs  Redpoll  -  Col du Lautaret and elsewhere
              Kruisbek  Crossbill  -  at tree line in cols
              Geelgors  Yellowhammer
              Cirlgors  Cirl Bunting  -  sev. heard, few seen
           Grijze Gors  Rock Bunting  -  up from Bachelard gorge (see photos above)
              Ortolaan  Ortolan Bunting  -  esp. Col de Vars, Lespignan and Causse Méjean
           Grauwe Gors  Corn Bunting  -  common in open areas