Eastern France: Lower Doubs + Jura, 14-18 June 2000

Birding trip report   John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl  

The Lower Doubs region, East of Dijon in east-central France, has a varied avifauna because some mediterranean species can be found this far North, and because the lowland riverine habitat is still rather natural, with wide meanders, sandy cliffs, gravel bars, wooded banks, ox-bow lakes, a not over-developed agriculture and some interesting forests nearby. Moreover, the Jura mountain crests (1200 m+) are only an hour drive away. As the road connections from the North of France are superb, the region is an easy 8 hour drive from Amsterdam, via Lille where we picked up our friends from London.

We stayed in two hotels along this stretch of the Doubs SW of Dole. First in the village of Chaussin (hotel Chez Bach, with a good restaurant of regional fame), then in the more rustic hotel Doubs Rivage in the village of Charette, at a dead-end street right at one of the specific birding sites. Both have nice local wines from the foothills of the Jura mountains (Arbois wine region).
Via EuroBirdNet and some subsequent personal e-mails with two french birders I got very precise information about birding sites: site maps and descriptions for the Lower Doubs (to be published at
and a description of a good forest site in the Jura where we could try to find Hazelhen, about the only potential lifer of this trip for all four of us. For some supplementary sites the booklet Where to watch birds in France (Helm, 1992) was also useful. The maps we used were the Michelin road atlas 1:200.000, topographical (IGN) map 1:100.000 (nr. 37) and one of 1:25.000 (3327ET) for the Hazelhen site. We brought two scopes for the four of us, which was enough. The weather was bright all the time, and no special footwear was needed for the lowlands, whereas in the mountains we used trekking shoes. Of the three full days we spent two (15 and 17 June) in the lowlands, and one (16 June) in the mountains. On the last day (18 June) we did some morning birding near the hotel in Charette, and on the way back to Holland we made a short detour into the Champagne region, in order to collect some reasonably priced bottles of their liquid at the address that we know from our Crane winter excursions to the nearby Lac du Der Chantecoq (see another report at my site about such a winter visit).

In the lowlands we visited three sites along the Doubs river, one site with two marshy lakes a few kms from the river, and one site in a large forest nearby. The best riverine site was just NE of the village of Fretterans along the south bank of the river. Here you can park your car at the end of a dirt track leading from the village to the river and walk a bit to the right and to the left along the wooded river side. We got Bluethroat, Sand Martin (colony), Black-crowned Night-Heron, Red-backed Shrike, Oriole, Tree Sparrow, Melodious Warbler, Corn Bunting, Litte Egret, Bee-eater, Kingfisher, Black Tern, Little Ringed Plover, European Serin, Stone-Curlew (thicknee). Common other species in this region were Nightingale, Turtle Dove, Willow Tit, Yellowhammer, Black Kite and Stonechat. The site of Charette, a village more downstream, produced a subset of that of Fretterans. The third riverine site is a large one with an oxbow lake and some marshes, situated South of the village of Petit-Noir. Here we added Moorhen, Purple Heron, Hobby, Curlew, Hen Harrier, Reed Warbler.
The Helm booklet pointed us to two marshy lakes 2 and 4 km right South of Charette. These are set amidst woods called Bois de Vendues, and the southern lake is called Etang Bailly. At these lakes we got Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Grebe, Pochard, Mute Swan (dozens), Oriole, Hobby, Purple Heron, Kingfisher, Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Stock Dove (landing on the lake surface to drink and/or collect water!) and Great Reed Warbler.
In the forest called Foret Domanial de Pourlans, some 5 km North of the river, we made a walk of about 4 km along the logging roads N of the village of Pourlans and a short walk at the more moisty eastern border of the forest. We had many Middle Spotted Woodpecker, two Honey Buzzards together, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Treecreeper, Hawfinch, and again Oriole. There were also intriguing butterflies and dragonflies.

In the Jura mountains we first visited the forest called Foret du Risoux, in search of the Hazelhen, a tricky bird but living in such good forest habitat that a visit is always worthwhile. This particular forest is situated between the villages of Bellefontaine and Bois d'Amont about 7 km Northeast of Les Rousses and Morez, at an altitude of 1200 m above sea level. We made a walk of about 4 km on rather rough tracks N of the Chalet de Ministres. We did not see the Hazelhen but instead were rewarded with Capercaillie (female flying off near us), a family of Pygmy Owl (at the first open spot with tracks crossing the road, when coming from Bellefontaine), Black Woodpecker (near the Chalet), Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Crossbill, Raven, Ring Ouzel calling at many spots, Bullfinch, Goldcrest. The forest is an impressive mature mixture of spruce, beech and many other tree and scrub species.
The other Jura site was the crest at Mont Rond where the N5 crosses the border to Switzerland. From here you have an enormous view across the Lake of Geneva to the Mont Blanc (all snow) and many other famous mountain tops. You have to walk up to this crest from the ski station at Col de la Faucille (45 mins good tracks), through some open woods next to the ski pistes and alpine meadows, and these were good for Grey Wagtail, Firecrest, Citril Finch, Bonelli's Warbler, Wryneck, Water Pipit, Nutcracker, Peregrine. Several Ring Ouzel were present here too, many Redstart, and the only Willow Warbler of the trip. The latter is on the southern frontier of its range here and maybe that's why we had it only at this higher elevation. Below the highest point of the crest is a tall rock face at the base of which we saw a large group of chamois mountain goats (gems). These compensated a bit for Wallcreeper that we had missed.
Species seen:

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Night Heron
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Mute Swan
Tufted Duck
Black Kite
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Stone Curlew
Little Ringed Plover
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Common Tern
Black Tern
Stock dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Pygmy Owl
Long-eared Owl
Green Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Sky Lark
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Tree Pipit
Water Pipit
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Black Redstart
Ring Ouzel
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Savi's Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Melodious Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Garden Warbler
Bonelli's Warbler
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Willow Tit
Crested Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Golden Oriole
Red-backed Shrike
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Citril Finch
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting