There was a rain interval today so I spent the wet morning blogging then shopping for provisions, then in the merely grey and dismal afternoon paid a visit to the Slender-billed Gulls at the mouth of the Rhone. Two sites here at They de Roustan to the east of the Grand Rhone channel, and la Palissade on the west side are reputed to be the best places in the Parc Naturel Regional de Camargue for observing this gull.
I visited both locations in March 2013 during three days here that were blighted by the Mistral, finding my first ever SBGs at la Palissade and witnessing them flying backwards in the wind. Up until then this had been a jinx bird on my southern European travels. Then in January this year I looked for them again at They de Roustan without success, but didn’t have time to cross over to the western site. Hence my interest in checking out la Palissade now.
Getting there meant a potentially nice and birdy drive through la Camargue, along the D36 road south from Arles. On the way out the top head turners were a quartet of roadside European Roller, Gull-billed Tern over some rice paddies, and a group of several summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper on the approach to la Palissade itself. Then there were Cattle Egrets sometimes almost matching the numbers of livestock in roadside fields, summer plumaged Sanderling and Kentish Plover, those common Oxon residents Marsh Harrier, large numbers of Avocet, and of course oodles and oodles of Greater Flamingo. It’s a pretty bad holiday interruption when all that’s left to do is bird la Camargue!
Blue skies prevailed when I reached journey’s end (N43°21.079′ E4° 46.922′) and the first thing I saw was a good sized flock of Slender-billed Gull (pictured above). They must be a fixture here and this is the only place where I have found them in any numbers. I watched for about half an hour. To me they have a slightly comical, droopy-nosed appearance reminiscent of Concorde, and a character of their own amongst other Gulls. I was pleased to have had this second encounter here, after the foul conditions of that original experience.
Driving back the stand-out bird sightings were a Blue-headed Wagtail, Little and Sandwich Terns, my first Caspian Tern for France, and a Squacco Heron. And all this in a few hours spent casually in la Camargue without leaving the car. Eventually I was ticked-off by a pair of passing gendarmes for stopping at the roadside taking pictures. They seemed unimpressed by my explanation that I was observing birds as people come here from all over the world to do.