France: Keeping up

We were a small band of birders in the South of France. Joining Steve and me was another couple, Ann and Brian, from the U.K., and they were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I admired them in a lot of ways.

For starters, they packed light and each had a bag that they carried on the plane with them. That was it. No checked in baggage.

Steve and me? We don’t travel light. We dragged along with us big suitcases we had to check in. We were planning on staying an extra week after our time in the Languedoc region, with several days in Arles and the Camargue and the last four days in Paris, where of course I needed a wardrobe change from khakis and hiking boots. I wondered what the secret was to packing light. Maybe we take too much. Maybe we don’t realize yet what we don’t need.

Brian and Ann were also in terrific health and walked a lot. In fact, just before this trip they had completed a walk across the U.K., which I found impressive. Me? I was constantly tired and my feet ached, wishing I had replaced the insoles of my shoes before this trip. After a few hours of hiking I was ready for Dominique’s fabulous picnic.

Between Steve’s heart and the trouble with my lungs, I not only found it hard to keep up with Brian and Ann, but wondered if Steve and I would ever reach a 50th wedding anniversary. (We married late, so we’d be in our early and late 90’s for that to happen.)

Our birding in France continued across a small plateau of open dry grassland above Feuillan where we found Thekla’s Lark. This area is one of the few spots where we could find it. We also had good views of Woodchat shrike and Tawny pipit.

At Les Coussoules we walked along the coast where we found Kentish Plover and Little Tern, and found a Little Grebe near the filtration ponds. Common, Pallid and Alpine Swift were highlights flying over the reed beds. Our picnic on the waterfront at La Franqui was accompanied by Little Tern fishing.

This garbanzo bean salad might have been my favorite of Dominique’s.

Later that day we visited the La Palme salt pans where our bird guide, Karline, squealed excitedly as she spotted three Squacco Herons in full breeding plumage on a bank in front of us. They were showing their stunning caramel-coloured back and nape feathers, blue beaks and green lores. (Their French name translates as hairy crab-eaters.) We also enjoyed excellent close views of Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Slender-billed Gull, Greater Flamingo, Little Tern and Yellow Wagtail. (Every day it hurt a little that we broke our camera lens on Day 1.)

Two of the three Squacco Herons (click image to get a better look)
Three Squacco Herons (click image to get a better look)
Black-winged Stilt (click image to get a better look)
Greater Flamingos (click image to get a better look)

The following day we spent our morning around Gruissan and spotted a Spoonbill through some reeds, as well as a mixed group of Grey Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Great White Egret and a few Pink-backed Pelican, which had escaped from a local African reserve).

We walked a path through tall reeds that led us to a bird blind. I followed Karline as she led the way, feeling smaller and smaller as the reeds seemed to grow taller around us. She pointed out the Grand Castélou, Bearded Tit and a Yellow Wagtail at the top of a reed. Barn Swallows swirled around us and a few rested atop the reeds to give us stunning views of their iridescent midnight blue plumage.

Barn Swallows
I don’t think Dominique repeated any of the salads for our picnics during the week.

We enjoyed another delicious picnic under the pine trees overlooking the old town of Gruissan and the Tour Barberousse, serenaded by a Melodious Warbler. Seeing all the birds lessened my feelings of inadequacy and I quit comparing myself with our birding companions. It’s okay that we pack a lot or that I’m slow and hate walking for long periods of time. It’s not a competition.

But I still want to get to a 50th wedding anniversary with Steve.

Steve and me. Hoping to get to a 50th wedding anniversary.

Interested in a birding tour of the Languedoc region in France? We highly recommend Birding Languedoc. (We did not receive any compensation, perks or anything in exchange for this trip. Our review and comments about our experience with Birding Languedoc is genuine.)