The Champagne Lakes, France (The Cranes of Lac du Der)

We did see other birds such as Middle spotted Woodpecker.

and not so Wild Boar….

The last day was spent on the coast watching a variety of birds like this juvenile GND

Lac du Der (The Champagne Lakes)

9 November 2010
We set off from Gloucestershire just after 0700 and drove through the rather appalling rain to get to the Channel tunnel for 1150, we arrived by 1120 with a couple of Red Kites already in the bag seen west of London.  Everything went to plan en-route with the exception of more rain and spray. The only birds noted en-route were 26 Buzzards, 8 Kestrels, a Little Egret and a few common wildfowl and Coot on the pools near the tunnel. We arrived at Lac du Der by dusk with flights of Cranes already ‘showing us the way’.  A short stop on the digue wall and we were fortunate enough to get a few more Cranes flying in to join 2000+ that were already at the roost site.  Large numbers of Greylag flew in and a single Great White Egret flew overhead to roost. It was getting dark so we headed for the hotel with the sound of Cranes fresh in the head.

10 November 2010
Up with the Cranes, we drove a short distance to the digue wall and spent an hour of pre-breakfast watching  the Cranes heading out for the day. Thousands passed by or over us. Out on the lake the water levels were very low and many small lakes within the lake basin were present. On scanning the area we had four/five Little Gulls, a first winter and the rest adults flying up and down feeding over one of the pools.  A party of four Spoonbills were on a spit and were eventually joined by two more that were initially seen flying over the lake at distance. A group of Goosander were noted along with large numbers of Teal, Mallard and other familiar waterfowl.  Back for breakfast at the hotel and then off to search the local woods. On the way at S.te Marie du Lac Nuisement we stopped to look through a Greylag flock and discovered two Barnacle Geese. A Green Woodpecker also fed on the same grass before flying into a nearby tree. Searching the woods initially at Prequ’ille de Nemours and the Cornee du Der we had some success with the local birds. A woodpecker flew across the car park at the former site which may have been Grey-headed but only a few of the group saw it. A walk along the road gave us numbers of Marsh Tits and Chaffinches feeding on the beechmast. A few Hawfinches came out of the woods and perched on top of the trees briefly before heading back into them. Other species that gave themselves up were Goldcrest, Short-toed Treecreeper (seen and heard well by all), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Green Woodpecker heard and two Middle Spotted Woodpeckers which gave us great views in the scope. A short drive and we hopped out for a look at another site that has been productive before but flocks of Brambling flying over were our only reward. At the Cornee du Der we had Jays, Fieldfare and Redwing and more Great and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, another track gave us Marsh and Willow Tits calling and showing.

Back at the reservoir we looked from the sailing club at Bassin Nord and had two Bewick’s Swans flying by but there were fisherman out in boats which probably moved some of the birds away. A gathering of 60+ Great White Egret and 200 Herons was rather impressive. A stop in Arrigny for a coffee and bite to eat (for some a crate of beer was purchased and not by any of the blokes) before we explored the roads and tracks S of St Remy en Bouzemont. Lots of Cranes were in the fields feeding especially around the Ferme des Grues. We passed through Drosnay, Outines and Chatillon sur Broue before going through Braucourt to the Eglise on the peninsula.  Best birds were a female Red-crested Pochard whilst watching a Carp angler wrestle with a large catch, Tree Sparrows in the maize crops and orchards and views of the returning Cranes. I made a best estimate of the Cranes and thought about 40,000 but could not see the whole lake and the birds were not all in yet. For another view we called in at Port Giffaumont to watch even more arriving in the sunset. It was a good end to the day.

11 November 2010
We got up with Cranes flying out earlier today as it was quite a bright sunny start to the day, a minutes drive away in the car and we caught the rest going out over the digue wall and heading down the valley toward Montier en Der. This was probably the best views yet, thousands went off. On the lake we had a number of Black-necked Grebes to add to the bird list. Back at the hotel I saw a Black Redstart briefly but breakfast was more of a draw. We headed for the woods in a different area, this time south of the Lac du Temple within the Foret du Orient, sadly for us the breeze was getting up which made it hard for locating woodland species,  glimpses of Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatches and Marsh Tits and a group of 20 elusive Hawfinch were the best we could muster. On the way out we saw a few Brambling including a smart male with a Chaffinch flock.  Near the village of Brevonnes we enjoyed watching a male Hen Harrier using the wind to hang when hunting. More woodland was searched around the Lac du Orient but glimpses of Great and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers the reward. At the lake we searched the thousands of birds, a Chiffchaff was new, in the port harbour a few White Wagtail and Water Pipits also showed very well for us. Attempts to get close to the diving ducks at the dam were thwarted as we could not gain access. A Boulangerie Patisserie in Mesnil St Pere cheered us up (nice cakes). A last look at the woods around Maison du Parc and then Route Forest did not give us anything new but a group of friendly Wild Boar were of note. Another lake was investigated, the Lac du Amance from Port Base Nautique. A gale was now blowing with very cold rain added to the mix. A Chiffchaff and Green Woodpecker were noted in the ‘gardens’ but on the lake conditions were very trying, sheltering behind a shed we scoped a flock of Great White Egrets and c60 Bewick’s Swans but soon gave up for the cafe option. The same gale brought lots of seabirds into the UK. We returned to the Lac du Der and utilised the enormous hide at Port Giffaumont for shelter. Denise spotted a Ruddy Shelduck in the small basin in front of us, thousands of cranes battled their way in bouncing on touchdown and losing their long necks in the body it was very unpleasant for the birds. I spotted a couple of Grey Plover that flew in and disappeared in the rain, another half an hour and enough was enough, back to the warm hotel for a beer/wine and a decent meal.

12 November 2010
Left the hotel and the views of Cranes from the breakfast table to load up eat up some miles as we were heading back to the coast. A chat the night before about the possibility of looking for a Wallcreeper was met with enthusiasm. The Wallcreeper had been reported from a castle called the Château de la Madeleine in Chevreuse. We arrived at around 1100 (after noting a couple of Red Kites and a Hen Harrier on the way) and searched the walls and church without luck. An hour spent in the rather nice town having a drink was a pleasant way to while away the time until the castle opened and we could get in to scrutinise the keep and internal walls. One of the staff informed us that the bird had headed off from the church spire not to return the week before. It had spent months on the castle the previous winter. As it turned out the bird was seen on a church not too far away a couple of days later so it may yet return. A female Black Redstart did feed around the church spire and I saw a Roe Deer creeping around under the castle walls, we had to get on our way and the rest of the day was spent travelling to Bourbourg which is where we spent the night. A decent meal and an early night were welcome.

13 November 2010
After breakfast, a  short drive from the hotel everyone went into the supermarket for some French produce, another short drive away from Bourbourg was the Digue de Clipon and Le Clipon Jetty, famous for seawatching. The harbour held many birds but of note were four Eider, a Common Scoter, Black-necked Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Sanderling, Grey Plover and more with the breakwater having Rock Pipits, Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers. The latter showed down to a few feet for some of us. On the sea we noted a few birds on the move, Kittiwake, Red-throated Diver with a Red-necked Grebe (with two of the former on the sea), Black-throated Diver, a skua and distant Gannets. Searching the beach and dunes we found migrant Robins, Chaffinches, Fieldfare and a female Merlin. The port nearby had a few Coot and a splendid juvenile Great Northern Diver, more birds were scanned on the beach of Digue Braek and the harbour entrance. A Peregrine was noted. Our last port of call was Grand Fort Phillipe, a few Little Egrets were spotted and unusually a Spoonbill was found roosting but flushed by dogs from the beach. It was now time for the Eurotunnel and the drive home to wrap up the trip.

On the 14th a combined count of Lac du Der recorded 74,500 birds, a new record, the strong SW winds had held up migration with the birds stacking up on the lake.

Two previous Anser trip reports are added here for comparison.

Anser Birding Trip to the Champagne Lakes, Champagne-Ardennes, France November 22-26 2005.

 Martin McGill Guide and Organiser.

Jeremy Squire co-guide. 

Anser has visited this area before and the main aim of the trip was to watch the wintering and passage Common Crane flock. Several members of the group were seasoned Crane watchers both in Nebraska, USA and Europe. These birds provided us with great entertainment and memories. The lakes were as usual for the time of year fairly dry with large areas of mud exposed. Wildfowl added to the interest but the woodlands yielded some of the most sought after species. We visited Lac du Der Chantecoq, Lac du Temple and Lac du Orient. The smaller Etang des Landres and Etang du Grand Coulon were also birded.

Tuesday 22 November
We started our travel day which began with an early start for all. The foggy conditions did not help us but we were soon aboard and on our way. The ferry left at 1115 and we bid farewell to the white cliffs of Dover and headed for France. The whole group met on deck to watch out for seabirds.

The crossing produced most of the common seabirds. Over 2500 Gannet were logged along with 20 Fulmar, 70 Guillemot, 20 auk sp, 2 adult Little Gull, 250 Kittiwake and an adult Mediterranean Gull as we entered Calais. We disembarked and made our way to the Champagne-Ardennes region.

En route we noted 2 ringtail Hen Harriers, a late Wheatear and many other common road-side species. We arrived at the Hotel le Cheval Blanc at 7.00 pm French time tired and hungry so a quick turnaround saw us sitting to dinner. Cranes could be heard outside roosting on Lac du Der which was a nice introduction to the species. The next few days would be filled with this graceful bird.

Everyone was tired and went to bed early for the next days birding.

23 November 2005
We rose early to witness Cranes leaving the roost site. A very short drive to the Digue wall where we parked and strolled over the bank to the shore. Soon after getting into position we could make out the shapes of the Cranes as they became vocal. Species of wildfowl could be picked out along the shore and in the deeps. Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler were the commonest with thousands of Cormorant and G.C.Grebe also on show. A Redpoll flew over and a few other common species were noted. We returned to the hotel for breakfast after watching the Cranes leave for their breakfast. It was interesting to note that the Cranes would often divert their flight line if they spotted the group even though we were not silhouetted.

After breakfast we returned to Lac du Der

Port Giffaumont
A Great White Egret flew overhead. A pair of Shelduck, Curlew, and a small flock of Dunlin, adult Yellow-legged Gull, a single Oystercatcher and a female Goosander was picked out among the throngs of common water birds.

Stade Nautique
This narrow bay with peninsula held three GW Egrets, three Water Pipits, 20 White Wagtail which were a nice comparison to the Pied Wagtail seen next to the bus the day earlier in Dover. A couple of distant Goldeneye and raft of diving duck attracted us to the end of the track. A Green Woodpecker was seen by MJM. The point looked over the whole area and six adult Bewick’s Swans were feeding in the shallows.

Presqu’ile de Champaubert
We parked near the Eglise and saw what proved a real rarity until the Saturday morning, another birdwatcher! This viewpoint provided further views over the dam and lagoon. A Little Grebe fed among the diving duck and grebe but nothing new was discovered. On return to home I discovered that a Pink-footed Goose was seen in this area the day after which is a scarce bird in these parts. We returned to Braucourt where we enjoyed a warming involuntary prolonged lunch.

Presqu’ile de Nemours
After driving around the eastern part of the lake we arrived at this wooded peninsula where Denise found a Common Sandpiper along the flowing stream. An adult and second winter Yellow legged Gull, Grey Herons, GW Egrets and many other common birds which also included a few Little Grebe fed alongside.

Some disturbance by walkers caused most of the group to miss a party of Goldeneye. We transferred to another large section of wood nearby and quickly found a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. This bird proved elusive and disappeared. A sunny corner held a feeding Chiffchaff and a male Lesser spotted Woodpecker was found in the canopy.

Presqu’ile de Larzicourt
A coach party of children arrived at this site so we decided not to search for woodland species. The lagoon here held a Kingfisher and Green Sandpiper along the ditch which leads out into the lake. Another group of Bewick’s Swan were seen with nine adults and seven cygnets. A couple of Goldeneye played hide and seek, a Black-necked Grebe was discovered alongside a Little Grebe.

Maison de l’Oiseau et du Poisson
The sacrificial maize crop was a magnet to 70 Chaffinch, 250 House Sparrow, 20 Tree Sparrow and at least 4 Brambling. It was lovely to see passerines doing so well from this source of food.

Site de Chantecoq
We parked here to view the Cranes coming into roost. On arrival a party of 16 Tundra Bean Geese flew over. Out on the lake a mixed aged and sex group of 25 Goosander looked great as they fished. The males looked pink/peachy in the fading light. Three distant E. White-fronted Goose fed among the many Greylag and a party of c20 sleeping Pintail were seen. The bulk of the cranes arrived to the north of us but we had a few hundred fly in over our chosen spot. This brought the day to a close.

24 November
Another early start to view Cranes leaving the roost before breakfast. Unfortunately despite getting closer to where the Cranes flew in we did not see the big flock leaving. Only 300 were logged going out to the fields for the day. It was becoming clear that the numbers were dropping around the lake perhaps due to the cold front that recently arrived. A few Brambling wheezed overhead, single Redpoll and Siskin were also heard.

A flock of 53 E.White-fronted Goose could be seen very distantly with the Greylag Geese.

Presqu’ile de Larzicourt
After breakfast we returned to the woods here and located a couple of Great spotted Woodpecker. A male Middle-spotted Woodpecker replaced one of the Great SW and fed in the open for five to ten minutes in an oak tree. Marsh Tit was seen along with the common tits, Nuthatch and Jays. A single Hawfinch fed with party of Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Two Red Squirrels were noted and were the cause of the finches flushing; one of them was a dark phase similar to the type you see in Eastern Europe.

We moved around to a better position where a party of 6-8 Hawfinches played hide and seek. Many of the passerines were happily feeding on fat balls, nuts and seeds, the French also appear to be garden bird lovers.

In the bay a pair of Bewick’s Swans fed with a Green Sandpiper and three GW Egrets for company. We moved to Arrigny for coffee break in the café.

Plage de Nuisement
More wildfowl to be seen but the main interest was from a single willow and patch of reeds. Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer flew out and into this small patch. MJM heard some tapping and was looking to see where it was coming from when Jill found the culprit. A female Lesser-spotted Woodpecker appeared in her bins as she watched the Yellowhammer. It dropped back into the reeds being seen feeding along the lakeside of the bed before popping up into the willow again. It flew off over the car park and was not seen again. Leaving this area we stopped to scope a flock of Skylark and Yellowhammer on the fields.

St Remy en Bouzement
A search for Northern Grey Shrike was fruitless but a covey of nine Grey Partridge was some compensation. A very pale Buzzard complete with white rump and tail gave us a start but turned out to be a Common Buzzard which are very common in the area. A male Hen Harrier hunted over the fields where Cranes fed and a male Stonechat was seen next to the bus.

We drove to Montier en Der for coffee, (plus free cigarette smoke, no news laws in France as yet) cake and the Intermarche.

We returned to the Maison de l’ Oiseau et du Poisson and walked along the track to the Etang des Landres.

Etang des Landres
Brambling and Tree Sparrow were seen again in the Maize field. The hide revealed a large flock of egretta and ardea which set the Anser staff to work. Some of the group including Jeremy admired a Water Rail outside which was harrased by a Rat, another was heard from inside.

The draining lake held a total of 153 GW Egret and 74 Grey Heron which were counted by Bob. MJM noted what appeared to be a Grey Heron x GW Egret hybrid along with a Little Egret. The Little Egret moved into the open and turned out to be an apparent hybrid Little x GW Egret hybrid.

While all this was going on Jill announced that she had an Ibis! Sure enough a Glossy Ibis was feeding amongst the frenzy. This is a scarce bird in this part of France but increasing. The western population is booming and spreading so we may even see them breeding in Britain one day. A party of five Pintail fed in the shallows with a concentrated flock of BH Gulls.

We left and went back to the wood where at least six Goldcrest were active; a Green Woodpecker was seen briefly and heard. A woodpecker called again which Denise recognised as Black and it called a few times more. We tried to whistle it out and it eventually gave us a fly past, a male Black Woodpecker.

As we started our way back to the car Jeremy, Jill and Denise all got onto a Firecrest as the light faded.  The rest were unfortunate to only get poor views as it disappeared into the bushes. We waited for further views and MJM saw two Firecrest going to roost in the wood.

 25 November

 Lac du Temple
A female Hen Harrier, Green Woodpecker and Cranes were all seen on the way to this lake. Jeremy led the group to view the main body of water where Bob located a stunning male Black Redstart. There was little else new to the trip and we all left to move to the next lake. MJM and Paul saw male Merlin whilst they were away visiting a local village.

Lac du Orient
We stopped at the visitor centre and had coffee and used the facilities and then discovered it was shut! Ah well, too late we had sorted ourselves out and the door was open. A few Marsh Tits fed in the canopy along with the numerous Nuthatches. On the Lac we scanned through the thousands of water birds when JJS locate a female Velvet Scoter. It dived among the Coot and eventually flew off showing its white wing patches. The cold wind did it’s best to stop us but we all checked the birds thoroughly before retreating to a sheltered spot. A Green Woodpecker fed among the willows and a tit flock revealed a tame Willow Tit which showed for all. Another stop produced another Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

Coffee and baguettes in a local village and back to birding the forest. Another MS Woodpecker was seen with a few other woodland birds but no Crested Tits or further Firecrest sightings in what is normally a good area for them.

As we left the village a Red Kite lazily floated over the fields and dropped into crops.

Brienne de la Chateau to Montier en Der
A juvenile Hen Harrier was spotted by Paul quartering the fields so we stopped and enjoyed it for a while. A Peregrine was also seen hunting Lapwing over some distant farmland.

Etang du Landres
A re-visit produced the Glossy Ibis again and fewer herons. On the walk through the wood and couple of brief Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were seen and some of the group saw a flying Black Woodpecker. We rescued a trapped Kingfisher from a covered culvert which had been attracted by the millions of small fish dying in the drained stream. A tame Musk Rat (Le Ragondin) showed under our noses. On walking back the woodland and scrub was not as productive as the previous day.

We finished off the day with a sunset and Cranes flying in to roost over the Digue wall near to Giffaumont-Champaubert. A Peregrine was also present on the mudflats.

Sat 26 November
We left Lac du Der as Cranes flew out for the day. A Peregrine and single Hen Harrier was noted from the A26. The drive back was eventful due to the snow storm but this had a negative effect on the Crested Larks at our chosen service area. The Grey Partridge coveys were very easy to see as they stood out in the snow. We reached the Calais Port and boarded the ferry.

The crossing was similar to first leg with Arctic Skua and Little Auk being the only additions to the list. Back in the UK a skein of Canada flew over the Kent motorway and we travelled back home.

A total of 125 species were seen over the five days by the group.

Martin McGill

France- The Champagne Lakes

 Tuesday 28 November – Saturday 2 December 2000

 Guides                       Martin McGill, Paul Marshall and Neil Smart

Wednesday 29 November
We left the hotel in St. Dizier just before sunrise and made our way south.  As we approached the lake a flock of twenty-five Greylag Geese and several Buzzards were seen next to the road.  In the distance, small flocks of Common Cranes could be seen. . . . .

Our first stop was Presqu’ile de Nemours, a wooded peninsula in the north east corner of the lake.  As we opened the doors of the minibus the trumpet like calls of Cranes could be heard.  Over the next three days this sound was to accompany us during every daylight hour.

A gap in the woods gave us views over one of the ‘arms’ of the lake.  At this time of year the water levels are very low and huge expanses of mud exposed.  Thousands of Lapwing were accompanied by a few Greylag Geese, Teal, Curlew and the first close views of Cranes.  A Goshawk sat in the trees on the opposite side of the creek.

The woods on either side of the road were full of calling birds and it was not long before we were enjoying ‘scope filling views of a Middle Spotted Woodpecker.  The bird fed out in the open on a low branch for several minutes allowing us to appreciate its bright red crown, pinkish flush to the underparts and the fine streaking on the breast.  A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker appeared briefly in the same tree before flying out of view.  Another Middle Spotted Woodpecker joined the first and both flew deeper into the woods calling.

At the very end of the peninsula we had our first views over most of the lake.  Feeding off the peninsula were over two hundred Cranes, with hundreds in small groups flying over the lake.  To our left a muddy creek produced eight Great White Egrets and three Spoonbills.  Other familiar species included Ruff, Snipe, Dunlin, Tufted Duck, Redshank, Pochard and a drake Goosander in fight over our heads. Our first stop was Presqu’ile de Nemours, a wooded peninsula in the north east corner of the lake.  As we opened the doors of the minibus the trumpet like calls of Cranes could be heard.  Over the next three days this sound was to accompany us during every daylight hour. A gap in the woods gave us views over one of the ‘arms’ of the lake.  At this time of year the water levels are very low and huge expanses of mud exposed.  Thousands of Lapwing were accompanied by a few Greylag Geese, Teal, Curlew and the first close views of Cranes.  A Goshawk sat in the trees on the opposite side of the creek.

The woods on either side of the road were full of calling birds and it was not long before we were enjoying ‘scope filling views of a Middle Spotted Woodpecker.  The bird fed out in the open on a low branch for several minutes allowing us to appreciate its bright red crown, pinkish flush to the underparts and the fine streaking on the breast.  A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker appeared briefly in the same tree before flying out of view.  Another Middle Spotted Woodpecker joined the first and both flew deeper into the woods calling.

At the very end of the peninsula we had our first views over most of the lake.  Feeding off the peninsula were over two hundred Cranes, with hundreds in small groups flying over the lake.  To our left a muddy creek produced eight Great White Egrets and three Spoonbills.  Other familiar species included Ruff, Snipe, Dunlin, Tufted Duck, Redshank, Pochard and a drake Goosander in fight over our heads.

Views over the north west corner of the lake revealed hundreds of Great Crested Grebe and a diver.  This bird was too distant for us to safely identify but was probably a Black-throated.  A pair of Stonechats fed in the grass near the point. 

Seven Goldeneye, including three smart males were in the dammed area of deeper water and a single Snow Bunting flew over us calling.  This is the second year Snow Buntings have been present in this area of the lake.

On the opposite side of the deeper area of water is another wooded peninsula.  Here we stopped and checked the woods.  Several Hawfinch showed briefly, along with Short-toed Treecreeper, Marsh Tit and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, our fourth woodpecker species of the trip.  Another Hen Harrier drifted over the woods.

Around various parts of the lake are dikes that hold back the water when the lake is full of water.  Many of these have public footpaths along the top and some have roads, which are open to the public.  Soon after stopping along the Digue de Chantecoq we located an adult white morph Snow Goose with the Greylag Geese.  The Greylag Geese arrive in the autumn having bred in Scandinavia.  Some winter on the lake but others continue on to southern Europe.  The Snow Goose had arrived several weeks ago with the Greylag Geese.

Also here we had good views of a Water Pipit and heard Siskin flying over the woods behind us. 

Driving between the Digue de Chantecoq and Port de Giffaumont we passed a field with over three hundred feeding Cranes and a hunting Hen Harrier.

A Black Redstart fed around the buildings at Port de Giffaumont.  Out on the lake was our only Little Egret of the trip and also a Common Sandpiper, Western Yellow-legged Gull, Golden Plover, four Great White Egrets, and good numbers of common duck species.

We arrived at this site in the south west corner of the lake an hour and a half before dusk.  Small numbers of Cranes were feeding out on the lake and we saw lots of Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shelduck, four Goosander, another Common Sandpiper and several Water Pipits.

During the next hour and a half we watched as thousands and thousands of Cranes flew into roost on the lake.  Everywhere you looked there were Crane flocks, from small groups of ten birds to flocks of over a thousand.

It was impossible to say how many Cranes that we saw but three days before we arrived the official count was 72, 760 birds, a record!  The previous record being 30, 000 birds in 1995.

Several flocks passed close to us and you could easily make out the whistling calls of the young birds as opposed to the trumpet like calls of the adults.  We made our way further east along the dike near to a field where several hundred Cranes had gathered.  After a few minutes the whole flock took off and flew low past us calling – an unforgettable moment!

Thursday 30 November
The next day we drove south to the woodlands and lakes of Forét d’Orient.  On the way a flock of around fifty Tree Sparrows next to the roadside was a welcome distraction.

A walk in the woodlands east of Lac du Temple gave us much better views of several species seen yesterday.  Hawfinches and Firecrests were relatively abundant and gave us good views on a number of occasions.   At least half a dozen Crested Tits delighted us as we watched them feeding and calling to each other.  We were also treated to great ‘scope views of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  In addition to this we saw several Middle-spotted, Great and Green Woodpeckers, Short-toed Treecreepers, Brambling, Marsh Tit and Nuthatch.

Lunch was eaten next to the lake, just north of the port.  There were thousands of Cranes feeding and flying around.  Several close flight views in the sharp winter sunlight, against a blue sky were magnificent.

A pair of Eider fed in an area of deeper water, usually a sea duck these birds seemed quite at home on the huge ‘sea like’ lakes.  Two Golden Plover fed with the thousands of Lapwings and single Chiffchaff and Great White Egret were also present.

Nearby, the deep water viewed from the port held hundreds of Great Crested Grebes and small numbers of Pochards.  Thousands of Black-headed Gulls were feeding and roosting in the area and another Chiffchaff was here.

A quick stop at this lake produced over six hundred Cormorants roosting on a mud bank.  Also present were sixteen Bewick’s Swans, a single Spotted Redshank, two Golden Plover, a Dunlin and hundreds of Lapwing.

We returned to Lake du Der for the last hour of light.  A Peregrine flew past as we waited for the Cranes to start arriving.  Once again thousands of Cranes were seen and heard coming into roost on the lake.

Friday 1 December
This peninsula situated in the south east corner has a hide overlooking an arm of the lake.  This gave us the chance to watch some Cranes at very close quarters.  Also present were several Water Pipits, fifty or more Greylag Geese, thirty plus Fieldfares and many common species of duck and wader.

The orchard near the church (Eglise de Champaubert) held a mixed finch flock that contained Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, House and Tree Sparrows.  As we were leaving the site three Spoonbills flew over the minibus.

This time we checked the area of deeper water at Port de Giffaumont in the southeast corner of the lake.  This area held a lot of diving ducks including over a hundred Pochard, about thirty Tufted Ducks and five Goldeneye.  The highlight was finding a female Ferruginous Duck with the Pochard.  The gleaming white undertail coverts, rusty coloured plumage, smaller size and distinct shape were all obvious.  Also present in the flock was a male Pochard x female Ferruginous Duck hybrid allowing a good comparison.

A quick look over the main lake revealed that the three Spoonbills, which had flown over the minibus earlier, were roosting with the Cormorants.

The woodland at Site de Lazicourt produced now familiar species such as Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker and our only Coal Tit of the trip.  Another species only seen at this site was a Kingfisher, which flew across the bay as we left the bus.

As we made our way to the next site we came across a flock of about five hundred Cranes feeding next to the road.  By driving slowly towards them and using the minibus as a hide we managed to get within a hundred metres of them.  The next half an hour we watched, enthralled, as the Cranes carried on as if we were not there. 

Driving down the track towards Ferm des Landres a small pale bird flew in front of the minibus and perched on a small bush – a Great Grey Shrike.  We ate lunch watching this superb bird as it showed very well perching in the tops of small bushes and small trees.

We continued on towards Ferm des Landres where we found what is now a rare site in Britain,  a mixed finch and bunting flock feeding on winter stubble.  The flock contained a couple of hundred birds and included Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow.

Our final evening on the dikes in the southwestern corner of the lake to witness the Crane roost. 

Five male and four female Goosander were feeding in a small pool amongst the trees as we arrived on the dike.  Over fifty Greylag Geese flew into the lake and with them the Snow Goose. 

The Crane roost was the most spectacular we had witnessed.  At  times we were surrounded by birds as they passed overhead, either side of us and were roosting on the lake close to us.  Words can not describe what it was like to be stood on the edge of the lake at dusk.

Everybody agreed that a combination of the Cranes beauty, their majestic flight, the sheer number of birds and the incredibly loud and far carrying calls provides one of the greatest birding spectacles in Europe, if not the world!!!

 Saturday 2 December
At the Aire de Champs Roland service station off the main toll road between Reims and Calais hardly seemed like the place to find birds.  However, within minutes of pulling in to the car park we were watching a Crested Lark.  After it disappeared we found another feeding around parked lorries and a Grey Partridge in the fields next to the service station.

With two hours to spare before catching our ferry home we visited the reserve at Óye Plagé.  A large flock of Linnets attracted our attention as we arrived and we soon found two Snow Buntings with them.  On the beach was a flock of twenty Brent Geese and a lone Ringed Plover. 

Out to sea a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers passed close in shore.  Over the next half an hour we saw two flocks of over fifty Eider, a pale phase adult Arctic Skua, eight Red-throated Divers, two Black-throated Divers and twenty plus Little Gulls.

The large area of Sea Buckthorn held a calling Cetti’s Warbler and a pair of Blackcaps.

Trip List

The following is a complete list of all species seen or heard by more than one member of the group during the trip.  Each individual’s list may vary, as it is unlikely that every person will see every bird. 

Great Crested Grebe



Little Egret

Great White Egret

Grey Heron

White Stork


Mute Swan

Bewick’s Swan

Snow Goose

Greylag Goose

Brent Goose









Ferruginous Duck

Tufted Duck

Common Eider


Red-breasted Merganser


Hen Harrier



Common Buzzard


Peregrine Falcon

Grey Partridge




Common Crane


Ringed Plover

Golden Plover




Common Snipe


Spotted Redshank


Common Sandpiper

Arctic Skua

Little Gull

Black-headed Gull

Common Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

            Western Yellow-legged Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Stock Dove


Collared Dove


Green Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker


Crested Lark

Meadow Pipit

Water Pipit

Grey Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

            White Wagtail




Black Redstart




Song Thrush


Mistle Thrush

Cetti’s Warbler





Long-tailed Tit

Marsh Tit

Willow Tit

Crested Tit

Coal Tit

Blue Tit

Great Tit


Short-toed Treecreeper

Great Grey Shrike






Carrion Crow


House Sparrow

Tree Sparrow









Snow Bunting


Reed Bunting

Corn Bunting

 TOTAL = 115

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