Finistere and Islands, 12-17 October 2015
All images M.J.McGill unless stated.
Sunset at La Faou, Brittany
Black Redstart, Ile de Molene
Delightful Firecrests, L’Ile de Sein (following five)
Goldcrest, L’Ile de Sein
Zitting Cisitcola (Fan-tailed Warbler) L’Ile de Sein
Blyth’s Reed Warbler, L’Ile de Sein
A very early departure at 0445hrs from Whitminster allowed for regular pick-ups along the way. The route was via rather slow moving Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset lanes to the Poole ferry terminal for a 0830 sailing. The traffic made things tight but as always the smoothly run ferry company loaded us in time. Once aboard Barfluer it was time to get on deck to see what could be seen on Poole Harbour’s Brownsea Island as we cruised past. The ferry provides a very high vantage point albeit a fast moving one.
On the lagoon birds of particular note included c34 Spoonbill, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwits, Teal, Avocet flocks, 7 Dark-bellied Brent, Dunlin, Little Egrets and a roost of Oystercatcher. It was not long before we were leaving the chalky stacks ‘Old Harry and his Wives’ behind and heading into the channel. Flocks and singles of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and a few Swallows were all noted crossing the sea to the North, a winter plumaged Black Guillemot in flight was a highlight but generally seabirds were scarce. Only a few Guillemot, 2 Razorbill, Great Skua and Gannets were seen on the crossing.
Arriving in Cherbourg we made our way through Normandie passing many historical WW2 sites to Brittany with a stop along the way. We reached our destination, La Faou and were rewarded with a stunning sunset and a few birds- Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, an Egret roost and a couple of Great Crested Grebe.
An early start to catch the boat to the Ile de Molene which departed from Le Conquet at 0945. A brief stop to look over the estuary at low tide gave us Greenshanks, Curlew, Redshank and Grey Wagtail. All aboard the ferry for a pleasant crossing with few birds, only Guillemot and Gannet were noted. The sun was shining again as we stepped onto the island, it was breezy and we were soon watching birds. It seemed to take a while to get very far as we looked over a vantage point and noted Ring Ouzel, Blackbirds, Redwings, Chiffchaffs, Swallow, Siskin, Stonechat, Blackcaps, Cetti’s Warbler and common passerines in the scrub. At the nearby beach a few Rock Pipits were on the strand, I noticed one bird sporting a darvic ring and eventually managed to read it. P3A yellow ring, black letters/no’s. It seems to be from a Norwegian ringing scheme!
Other species that were seen included Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and a Marsh Harrier. We stopped at the Creperie for coffee and a sit down, a Firecrest soon joined us along with a few Goldcrests. Refreshed we spoke with a very helpful French birder and looked for the Red-eyed Vireo that had been seen on the preceding days before our arrival. No luck there despite him showing us every bush it had been in and some great pictures of it, we did note 2 Firecrest and a Black Redstart or two in the area. Looking over the uninhabited island adjacent we watched 2 Marsh Harriers together and scoped the waders in the harbour, Sanderling, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Dunlin joined the Curlew and Oystercatchers.
Deciding the follow the coast path a dog had adopted us and followed, it was something of a pain as it was flushing birds before we could scan them. A bunting flew up and away with the Meadow Pipits. Rounding the island to the South a Ring Ouzel appeared near to the standing stones and gave us views on the ground and perched up. Careful searching of the pipits was in order, a few Chiffchaff were found.
On the cultivated ground we saw a large flock of House Sparrow and Linnets and 4 Skylark. Another piece of cultivated/rough weedy ground was busy with Meadow and Rock Pipits, a bunting called and flew away to the scrubby slopes. Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were seen in the bracken and around 10 Swallow and 2 House Martin overhead whilst we waited. The bunting returned and dropped into the field again. At least three times it flew out and disappeared into the scrub, I even saw it on the ground briefly as it alighted on the coast path. We all saw it well in flight but struggled to make out much in the bright light. It called a few times and headed up the slope to the cultivations.
Following the bunting was a good move, although two locals were hand digging spuds the birds came and went around them, a Short-toed Lark flew over head and landed in the ridge and furrow but gave us scope views before moving out of view. No further sign of the bunting but on calls and size/shape it was a Rustic Bunting.
Other birds noted included five Golden Plover and a Grey Plover flying North over the island. We were now running out of time and had not got all the way around Ile de Molene so we cut through the village seeing a close Black Redstart on the way. Our final bird of this visit was a Wheatear near the port. Another quiet crossing for seabirds ensued with time on the mainland to scope the estuary again. A large Cattle and Little Egret roost had formed in the sheltered part of the creek, they were all enjoying the sunshine as were we.
Up early for breakfast and away to the next ferry port of Audierne, our destination for the next two days would be L’ Ile de Sein. Another quiet crossing aboard ENEZ SUN followed, it is not at all surprising as England and France had been under a high pressure for weeks with an easterly airflow, the calm seas were a joy to sail on, no coffee spillages.
Arriving on Sein with our luggage mid-morning we walked the short distance to the hotel and checked in, this was followed by coffee outside on the patio to enjoy the spectacular views. We were joined by a Firecrest and some very tame Goldcrests. Some great scope work by JB added Peregrine, Merlin and a Hobby to the trip list as well as a pod of Bottle nosed Dolphins, the latter leaping out of the water and tail slapping as they fished. A French birder joined us and was delighted with the cetacean show, he told us of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and took us to the area giving detailed tips on how to locate it!
It was not long before we spotted the BRW as it sunned itself (the sun had now burned through the cloud) and preened, the scrubby area was a boatyard and heliport and storage for all sorts of things but equally doubled as a weedy, scrubby and sheltered place for tired migrants. The BRW is a plain bird, you have to look very carefully to appreciate minute details for identification but it did seem stand out in the field on plumage tones alone, it had also been trapped and ringed by the visiting birders/ringers. We had plenty of time to watch and enjoy it despite it being a very skulky, ground hugging bird.
Wandering about the island we saw plenty of Firecrest (c20) with lesser numbers of Goldcrest, Chiffchaff (c12) and commoner passerines. I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler that called once but remained unseen in gardens. The bays held feeding waders at low tide and we looked through them all. A sea pool held a Little Grebe and as the tide turned and flooded we saw Purple Sandpipers among the Turnstones. The French birders had contacted me, I had received a message that a Richard’s Pipit was on Kelaorou (adjoining island) but the tide was due to rise so we decided to leave that one for now. At the heliport a high tide wader roost was forming, Ringed Plover, Dunlin a single Knot and the Turnstones/Purple Sandpipers among them. Just behind us the BRW showed again the late afternoon sun, 2-3 Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler) joined it, we had again been tipped off by our French birding crew about the latter.
More exploration of the gardens and bays gave us good views of other species, c20 Mediterranean Gulls were ever present in the bay and I managed to read a ring from one of them, BS27 green with white letters/numbers. A Common Gull lingered briefly but flew off over the town. The day was rounded off with an hour or two at the west end of the island, a few Redwings, Blackcaps, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and common birds were eclipsed by part of the group seeing a Short-eared Owl very well overhead! A Kingfisher flashed east from the lighthouse and we strolled back to enjoy close views of the Lapland Bunting and dozens of other birds on the high tide strand near our hotel. It had been a good day on the island, that night we ate at a restaurant down on the harbour as it was the hotel staff’s night off.
All day exploring the L’ Ile de Sein beckoned so after a good breakfast, we set off west toward the lighthouse looking down on the many Rock and Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and waders along the way. A few Stonechats were in the bracken and once again we were seeing Firecrest and Chiffchaffs. Once again the Lapland Bunting gave us good views as well a smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. It was interesting to see the Blackbirds foraging with the Turnstones, pipits and Wheatears.
We headed for the Phare de Goulenez to check the bushes and sit, listen and watch for migrants and a Snow Bunting that had been seen, we logged a Serin through, 5 Wheatear, Siskin (c15) and JB spotted the dolphins again. BE put up a Snipe as we wandered through the bracken.
Checking the bay during a dropping tide we picked up 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Seals, a Whimbrel, another birding break and as we enjoyed a coffee at the hotel repeated sightings of many of the birds we have seen previously. JB picked up a distant Marsh Harrier flying West across the bay. The scenic spot is hard to leave as we had Firecrest with us once again but we headed for Kelaourou as the tide was now low. This small uninhabited island is covered with bracken and bramble, it has a neolithic chamber on the east end and a large area of reef exposed at low tide. As with the rest of the island, evidence of shipwrecks are obvious. On the island we noted two Merlin, a Short-eared Owl, 2 Fieldfares and 8 Redwing.
Back on Sein we had time for another sunshine ‘brew’ before exploring the boatyard again, the BRW showed fairly well at times as did a Zitting Cisticola, the Kingfisher showed again fishing from the rocks and a Swallow flew over the area. Back at the hotel we stopped for another scan, JB spotted a Great White Egret which flew from South to North without stopping. A large warbler made its way along the beach and headed for the town, it looked like Garden Warbler but unfortunately did not stop.
We went back into town to search the gardens, at least 6 Firecrest showed very well near the church and an interesting Chiffchaff was seen nearby, it was rather scruffy and looked rather out of condition. The day finished up with us all checking bushes and likely cover and the birds that appeared. That evening the hotel provided a great meal in the evening to top off another good day.
The final day on L’Ile de Sein again greeted us with yet another light easterly breeze, we set off for the Phare checking everything very carefully, we began racking up Firecrest again (40 by the end of the day), a few more Chifchaff and Goldcrest were about too. The Curlew Sandpiper was still present but and additional three Knot were also seen, a few Fieldfares/Redwings were at the lighthouse, a Serin went through, a single Swallow fed and I heard a Penduline Tit calling high above (one was seen by the French birders at the boatyard not so long after). A single Reed Bunting and a couple of alba Wagtails flew through and a good candidate for a Scandinavian Rock Pipit fed near the chapel. We saw the Short-eared Owl again and 6 Skylark flew West.
There were more Chaffinches and Linnets on the island and over 10 Blackcap seen during the day. In the town we watched a Garden Warbler and other species feeding on apples. Nearby a Snipe was put up in the boatyard, it flew around the town and came back to its favourite spot. Hearing news of a Yellow-browed Warbler near our hotel we naturally went to look for it. At least seven Firecrest were noted in the small gardens, a few were feeding on the lawns. Intense searching of the tamarisk was rewarded when KL located the bird for us all to see well. Concentrating on gaining views of the YBW we ignored the Greenshank in the bay.
It was time to take our luggage to the harbour and snatch a little more birding, back at the boatyard we saw one of the Zitting Cisitcola and a few finches and crests but had to call time on the island and board the boat for the mainland. Yet another quiet crossing was brightened by the appearance of a Balearic Shearwater.
With the sun dipping we made for the Baie de Audierne, to be precise the Etang de Trunvel and adjacent Kermabec beach, the former is a well known spot for migrants, especially for Aquatic Warblers during August. The beach hosted a large roost of gulls and Oystercatcher and a couple of busy flocks of Sanderling. Overlooking the lake we picked up 2 Marsh Harriers that were waiting to go to roost, another flew in as we left. One or two pairs of Mallard were seen and where the scrubby slopes met the reed bed and yet more Firecrest and Chiffchaff. Water Rails and Cetti’s Warbler were certainly heard, a large roost of White Wagtail, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting. A Crested Tit called as it went to roost. This gathering concluded the day for us.
A later breakfast and visit to the supermarket meant we were on the road by ten o clock, a new destination awaited-The Crozon peninsula. With Red-billed Chough being a target bird on this trip the first stop did not disappoint, the Pointe de Penhir delivered a pair mobbing a pair of Raven as soon as we stepped out of the car. A Wheatear, calling Cetti’s Warbler and a few Stonechats were also seen, another pair of Chough were flew over a WW2 German bunker that was converted into a museum. Also visiting the nearby Pointe de Toulinguet and carefully checked the cover for migrants, our last port of call was the Pointe des Espangnols which turned out to be quiet other than common passerines. Our time was up, we had to drive to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole.
A smashing sunset over Alderney with a couple of Gannets for company rounded of the birding, World Cup Rugby was a distraction for some and time in a reclining chair with feet up a priority for others.
Finistere is a brilliant birding destination, we were kept very busy checking every bird that appeared in front of us and gained some memorable views of a number of sought after birds. The scenery was wonderful, feedback certainly proved it was a popular trip, thank you to all for your company and sharp eyes.
Other participants on this trip took some stunning images that were enjoyed by all, it would be great to share these. I will publish a selection when/if they are submitted. One ‘culprit’ is depicted in action below.
A selection of Bob Radford’s images can be seen here