One of two Penduline Tits at Mas-Thibert. Male Penduline Tits are not the most faithful of partners. If they see an egg in their nest they will head off to impress another female. But the females aren't daft, and they're also quite keen to leave the male as the only parent and head off themselves to re-pair. But how to keep the male around? The female hides the eggs whenever she leaves the nest and will try to prevent males entering nests where the eggs have been uncovered.© Richard Brown
We next searched the area around Le Vallon to the north of Entressen. Two Rock Buntings were on the roadside and a group of at least thirty Little Bustards were feeding and occasionally displaying on a scrubby area of Crau. Two Red-legged Partridge were also in the area. It was still cold and overcast but we again tried for Eagle Owl, this time at the dirt bike track near Le Destet where they were regular several years previously. The habitat looked great, but we again failed to find one of these monster owls.
Suddenly soaring raptors and lizards were on the agenda so we headed for La Caume, a 4km walk on a paved road to a large TV antenna from which Bonelli’s Eagles used to be regular. Perhaps they still are, but not on day five. We did however find Common Wall Lizard on the way up, along with Hummingbird Hawkmoths and a Clouded Yellow. The walk up was surrounded by Crossbills, Crested Tits and Firecrests. On the scrubby plateau we again had Dartford Warbler and a Spanish Psammadromus was found lurking. We have always been taught to be wary of lurking Spanish Psammadromus. The lurkier ones are thought to signify an upcoming apocalypse. When this particular creature was viewed in a certain light, its long, slender, tail spelled out 21/12/12.
The photo at 1/30 second doesn't do the views we had justice. It was fantastic. This bird is actually capable of skinning Hedgehogs which are apparently a favoured prey item. They can also take fully grown foxes and common avian prey includes crows, grouse, woodpeckers, herons, ducks, seabirds and geese. They have even been recorded munching on Goshawks, Peregrines, Buzzards and an Egyptian Vulture. Such acts are often referred to as Superpredation - double hard.© Richard Brown
The Olive Grove atL’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie. The Eagle Owl sweeps through the valley to the right and sits up somewhere on these crags. Or it did for us anyway. © Giselle Eagle
Ernst Stavro Blofeld's gaff at the top of Mont Ventoux. A keen birder, all the supervillain wanted was Snow Finches in his garden. Number 1 knew where the Citril Finches were, but he wanted one million dollars for the gen.© Richard Brown
We had read that peckish Snow Finch and Citril Finch descend into the carpark at Chalet Reynard to enjoy the leftovers from skiers picnics. So Rich promptly ripped up the leftovers of yesterday's baguette and merrily cast them about the carpark for the hungry birds. The conditions got worse, the bread got soggy, the birds did not appear. Skiers and therefore alpine finches must have more expensive tastes in bread than we do. Happily we located the Snow Finches higher up the mountain.© Richard Brown
Two sub-adult Golden Eagles over the approach to Chalet Reynard. There are approximately 450 breeding pairs in France and 240 in the French Alps.© Richard Brown
The ubiquitous Crested Tit. Although vocal at nearly every site we visited, there was just too much stuff going on to devote any time to photography.© Richard Brown
We next headed to Pont du Gard, an impressive 1st century, three tier, Roman aqueduct bridge and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a traditional roost site for Rock Sparrows and the place of an outrageous 18euro carpark charge. A December evening visit saw us arriving as most tourists left and we could park for free in front of a locked campsite. The Rock Sparrows were dropping in as we arrived and we counted at least 30 sat on various levels of the aqueduct before they dropped into holes on the bridge. Kingfishers were active on the Gardon River and 20 Crag Martins fed low over the bridge. Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were along the banks.
Digiscoped Rock Sparrows. The views are distant but plenty good enough with a scope. Research in the French Alps showed that males whose mates have departed to be with another bird sing louder than males with faithful partners, perhaps to try and win back the lost female. This suggests that females use other cues, perhaps physical appearance, when picking a mate.© Richard Brown
Crag Martins above the Pont du Gard. Despite the many arches of the bridge, it seemed as though its face was creating a standing wave in the airflow, concentrating insects, and the martins, above the vertical face of the bridge. Several previous birders had picked up Crag Martin at Les Baux and other sites, however we only saw them here.© Richard Brown
We're still not sure how rare Snow Buntings are in this part of France, with Collins suggesting that they don't get much further South than the North Coast. A local birder seemed surprised that we were more interested in the Water Pipits.© Richard Brown
The Coypu or Nutria was introduced to Europe from South America, primarily for its fur. The females have unusually placed nipples; by having their nipples high on their flanks females can suckle their young whilst remaining in the water.© Richard Brown
We headed back around to La Capeliere, but again failed with Moustached Warbler. However, the warmer weather had brought four Stripeless Tree Frogs out into the open, a great reward for all the time we had spent looking into Bramble patches. We looped round into La Crau but again failed to find Pin-tailed Sandgrouse among the vast planes of arid, rocky scrub. Calling Woodlarks were the only birds of note. We returned to Tarascon via L’Hotel Mas d’Oulivie and were treated to even better views of Eagle Owl. The bird flew in to the left hand bluff earlier than on our previous visit and immediately began to call. Scope views showed all the plumage detail, the piercing eyes and the white throat fluffing out with each bellowing call. Awesome.
Larger than the Common Tree Frog, the Stripless Tree Frog has longer hind legs and a flank stripe which only reaches the front legs. We spent a long time peering into Brambles to find these fellas, but as soon as the temperature increased we found that they stood out a mile.© Richard Brown