Wonderful early spring birding in the south of France

  • 14 Mar - 21 Mar 2020
Max Group Size6 per guide
Duration8 Days
£1895 PP, £130 single supplement.
Deposit £300

Where can you enjoy great spring birding just as migration begins? Join Heatherlea in the Camargue, one of Europe’s premier winter birding destinations. Wintering birds usually include Wallcreeper, Bonelli’s Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Little Bustard, Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse, Citril Finch, Eagle Owl, Black Woodpecker, Alpine Accentor, Bluethroat, Moustached Warbler, Penduline Tit, and of course flocks of Greater Flamingo which can be usually measured in thousands. From the sweeping marshes of the Camargue reserve and the surrounding plains of La Crau to the limestone cliffs of Les Alpilles and, weather permitting, the snow-clad mountain slopes of Mont Ventoux, we explore all the special places and key sites, returning in the evening to a lovely cosy hotel and traditional food. Heatherlea aficionados will feel right at home!

Other birds of note may include Black-necked Grebe, Little, Cattle and Great White Egret, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Long-Legged Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Red Kite, Yellow-legged Gull, Slender Billed Gull, Little Owl, Crag Martin, Water Pipit, Richard’s Pipit, Kingfisher, Blue Rock Thrush, Southern Grey Shrike, Crested Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Firecrest, Serin, Hawfinch, Brambling, Common Crossbill, Cirl Bunting and Rock Bunting. A tremendous start to the overseas birding year! Watch out also for Coypu in ditches or blundering Wild Boar crashing through vegetation.

Day 1: Sat 16 Mar   Arrival in Marseille
After relaxing in our airport lounge, we fly Gatwick to Marseille on a morning flight. On arrival we transfer to our hotel to relax before dinner. Our hotel is in a rural location, and offers comfortable en-suite rooms, Provencal-style dishes and local wines. Cheese is a local favourite, and Heatherlea aficionados will feel right at home as we take charge of the small, cosy dining room!

Day 2 to Day 7: Sun 17 to Fri 22 Mar   Camargue National Nature Reserve and Beyond
Over the week we will thoroughly explore the Camargue Reserve with its vast lagoons and wetlands, exploring the network of roads and dykes which criss-cross this vast landscape, home of the legendary wild white Camargue horses and huge flocks of Greater Flamingo. We use viewing platforms and our transport to search the fence posts, lakes and lagoons. Here Black-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe might be found, perhaps with Scaup amongst wintering flocks of commoner ducks. Waders might include Little Stint and Spotted Redshank, and we watch out for wintering Water Pipit and Yellow-legged Gull by the waters’s edge. Marsh Harrier hunt the vast reedbeds, which hide Moustached Warbler, Penduline and Bearded Tit as well as wintering Bluethroat and Stonechat in the surrounding scrub. Several majestic Greater Spotted Eagle have wintered in the area for some years, and we have good chances to see this magnificent raptor at the roost. We may even be lucky enough to separate a Long-Legged Buzzard, another regular wintering vagrant, from the plentiful local Common Buzzard. Little, Cattle and Great White Egret are all found around the reserve, and we see them as we travel, together with Corn Bunting and perhaps a briefly flashing Kingfisher. Watch out also for Coypu in ditches or blundering Wild Boar crashing through vegetation.

Another day we make a short drive to the magical limestone cliffs of Les Alpilles and the hill top Roman village of Les Baux. Here Wallcreeper winter, small flocks of Alpine Accentor gather around the village and resident Blue Rock Thrush are found on the rock faces. Sardinian Warbler chatter from the scrub, and a few Serin twitter from the trees. Small flocks of Crag Martin swirl around the cliffs.

We walk around La Caume, where resident Bonelli’s Eagle are the key target. We have a regular site, and usually see the birds. The track takes us through pines and towards cliffs where Crested Tit and Firecrest can be found. Citril Finch is also here in some years. Later we wait at a secluded location at dusk for good views of magnificent Eagle Owl.

A complete contrast is in store as we drive to the plains of La Crau, where Little Bustard gather in wintering flocks, and Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse can also be seen. We also enjoy sightings of Southern Grey Shrike, Little Owl,  flocks of mixed finches including Serin and Cirl Bunting, and possibly wintering Richard’s Pipit. Early Ortolan Bunting may be seen.

A nearby landfill site offers the chance to see Red Kite soaring. Masses of Yellow-legged Gull scavenge the rubbish and we scan through them before moving on to another area good for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

Another change of habitat as we drive north to Mont Ventoux, taking the road to the small ski resort. We pass through forest where elusive Black Woodpecker are our target, before searching the higher slopes and treeline for Citril Finch. Brambling, Common Crossbill, Greenfinch and tits may be visited by a hungry Sparrowhawk. Golden Eagle and Raven are also sometimes seen soaring over the high tops. Mont Ventoux or “Windy Mountain” is well named, so we spend time in the ‘Alpine’ cafe for a warm cup of Hot Chocolate.

Time towards the end of the week will be spent searching the areas surrounding the Etang du Vaccares and Tour du Valat within the Camargue National Nature Reserve, searching again for species we might have missed, and hunting for our own rarities, such as Pine Bunting, with Hawfinch and Rock Bunting also possible.

Day 8: Sat 23 Mar   Departure

Our return flight departs Marseille mid morning, and we arrive in London mid afternoon.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

* return flight from London – Marseille, baggage up to airline included limit.
* ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
* the services of Heatherlea leaders.
* pre-flight hotel/lounge.

What's not included in your holiday price:

* travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday
* incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature including drinks and personal insurance.

More holiday information

Accommodation is a small, family-run hotel in a quiet location on the outskirts of Arles. Rooms are spacious and comfortable with en-suite facilities. Rooms are equipped with direct dial telephones, television and Wi-Fi
Food Our hotel is noted for its hospitality and its excellent French food and wine complementing superb birdwatching. Breakfast is a continental buffet. Fruit juice and tea or coffees are also available. Picnic lunches are provided, and will include a variety of local produce plus soft drinks. Evening meals are generally local dishes. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome.
Walking is generally light/moderate. There may be some track and road walking, occasionally over rough terrain, though generally an average level of fitness is required.
Weather Typically, temperatures in February will be around 10°C. The area is prone to the “Mistral” wind however, which in winter can create considerable wind chill – be prepared for cold weather.
Insects are not expected
Group size is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights Morning departure from London Gatwick
If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you. 

Your Leaders:

Ian Ford: Ian joined Heatherlea in 1999, and joins us again this year as a Senior Guide. Ever popular with guests and fellow guides alike, Ian is a highly experienced Heatherlea leader. Ian is very much looking forward to your company in the South of France.

Rob Jordan: A keen birder and top photographer, Rob's expertise and sense of humour will ensure that you have an outstanding trip to the South of France.  He looks forward to accompanying you on this trip.

Ian Ford and Rob Jordan

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 25 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248