(8 - 18 October 1998)
by Roberto Garavaglia & Matteo Lausetti
Brittany is the north-westernmost tip of France, protruding into the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel. Due to this favourable geographical position, it is a prime site for watching autumn migration of seabirds, shorebirds and land birds.
Click here for a map of Brittany.
Brittany's outermost corner is aptly called Finisterre (land's end) and, over the years, it has recorded an impressive list of scarce birds and genuine rarities, arriving both from North America and Siberia.
29242 Ile d'Ouessant
tel. +33 - 2 - 98488265
fax +33 - 2 - 98488739
During our trip the weather was obviously rainy as the season requires and sometimes windy. Nevertheless, it was rather mild and we never experienced cold temperatures (even by Italian standards!).
The guide for the area is "Où voir les oiseaux in France" by the L.P.O. (French Society for the Protection of the Birds), translated in English by Helm as "Where to watch birds in France" to which weíll refer.
Our trip-list scored a total of 133 species, including a few lifers and one mega-rarity.Itinerary
The day before our departure, Philippe Dubois circulated on EuroBirdNet the new of a Short-billed Dowitcher in the Falguérec reserve, located few km south of Vannes. The area was one of our tripís targets, so immediately after landing we headed for that spot and ... it was there!! A new European thick at the very beginning of the trip, not that bad. Thank you Philippe, well done!
The bay of Morbihan, south of Vannes is a vast (4,000 hectares) tidal lagoon, connected to the sea by a narrow inlet. The tide is significant and large expanses of mud are exposed at low tide, making it an extremely important area for waterfowls and shorebirds, both migrating and wintering. A bird reserve has been set in its eastern shores, centred on the village of Sarzeau. From St. Armel to Benance, the area hosted thousands Wigeons and Black-bellied Brent Geese, either roosting or feeding depending on the tide, a variety of gulls (including both graellsii and intermedius Lesser Black-backed), five Spoonbills, and comparatively few waders (mainly Lapwing, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, and Spotted Redshank). A good vantage point from where to scan the tidal flat may be found on driving S along the D780 and turning right just 200 metres past St. Colombier, following for a further couple hundred metres until a small parking place, were an explanatory panel and some seats are provided. The adjoining reserve of the Marais du Duer has two hides that were not of special interest: only Teals were roosting inside the reserve; most probably, at extremely high tide, the birds are forced to enter the sheltered basins of the reserve. The Trohannec headland (site # 3 in the L.P.O. guide) is as good has any other part of the shore for watching the bay, while the bushy terrain before the head teemed with migrating passerines: Dunnock, Robin, Tree Pipit, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch; we also found the corpse of a dead Wryneck. As for resident birds, Cettiís Warbler was very noisy, but the real surprise was one Fan-tailed Warbler, very unexpected so far north.
The day we moved north from the Morbihan area, the weather turned rainy and much hindered the planned birdwatching along the way. The Reserve de Trunvel and the Etang the Nérizelec were just impossible to work out in the pouring rain, as was seawatching from Cape Raz due to the thick fog. The only remarkable sightings that day were (sadly) two road-victim Barn Owls killed together just south of Vannes and one colour-ringed Cormorant at Trunvel; as it turned out later, this individual belongs to the breeding colony on St. Margaret Island, Wales.
We then boarded to Ouessant. Most of the five days we spent there were plagued by rainy weather, virtually halting any migratory movement. All the many goodies recorded just a few days earlier had already departed, .... but one. At first, the report of a Pallasís Grasshopper Warbler has been taken a bit sceptically ("it must have been a Sedge Warbler" said the first one who told us about it), but the more the observers going to watch the bird, the more the evidence collected: all field-marks pointed to the identification of Locustella certhiola. If accepted, it will be the second for France (the first one was also recorded on Ouessant). It remained anyway an extremely difficult bird to watch: after a whole day deep inside that willow bush (and under the rain, too), it could easily be possible to catch not more than an one-second glimpse of it. We were a bit lucky and had good views in a couple occasions; nevertheless it took us a total of 8 hours.
The last couple of days of our trip we spent birding the north coast of Brittany. The Anse de Goulven, located 35 km NE from Brest, is worth special mentioning. The impressive high tide roosts at Tréguellier (site # 4 in the L.P.O. guide) and just north-west of Plonéour Trez, at the site named le Reun, sported several hundreds Ringed, Golden and Grey Plovers, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit, together with Oystercatcher, Kentish Plover, Turnstone, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, and singles Mediterranean Gull, Merlin and Peregrine. At rising tide, the Plage (Beach) de Kerusus displayed the very same birds, though at longer distance; with low tide many were feeding at site # 1, named Plage de Lividic.