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  • Photograph of Wallcreeper

    Wallcreeper by Michael McKee.

    SOUTHERN FRANCE

    Photograph of Greater Flamingoes

    Greater Flamingoes by Spider.


    Best Wildlife in Southern France

    Mammals
    (Pyrenean) Chamois, Alpine Marmot (introduced), Red Squirrel and Coypu (introduced).

    Birds
    The birds listed here are usually present during the northern spring and summer. Greater Flamingo (14,000-15,000 pairs in the Camargue, down to about a quarter of this number during the northern winter), (Eurasian) Black (reintroduced) and (Eurasian) Griffon Vultures, Lammergeier, (Eurasian) Eagle Owl, White Stork, Wallcreeper, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor, Citril Finch and (White-winged) Snow Finch, as well as (Black-crowned) Night, Purple and Squacco Herons, Great and Little Bitterns, Glossy Ibis, Red-crested Pochard, Montagu’s Harrier, Black and Red Kites, Bonelli’s, Booted, Golden and Short-toed Eagles, Lesser Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Purple Swamphen, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew (Eurasian Thick-knee), (Pied) Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Slender-billed Gull, Black, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, (Eurasian) Hoopoe, (European) Bee-eater, (European) Roller, Tawny Pipit, Calandra and (Greater) Short-toed Larks, (Eurasian) Crag Martin, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes, Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler), (Western) Bonelli’s, Great Reed, Melodious, Moustached (this early breeder is easier to locate during the winter and very difficult to see during the spring and summer), Sardinian, Spectacled and Subalpine Warblers, Firecrest, Crested and Long-tailed Tits, Reedling (Bearded Tit), (White-throated) Dipper, Red-backed, Southern (Great) Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, (Eurasian) Golden Oriole, (Red-billed) Chough, Rock Sparrow (Pont du Gard near Camargue) and Rock Bunting. Also a chance of Egyptian Vulture, Collared Pratincole, White-winged (Black) Tern, (Eurasian) Scops Owl, Black Woodpecker, (Western) Orphean Warbler and Lesser Grey Shrike.

    Invertebrates
    Over 100 butterfly species including Apollos and the Camargue is one of the best sites in Europe for dragonflies, with over 30 species possible in July. Ant Lion also occurs there.

    Plants
    The rich flora includes many orchids.

    Other Natural Wonders in Southern France

    Armand Cave
    This cave near the Camargue is about 75 m (250 ft) below ground in a chamber about 100 m (325 ft) long and 55 m (180 ft) wide. In it is an amazing ‘forest’ of ‘branched’ stalagmites, 400 in all, rising to 30 m (100 ft).

    Cirque de Gavarnie
    This massive ice-carved cirque in the high French Pyrenees is 3.2 km (2 miles) across with steep walls between 500 m and 700 m (1640 ft and 2297 ft) high, and a 422 m (1385 ft) high waterfall. Along the rim is an impressive sheer-sided gap, known as the Breche-de-Roland, at 2800 m (9200 ft). Dominated by three peaks over 3050 m (10,000 ft) the scene is completed by many wild flowers, butterflies such as Apollos, beautiful birds such as the Wallcreeper and big birds for the big country, including Lammergeiers and Griffon Vultures.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Southern France

    Photograph of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

    Look out for Pin-tailed Sandgrouses in La Crau. This cracking photo was taken by Steve Fletcher.

    Best Times for Wildlife in Southern France

    The Greater Flamingo colony in the Camargue is usually at its most active during May and the second half of May is arguably the best time for birds in general around the Camargue. Late May to early June is also usually the best time to look for plants, especially orchids, in Cevennes, although the best time for plants in the Pyrenees is usually a little later, from mid-June to mid-July, which is also usually the best time for the greatest variety of butterflies. July is usually the best time for dragonflies in the Camargue.

    Some flowers bloom in early September when many butterflies are still on the wing and numerous migrant birds pass through the Camargue and the Pyrenees.

    Recommended Books etc. for Southern France

    Collins Bird Guide by L Svensson et al. Collins, 2010 (Second Edition).

    Birds of Europe by L Jonsson. Helm, 1999.

    A Birdwatching Guide to France South of the Loire including Corsica by J Crozier. Subbuteo, 2007.

    Where to Watch Birds in France edited by P Dubois. Helm, 2006 (Second Edition).

    Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by S Aulagnier et al. Helm, 2009.

    Mammals of Britain and Europe by D McDonald and P Barrett. Collins, 2005.

    Collins Butterfly Guide by T Tolman and R Lewington. Collins, 2009.

    Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide by H Aarnio et al. A & C Black Publishers, 2009.

    Wild Flowers of the Mediterranean by M Blamey and C Grey-Wilson. A & C Black, 2004.


    Apps etc.

    Collins Bird Guide.

    Where to watch birds in Europe & Russia by N Wheatley. Helm, 2000.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Europe? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Southern France

    Many trip reports, some for Southern France, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Southern France. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Southern France' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Southern France

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Southern France

    Some Organized Tours to Southern France

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and they are popular with people with partners with different interests. Individuals, partners and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more for a custom tour than an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours to Southern France include the following. Many of these also offer custom tours.