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A 'NON BIRDING HOLIDAY IN FRANCE' - 7 September 2015

"If you believe that, you'll believe anything!". Those were my wife's exact words when I told her the title of this blog. And she's right. Birdwatchers don't stop watching birds when they go on holiday. The joy of birds is that you can find them virtually anywhere and there can be greater pleasure seeing birds in a new place. Go to another country like France and most of the birds are the same, but the precise mix of species, their relative scarcity or abundance and even their behaviours can be different. For example, I was watching Common Swifts in central Nice on the Mediterranean coast on 1 September. Given it was one month after most swifts had left northern Britain, I presumed that these birds in Nice were simply that much further south on migration to their wintering grounds. However, I noticed these swifts were flying up to nests under the eaves of various tall buildings. 'That's odd', I thought. 'Still feeding young at the end of August?' Then it dawned on me that these birds might have second broods - a breeding pattern I have never seen in the UK where our summer season is perhaps too short for the quantity of insects that swifts need to consume. That's speculation on my part, but my point is the apparent behavioral difference I witnessed in Nice.

Most of our 'non birding' holiday was spend in a gite in a Provencal village. The landscape reminded me of Sussex - rolling countryside with forested ridges, although Sussex has far fewer vineyards! Let me protest that we did not go birdwatching, but nevertheless.... Sitting on the cottage patio I saw Golden Oriole, Cirl Bunting, Bee-eater, Serin, Raven and Goshawk. The local woods contained plenty of Crested Tits and gave me a tantalizingly distant view of a probable Short-toed Eagle. Yet it was as interesting to see birds I am familiar with at home, but in different proportions. So many Magpies and Jays, an abundance of Goldfinches, scores of Collared Doves and plenty of Great Tits. By contrast I saw few Common Buzzards and only one Wren, saw no thrushes at all and heard only one Blackbird. All these observations raised questions galore. Why are these so common? Where have those gone? Fascinating to puzzle on a 'non birding' holiday.

Mark Winter


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