May 2nd – 4th 2015 – The Alps trip part 1 – The French Alps   1 comment

This is the first post describing Margaret and my trip around the Alps and to southern France. When we were invited to the wedding of Margaret’s nephew Marc Hörburger to Elisabeth Lau on May 15th we decided to do a full 18 day trip and make the most of sightseeing and birding in this wonderful part of the world.

Due to an early flight we stayed overnight at a hotel near Heathrow on 1st May and arrived in Zürich, Switzerland late morning the next day. After the bad experience I had hiring a car with Europcar two years ago I specifically avoided them and chose a company called Unirent. Imagine my dismay when I found out that Unirent was administered by Europcar! We have yet to find out whether history will repeat itself or whether we had a trouble-free car hire this time (certainly nothing untoward happened to the car, but there again nothing untoward happened in 2013 either!)

The plan was to visit the high peaks of the Swiss Alps first, then go to the French Alps for Rock Partridge (which as the last post explained was the last European bird that I yet to see) before heading into Italy and reaching Austria via the Italian Lakes. The problem was a week of rain was forecast and there seemed no point in trying to visit the Jungfrau and the Matterhorn if we couldn’t see them.

At the last-minute we decided head straight for the French Alps and then if the weather didn’t improve, drive south to the Mediterranean coast.

 

IMG_6839 Vizille

Our first night was spent in the little town of Vizelle south-east of Grenoble close to this charming chateau.

IMG_6020 St Christophe hike

The following day’s forecast was spot on and it rained for the entire morning, but we drove to the village of St Christophe and started the hike up the mountain to the site I had been given for Rock Partridge. The early stages were easy enough as we followed the path alongside this stream and through birch woodland.

IMG_6007 St Christophe hike

The track carried on up, climbing some 300m above the starting point. Margaret gave up about a third of the way up but I pressed on.

IMG_6010 St Christophe hike

After about 90 minutes I reached the site, a rocky outcrop above a scree slope. Some judicious use of a recording gave an immediate response, but the bird was hidden between the nearby outcrop and the more distant ridge.

IMG_6011 St Christophe hike

Climbing the outcrop was out of the question, so my only option was to descend a bit and cross the scree slope which was quite slippery due to the rain. Being on my own and having no phone signal I was quite nervous, as a slip could end in a broken ankle or worse. I left my waterproofs, scope, rucksack and camera behind in case anything would unbalance me and crawled over the loose rocks. Yes, I got a good view of the calling bird, which was as I thought in the hidden gully, but of course no photos. See the previous post for a photo of Rock Partridge from the internet.

IMG_6024 French village

I was back at the car by early afternoon wet, but unscathed and delighted to have seen this bird at last. We decided to try another area for Rock Partridge a little to south where we thought they might be visible from the road, to give Margaret a chance of seeing one and so spent the afternoon driving through a succession of French alpine villages. Whilst they might not have the chocolate box lid perfection of Swiss alpine villages, these French one have their own charm and we stopped several times to wander about.

IMG_6855 Chapelle-en-V valley hotel view

Eventually we stopped for the night at St Firmin, although finding the proprietor of the town’s only hotel was a bit of a mission. Languages were always my weak point and trying to communicate with the hotel’s gardener using (failed) O-level French that hasn’t been used for nearly 50 years was problematic. Anyway, once sorted out we had a lovely view from our room and even saw a Goshawk fly past.

IMG_6854 Chapelle-en-V valley hotel view

The following day we explored the valley as far as Chapelle-en-Valgaudmar but saw no sign of Rock Partridges. We did however see a Chamois perched high above us and a number of alpine birds.

IMG_6866 Chapelle-en-V valley

Although the weather was deteriorating we continued towards the head of the valley.

IMG_6862 Chapelle-en-V valley

The recent heavy rain has swollen the streams and waterfalls abounded ….

IMG_6896 Chapelle-en-V valley

…. but with the rain and spray from the waterfall in the strengthening wind it was hard to keep the camera lens dry.

IMG_6901 Chapelle-en-V valley

We eventually reached the head of the valley where we saw some Alpine Chough, a Rock Bunting, Western Bonelli’s Warblers and Crag Martins ….

IMG_6882 Alpine Marmot

…. but the only thing that came close enough for photos was this rather wet Alpine Marmot.

With the forecast still giving rain for the next few days we thought it best to leave the Alps behind for now and head south. The Camargue and the stony plain of La Crau seemed a good option, the only trouble was we wouldn’t have time to give this extensive area the justice it deserved, but we would try!

 

One response to “May 2nd – 4th 2015 – The Alps trip part 1 – The French Alps

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  1. Really nice trip! I found your blog searching info for watching the rock partridge, I’ll try this species next august in Alpes. I appreciate any details to find them (GPS coordinates is better). Thank you in advance.
    Álvaro Díaz, alvaro.diaz.pastor@gmail.com

    Álvaro Díaz Pastor

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