Archive for the ‘french Alps’ Tag

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.


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_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!


Rock Partridge – my last European bird?   Leave a comment

Over the years I have got to see almost all the birds of Europe (at least somewhere in the world) but one remained elusive – Rock Partridge. Because of its shyness and difficult to access habitat, Rock Partridge remains one of the least observed birds on the continent. The fact that it closely resembles the easy to see Chukar of the Middle East doesn’t add to its desirability for many, but for some years now its been my most wanted European bird. I tried at a site in Austria two years ago without success (see Since then some reliable sites in Croatia and central Italy have come to my attention, but as we were in the Alps anyway for Margaret’s nephew’s wedding, I thought it made sense to check out some areas in the French Alps. I’ll include some photos of the French Alps in the next post and concentrate in this one on my claim that Rock Partridge is my last European bird, just to say that after a stiff climb I saw one well near St Christophe, south-east of Grenoble on 3rd May.

Rock_Partridge Martin Flack Croatia.4

Due to the circumstances I will outline in my next post, I was unable to photograph the Rock Partridge but I got a view almost as good as this. This is the nominate race which is found in the Balkans whilst I saw the race saxitalis which occurs in the Alps. A third race whitakeri occurs in Sicily. Photographed by Martin Flack in Croatia, taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

So is this my last regularly occurring European bird? Well firstly there are several species that breed in Europe that I have only seen outside of Europe, for example Black-winged Kite (breeds in Spain, seen Morocco and many other places), Little Buttonquail (has bred in Spain, seen in Cambodia) and Little Swift (breeds in Spain, seen many places in Africa) and several others, but I am talking about whether I have seen the species anywhere within its world range.

There is another European bird that I need to see: Moltoni’s Warbler, this is a recent split from Subalpine Warbler. The chances are that I have seen this bird already before I knew about the possibility of a split but I cannot be 100% sure. I tried to locate one in Piedmont in NW Italy on this trip without success, but we are going to Mallorca next spring for a few days and should be no problem there. See

Also my claim to have seen every European bird depends on your definition of Europe. Is it a geographical unit, an economic one or do we include all the countries which take part in the Eurovision Song Contest? (in which case that would include Israel – I have never understood how Israel can qualify as European by any definition.) What about Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Most definitions include Turkey west of the Bosphorus and Georgia and Azerbaijan north of the highest ridge of the Greater Caucasus mountains in Europe, thus including northernmost Georgia and Azerbaijan. So there is another bird I haven’t seen that might just be considered European; Caspian or Hycranian Tit. This is a recent split from Sombre Tit and occurs in northern Iran and in eastern Azerbaijan. I have yet to find out if it occurs on the northern slope of the Caucasus. Having already birded in Georgia and Armenia I will have to decide if I want to go back to that region for a bird that looks very like the Sombre Tits I have seen elsewhere.

And then there are birds that are split by the Dutch national checklist committee but not by the major world checklists, such as Sicilian Rock Partridge (yes, a Rock Partridge still occurs on the want list), Mediterranean Storm Petrel, Slender-billed Barn Owl and Madeira Barn Owl and Lilford’s Woodpecker (split from White-backed) but none of these have passed the seven point test as used in the new Illustrated Checklist see Also in this category are Hierro and Palma Blue Tits but of course the passerine volume of the Illustrated Checklist won’t be published until 2016 (a recent genetic paper has indicated that Palma Blue Tit, but not the Hierro one deserves full species status).

There are a few vagrants to Europe that I haven’t seen, although they don’t fall within the category of ‘regularly occurring’, these include – Tristan Albatross, Ascension Frigatebird*, Relict Gull, Aleutian Tern*, Horned Puffin*, Parakeet Auklet, Red-throated Thrush*, Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, African Desert Warbler and possibly Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (views the Portland bird did not exclude Pale-legged Leaf-warbler) and Pallas’ Rosefinch. The birds marked with an asterisk are birds on the British List that I have yet to see.

Also there are a few birds, that although I am confident that I have seen them, I would like better views, these include Spanish Imperial Eagle, Houbara Bustard and Balearic Warbler, in each case I thought I had seen the species concerned on previous trips only to later find out it had been split and perhaps I made less of an effort to secure better views as a result, although in at least one case it was just bad luck.

So the conclusion is – I might have seen the regularly occurring birds in Europe, but there are still enough loose ends to keep me busy for some time yet!

Caspian_Tit greyowliran

Caspian Tit, whether it occurs in Europe or not its still on the wanted list. Photographed by Greyowl in Iran. Taken from Bird Forum Opus.