Some of the finest birdwatching areas in Southern France are within easy reach of Le Beausset. In spring and autumn a number of rare migrating birds can be found. Walks are now being offered based at L’Enclos de la Daby with neighbour and friend – Pierre Serra – acting as a guide (in the summer he organises whale watching trips).
La Sainte Baume
This is an ancient pilgrimage destination as being the home of Mary Magdalen for the last thirty years of her life. A chapel is built inside the large grotto that gives it its name (Baume : cave in old Provençal). The Mediterranean and the Alps can be seen from the top of the cliffs. All four seasons are worth a visit but the best times are migration periods, from March to late May and late August to November.
The nearest base of Subalpine Limestone range (elevation: 1100 meters) is situated about 15 kilometers away from le Beausset, and is reachable in half an hour by car. The southern slope is covered with Mediterranean brush (Maquis) and the northern side by a the remains of a beech and oak forest.
Species that can be found include rock birds such as the Blue Thrush, Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Alpine Swift, Rock Bunting, Tawny Pipit, and – in the winter only – Wallcreeper, plus five species of Mediterranean Warblers, Ortolan Ounting, and Woodlark. Two pairs of Bonelli’s Eagles nest in the area. Other raptors visiting from the nearby Alps include the Short-Toed Eagle, Goshawk, Eagle Owl, Golden Eagle and Griffon Vulture. In the forest there are also Black Woodpeckers. Many more species can be seen at migrating times. Dotterels, on their way to Africa, stop for a few days on the summit in September, and are so tamed that they can almost be touched by hand.
Gorges du Verdon
The ‘Great Canyon’ of the Verdon is a very scenic area of the Limestone pre-Alps, with back country roads takes about two hours. It can be visited all year round – including on a sunny day in Winter- but March to October is best.
All four species of European Vulture can be seen there. The Griffon Vulture has been reintroduced, and breeds on the impressive cliffs. The Black Vulture has recently been reintroduced, and the Bearded Vulture – reintroduced in the Southern Alps – frequently visits the Verdon area. The Egyptian Vulture, attracted by the presence of its larger cousins and the feeding spots, is now seen again, as are Nesting Golden Eagles, Short-Toed Eagles, Peregrine Falcons. All species of rock birds are found, including the Rock Partridge. Cirl Bunting, Chough, Ravens, and so on. Altogether a very interesting place not just for bird experts but also for botanists and reptile fans.
This is one of the largest and most famous Wetlands in Europe. With freshwater and salt marshes, dunes and beaches, and rice paddies, there is a great variety of birds and biotopes.
It is situated about one hour and a half away, and in order to enjoy fully the rich biotopes, and especially if the nearby Plain of Crau, it is better to spend at least two full days there. The Society for the Protection of Nature (the SNPN) owns a large hostel in the heart of the marshes, equipped with kitchen, bird blinds and nature walks.
The Camargue is interesting all year round but July-August is crowded with tourists and mosquitoes. The birdlife is rich and varied. In winter, there are thousands of surface, diving and sea ducks. Large numbers of waders and shorebirds – wintering or migrating – include the Black-Winged Stilt, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis. There are Marsh Harriers, the rare wintering Spotted Eagle, Black Kites, several species of raptors, and Great Flamingos all year round. Over ten species of Heron have been seen in the Camargue, including Purple Heron, Great Egret, and Squacco Heron. In the warm seasons the colourful ‘African’ birds are there, such as the Bee-Eater, Blue Roller, and Hoopoe. The Mediterranean Gull and Slender-Billed Gull are among the sea birds, with nine different species of Tern. Bearded Reedling, White Stork and Black Stork, Pratincole, Cetti’s Warbler and many others can also be seen.
On the other side of the Rhone river the Plain of Crau is a steppe hosting two species of birds that can be seen in no other place in Europe outside of Spain – the Lesser Kestrel and Pintailed Sandgrouse. Stone Curlew, Little Bustard, Short-Toed and Crested Lark also live in this Biotope (which is highly dependent on grazing flocks of sheep). A bird blind built on the roof of a sheep farm can be visited, and there are a great variety of reptiles and insects, plus the highest number of Dragonfly species in Western Europe.
The salt marshes of Hyères, which form a little Camargue, are about 40 minutes away, and are also worth a visit at any time of year (though again July-August should be avoided). Two sandspits extending towards the Giens peninsula – with Porquerolles island nearby – form a rare geological feature called a ‘Double Tombolo’. Ponds, sand dunes and former saltmarshes host a variety of waterbirds, wintering and migrant, and there are excellent nature walks as well as blinds.