It is not really a secret that Southern France during summertime feels a little bit like heaven. Lilac lavender fields stretch out to the rolling hills confining the horizon, some cypresses scattered inbetween. After spending a few days in Avignon (where seven succssesive popes resided in the middle-ages) and Arles (where Vincent van Gogh completed some of his most famous paintings) we drove down further south to the Camargue, a natural region between the two arms of the Rhône river and the the Mediterranean Sea.
The Camargue is the largest river delta in Western Europe and several large lagoons (étangs) make it the homeland for more than 400 species of birds. About 30 years ago, the Camargue was designated as a “Wetland of International importance”. The area, which has been established as a regional park and nature reserve in the 1970s, is especially famous for its white, wildroaming horses (Camarguais) and the flamingos. It is in fact one of the few European habitats for the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus).
We decided to drive to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer from where we started on a nice day trip on foot. We were equipped with the Leica “travel package” consisting of the APO-Televid 65 W, the Vario-eyepiece 25-50x WW ASPH., a tripod and a 2-way fluid head. And we didn’t have to wait long until the first pink long-legged birds came into sight. We only walked for a couple of minutes when we spotted a few of them stalking through the shallow water to our left-hand side, looking for small shrimp, seeds, blue-green algae, microscopic organisms, and mollusks.
We set up our gear and took turns watching the most widespread and largest species of the flamingo family. About three quarters of the 540 bird species found in French have been sighted in the Camargue. This is nothing we could confirm on this single day, but we did see some herons and glossy ibisses (more than 300 couples live here which makes it the largest population in France). When we turn away from the Televid, we can see the Mediterranean Sea to our right, laying like a blue rug, slightly wobbling and sparkling in the sunlight.
We are enjoying watching even the birds’ finest details – it’s like being right beside them – even after the light is slowly fading away. The combination of the view, the summer heat, the smell, the light makes it more than easy for us to say: Yes, we will definetly come back. Maybe even in the wintertime. Because that is when more than 140,000 birds choose the Camargue as their hot-spot to spend the cold season or for a stop-over on their way further south. Au revoir et à bientôt!