News, Trip Reports, etc

Normandy, France, 8th to 15th September 2008

L. argentatus juvenile
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) juvenile, St Vaast

Location of Normandy

Normandy September 2008 gallery

On our way back to UK via Le Havre, we spent a week birding the Normandy coastline between Cherbourg and Le Havre. We focussed mainly on waders and seabirds, as there’s a distinct shortage of both in our native department, the Vienne! The weather was mostly warm and sunny, the offshore south-westerly winds obviously not producing good sea-watching conditions or passerine migration; however, we did have some luck with seabirds. Waders were hard work, but eventually we found a good fresh to brackish water site, pushing our total to 22 species.
The coastline here is beautiful and generally unspoilt, and in September devoid of tourists apart from those visiting the famous WW2 Normandy landing beaches. Some of these, like Utah Beach, are long and sandy and backed by dunes, recalling north Norfolk, whilst the cliffs, headlands and picturesque harbours towards Cherbourg are more reminiscent of Cornwall. By September the breeding seabirds may have left, but there are some large estuaries and a few freshwater sites to add to overall birding interest here.
Historic sites are everywhere in Normandy, combining birding with visiting the WW2 sites adds another dimension, and if it rains persistently we can recommend Bayeux, with the famous tapestry and superb cathedral.
We again used Jacquie Crozier’s excellent book on birding France [see reference sources], page numbers refer to this book
As ever in coastal France, there is no access to some reserves, presumably to deter illegal hunting, and no totally ‘joined up’ coastal footpath, although long stretches can be walked with caution [hunting]


Beauguillot Reserve [page 76]
Just south of Utah Beach where we camped, the reserve comprises a 3km strip of coastal flood meadows, small saltmarsh and beach, all of which is inaccessible! We visited the two public hides overlooking the flood meadows; a coastal footpath going south from the main reserve area is probably good at high-tide

Ponts d’Ouve Reserve [page 74]
This reserve is 10kms inland at Carentan, there is a freshwater lagoon with three hides and a 5.5km circuit, all part of the Cotentin Marshes Regional National Park. We visited the hides but didn’t do the full circuit. A nice reserve that would be good in winter and for odonata in early summer; for us it flattered to deceive in September as water levels were far too high for migrant waders
Currently the reserve centre is being rebuilt and entry is free – check website for opening dates/times to the trail and hides.

Pointe du Hoc [page 78]
Along the coast 25kms east of Carentan, the cliffs here serve as a sombre reminder of the many US servicemen that died trying to secure this strategic headland. Our visit coincided with rain, thousands of tourists, and an offshore wind, so we soon gave up; this site is probably always busy.

St Germain Plage [page 77]
This estuary on the west coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, 30kms from Carentan, is very unspoilt and has a footpath from St Germain Plage to St Germain-sur-Ay, over sand dunes with views across the bay. Even at low tide, walking the beautiful beach here produced good numbers of waders and terns

Pointe de Brevands [page 77]
Undoubtedly the best wader site in the area, with thousands of Dunlin amongst other species present on the rising tide when we visited. However, this being France, even on a Wednesday afternoon it was infested with ‘hunters’ toting long-barrelled guns for shooting ducks and waders.

Utah Beach
This WW2 landing beach where we camped proved moderately good for seawatching, especially for Skuas attracted by the large number of Sandwich Terns

St Vaast-la-Hougue [page 72]
30kms ESE of Cherbourg, the harbour provides good gull and tern watching, particularly when fishing boats come back with a catch. Around the fortress, La Hougue, there’s a very pleasant circular footpath giving views over the bay and the open sea – but beware of stretches of path along top of the ancient wall, in strong winds! The island of Tatihou is accessible by ferry from the harbour and looks worth a high-tide visit.

Pointe de Saire [page 73]
5kms north of St Vaast, a reasonable seawatch site of low elevation, with waders and gulls on the rocks at low-tide and a convenient municipal campsite

Pointe de Barfleur [page 74]
25kms east of Cherbourg, 14kms north of St Vaast, a seawatch site par excellence, even in the unsuitable south-westerly winds that we had. Watching is from the lighthouse

Manneville Reserve [page 84]
About 40kms east of Le Havre; although on the south side of the River Seine, more easily accessed from the north bank via Tancarville Bridge. Not easy to find, and when found the reserve, tower hide and main lagoon, La Grande-Mare, are all totally inaccessible and now completely fenced off, although there is no hunting allowed either. Viewing over the lagoon is from the tower hide car park, and from another [public] hide 0.5km to the north, not signposted but with a gravel car park next to the road. That said, it is an interesting area to bird, a circuit is possible by car around the protected area, a cider growing region with good habitat for passerines, and unique architecture in the form of timbered houses and barns with thatched roofs and plants growing along the ridge of the thatch – truly bizarre, and worth seeing in itself.

NB; A local birder we met there told us that the Seine estuary area around the Pont de Normandie [page 82] was fairly unsafe due to the aggression shown by ever-present groups of hunters there towards birdwatchers. We went to the Reserve de Gros Banc, Caen, instead.

Brotonne Forest
About 15kms east of the Manneville public hide. Using the Aire de la Vaquerie parking area, we walked part of the signed Route Forestiere au Loup, through some nice mature woodland, with, unusually, some Beech trees amongst the Oak and conifers.

Reserve de Gros Banc
15kms north-east of Caen, at the mouth of the Orne estuary. A superb 3.5km trail with 4 hides/blinds including an excellent tower hide hear the entrance car park on route D514. By far the best high-tide wader site we found, the trail skirts the brackish lagoons, also the estuary. We had less than four hours here before boarding the ferry at Le Havre, but definitely worthy of a prolonged visit.


Utah Beach - Camping Utah Beach

Pointe de Saire – Camping Municipal de Jonville

Honfleur - Camping La Briquerie


A Birdwatching Guide to France North of the Loire. J. Crozier, Arlequin Press, 2000.

Conservatoire du littoral, portal to websites covering protected areas on the French coast -

Cotentin Marshes Regional National Park -

Groupe Ornithologique Normand -

BIRDS - 114 species

1. SLAVONIAN GREBE Podiceps auritus 3 [1+ juvenile] La Houge 12/9
2. LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis
3. GREAT CRESTED GREBE Podiceps cristatus

4. MEDITERRANEAN SHEARWATER Puffinus mauretanicus 1 north, Pointe de Barfleur 12/9, 7 north, Pointe de Barfleur 13/9.
5. SOOTY SHEARWATER Puffinus griseus 30+ north, Pointe de Saire in small groups, afternoon of 11/9
6. GANNET Sula bassana Feeding groups present throughout

7. CORMORANT Phalacrocorax carbo
8. SHAG Phalacrocorax aristotelis Max. 5 Pointe de Saire
9. LITTLE EGRET Egretta garzetta Max. 200+ Reserve de Gros Banc
10. GREAT EGRET Egretta alba 6 Manneville Reserve
11. GREY HERON Ardea cinerea
12. SPOONBILL Platalea leucorodia 26 Reserve de Gros Banc

13. MUTE SWAN Gygnus columbianus 2 adults Manneville Reserve, 2 adults Reserve de Gros Banc
14. SHELDUCK Tadorna tadorna 8 La Hougue, 2 Reserve de Gros Banc
15. MALLARD Anas platyrhynchos
16. SHOVELER Anas clypeata 20+ Manneville Reserve
17. WIGEON Anas penelope 2 Beauguillot, 30+ Manneville, 10+ Reserve de Gros Banc
18. TEAL Anas crecca c10 Beauguillot, 4+ Manneville Reserve
19. EIDER Somateria mollisima 1 juv. St Germain 10/9
20. COMMON SCOTER Melanitta nigra Groups throughout going north, max. 50+ Utah Beach

21. OSPREY Pandion haliaetus 1 adult Manneville Reserve 14/9
22. MARSH HARRIER Circus aeruginosus 1 imm. Ponts d’Ouve Reserve, 1 imm. in off sea Pointe de Barfour, 1 imm. Reserve de Gros Banc
23. HEN HARRIER Circus cyaneus 2 Beauguillot
24. COMMON BUZZARD Buteo buteo
25. SPARROWHAWK Accipiter nisus
26. KESTREL Falco tinnunculus
27. HOBBY Falco subbuteo 1 adult over Utah Beach 8/9

28. MOORHEN Gallinula chloropus
29. COOT Fulica atra

30. OYSTERCATCHER Heamatopus ostralegus
31. RINGED PLOVER Charadrius hiaticula
32. KENTISH PLOVER Charadrius alexandrinus 4 Pointe de Bafleur
33. GREY PLOVER Pluvialis squatarola 1 Utah Beach, 5+ St Germain
34. LAPWING Vanellus vanellus c20 Ponts d’Ouve, 5+ Reserve de Gros Banc
35. KNOT Calidris canutus 2 Utah Beach, 5+ Pointe de Brevands, 2 La Hougue; mostly juveniles
36. SANDERLING Calidris maritima
37. TURNSTONE Arenaria interpres
38. DUNLIN Calidris alpina Thousands at Pointe de Brevands
39. CURLEW SANDPIPER Calidris ferruginea 2 juveniles Reserve de Gros Banc
40. WOOD SANDPIPER Tringa glareola 1 juvenile Ponts d’Ouve Reserve
41. GREEN SANDPIPER Tringa ochropus 4 Ponts d’Ouve, 1 juv. Reserve de Gros Banc
42. COMMON SANDPIPER Actitis hypoleucos Freshwater sites and coastal
43. REDSHANK Tringa totanus 2 Pointe de Brevands, c5 La Hougue, 10+ Reserve de Gros Banc
44. SPOTTED REDSHANK Tringa erythropus c3 Reserve de Gros Banc
45. GREENSHANK Tringa nebularia 1 Reserve de Gros Banc
46. BLACK-TAILED GODWIT Limosa limosa 2 juveniles Reserve de Gros Banc
47. BAR-TAILED GODWIT Limosa lapponica 4 St Germain, 6+ Reserve de Gros Banc
48. CURLEW Numenius arquata Small numbers seen throughout
49. WHIMBREL Numenius phaeopus 1 Pointe de Saire, 6 La Hougue, 7+ Reserve de Gros Banc
50. SNIPE Gallinago gallinago 1 over campsite Equemauville, 4+ Reserve de Gros Banc
51. RUFF Philomachus pugnax 5 juveniles Reserve de Gros Banc

52. GREAT SKUA Stercorarius skua 1 imm/ad. Pointe de Barfleur 12/9, 2 off Le Havre 15/9
53. POMARINE SKUA Stercorarius pomarinus 1 adult dark morph with full ‘spoons’ Utah Beach 8/9, 1 juvenile being harassed by 3 Arctic Skuas, Utah Beach 10/9
54. ARCTIC SKUA Stercorarius parasticus 1 pale adult 8/9, 2 9/9, and 3 10/9 [1 pale ad] Utah Beach, 1 juv. 12/9, and another juv. 13/9 Pointe de Barfleur

55. BLACK-HEADED GULL Larus ridibundus
56. COMMON GULL Larus canus Quite widespread on beaches, 30+ Reserve de Gros Banc
57. MEDITERRANEAN GULL Larus melonocephalus Occasional individuals seen, 159 counted Pointe de Saire beach 11/9, mostly adults and 2nd-winters.
58. HERRING GULL Larus argentatus ssp. argenteus The nominate argentatus may have been seen occasionally, although birds with reduced black primary tips were sometimes seen to be just moulting primaries.
L. argentatus 2nd-winter
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 2nd-winter, St Vaast

59. YELLOW-LEGGED GULL Larus cachinnans ssp. michahellis 10+ adults Reserve de Gros Banc
60. LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL Larus fuscus Both graellsii and intermedius noted
62. KITTIWAKE Rissa tridactyla 1 juvenile off Le Havre 15/9

63. SANDWICH TERN Sterna sandvicensis Max. count 1000+ Reserve de Gros Banc at high-tide
64. COMMON TERN Sterna hirundo Small groups usually passing offshore
65. ARCTIC TERN Sterna paradisaea 3 [2 juvs, 1 ad.] St Germain with Common Terns 10/9
66. BLACK TERN Chlidonias niger 1 juvenile Pont d’Ouve, up to 3 usually in St Vaast harbour

67. GUILLEMOT Uria aalge 1 Pointe de Barfleur 12/9, 1 off Le Havre 15/9

68. WOOD PIGEON Columba palumbus
69. COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto

70. TAWNY OWL Strix aluco 1 heard Utah Beach campsite, 1 heard Equemauville campsite
71. LITTLE OWL Athene noctua 1 near Manneville Reserve

72. KINGFISHER Alcedo atthis On beaches as well as freshwater sites
73. GREEN WOODPECKER Picus viridis 2 near Manneville Reserve

74. SKYLARK Alauda arvensis Small flocks along the coast

75. SWALLOW Hirundo rustica
76. HOUSE MARTIN Delichon urbica Only 2 on passage

77. MEADOW PIPIT Anthus pratensis Small flocks along coast
78. WHITE WAGTAIL Motacilla alba
79. YELLOW WAGTAIL Motacilla flava 2 St Germain

80. WREN Troglodydes troglodytes
81. DUNNOCK Prunella modularis
82. ROBIN Erithacus rubecula
83. BLACK REDSTART Phoenicarus ochuros 2 near Manneville Reserve
84. WHEATEAR Oenanthe oenanthe Good numbers on passage along coast
85. WHINCHAT Saxicola rubetra 1 juvenile Manneville Reserve
86. STONECHAT Saxicola torquata
87. SONG THRUSH Turdus philomelus Common on campsites
88. MISTLE THRUSH Turdus viscivorus 1 near Manneville Reserve
89. BLACKBIRD Turdus mirula

90. BLACKCAP Sylvia atricapilla
91. WHITETHROAT Sylvia communis 2+ near Manneville Reserve
92. ZITTING CISTICOLA Cisticola juncidis
93. CETTI’S WARBLER Cettia cetti
94. REED WARBLER Acrocephelus scirpaceus
95. CHIFFCHAFF Phylloscopus collybita

96. PIED FLYCATCHER Ficedula hypoleuca 1 1st-winter Brotonne Forest 14/9

97. GREAT TIT Parus major
98. BLUE TIT Parus caerulens
99. LONG-TAILED TIT Aegithalos caudatus
100. NUTHATCH Sitta europea 1 near Manneville Reserve
101. SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER Certhia brachydactyla 3+ Brotonne Forest

102. MAGPIE Pica pica
103. JAY Garrulus glandarius
104. JACKDAW Corvus monedula
105. ROOK Corvus frugilegus
106. CARRION CROW Corvus corone corone
107. STARLING Sturnus vulgaris

108. HOUSE SPARROW Passer domesticus
109. CHAFFINCH Fringilla coelebs
110. LINNET Carduelis cannabina Some large flocks on coast, i.e. 80+
111. GOLDFINCH Carduelis carduelis
112. GREENFINCH Carduelis chloris
113. SERIN Serinus serinus 1 Pointe de Saire
114. CIRL BUNTING Emberiza cirlus


SMALL WHITE Artogeia rapae
GREEN-VEINED WHITE Artogeia mannii
SMALL TORTOISESHELL Aglais urticae 1 Utah Beach 8/9
COMMA Polygonia c-album
RED ADMIRAL Vanessa atalanta
PEACOCK Inachis io
SMALL HEATH Coenonympha tullia
SPECKLED WOOD Pararge aegeria


BLUE-TAILED DAMSELFLY Ischnura elegans Only at Ponts d’Ouve Reserve
MIGRANT HAWKER Aeshna mixta Fairly common throughout
SOUTHERN HAWKER Aeshna cyanea 1 male Brotonne Forest
COMMON DARTER Sympetrum striolatum Very common throughout
SCARLET DARTER Crocothemis erythraea 4 males Ponts d’Ouve Reserve

MOLE CRICKET Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa 1 Manneville Reserve


FOX Vulpes vulpes
RABBIT Oryctolagus cuniculus
HARE Lepus europaeus
COYPU Myocastor coypus
BEECH MARTIN Martes foina

COMMON FROG Rana temporaria Ponts d’Ouve Reserve