Friday, 13 June 2014

Some Nice birding!

Long time no blog! It's been busy times for me of late - this week I had an exam on Tuesday, moved offices on Wednesday, and found a new house yesterday (our landlady has sold our house so we have to move). Now I am feeling a bit frazzled. But in mid-May, before revision and house-hunting took over my life temporarily, we went on an excellent holiday to the south of France and I've been meaning to write about it since then. We stayed in Nice for a bit, which I will recount in this post, and the Mercantour National Park for a bit, which I think I might do a few posts on!

As usual, because I was on holiday with my partner Chris who is not mad keen on birds, this wasn't a birding holiday, but I was as always on the lookout for whatever I might see. We travelled to Nice by train from London St Pancras, changing in Paris from the Eurostar to a high-speed TGV. It was so speedy that although I was hoping I might spot a few birds from it, all but the largest were an unidentifiable blur! However the largest included a Great White Egret and loads of Black Kites including one flock of at least 20 or so which was an impressive sight, and especially exciting being a life tick for me :o) As soon as we arrived in Nice, Swifts were all around. All the old buildings in Nice evidently provide perfect breeding habitat for them:

Lots of lovely rooftops for Swifts.
I guess there must have been some Pallid Swifts among them but alas I am not skilled enough to pick them out, so only ticked Common Swift! I particularly enjoyed eating breakfast outside our hotel in the morning, listening to and watching the Swifts disappear into nooks and crannies at the tops of buildings.

Breakfast & Swift-watching spot.
We did a fair bit of walking around Nice, especially the old town. There was a daily fish market in a small square there which the Yellow-legged Gulls were especially interested in!

Keeping an eye on the fish!
We also walked up to Cimiez via the Paillon River which was a nice spot for birds. There were plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls there, and hirundines - Barn Swallow, House Martin and another life tick - Crag Martin, bosh! I really liked these chunky fellas, their distinctive dark underwing coverts and uniquely-patterned tails made them very easy to pick out.

The Paillon River.

One bird I'd read that you could see in Nice was White-throated Munia/Indian Silverbill, of which there is a small feral self-sustaining population that has become established from escapees. Most of what I'd read seemed to suggest that they mainly were found around the airport so I didn't think we'd see any, however as we approached the river I heard an unfamiliar 'peep', looked up and there was one sitting in a tree a few metres away, hurrah!

Not a very good photo of a White-throated Munia!
Nice has some excellent parks, in lovely Cimiez Park we saw the first of the trip's many Serins, singing his head off like a Goldfinch having a fit.

Roman ruins where we saw a Serin in Cimiez Park.
Cimiez Park, did feel a bit like the gardens that Diana Rigg perpetually mooches around in Game of Thrones.

From the beach we could see lots of terns sitting on a concrete structure in the sea, however I couldn't really get my binoculars out what with all the sunbathers around! We went back later when it was colder though and they looked to be all Common and Sandwich Terns.

Not the best place to whip out your binoculars!
Common and Sandwich Terns.
We also saw a couple of Black Kites soaring right over the centre of Nice which was super-exciting! As scavengers they are perfectly adapted to hoovering up whatever carrion and scraps they might find in cities, towns and landfills, it made me think of how Red Kites are spreading out once more in the UK, hopefully soon we will be welcoming them back to big cities!

Our favourite park was the Parc Du Chateau, up on a hill in the old town. It was full of twisty paths through lush greenery that brought you out in surprising places! Its features included a mighty cascade and some superb bird-based mosaics!

Looking up at Parc Du Chateau from the old town.

Awesome mosaic action!
In the park we heard what I assumed were lots of Firecrests - I'd never seen one before but the song we kept hearing sounded like a more aimless Goldcrest, so Firecrest was my guess. Annoyingly we didn't manage to see any of the tiny secretive blighters - very frustrating! However I wasn't to remain frustrated for long as I did finally set eyes on one in the Alps :o) I also enjoyed trying to familarise myself with the Sardinian Warbler's song, there were at least three of them singing in the Jewish cemetery. However my favourite sighting of our time in Nice was at the top of one of the cliff edges in Parc Du Chateau overlooking the sea. Spotting some movement in the vegetation, I peered more closely and saw that several very cute stubby-tailed Sardinian Warbler juveniles were bumbling around in there, just a couple of metres away! I waited to see if the adults would return and sure enough they appeared quite soon with food for their chicks. I watched them make several feeding trips before I was eventually dragged away!

View from Parc Du Chateau.
Jewish cemetery in Parc Du Chateau, where there were Firecrests and Sardinian Warblers aplenty!
Parc Du Chateau.

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