Parc naturel régional - de Camargue

Published: May 13th 2015
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Today's entry starts with a Bird Nerd alert! This morning we set the Sat-Nav for Arles to get us heading in the right direction for the Camargue, a large wetland in the Rhône delta south of Arles known for its pink flamingo breeding grounds. It is also well known for the black bulls and white horses that are bred in the area, but we were more interested in its diverse bird life and especially the possibility of seeing a large flock of flamingoes.

Jean-François warned us last night that the mosquitoes would be really bad in the Camargue so we stopped at a pharmacy on our way through Aix and purchased some tropical strength 'moustique' repellant.

We reached the outskirts of Arles without any problems and continued on across the Rhône and then turned onto Route 570 heading for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Wanting to reach the Salin de Badon observatory that issues authorisations to visit La Capelière we set a new destination that would take us in the right direction ... we hoped. Because the Camargue is a delta there is a lot of water and not many roads and we only had a sketchy idea of exactly where we needed to go despite Bernie's internet research!

All of a sudden we were driving along right beside the water and there was a viewing platform with cars pulled up. Oh, there MUST be something to see, so we pulled up too to see three flamingoes bobbing about in the shallow water. They weren't terribly close but, whatever happens for the rest of the day, we have seen some flamingoes.

Just a little bit further down the road we found the observatory and purchased our tickets. We started with the information displays indoors before venturing out to complete a circuit of the hides set up for bird watchers. We didn't see birds in huge numbers but we did see some ducks and herons and a spoonbill and there were some cheeky birds that kept joining us inside the hides. There were signs placed periodically along the path indicating that frogs might be present. I stopped and looked at every sign, but we were nearing the end of the walk before we finally saw some of the frogs that are present in the Camargue.

From La Capelière we decided to see how close we could get to the flamingo breeding grounds. The guide/map that we picked up from the observatory indicated that we should have made a reservation through the Office de Tourisme in Arles. We figured that even if we could just get close to the breeding area there should be some flamingoes about - it's not like they can make them all stay inside the Etang du Fangassier (breeding ground) owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral.

Sure enough we took the road into the flamingo reproduction site and easily reached a lagoon that was full of flamingoes. Yay, we found a flock of flamingoes to photograph ... extensively!! We actually found that we could drive all the way out to the sea dike without being asked to show a permit or anything so we're not exactly sure what else you get to see if you do make a reservation to visit? It might be too early in the season though because we certainly didn't see any chicks. We did see a fair bit of squabbling between the birds - perhaps between males in the lead up to finding mates for the breeding season?

We drove down to view the salt ponds from the observatory at Salin-de-Giraud mainly because we thought that we would take the punt across the Rhône and return along the other side of the river. After the excitement of the salt works we made our way to the Bac de Barcarin where we were soon loaded aboard the punt to make the crossing. The charge for the punt was €5.00 which Bernie paid to the ferryman ... before we made it to the other side!!

The area on the eastern side of the Camargue is not not part of the national park and is used to grow rice. Because it is low lying it can be easily irrigated with water from the Rhône thereby reducing its salinity. The fields are flooded in April and planted with rice. In September the fields are allowed to dry out and the rice is harvested.

After driving up the eastern side of the Rhône we returned to Aix on the A54 and A8 tollways. It is so expensive to drive around France by the time you fork out all the time for toll charges! There was an aerobatics display over the freeway near Salon-de-Provence as we drove back. A search of Google does not reveal anything about an air show in the area today or over the coming weekend. Maybe they were just practicing?? A bit distracting having eight jets flying in formation overhead squirting out red and blue jet streams!!

We made it back to Aix and relaxed at the B&B for a couple of hours before going out to dinner. Agh, the first restaurant we tried from the recommended list was full so we decided to try another restaurant in the square. Damn it, a twenty minute wait. Being impatient to eat we looked at our list again and decided to find our way to another restaurant on the list. With the aid of Ulmon's City Pro App we eventually found our way to Drôle d'Endtroit. This restaurant was definitely not in a location where you would just stumble across it! Thank goodness for Jean-Francois' tip - it was a delicious meal.

Steps for the day 11,966 (8.15 km)

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Bac de BarcarinBac de Barcarin
Bac de Barcarin

Paying the ferryman ... before we made it to the other side!

16th May 2015

living dangerously
You two really live on the edge, paying the ferryman up front! haha Love the flamingo pics, they look bizarre in flight, almost hard to tell which is the head end from a distance! So beautiful in flocks!

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