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Spring bird migration south of France – Just arrived from Africa

For spring bird migration I promised my 6 year-old son Gijs we would go to the Etang de l’Ayrolle near Gruissan. He was getting really excited and kept asking me questions about the Short toed eagles. If they are rare, if they are big, what they eat and if they are stronger than the Eagle owls we saw last week.

Spring bird migration around Gruissan and the Etang de l’Ayrolle


Black kite

Gruissan  is a small town south  east of Narbonne, surrounded by lagoons and salt-pans and close to the sea. To the north you will find the higher ground of the headland called la Clape. This area is also known for great wines. But we are heading to the south of Gruissan, to the Ile Saint Martin, with its Mediterranean rocky landscape of vineyards and bushy garrigue. Looking south from here is the Etang de l’Ayrolle, where the action takes place for spring migration as birds often fly low over the short stretch of water on their way north.


Slender-billed gull

We already spotted several migrating Short-toed eagles on our way to Gruissan. Around 9 o’clock we arrive. As soon as we get  out of our car a Hoopoe flys off, so you know for sure spring is on its way 🙂 They have just arrived from Africa and it’s great to see them back. We have parked our car near the Pierre Richard wine estate. From here it is a 10 minute walk to the migration spot. As we walk we see large numbers of Black redstarts, Crested larks and Linnets in the vineyards. We even saw a Black-eared wheatear. This species breeds in the rocky areas near the etang. During spring migration this is one of the best spots in Southern France to see large numbers of raptors, if the weather conditions are good. Wind from the NW is ideal, it pushes the birds towards the coastline. During the two hours we stayed we saw Crag martins, Black kites, White storks, Short-toed Eagles. On the lagoon we also spotted Slender-billed gull and Red-breasted Merganser.

On our way back to the car Gijs spots a Great spotted Cuckoo which was a big bonus. These are the migrating  species that can be seen in early March. All great stuff and six-year old Gijs is learning more about birdwatching every day, spotting spring migration.

To join us bird watching in the Languedoc area, please check out our tours page and our day trips page with details of our spring outings.

The DIY birding section is where you can also download various guides for self-guided birding trips to the Languedoc.




Maurice Riekert
I grew up in the Netherlands and have been birdwatching for 30 years. And since moving to Cessenon sur Orb, in the Languedoc, in 2011, I have rediscovered my passion for birds and wildlife in general. I had never really heard of birding in France apart from the Camargue, but in the Languedoc I now realise that we have the same species and they are much more accessible to the public. Every time I see a group of 20 Black kite migrating, which is normal over here, I still love it. Favorite birds: raptors.

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