Sunday, October 2, 2016

Birding in France, Part 1 - Paris and First Days in the South

It still seems a bit surreal to me, but a month ago we took our big summer vacation to France! It wasn’t the first time for either Nick or me, but it was our first time together, and we had some different targets in mind than from our previous trips, which were BB – Before Birding. 

View of the Eifel Tower from the Pantheon

Walking through the Tuileries Gardens in Paris

"Les Dindons" (Turkeys) by Claude Monet, 1876 (in the Musée d’Orsay)

I have the privilege of having family in France, which gave us even more reason to head over there, although there really aren’t many reasons I could find not to go – the food, culture, artwork, museums, history, etc. Having family in Paris and in southern France eased the language barrier and the wallet, so it was really a no brainer. All my aunt (in southern France) had to say is, “the Pyrenees are nearby us and we’ve seen a Hoopoe in our yard!” Sold. 

The Pantheon

Nerd Alert - The tombs of Marie and Pierre Curie!!! (In the Pantheon)

"Grand Duc" (Grand Duke) owl sculpture by François Pompon, 1927-1930 (in the Musée d’Orsay)

We spent our first and last day of our 10-day trip in Paris, and the rest of our time in southern France in the Midi-Pyrenees. This trip was like our other vacations in terms of not relaxing and constantly being on the go. I am still amazed about how much we were able to pack in. Our first day, after waiting 3 hours in the customs line in the airport and almost losing our camera bag (!), we arrived in Paris and managed to hit a number of sights and museums and enjoy some of the urban birds and bird art. 

Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Gardens

As we sat down to eat lunch in Luxembourg Gardens, we got one of our first lifers, the Wood Pigeon. These guys were hanging around the garden grounds along with your standard Rock Pigeon, but you could definitely see the difference in size – the Wood Pigeon being significantly larger. They had really lovely plumage with their blush breasts and prominent white patch on their neck with a bit of iridescent green. And in flight, you could see large white bands on their wings. I’d also like to note that when you see “pigeon” on a French menu, it is most likely these guys. My cousins probably thought it was odd that we were so engrossed in looking at these “trash birds,” but as they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Wood Pigeon

Wood Pigeon on a nest within a palm tree

We picked up a few more trash/treasure birds walking around Paris. The fountains produced a Herring Gull, which the Collins Bird Guide to European Birds distinguishes between the American and European Herring Gulls, but the AOU hasn't (yet?) split them. So this perhaps could be an “armchair tick” for us down the road. And walking around, we could hear the distinct sound of crows, although different-sounding than our American or Fish Crows we have in the US. These were Carrion Crows and looked very much like our stateside crows and similar in size. I think that maybe some of the ones we saw were juvenile as they had some lighter-colored feathers. 

Herring Gull

Carrion Crow
Likely a juvenile Carrion Crow carrying on

These fountains in the Tuileries Garden and the grassy grounds around Les Invalides (the military history museum and resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte) were loaded with not Bonaparte’s Gulls, but the closely related Black-Headed Gulls. It was funny to see so many when we were once praised and glorified for finding the fourth state record of one for Georgia back in 2012.

Black-Headed Gull

A better look at the ear spot of the Black-Headed Gull

All the Black-Headed Gulls at Les Invalides

The garden ponds also had Common Moorhens swimming about, as well as a graceful Grey Heron, who looks a lot like our Great Blue Heron. We hadn’t seen these species since our trip to the Seychelles back in 2009 (which we posted about in 2012 after we started blogging). And oddly enough, there were quite a number of little rabbits hopping about and running in and out of the topiaries at Les Invalides. It was a strange but adorable sight. 

Grey Heron
Rabbits in the grasses of Les Invalides


This guy has so far escaped the escargot plate

After a day in Paris, we took a train down south to Toulouse, where we’d spend the afternoon before heading to the tiny village of Boudrac. In Toulouse, we visited the lovely Basilica of St. Sernin where we had our first look at a Blackbird. Unlike our blackbirds in the states, this one is actually related to our thrushes. 

Basilica of St. Sernin


In fact, lots of bird families seemed upside down from how we label them in the US. When we arrived in Boudrac, we saw “old world flycatchers” which are not in the same family as our flycatchers, and in fact are not closely related at all. We got our first Spotted Flycatcher, which oddly is more streaked than spotty. And as it was migration time, we saw a LOT of Pied Flycatchers throughout our trip. These would be the first of many that we would see. And we learned that they have a funny little behavior. Not only do they bob their tail a bit, but they’ll flick their wings, one at a time – as shown below. 

Spotted Flycatcher

Female Pied Flycatcher doing her little wing flips

Another old world flycatcher that we saw whose name would seem like it’s something else completely is the Black Redstart. This was no warbler as you may think. We also saw lots of these guys around during our trip. If it wasn’t a Pied Flycatcher, it was almost always a Black Redstart. But we did see our first warbler in Boudrac, although an old world warbler – the Chiffchaff. He looks like what pretty much most of the warblers look like in Europe, so you could just imagine my excitement when studying these guys before the trip <sarcasm>. But, honestly, this trip was so amazing, and we were just getting started. There are lots more great sightings to come!

Esperos, France
Male Black Redstart



  1. I like your trash/treasure birds! Looking forward to reading the rest....will you add food pictures to make us drool again?

    1. Thanks, Laura! Lots more good stuff to come, although I won't make any promises about food pics ;)

  2. The wing flips of the pied flycatcher were cool to see. I wonder if this is a move she does to attract a mate. I guess it would be late in the season for that. :)

    1. Yes, it was very cool! Such a funny little behavior. Yeah, I don't think it was relating to mating as it was not the right season for that. The field guide really didn't explain what the flicking was for. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Wow! I would never associate French pigeons with palm trees, interesting stuff. Love the dancing Pied Flycatcher!

    1. I know, right? It was a bit odd seeing palm trees in Paris in the first place, and then to see a big ole wood pigeon in there was even stranger. And that Pied Flycatcher definitely had some sweet moves. ;)