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Birdwatching in the Lower Doubs

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Doubs Valley Burgundy France by Frdric Tillier
© Frédéric Tillier

There are some 160 species of birds in the Doubs Valley near Chalon-sur-Saône. Nature photographer Frédéric Tillier who captures many of his fantastic images in the wild here suggests spots where you can sight bee-eaters and black kites, kestrels and honey buzzards...

The river Doubs rises in the Jura mountains and flows into the river Saône at Verdun-sur-Doubs. As it reaches Burgundy, the lower Doubs as it is known, has broad meanders and wooded banks, limestone cliffs, beds of gravel and little islands. It is nature’s paradise – in the river and its surroundings there are 42 different mammals, 30 species of fish, 160 of birds and 600 of plants. With the migrating birds returning from their winter exile, you could well be in Africa itself; there are many similarities both in the birds and the habitat.

Rich in birdlife it certainly is. In 1992, the area was granted special protection by Le Patrimoine Naturel de Bourgogne and birdwatchers have recorded sighting nearly 100 species of birds in a couple of days here. The area is well signed but of course you must take immense care not to disturb the wildlife, particularly avoiding the sites at nesting time.

To reach Charette-Varennes from Chalon-sur-Saône take the N73 heading towards Dole. You will cross the river at Navilly and the area to your left is the one to explore. This is where nature photographer Frédéric Tillier captures many of his images on camera and knowing the terrain inside out, he shares with you some of the spots he has discovered.

1. Charette-Varennes

Charette is at the centre of the protected area so it is an ideal base to start from.

Go to the village square in Charette and turn left before the 90 degree turn (where you will see an information sign as well as a detailed map of the village). Follow the signs to the hotel ‘Doubs-Rivage’ and continue until the end of the paved road. Leave your car here. If you are thinking of staying in the area, this hotel couldn’t be more in the heart of things.

Go down the small path on your right. In summer the water level is generally so low that this part of the river is almost dry.

Birds, Burgundy, France - Frdric Tillier   Birds, Burgundy, France - Frdric Tillier
Little Ringed Plover   Kingfisher © Frédéric Tillier

Keep a look-out for
On the branches overhanging the water you may see the Black Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). Also, Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), Rufous Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus), White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

A little further on, Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), small colonies of Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and a few pairs of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) Buzzards (Buteo buteo) Black Kites (Milvus migrans).

2. Varennes-sur-le-Doubs

Beyond Frontenard, take the first road on the left in the direction of Varennes. Beyond the village, take a rough track on the right leading down to the banks of the river with the campsite on your left. Leave your car here.

The path skirts a meander amongst the willows, then return, taking care, along the crumbling river bank.

Keep a look out for
On the small island the Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) and Blue-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava).

To reach the widest part of the Doubs, take a path through the pasture: Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) and Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) nesting in the cliff. Take care near the gravel pit (to be completely avoided during nesting) not to disturb the much prized Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)

3. Lays-sur-le Doubs

In Charette take a left turn at the church in the direction of Lays-sur-le-Doubs. Go through the village following the signs for the camping.

The first site is just before you leave the village. You take the track on the left, passing the château and park at the end.

Go into the meadow and take the track.

Birds, Burgundy, France - Frdric Tillier   Birds, Burgundy, France - Frdric Tillier
Egret   Bee-eater © Frédéric Tillier

Keep a look out for
Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster), and Blue-headed Wagtails (Motacilla flava)

For the second site, take the left turning in front of the church.

Keep a look out for
Black Crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta), and with a little patience, Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), and at the end of August, Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata). In May, you will also see the Sandpiper family and other wading birds.

© Frédéric Tillier, all rights reserved

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