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Birding Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest administrative region in France, located in the southwest of the country. The region was created by the merger of three regions: Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes. It covers 84,061 km2 (32,456 square miles) – or  1⁄8 of the country – and has approximately 5,800,000 inhabitants. It is the largest region in France by area, with a territory slightly larger than that of Austria; even French Guiana is smaller. Its largest city, Bordeaux, together with its suburbs and satellite cities, forms the 7th-largest metropolitan area of France, with 850,000 inhabitants. The region has 25 major urban areas, among which the most important after Bordeaux are Bayonne (288,000 inhabitants), Limoges (283,000), Poitiers (255,000), Pau (241,000), and La Rochelle (206,000), as well as 11 major clusters. It is delimited by the Pays de la Loire to the north-west, the Centre-Val de Loire to the north, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes to the east, Occitanie to the south-east, and Spain (Aragon, Basque Country, and Navarre) to the south. The region covers a large part of the Aquitaine Basin and a small portion of the Paris Basin and the Limousin plate (part of the Massif Central) and the western part of the Pyrenees. It is part of five watersheds facing the Atlantic Ocean: Loire, Charente, Garonne and Dordogne (and their extension, the Gironde estuary) and Adour, giving rivers bordering land dedicated mostly to viticulture and to agriculture.Nouvelle-Aquitaine also relies on the presence of a large open coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, from the National Nature Reserve Aiguillon Bay and the estuary of the Sèvre (north Charron) than Bidasoa (south of Hendaye) and including the islands of the Charentais Archipelago (islands of Ré, Oléron, Aix and Madame) and the wide notch from Arcachon. This diverse area is the area of the oyster (Marennes-Oléron and the Bassin d’Arcachon), mussel (mussels from Baie de l’Aiguillon), and Tourism, evidenced by the presence of famous resorts such Arcachon (Côte d’Argent), Biarritz (Côte Basque) and Royan (Côte de Beauté).Renowned for its strong hunting tradition This area of France has a lot to offer to the daring birder, if you can stay well clear of the hunters and manage not to drink to much Bordeaux. From the mouth of the Gironde to the foothills of the Pyrenees, coastal dune systems, ancient woodland, pine plantations patched with heathland and large-scale cereal production, give way close to the river systems to vineyards & low cliffs. This rich and varied birding region is marred only by the militant hunters in the autumn, who are prepared to blast even protected species out of the sky.The key birding spots are:The Gironde Estuary & Coast – Pointe de Grave: star spring migration spot at the north tip of the Gironde. From mid March to the end of May, the LPO maintains a counting camp (usually mornings only). Hirundines in their thousands head north, accompanied by hobbies. Kites, ospreys, harriers, honey buzzards, peregrines, storks, spoonbills, hoopoes, golden orioles, waders, too many species to list.The Gironde Estuary – the Marais de Conseiller: a local nature reserve at le Verdon covering former saltpans and marshland, is good for black-winged stilts, lapwings & waders, as well as all three harrier species. Montague’s harriers are especially frequent in the North Medoc area.

The Gironde Estuary – North Medoc marshes: LPO’s L’Oiseau magazine calls this “the other jewel of the estuary”. Mainly grazed wetlands to the northern end & polders to the south. A network of hedges & ditches offer a varied habitat for a broad range of species. Cycle tracks & lanes allow good observation access The hedges are home in spring & summer to skylarks, nightingales, bluethroats, shrikes, fan-tailed warblers. White storks & heron species are attracted to the area by the numerous amphibian species. Short-toed eagles are occasionally seen as they stray from their coastal woodland breeding sites.

The Gironde Estuary – Jau-Dignac: former island now surrounded by marshland –home to bee-eaters, hoopoes & yellowhammers.The Gironde Coast – Pine Forests: Short-toed Eagles nest in the region – nesting sites are monitored in the south of the Medoc . Also rare white-shouldered kites. The Gironde Coast – Pointe de Cap Ferret: Autumn equivalent of Point de Grave.Arcachon Basin – La Teich: SW France’s Minsmere -large organised bird-reserve with varies habitats & English version of website [listed below]Landes – Arjuxanx: lakes formed on the site of former lignite mines. Major winter (November to February) home to more than 20,000 common cranes, plus thousands more passing through on migration, feeding on grain fields during the day & returning to roost on the lakes. Nightjars, shrikes & bee-eaters nest here. 177 species observed so far.Landes – Marais D’Orx: the Conservatoir du Littoral is returning former drained areas to natural wetland. One observatory, no hides but lakeside paths. Good for nesting spoonbills, kites, marsh harriers, kingfishers, Cettis warblers. Occasional ospreys on migration, as well as ducks & geese in winter. Has several gites for rent. Landes – Adour River ‘Les Barthes’: Flood plain wetlands provide rich habitat. St Martin de Seignanx Bergusté & Lesgaux reserves managed by local hunters! Several pairs of black-shouldered kites breed in the Adour river area – population is increasing but nest locations are a closely kept secret.Pyrenees Atlantique – Organbidexxka: Autumn migration count centre high up in the Pyrenees – spectacular in good weather. Chalets & camping available nearby. Two other count centres at lower altitude at Lindux & Lizarrieta.The Poitou-Charente part of the region is somewhat over-shadowed by the Vendee to the north and the Bassin d’Arcachon, Aquitaine to the south, this region has some good coastal sites, with the islands Ile d’Oleron and Ile de Re being the best. Though heavily populated, Ile de Re has good Atlantic sea-watching, a nice LPO reserve, Lilleau des Niges, and the most accessible wader roosts along this coast.Inland, in departement Deux-Sevre, there are the vast Poitevin marshes [orchids, butterflies and odonata], and in the Vienne one of Europe’s most northerly breeding populations of Little Bustard, near Poitiers, where the rare Ortolan also breeds.Although the region itself has much to offer the naturalist, combining a trip to the Brenne, region Centre, three hours drive east from the coast , provides a diverse trip-list of birds, orchids and insects, particularly in spring.Limousin is also an underwatched and underrated area. I cannot pretend to know the region well having only had one brief visit to the Creuse area, but I can thoroughly recommend it for species which are absent or scarce in the UK. For the most part the Creuse area is heavily wooded with many lakes and fast rivers making it terrific territory for arboreal species and the many open areas of farmland, mostly producing cattle, are farmed sympathetically so abound with butterflies and game such as hares, deer and wild boar.Woodpeckers are particularly evident with Black, Grey-headed and Middle-spotted all present as well as Green, Lesser-spotted & Greater-spotted, and Short-toed Treecreeper & Nuthatch. Warblers seem to be everywhere with Melodious perhaps the most common but Western Bonnelli’s and Icterine quite easily found among the Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and more familiar species. Finches are equally common with Serin most evident and plenty of Hawfinches in the woods giving UK birders a chance to familiarise themselves with the unfamiliar. I saw juveniles for the first time. What is more Golden Orioles are numerous and their fluting calls delight everywhere.

Top Sites
  • Artix Reserve

    Satellite View
    The small riverside reserve at Artix 10km NW of Pau, near to Mourenx, on a river called the Gave de Pau is well worth finding if you're passing through, or visiting Lourdes. It has all sorts of surprises, with breeding Little and Cattle Egret, Little Bittern, Night, Purple and Grey Heron and so on
  • Bassin d'Arcacho

    Satellite View
    Although best known for its Oyster production this is a very good birding area outside June-September (To many Tourists at that time).
  • Dordogne - Dordogne Valley

    Satellite View
    The main river valley. Although the valley bottom is fairly intensive agriculture, the riverside, forest and meadows amongst the side valleys, hillsides and hilltops can be very interesting. Nesting little ringed plover, black kite, honey buzzard, peregrine, hobby, short-toed eagle, raven, alpine swift, crag martin, wryneck, black and middle spotted woodpeckers, dipper, Dartford, fan-tailed and Cetti’s warbler. During passage osprey and red kite are frequent, plus egrets, herons, storks, crane. Small bird passage includes many pied flycatchers in autumn and occasional parties of bee-eater. In winter wallcreeper and alpine accentor can sometimes be found and Great White Egret and various duck species are regular.
  • Dordogne - Faux Plateau, south east of Bergerac

    Satellite View
    An arable farmland area with woods and scrubby grasslands. Nesting stone curlew, red-backed and woodchat shrike, quail, Scop’s and long-eared owl, rock sparrow, corn bunting, crested lark, tawny pipit, hen and Montagu’s harrier. In migration periods wagtails, chats and warblers pass through and dotterel has been recorded. Wader passage can be interesting at two reservoirs in the south of the area. Occasional terns and gulls appear on passage with duck in winter.
  • Dordogne - General

    Satellite View
    In summer, in suitable habitat, all the area is good for hoopoe, golden oriole, cirl bunting, short-toed treecreeper, turtle dove, cuckoo, little and barn owl, kingfisher, tree pipit, woodlark, nightjar, lesser spotted woodpecker, firecrest, black and common redstart, stonechat, nightingale, melodious and Bonelli’s warbler, marsh and crested tit, linnet, serin and tree sparrow. Hawfinch and brambling are common in winter. Rock bunting has been recorded. There is a very large passage of common crane in spring and autumn. Meadow pipit is a common winter visitor but does not breed. Immediately south in the Lot and Lot et Garonne there are sites for nesting Subalpine Warbler and Ortolan Bunting.
  • Ile de Re

    Satellite View
    This island provides an LPO reserve [see below], wader roosts, and sea-watching and winter seabirds at the Phare des Baleines lighthouse on the extreme western tip of the island. The lighthouse stands on a low rocky headland offering some elevation for sea-watching, also nice rock pools with waders, terns, gulls and egrets on the ebbing tide. Divers, grebes, Purple Sandpipers and Mediterranean Gulls are the specialities here; in October even Yellow-browed Warbler are occasionally found. Nearby there’s a reliable wader roost at Loix, and a Sacred Ibis roost with up to 140 birds in summer.
  • Landes Forest

    Satellite View
    The maize crops in the clearings of the Landes forest harbour the largest population of wintering Cranes in Europe.
  • Pointe De Grave

    Satellite View
    One of the best spots for spring visible migration in France. There is a visible migration survey taking place every spring organised by the LPO which is trying to protest against the slaughter of Turtle Doves.
  • Reserve Naturelle de Lilleau de Niges

    WebpageSatellite View
    Situated near the western tip of the island, about four kilometres east of the lighthouse, the reserve has a good information centre, the Maison du Fier, signposted off the main road through Les Portes. Best from three hours before high tide, there’s a good circular trail taking in saltmarsh, lagoons and protected mudflats. Birds here include all three harriers, many wader species [up to 3000 Black-tailed Godwits in September], also Stilts, Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints and Avocets; 40+ Spoonbills in September, in winter large numbers of wildfowl including Brent Geese, also Short-eared Owls; and it’s a great place to watch the breeding Bluethroats. Reserve area 195 hectares.
  • Reserve du Teich

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The Reserve has a good breeding population of Bluethroats and a very good high tide roost and Le Banc d'Arguin has a huge colony of Terns.
  • The Bayonne area

    Satellite View
    The Bare de l'Adour is an excellent, under watched, sea watching spot and the reserve des Marais d'Orx has always something to offer.
  • David Simpson - Dordogne Birding Guide

    0033 5 53 27 34 47 |

  • Peter Wells


Useful Reading

  • Birding Dordogne

    by David Simpson | BirdGuides Ltd | July 2010 | 32 page Paperback with mapsSee Fatbirder Review ISBN: 9781898110521 Buy this book from
  • L'Observatoire de L'Environnement de Poitou-charentes

    Every year for 4 years, the CPIE Gâtine Poitevine organizes an event on the garden, entitled "Welcome to my garden natural" . Amateur gardeners, who garden in the natural, open their garden over a weekend to their neighbors, visitors to transmit their practice of gardening without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This year's event will take place on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th June.
  • LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux) - Aquitaine

    LPO Aquitaine aims knowledge and the protection of birds and biodiversity in Aquitaine. The contact details of the head office of the LPO Aquitaine: 433, chemin de Leysotte, 33140 Villenave d'Ornon, Tel: 05 56 91 33 81 - Mail:
  • Le Groupe Ornithologique des Deux-Sèvres

    The Ornithological Group of the Deux-Sèvres is a non-profit association whose objectives are the study and protection of birds and their environments. The association is affiliated at the regional level in Poitou-Charentes Nature and at the national level at France Nature Environnement.
  • Societe pour l'Etude et la Protection des Oiseaux en Limousin


Abbreviations Key

  • Ile de Re

    WebsiteSatellite View
  • Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park

    InformationSatellite View
    The park maintains a bird sanctuary on Arcachon Bay, the parc ornithologique du Teich (See below) Throughout the year, over 300,000 migratory birds take refuge in its wetlands.
  • Lilleau des Niges

    WebpageSatellite View
    Nature Reserve Lilleau of Niges, located north of the island of Ré, is inside a large almost closed bay, Fier d'Ars. It is relatively sheltered from the swell and offshore winds. The complex nature reserve / Fier d'Ars faces the Aiguillon Bay and is close to other protected natural areas of Charente-Maritime...
  • Port Vitrezay

    InformationSatellite View
    Port Vitrezay is located in Pays de Haute Saintonge, on the southern limit of the department of Charente-Maritime. It is the last port of the estuary located in Charente-Maritime before the department of Gironde
  • Teich Bird Reserve

    WebpageSatellite View
    On the shore of the Bassin d'Arcachon, Le Teich Bird Reserve, recognized as being of international importance, is a natural and unique space, built to accommodate wild birds and enable their observation.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays

    Tour Operator
    If you are looking for a quality natural history holiday, this is a great place to start. The Honeyguide programme offers a mix of the very best of wildlife in fascinating parts of Europe..
Trip Reports
  • 2010 [05 May] - Chris Durdin

    PDF Report
    Fiona found a raptor, the first of many honey buzzards today, and John pointed out a big patch of the parasitic purple toothwort round the base of a poplar, presumably its host.
  • 2011 [05 May] - Honeyguide - Dordogne

    PDF Report
    …golden orioles’ fluty song in the oak woods, the persistent calls of hoopoes…
  • 2012 [05 May] - Chris Durdin

    PDF Report
    ...there was a concentration of birds that struck me as wonderfully French: a cirl bunting and a melodious warbler on one bush, two black redstarts on a roof and a TV aerial, a serin atop the short belt of cypresses and a nightingale singing…
  • 2013 [05 May] - Chris Durdin

    PDF Report
    On the hill above Le Bugue, we were treated to close views of a singing Bonelli's warbler and, further down, even better views of a firecrest, its crest glowing like a hot ember.
  • 2016 [05 May] - Chris Durdin - Dordogne

    PDF Report
    Peering over the bank from our position in the sunken lane revealed a remarkable sight: hundreds of tongue orchids in a garden. Along the road there was another melodious warbler, a cirl bunting and a hoopoe in an oak tree.
  • 2017 [07 July] - Ken Hall - Birding at the Manoir de Gurson, Dordogne

    This guesthouse is situated about halfway between Libourne and Bergerac, in the west of the département of the Dordogne. I stayed here for a couple of nights in early July 2017, and although a bit late in the season for birdsong, there was still plenty to keep me occupied. As an adjunct to the sites mentioned in David Simpson's guide (Birding Dordogne), some of which are not too far away, the following is a note of what could be seen in even just a short visit...
Places to Stay
  • Le Studio Wildlife Photography Holidays in France

    Le Studio' is situated in central France in a region noted for Natural Beauty and ideal for photographic holidays, Wildlife, Historical Architecture, and Great Food and Wine. These varied areas of beauty and interest perfectly complement the study of Photography.
  • Moulin de la Geneste

    Moulin de la Geneste is located in the Correze region of the Limousin, affectionately known as the "Lake District" of France (fantastic for fishing) and is situated in almost 10 acres of undulating land with a lake and a small trout river. Part of the land and small wood have been "left to nature" and is home to an abundance of birds, butterflies and lizards etc.
Other Links
  • Birdwatching in Dordogne

    The rural terrain of the Dordogne departement in Western France lends itself to superb bird watching. Find out here where to go and what to look out for when you get there.
  • Faune Aquitaine

    Bienvenue sur, le site collaboratif qui permet de rassembler des données naturalistes et d'en restituer la substantifique moelle auprès de tout un chacun
  • Charente Birding

    Englishman now mostly living in Charente blogs about the birds of the region...
  • Roadrunners Mike and Linda

    The tales of our travels and adventures

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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