Bird watching in the Gulf with David
Take the air on the Rhuys Peninsula
After a short meeting at Sarzeau, David Lédan takes us to the wonderful Suscinio Marshes. He leads the way enthusiastically into the heart of the Gulf of Morbihan Regional Natural Park to look for migratory or resident birds, summer or winter visitors. It’s amazing how much you can learn while having fun. You’ll get carried away by his enthusiasm!
A wonderful setting between ocean and Gulf
This morning the sun still covers the marsh with soft colours. To the left, the fencing holds back the dunes. In front of us pine trees mark out the horizon. To the right are the walls of the Château de Suscinio, like a crown above the treetops. And on the ground, David draws a huge map in the sand to show the unbelievable distances covered by migratory birds. His explanations are clear, full of images, and coloured by lively anecdotes. After this prelude, devoted to the Natural Park’s creation and biodiversity, it’s our turn.
Finding the bird names
With illustrated books in our hands and telescopes under our arms, we start bird watching. We’re greeted by the trilling of a fan-tailed warbler. That’s the only time our guide directly supplies the name of the species. For all the others, the rules are simple: we have to pick out distinguishing features such as the legs, feet and tail, the colour of the beak, and whether there’s a collar around the neck, and so on. Then with a wry smile, David tells us where in our book we’ll find the species we’ve spotted. For the first bird we see, there’s not much doubt: a long neck, white plumage, black feet, yellow claws; it’s got to be a little egret. With its feet, it digs out the small shrimps that form its diet.
How to tell your gulls apart
David repositions the telescope and points it at one of the birds. Names are shouted out from all sides. Black-headed gull? Common gull? We go back to looking at the details: pearly-grey wings, a bit of black, red beak, red legs and feet. Got it: a black-headed gull. To avoid any further disputes, a diagram is drawn in the sand. It’s the red beak that makes all the difference. The children are captivated and want more.
Who’ll name it first?
With telescopes and binoculars, we’ve spotted a different kind of plumage. It’s a dunlin. Further away, with its yellow and black beak, orange legs and white breast, there’s a redshank. At the level of its nest, the black stripe around its neck identifies the Kentish plover. Families have fun competing to see who can solve these puzzles fastest. Beginners are enjoying the game as much as the experienced birders. From time to time we’re really not sure: an arctic tern or a common tern? The black spot on its red beak shows that it’s a common tern. We have to admit that the children, who notice everything, are often better at this than the adults.
Stories that fly high
Between spotting lapwings, black-winged stilts or common sandpipers, David gives us the life-story of the marsh. This passionate bird-lover is unbeatable on the subject of the 200 species of birds that meet on the Rhuys Peninsula. He gives us the lowdown on the ringed plover that are strutting around on a sandbank, tells us to listen for the roar of swans’ wings as they take off from the Gulf of Morbihan and, in our imaginations, has us following the flight of geese towards the eastern frontiers and the hazardous odyssey of swallows across the desert. He’s a guide with a pretty impressive wingspan of his own!
We’ve all become enthusiasts!
David’s enthusiasm is endless; he’s like a phoenix who has helped the ornithological wealth of the Gulf to rise up again. But now it’s time for some swimming. We end with an open-air quiz to remind us of the birds we’ve seen this morning and the importance of leaving them to rest before their migration. Resting and gaining weight are crucial for them. We’ve got it. Before we go off to acrêperieor a little local restaurant, we fold up our camp-stools and hand back the books. Now we’ve got some simple guidelines, we’re ready to enjoy spotting all kinds of feathered friends.
Text: Annick André
Excursion dates for 2018:
3, 10, 17, 24, 31 July
7, 14, 21, 28 August
Where to watch birds in the Gulf
To help you find the best places for bird watching, the Regional Natural Park has produced a booklet called ‘Where to watch birds’ (available in English). This 28-page booklet lists nine bird watching spots around the Gulf of Morbihan. You can download it or pick it up from one of the three tourist information centres on the Peninsula.