France has a great deal to offer to the travelling birder, its position means that there is a variety of habitats from the headily-scented wildish scrubland of the garrigue, to the maquis of the Mediterranean coast. Throw in mountain habitats, mature oak forests and plentiful coastal habitats, and the result will appeal to many.
But, and it is a big ‘But’, France is roughly five times the size of Britain, so you need to focus on one area to make the best use of your time: go to the Pyrenees for vultures, the Alps, for, well, Alpine stuff, and into that lovely regional park known as Brière for purple heron, spoonbill and red-spotted bluethroats. Overall there are more than 460 species of bird in France.
Between September and March, however, you will encounter the ‘Chasseurs’ (Hunters). They are numerous, noisy and in some areas irritated by what they call ‘Les Ecologistes’, i.e. anyone with an interest in nature, ecology or conservation). But the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO France, 8 rue du Docteur Pujos, CS 90263, 17305 Rochefort; t05 46 82 12 34; www.lpo.fr) does what it can to counter the influence of this large minority…many of whom are just not as adept with a rifle as they like to think they are!
But, there is no need to go to what might be regarded as the orthodox birding places. I’ve seen Black Redstart, Serin, and Cirl Bunting in many places across the whole of France. Great Grey and Red Back shrikes will be present almost anywhere, while a dense poplar plantation may well have several Golden Orioles. Birds of prey are common, especially along the autoroutes, so brush up on your Jizz techniques.