The end of the year is approaching and with it winter temperatures. It has rained a lot in recent weeks causing repeated heavy floods in Provence. The Rhône has risen several meters higher than usual and the ramparts which surround Beaucaire (the small town where my parents live on the banks of the Rhône) have been closed several times in order to prevent water from entering the town. My parents are used to it, it happens almost every year. But each year, the floods are getting stronger. An effect linked to climate change? In Camargue, the floods did not have too much impact and fortunately the marshes were not affected.
I have returned several times to wander in Camargue, around the Gacholle lighthouse, in the old salt marshes of Fos-Sur-Mer, in the marshes on the edge of Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône and around the Vaccarès pond to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of this season, observe nature and take photos and videos. In the marshes right by the sea near Port-Saint-Louis, there are many flamingos. They are taking on an increasingly pink color. I like this place, there is a long tongue of beach and dunes which sinks into the sea forming a small protected bay with many small islets. There are still some old fishermen’s huts in a traditional style (covered with white lime) and lots of black-headed gulls, slender-billed gulls, sandwich terns, swans and small birds have taken up residence there in addition to the flamingos. However on the other side of the bay is a large port and industrial area which necessarily has environmental repercussions. But that doesn’t seem to bother the birds. This illustrates Camargue well, I find, between nature reserve and place of human life.
A few days before Christmas I return to the Pont de Gau ornithological park. The weather is less beautiful than last time and the birds seem quiet. The groups performing the displays are still there, but I don’t seem bigger. Approaching a little too abruptly to the edge of the water, I scare away a group of flamingos from a few meters. I instantly feel bad at myself. This bring back to my memory the incident that happened last year during the production of a documentary by Nicolas Vanier on the flamingos of the Little Camargue. By flying too close with an ultralight plane over a sensitive area sheltering a colony in the process of nesting, the filming crew frightened the birds and caused the abandonment of a large number of nests. It is very important to keep a good distance with animals in order to minimize our impact on their behavior. I tell myself that if I continue to observe the flamingos especially during their nesting period, it will have to be done with the utmost respect and accepting that it may not be possible for me to get up close. Respect of the protection of the bird is more important than the search for spectacular stories, photographic and video productions. The observation and understanding of animal and plant species is essential, but it must be done with a respectful attitude while avoiding having negative impacts.
The afternoon is quiet in the park and I observe a group of grey herons making their nests. Several birds fly over me with a twig in their beak. One of the herons lands on a small islet where a dozen nests are already built in the tamarisks. The bird plunges its head into the bushes and retrieves a twig of a good fifty centimeters which it deposit on a nest just above, integrating it into the structure. The nest is very large, similar to those of storks. Later leafing through a book on the coastal fauna, I learn that it is the males who are responsible for collecting the materials and the females who dispose of them. The bird I saw did a bit of both, was it a male or a female?
At the end of the afternoon, the colony of flamingos wake up and cries cheerfully resume. I watch the birds flying. Some pass from ponds to ponds flying over the bushes. They often make the same flight path, starting their flight with great wing strokes towards the sky, rising a few tens of meters before making great turns to orient themselves in the desired direction. Once in flight, neck and legs stretched out, their red wings flap at a rapid rate almost causing the illusion of having four of them. The arrival on the water is somewhat awkward, the flamingo hovering according to the air currents carrying out several flyovers in circle before landing legs stretched towards the ground. It almost seems to be walking on water when touching land. Some seem to land a little awkwardly or get caught in something since they spend several seconds once on the ground flapping their wings to restore their balance. I find their flight both very beautiful and a little funny.
This time I stay longer than the previous times, watching the sun disappearing behind the horizon and the night falling. Once the sun has set, the flamingos soar in large groups in the sky, flying over the marshes in superb red and black flights. They seem to leave the ponds where they feed to move to other ponds where they will spend the night. These large flights do not start until evening. One of the birds started and the rest followed, I had the impression. During the day, I only observed individual flights. I observe the birds moving away, their cries fading in the distance.