On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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17 November 2019

Observing Flamingos

First day on the trail of the Greater Flamingo of Camargue.
Greater flamingos in Camargue, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

First day in Camargue. It must have been a dozen years since my last trip here. We often went for a walk in the area, my parents, me and my brother, the first years after we moved to Beaucaire in 2005, about thirty kilometers away. But after, I left the region for my studies and I went abroad. So today is a re-discovery. Crossing the imaginary border marking the limits of the park, I have the impression of finding myself immediately in a slightly different place. Reeds surround the fields, pace of life becomes quieter, wetlands spread out as far as the eye can see and birds become more present. When I was looking for a research topic on a wildlife subject a few weeks ago when I came back from Iceland, I immediately thought of Camargue. This large nature reserve on the path of migratory birds, including the Greater Flamingos, just a few steps away from my parents house. I did not hesitate. So here I am on the trail of the Flamingos living in Camargue.

Looking on the Camargue Regional Natural Park website for places to observe birds, the Marais du Vigueirat appeared first. So I decided to go there today mid-November. There are a few clouds in the sky but the weather is fine. A tiny road filled with holes follows a small canal for an eternity, sinking between the marshes. At the end, a small parking lot in the middle of nowhere. The entrance to the marsh is chargeable, it is a private reserve. That slows me down a bit, but I tell myself that since I am here I might as well take a look. There is not much activity in the reserve. Some ducks quack on a small pond, I see a heron in the distance but absolutely no flamingos. Many migratory birds have already left. I go around the marsh, walking among the reeds that stir under the gusts of wind. At least there are dragonflies. They fly around me, their wings flapping at full speed. One of them lands on a small wooden railing. It seems to be chewing something, its little mouth opening and closing quickly. What did it catch? A gnat? A mosquito ? It is the first time I see this. Its big eyes seem to be fixed on me. I watch it for a long time before continuing on my way. Where are the birds?

A little disappointed I leave the reserve to reach the heart of Camargue, near the Fangassier pond. This is where a large part of the flamingo colony living in Camargue has been breeding for several years. The nesting takes place only in April so I am not gonna see any nests anytime soon. Right now, it is the end of Autumn and the birds will soon start their courtship displays. This area of Camargue is filled with marshes near the sea and is protected by a dike built in 1859. Such a long time ago! A small track runs over it and I can see the Gacholle Lighthouse in the distance. Again no traces of flamingos. Is my first day of research gonna be unsuccessful? I decide to go for a walk on the dike to reach the lighthouse. Around the dike spread the freshwater marshes and sansouires. Salicornia, saladella, tamarisk make up the majority of the vegetation. The light is very beautiful, it is late afternoon. In the distance I can see hundreds of small white dots that gossip on a stretch of water glistening in the sun. Seagulls or terns perhaps. I seem to also distinguish a group of swans. Not a variation in altitude here, everything is flat. I feel like it takes forever to approach the lighthouse. A group of birds with pink reflections are frolicking in a small pond on the edge of the dike. Finally ! Some flamingos. They are far away, I do not distinguish them very well. I don’t have a telephoto lens and I have to settle for the zoom on my camera. A bit of a problem but I do with what I have. They don’t seem to have their very pinky plumage yet. A dozen individuals, searching the water with their long necks. I continue on the dike to reach the lighthouse before the light begins to fall. There are lots of little pale caterpillars spotted with black dots crossing the track. They advance quietly indifferent to the dangers that await them. A group of cyclists pass by and almost send to paradise the little caterpillar I was observing a few seconds before. Pfiou, this animal almost met its end! Very small fish are waving in a canal. Grey herons and egrets land in the bushes and sansouires but they fly away at my approach.

At the Lighthouse, a cloud of mosquitoes attacks me signaling the arrival of the evening. In summer Camargue is filled with mosquitoes making life difficult for locals and tourists. Even now, with the autumn rains, the little blood drinkers invade the marshes at sunrise and sunset. I am a little tired but I have to turn around and do the five kilometers in reverse. It is long. It is flat and monotonous and night falls. My feet hurt. In the darkness, I can see the dozen flamingos in the pond still cackling. The arrival of the night does not seem to prevent them from searching the mud for prey. I wonder where the rest of the colony is, a dozen birds, that is not much. How am I going to observe them up close?

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