Richard Smart - Nature Photography

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      Lac du Der


 
 
Four hours drive from Calais going south east is Lac du Der.  This lake is man made and in its making three hundred people had to be re-located as three villages were inundated in the process.  A large expanse with reed beds, shallow pools, scrapes, copses, gravel areas and most importantly islands the Lake provides a stopover for migrating birds during the spring and autumn seasons.  It is famous for Common Cranes but many other interesting birds use it.
We went for a short break Feb 29th to Mar 3rd 2012 and saw a total of 68 species during that period.
Our first full day involved a complete circumnavigation of the lake to check likely areas for watching and photography. Unfortunately the combination of water and cool damp winter weather caused a pretty thick fog with visibility at about 200m.  We could feel the sun (just) so we hoped that the fog would burn off.  It did, but not until 3:30pm.  We then had a couple of hours to try for photographs.  Common Cranes were what we went to see primarily and we were not disappointed.

Finding cranes proved to be no problem whatsoever. We just followed our ears.  At the time we visited there were circa 20 000 cranes roosting on the islands etc. in the lake.  Apparently the best total on an autumn migration was 70 000 a few years ago. The noise is probably the most enduring memory of the visit.

This pair had been indulging in a bit of crane dancing but were put off by my stopping the car a hundred yards from them.

At last a bit of sunshine to get a half decent shot.

Like trains you are about to give up hope when three come in together.

 Interestingly the cranes seemed to be particularly spooked by humans.  There is no chance of getting out of your car if you stop by a field of them and to my cost I stopped at least once having left the camera in the boot.
Even more surprisingly on many occasions we saw flocks coming straight towards us for the perfect photo but every time they veered off and would not fly over us.

Cranes spend most of their time in the fields in a five mile strip around the lake searching for waste corn and insects etc.
During the day the lake largely empties of them and it is a simple matter of driving around to find them.  With 20 000 in the local fields this is not difficult.

The cranes continue to come in to Lac du Der until it is very nearly dark.  This one crosses the setting sun.

   
We saw a good number of Great White Egrets.  There were about 300 at the time of our visit and these too were easy enough to find.  We found many in the fields, in the shallows of the lake and a number perched in trees.

 

Whilst exploring a wooded area just off the lake we heard some very heavy drumming.  Whilst we did not see it we were pretty sure this was Black Woodpecker.

Other notable sightings were Goosanders ,about 60 in a flock on the lake.

and Coypu

   
In conclusion.
This was a superb trip and I would recommend it to anyone.  Not only is the area great for wildlife but the villages are fascinating and you don't have to try hard for good wildlife sightings.  Each evening I could sit on my bed and watch the cranes pass in huge skeins croaking their way back to the lake.  In the morning they were already back in the fields around us.  I need to go again, unfinished business with the camera. Late winter and late autumn are a bit unpredictable regarding the weather but take the chance I think you will be well satisfied.
One thing we did miss (we only found this out when leaving to come home) was the Crane Farm.  This is a farm run by the LPO specifically arranged to encourage Cranes. They put out food and there are hides to view the birds.  Website: http://champagne-ardenne.lpo.fr/grues/ferme_aux_grues.htm  and 
http://champagne-ardenne.lpo.fr/grues/affut_photo.htm
If you need any information etc. please contact me at rich@richandann.co.uk .
Species seen:
Little Grebe Great Crested Grebe Guillemot* Cormorant
Gannet* Grey Heron Common Crane Mute Swan
Canada Goose White Fronted Goose Greylag Goose Mallard
Pintail Gadwall Wigeon Shoveler
Teal Tufted Duck Pochard Goosander
Hen Harrier+ Red Kite Buzzard Kestrel
Pheasant Partridge Coot Moorhen
Lapwing Curlew Lesser Black Backed Gull Herring Gull
Kittiwake* Common Gull Black Headed Gull Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove Barn Owl Green Woodpecker Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
(drumming)
Skylark Meadow Pipit Pied Wagtail
White Wagtail Robin Blackbird Redwing
Song Thrush Tree Creeper Great Tit Blue Tit
Marsh Tit Long Tailed Tit Coal Tit Magpie
Carrion Crow Jackdaw Jay Starling
Rook Chaffinch Greenfinch Goldfinch
House Sparrow Dunnock Reed Bunting Yellowhammer
White Stork      
* on ferry Dover Calais,   + over motorway