Rick Wright gives us another Birds & Art tour preview of France: Birds & Art in Provence, April 24-May 2, 2016. In 2016, Rick will also lead Birds & Art tours to Burgundy, Catalonia, Berlin & Brandenburg, and Venice & the Po Delta.
A Nebraska native, Rick will also lead VENT’s Nebraska: Sandhill Cranes & Prairie Grouse tour, March 19-26, 2016.
Whole landscape birding can be practiced anywhere, even, or perhaps especially, where the birds reliably include no rarities or special target species. Take, for example, a little spot on the road between Arles and St-Rémy, in the Alpille hills of southern Provence.
The pine forests here are full of crossbills, and subalpine warblers chatter from the roadside pullouts.
At the bottom of the hills, the road widens, and the sharp-eyed spot a parking lot, from which it is a comfortable 90-second walk to the monumental entrance to the Roman city of Glanum.
While we perch on the stones of the old city wall, our conversations are interrupted again and again by, say, a Common Redstart or a European Roller. Tempting as it is to linger, we stand up and cross the road for a visit to the grounds of the hospital of St-Paul.
St-Paul, of course, is most famous as the institution Vincent van Gogh checked in to after that unfortunate episode with his ear in Arles. At its center, though, is one of the finest little Romanesque cloisters in France, where Black Redstarts and European Robins dart from stone to stone as we admire the carved capitals.
Upstairs, the view from van Gogh’s room ravishes the eye with sights familiar from his paintings: irises, sunflowers, olive groves stretching to the rugged forests of the Alpilles.
Cuckoos sing, martins and swifts swoop and soar overhead, and Crested Tits, the cutest of the whole enchanting lot, feed and fuss beneath the eaves of the ancient buildings.
St-Paul has it all. But without the birds and the art and the archaeology, all taken in at once, it would be just another dutiful stop on the tourist pilgrimage. For open-eyed, open-minded birders, though, it is one of the most special places in the world.
All photos by Rick Wright.