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Pointe du Hoc - Cricqueville-en-Bessin, Calvados (14)
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Surroundings and natural setting

On the Bessin coast, in the northwest of Calvados department, the seawatch site Pointe du Hoc is situated at the western end of a jurassic limestone cliff stretching over seven kilometres with an average height of nearly 30 metres. The general area has been granted protection (Special Protection Zone) since 1993 and holds seabird colonies of national importance, including the first Kittiwake colony in Normandy (with nearly 1000 breeding pairs in 2007) and a good Fulmar density. To the west, the coastline is lower near Rochers de Grandcamp, attracting many grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers outside the breeding season. Beyond the harbour of Grandcamp-Maisy, the estuary of Baie de Veys connects to the sea, the mouth of the marshes of Cotentin and Bessin. This is a wetland of international importance designated under the Ramsar convention on wetlands. Baie des Veys hosts the second most important Harbour Seal colony in France.

History of the survey

Irregularly visited in the 1980s and 1990s, Pointe du Hoc has been regularly surveyed during autumn since 2002. Starting off modestly, the observation pressure is regularly increasing, reaching 290 hours in 2006 on 114 days between early July and the end of December.

Ornithological interest

Without forming a headland, the Bessin cliffs stretch out towards the sea into the Seine bay and Pointe du Hoc is the southernmost point of the Calvados coast. Thanks to its location, we are observing both birds on traditional migration from northern Europe to their wintering areas, as birds on reverse migration (shearwaters in particular), entering the western Channel by strong westerlies and continuing westward when the weather calms down or when the wind changes direction.

The importance of the migratory flow depends on wind conditions. Depending on wind force or direction, migratory seabirds will approach or avoid the coastline. Like on most seawatch sites along the Channel, northwestern to northern winds will draw in seabirds. All pelagic and coastal species are counted with the exception of Cormorants, Shags, Herring Gulls, Greater & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Common, Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls. Through a lack of observers, songbirds are not counted either. About a hundred non passerines can be observed from the watchpoint. Depending on weather conditions and observation pressure, the total number of birds counted varies between 30.000 and 70.000 a year. 

Thanks to the proximity of baie de Veys, a major stopover site for migrating ducks, Pointe du Hoc is particularly favourable for actively migrating ducks, representing 42% of the total of all birds. The passage of Brent Geese, the commonest species of wildfowl with 10 to 12.000 individuals counted every season, is particularly impressive and spectacular during major movements in October-November, both to hear and to watch. The main species of wildfowl, in decreasing order, are: Black Scoter, Wigeon, Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Eider and Velvet Scoter.

Among the coastal species, terns (mainly Common and Sandwich Terns) represent 21% of the combined total of all species, followed by waders (dominated by Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin), Little Gulls and Kittiwakes. Great Crested Grebes is the commonest grebe with 200 to 400 individuals counted every year.

Pelagic birds are dominated by Gannets (accounting for 22% of the total of all species), divers and alcids. The passage of other seabirds depends largely on weather conditions. Wind force 5 north / northwest is particularly good to see hundreds of skuas and shearwaters in a single morning.

Other species seen regularly, albeit in small numbers are Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes, British Storm Petrels, Fulmars, Spoonbills, Great White Egrets, Merlins, Tufted Ducks and Pochards, Long-tailed Skuas and Sabine's Gulls. Local rarities include Great Northern Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Cory's Shearwater, Hobby, Crane, Short-eared Owl, Long-tailed Duck and Little Auk.

Visitors

Conveniently named "Pointe du Hoc", the watchpoint is in fact about 1 km west of the war memorial of Pointe du Hoc at a locality named "Le Moulin de Cricqueville". Observations can be done directly from the car, which is quite handy in poor weather conditions. This is a public car park which can be quite busy with fishermen when the tides plunge exceptionally low. In that case, it may be better to observe during high tide (with better viewing conditions) or to walk on foot to the edge of the cliffs for seawatching. There is no infrastructure for birders at the watchpoint but keen seawatchers will be present during most weekends or afternoons during weekdays.

Access

To go there, take the coastal road (D514) between Grandcamp and the roundabout of Pointe du Hoc and close to the ruins of an old windmill, turn towards the sea following a dirt track and park at the cliff top car park.

Places to stay and to eat

The Calvados coast between Port-en-Bessin and Isigny-sur-Mer and the historical sites of the Normandy landing attract a lot of visitors. There are many places to stay and to eat (camp sites, hotels, guest rooms, holiday cottages).
Tourist Office at Port-en-Bessin : 02 31 22 45 80
Tourist Office at Grandcamp-Maisy : 02 31 22 62 44
Tourist Office at Isigny-sur-Mer : 02 31 21 46 00

Contact

Gilbert Vimard mailto:vimardg@gmail.com

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