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Montagne de la Serre - Saint-Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme (63)
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Surroundings and natural setting of the watchpoint

Montagne de la Serre, situated near Clermont-Ferrand in the municipality of Saint-Saturnin (63) in the Regional Nature Park of the volcanoes of Auvergne is one of the major autumn migration watchpoints in Auvergne. It owes its strategic position firstly to the narrowing Allier valley and the range of Puys, with a north-south orientation, serving as a visual mark for migrating birds. Secondly, the range of Puys is protecting the birds against the dominant westerly wind. Thirdly, the plateaux of Gergovie and la Serre create thermals, most useful for migrating soaring birds such as raptors. The landscape around the watchpoint consists of a basaltic plateau (750 metres above sea level) in a bocage habitat. It offers a nice vue on the Auvergne volcanoes and the range of Puys in the northwest and on monts du Sancy in the southwest. The landscape is pleasing the eye.

History of the survey

A migration survey has been organized for nearly 20 years by LPO Auvergne, from 1986 to 2002 (1986 - 1997 for passerines) between 1st August and 1st November. The 2003 counts were incomplete and since 2004, there is unfortunately no longer an "official" survey. The results of the various surveys have been published by LPO Auvergne and are freely available. They can be downloaded on the Internet site of LPO Auvergne under the heading "Observer/Enquêtes/Grand-Duc".

Ornithological interest, emblematic species

At la Serre, over 175 species have been observed including nearly a 100 species during autumn migration, totalling on average of 300.000 individuals a year. The most representative species of the site is Woodpigeon with on average over 120.000 birds counted every year, making it one of the hotspots in France for the migration of this species. Stock Doves migrate in small numbers (about 400 individuals on average), sometimes in small monospecific flocks at the end of September or in mixed flocks with Woodpigeons in October.

Few White Storks migrate over la Serre as its major migration route is further east. Black Storks, however, are more regularly seen (about 30 a year) migrating over a broad front and over a longer period.

Among the raptors, Black Kites are passing in good numbers (1700 on average) starting in early July to the end of September with a peak in mid August. Red Kites are regularly observed in October (1580 on average). Honey Buzzards are passing between mid August and mid September (about 1200 a year). Mars Harriers are in decline at the site  wit 160 on average in 1986-2002 but only 60 in 2002. Montagu's and Hen Harriers are observed regularly but in small numbers. In 2002, a single Pallid Harrier has been recorded. Sparrowhawks (75 on average) and Goshawks are seen every year. Ospreys mainly follow the Allier valley and are difficult to see from La Serre, with only marginal observations (28 on average). About 30 Hobbies are noted every year and a few Red-footed Falcons and Merlins.

Numbers of Great Cormorant have been increasing spectacularly (rare until the mid 1990s, much commoner since, with over 1000 individuals noted in 2002). Even though Cranes are recorded annually, their passage is quite irregular, depending much on weather conditions. 

Passerine migration has been surveyed regularly only between 1986 and 1997. The dominant species are Chaffinch (over 60.000 a year), Skylark (nearly 8000 a year) and Meadow Pipit (over 4000 annually). Skylark migration is often spectacular as the flocks congregate in the fields next to observatory, before flying in flocks of hundreds low over the observers. Swifts, Barn Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins are all observed in good numbers, but difficult to count as they feed near the watchpoint and often fly past several times. Other passerines include Tree Pipits, Tawny Pipits, Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails (between mid August and early October), White Wagtails (nearly 2000 a year), Grey Wagtails (rare in small groups in October). Nearly 500 Mistle Thrushes are seen annually, as well as a few Fieldfares (0 to 61 inds.). Chaffinches migrate in October in flocks of hundreds of individuals, sometimes with other finches: Goldfinch, Siskin, Crossbill, Serin, Greenfinch, Linnet, Brambling, Hawfinch (about a 100 a year)... Ortolan Buntings are rare, but Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and Corn Buntings are regularly seen in October.

Migration calendar

This is an autumn migration watchpoint, with the first migratory movements in early July when the Black Kites are departing and the last movements in early November, with the passage of Cranes. It is up to you to make your choice in function of the species you would like to see migrating (cf. migration table).
The best time of the day equally depends on the species one would like to observe. Every species has very much its own time table (details are published by S. Menu, 1993)...
Most passerines are most easily observed during the few hours near sunrise and sunset (for these species, a good knowledge of flight calls is necessary). Pigeons are mostly passing in the morning (between 9h00 and 12h00) and raptors and storks are awaiting thermals (warm rising air), from 11h to 18h.
The best viewing conditions are with a partially clouded sky, as raptors may fly very high over the site and are hard to detect in a blue sky. The most favorable winds are slight to moderate from the south, west or southwest. When migration has been blocked off for several days (four of five days of rain, fog or strong wind) impressive numbers can pass suddenly when the weather finally improves. Mind, however, that the weather in the valley (Clermont-Ferrand) is not necessarily the same as on the watchpoint (there may by fog in the valley but a clear sky at the watchpoint or vice versa).

PS: In spring, most migrants take a different route. During that period, in our region, you may prefer to visit Saint-Gervais-d'Auvergne (63) which has both spring and autumn migration.

Reception of visitors

The site has received visitors for nearly 20 years but this is no longer the case since 2004. Every year, however, on Eurobirdwatch, the public is invited by voluntary workers of the LPO at this traditional migration watchpoint.
The site is freely accessible for all visitors who are still coming during the best migration period. Information panels by the Conseil General of Puy-de-Dôme and the municipality of Saint-Saturnin are permanently at the site.
At the site, there is no real observatory, but a hillock next to the water tower offers good viewing conditions. Birds are arriving from the north or northeast to head to the south or southwest (the migration of pigeons, however, is following an east-west axis).
The watchpoint of Montagne de la Serre is situated along a pedestrian trail (Guides Chamina). A bird discovery trail on the plateau is proposed by LPO Auvergne http://www.lpo-auvergne.org in the section "Découvrir/Circuits Nature".

Access

The site is situated on the municipality of Saint-Saturnin, at about 20 km south of Clermont-Ferrand. Take the motorway A 75 towards Montpellier (or Clermont-Ferrand when arriving from the south). Take exit 5, and the D 213, towards Saint-Saturnin, Saint-Amant-Tallende. After 6 kilometres, turn to the right on the D 96, towards Chadrat, Nadaillat. Cross the village of Chadrat and continue for 1,5 to 2 km. A car park is on the right hand side of the road, in a road bend to the right. Park there and continue on foot following the PR (yellow singposts) for about 200 metres before reaching the watchpoint, near the water tower.

Places to stay and to eat

There are plenty of places to stay and to eat near the watchpoint. Within 10 km (municipalities of Saint-Saturnin, Saint-Aman-Tallende, Aydat, Chanonat, Saint-Genès-Champanelle) there are many camp sites, holiday cottages, hotels, restaurants, small shops...
And at Clermont-Ferrand (20 km) you will find all facilities of major city.

Contact

Since 2004, LPO Auvergne is lacking financial means to organize the bird survey at the site. It has, however, done so for about 20 years and may give advice to visitors.

Address : LPO Auvergne – 2 bis du Clos Perret – 63100 Clermont-Ferrand
Tel. : 04 73 36 39 79 (14h – 18h)
Fax : 04 73 36 98 74
Wibe site : http://www.lpo-auvergne.org
E-mail : auvergne@lpo.fr




 

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