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Prat-de-Bouc - Albepierre-Bredons, Cantal (15)
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Show:
https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.migraction.net/pdffiles/news/small/Prat-de-Bouc-8925.JPG

Surroundings and natural setting of the watchpoint

Cantal (15) is characterized by a dormant volcanic massif in the centre of the department. Although the Cantal mountains are not so high, several summits, between 1700 and 1855 m, form a barrier from the north to the south, clearly dividing the department in two parts. The massif of Monts-Dore (63) in the north and the mountain plateau of Cézallier in the northeast, moreover, amplify the geographical barrier effect with Prat-de-Bouc at its southern limit.

The Prat-de-Bouc cirque is situated mainly at Albepierre-Bredons. The col, 1396 m, forms an immense amphitheatre orientated towards the northeast at the foot of Plomb du Cantal, the highest peak of the department (1855 m). It marks the watershed: to the north the Lagnon and Benet descend into the Alagnon valley, joining the Allier in the northeast, to the south the Epi meets the Truyère, itself an affluent of the Lot flowing to the southwest. La Planèze de Saint-Flour, an extensive mountain plateau, stretches out to the east of the massif (on average 1000 m above sea level).


Prat-de-Bouc, a migration bottleneck

In western Europe, the autumn migration of birds is often directed form the northeast to the southwest. Reaching Auvergne by the north or northeast, an important flow will follow the Allier valley and its affluents, circumventing the range of les Puys, Monts-Dore and Cézallier and taking advantage of these valleys (sheltered from the wind, using rising thermals or ridge lift, visual marks...). Part of this flow will reach Cantal and go up the Alagnon valley to the Cantal mountains. Once above the city of Murat, the horizon will seem blocked by the Cantal mountains. However, a large gap is visible in the southwest and by the Lagnon and Benet valleys the birds will reach Prat-du-Bouc, a relatively open col. Many birds will funnel through when the weather conditions allow to see it. On the other side of the col, two valleys will allow the birds to reach la Truyère and to continue their southwestbound migration. Migrants arriving at Murat or crossing le Cézallier may also taking other routes: the Alagnon vally towards le Lioran, la Santoire valley towards Col de Cabre and Puy-Mary. Many birds will fly over Planèze de Saint-Flour but this flow will disperse between the Cantal mountains and the Margeride mountains to the east.

History of the survey

Prat-du-Bouc was one of the first sites in Auvergne and even in the whole of France, to be surveyed regularly by birders. Since 1972, Centre Ornithologique Auvergne (COA, the future LPO Auvergne) has organized a field survey and ringing activities. In 1982, field work was boosted by the association Espaces et Recherches (FIR and COA were partners at the time) in order to study migration and to raise public awareness. The col being the major site in Cantal for Woodpigeon hunting, the presence of birders also permitted to study the impact of hunting. Since 1986, the survey became regular all along the season, from August to October. Counts were regular until 1998, even though during the last years, the duration of the survey had been reduced (September - October). A synthesis of these 13 years has been published by Espaces et Recherches in 2001.

Recommandations for observing, discovery of the site

The counts were done from several watchpoints, situated on a line joining the col and Puy de la Jambe (1520 m), depending on weather conditions and visibility. Puy de la Jambe, easily accessible is the best site, as it offers a splendid view of Murat and la Planèze de Saint-Flour, or even Cézallier and the massif of Sancy in fine weather conditions. The major migration corridor crosses the cirque of Prat-de-Bouc. Two secondary migration routes are also worth checking: to the west many soaring birds (raptors, Black Storks...) follow the ridge between Puy-du-Rocher and Plomb-du-Cantal, to the east, birds are crossing the plateau of Niermont beyond Puy de Prat-de-Bouc (interesting for raptors, passerines, pigeons; observatin from Puy de la Jambe). For the best viewing conditions you will need a clouded sky, or even low clouds, and a southwesterly to southeasterly wind. Birds, mainly passerines, will migrate against the wind at low level. As the wind picks up, migration will move from bush to bush, flocks of passerines will make short flights between the broom bushes: this is a superb spectacle on good days, with some birds passing within a few metres from the observers! Mind the weather conditions, particularly in October-November: dense fog, drizzle, low temperatures and an icy northern wind may block migration or surprise poorly equipped observers! Sometimes the morning fog will remain in the valleys, revealing a sea of clouds all around, a breathtaking view. An open sky and a northern wind are benificial for bird migration but not for viewing conditions: birds will fly high, rapidly and are difficult to spot in a blue sky. Raptors appreciate such conditions and the fantastic scenery over 360° will justify the drive.

Warning: in October, avoid to walk during early mornings on the edge of the forest (in the north of the cirque) as most pigeon shooting posts are concentrated in that area.


Ornithological interest

Since 1972, 163 species have been recorded at the col, both on active migration or stopping over. On average 370.000 birds per season have been counted belonging to some 100 species.

Prat-de-Bouc is a privilegied site for passerine observation, more particularly for finches and above all for Chaffinch with over 211.000 individuals counted (over 60% of the annual total). During top migration days, between 5 and 25 October, several tens of thousands of Chaffinches fly from daybreak (maximum: 353.000 Chaffinches on 9/10/93). In cloudy and windy weather, flocks of hundreds of Chaffinches can come through, giving the impression of a flying carpet. Many finches will join the Chaffinches in October: Siskin, Goldfinch, Brambling, Serin, Linnet, Greenfinch, Hawfinch, Crossbill, Bullfinch... Swallows are occuring in good numbers in September with about 70.000 individuals, migrating while chasing insects (and vice versa) the will turn around the col rendering any reliable count quite difficult. On big days, Hobbies are often seen. Between 18 and 21 September 1993, 120.000 swallows were counted with 13 Hobbies hunting for a snack. Pipits and wagtails are frequent and follow each order in a specific order depending on the season. Tree Pipits and Yellow Wagtails are migrating from early August and in September, followed by Grey Wagtails from mid September to mid October. In October, Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails reach a peak in the second decade. They will pass from early morning in small flocks, whereas during evenings monospecific flocks of sometimes several tens of individuals are noted in the wagtail species. Flocks of Woodlarks will draw the attention with their clear liquid, but ringing, calls during October mornings. Skylark are among the late migrants, being more numerous after 15 October in flocks of several dozens. Thrushes and tits are more irregular but in some years, good numbers can be observed. Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and Cirl Buntings always occur in small numbers. A stroll along the forest's edge will ensure some nice encounters with feeding passerines.

Prat-de-Bouc used to be famous with hunters for its huge numbers of Woodpigeons (500.000 in 1972!), since then, the decline has been constant with about 80.000 in the early 1980s and only 15 to 30.000 by the end of the 1990s. In spite of this, you may still watch sizeable flocks often chased by Peregrine Falcon.

Prat-de-Bouc is not an exceptional site for raptor migration. 12 species, however, are seen annually totalling on average 2500 individuals. The first one is Black Kite, mainly in August. Honey Buzzards are the most abundant raptors (1000 on average) and its migration peak is often concentrated on a few days close to 29 August. An emblematic species of Cantal, the Red Kite, has never been observed in big numbers, with about 300 individuals it is sometimes difficult to distinguish local birds from migrants. 3 other birds of prey are reaching over a 100 inds. a year: Marsh Harrier in September, Sparrowhawk from mid August to the end of October and Common Buzzard in October. All other species pass in small numbers: Kestrel, Hobby, Merlin, Peregrine, Montagu's and Hen Harriers, Goshawk, Short-toed and Booted Eagles. About 20 Ospreys are seen each season but September offers the best possibilities to see it crossing the col or fishing (Lac du pêcher, barrages de la Truyère, see "walks in the area").

Black Storks were already increasing at Prat-de-Bouc in the 1990s (average 82-89: 10, on average 90-97:24). Its migration must be more important nowadays. The same trend has been noted for Great Cormorant. White Storks and Cranes, however, are very rarely seen.


Hiking in the cirque

The immense cirque of Prat-de-Bouc offers great possibilities for hiking, and one may watch migration at any time:
- climb of Puy de Prat-de-Bouc
- climb of Plomb-du-Cantal
- col of la Tombe-du-Père
- climb of the cirque de Chamalière

During the hikes you may discover the biodiversity of the cirque of Prat-de-Bouc: peat bogs on mountain slopes with their specific flora, flowers of middle-height mountains (Yellow Pasque Flower, Common Pasque Flower, Turk's Cap Lily...), mountain fauna (Mouflon, Alpine Marmot). Breeding birds include Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, 3 pipits, Whitethroat, Ring Ouzel, Dipper, Black Woodpecker, ... Many raptors benefit from the mountain pastures: Short-toed Eagle, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Montagu's and Hen Harriers.
The Prat-de-Bouc area is the only stop-over site in Cantal for migrating Dotterel (several individuals every year in September).

Other interesting sites nearby are mostly wetlands at La Planèze du Saint-Flour:
- Lascols: a very rich stop-over site. Harrier roost at the end of August and in September.
- Pierrefites (near Talizat): interesting and good viewing conditions.
- Etang de Sériers
- Lac du Pêcher (north of Murat, in the forest of La Pinatelle)
- the other cols: Pas de Peyrol, Col de Cabre, Le Lioran (with potentially good passerine migration).

Zoom on migration

Since 2006, the local division of Cantal is meeting the public during "Zoom on migration". From early October, this activity allows to the general public to discover migration at the col: observation, counts, stand, movies... Every year some 250 to 300 people participate.

Access

The site is easily accessible by car:
- From Clermont-Ferrand: take the motorway A75, exit Massiac, follow Murat, cross the village centre towards Aurillac and take D39 towards Albepierre-Bredons and Prat-de-Bouc.
- From Aurillac: take D122 towards Le Lioran and Murat, when entering the village centre, turn right on the D39 towards Albepierre-Bredons and Prat-de-Bouc.
- Coming from the south, from Saint-Flour: drive towards Murat, take D44 beyond the village of Saint-Flour, Paulhac next and finally Prat-de-Bouc.


Places to stay and to eat

At the col: a "gîte d'étape", a pub and restaurant, and a "buron" (traditional mountain chalet) at the town hall of Albepierre-Bredons have temporary exhibits and site information.

More detailed information can be obtained from the local tourist offices:

- Murat : http://www.officedetourismepaysdemurat.com/
 
- Saint-Flour : http://www.saint-flour.com/

Contact

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
Web site : http://www.lpo-auvergne.org
 & E-mail: mailto:auvergne@lpo.fr

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