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Col de l'Escrinet - Saint-Étienne-de-Boulogne, Ardèche (07)
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Surroundings and natural setting of the watchpoint

Col de l'Escrinet, in Ardèche, is situated on the boundary of three municipalities, Saint-Etienne-de-Boulogne, Gourdon and Saint-Priest. It is an emblematic site, well-known at European level for spring migration. Situated at 787 metres above sea level, it forms a gap in the mountains, rising over 1000 metres. When the weather is clear, birds notice this from a great distance. Every spring, hundreds of thousand migrants cross the col, often at very close range, offering splendid views to the observers. The southwest/northeast orientation and its position, after 200 kilometres without any major obstacle, are assets favouring the passage of migrants. The mountains to the south, moreover, form a natural funnel and the routes of migrant raptors, reluctant to cross the higher mountains, converge into this migration bottleneck.

The view point offers an 120° panorama, centred on the southwest. Chalk slopes bordering the western face of the basaltic plateau of Coiron form its eastern boundary. Many migrants follow these mountain sides before flying past the watch point. To the southwest, you can see the plains of Aubenas, at about 12 kilometres distance, with the chalk plateaux of Les Gras and Piémont cévenol in the background , or more distant still, only visible in fine weather, Mont Lozère. More to the ouest, the view is blocked by various mountains of the Hautes Cévennes ardéchoises, such as Tanargue, Rocher d'Abraham...

On col de l'Escrinet proper, open areas dominate the central part: pastures with scattered provence broom Genista purgans or thickets with blackthorn Prunus spinosa and hawthorn Crataegus species. The slopes are covert with denser heather, coppiced common hazel Corylus avellana or black pine Pinus nigra plantations.

History of the survey

Since 1982, conservationists of CORA follow the spring migration. During the 1980s this was primarily a protest action against pigeon hunting in March, the species being classed as vermin, covering up the poaching of other species (shooting of game species after the closure of the season, but also protected species: raptors...). Since 1991, the Wood Pigeon is no longer considered as vermin in Ardèche, but hunters still occupy Col de L'Escrinet (and sometimes other sites) and shoot illegally, the law being openly violated, with total impunity.

Ornithological interest, emblematic species

At col de l'Escrinet, spring migration occurs between early February and the end of May. On average, over 120 species are observed annually. The migatory flow is dominated by passerines crossing the col by hundreds - or at least by tens - of thousand. The most abundant species are finches, and more particularly the Chaffinch, with 100 to 150.000 individuals on average. Other species migrating in important numbers include House Martins (over 30.000 on average), Skylarks (generally over 10.000 a year), Starlings (15.000 on average), White Wagtail, Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings or Woodlarks. Swifts are also abundant (over 15.000 a year). Red-rumped Swallow, Penduline Tit and Wallcreeper are noted occasionally. With over 7000 individuals on average, birds of prey are also well represented. The watch point is remarkable for its Osprey numbers (between 1500 and 3000 in general), Honey Buzzards (maximum 3780) and Common Buzzard (over 1000 in certain years). Marsh Harriers are also numerous (maximum 700) as well as Kestrels and Sparrowhawks (over 500 on average for each of these species). Both stork species are regular but usually limited to some tens of indivuals. Great Cormorant is much more abundant (maximum of 4354 in 2006). Gulls are mainly represented by the Black-headed Gull with 1800 birds on average. Although Col de l'Escrinet is badly reputed as a site for Wood Pigeon poaching, that species numbers only 10.000 individuals a year.

Calendar

A migration survey is undertaken between the end of January until the end of May (at least this is our aim!)

Major species by month:


 

  • February: Common Buzzard, Wood Pigeon, Woodlark, Skylark, Redwing, Fieldfare.
  • March: Great Cormorant, Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite, Sparrowhawk, Wood Pigeon, White Wagtail, Chaffinch.
  • April: Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Kestrel, Hobby, Tree Pipit, Golden Oriole, Linnet, Goldfinch.
  • May: Honey Buzzard, Turtle Dove, Swift

Weather conditions and observation

The flow is particularly important on Col de L'Escrinet with a moderate to rather strong northerly wind, blowing for at least 2 or 3 days. These are ideal conditions, with the birds being funelled by the mountains towards the col, passing at low altitude. If the mistral is very strong, passerines will often perch near the col before continuing migration. Sometimes even raptors cross the coll walking. Mind however, that it can be quite cold on the col in such conditions, particularly during the first hours of the day, when the passerine flow and pigeon migration are reaching a peak. Generally, midday sun and the sheltered position of the watch point behind a hillock, bring relief, so do remember to take sun tan oil and sun glasses. The cold may surprise observers until the end of April; do not forget to bring warm clothing, too! Southerly wind, less frequent, often means poor conditions for birding and a less important flow. A southern wind, however, often brings in rain, which can block off migration at the col.

Visitors

The survey is taking place between the end of January and the end of May. During that period, birders are counting every day and you are most welcome to join them. If you want to prepare your visit, you may wish to contact Collectif Escrinet (see contact).

Access

Col de L'Escrinet is situated at some 18 km from Aubenas and 11 km from Privas. The access is easy, as the RN 304 between these two cities is passing the watch point. The watch point is on a hillock in the middle of the col (to the reigh of the RN coming from Aubenas, to the left coming from Privas). This area is owned by the Foundation Franz Weber.
The closest main roads are concentrated in the Rhône valley (RN 7, RN 86 and motorway A7). By motorway, if you are coming from the south, take the exit Montélimar sud, follow Aubenas, le Puy; coming from the north, take exit Loriol and follow Privas.
It is also possible to reach the col by public transport (train and SNCF bus or other bus). Coming from Valence railway station, an SNCF bus passes by Col de l'Escrinet. From Montélimar railway station, there is a line to Aubenas and the possibility to cross the col with another bus service.

Places to stay and to eat

There are many places to stay near Aubenas and Privas (hotels, rural hotels, guest rooms, ...). There are also many restaurants, with the nearest one, Auberge du Col de l'Escrinet at only 200 metres from the watch point.

Contact

LPO AuRA - Délégation de l'Ardèche
4 Bis rue de la Halle
07110 Largentière
Tél/Fax 04 75 35 55 90
Mail : ardeche@lpo.fr

or Col de l'Escrinet : escrinet@lpo.fr

Website : auvergne-rhone-alpes.lpo.fr

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