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Pierre-Aiguille - Crozes-Hermitage, Drôme (26)
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The watchpoint

The viewpoint of Pierre-Aiguille (elevation : 336 metres) is situated on the hill of l'Hermitage, overlooking the cities of Tain-l'Hermitage and Tournon-sur-Rhône, separated by the Rhône. The viewpoint itself, with a 360 degree panorama, is perched 200 m above the riverbed. In the northeast and southeast, the snow-clad peaks and ridges of the Alps and Prealps dominate the horizon. In fine weather conditions, the panorama includes the Mont-Blanc, the Savoyard Foreland, Chartreuse, Oisans, Vercors, Diois, Baronnies and Mont Ventoux. In the south, the Rhône disappears behind the hills of the Bas Vivarais, after serpenting across the plains of Valence and meeting the Isère waters. In the southwest and northwest, the plateaux and mountains of the Ardèche can be seen, with the higher peaks of Monts Mézenc and Gerbier des Joncs and finally, the massif du Pilat is closing the cercle in the north. Pierre-Aiguille is constituting the southern limit of a series of granatic hills, isolated from the Central Massif by the Rhône river.

The natural habitat situated near the watchpoint is composed of vineyards, dry pastures, rocky outcrops, bushy heather and Pubescent and Holly Oak forests. The flora shows some particularities unique to this side of the Rhône river. Mediterranean influence, moreover, explains the presence of some species which are rarely encountered at this latitude. There is also an important biodiversity birdwise: Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers, Eagle Owl, Bee-eater, Bonelli's Warbler, Woodlark, Cirl Bunting, Nightjar, Short-toed Eagle and Alpine Swift all breed at the site or in its vicinity. The Ocellated Lizard, the biggest mediterranean lizard, has been discovered here in 2007.

Ornithological interest, emblematic species

The major interest of the site resides in a good variety of rather spectacular species that can be observed from Pierre-Aiguille, including wildfowl, passerines, pigeons, raptors, not to mention storks, Cranes, swifts... 135 species in total have been observed at the site since the start of the survey. Even though not every family is equally well-represented, the migration of some species can be quite spectacular.

Several species can be observed in good numbers at the site, depending on the season. Among the most spectacular, we should mention Black-headed Gull: this is the most abundant migrant here, with annually between 15.000 and 25.000 inds. Another migrant in good numbers is Great Cormorant, with annual totals hovering between 7000 and 15.000 birds. During rush days, flocks counting sometimes several hundreds of individuals are flying past, mainly in the morning, although the passage may last all day. Another emblematic species at the watchpoint, perhaps less well-known by the general public, is Lesser Black-backed Gull. The last few years, its numbers have increased dramatically, exceeding a thousand of individuals in 2007. Next to the Languedoc coastline, the Rhône valley is the most important migratory route for White Storks in France: several hundreds are seen each year (maximum 583 in 2007) and numbers are still increasing. Raptors are also regularly observed and some species occur quite numerously: Black Kite, Common Buzzard and Honey Buzzard are the most abundant species with between 1500 and 3800 inds. a year, the first species sometimes reaching 4000 inds. They are followed by Sparrowhawk (500-1000 birds a season), Marsh Harrier (250-450 inds.), Red Kite and Kestrel (200 - 300 inds.). Woodpigeon is also an important migrant here, albeit in less important numbers than at l'Escrinet: depending on the years, 1500 upto 4000 inds are observed. Its smaller relative, Stock Dove, is much scarcer and it is mainly observed in monospecific flocks in February and in mixed flocks with Woodpigeons in March.

Among these species, other species are frequently noticed in smaller numbers. Some of the scarcer raptors include Hobby (100 inds.), Osprey (80 - 120), Short-toed Eagle (30 - 40), Hen Harrier (20 - 40), Montagu's Harrier (10 - 20), Merlin (2 - 8) and finally Peregrine Falcon (1 - 8). Other species have been sighted once or twice: Booted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Pallid Harrier or Red-footed Falcon.
In flocks of Black-headed Gulls, keen observers will notice Common Gulls and Mediterranean Gulls. Two waders - mostly nocturnal migrants - occur in good numbers, Lapwing and Curlew. Other wetland species include ducks and herons. Grey Heron is the commonest migrant (with upto 100 inds a season) and more rarely, we also observe Little and Great White Egrets, Purple Herons, Cattle Egrets and occasionally Night Herons. All regular duck species have been observed, Pintail being the most numerous one.

Cranes, although less regular in the western part of the country, seem to increase in the Rhône valley. Passerines are far less numerous than at some of the migration bottlenecks (Leucate, Escrinet). The diversity, however, is similar to those sites. The variety of the surroundings guarantees annual observations of some uncommon species: Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Ring Ousel, Snowfinch, Blue Rockthrush, etc.
In April and May, in good conditions, the show goes on with sometimes thousands of swallows, martins and swifts.

History of the survey

Discovered in 1995, the first permanency dates back to 1998. The table below represents the survey periods from 1998 to 2007:

  

Year
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
Start
18/3
17/3
10/3
3/3
9/2
1/3
15/2
Irregular
1/3
22/2
End
31/3
6/4
8/4
1/4
20/4
31/3
15/4
8/4
18/4

Year after year, the survey has improved both in duration and by the number of salaried birders.

Migration calendar

The first movements are seen around mid January: Redwings and Fieldfares start their return migration. There are also early movements of Yellow-legged Gulls. In February, the migratory flow increases: numbers of thrushes are culminating, whereas Black-headed Gulls and Great Cormorants are beginning their migration. Common Buzzards will also get on the move, depending on weather conditions in southern France. By mid February, more and more migrants are seen, including the first flocks of White Storks: the migration peak is usually between 25 February and 5 March. In March, the first trans-saharan migrants return: Black Kites, Ospreys, Short-toed Eagles, Barn Swallows and House Martins... The migration peak of Black-headed Gull is situated in the first two weeks of March. Similarly, Common Buzzards and Red Kites have their migration peak in that period. Sometimes, even the peak day will be the same. The end of March is nearing with the migration peaks of Black Kite, Osprey, Great Cormorant and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Diversity is increasing: Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Black Storks will join kites, Common Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles in the thermals. Early April, the diversity is at its best: most raptor species are observed daily; both storks, swallows and swifts are accompanied by rarer species (Hoopoe, Wallcreeper) and colourful birds (Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Linnets, Greenfinches, Yellow Wagtails. At this time of the year, it is a good idea to scan the Rhône river for marsh terns. At the end of April, numbers are going down: raptors are passing from time to time and only Swifts and swallows remind that migration is not over yet. By that time, we may also see the first Honey Buzzards. This species will start a blitz migration, lasting for three or four weeks, with a peak in the first half of May. A good diversity can still be expected: kites, Buzzards, harriers, Sparrowhawks, storks... but less numerously.

Reception of visitors

CORA Drôme is renting a holiday cottage near the viewpoint, to lodge permanent observers and volunteers. The survey runs between 15 February and 15 April.

Access

By car: coming from the south and the est by motorway A7, take exit Tain-l'Hermitage, enter in the city centre, and follow the signposts "Route des belvédères"/Largnage. Soon, the viewpoint is indicated by these signs. Coming from the north, take N7, 2 km after the exit of Gervans and turn right towards "Crozes-Hermitage", turn right in the centre of the village and follow the signs "belvédère de Pierre-Aiguille".

SNCF railway station at Tain-l'Hermitage (4 km). Valence TGV station at 15 km.

Places to stay and to eat

Several holiday cottages are near the viewpoint. Several restaurants offering local specialities at Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain-l'Hermitage will satisfy gastronomists. A place to visit: les Caves viticoles (wine cellars) des côtes du Rhône.

Contact

CORA Drôme
3, côte des Chapeliers
26100 Romans sur Isère
cora26@9business.fr 04-75-05-14-79

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