According to the Migraction website, migrants sighted yesterday from the hillock by the lagoon at Canet St Nazaire included a bonelli's eagle, booted eagle, night heron, and dozens of other interesting things. So this morning, not wishing to miss out on the action, I headed out at dawn.
The sky was beautifully pink when I arrived, and Yves, the GOR member already in situ, confirmed that the call I could hear from the lagoon (similar to - but clearly not - the kee-wick made by tawny owls) came from a pair of marsh harriers.
And so, as more watchers trickled in, we waited.
Pains au chocolat were handed round. And we waited ... One guy's black lab padded among us, hoovering up crumbs. And we waited... Flasks were opened ... Café, thé? The dog offered me a stick and a warming game of tug. I was tempted - by now the back of my neck and shoulders were stiffening up.
After an hour or so I was thinking of leaving, but surely something other than flocks of mistle thrushes, wood pigeons, serins and chaffinches would fly by in a minute? I was probably missing a few smaller birds, but couldn't always hear the names of everything the others were calling out (woolly hat and anorak hood didn't help with hearing!) and many names I didn't recognise.
Hardly any raptors showed up. The odd marsh harrier and black kite (I was getting blase about those now) ... finally a red kite ... and someone spotted an osprey, but too far away for me to make out what it was. There was speculation of un blocage in Spain. Then, as the sun gained height and the air warmed up a tiny bit, flocks of alpine swifts began to come through. Followed by a red rumped swallow (some of these breed around the Laroque area, I was told). I only caught a fleeting glimpse of this, without binos. With the naked eye, its rump looked more white than red and I was struck by how it looked more like a house martin but with that long forked tail of a swallow.
Finally, it seemed there was more activity around us, but still very few raptors apart from kestrels and sparrowhawks. A small aeroplane didn't help matters - flying backwards and forwards low over the lagoon (mosquito-spraying) and putting up all the water birds. At one point, though, the sky turned pink again, as a a huge flock of flamingos took flight.
As I repeatedly scanned the mountains I occasionally heard the marsh harriers again - and then a very strange rattling sound, away to my right. For a moment I wasn't at all sure if it was a bird or something mechanical over by the houses and car park. I hesitated to ask anyone because no one else seemed to have noticed. And these guys miss nothing, so I was reluctant to make a fool of myself. A few minutes later, however, a biggish something flew into a bush only a few feet away. And rattled. Thirteen telescopes and one pair of binoculars turned, and focused on a great spotted cuckoo. I was the only person surprised by the sighting, and blamed my headgear for not picking up on conversation about it.
Kind of cuckoo shaped, but so much lovelier than our normal cuckoo. Between the size of a jay and a magpie, it has a long tail, white-spotted grey upperparts, white underparts, and a creamy neck and chin topped by a grey head with a slight crest. It perched there for some minutes, rattling, and posing for photographs (my camera was in my rucksack, and I didn't dare move), before flying to a tree a little further off - where there was another one! I knew these birds were supposed to be in our region, but had never seen one, so this impressive creature was truly the highlight of my morning.
Now my trip had been worthwhile and I could head back to the car. As I slid behind the wheel I glimpsed through the windscreen, in the distance, a couple of big raptors heading this way, teasing me to stay. Was one of them pale underneath? Booted eagle? Short-toed eagle? Osprey? Had the blocage unblocked? I was in two minds to return to the group but in the end the greater temptations of warmth and breakfast won.
Post-script: I should have stayed. All of those eagles - and another bonelli's - were to fly by later in the day.