I recently realised that despite calling ourselves "Mediterranean Pyrenees", we had so far said rather little about the sea or even the shore. Much of the latter is, of course, simply beach, that long sandy littoral of the Roussillon Plain, which might be assumed to have little or no wildlife interest. But in places along it, I have heard and occasionally seen the ringed plover, which lays its eggs almost anywhere along the edge of the beach. Where there are freshwater channels, they are slow and still, almost dammed by the wave-driven sands, and in such places I have heard, and again briefly, spied the common sand-piper - a good place to look for this attractive little wader might be the exit channel from the Étang I mentioned in an earlier blog. Their plaintive piping was always one of the confirming signs that spring had arrived in the Scottish Highlands, and I was pleased to hear one here in the first week of May; this should be too late for birds which would be migrating further north, and I presume that they must breed here.
I am not sure, however, whether I should apply that logic to another bird I saw that same day. On the water, you tend often just to see cormorants and gulls, and I am afraid that I must confess that I have rather little interest in gulls - (ok, so I'm shallow, sorry!) - but one rather strange "gull" caught my eye that very day, when it started to hover above the water. To my great delight, it was, of course, an osprey - sadly it caught no fish while I was watching it. Was this a very late migrant, perhaps a young one, a non-breeder, having a gap year around the Mediterranean, rather than in Scotland or Scandinavia? I have seen them before in this area, from the train as it heads north towards Montpellier, but this one does seem unexpectedly late.
That same day, in a number of places, I was delighted to see flocks of one of the birds with which I must confess to being obsessed - the bee-eaters! They can be so tricky to see properly, but on this occasion I had several good, if very quick views.
From the coast, more particularly from the higher Côte Vermeille we have seen significant gatherings of gulls, indulging in some sort of feeding-frenzy, which at the very least suggests there are quite a few fish on which to feed! We have only had, I think, six boat trips so far, which hardly makes us authorities on what there is out there, but it has been our impression that there are quite a few fish around. Apart from the feeding-frenzies just noted, the clear water in some of the bays has shown up some fish, (of species quite unknown to us!), and on one day last summer, we had regular sightings of one of the oddest creatures I have ever seen. It seemed to have a blunt, almost "flattened" body, with two prominent fins set far back, and was breaching regularly, managing to come quite a few feet out of the water. The National Geographic website suggests that these were sunfish, and remarks that they breach in this fashion to rid themselves of external parasites as they crash back into the water.
But one of our (potentially) most interesting sightings was from the shore - and a real lesson to me! We were in Collioure, on a lovely day, having a delightful lunch in the open - as one does! From our restaurant, we had a view out to sea, and at some stage during the meal, most of the diners became aware of activity out towards the eastern horizon. People stood up, pointed, said: "Dauphin!", and, right enough, some dark, big, sea-creatures were moving from north to south. They may well have been dolphins (but quite big ones if so), but we could not really tell. You see, there are certainly interesting creatures out there, but you see them better if your binoculars are around your neck - and not left in the car!