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Birding Africa pt. 1 - Via France

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, September 30, 2013 

When we decided to go to Africa we looked at a number of options for getting there.  None were too appealing.  It was either a 4 hour flight to Atlanta, with a layover and a 16 hour flight to Johannesburg.  Or a number of options involving flights to New York or Washington DC, followed by jumps to either Europe, the Middle East, or northwest Africa, and then onto Johannesburg.  What we decided upon was a red-eye to Paris direct form Salt Lake, followed by a couple days rest in Paris, and then another red-eye to Johannesburg.  The plus side is we wouldn’t lose any days to travel, meaning our time on the ground could be used to do everything we wanted.

Sunrise at 39,000' over the North Atlantic

So let’s get right to the point, and start things off in France…

Just Arrived in Paris... and exhausted

10 hour flight from Salt Lake city and we’re on the ground and headed into downtown Paris in the midst of a downpour there were few birds.  The first of note was a ROOK flyover on the highway, followed by numerous CARRION CROWS--the most abundant species I saw in France, aside from what I am now calling the “common three”--European Starling, House Sparrow, and Rock Pigeon.

Carrion Crows were the most common species aside from the "common three"

As we wove through the tiny streets, I couldn’t have told you where we were, until a block from our hotel, when I spied the Eiffel Tower between a couple buildings.  We checked in and went to our rooms for a much needed nap--but not before I glimpsed the pigeons across the alley from us--my lifer STOCK PIGEONS, and my favorite bird from France, the COMMON WOOD PIGEON.

Common Wood-Pigeon are a good looking bird.

The Eiffel Tower in the clouds our first night in Paris.

To be blunt, the bird life in Paris sucked.  It was basically non-existent.  Aside from the common three and a handful of other common species there were few birds despite what seemed like ample habitat.  What few birds were present were easy to pick out.

Basic plumage Black-headed Gull on the Seine River.

The BLACK-HEADED GULLS were a constant up and down the Seine River.  A EURASIAN HOBBY flyover was the only raptor seen, and a GREAT CORMORANT flyby was the only waterbird/diver seen.

This flyover Eurasian Hobby at the Eiffel Tower was the only raptor I saw in France.

I did snag both EURASIAN COOT and EURASIAN MOORHEN--the coots were in the ponds beneath the Eiffel Tower, while the Moorhen was in a tiny 10’ long by 3’ wide water feature at the Jardin Des Plantes (Botanical Gardens).

On our second morning we took a short walk along the river to see the miniature Statue of Liberty, and added EURASIAN BLUE TIT and my first ever wagtail, in several GRAY WAGTAILS.

Eurasian Blue Tit were easy to find, sounding just like BC Chickadees.

Gray Wagtails were super skittish along the Seine River.

We took the Batobus water taxi to the Jardin Des Plantes where I thought for sure the birding would be good--I was wrong.  One EURASIAN ROBIN, 3 EURASIAN BLACKBIRDS, a lone ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET, and several EURASIAN GOLDFINCHES were about it.

Eurasian Robin, looking rather ragged at the Jardin des Plantes.

Eurasian Blackbird--is actually a thrush, and quite common at the Jardin des Plantes.

Over the 2 ½ days in Paris I saw just 18 species of life birds out of between 50-60 that were possible and listed as common.  It just isn’t a birders city I guess.

Paris is well worth a visit for the Eiffel Tower...

The best Crepes in the world (next to the Merry-Go-Rounds at the Eiffel Tower)...

So you can say you've seen the Mona Lisa...

and to spend time in the "City of Love" with your love.

Leaving France was a bit of a nightmare.  The people at Air France in the Airport were to be blunt again, a-holes.  In general there seemed to be quite a bit of attitude from Parisians towards the obvious Americans we are--aside from a few very nice people we met. Once we finally made it off the ground ($140 more on top of what we already paid for our tickets, because Air France limits your carry on weight and we had to check an extra bag) the flight crew was awful, and the 9.5 hour flight couldn’t get over quickly enough.  I was glad to be done with France and onto something truly exciting--perhaps even life changing--AFRICA!

The Arc de Triomphe was also pretty cool...

18 life birds in France / 18 total trip life birds / 24 total trip species

photos from birding in France can be viewed at:
Birding Paris, France on TimAveryBirding.com

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Blogger Jennifer Bunker said...

Nice and looks fun! I also remember the folks in France to be, shall we say, less than friendly. I remember, too, the lack of animals in Paris proper was quite profound.

One question for you. Do all of those birds have "Eurasian" officially appended to the front of their names, or are you appending so we know the difference? Do people walk around saying, "Look! There;s a Eurasian Blackbird!" Or, do they just say "Blackbird?" Sorry for the dumb question. Enjoy your trip to Africa!

September 30, 2013 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Rick Wright said...

The 'locals' say "merle" or "merle noir" -- they speak French there. Brits tend to just say "blackbird."
Stock dove is quite unexpected in urban Paris. Nice find!
There are actually lots of birds in Paris, if you hit the right places. That said, this isn't the best time of year there.
Looking forward to hearing about Africa--have fun!

September 30, 2013 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...


Those are the actual names. And it looks like Rich has the inside scoop.


Thanks for the clarification. I'll have to go back and look at my bad shots of the dove. There 4 Wood Pigeons, and one smaller dove on some bricks across the alley from us. It was like a Rock Pigeon, but "cleaner" looking with a light bill and a dark patch on the back of the neck. I assumed it was a Stock Dove, but might have goofed it.

I figured the timing was the main reason, being late August, I assumed most of the breeders had already headed south. I however would have expected more of the resident species--or should I say, more abundance at least. Given the amount of green space and habitat, the locations that seemed ideal for birds didn't impress...

Now Africa--that was impressive!

September 30, 2013 at 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Amy Haran said...

Finally catching up on your African adventures. My lifelong dream trip is an African safari (planning on Zambia), so it's going to be fun to read up on your trip. I've wondered about flying to Africa through Paris, now that Delta in SLC has a direct flight. But having just experienced Charles de Gualle AND absolutely horrid service from Air France on a business trip, I'm now reconsidering. While I'm sad to hear you had a similar experience, it's good to know for future planning.

October 11, 2013 at 3:38 PM  

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