The Camargue is inseparably linked to horses and bulls. But birdwatchers can indulge themselves too! Thousands of birds call the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer their home. This birding park spreads over 60 hectares, hosting more than 200 bird species, and is open every day of the year. And you don’t have to be a birder to enjoy it.
I visited the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau in spring and was surprised to see the number of people that had the same idea. On a weekday! So, I can imagine it might get rather busy during weekends and holidays. That said, the best time to go is at the opening of the park or before sunset when the bird park is relatively calm. Once you’re in, you can walk around at your own pace until the sun sets, even with the reception closed. At the ‘buvette’, you can buy drinks and snacks while watching nesting birds. But you can also bring your own picnic to enjoy at one of the designated tables.
It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to visit the first part of the bird park. This loop of 2.6 kilometres will bring you through marshland via 10 numbered observation posts. The second part of 4.3 kilometres, with another 6 places of interest, is more spread out and therefore wilder. As you pass the entrance, you will find an information board. It shows what birds to spot where, plus an estimated number per species. During the first part of the walk, I mainly saw flamingoes. Maybe not all 850 of them (as mentioned on the information board at the entrance), but I had the feeling that I spotted at least half of them.
Unfortunately, I forgot my telephoto lens, so I tried to take pictures as best I could. Meanwhile, I slightly jealously peeked at the fully equipped people who came with big canons of lenses. Some of them even showed up in matching camouflage! However, at the Parc Ornithologique you can get quite close to some of the birds. So, even with a simple camera you can manage to get some great shots. Once I had spent some time at the bird park, I could distinguish more species. Besides the inevitable flamingoes, I also spotted storks, various herons, Mediterranean gulls, common stilts and more.
The Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau goes back a long way. In 1974, René Lamouroux took over the small zoo from his father André to protect nature in Camargue. Over the years, René transformed the nature park into what it is today. With René’s sons Vincent, Jérôme and Frédéric continuing his work since the 90s, the Parc Ornithologique is still a family business. Their efforts to raise awareness and educate the public about protecting the Camargue is admirable. After having explored the first part, I crossed the bridge to enter the more remote part of the park. And walking through the wild marshland made me realise the importance of the work of the Lamouroux family. Thanks to them, an important part of the Camargue is preserved and transferred to future generations.