Bird Spotting and the Pink Granite Coast

Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

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Flag of France  , Brittany,
Saturday, May 18, 2013

We got up early and drove for about an hour to Perros-Guirec. We walked down to the boat company's building and asked if there was still space for the 9:45 trip out to the island. She said that she would put our name down and to check back in 20 minutes to see if there were enough people signed up to make the trip happen. We walked back to the car and made a cup of tea for the travel mug, knowing that we would probably be glad for it out on the boat. We also put on a few more layers and grabbed our toques & gloves just in case. We headed back to the boat and she said the trip was set to go.

The Seven Islands are just off the coast of Perros-Guirec and are an important nature reserve. There are actually only five islands, but when they were discovered, they mistranslated the name of the islands from Breton to seven. Instead of re-naming them in their books, they just looked for two more "islands" to add to the archipelago – they are really just larger piles of rocks, but oh well. We set off on the boat with maybe twenty others which was great. It meant that we could move around quite freely on the boat without being in someone’s way or losing our seats. There were three outdoor areas where passengers could watch from: in the bow, stern or on the upper deck. We chose the upper deck since we figured we wouldn’t have as much boat in the way of our viewing. There was also indoor seating in case it was too cold or wet, but luckily we were dry the whole time.

We headed straight out to one of the islands and that was the coldest part since the boat was going fairly quickly and the wind just blew right through you. We were there in 15 minutes and the guide came upstairs with a mike to tell us where to look for the birds and a bit about them. The first island had a colony of gannets on it, the only one in France and the most southernmost in the world. There were 21,880 couples on the one island, which is a lot of birds! It was nesting season so many of them were sitting on their nests.  We learned that gannets mate for life, return to the same nest every year and only lay one egg per year. They eat about 500 g of fish per day which when multiplied by over 42,000 birds is a lot of fish. However, they can fly several hundred kilometres in one day and can go as far as the south of England to find food. It was certainly and active colony with birds flying overhead, fishing and swimming around.

After viewing the gannets, we headed along the shore to another area where other birds are known to nest. We were in luck! We spotted several puffins which was definitely a highlight since we’ve never seen them in the wild and have always wanted to spot them. There are 175 couples on the island; puffins used to be so populous that they were hunted until their numbers dropped so low that hunting was banned in 1912. Imagine hunting a puffin! They are beautiful birds and we switched off between watching them through the binoculars and taking photos. We also saw a nice group of guillemots of which there are only 36 couples. Another rare sight was the razorbill which was sitting on a rock beside the guillemots. There are only 32 couples left on the islands. The guide said that we were quite lucky to have seen all three of these for such a good amount of time since they are often not so cooperative. They said several times that you are never quite sure what you will see since it isn’t a zoo; often the birds are disturbed by others passing by in kayaks or other boats so they might not be there when they come through. We saw a European Shag which is a type of cormorant, but different from the cormorant we see at home. This one grows a special feather on its head during mating season (to attract the female) and then loses it afterwards.

We continued on past a few more islands and spotted a gray seal, which most of the other tourists were very excited about, more so than when we spotted the puffins. We were not so excited since we have had excellent seal spotting on DeCourcy, and one perched on a rock off in the distance was not a particularly thrilling site compared to that! There are only 30 seals in the archipelago though so you aren’t guaranteed to see them either.

We stopped off at the Óle aux moines (Monk’s island), so named because they had settled there in the 15th century. The guide said that they were monks who wished to be as unhappy as possible on earth to be happier in heaven. They didn’t stay long on the island since conditions were very harsh and they were poor sailors, losing many ships when they sailed from the island. After the monks came the pirates and then soldiers to fight against piracy and smuggling. We got off the boat and were given 45 minutes of exploration time. There was a lighthouse at the top and the remains of an old fort and/or remains of the walls from when the monks lived there. The wildflowers were amazing and the views from the top were great.

After our stopover we headed back along the coast to learn about the pink granite coast. It stretches for 10 kilometres and is a beautiful coastline of pink boulders in neat formations. The tide was right so we cruised in to one of the harbours which had beautiful rocks all around. There were red and green posts marking the channel where the boats should go, but the colours were reversed from what they would have been at home. We saw the house where Eiffel used to come on vacation, lighthouses and a chateau. It was a beautiful boat ride and the guide pointed out the usual, and not so usual formations. We saw the witch, Napoleon’s hat and the wine bottle tipped on its side. We were so glad that we had decided to take the trip and the 2.5 hours we were exploring and bird-spotting were beautiful and sunny!

We then decided to pack up a bit of a lunch and drive over to the parking lot where there was access to the old customs officer’s trail. We enjoyed our quick lunch with nice views of the ocean before setting off on the trail. We walked the couple of kilometres to the next town over along the beautiful coast. There were lots of paths out to the rocks which had been roped off to protect the natural landscape; you could see the difference since they introduced “official” paths because the bushes and wildflowers have grown back in the areas which had been so well trodden before. There were still lots of areas to explore and you could clamber all over the rocks. It was an amazing walk and we enjoyed being out in the sun.

After our walk we drove to camp a few kilometres away. It had direct access to the beach and we had a great view right from our campsite. Brittany campsites definitely win the award for best views from camp! We did some laundry since it was so nice and sunny and had dinner outside while enjoying the view. The tide was out quite far when we arrived in camp but by the time we went to bed it was right up near the campsite. You would definitely have to pay attention if you were out wandering on the sand or you might have to go the long way around back to camp.
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