Birdwatching in the Brenne, France

Most people speak about the lakes of the Brenne. But these waters must actually be called ponds. In 900 years the monks built more than 3.000 ponds in this exciting region in the centre of France.

Regional Natural Park of the Brenne is one of the best areas in France for birdwatchers. The area is dotted with thousands of small lakes that attract a lot of songbirds and waterbirds. The landscape is varied: pastures, forests and marshes alternate. Hawthorn hedges define meadows and roads, interspersed with old oak trees and bushes.

The Brenne is located about two hundred kilometers below Orléans. Birders who want to observe many species in short time, should definitely visit the Brenne. We visited the Brenne for three years in the first week of May. The songbirds return in this period, every dag I saw new birds ‘invade’. I think the last two weeks of May are the best weeks for birdwatching in the Brenne. Then really all birds are back and they are busy defending their territory. If you go a bit earlier (because of the school holidays, for example), you should have luck to sea Eurasian Hoopoe or Bee-eater. We have seen the Eurasian Hoopoe all three holidays; the Bee-eater only the last holiday. It all depends on the weather. Beautiful weather in April and May: many birds. Bad bad weather in this period: fewer birds.

Bird species in the Brenne in general

Because the landscape in the Brenne is small-scale and extremely varied, you can see many different species. The Eurasian Hoopoe and Bee-eater I mentioned above breed in the area. Heron colonies are found in a number of marshes. In the marshes you find species such as Night Heron, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Little Egret and Cattle Egret breeding. Little Bittern and Squacco Heron are also breeding but are rare. Great Egret is wading in the marshes but not breeding in the Brenne (yet).

The bushes are full of songbirds like Nightingale, European Stonechat, Melodious Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Eurasian Blackcap and Rock Bunting.

Special attention to the European Stonechat. You can observe this bird everywhere in the Brenne. You rightly associate the Brenne with waterfowl as Purple Heron, Night Heron, Little Bittern and Whiskered Tern, but actually the European Stonechat should be in the logo of the Brenne. You will find this beautiful bird along every road.

Area one: Bellebouche

At Bellebouche you observe a heron colony. A birdwatching hut gives an exciting panorama. Bellebouche is definitely a site you should visit in spring. There are three cabins that offer a splendid view over the marshes and lakes. Outside the birdwatching hut we found hazelworm. Frogs swarm everywhere. In the meantime you hear Nightingale, Eurasian Blackcap, Melodious Warbler and Bonelli`s Warbler.

Area two: Les Étang Foucault

Near the small town of Rosnay a military zone is situated where it is absolutely prohibited to take pictures. Do not challenge the French police! By the way, the masts on the site are the highest constructions in France. The masts are at least 352m high and the middle one is even 20m higher. You better look to the left for Les Étangs Foucault. This is a vast lake and swamp area. You can not enter the unpaved roads along the D15 (one time we were sent away by the people of the park), but if you want to see Whiskered Tern, Cattle Egret, Black-winged Stilt or Short-toed Snake Eagle you should absolutely visit this site. I advise you to visit this part of the Brenne by bike. Park your bike in the bushes, invisible for rangers and walk to the marshes and the swamps.

Do not forget to watch into the bushes. Here, you certainly find tree frogs resting on the branches. On the north side of Les Étangs Foucault you find two birdwatching huts. The hut at Le Blizon (Étang Massé) offers a view over a huge heron colony. It is a marvellous hut you certainly should visit. I notice you need a telescope to observe the heron colony.

Area three: Maison du Parc

Maison du Parc is located northwest of the town of Rosnay. I advise you to visit this Maison on the first day of your stay in the area. Besides being able to eat delicious crêpes, you can also get practical information about the Brenne. Maison du Parc is also the starting point for a number of hiking routes along meadows, forests and lakes. In this area I saw Little Grebe, Eurasian Hoopoe, Western Green Lizard, many many tree frogs and Night Heron. If you visit this place with children, take a scoop net. Let them fish for frogs in the lake near the Maison.

Area four: Saint-Michel-en-Brenne

The Reserve Chérine in Saint-Michel-en-Brenne is a magnificent area with several birdwatching huts. The reserve has increased in recent years due to various purchases. New huts have been added. In this area you find long hiking trails. I observed birds like Cetti`s Warbler, Black-winged Stilt and Black-necked Grebe. On the stumps in the water, European terrapins are sunbathing. Choose a walk through one of the more remote forests. You will certainly make surprising observations. If you are lucky, red deer will suddenly run away, because the whole Brenne is full of mammals such as hare, roe deer, red deer, wild boar and (in the marshes) the huge beaver rats. The famous hut at Étang de la Sous is also in this area. Here you will regularly find bird photographers in spring who begging for a picture of Little Bittern, Red-crested Pochard, Osprey or Great Reed Warbler.

Area five: Migné and surroundings

An area that receives less attention is the area around the village of Migné. We too discovered the potention of this area too late. However, I advise you to visit this area. Nowhere else I saw numbers of Cirl Bunting and Rock Bunting as between Migné and Saint-Gaultier. Here to, many ponds are waiting for your visit.

Drive down the D46 and check out the lakes. At La Drouille there is a noisy heron colony where Night Heron, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Egret do nest. Meanwhile, Little Grebe defend its territory and Kingfishers hunt at the borders. European Turtle Dove  sit on the electricity poles along the road.

Between Migné and Rosnay is a reserve that is managed by hunters. They only show their skills in autumn, in spring you do not suffer from them. A bird house offers views over marsh and lake. Whiskered Tern, Purple Heron, Black-necked Grebe, European Stonechat, Red-backed Shrike and Common Whitethroat can almost certainly be seen here. You also have a reasonable chance to see the Woodchat Shrike from the hut.

Area six: Scoury and surroundings

Another unknown area you certainly should visit: Scoury and surroundings.

We have stayed three times in one of the charming holiday homes at Chateau Pellebuzan near Scoury.

Only at the domain of Chateau Pellebuzan you can indulge yourself. Eurasian Hoopoe breed at the domain and species like Black Woodpecker, Black Redstart, Woodlark, Spotted Flycatcher and Eurasian Golden Oriole. In the evening Grey Wagtail hunts on the access road for insects. You will hear Barn Owl in the evening, because it is breeding in one of the buildings.

Leaving the domain is even a bigger surprise. Countless Nighingale sing and breed in the bushes. You will see Melodious Warbler, Dunnock, Eurasian Blackcap  and Cirl Bunting too. Move cautiously through the area, otherwise you will speed up the Red-legged Partridge and Grey Partridge too quickly. In the evening light, Montagu`s Harrier and Black Kite hunt in the fields.

In the lakes and ponds it is always party! You can see Purple Heron, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Night Heron and Great Egret. Kingfisher breeds in the river La Creuse down in the valley. It flies over the Chateau numerous times to hunt in one of the lakes. Walk all the way out of the path to the Chateau and do not worry too much about the prohibition signs. In the bushes in the middle of the meadows Rock Bunting breeds. Cuckoo can also be seen and heard well. In dusk go out for a small walk to the first lake on your left. You will be surprised by a frog choir. The Grasshopper also breeds in this nice swamp.

In order to observe the birds in the surroundings of Scoury (and everywhere of course) I recommend to buy birdseed. Spread it out on the hiking trails. It attracts a multitude of birds, including (red) partridge.

By the way: in winter, thousands of Cranes are living in the Brenne.

Just outside Scoury you will find one of the most beautiful attractions in the Brenne: a colony of Bee-Eater houses every year in the banks of the river La Creuse. You can view them from the other side of the river. Preferably in the morning.

Practical information about birdwatching in the Brenne

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The information above describes the Brenne north of the D951 or better: north of the river Creuse. But the region south of the river is also very interesting. The landscape changes from sloping to hilly. Another biotope, other birds. Geert Engels, IVN Nature Guide and living in the Brenne for many years, wrote a very informative article about the Brenne southwest. I advise you to read this article too.

In Maison du Parc at Rosnay and Maison de la Nature at Saint-Michel-en-Brenne you can get practical information about the Brenne. Here, the rare observations in the area are also reported. A visit at the beginning of your stay is really a must.

Hiking routes have been mapped out throughout the area. You can walk for miles without meeting anyone. It is really quiet in the Brenne. No mass tourism here!

Prepare your visit

If you want to prepare your visit to the Brenne well, get a good bird tour guide. Personally, I highly recommend two guides: Loire Valley – nature guide France. This guide also provides a number of walking, cycling and car routes through the Brenne. And secondly: A Birdwatching Guide to France South of the Loire Including Corsica. This guide offers a comprehensive description of the sites in the Brenne and the birds you can observe there. An excellent bird watching guide for Europe is Birds of Europe. The best guide at this moment.