Lac du Der
and its Common Cranes

Champagne Ardenne, France

Author & Photography : Ivan Steenkiste

Introduction

November 27, 2004 : My wife and I spent 4 days (Nov 23 - 26) at the Lac du Der to enjoy the daily coming and going of thousands of Common Cranes.  Their numbers are estimated to be around 14.000 (though higher numbers up to 70.000 were seen in October).  These days, the elegant birds leave their safe sleeping areas at the Lake at around 07:35 in order to fly to / find food in the surrounding fields and landscapes.  In the evening, they come back to the lake as of 15:30 in big V-shapes or long lines.  Their approach can be heard from very far and when one is posted on the dike at the West side, superb pictures can be made, filled with an orange coloured sky.

We stayed at the hotel Le Cheval Blanc in Giffaumont, at only 200 m from the lake (Family Gérardin, Rating Hotel **, Restaurant ***, tel 00 33 3 26 72 62 65).  It's central position is ideal for birdwatching / sport activities. In addition, the hotel offers excellent hospitality, very good food, a nice service and is cosy and clean.

We met several local birdwatchers such as Mr E. Le Roy, Mr B. Laurent, the Television Team of France 3 (at the Ferme aux Grues), and birders from the GD of Luxembourg, a.o. Mr T. Conzemius (LPO Luxembourg).

The key objective of the trip was to photograph the Common Cranes in their daily life at the Lac du Der, while on migration to the south.

Interesting sites

Observations

As said earlier, over 14.000 Common Cranes were accompanied by over 200 Greylag Geese, many Great Cormorants, several Great White Egrets.  Some Bewick Swans and a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers were also present along several hundreds of ducks.  South of the lake were about 100+ Curlews.  Among the passerines, lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches.  In the vicinity of woods, lots of Eurasian Jays, and close to the quiet little villages, some gangs of Rooks.  In the trees along small field roads, large groups of Fieldfares.  A quite interesting bird was the Great Grey Shrike that was present for some days between Braucourt and Champaubert (see picture below). Common Buzzards are very common in the fields on wooden posts.  In these fields, now and then, little groups of female / young deer showed up.

Among the colour-ringed Cranes, we observed three species at the Ferme aux Grues:

  1. Left : Blue-White-Blue; Right : White-Black-Yellow : a bird ringed in Germany, 2001

  2. Left : Blue-Red-Blue; Right : Red-White-Green : a bird ringed in Germany, 2001

  3. Left : Red-White-Red; Right : Red-Blue-Black : a bird ringed in Sweden.

Gallery - A Day in the Life of a Crane


The start of a wonderful, but cold day at 07:45 hours, minus 3 °C.
With the sun still below the horizon, the first Cranes leave the safe area of the lake

 


Hundreds of Cranes continue to take off while the sun makes its first appearances

 


... and the unique spectacle continues

 


Thousands of Cranes follow in search for food in the surrounding fields

 


Typical scenery in the Champagne area near Lac du Der

 


"La Ferme aux Grues" - an excellent observation post maintained by LPO Champagne Ardenne

 


Cranes land in front of the Ferme aux Grues

 


Cranes land in front of the Ferme aux Grues,

 


this one with lots of mud from another field

 


Others depart to other fields in the region, it's a continued coming and going

 


Everywhere, groups of 100+ birds gather

 


while others benefit of the weak sunshine which is most welcome after a quite cold night

 


Families of parents with one or two juveniles are very common

 


the proud father of the family

 


here a parent and its juvenile

 


With plenty of food, the Cranes build up new reserves to ensure their continued flight to the South

 


while Blackbirds enjoy plenty of berries

 


Deer come out of the woods to find some food

 


and other visitors in the fields are these majestic Buzzards

 


Beautiful colours remember that Fall is well under way in the region,

 


while in the woods, plenty of Buzzards look for prey

 


This Great Grey Shrike was THE visitor of the moment near the small church of Champaubert

 


Some deer are not too anxious since we are no hunters

 


At around 15:30, the first Cranes come back to the Lake to find protection.
The lengthening November shadows give depth of field to the panorama

 


A family (2 parents protecting their juvenile in the middle) fly over the dike towards the lake while the sun spreads out its orange colors

 

 


Others come from further distances but reach the lake well in time before complete darkness fills the skies

 

 


others come from further distances but reach the lake well in time before darkness

 


Finally, the last ones come into the lake while the moon is already spreading its weak light over the Champagne area, announcing the imminent start of another cold night

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