We’ve stayed at Millau a couple of times before and always at the same campsite, Camping St. Lambert amongst trees beside a gentle bend in the river Dourbie. The Dourbie’s attraction for us is that it’s a good wildlife river, being non-navigable (other than by canoe) with wooded banks and the odd area of more rapid water. It flows into the better known river Tarn at Millau about a mile downstream of the campsite.
On our drive down through central France this time, we flirted with the idea of staying at one of another couple of campsites overlooking the Tarn itself. Francine was reading the write-ups and one mentioned “50 species of birds, and beavers in the river”. Beavers? Oh, how we chuckled. Some poor tourist had clearly seen a coypu, which we are very familiar with in France, and thought they were looking at a beaver. Similar, I suppose, if you look back at our coypu picture from day #1. Mirthful interlude over, we just headed for our same old campsite.
We’re early in the camping season and managed to snag one of the prized riverside pitches set in the river’s curve. Guillaume was soon installed and being entertained by his view across the river. A pair of Dippers is flying tirelessly up and down the river, one going downstream and one going upstream, both to different areas of tumbling water, gathering food from beneath the water for chicks in their nest on the opposite bank. Dippers are delightful, dumpy little birds that fly fast with frenetic wing beats just a few inches above the water. By the time any camera electronics have thought about focusing, they’re gone. We can see where their nest is but can’t see the nest itself.
One of the stars opposite Guillaume has to be the gaudily coloured Kingfisher. Occasionally we get treated to a flash of iridescent blue underscored with orange.
On the more mundane side, though still endearing, we have a Starling’s nest in the tree beside Guillaume. The youngster(s) have fledged but still sit chattering and whistling waiting to be fed.
So, when relaxing, here we sit watching for interest in and around the river. We were doing just that when Francine noticed the base of the trunk of one of the larger trees across the river. Here’s a shot of it – that is one seriously thick trunk. The only thing I know that does that kind of thing to a tree is a beaver. Strewth, the tourist had definitely not been confusing beavers with coypus! In front of the tree you can see what looks like the beavers’ access point into and out of the water.
We chatted to Thiery, our campsite proprietor, who confirmed the presence of castors [beavers] in the river. A little Internet research by Francine told us that the National Parks had made a few species reintroductions around the Gorge du Tarn, one of the most charismatic of which has to be the mighty Griffon Vulture, examples of which can be seen drifting serenely overhead on most days. Much less popular, with Thiery at least, has been the reintroduction of beavers. It seems the little rascals have been pinching logs out of Thiery’s winter fuel supply and worse, chewing their way through some of his rentable, wooden chalets on the site. Castor oil is one thing but at this rate, given the French approach to most animal nuisances, there could soon be a new line in castor pâté on sale.
About 20m to the right/downstream of that chewed tree, is a fallen tree over an untidy pile of sticks that we suspect constitutes the beavers’ lodge. That half-chewed tree must be 30m or more tall. When that tree comes down it’ll make one almighty mess, in all likelihood spanning the river.
Maybe we shouldn’t stay here too long. 😯