Another long hop (for us heading south) of 300 miles-ish from La Brenne to Millau, home of the magnificent Norman Foster designed viaduct. Apparently, Norman Foster also designed that so-called Gherkin building in London but everyone has their off days. The elegant Millau viaduct, on the other hand, is worth a trip all by itself. This time, however, we just wanted an interesting intermediate stop on our way to Les Alpilles at the western end of Provence.
Millau is surrounded by gorges and cliffs. The main river flowing through it is the Tarn which has cut it’s impressive Gorges du Tarn to the north-east. We headed for our favoured Millau campsite, which stands on the lesser river Dourbie with its smaller but nonetheless picturesque Canyon de la Dourbie to the east. We checked in and found a very pleasant river-side pitch away from the press of Dutch crowded around the only open sanitaire block.
The rivers and gorges around Millau attract wildlife. Not long after we had pitched up, one of the more endearing smaller winged residents captured our attention. Once you’ve heard the “peep” call, you know a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) isn’t far away and, sure enough, we saw the tell-tale blue iridescent flash as the little darling shot up the river to one of its favoured perches. [And before anyone asks, no I didn’t get a picture of it, malheureusement. What do you think I am, a professional?] Sadly, our Collins Guide doesn’t actually mention the wingspan of a Kingfisher, only its length (17cms/7ins of which 4cms/2ins are the beak). So, I’ll estimate its wingspan at 20cms/8ins.
Later in the afternoon, almost as large and impressive as Millau’s viaduct, what must be the area’s largest winged inhabitant put in an appearance. Judging by the reaction of the other bird life where it flew, I suspect it wished it had appeared somewhere else. This apparition was an awe-inspiring Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). If you look at the distribution map in Collins, it doesn’t occur here but I can assure it does, and in quite large numbers. It was re-introduced together with some legal changes allowing carcasses to be left on which it could feed. This bird is massive, the 380 airbus of the European avian world, dwarfing even the larger eagles. Collins does quote the Griffon Vulture’s wingspan (WS) – nothing like a bit of consistency, is there? – at 2.6m/9ft. This bird doesn’t actually have wings so much as two bionic barn doors grafted to it’s fuselage. Thus, Collins really should quote its Barn Door Span (BDS). It’s still a huge 2.6m however you look at it which makes it about 130 times as large as the diminutive but utterly endearing Kingfisher.
This particular vulture was a little unhappy because it was being harried by two Carrion Crows. The crows, not particularly small birds themselves, were flying side by side and together did not quite match the span of just one of the Griffon Vulture’s barn doors. As the vulture tried to manoeuvre to elude its attackers, the resultant aerial display reminded me of the Battle of Britain Flight, the Lancaster bomber lumbering around accompanied by its attendant lithe and agile Hurricane and Spitfire fighter duo. [And before anyone asks, no I didn’t get a picture of it, malheureusement. What do you think I am, a professional?]