Bird watching in Champagne-Ardenne

Champagne ArdenneBird Watching at the Der in Champagne

29th May 2015

France’s famous wine region is now encouraging visitors to head to its great lakes in the centre of the region to observe spectacular displays of birds and to enjoy outdoor activities.  Common Cranes, Greylag Geese, White Fronted and Bean Geese, White Tailed Eagles, Whooper and Bewick’s Swans, Goldeneyes and many other species of migrating birds can be observed.

The most famous of all is the Common Crane, which, whilst rare to spot in the UK, stops off in tens of thousands in Champagne. These elegant birds come in to rest at the great lakes en route from their nesting grounds in Scandinavia to overwinter in the warmer climes of Spain. In Autumn and early Spring, the sight, sound and sheer quantity of cranes leaving and arriving here is truly spectacular.

The largest of the Champagne lakes is the Lac du Der with 4800 ha of water and 77 km of shoreline. In the Der area, there are over 300 species of bird (some of which are rare and endangered), 40 species of mammals, 45 varieties of dragonflies, 20 kinds of amphibians and more than 200 different plants.  Lac du Der has been listed as a wildlife reserve since 1978, and is one of the most important sites in France for birdwatching, attracting specialists from all over the world.

Five easily accessible observation points have been built by and around the lake for visitors to observe the wildlife. In addition, 4 small hides located in the middle of one of the main feeding areas for the cranes (la Ferme aux Grues) can be rented by the day for close up observation. The hides are managed by the local Bird Protection Society, ‘La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux – LPO’.

A casino opened at the leisure and water sports base in Giffaumont in late 2014. In addition to the gaming room, this new complex includes a restaurant and bar open 7 days a week all year round.

Because the River Marne can sometimes be extraordinarily unpredictable, it was decided to build a reservoir dam called the Lac du Der, named after the many oak trees in the area – ‘dervos’ meant “oak” in Celtic.  This gigantic building project was completed in 1974 and gave rise to one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe.   When the Marne is in flood, water is diverted into the lake and stored there.  When the river is low, lake water is sent back into the Marne.  By these actions Paris is protected from flood surges and the river level is maintained at a depth suitable for pleasure boats and commercial traffic all year round, whilst the level of water in the lake rises and falls accordingly. It is due to the low levels of water in the lake between Autumn and early Spring, allowing mud flats to appear in the centre, along with grain to be found in the surrounding fields, that the Der is such an attractive resting ground for the cranes and other migrating birds.

Around 30 km from the Der, the vineyards to the north-east of Vitry-le-François are known as the ‘Coteaux Vitryats'; this lesser known area of the champagne appellation has recently started opening its doors to visitors. Located between Châlons-en-Champagne, gateway to this corner of France, and the Lac Du Der, a visit to one of the local champagne producers here is an added bonus to nature lovers drawn by the wildlife and tranquillity of the lake.

The Vitryat vineyard route winds its way for 60 km around hills, slopes and plains, joining up 19 small champagne villages around the town of Vitry. English speaking champagne producers here include Adrien Sebille of Champagne Didier Sebille in Bassu who is proudly continuing the traditions of this father whilst adding a modern touch of this own.

Hotels and chambres d’hôtes are plentiful and the town of Chalôns-en-Champagne and Vitry-le-François make good bases for exploration.  Eurostar and The TGV from Paris enable visitors to travel to the Der region in around 5 hours and it’s within 4 hours drive of the channel ports.  Local tourist offices can supply useful literature and maps, suggest the best observation spots and even provide guides.


Issued on behalf of Champagne- Ardenne Regional Tourist Board.


For further information please contact  tel. 020 8614 1449

Posted from London, England, United Kingdom.

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