Sunday we spent the day at Camargue National Park. Most of our time was spent hiking in a bird sanctuary within the park. This is home to thousands of flamingos and hundreds of other types of water birds as well as the wild Camargue horses and bulls used in local bullfights.
The Camargue is a huge saltwater estuary at the mouth of the Rhone River. The river forms the eastern border of the Camargue which is a vast network of shallow ponds that flood with saltwater at high tide. There are few trees, rather it is a plain of waving grasses and bird-filled ponds.
Flamingos are the star attraction. Having never seen them in the wild we didn’t quite know what to expect. They are colorful, agile acrobats that could fit right into the Cirque du Soleil. When moving from one location to another the flocks frequently walk slowly in single file, creating a long parade of pink strutters. There are so many birds that the water looks pink from their reflections.
Herons, bitterns, egrets, ducks and other birds round out the show. There are hundreds of them and they all seem to be oblivious to the people hiking by, looking through spotting scopes, and taking pictures. No one feeds these birds! They are wild and the park wants to keep them that way.
Another curiosity is the European beaver. It looks a bit like a North American beaver, but is smaller and does not have a flat tail. The front incisors are big and red. However, these beavers do not gnaw at trees or build dams. I don’t know why they need such big teeth.
Of course the horses are another attraction. A small band of horses live in the bird sanctuary. We spotted them from a distance. Camargue horses are smaller than a standard bred horse. Most of them are white, but there are grey variations as well. There are dozens of horseback riding places around the Camargue and we encountered many groups of helmeted riders when we drove the back roads after leaving the sanctuary.