If there’s one show you shouldn’t miss in South Vendée Atlantic, it’s the arrival of the Eurasian cranes at the Nature Reserve. There’s nothing more magical than seeing this site burst into life with the dance and call of up to 600 cranes.

Some of us appreciate winter when the first snowflakes fall, the fire is alight and the Christmas preparations begin… For me, winter is special when I look up to see their majestic outlines as they soar on the wind. Listening carefully, I can recognise their strange call… No doubt about it, winter is here and, with it, the Eurasian Cranes are back! Eager to observe these extremely shy birds, I joined the tour guided by Katia Raimbault. She is an activity leader at the Michel Brosselin National Nature Reserve at Saint-Denis-du-Payré.

The majestic ballet of the cranes

At the end of the day we went to the observation post in the heart of the municipal marshes. Well hidden in this observatory installed at the edge of their tranquillity zone, we watched the unique spectacle of the cranes returning to roost. Accompanied by a common buzzard and a few tenants of the observatory, we waited in silence… As the sun slowly declined, the stunning spectacle of nature left us in awe.

Cry of the crane

Suddenly, their loud cry broke the silence as the horizon came to life with tens, no, hundreds of birds. It took a good half an hour for them to settle at their roosting place. We enjoyed an uninterrupted view of this enchanting spectacle enhanced by the sunset.

The crane tour was over. It was a feast for the eyes and a din for the ears… cranes are large wading birds and they’re noisy. I wanted to know more, to get closer, to touch and photograph them. Luckily, the Reserve was organising drawing and photography sessions for the following days. The perfect opportunity! But I couldn’t make up my mind, so I first signed up for a daybreak tour. After a night under the full moon, I was there in the subdued atmosphere of dawn to see the reserve and its inhabitants gently come to life.

Naturalist drawing workshop

In the end, I opted for the drawing session organised by Olivier Loir. I wanted to try drawing birds “in action”. So off I went, armed with binoculars, sketch pad and pencils!

The naturalist illustrator taught us to go beyond the details and capture shapes, to relax the wrist and let the pencil strokes flow. Indoors, each participant tried to sketch heads, postures and some of the details. We took the time to imagine our subjects and try to remember what to look out for first. Then it was time to put it into practice, in the field!

The wet prairies are a vast playground for many species. Today they were to be our models. Time seemed to stand still. The winter sun gently warmed their feathers. There were some common species easy to observe with the naked eye, like the widgeon, the common teal and the common shelduck. In the distance, black-tailed godwits explored on their elegant long legs, using their beaks to probe among the watergrass. Spoonbills, white storks and lapwings made the picture complete.

With our sketch books, we all settled in the observatory. The spotting scopes were an enormous help. We had to be quick and efficient because living birds don’t wait for you to finish your sketch before moving on!

At the end of the day we made our final modifications and added our touches of watercolour, in a studious but relaxed atmosphere. I now have a beautiful souvenir of my visit to the Reserve. After the magnificent performance of the cranes, I had some lovely sketches to show my friends.


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