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Archive for the 'Hiking/Day Trips' Category

Flamingos and bird-filled marshes in southern France

Friday, March 17th, 2017

This title might sound like some eco-fantasy since the French are historically known for making delicacies out of various wild bird species but it’s as true as baguettes in a Parisian bakery. The bird-rich marshes of the Camargue in the southern part of the country amply demonstrate that conservation of wildlife has come a long way in France. The “Camargue” is the name given to the large and unique delta of the Rhone River. Wetlands, stony plains, and open, Mediterranean scrub provide a rich mix of habitats for several animal and plant species that don’t occur anywhere else in France.

Flamingos are common and easy to watch as they quickly stomp their feet in shallow, brackish waters of this national preserve. Hundreds and hundreds of gulls, terns, plovers, ducks, egrets, herons, and Marsh Harriers also thrive in the extensive reedbeds and shallow pools. Colorful Bee-eaters, Eurasian Rollers (a strange, open country bird dressed in different shades of blue), and Hoopoes (an even more strange pink and black bird with a thin, downcurved bill) are frequently seen in the area of the reserve, and semi-wild, black Bulls plow their way through the marshy landscape.

Other aquatic birds such as White Storks and stilts also hang out at the visitor center located just outside of the small, seaside village of Saint Marie de la Mer. This is also an excellent stop for learning more about the history and importance of this reserve. Other benefits of visiting France on an eco-vacation can also be enjoyed in the village in the form of fantastic Provencal cuisine but don’t expect to find wild birds on any of the menus; that practice was outlawed some years ago.

Further afield, the old Roman town and Van Gogh hangout of Arles appeals to the artistically oriented eco-traveler, whereas scrubby, fragrant hills around the old fortress town of Les Baux are a great place to go hiking and birdwatching.

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Gibbons, wild Asian Elephants, and porcupines in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Tourists take trips to Yellowstone National Park in the United States for exciting encounters with wildlife, to African parks such as Serengeti, Masai Mara, and Kruger for incredible safaris, and to Khao Yai in Thailand to see large Asian mammals.

Only a two hour drive from massive and congested Bangkok, residents of the Thai capital do weekend trips to Khao Yai to see wildlife and get back in touch with nature. The tropical forests and grasslands of this national park cover a large enough area to provide forage and shelter for such big, charismatic fauna as Asian Elephants, Sambar Deer, Gaur (a rare, wild, Asian Ox), two species of bears, Gibbons, Macaques, and even a few Tigers.

Because much of the park is dense, tropical forest, the large animals of Khao Yai aren’t as easy to see as mammals in parks with wide open plains, but they are seen often enough to make this the most popular and heavily visited park in Thailand. This turns the campgrounds into veritable Thai jamborees each and every weekend but that doesn’t seem to reduce sightings of wild (and dangerous) Asian Elephants, semi tame and larcenous Lion-tailed Macaques, long-armed gibbons that hoot from the trees, massive, prehistoric-looking Great Hornbills (kind of like a giant, bizarre, old-world toucan), and plenty of beautiful Sambar Deer.

Visitors to the park who explore with an experienced, local guide are likely to see even more, especially if they go searching for animals at night. Tigers are pretty rare and avoid the limelight but elephants are just too big to hide. Other than the macaques and a variety of exotic, tropical Asian birds, some of the easiest animals to see are the large porcupines that visit the campgrounds at night. Covered in long quills that they rattle while walking among the tents, it can be disconcerting to see one of these dog-sized creatures stumbling around while walking to the restrooms but as long as you keep your distance, hopefully they will too (at least they aren’t carnivorous).

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