There is no better way to discover the splendors of the Cote d’Azur (indeed of all France) than in the annual Fete de la Nature which aims to get people away from their screens and into their natural environment. Local naturalist associations and the system of national and regional parks are mobilized to provide expert guidance on all facets of the environment with particular emphasis on local flora and fauna. All events are free but with obligatory advance registration.
In the Roya Valley near Nice, the events were spearheaded by the Parc National du Mercantour which also organized a dozen different outings and programs throughout the region covered by the Mercantour National Park. The two that I attended this past weekend were fascinating and well-executed.
Saturday began in the perched village of Saorge where two nature walks were proposed: one on medicinal plants and the other on local bird life. Local naturalist and mountain guide Rene Bouyal led the plant excursion. I followed Mercantour park ranger and naturalist, Jean-Marie Cevasco, to discover the local bird life. Although the idea was to listen to and distinguish various bird cries, in practice, there was a relaxed overlap. The terrain around Saorge is known for its incredible variety of orchids which happened to be in full bloom. On the way to “bird stations”, I was delighted to get the lowdown on orchids and various other flowers and plants. Not that the birds were neglected! In addition to directing our careful listening to the local birds, Mr. Cevasco had brought along recordings of various bird calls which helped tune my ears. By the end of the day I was pretty sure I could distinguish between a warbler and a wren but I wasn’t sure.
Fortunately, I had an opportunity to review on Sunday when another bird walk launched from Col de Brouis outside Breil-sur-Roya. This time it was park ranger, naturalist and bird expert Laurent Zimmermann who led the way. Our group was small but passionate and we were rewarded by rather noisy birds that seemed to turn up the audio just for us! Mr. Zimmermann had brought along a bird guide and carefully pointed out pictures of the birds we were listening to. He had an extraordinary depth of knowledge about all aspects of bird life; one got the impression there wasn’t a question on the subject he couldn’t answer.
If the idea behind the Fete de la Nature is to sensitize people to their environment, it certainly worked for me. Although I’ve been hiking in the Roya Valley for nearly ten years, I’d never much gotten beyond the spectacular mountain vistas and tasty river trout. Sorting out the innumerable varieties of plants, flowers, birds, trees, insects and animals seemed such a vast and confusing project, I kept putting it off for another day. I’m glad that day arrived because I found that watching and listening more attentively creates a more intimate and rewarding experience of the mountains. It’s also focused my attention on preserving the local flora and fauna. For more, see the diverse protection programs of the Mercantour National Park and the Conservatoire d’espaces Naturels Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur.