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Sea birds blown off course and into south west France by storm

Storm Domingos also caused significant damage to the Banc d'Arguin nature reserve

Storm Domingos caused damage to the sands of the Banc d’Arguin but also brought sea birds including Red phalaropes (bottom right) and Arctic terns (top right) to the shore Pic: Agami Photo Agency / Francois BOIZOT / Piotr Poznan / Shutterstock

Rangers in a national park in south west France say Storm Domingos carried sea birds there from thousands of kilometres away. 

These include migratory Arctic term and the Red phalarope, blown to shore from the Atlantic.

However, the storm also caused significant damage to the Réserve Naturelle Nationale du Banc d'Arguin nature reserve in Gironde, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, which is formed around a tidal basin. 

The park covers 4,360 hectares, most of which is beach, sand dunes, sea channels and sand islands, providing a home to many native and migratory birds.

Its shifting sands channel the tide into a basin, the bassin d'Arcachon, which is well known for oyster farming.

Storm Domingos

On November 5 and 6, Storm Domingos struck the coast with winds of up to 152km/h. Fortunately, on a national level it caused less damage than storm Ciaran, which devastated many areas of Brittany and Normandy.

Read more: Worker dies and widespread damage in France from weekend storms 

However, it ravaged the Banc d'Arguin. Several of its sandbanks were left obliterated or transformed, as were the oyster farms within the bay.

One of its offshore sand banks, which prior to the storm had formed a 4km-long barrier, was cut in half. Photographer Philippe Hedeline told Actu Bordeaux that the damage was heartbreaking.

“When I look at the aerial photos taken after the storm I want to cry,” he said. “Before, there was a natural barrier, and now the sea can just rush in.”

While the storm caused misery for oyster farmers and fishermen, it allowed naturalists to make some surprising observations.

When the winds had settled, rangers inspecting the damage found sea birds had been blown from far across the Atlantic to the bay, including:

  • Arctic terns, that migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again each year - a voyage of 22,000 km
  • Common terns 
  • Red phalaropes, that migrate from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to South America and West Africa each year
  • Leach's storm petrels, that breed on rocky islands in the Atlantic 
  • Barolo shearwaters, that breed in the Azores, Desertas, Savage and Canary islands.

This was not the first time that the sand banks had been destroyed in this way. 

In 1981, the sand banks were almost completely destroyed by bad weather. “We could say the same thing today, but the Banc d'Arguin is still here!” the park said.

The sand banks, as a natural phenomenon, should form into a barrier for the bassin d'Arcachon once again over time.

Read more:

Birdwatcher’s guide to France: Nature reserves, parks and trails 

Nature watch in France: identify doves and how to help injured birds 

Aude vulture watch station: What time of day is good to visit?

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