Dr Duncan James > Wildlife > Planet Earth > Europe > France > Chamonix Alps

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Location 10: Chamonix Alps (France)

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.

Dramatic mountains with a burst of colourful flowers in June.

Be a European Mountain Explorer.

My favourite site is probably the Chamonix South Circular walk because it gets more shade and has wildlife, a glacier and Mount Blanc to see. For a more adventurous day I enjoy exploring the mountains between Vallorcine and Le Tour.

The Alps are mountains in the east of France on the border with Switzerland and Italy. They drop in altitude towards Digne and Nice in the south. The full mountain range extends east through many countries. The highest peak is Mont Blanc reaching 4,800m. Mont Blanc can be visited by any tourist by using the cable car from Chamonix: queues for tickets start early in the morning so it is worth booking before the day you want to go up.

Plants need heat, water and nutrients: in the mountains nutrients are often locked up in the rocks, water often runs off the rocky terrain not staying available for plants for very long and it can be very cold. Therefore there is not always so much wildlife compared to lower elevations. However, I find the wildlife that can survive is exciting to see, the rush of life in early summer is spectacular and the wide, open views means the wildlife is actually more easy to see which can more than make up for the rarity.

Flower meadows can be impressive in mountains partly because they can out-compete the grass in this nutrient-poor habitat: early summer is best with butterflies flying at the same time. Nesting birds include Alpine Chough, Golden Eagle, Alpine Accentor and Water Pipit. Grazing mammals such as chamois and ibex (both related to deer) can be seen, particularly if you have binoculars and are out on less popular trails nearer dawn or dusk.

In the winter the mountains are covered in snow, flowers hibernate under the ground, birds migrate to lower elevations and wildlife watching and hiking is mainly replaced by skiing and snowboarding.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
A typical view of the mountains with meadows and isolated trees.

Wildlife of the Chamonix Alps

Mammals including marmot, chamois, ibex, Red Fox and Red Squirrel. Red Fox are possible in many different habitats including open mountainside and the Red Squirrel is mainly seen in woodland. In a week, my experience is that you might see each of these species once.

Chamois and ibex are generally seen at a distance on the slopes above the footpaths. I see chamois and ibex most often in the morning, evening and from less popular footpaths where there is less disturbance. You might see them once every couple of days if you take the time to stop and scan regularly. Binoculars will make it easier to look and improve the views you can get. Chamois are often seen on grassy slopes and also in woodland and are generally quite common. Male and female chamois both have horns. Ibex were heavily reintroduced in the 1990's. The ibex is often found on rocks and also above the snow line in addition to on grass. The ibex ruts in December through to early January and only the males have the giant horns.

Marmots are generally seen at higher elevations above approximately 1,500m. They often live in rocky areas that also have grass nearby. Lookouts often sit on the rocks searching for danger. They feed by grazing on grass and other plants including flowers and berries. When alarmed they make a high-pitched squeal/whistle and may go into their burrows to hide. They can be seen in the summer and for the long winter they hibernate underground. Their large size and thick fur is thought to be an adaptation for the cold conditions in the mountains and the long winters during which they have to hibernate. Marmots will sometimes feed close to footpaths and this can give close views: if you then try to get closer this will often alarm them so I recommend staying on the footpath and enjoying the view if they are already quite close.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
Alpine Chough photographed on the mountains above Le Tour (site 5).

Birds most commonly seen during a 7 day trip in the summer:- Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 26x2 (m3), Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 9x2 (m4), Coat Tit (Parus ater) 9x6 (m20), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 8x2 (m3), Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 8x5 (m8), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 8x3 (m6), Common Buzzard/Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 7x2 (m3), House Martin (Delichon urbicum) 7x5 (m10), Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) 7x2 (m3), Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 6x2 (m3), Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) 5x3 (m4), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 5x4 (m8), Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 4x1 (m1), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 4x2 (m4), Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) 4x1 (m1), Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) 4x17 (m35), Raven (Corvus corax) 4x2 (m2), White Wagtail/Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 3x4 (m7), Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) 3x2 (m2), Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3x1 (m1), Marsh Tit/Willow Tit (Poecile palustris/Poecile montanus) 3x3 (m4), Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) 3x11 (m30).

Two of the key bird habitats are the high mountains and the woodland. The high mountains include specialist birds such as Black Redstart, Wheatear, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor and Redpoll. Woodland birds include Nutcracker, tits/titmice, finches and Goldcrest. Rarer birds include Tengmalms Owl, Pygmy Owl, Hazel Grouse and Three-toed Woodpecker in the woodland, Black Grouse on the upper edges of the forests and Rock Partridge in rocky terrain in the mountains.

Larger birds that might be seen flying overhead include Raven, Kestrel, Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and Golden Eagle. Lammergeier/Bearded Vulture were reintroduced near Cirque des Fonts (site 6) and are sometimes seen. The most common birds overhead seem to me to be Buzzard, Raven and Kestrel with Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Sparrowhawk less common.

Many birds will go unidentified but add to the spectacle. Smaller birds such as Black Redstart, Water Pipit, accentors and finches often go unidentified on the meadows. Swallows/martins often go unidentified flying overhead. In woodland the smaller birds such as warblers, Goldcrest/Firecrest and tits/titmice often go unidentified in the trees.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
The snow can fracture and fall apart in dramatic ways like this.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
The slow flow of a glacier is invisible on a day-to-day basis. However, views of the general shape of glaciers can help to show the movement is happening. The curve of the cracks show that the inside of the glacier is moving faster (just like water in a river).

Pictures of some of the wildlife guides available.

16 Wildlife Travel Guides

This website has approximately one-quarter of my wildlife writing. The rest can be found in my Wildlife Travel Guides. Published as eBooks, they have the same articles as are on this website. They also have the smaller-scale site descriptions with extra maps, photographs and GPS coordinates. They also contain self-guided walks, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, general wildlife-watching articles and wildlife lists. An additional benefit of buying the eBooks is that you can read them without requiring an internet connection.

Wildlife Travel Guide is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble, not currently possible as eBook is too large), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Wildlife of La Selva and Sarapiqui is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Wildlife of the Osa Peninsula is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of Las Cruces and San Vito is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Carara and Manuel Antonio National Parks by Bus is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of Costa Rica is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of the Carmargue is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Wildlife of Val de Gavarnie is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of Belgium is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of the Netherlands is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds and Mammals of Spain is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Wildlife of the Swiss Alps is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of France is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Wildlife of the Purbecks and the New Forest is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Tasmanian Wildlife by Bus is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).

Birds of New Zealand is available on:- Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Kobo, PDF (Payhip), iTunes (Apple).



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