The Discovery Park
Opened to the general public in 1983, the park plays host to approximately 35,000 visitors a year. The visit lasts one hour to one and a half hours and follows an easily accessible trail via a footpath 1.5 kilometres long through woods and some marshland. The life and habits of the various species to be seen along the route is ably explained by the use of informative boards along the route.
– Part 1 of the visit
The first stage of the visit gives children the opprtunity to see familiar mammals and fowl such as ducks, geese and some sheep. Further along the trail there is a Red-eared Terrapin enclosure. These exotic creatures, having a tendency to destroy and deplete the rare and endangered species of the European Pond Terrapin living in costal marshlands, can never be introduced and released into the wild. The European Pond Terrapin is rare and ‘Le Marais aux Oiseaux’ in Oléron offers safe sanctuary to 20-25 specimens.
– Part 2 of the visit
Approximately 130 vertebrae species can be found in the surrounding woods and marshes in their natural habitat. These include waders, great waders and various birds of prey. Of special interest is a Heron Rookery inhabited by numerous Grey Herons couples and Little Egrets occasionally joined by some Cattle Herons. The rookery has been re-inhabited every year for the past 30 years; it shelters one of the largest colonies of Black-crowned Night Herons in the department (20-25 couples). In addition, since 2009, at least 2 couples of White Storks have nested here annually. In addition to these species, an enthusiastic visitor may see or hear iconic birds. For example, the Common Kingfisher, the Eurasian Golden Oriole or the Hoopoe.
A 9 metre high observatory offers a beautiful panoramic view not only of the complete site but also a glimpse of the old saltmarshes that extend beyond the park boundaries. Specially provided binoculars (20 x 80) give visitors the opportunity to observe some of the birds who inhabit this area throughout the year.
• It should be noted that many species, attracted by the abundance of food and fresh water available, choose this site for breeding. Thus, their offspring have a tendency to return to the same location in adulthood.
• It is a sad fact that some animals have been abandoned, mistreated or even illegally detained and that some animals are unable to survive simply on their own sense of survival. Notwithstanding the care dispensed by the wildlife rescue centre, they require the special protection accorded and designed for protection from predators.
The Wildlife Rescue Centre
Created by Alain Formon in 1982, the centre is affiliated to the French Union of Wildlife Rescue Centres (UFCS) which comprises approximately 30 wildlife rescue centres. Their remit is to care for wild animals in distress and to release them back into their natural habitat. These centres work in close collaboration with the veterinary services. Only qualified veterinary surgeons are allowed to carry out surgery and to prescribe medication. Visitors are not permitted.
The ‘Marais aux Oiseaux’ wildlife rescue centre have two separate locations. One is an infirmary for sick or injured animals and a quarantine room. The other is for the storage and preparation of food. The centre has 13 re-adaptation aviaries and 2 aviaries devoted to re-education. They measure 12 and 22 metres in length respectively. The centre also comprises 25 special units to accommodate small mammals, mainly the West European Hedgehog. In total, the centre is geared to care 80 animals at any given time.
Over 14,000 animals of more than 200 species, almost exclusively birds, have been recorded in the registers since 1982, over 1,125 of those during 2017. Of these numbers, 5 species represent almost one third of entries; of these there are over 1,000 entries of treatment to Barn Owls.
Overall, there are four main reasons for admittance:
1. In one case out of four, a state of general exhaustion; often the reason is unknown. Species that live on the high seas, such as the Common Guillemot and the Northern Gannet are the more frequently identified.
2. A quarter of the cases are young pre-flight birds. These are mainly diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey and Common Swifts.
3. One case out of five is consistent with collision with an obstacle such as a cable or veranda. Diurnal raptors, seagulls and gulls, pigeons and turtledoves are the most numerous in this category.
4. One case out of ten is caused by road traffic. As in other cases, nocturnal birds of prey, in particular the Barn Owl is the most frequently admitted.
Sometimes, several weeks of care and rehabilitation are required before an animal can be released. Over half of the animals taken into care by the wildlife rescue centre are freed (59.6% in 2018). This does not include those found dead on admission.
Despite all efforts some animals remain handicapped but manage to live in adapted conditions; these are transferred to the discovery park to join their fellow species.