The Bois des Ayes, located above Villard-Saint-Pancrace, stands out as one of the world's outstanding biological forest reserves and a renowned Natura 2000 site. Classified as a Special Protection Area for birds, and home to an exceptional diversity of plant and animal species, this cembro pine forest is a veritable nursery of life, with centuries-old trees contributing to the site's ecological richness.

Find out more about Bois des Ayes

 

The little owl Miniature format

Europe's smallest owl, the Chevêchette is so tiny it could fit in your hand.

Common from Scandinavia to Siberia, it arrived in the south a few thousand years ago, when the whole north was icebound. With the retreat of the glaciers, it migrated to higher altitudes to find living conditions to its liking.

 

Today, it is present, but rare, in certain Alpine forests. In the Hautes-Alpes, the population is particularly concentrated in the Bois des Ayes, above Villard-Saint-Pancrace.

Barred Owl © Frank Vassen CC BY 2.0 Frank Vassen CC BY 2.0

Le bois des Ayes

This forest, dominated by cembro pine, is rare in its own right.

It's one of France's most beautiful cembra forests, with some 600-year-old trees. Many bird species appreciate the rich undergrowth, the nutritious pine nuts and the presence of old cavity trees.

There are 87 bird species, including the little owl and a dozen other rare species.

Chevechêtte owl © Alan Schmierer Alan Schmierer
The little owl is a bird of prey that eats field mice, voles and small passerines. Unlike other owls, it often hunts during the day.

But if you want to hear its song, dawn and dusk are the best times. It prefers open forests because it detects prey more easily in clearings. It is entirely dependent on the Spotted Woodpecker for its housing plans, as the woodpecker's abandoned cavities serve as its nest. Woodpeckers prefer to dig in dead or weakened trees with more malleable wood.

These birds therefore need a forest environment free from excessive human intervention, where old trees are left standing. In a logged forest, everything is done to encourage healthy wood. However, a multitude of species depend on the natural ageing of the forest for their survival. Hollow, dry or rotting tree trunks are home to so many small animals and insects that are essential to the forest ecosystem!

The presence of breeding pairs of little owls is just one indicator of the balance of the forest.

Protected areas - national parks, nature reserves and Natura 2000 sites - play an important role in preserving the living environment necessary for the continuity of this species, as well as many others that are rare or threatened.

Bois des Ayes J. Selberg J. Selberg
Chevechêtte owl © Alan Schmierer
Alan Schmierer
The Hautes Vallées region includes several areas where the natural environment and wildlife are particularly well protected.

 The Bois des Ayes is both a forest biological reserve and a Natura 2000 site classified as a Special Protection Area for birds. The N2000 site also includes Rochebrune, Izoard and Cerveyrette.

There are also three other N2000 sites: Clarée, Emparis-Goléon and Combeynot-Lautaret-Ecrins. Above Puy-Saint-André, there's the Réserve Naturelle des Partias, which is also an important refuge for alpine birdlife, with 97 species recorded. The largest protected area, and the one with the highest degree of protection, is the Parc National des Écrins, whose northern part touches on La Grave and Villar d'Arène. On the Biodiv'Ecrins website, you'll find all the wild species that have been observed in the National Park.

Each of these sites has its share of exceptional species and unspoilt landscapes to discover. The Ecrins and Natura 2000 national parks regularly organize wildlife outings to track down the little owl and other mountain species.

 

Hiking in the Bois des Ayes

the blog

You'll also like

FROM LA GRAVE TO LA CLARÉE - THE STORY OF A HIKING TRIP

FROM LA GRAVE TO LA CLARÉE - THE STORY OF A HIKING TRIP

See more
LA GRAVE, HIGH MOUNTAIN SCHOOL

LA GRAVE, HIGH MOUNTAIN SCHOOL

See more
APPROACHING THE GLACIERS WITH MOUNTAIN GUIDE ANNE ZANOLIN

APPROACHING THE GLACIERS WITH MOUNTAIN GUIDE ANNE ZANOLIN

See more
GOOD PLACES TO EAT IN THE HIGH VALLEYS

GOOD PLACES TO EAT IN THE HIGH VALLEYS

See more
ALEX HUGO IN LUSAGNE - SAMUEL LE BIHAN IN SEARCH OF WILD SPACES AND GRANDIOSE LANDSCAPES

ALEX HUGO IN LUSAGNE - SAMUEL LE BIHAN IN SEARCH OF WILD SPACES AND GRANDIOSE LANDSCAPES

See more