Paris by Night: Cathedrale Notre Dame

What do you think of when I say “Notre Dame.”

OK, now stop chanting “Rudy” and imagine that I said it in a more dignified air: “NOOOH-truh DAAAAAAHM.”

Yup, that one.

After several months in PEH-reee, Kristi and I had walked past this stone postcard model numerous times, pausing briefly to take snapshots. This church—arguably the most iconic in Europe—was worth more. One October afternoon, I dusted off my tripod and descended into the tourist hive to take some shots at sunset.

As one might expect, this building is really, really old. The first stone was laid in 1146 under the direction of Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris, on a site that had hosted various religious buildings for a millennia. Amazingly, many of those who built the church did so without payment (and probably working more than 35 hours a week) nor the hope they’d ever live to see it completed. Or that their children would; or their children’s children. Notre Dame was completed eight generations later in the 13th century.

It is widely considered to be one of the best examples of the French Gothic style of architecture. The flying buttresses—arches that follow the roofline out to large external pillars—distributed the weight of the roof out away from the building. This architectural innovation allowed for taller, thinner walls and deflected the overwhelming pressure away from the stained glass windows (thereby sparing churchgoers from the resulting technicolor shrapnel).

By the mid-19th century, it had fallen victim to centuries of neglect and was slated for demolition. It was ultimately saved by a spinally-impaired occupant penned by Victor Hugo who reinvigorated interest in both the church and medieval architecture.

Homes and other urban clutter in front of the church were cleared in the late 19th century to create Place du Parvis Notre Dame. Aside from improved sight lines to the church facade, this square affords visitors an opportunity to stand at Kilometre Zero, the point from which all distances to Paris are measured throughout the country.

The first two photographs are from Pont de l’Archevêché to the east, showing what a 90° turn of a polarized filter can do for the clouds in the sky. The sunset shots are from across the river, further east over Pont Saint-Louis. The night shots are from Place du Parvis Notre Dame on the west side of the church.


Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 / 0.5 sec / ISO 100 / no polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 – 0.5 sec – ISO 100 – no polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 / 1.0 sec / ISO 100 / polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 – 1.0 sec – ISO 100 – polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f11 - 1/6 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f11 – 1/6 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 - 1/3 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 – 1/3 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 - 15 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 – 15 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 - 10 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Pont de la Tournelle (f16 – 10 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 - 30 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 – 30 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f20 - 20 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f20 – 20 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 - 30 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 – 30 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 - 15 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 – 15 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley

Paris by Night: Place de la Concorde

Located in the 8th arrondissement to the north of the Seine, Place de la Concorde is one of the most famous public squares in Paris. Built in 1755 as Place de Louis XV, it was later incorporated by Georges-Eugene Haussmann in the late 19th century as a pivot in a grand avenue that connects Arc d’Triomphe and Champs d’Élysées to the west and Tuileries Garden and The Louvre to the east.

After the French Revolution in 1789, the statue of Louis XV (where the obelisk currently stands) was replaced with a guillotine and many notable members in French history—including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette—were relieved of their heads. The execution device was finally removed in 1795, perhaps driven by the unbearable stench and an overly dull blade—over 1,300 people were beheaded in a single month during the peak of activity the prior year.

The 3,300-year-old Egyptian obelisk standing in the center once graced the entrance to the Luxor temple. It was one of two gifted to France by Egypt in the mid 19th century; the other proved too difficult to move and remained in Egypt.

After photographing the Eiffel Tower from the nearby banks of the Seine, I set up my tripod to capture this ancient obelisk with the temporary ferris wheel as a backdrop. The moon was a nice, gleaming white cherry on top.


Place de la Concorde (f25 / 6 sec / ISO 160) -- © Adam Sedgley
Place de la Concorde (f25 / 6 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) -- © Adam Sedgley
Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) -- © Adam Sedgley
Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley



Paris by Night: Eiffel Tower

I peered outside our apartment window and saw a thick cluster of clouds smothering a blue sky.

Today could be the day.

I recently decided that it was morally deplorable to live in Paris for six months and not have a picture of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. At 3:30pm, I packed up my camera and tripod and headed for the Trocadero metro stop. Located on the other side of the Seine, this location features two imposing buildings that form the sites on top of an old rifle, perfectly framing the Eiffel Tower at the end of the barrel.

I was set up by 4:20pm. Unfortunately, the anticipated sunset colors never materialized, but despite that and freezing temperatures, it was still worth my time.

The Eiffel Tower is arguably the most iconic landmark in the world and, surprisingly, it was widely derided after it was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. The Eiffel Tower was to be dismantled in the early 20th century but a radio antenna installed by its designer Gustav Eiffel in 1909 proved too valuable to the French Army. Two and a half million rivets hold together the “iron asparagus.”

Eiffel Tower (f10 - 1/6 sec - ISO 100 - polarized filter)
Eiffel Tower (f10 – 1/6 sec – ISO 100 – polarized filter)  — © Adam Sedgley
Eiffel Tower (f22 / 2 sec / ISO 100)
Eiffel Tower (f22 / 2 sec / ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160)
Eiffel Tower (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f11 / 2 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 2 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f11 / 3 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 3 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f11 / 6 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 6 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f7.1 / 2.5 sec / ISO 160)
Eiffel Tower (f7.1 / 2.5 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley




Unfortunately, my battery died and I had forgotten my spare at home. Fortunately, I already had plans to meet Kristi at l’Opera. I walked from Trocadero to Opera, received my charged battery, and moved quickly to Place de la Concorde on the Seine. I was only able to snap a couple of photos of the Eiffel Tower during its hourly light show—consisting of hundreds of pulsating flashbulbs—before it returned to its normal nocturnal state.

Eiffel Tower (f11 / 4 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 4 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f16 / 25 sec / ISO 160)
Eiffel Tower (f16 / 25 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Turning the camera directly across the Seine, I captured a photo of Assemblée Nationale with Pont de la Concorde to the left. I especially love how the tree shadow projects over the river.

Assemblee Nationale (f25 / 30sec / ISO 160)
Assemblee Nationale (f25 / 30sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley



Sh-t that wouldn’t fly back home: Paris edition

Tasting unfamiliar foods, taking wild forms of transportation, or immersing yourself in an incomprehensible language are the types of experiences that drive most to travel. Some are locked away in travel journals, others are fodder at cocktail parties, but it’s those rare experiences that challenge a persons fervent beliefs of what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s normal, and what’s just plain weird.

Like sweet mayonnaise and canned corn on pizza (Japan); like a young teenager using his finger to plug the barrel of his aging Kalashnikov assault rifle as he boards your bus (Laos); like hearing someone loudly clear their throat on an airplane, and expel the contents on the carpeted floor (China). I like to categorize such experiences as “sh*t that wouldn’t fly back home.” While they can be mystifying, or even infuriating, at moment of exposure, I’d argue that they keep the soles of our walking shoes thin and our frequent flier portfolios plump.

Here’s my first installment: Shit That Wouldn’t Fly Back Home – Paris Edition. Neither wrong, nor right—just different.



As with most densely populated metropolises, parking in Paris is at a premium. Subterranean garages exist largely for day-tripping tourists, so if residents don’t want to pay $350 a month to park the cars, they need to duke it out on the streets to find a rare vacant piece of curbside real estate. And some are forced to get creative. A Smart Car, one of the smallest vehicles on the road, can wedge its sub-nine foot chassis nearly anywhere. But what if the parking spot is even smaller than that? How about backing your car up perpendicularly to the curb and gunning it?

Smart Car on curb

Sidewalks are saved from parked cars through ample use of metal pillars, which are spaced close enough to both each other and the curb to dissuade even the smallest vehicles from blocking the pedestrian thoroughfare. But this “out-of-the-box” thinker found a solution: just park on the actual sidewalk.

On a recent walk near the Eiffel Tower, I watched a new Audi park at the apex of a corner, throw on his emergency flashers, get out to admire the fact that he was effectively obstructing both crosswalks, and tucked into a local café for dinner. These brazen infarctions are startling for a Seattleite who received a $75 ticket when six inches of his bumper was hanging over a yellow curb (thank you City of Bellevue).


Dog Sh*t on Street

I’ve explored this topic in another post ad naseum (literally, I almost threw up) but this ranks high in the “shit that wouldn’t fly back home.” I am well aware that plenty of dog excrement isn’t picked up in the U.S. but few owners would have the audacity to encourage it in broad daylight, on a sidewalk, in the direct line of sight—and smell—of numerous passerby. Fines for such infarctions may be relatively light in the U.S., but public scorn is strong enough to keep such activities in dark alleys and secluded parks.


The speed with which cars approach pedestrian crosswalks

Rules for pedestrians across the planet are generally the same: wait for the little red guy on the other side to turn green. Seems simple right? Well, wait until you are in the middle of a crosswalk and a car approaches your side at 80 miles an hour. The confidence that you are in the right-of-way will crack as quickly as your fibula when it meets the bumper of a Renault. French drivers don’t appear to be crazy, but place an occupied crosswalk in front of one and they suddenly turn into Michael Schumaker approaching his pit crew. The driver, of course, will stop but not until it is very clear to all parties that he or she decided to spare your life. To save face, reduce the size of your eyes, complete your crossing, and go find a clean pair of underwear.


Dogs, Cigarette Smoke, and $75 steaks

Fortunately for the few people who don’t regularly suck cigarettes in Paris, smoking isn’t allowed inside restaurants. Outside spaces, however, are free game, even if said space is the enclosed atrium of a five star hotel. Pardon my stubbornness, but if I purchased a $75 steak prepared by a culinary artist, it’s hard for my taste buds to appreciate the harmony of ground pepper and cumin when my nose is battling the Marlboro to my left, and Virginia Slim to my right. If any smoke is to be obscuring the view of my meal, especially an expensive one, it better be hickory.

But the dog sitting in the chair next to me, he can stay. Assuming he doesn’t growl and snip at anyone that passes the table, like the little shi-tzu (pun intended) pictured below.


Visa paperworks, a gluestick, and 738 euros in stamps

The long and arduous process to obtain French work visas is worthy of its own post (perhaps its own blog) but one step struck me as particularly absurd.

Kristi was instructed by her office to go buy stamps. Not postage stamps mind, but “fiscal stamps.” The reason for purchase was unclear, but she was given instructions to buy them from a Tabac, a bar that sells cigarettes (our local tabac also functions as a off-track betting facility to equally serve all vices). Handing over 738 euros, Kristi received a small stack of stamps of varying denominations, held together with a paper clip. I’ve never been so underwhelmed with what $1000 can buy you.

Fast forward a week until we were seated in front of a French bureaucrat, one meeting away from finally receiving our cartes sejours (French ID cards) and the freedom of being able to come and go from France as we pleased (our tourist visas were about to expire). When prompted, we handed over our stamps. He flipped over a piece of paper and took out an Elmer’s glue stick—the first I’d seen since the 1st grade. With a heavy hand, he applied three vertical lines of glue and neatly placed each stamp one over the other. It took several minutes for him to create a grid with all eighteen stamps before my incredulous eyes. Once they were all neatly in place, he took his large and shiny date stamper and cancelled each stamp. The definitive, rhythmic sound … ka-chunk ka-chunk … must be auditory porn to a bureaucrat.

In the day when technology allows you to deposit a check with your phone, it’s mystifying that any payment process, let alone one as important as a visa approval process, would still require a mediocre adhesive.


Closing business for entire month

Most Parisian shops are closed in August, some for a week or two, others for the whole month. An entrepreneurial mind would realize the opportunity to stay open and steal customers from their closed competitors but this urge is either suppressed or overridden by the healthy need for time off. If you need anything from a small neighborhood store better get it in July or you’ll have to wait until September. Most Parisians take vacation during this month as well, which may or may not be related to the fact that their local bakery is closed for several weeks (Lonely Planet states that 80% of Parisians eat bread three times a day).

Requiring three months notice to fire someone

I am not experienced in any sort of labor law (let alone French) but it is commonly understood that holders of certain work permits, especially civil servants, are impossible to fire. If your employer is somehow able to circumnavigate the quagmire that is Human Relations, they can give you no less than three months notice. While three months notice is certainly more humane than making an employee pack a box on the spot and be escorted out by security, I can’t imagine that said employee would be terribly effective at their job; the term “dead man walking” comes to mind. Similarly, if an employee wants to quit, they must give three months notice, six times the standard two weeks given in the states.


Getting hit on by your doctor

The penultimate step in our visa process was a perfunctory medical checkup. The efficient process took place in a corridor lined with doors. Chairs down the middle allowed applicants to wait, facing out, for their names to be called. Kristi got called up first and, because the chairs were only a couple feet away from the doors, I could hear most of her conversation with the middle-aged, male doctor.

“Wow, you are very beautiful. Why did you come to France?”
“My company moved my husband and me to Paris.”
“You are married? Oh, that’s too bad…” 

His tone conveyed true disappointment, but neither her marital status, nor the fact that her husband was sitting within earshot, dissuaded him from continuing to flatter my wife. After a few minutes, their time was brought to a close and he was legally obligated to call my name. For some reason, he didn’t display half of the warmth during our interaction, but thankfully he didn’t refuse to stamp my paperwork or subject me to invasive tests out of disdain. He was a sweet soft-spoken man so the situation was more comical than anything, but I couldn’t help but think which of his statements to Kristi would be more indemnifying in front of a North American review board.


Moving your dinner table to sit down at a restaurant

Space is at a premium in Paris and fashionable eateries can be as tightly packed as a box of madelines. If a North American approaches a packed café, they may be dissuaded by the possible lengthy wait. But if you are a small party of two, you may be surprised at how quickly you’re waved forward: just expect to move some furniture. When we visited the popular Entrecote restaurant (which serves all you can eat steak and fries), the maître d simply gestured us to our table, as depicted by the illustration below, and walked away.

It was physically impossible for anyone to sit down on the other side of the table, save a Russian gymnast or the little Chinese guy from Oceans 11. Used to this now, Kristi and I moved the chair and the small table into the narrow aisle, moving it back once Kristi was seated. American eateries need to have aisles of a width mandated by the ADA and no one ever expects to move more than a chair, and in nice restaurants those are moved for you.

No stars at Thai restaurant

French people don’t like spicy food. Our first indication should have been when the waitress made no mention of stars when taking our order at a well-regarded Thai restaurant in Paris. Asking for sauce piquant (spicy sauce) at our local Korean restaurant yielded a small dish of garlic-infused ketchup. Unfortunately, the bill is the only thing that makes my brow sweat when visiting any Asian restaurants in Paris.





Paris’ Bowels: The Sewer Museum

If a way to man’s heart is through his stomach, then perhaps the best way to understand the essence of a city is through its bowels.

Or maybe it’s just an interesting way to spend € 4.50.

Either way, The Paris Sewer Museum (Musée Égouts de Paris) is just a baguette’s toss from the Eiffel Tower and, surprisingly, has a much shorter line. When I first learned of this attraction, I vowed to visit it before I set foot on the iron steps of the Eiffel Tower; a promise that I have kept, twice (I forgot my camera on my first visit).

If you have a strong stomach—the most interesting educational signage can only be read by standing on a grate over a slow river of pungent wastewater—and an interest in how engineering evolved with an expanding Paris, then Musée Égouts de Paris is worth a visit. Much of what you’ll learn can provide insight on the difficulty of supplying freshwater while safely disposing of wastewater, an issue that has become increasingly relevant on both a metropolitan and global scale.

But I can’t help but wonder if there’s an official at the tourism bureau who said: “See, I told you guys that tourists will pay to go see anything!”

Fun Facts:

  • The sewer network evacuates 1.2 million cubic meters of wastewater a day, the equivalent of 35,000 milk trucks stretched for 250 miles.
  • Every year, enough trash is removed from sewers to cover a football field, nine feet deep.
  • They periodically send large wooden balls—just smaller than the diameter of the pipe—through sewer lines to clean out accumulated crud and sand.
  • Toilets account for 39% of water used in Paris, followed by dishes and laundry (22%), showering (20%), and cooking (6%). One percent is used for drinking.
  • There are 26,000 sewer inspection covers located throughout Paris, every 50 meters.
  • If you drop something down a storm drain, you can call 44-75-22-75 and have a cheerful civic employee climb down through the sewer to find your lost item—free of charge.
Now, for a little more history.
  • 1st – 4th centuries A.D. – Paris had a populations of 6,000 people and water was drawn from the Seine or tributaries. Wastewater was dumped into the earth streets and fields where it eventually met the Seine. Romans did respect their personal hygiene and built an aqueduct to bring fresh spring water into the homes of dignitaries and public baths.
  • 5th – 15th centuries A.D. – During the Middle Ages, the city Paris spread out and, with a population of 200,000, it became the most populous city in Europe. The contents of chamber pots were thrown from windows onto the streets below; shouts of regardez l’eau! (“Watch out for the water!”) is a theory for the derivation of loo, British slang for toilet. Wastewater would collect on earthen streets, greasing the skids for epidemics like the plague. The overwhelming stench prompted engineers to build “split streets,” paved roads with a central gutter in the 13th century, and later building the first covered sewer in 1370—just 300 meters in length. Drinking water still came from the Seine and public fountains fed by aqueducts; demand gave birth to the profession of “water fetcher.”
  • 15th – 18th centuries A.D. – During the Renaissance, the population of Paris increased slightly to 250,000 by the 16th century, but the population doubled to 500,000 during the 17th. To deal with the exploding amount of waste, Francois 1 (early 16th century) made it mandatory that cesspits be built underneath all buildings. Waste was transported to nearby moats and garbage bins by sewage collectors. King Lois XIV started construction of the main sewer system in the late 17th century. Water supply was the same as during the Middle Ages: fountains, wells, and the Seine. New aqueducts were built and several new pumps, powered by the flow the river, were installed on the Seine. The number of “water fetchers” grew to 20,000.
  • 1850 – 1914 – The population of Paris hits 1 million in 1845. Baron Haussmann—civic planner under Napoleon III who sculpted the grand avenues and ubiquitous apartment blocks of “modern” Paris—appointed Eugene Belgrand to head the Water Board. Over the next 50 years, Belgrand oversaw the building of 600 km of aqueducts that brought fresh spring water from the Seine Valley. Still not able to meet demand, water from the Seine was run through large filters filled with sand. Water that Parisians used to drink was relegated to cleaning streets. The profession of “water fetchers” was eliminated with the creation of the General Water Company, which would provide water to private homes with a fee. Sewers were built to collect waste directly from buildings and empty it into the Seine, downriver from Paris. As pollution built, and clouds of methane caused people to move away from the river, Paris constructed 19 square miles of fields outside the city across which the city’s raw sewage was spread to be filtered naturally. Vegetable gardens hosted at the site grew vegetables of unnatural size.


Routes in the sewer system have signs for the corresponding street or landmark above it
(Bruneseau, however, was the man commissioned by Napoleon to map the sewer network in the early 19th century and this section was dedicated to him—what an honor).

 The underground flow of urban runoff.

The educational signage, located over a slowly moving river of brown wastewater.
I have never been more fearful of anything falling from my pockets.

One the sewer pipes viewable from the walkways.

A sword recovered from construction work in the sewer.

A pair of recovered swords.

An example of a wooden ball used to clean smaller pipes. As water pressure builds behind it,
the ball scrapes the sides of the pipe and pushes the accumulated sand and urban detritus out the other side.

An example of a much larger ball used to clean out the main pipes, which are about 8′ in diameter.

A sewer employee uses a bugle to warn his coworkers of heavy rains, which cause floods underground.

Go. Enjoy the bowels of Paris at Musée Égouts. But don’t bring a picnic lunch.

Visit the official Musée Égouts de Paris website.

Birdwatching in Paris

No one comes to Paris for the birds. But because many European travel itineraries loop through the City of Light, birders would be well served to bring their binoculars. After perusing paintings at the Louvre and consuming sweets at the corner patisserie, take a morning and explore one of the locations outlined below. You may be surprised about what species you can find.

Look at an aerial map of Paris and, amidst the tangle of streets, you’ll note that one is never more than a couple metro stops away from a patch of green. Unfortunately for birders, most are gardens that for centures have been subjected to French landscape architects who value order and symmetry over ecology. Ultimately, avian diversity suffers.

After living in southwestern Paris for eight months, I found a handful of gems that are worth a visit.

Birding Locations in Paris
  1. Bois de Boulogne**
  2. Parc de l’Ile St Germain**
  3. Ile de Seguin
  4. Parc du Beaumonts
  5. Jardin des Plantes
  6. Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
  7. Bois de Vincennes**
    Parks listed in no particular order. (**) Denotes the most rewarding locations if time is at a premium.

Helpful Resources:

  • Check out to get an idea of what species are likely when (this bar chart is for all of Île de France, the prefect where Paris is located). To search to see where specific species have been reported in Paris, visit this page (currently Crested Tit) and type the species name in the top left. NOTE: resident eBirders in Paris are extremely rare so the eBird database is almost entirely dependent on visiting birders like you—please input your sightings to make this bar chart as accurate as possible.
  • Fauna – Île de France is where sightings are reported by French birdwatchers. Click on one of the Les __ derniers jours links in the left nav to select reports from the last two, five, or fifteen days. Select “Lieu 75” on the next page to only display reports from Paris (Paris is located in postal district 75). Species names are in French but you can translate the page automatically if you use Google Chrome, or copy and paste the names into If a report interests you, use Google or Bing Maps to find the location, but be sure to search the French version of the place name.
  1. Bois de Boulogne

If you have the time, a morning at Bois de Boulogne (literally “Boulogne Forest”) will provide a nice slice of European specialties. Located to the west of Paris, Bois de Boulogne is located just outside the circular peripherique highway that defines the borders of Paris. It’s 2.5 times the size of New York’s Central Park and offers unmanaged habitat complete with undergrowth, mature trees and snags—a refreshing change from the manicured gardens located on the inside of the highway.

Best opportunities exist in the Parcours Sportif, a 3km exercise trail in the southeast corner of the park. Habitat is relatively open—especially the eastern half—allowing easy viewing of the mature deciduous tree canopy. Check snags for Greater Spotted or Green Woodpeckers—the more numerous woodpecker species—but keep an eye out Middle-Spotted and Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers as well. Chasing down a pecking sound revealed a Black Woodpecker on one August morning. Early spring is the best time to chase woodpeckers as territorial males start to drum on still leafless trees.

While looking for woodpeckers, listen for Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Nuthatches, and Short-toed Treecreepers. Mixed flocks of tits are likely throughout the park, including—in order of abundance—Great, Eurasian Blue, Long-tailed, and Marsh. Crested Tits can be found in the conifer trees that line carless Avenue de Saint-Cloud that runs north-south down the middle of Parcours Sportif. This is also a good spot for Goldcrests.

The ample undergrowth hold many of the likely suspects, including European Robin, Eurasian Wren, Song Thrush, Eurasian Blackbird, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, and Willow Warbler. Firecrest are possible during migration; check blackbird flocks for Redwing in winter as well as tree tops for Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare.

Scan the skies for passing raptors like Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Eurasian Kestrel, but chances are passing silhouettes will belong to the ubiquitous Common Wood-Pigeon (but check for the smaller Stock Doves).

Birding doesn’t get your pulse racing? Stop at one of the numerous exercise stations to do some quick chin-ups or dips. In addition to joggers, this area is also popular with dog owners. Most dogs are off-leash and wander freely—sometimes in large spirited packs—but, like their owners, nearly all will choose to ignore you.

From the Parcours Sportif, walk north to Lac Inferior and Lac Superior. The water’s edge is neatly manicured so don’t expect too many marsh birds, but Eurasian Coot, Mallard, Mute Swan, and Eurasian Moorhen are easily spotted. Scan out over the open water for Common House-Martin and Barn Swallow in spring and summer.

See a full species list for Bois du Boulogne on eBird.

Still not ready to go back to the city? The Bois de Boulogne offers hundreds of miles of trails into largely forested habitat and will increase your chances of spotting species mentioned above and others, especially during migration. Réserve Ornithologique at the intersection Allée de Longchamp and Route de la Grande Cascade offers intriguing habitat with a blind complete with educational signage, but several late morning visits yielded little. The nearby lakes and surrounding habitat are worth a wander; an off-trail stand of conifer trees provided great studies of a flock of Goldcrests and a pair or Eurasian Bullfinches in June.

Be forewarned that it is quite easy to get turned around in this labyrinth of trails. A GPS-enabled smartphone will be the biggest help but if you don’t have access to data. The widely used Paris Pratiqué street map has a page dedicated to Bois de Boulogne but for a more detailed view, take a picture of one of the large maps with your phone that greets visitors as they enter the park. This image will help orient you when you come across one of the many thoroughfares that criss-cross the park, many of which are well-marked. A compass is also a big help.

As you explore the trails, be mindful that visiting the edge of any major drivable thoroughfare may bring you face-to-face with the less reputable side of this natural area: prostitutes. Lone men wandering the woods may attract attention, but a quick flash of your binoculars should dispel any questions about the intention of your visit. Visit during the daytime and your safety won’t be an issue.

Directions: Take the Line 10 Metro to the Porte d’Auteuil stop. Walk west on Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil. You can cut in to the park at numerous locations, but to get to the parcours de sportif, continue on Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil, passing Roland Garros (home of the French Open) on your left. Upon arriving at the large traffic circle, take a sharp right up the carless Avenue de Saint-Cloud. Good habitat exists on either side of the road, but the parcours trail run parallel to the road after about 0.25 mile on the right side of the road. For easy access, continue on Avenue de Saint-Cloud until the six way intersection, and take a 90 degree right to access the trail(s).

  1. Parc de l’Ile St Germain
    If you find yourself in the south—and maybe slightly west—of Paris, it’s worth a stroll over the bridge to Parc de l’Ile St Germain, even for non-birders. Surrounded by the river Seine, Ile de St. Germaine (“St Germain Island”) is almost entirely public park. The eastern half of the park contains an equestrian center, a restaurant, and an oddly painted monolith—the unlikely lovechild of a nascent Picasso and an overzealous cement mixer—perched on top of a hill overlooking some playfields.

If you seek birds, make tracks to the western end of the park, also accessible from Boulevard des l’Iles from Pont de Billancourt (“Billancourt Bridge”) to the west. The secret gardens nestled amongst stone ruins are worth a few photos, but the nearby grasslands—and possibility for goldfinches and serins—may distract birders. That natural habitat will improve as you continue west to a very small wetland at the far western edge of the park—the most productive area for birding in the entire park, especially during migration. Eurasian Blue, Great, and Long-tailed Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Magpie, Common Chafffinch, Eurasian Jay, and Eurasian Blackbird are possible year-round; look for Greater Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, and Pied Flycatcher in migration. Scanning the skies can yield Common Wood-Pigeon, Black-headed Gull, and Great Cormorant.

One November morning, a small stand of alders about 50 meters east of the ponds brought one Lesser Redpoll in with a small flock of European Goldfinches to feed. In winter, also look for European Serin and Eurasian Siskin in this area. Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Song Thrush, and Fieldfare are all possible amidst the swelling winter population of Eurasian Blackbirds. Eurasian Bullfinches can be found in the fruiting trees nearby.

As with most bird-watching, morning is best.

Directions: Take Line 9 Metro to Pont de Sevres, exiting at Porte de St-Cloud. Walk south on Georges Lafont for about 0.5 mile. Take a right on Bd de la Republique. After a few blocks, you will cross the Seine on Pont d’Issy (be sure to be on the south side of the road). The park entrance will be on the right. The best birding habitat is on the far side of the park.

  1. Ile de Seguin
    Another island on a southwestern stretch of the Seine, Ile de Seguin is a newly-constructed park reclaimed from the remnants of a defunct Renault factory. Busted windows near the water’s edge and reinforced cement entryways are vestiges of the islands industrial past, built in 1934 with the last car rolling off the production line in 1992. The buildings were finally demolished in 2005. Don’t expect a diversity of habitat at Ile de Sequin: it’s covered by a thick shrub that, I suspect, was planted because of its tolerance for industrial toxics that likely remain in the soil. Bring your binoculars, however, just in case the Little Ringed Plovers seen during construction in 2012 remain. European Goldfinches and European Serins are possible year-round and outlying trees and shrubs should attract migrants in spring and fall. Black-headed Gulls are reliable on the river: Common Terns possible in migration.

Directions: Take Line 9 to the last stop: Pont de Sevres. The island is visible from the Pont de Sevres bridge but you need to walk south and east along the river to access the new (modern-looking) passenger footbridge. The path continues to the left to exit the island via an older bridge on the other side (which a birder needn’t explore).

  1. Parc du Beaumonts
    Parc du Beaumonts is a small hill on the outskirts of NE Paris (Montreuil) with a deciduous forest at its base and overgrown habitat with scrub and grass—even a pond—at its modest summit, the highest point in the area. It may be a bit out of the way, but this raised forest—in a sea of apartment buildings—is a magnet for passing migrants in August/September and April/May. Visit in the morning to scour the treetops and the summit for a slough of possible passerines otherwise difficult to find in Paris. Return in the afternoon to perch on the parks berm to scan the skies for passing raptors, with Eurasian Hobby and Honey Buzzard possible.

Parc du Beaumonts is the stomping grounds of British expat birder, David Thorns, who, with a regular cadre of birders, tally 120+ species a year. Check his blog for recent sightings.

Directions: Take Line 9 all the way to the end, Marie de Montreuil. Follow Avenue Walwein east for several blocks before it takes a soft right and continues as Rue Galilée. At the T-intersection, take a right onto Avenue Jean Moulin. After two blocks, the entrance to the park will be on your left.

  1. Jardin des Plantes

Located in the fifth arrondissement across Gare d’Austerlitz, the Jardin des Plantes is the flagship botanical garden in France. For the plant enthusiast, there are numerous demonstration gardens, a rose garden, separate greenhouses for both Mexican and Australian plant species, and an alpine garden with 3000 species from around the world. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the four museums on site (Paleontology, Entomology, Mineralogy, and the Grand Gallery of Evolution) as well as the world’s oldest zoo, created in 1795 with animals brought from the royal menagerie at Versailles.

For the birdwatcher, much of the gardens are maintained in the traditional French style—a symmetrical statement of man’s ability to control nature. Wander the gardens and you’ll quickly find Eurasian Magpie, Eurasian Jay, Common Wood-Pigeon, Carrion Crow, European Starling, Great Tit, and Eurasian Blue Tit.

The Jardin Ecologique offers the most promising habitat within the park with trees of varying heights, snags, and undergrowth. This area is only accessible 11:00am-12:30pm by guided tour (€4) but almost all of it is viewable from the perimeter (although this path is packed with joggers in the morning). Look and listen for Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Wren, Blackcap, European Robin, Dunnock, Common Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit, and Eurasian Blackbird.

As you move west in the park, you may be able to see a (captive) Eurasian Eagle-Owl in a zoo enclosure to your right. Keep on eye out for European Greenfinch and Eurasian Moorhen in the gardens to your left and listen for Rose-ringed Parakeet, a recent addition to the park list whose population is increasing in Paris.

Finally, the evergreen forest is tall and lacks an understory but it should yield additional opportunities for treecreepers, blackbirds, and the aforementioned tits, as well as Goldcrest, and possible Song Thrush.

  1. Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
    Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise (“Pere Lachaise Cemetery”) is a popular tourist attraction located in the 20th arrondisement on the east side of Paris. Over 100 acres of beautiful old trees greets visitors to this historic landmark, but birders shouldn’t expect the undergrowth that makes ideal bird habitat: that area is occupied by thousands and thousands of gravestones and crypts dating back to the early 19th century. That doesn’t mean you should keep your binoculars in the hotel room; the trees can get quite thick in some sections and the raised hill at the south end of the park can attract passerines in migration.

The more common species in Paris abound, including: Common Wood-Pigeon, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Blackbird, and European Starling.

The call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard anywhere, as well as Eurasian Nuthatch. Scour the numerous flocks of tits for less numerous Coal Tit. Look for flocks of European Greenfinch feeding on seeds of conifer trees. To find some of the only underbrush in the cemetery, head to the roundabout with the tomb of Casimir Perier (1777-1832) and find the small trails uphill to the north, paralleling Avenue des Accacias. Listen for Eurasian Wren and European Robin.

Work your way up the trails to scour the trees for passerines during migration. A trip in mid-October yielded a large flock of Firecrest, numerous Common Chiffchaff, several Song Thrush on the fruiting conifers, a handful of Blackcap, a European Pied Flycatcher, and a fly-by Eurasian Hobby.

Once you’ve packed away the binoculars, return to the entrance to look at the map of famous residents, including Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, and Jim Morrison.

Bois de Vincennes

The 2,500 acre Bois de Vincennes comprises the eastern half of the “green lungs of Paris.” If the pace of the city and the noise of its urban arteries have grown tiresome, retreat to this tangle of trails threading through this impressive expanse of untamed deciduous forest. Prefer stylized greenscapes and the sightlines of a dramatic park avenue? Bois de Vincennes will also satisfy; it even has a lake or two.

Enter from the Port Doree Metro station and walk the edge of Lac Daumesnil. Joggers will be present at every hour of the day, more so on the weekends. Move west and the packs of aerobic junkies—and the urban din—will fall from memory.

The lake hosts a large gaggle of Canada Geese. Sort through the flocks to find a resident Barnacle or Bar-headed Goose or a flock of Ruddy Shelducks. All are introduced and therefore uncountable to listing purists, but still worth a study. The lake also supports Black-headed Gull, Gray Heron, Great Cormorant, Mute Swan, and Mallard but also check for migrating waterfowl. The island, accessed from a bridge near the Buddhist temple, can be a good place to find migrants like Song Thrush and Firecrest in migration and Rose-ringed Parakeet year round.

The brushy area south of the lake is a good place to scan for Dunnock, Eurasian Greenfinch, and Common Chaffinch. In winter, look for increasingly scarce Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Cirl Bunting. Keep an eye open for patrolling Eurasian Kestrels. As you move further east, you’ll find more deciduous trees and a greater likelihood of seeing forest birds like Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Wren, European Magpie, Goldcrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Nuthatch, European Robin, European Blackbird, and Song Thrush. Expect passerine numbers and diversity to increase during migration throughout the park. Nearly all the tit species are possible, including Great, Eurasian Blue, Long-tailed, Willow, and Crested (with Coal in migration and winter). Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted, and Green are the most likely woodpeckers, but keep an eye out for Middle Spotted and Black Woodpeckers, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find within city limits. Mistle Thrush is possible year round, but look for wintering Redwing and Fieldfare in open areas.

Access the park from Fountenay sous Bois RER station to walk around Lac des Minimes for a chance of Common Pochard in addition to many of the water birds mentioned previously. There are numerous trails in the area, but stick near a couple of the streams for a chance at Common Kingfisher.

Your chances to see any or all of the above species will increase as you cover more ground, but take care not to get too lost. A rudimentary map is a must if your smartphone doesn’t have a roaming data plan—a compass is also helpful. If and when you find a map display board, take a picture for future reference on the trail. All trails are flat and neatly maintained.

The so-called Reserve Ornithologie (located near the intersection of Allee Royale and Route Royale de Beaute) is worth a stop but don’t expect different habitat, just a fenced perimeter that, while impeding access for careful observers, protects valuable underbrush.

To depart, head north to visit Chateau de Vincennes, a hunting lodge for numerous French kings dating back to Louis VII in the 12th century.

As I continue to explore and discover vegetated Parisian nooks worthy of your binoculars, I will report them to this page. If you have any additional suggestions, please let me know by leaving a comment!