DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

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Dordogne

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Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • Woodchat Shrike (almost) in the garden

    Around 7.30am this morning I heard a rather unfamiliar call emanating from the garden over the road. I was just walking down to the barn to move a few chairs out of the house. When I looked up from where the call was coming from I saw a shrike's outline amongst the branches of a small tree not far away, and it jogged my mind - of course a Woodchat. This species has become scarce in central France and is only really common now around the Mediterranean and Iberia. French birder friends of mine say that when they were young they could often find Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête-rousse) nesting in scrubby habitats locally. Sadly those days are long gone. This year I knew of a pair on the pastures west of Bergerac and a few others were highlighted on Faune-Aquitaine (the local wildlife recorders website) this spring. Such a beautiful bird - they are always such a pleasure to see. In fact they are really little raptors dressed up as pretty songbirds, sometimes maintaining a grisly 'larder' of their captures on a thorn bush. Indeed the song is a pleasant enough chattering warble, though the call I heard was rougher, a quickly repeated 'ge, ge,ge, ge' etc.

    Thanks to Mike Stamp for this great image of a male Woodchat Shrike near Bergerac in June.

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  • summer butterflies

    In the last month I taken several people out looking at butterflies locally and we've found an interesting selection. At this time of year there is a good variety and we can often see around 30 species a day in the best areas. There's a nice mix of blues, browns, whites, fritillaries, skippers plus some of the larger species like Lesser Purple Emperor and Great Banded Graying. We've also seen some rarer species like Woodland Brown, Great Sooty Satyr and Blue-spot Hairstreak. Below is a photo of a female Adonis Blue - this individual showing touches of blue. Photo below courtesy of Robert and Karen Brown. Rarely females can be completely blue with orange marginal spots (form ceronus) but they are generally brown. In the last week we have found small individuals, whereas they are generally a little larger than the Common Blue. The small size is related to higher temperatures when the eggs, larvae and pupae are developing in mid summer. Adonis and Common Blues are both frequent in Dordogne. The best way to separate them is by looking at the white fringes on fresh individuals. The Adonis shows black marks where the veins cross the fringe, often referred to as 'checkering'.

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  • Hoopoes

    We've heard Hoopoes singing here near Maurens all spring, as they do in most villages and hamlets in Dordogne, but they can be discrete and surprisingly difficult to see on the ground. If you do see one it is often when a bird flies up from the roadside where it had been feeding on the short grass of the verge. All you then see is a smallish pale bird with proportionally large flappy black and white wings and it's gone. The other day I was lucky when two birds flew into the garden onto the mature cedar. The first landed on a branch and then was swiftly followed by another which proceeded to feed the first. Pair-bond feeding or a late fledgling? Difficult to say but most probably the latter. I went to get my camera and managed this rather poor slightly out of focus image, but it does show the impressive bill length well. They feed like Starlings probing in the short grass and soil for invertebrates but can clearly probe deeper!

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  • Wild Boar surprise

    On Sunday evening I met a friend for a walk on Faux Plateau at the silo near La Micalie. It was cooler by 9pm and there were plenty of interesting birds about including 'the usual' Black-winged Kites and Stone Curlews. After parting company my friend went on to Montaut (and back to his gite in Hautefage-la-Tour in Lot-et-Garonne) where he heard Scops Owls at both sites. My return home was also interesting. As I drove back at dusk across the plateau and approached La Micalie I noticed animals in the field to my left (I assumed were Roe Deer). I slowed down and stopped realising they were a group of five Wild Boar, apparently a female with quiet large youngsters. Instead of running off they actually approached the vehicle, or at least the female did with the young holding back somewhat (gambolling a bit like lambs!). As she approached to within 10-15 metres of the van I wondered if she might charge the vehicle, or maybe she was just inquisitive and wondered if the minibus was an exceptionally large variety of cattle (the local race Blonde d'Aquitaine is very pale). Anyway after a brief inspection she sauntered on and as I started up the vehicle the group immediately raced in a tight group across the road in front of me and away to the field on the right behind the security of a hedge. Photos below taken with my little compact Nikon. In fact the photos failed to produce any usable images but I accidently pressed the video recording button in the excitement and as a result I could created these rough stills.

    Further on near Faux I came across a Roebuck standing firm in the middle of the main road, as I breaked and came to a halt, it finally sauntered away. On route home to Bergerac I passed five Little Owls and two Tawny Owls.

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  • Woodcock Orchid or Duck Orchid?

    On a recent Travelling Naturalist wildlife holiday here in Dordogne we were very fortunate to find a good range of late orchids - probably aided by the rather cool, wet spring and early summer. On the dry stoney hills above Condat on the Causse de Terrasson, tucked under a hedge, we found not only Woodcock but also Fly Orchids. Group member Mike Stamp took some great photos of the flowers, one of which is shown below. The discussion of the orchids included a question I am often asked and didn't know the question to (there have been a few of those!): why is the Woodcock Orchid so named by Linnaeus or one of his colleagues? I always thought it must be due to the orchid flowering during the 'roding' (display flight) period of the Woodcock. However it seems that it is due to the shape of the structure holding the pollinia (above the colourful lower petal or labellum). This apparently resembles a Woodcock. See what you think. Mike reckoned we should re-name it 'Duck Orchid'!

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  • Great Bustard at Faux

    I'd always hoped to see a Little Bustard on Faux Plateau, as thirty years ago they used to nest there. So far this hasn't happened. However a few weeks back I got a phone call from a birdwatching friend, Michel Hoare, to say that a Great Bustard was present at Faux near the silo. I was in the middle of leading a wildlife holiday at the time. In fact due to bad weather we were at Les Eyzies making a visit to one of the prehistoric caves. After a quick consultation over lunch with the guests we made the only sensible choice - go to Faux! Fortunately after lunch the bad weather abated and conditions were perfect for birdwatching. We arrived at the silo and set up the telescope scanning the area for a long grey neck and head sticking out of the crops. Initially we had no luck. Then suddenly the bird flew in to view about 500 metres away coming towards us before dropping down into the crops and disappearing. Still it was a brief but great sighting. Unfortunately the bird didn't re-appear for us and several days later was seen for the last time. It was a juvenile male, possibly a Spanish or British bird. It was first found by my friend Claude Soubiran who just happened by good fortune to be visiting the site with Jean-Philippe Siblet (the head of the nature conservation department at the Natural History Museum in Paris)! It was Mr. Siblet who kindly provided the photos below.

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  • Woodland Brown surprise

    The Woodland Brown is a rare species in Dordogne and in fact Europe as a whole. It was only 're-discovered' in Dordogne by a group staying at our gite around 2012 when they visited the Rouffignac Cave to see the prehistoric paintings. Yesterday I was doing a little butterflying with a regular visitor Margaret Mills, when we found one of these special butterflies near my former home in Mauzac. Walking through the wood I saw a smallish brown butterfly fluttering in front of us and thought initially that it was a Meadow Brown suffering a bit in the heat. It settled and to my amazement it was a Woodland Brown - at a place I have walked through hundreds of times between 2003 and the present day. Just goes to show...

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  • Little Owl

    We are fortunate to have a pair of Little Owls nesting where we live near Maurens. It's a small arable hilltop amongst the forest with clearly enough open ground with trees, hedges and buildings for them to hunt successfully and nest. In early spring they are very noisy "whelping" at dusk. As I drove back home the other evening from Mauzac I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a football goal post at Saint Sauveur with a bobble on top - cue another Little Owl. They are in fact quite common across open flat or rolling land in Dordogne. Much rarer is the Scops Owl which can be found in summer on Faux Plateau, Verteillac Plain and the extreme east of the department, amongst hamlets and farmsteads usually with small woods or clumps of trees.

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  • Common Clubtail dragonfly

    This beautiful specimen had just emerged from it's exuva (pupal case) as we posed nearby for an end of holiday photo at Le Barrage Hotel, Mauzac (with Speyside Wildlife guests). The Common Clubtail is a common early season species along the rivers of Dordogne. The pale spots on the end of the heavily clubbed and thick abdomen are characteristic. The yellow soon turns green as the adult matures.

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  • Serin

    The bird they always said would colonise southern England when I was a kid (a few years back), but it never happened. A few pairs seem to nest fairly regularly along the south coast of England but it's never really gone beyond that. Across the channel they are a common bird in villages and some stay all winter in SW France. At our new home in Maurens we had birds around through the winter and now there are several pairs in the hamlet. Our heavily pollarded Lime provides good songposts for them.

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David

Welcome to my Dordogne Wildlife Diary

In it you will find regular wildlife sightings in the département of Dordogne, notably of birds and butterflies in southern Dordogne where I live. In adddition there will be occasional references to neighbouring départements such as Lot et Garonne, Gironde, the Lot and places further afield. Check out the Faune-Aquitaine website for the latest wildlife sightings in Dordogne and Aquitaine.

Where possible I will add photographs to illustrate the entry. Many thanks to Margaret Mills (family photo) and Denis Cauchoix (birdwatcher photo).

I hope that you enjoy my diary and look forward to your comments.

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