DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

WILD

Dordogne

la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • Late butterflies

    This time of year sees the last of the main butterfly flight period, although odd Red Admirals and Peacocks appear in mid winter on mild sunny afternoons. At present there are still small numbers of Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, Small White and Clouded Yellow. However rather surprising for late October were two Common Graylings up on Trémolat (and another the day before on the west coast near Arcachon) although the warm Indian Summer here has indeed maintained good levels of insect activity. I tried to get a decent shot of the Common Grayling at Arcachon but the focus fixed on the grass foreground (an old story!) - still there is enough to identify the butterfly.

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  • Stick Insect

    I remember at school years ago that there was a craze for a short period of having stick insects as pets - not that I had one sadly. They must have been Asian or perhaps African species I suppose. Coming to live in France I didn't realise there were native species (in fact 3) though they are not easy to see normally. The experts say search at dusk when they are more active and notably in bramble patches - conjures up an interesting scene!

    We were therefore lucky to find an adult stick insect in broad day-light recently on one of the shutters of our new home. The children were fascinated by it. And after some close-up study Joseph and Hannah "liberated it" in some bushes (we couldn't find the brambles!). The species in question is Clonopsis gallica, the French name is a bit more exciting than the English one: "Phasme Gaulois".!

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  • Crested Tit

    The Crested Tit is quite a common bird in Dordogne, especially where there are pines. Winter is a good time to see them in mixed species flocks when the leaves are down and birds are more visible. Just listen out for the soft slurred trill with the pitch of a Blue Tit, as you walk through the forest, and this should lead you to one. Our birds in Dordogne are the continental subspecies. The British subspecies, only found in the Scottish Caledonian Pine Forest, is a rather greyer brown with the underparts paler. Despite not being exactly colourful their head-dress is one of the most attractive of the small songbirds. Thanks to John Beaumont for the photo taken locally in Liorac Forest.

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  • Ospreys

    Quite a few Ospreys pass through Dordogne on migration and the River Dordogne (for example on the Mauzac-Lalinde stretch) or the local reservoirs are good places to find them. Sometimes they hang around for several days or even longer. Other times you may see one circling higher and higher on a thermal until it sets off southward or flapping slowly, and not too high, onward perhaps to the next feeding or roosting stop - for example this one in the photo taken on the Faux Plateau by John Beaumont recently. We hope that before too long Ospreys will be nesting in Dordogne. There is plenty of good habitat, so hopefully it is just a question of time...

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  • Yellow Wagtails

    In spring and autumn plenty of Yellow Wagtails pass through Dordogne and a herd of cows or a recently ploughed field can produce a nice little flock. Even better if there are a few Cattle Egrets amongst to add to the animated scene. The Yellow Wagtails tend to be of the continental Blue-head Wagtail race. I've also seen quite a few "British" Yellow Wagtails which are yellow below and green above, but also Grey-headed Wagtail from Fenno-Scandinavia. I always wanted to get a photo of these birds but never managed it. Fortunately birder and photographer John Beaumont was on hand recently to kindly supply the goods. The bird below appears to be an autumn male Grey-headed Wagtail. I've seen a few in spring and the males were bighter yellow below and very dark grey on the head with black ear-coverts and no pale supercilium.

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  • Honey Buzzard migration

    Every late spring and late summer Honey Buzzards migrate in large numbers across Dordogne. Although I was aware of their migration from my own random sightings (and others posted on the Faune-Aquitaine website), it was my birder friend John Beaumont who really made me fully aware of the significance of the phenomenum this August. He's visited Dordogne for 20 years or so studying the local birdlife near Bergerac and one thing in particular that has interested him is the Honey Buzzard migration. He has a watch point up in the vineyards and over two weeks at the end of August he saw a total of about 500 birds pass through. Not quite Gibraltar numbers, but still pretty impressive. I joined him on a couple of mornings when we saw around 50 birds in total. It appears that his watch point is on a migration corridor and we discussed various theories on why this is the case: perhaps a combination of the proximity to attractive forest for safe roosting and proximity to good thermals to aid migration. John's photos below give an idea of the action!

    Not only Honey Buzzards but a variety of raptors and other species pass through such as Marsh Harrier, Black Stork and even a few waders!

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  • Special birds at Faux

    The Plateau de Faux is one of our top birding spots in Dordogne - and my friend John Beaumont on holiday here recently proved the point with these photos of two interesting migrant birds, first a Wryneck (below) at the reservoir near Issigeac...

    and secondly a female Montagu's Harrier hunting over a field near Issigeac.

    More of John's great bird photography - all taken locally in the last month or so - to come soon.

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  • Waders...

    Dordogne is not known for it's smaller wading birds. Being well inland, many waders migrate along coastal routes or overfly Dordogne. Only Common Sandpiper (which nests along upland streams) is frequently seen - mostly in autumn, winter and spring - on larger rivers and other water bodies. In the last 25 years a string of reservoirs have been contructed in the south of the department and adjacent Lot et Garonne - along the Dropt valley which drains into the River Lot. As a result more smaller wading birds (and other waterbirds) have been recorded including unusual species. Dunlin, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank for example are regular in small numbers and species such as Little Stint, Avocet and Black-winged Stilt also turn up. I've found Turnstone, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit - all very rare maritime waders here in Dordogne. A UK birder, John Beaumont, who regularly visits Dordogne in late summer took this nice photo of a juvenile Black-winged Stilt at the Escouroux reservoir near Eymet.

    John also found six Glossy Ibis (his photo of three of them below) at the same site several days earlier - the second record for Dordogne. This just shows that with perserverance interesting waterbirds can be indeed found in Dordogne - John was visiting the reservoirs regularly during his two week stay often at the crack of dawn and re-visited them at different times of day!

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  • Tracks and signs

    When you walk through the countryside in Dordogne you will see plenty of Roe Deer slots, sometimes Badger, Fox, Wild Boar and marten prints as well as their scats. However on a recent walk with John Breeds ex-warden of Braunton Burrows NNR we found a few other items of interest. John noticed a cicada exuvia (pupal case) on the track - as I was looking for butterflies of course! They have an interesting lifecycle spending several years underground as larvae. The cicada song is very much the sound of high summer here and most notably in the Mediterranean and they require a summer temperature of 25°C or so before they start singing. First song is heard around early June in these parts.

    A little further on we came across several ant-lion nests like mini craters in the dry sandy soil. Normally the larva will be waiting below for ants or other small insects to fall into their trap providing them with a regular food supply. This one had a solitary bee visitor which we saw it poking it's head out of the hole several times! Not quite sure what it was up to. The adults are rather like giant damselflies (but with short antennae) and will also hold their wings out like a dragonfly. They sometimes fly into houses on a summer evening attracted by the lights. In Dordogne there are several species including one where the larva does not construct pit traps but lives in the soil and leaf litter like the cicada (and ascalaphid or owlfly) larva.

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  • A hotel visitor...

    Amanda at The Barrage Hotel in Mauzac (our hostess at the hotel for our wildlife holidays) sent a text the other day with a photo of a moth to identify. Unfortunately my phone doesn't do photos but eventually I saw it via Audrey's phone...and by then Amanda had worked out what it was: a Convolvulous Hawk-moth. A large sleek grey jet-shaped moth with a smart pink and black hooped body. It's a regular migrant each year from Africa and some reach UK. I liked the photo which Amanda sent me. She's very creative and imaginative with her cooking at Le Barrage...but could this really be a new starter on the menu?!

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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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