DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

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Dordogne

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Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • fritillaries...

    It's been a good spring for small fritillaries here in Dordogne. In our local small valley I've seen plenty of Weaver's, Meadow, Marsh, Glanville, Knapweed, Heath and Small-Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. One I was hoping to find was Spotted but this is more of a "causse" species than the others and so tends to be found on thin, stoney grasslands which we don't have locally. However on a recent trip to my old stamping ground near Mauzac (orchid-hunting with Corine Oosterlee) we came across a site with many Spotted Fritillaries (first photo - a female with dark greyish forewings) and in a marshy valley nearby the scarce False Heath Fritillary (second photo - a generally dark species), a wetland specialist.

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  • The sad demise of a pristine Black-veined White and other stories...

    Black-veined Whites are having a great season this year locally. They are a beautiful large butterfly and fly powerfully and majestically around the meadows and scrub. The caterpillars foodpalnt are fruit trees - including many Prunus species. They can become pests in orchards. I've been counting up to 20 during an hour long walk near the house in recent days. This recently-emerged individual (see below) however was not so lucky. Perhaps at the first flower it chose to nectar at, it was caught and killed by this spider (the white blob near the middle of the photo) most likely Misumena vatia whose colour generally matches the colour of the flower they wait on.

    Previously found in southern UK, the Black-veined White became extinct there around 1925. County extinctions had already occured from the early 19th century and the species soon went into a steep decline but hung on in three core areas: the New Forest, east Kent and the Welsh Borders. It's a species of wide population fluctuations (the reasons for which are not fully understood) and despite periods of local abundance in these three areas in the early 20th century, colonies continued to be lost. With colonies isolated and reduced in size and further threatened by collectors, the species's days were numbered.

    Fortunately although these wide population fluctuations have also been noted on this side of the English Channel, in Dordogne at least, they always seem to bounce back after a year or two of scarcity. However the species has also declined in the north of France, and this is believed to be due to agricultural intensification. Personally I don't remember a poor year for Black-veined Whites during my nearly 20 years here. However maybe Dordogne is more fortunate than most departments in France with an extensive meadow and forest mosaic (with mostly unintensive mixed farming), ideal for this superb butterfly.

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  • old tractors and orchids

    I thought this was a nice combination: an abandoned tractor with orchid garden. It just so happens that one of the few colonies of Common-spotted Orchid in Dordogne is in our little valle. It IS a common species in UK but here it is rare and so rather an exciting find. The old tractor somehow adds to the scene I think.

    So far this spring I've found around fifteen orchid species locally which is not bad for a predominantly sandy area. Most recent addition to the garden list is Lizard Orchid.

    Tomorrow I'm visiting local botanist Corine Oosterlee to search for the even rarer Frog and Bug Orchids (great names!) back in my old stamping ground near Mauzac. It'll be my first real trip out since the lockdown was relaxed last week. Report to follow!

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  • Amazing Mazarine!

    This is one of my favourite blue butterflies - the Mazarine Blue. It's a bit smaller than most Common Blues but rather more elegant and understated. You see a hint of the amazing purple-tinged blue of the males upperwings in the photo below. The undersides are pale beige with just a neat simple arrangement of black spots with white surrounds - nothing fussy - but with a turquoise fringe at the base of the wings. I was pleased to find it recently in our little valley, a species I never found at our previous house in Mauzac. There seems to be a nice little colony here.

    It was once found in England and was recorded in many counties in the 18th and 19th centuries but was always scarce. Sadly by 1904 it was extinct. No convincing explanation of the reasons for its demise have been advanced. Its caterpillar foodplant is Red Clover in Europe which remains a very common plant in UK. It seems likely that changes in farming practices in the late 19th century in England sounded the death knell for the Mazarine Blue in England, whilst collectors perhaps helping to finish off the final colonies. Populations of butterfly species in small isolated colonies like the Mazarine Blue are always fragile. In addition those on the edge of their range, like the Mazarine Blue, often have very exacting requirements and are thus at great risk from environmental changes which can cause rapid declines in populations, often to extinction - first locally and ultimately nationally.

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  • Fox Moth

    The other morning I went out to move the cars around so that Audrey could use my minibus for work - completing missing this moth as I crossed the front step! Audrey of course found it immediately. I realised it was an "eggar-type" moth but couldn't quite place it. A quick look at the guides confirmed it as a female Fox Moth. These dark grey individuals are also common in the north of UK, whilst in the south of England they are a reddish-brown. Female moths generally have thin wiry antennae like this species, whereas the males are feathered and are used for searching for females - by picking up their scent pheromones to guide them. Males are day-flying, whilst females are active by night. They are quite a common species in Europe...and rather beautiful.

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  • Muguet

    The 1st May is the day in France when tradition dictates that you give sprays of Lily-of-the-Valley (or Muguet in French) to friends and family. A business has built up around this and sellers can normally be found in villages on this special day. The plant is grown commercially but this year with the Coronovirus lockdown, (or "confinement" over here) growers and sellers have lost all their trade. Hopefully next year everything will be back to normal. It grows as a native in north-east Dordogne but for us in the south, it's a northern species (like Beech, Ramsons, Bluebells and Common Foxglove etc.). Luckily for us, previous owners of our new house near Bergerac, planted some on the north-facing side of the house in the shelter of the roadside wall where they tick over nicely - see below). Flowering however was early this year with the warm spring, so most had finished flowering when a took my photo.

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  • small fritillary time...

    The small fritillary season has started early this spring with the warm weather, and I am finding a good variety live in the varied habitats around our new house.

    First to emerge were the Weaver's (Violet) Fritillary as previously covered in this blog. Since then the pretty Marsh Fritllary (here on a Pyramidal Orchid) and the plainer orange Meadow Fritillary (similar to the UK Heath Fritillary) have appeared in the little limestone valley, whilst across in the sandy pine forest the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in now on the wing. Not a bad start to the season which should see at least a couple more small fritillary species before the spring is out...

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  • orchid bonanza !

    This spring I've decided to "re-wild" the garden a bit. Last year we arrived here in March and there was not much time to plan how to develop the garden for wildlife. This year there's plenty of time! I found two orchids species last year growing in the lawn and so, mainly based on these areas I've decided to let areas grow as wild grassland with a late cut (cuttings removed) in October/November. Hopefully that will help the flowers and invertebrates - and so everything else up the foodchain. I've been keeping an eye on orchid leaves coming up and found one particularly dense "mat" of leaves in what I call the "reserve area" (Green Lizard, various orchids found etc.) a month or so ago. Well this week they started flowering and they are Tongue Orchids! Not a particularly unusual species here in Dordogne (however I only saw one plant near our old house at Mauzac, on Cabant Hill). this species isn't tied to limestone like many orchids, but it is still very pleasing.

    Since then my son Joseph has found some other orchids (one was a broomrape) and he's marked them with a stick so I don't cut them when I mow the grass.

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  • two little continental blues

    This week my local walks produced a couple of nice butterfly surprises along the little valley. These were two types of short-tailed blues. They are similar to the Small (or Little) Blue in UK and fairly common (at the right time and place) in Dordogne. The Short-tailed Blue seems to prefer damper habitats and the grand-sounding Provençal Short-tailed Blue, drier ones. However on dry sandy heathlands they seem equally common! There is one special feature to look out for and that is the tiny spot or spots at the base of the tail. In the Short-tailed Blue, there are often two red spots whilst on the Provençal cousin there is just a tiny black spot. The "tails" tend to be longer in the Short-tailed Blue and the males are bluer. The female Provençal has all-brown uppers, whereas the female Short-tailed Blue has touches of blue on her upper forewings. On the underside the marking on the edge of both wings are generally stronger on the Short-tailed Blue. Fortunately two posed for me!

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  • Butterfly numbers increasing

    Here at home we are in what the French call "confinement" thanks to Coronovirus, so I am only able to do short walks locally. But this has helped me get to know the local area better and its wildlife. I have two walks, one to the south of the road along the border of a farm and through the sandy pinewoods and mixed woods mostly on a forest track, coming back up the hill from the valley bottom with a tiny stream by the minor road. The other is on the north side of the road walking briefly through the mixed woods and then into the head of a little valley and slowly dropping down towards the valley bottom of the first walk. The second walk takes me through some interesting damp meadows and the edge of a rough, part-wooded limestone slope. So far I have already seen 28 species, partly due to the very early and mild spring. A week or two ago I found a pretty female Holly Blue egg-laying on Dogwood by the road, whilst down in the valley along the base of the limestone slope, Weaver's Fritillaries were emerging, see photos below.

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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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