la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • Spring butterflies coming out...

    On sunny warm afternoons butterflies are starting to appear. They are mostly those that hibernate as adults such as Red Admirals, Peacocks and Brimstones but there are also a few now that have emerged from crysalises this spring.

    The yellow male Brimstones are out in good numbers in fine weather, hunting for females across meadows, along hedge lines and amongst scrub. The white females however never seem common but they live a more hidden and sedentary life. In recent weeks I've seen several Comma and yesterday a couple of beautiful Large Tortoiseshells nearby my old house in Mauzac. They were sparing high up into the sky during the late afternoon at a sheltered hotspot in the corner of a meadow. Fortunately they came back down and kindly allowed themselves to be photographed, see below.

    I've seen three species of butterflies so far this year which had hibernated in the chrysalis stage: Speckled Wood, Small White and Holly Blue. That suggests other species will soon emerge if the weather satys fine.



  • early spring in Dordogne

    It has been an exceptionally mild winter here. By contrast the last few days we have had frosts which must have doubled the number for the winter! However by the afternoon with sunshine, the temperatures are reaching 15°C and above. This photo of our "lawn" was taken at the end of January and shows a spread of blue Persian Speedwell (a kind of southern Germander Speedwell) amongst a few Common Daisies.

    On a recent visit to La Roque-Gageac upstream along the Dordogne valley I found a lemon tree under the cliffs fruiting well. It appears to be kept permanently outside and so benefits from the sub-Mediterranean microclimate of this pretty riverside village.



  • new orchids

    After being without internet for a couple of weeks I now can get on with the blog - apologies for anyone who was waiting (assuming someone - or some ones - do read this!).

    As everywhere in western Europe, it has been a very mild winter with few frosts here. So plants are growing fast and in fact quite a few species have been flowering all winter. Near the house hellebores planted by previous owners have been flowering for a month now.

    Hannah and me went for a little walk in the hamlet in January and found around ten species of plant in flower - enough to make a mini-posy for mummy Audrey!

    A bit more exciting (for me) was the discovery of large orchid leaves in the rough lawn. So it looks like there are at least two plants of Lady Orchid coming up and another unidentified species. This is pleasing as last year the builders creating the car parking area destroyed our only specimen! As well in the same area there are plenty of Autumn Lady's Tresses leaves from last years plants so hopefully they will be spreading. With luck the Tongue and Green-winged Orchids will come up again later in the spring...and maybe a new species for the garden...



  • Nestboxes again

    I've been busy with wildlife gardening recently as discussed in this blog. One project I was keen to get going is the easy conversion of a large niche in the gable end of our outhouses for Little Owls. It has just involved some stonework and workwork plus sealing a few holes. Whether the local Little Owls are impressed is another matter however!

    Whilst thinking about nestboxes my friend Duncan quite rightly reminded me that I should put some open-fronted ones up too. So I have put up two: one in a Ivy-clad Elder tree and the second in another outbuilding.

    Hopefully someone will like them...



  • New fish ladder at Mauzac

    There's been a lot of work going on at the Mauzac Dam (or "barrage" as it is known locally). Around ten years ago there was a government report showing that many French dams were in need of repairs and so a rolling programme was laid out. The repairs at Mauzac have been attended to, but during this extended period of activity a related project, that of a new fish ladder, has come on tap. It's a fairly classic style with a cascade of pools gradually rising to the upper river section from the downstream side of the dam. Work started last year and they hope to finish by March next year (2020). There is already one a kilometre downstream at the old power station itself but this will provide migratory fish such as Salmon with another improved option. It will be interesting to see how EDF finish the works including landscaping and information/viewing facitilies - hopefully to the benefit of wildlife and visitors alike. With the riverfront recently given a facelift things are looking up at Mauzac!



  • Fan-tailed Warbler

    I know that I should be calling it the "Zitting Cisticola" after the relatively recent globalisation of bird names. And indeed it is a "Cisticola" (an African bird genus) and it does "Zit!" loudly from a branch or in a bouncy songflight. However I much prefer the prettier old name of Fan-tailed Warbler. It's a tiny little LBJ (little brown job) not much bigger than a Goldcrest but if viewed well it can be seen to be beautifully marked on the back and crown with dark brown and yellowish streaks with a white belly and yellowish throat and flanks. The wonderful tail is best seen in flight as they break to alight. It is like a minature Turtle Dove's with a rounded end, edged white and enhanced by black adjacent. The eye has a clear pale ring around it.

    It was not a bird we saw at Cabant, our former home and in fact in that area I only ever saw it once at Mauzac on the marsh below the dam. This autumn I was pleased to find three last week in our local valley (the Marmalet) in an overgrown marshy area recently cleared of (and subsequently re-planted with) poplar. So I returned and managed a few half-decent photos of these little jewels.

    Like Stonechat, Dartford Warbler and Cetti's Warbler, Fan-tailed Warblers are badly hit by severe winters and retreat south and westwards to milder climes. Around 10 years ago Fan-tailed Warblers were hit by two bad winters and subsequently were pretty much extinct as a nesting bird in Dordogne. Since then their range has gradually extended back eastwards up the valleys and for several years now they have been common again in their "traditional" haunts. Although they are often thought of as a wetland species, in Dordogne they are common in dry grassy fields and arable fields.



  • Nestboxes and wildlife gardening

    I have finally started to think about turning the suburban-style garden here into a wildlife garden. I've got a couple of feeders up, though so far only Blue Tits and a Robin have visited. Today with one of the first frosts of the autumn, I put out plenty of seed, including a Niger seed feeder and provided a couple of water drinking points. At the weekend I went around the garden with Hannah our five year old to identify places for three hole-fronted nestboxes. Her main interest was the big Cedar which was a great idea, after that we decided on the gable wall of the barn (see below) and a small tree at the far end of the garden - two of these we can watch from the house. I modified these LPO/RSPB-style basic nestboxes by adding draininge holes in the base, adding metal predator-proof nest hole surrounds and by putting aluminium tape on the roof to extend the life of the box. Hopefully these nestboxes will provide useful nesting and roosting sites for our local birds. Next I plan to create a Little Owl nestbox by putting a wooden front on a large open niche in the gable top of our lower outbuilding. After that I've decided to cut paths through the "lawn" and let the rest grow as a hay meadow as we did at Cabant, our former home in Mauzac. Several patches of the "lawn" are especially rank so these will be mown regularly (with cuttings removed) until they lose their vigour and become part of the hay regime.



  • Magpie visit

    Now we live in open country (though surrounded by forest) we see Magpies almost as often as Jays. At Cabant near Mauzac, our former home, we lived in the forest and Jays were everywhere with Magpies very rare visitors. I'd forgotten how smart and attractive a bird Mgpies are until one arrived yesterday lunchtime mooching about on our terrace by the house. Close-up the blue and green tints amongst the pied pattern is really striking. I picked up the iPhone and got a couple of quick photos. This Magpie didn't know I was around until I started taking photos and then it was immediately off! They are like Jays - very wary of people and normally difficult to get a good view of. Magpies have a bad name for taking nestlings and young birds, but I suspect that Jays are almost as bad, however the latter's pretty and "softer" looks mean they don't get a bad press, in fact quite the opposite!



  • Autumn in Mauzac

    The Great White Egrets returned to the river this autumn as usual but in recent days with the river running high they have been pushed onto lakes, ponds and fields to search for food. The fast water doesn't seem to bother the small number of Common Sandpiper which are still with us, as I guess they are used to it on their breeding grounds on the upland streams. I tried to photograph one by the canal lock at Mauzac last Friday but I don't have a long zoom and as I got closer it kept running off - so this was the best I could manage.

    Mute Swans have moved upstream of the dam en mass to the quieter water as the islands and shallows around Lalinde are rapidly disappearing with the high water. Before the waters had risen much we had good views of a Water Pipit on a log downstream towards Lalinde. They are an alpine nesting species which winter here. Now the river is high, they are to be found at ponds and muddy fields amongst cattle along with White and Grey Wagtails and sometimes flocks of Cattle Egrets.



  • salamanders on the roads!

    With the mild wet weather recently amphibians have been active. These include the beautiful Fire Salamander which like the frogs and toads in UK tend to wander about on roads in this weather and many become road victims.

    We were in Limoges last weekend for a Regionl U13 basketball tournament which my son Joseph was playing in. After a night in the small hotel near Limoges, at St Junien, we walked out of the hotel in the rain to find this little friend on the tarmac. Of course I didn't find it Audrey did - she said I nearly stepped on it but then I was carrying most of our stuff...anyway the kids liked seeing it as did Audrey's parents though here sister was less sure! One of the sights of a mild wet autumn or spring night in Dordogne.



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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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