DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

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Dordogne

la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • autumn orchid surprise

    A few weeks ago I was mowing the lawn at our new home near Maurens, thinking about nothing in particular when I suddenly stopped in my tracks! I had been just about to mow an orchid, the only late flowering species in Dordogne: Autumn Lady's Tresses. It is a species that I never found at our house in Mauzac, perhaps the grass was always too tall and dense in September for this species. There we did a late cut in November to benefit principally the butterflies. Autumn Lady's Tresses like old lawns and dry stony walls. I guess our garden was previous fields and more recently has been regularly mown each summer - just what this species likes (ideally with more relaxed mowing in autumn which is often the cases as grass growth declines). Amongst our not-terribly-good lawn are patches which have been perhaps less treated and/or are remnants of older pasture/meadow which provide suitable conditions for the species. Anyway I avoided the orchids and eventually counted 10 flowering spikes plus some younger plants with just basal leaves. I'll leave these areas uncut until November and hopefully next year there will be more.

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  • Migration...and a Bluethroat

    A lot of birds pass through on Dordogne on migration but the rarer ones are difficult to track down unless you spend long hours in the field at likely sites. A regular birder here, John Beaumont, has a great interest in migration and has found all sorts of interesting species firstly by concentrating on his local patch around his holiday accomodation (including Savi's Warbler and Roller) but more recently by selecting what appear to be interesting migration corridors (a locally important Honey Buzzard route) or migrant stop-off zones.

    This year he spend much of his two week holiday away from his local patch at Cause-de-Clerans and concentrating on locations on Faux Plateau and at the reservoirs. As a result he found a mixed harrier roost, a selection of waders, Ortolan Bunting, Tawny Pipit and this nice male Bluethroat which he showed me in a field near Naussannes. Photo by John Beaumont.

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  • False Grayling

    After all the graylings I've seen in Dordogne and Spain in recent weeks, it was good to reacquaint myself with the False Grayling. Superficially similar to other graylings, it is actually a different genus and quite difficult to find in Dordogne. It flies in late summer (when maybe fewer people are looking) and you have to go searching amongst dry tussocky limestone grasslands where they usually only fly if disturbed. Whilst at Lac de la Nette, Issigeac recently I had the good fortune to meet the director of the CEN (Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels) Lot-et-Garonne, Olivier Vannucci, who just happened to be out butterfly-watching too. He had a few good tips for me including the presence of the False Grayling on a small grassland by the lake. I had never realised it was present here and he duly showed me one. Having moved house from Mauzac recently (where we had a good colony on the hilltop) I rarely see this species now.

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  • Rock Bunting

    It's years since I saw a Rock Bunting. Last time was in the Pyrenees near the Cirque de Gavarnie - maybe nearly 20 years ago. I'm still hoping to see one in Dordogne where they are a scarce winter visitor. Whilst butterfly-watching up in the Sierra Cardo mountains (Spain) on holiday I found a few birds of interest too. Firstly a worn male Blue Rock Thrush and then soon after a family of Blue Rock Thrushes, plus plenty of Dartford and Sardinian Warblers. All the while I had heard a bunting calling and assumed it was a Cirl (as in Dordogne). One landed quite close on a bush and I swung my binoculars around on to it. It was a male with a white (not yellow face) and a white/russet breast (not yellow/olive) - so definitely a Rock Bunting. Result!

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  • White Storks

    White Storks are on the increase in Dordogne. There are now over a dozen pairs along the Isle river between Libourne and Périgueux. They are also increasing elsewhere in France and more locally around Bordeaux and the west coast in general. In their once last stronghold of Alsace in NE France they have become so common that people are starting to complain about damage to houses from the large nests! This population increase is however generally welcomed and it means that we are more and more likely to see the species in our part of Dordogne (the south). The other day I took a small group to Faux Plateau and we came across this small group which spent half and hour feeding along the banks of Lac de la Nette near issigeac, before flying on westward. Not only White Storks but also the shy, wary, Black Stork is increasing and may be nesting now in some quiet out-of-the-way flooded forest in Aquitaine. During my recent holiday in Spain, Joseph (my son) and me found a White Stork at the Sebes nature reserve at Flix where they have recently been successfully re-introduced. This area is a reedbed along the Ebro River where white Camargais horses have been introduced to graze, creating open habitat for the storks (and other birds) to feed. Platforms have been erected for nesting storks and the local stork population goes from strength to strength. It's not only happening in the UK! At several likely sites in southern Dordogne nest platforms have been also been erected and we hope to soon be able to report on the first breeding attempts here as well.

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  • A tiger in Spain

    Whilst on holiday in Spain I somehow managed to get the whole family, including my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, to come for a morning birding on the Ebro Delta. I'm pleased to report that they were suitably impressed with a great array of wetland birds including Flamingo, Purple Gallinule, Glossy Ibis and Black-tailed Godwit at the Migjorn tower hide (on the stream by the south bank of the estuary where it runs into the Mediterranean Sea). The excellent new MonNatura information centre at Tancada was also popular with the family. It showcases the Ebro Delta very well explaining the wildlife, historical and cutural interest of the area, all based in a restored salt-pan complex with beautiful old buildings. We saw more good birds here including Caspian Terns and apart from other things it's possible to see the small and pretty, endemic toothcarp fish whilst punting along the short canal!

    However for me all this was completely eclipsed by a butterfly Audrey and Joseph found for me by the Migjorn hide - the Plain Tiger. It's like an African version of the famous Monarch (and another milkweed species). This was a first for me and stunning to see such a tropical-looking butterfly in Europe. Subsequently we found several more on flowers further back amongst the reeds. The best things are always the surprise ones!

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  • Cardinals and Pashas

    I've just returned from a short family holiday to Spain and despite other duties I managed to do a few wildlife trips, including two trips with my son Joseph (11) - the first time he's shown any real interest in finding out what his Dad does! However by the time of my last trip to the Sierra Cardo monastery area, it proved a trip too many for him (for now).

    So off I went alone early one morning to a beautiful spot high in the hills near Rasquera, 45 minutes inland from the El Perello near the Ebro Delta, where we stay. It was cool at 8am and quiet, however the sun was rising. As I walked along the track through the forest I started to see a few Common Grayling and Wall. Finally on reaching the ridge the trees became more scrubby and I found an half-abandoned farmstead. Striped Graylings were common and there were a few Tree Graylings too. Here there were plenty of nectaring flowers and so I added species including Chalkhill Blue, Painted Lady, Bath White, Berger's Clouded Yellow to my burgeoning list. However the highlights were left for my return walk. By now it was nearing midday and very warm. Halfway back in the scrubby holm oak forest I came across several male Cardinal Fritillaries holding territory. I always think of them as the exotic 'Mediterranean Silver-washed Fritillary' with their flashy crimson patch on the forewing underside. It's a while since I saw a few in the Cevennes and on the dunes (in similar habitat) north of Bordeaux - both areas at the northern limit of Mediterranean habitat.

    Further on I was treated to a 'pleasure' of Pashas - four fresh males gathered at a particularly tasty animal scat on the track. Pity Joseph missed all that!

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  • 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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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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