DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

WILD

Dordogne

la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • 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.

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  • 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!

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  • 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.

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  • 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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  • Spanish Pyrenees

    I have just returned from a week's guiding in the Spanish Pyrenees with Bob Gibbons. We were based around Jaca and made various sorties into the mountains and valleys. We had good views of Lammergeiers, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs and a fleeting one of a Wallcreeper. Butterflies were still quite common and included Bath White, Geranium Bronze, Large Wall Brown, Tree Grayling, Cleopatra, Mallow Skipper, Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Queen of Spain Fritillary (of course!) and Two-tailed Pasha. A very tiny small white was probably a Mountain Small White and likewise a very small brown was probably a ringlet (Erebia sp.). Flowers were also still good most notably alpines in the high peaks. One day on route to the French border at Col de la Pierre St Martin, we stopped on a roadside to admire the autumn flowering Pyrenean crocus "Merendera" Colchicum montanum.

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  • Butterflies at Mauzac

    I was going through some computer files recently and found this photo of a Black Hairstreak taken by Gary Palmer. It must date back around five years when we had our house and gite in Mauzac. Gary photographed it on the valley roadside verge below the house and it was quite a surprise. They appear to be scarce in Dordogne and are quite discrete appearing fairly early in the season (May) and they are happy to sit quietly on leaves of trees and scrub for much of the time. The diversity of species at Mauzac was pretty impressive - we must have recorded around 80 species of butterflies within a kilometre of our house - and this was one of the top ones, of course found by a gite guest!

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  • 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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David

Welcome to my Dordogne Wildlife Diary

In it you will find regular wildlife sightings in the d├ępartement of Dordogne, notably of birds and butterflies in southern Dordogne where I live. In adddition there will be occasional references to neighbouring d├ępartements 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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