DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

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Dordogne

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Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • oriole on a plate...or a bird in the hand...

    Well OK, not quite on a plate, but certainly in the hand! I spent the day recently with friends who have a house across the little valley from where we used to live at Saint-Meyme-de-Rozens. We'd visited Faux Plateau and enjoyed the usual rich haul of birds including the plentiful Black-winged Kites etc. One species which proved elusive as always was the Golden Oriole. We heard them calling from the woodland canopy at three sites and were fortunate to catch brief glimpses at one site. But as usual it proved impossible to get a really good view and we had to be content with their beautiful fluty yodel of a song and occasional harsh cat-like calls.

    After a long warm day in the field we returned to my friends' house to see that a bird had hit their large patio window at the front door and it lay motionless feet-up on the stone below. Fearing the worst I picked it up, checked it over and found it very much alive. Ironically after our attempts to get a good view of a Golden Oriole it turned out to be a female or immature of this species. The rest of the family were still in the trees overhead calling, so I released it and with a wobble it flew off and re-joined them. Luckily no harm done. It's not often that you can get this close to an oriole unles you are a bird ringer. Female and immature Golden Orioles are rather greenish, whereas it is the male which is bright yellow with the black wings and tail.

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  • an orchid by accident

    On one of my regular rambles locally, mainly searching for butterflies, I stumbled across this lovely orchid sadly starting to "go over" a bit. However like the Bug Orchid I recently discussed in this blog, it was the aroma which attracted my attention to it. The Fragrant Orchid has a similar vanillary scent and these two species are some of the few European orchids which have a perfume. They are quite a late flowering species - meaning June here - and are generally a limestone grassland species, so we are fortunate to have them here as we only have fairly small enclaves of this geology locally.

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  • a High Brown came calling...

    Yesterday I spent the morning in Liorac Forest between here (near Bergerac) and our old house in Mauzac. I was doing survey work for the rare False Ringlet butterfly which was unsuccessful, though I did find some individuals at a few sites in the Landais Forest north of Bergerac last week.

    However, a very pleasant surprise was to find a High Brown Fritillary which shot past me (and into my net fortunately). This was rather timely after the last blog entry concerning the Dark Green Fritillary, including a comparison with the High Brown's underside hindwing pattern. Below you can clearly see the series of white-centred (orangey-) brown spots between the marginal and central lines of white spots. Interestingly the white spots don't seem as silvery as the Dark Green's. I tried flash photography but got no real reflections. This photo is natural light. Also the white-centred "brown spots" seem more dark orange to me. Just goes to show - don't believed everything you read in books. Anyway it's another beautiful butterfly.

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  • a large fritillary...

    Yesterday I was doing my regular walk in the nearby valley when I nearly stepped on this large fritillary. The weather had clouded over and butterfly activity had declined. This particular butterfly didn't seem to want to move. In fact I think it had only recently emerged. When I first saw it, resting with its wings open, I thought it might be a High Brown with the slightly concave outer edges to the forewing. It was imperative for me to see the hind-wing underside pattern but the butterfly was down in the vegetation and seemed determined to keep its wings open.

    Getting a view under it was impossible so I tried a few photos of the upperwings anyway and as I got closer the butterfly occasionally flicked its wings up...and then down, but not slowly enough for me to identify it. So I tried to capture an image when it was holding it's wings fully up but with the dull weather the focus was not working too well. So I switched to flash. Again I took loads of hopeful photos and this one was the best.

    Well, firstly it enabled me to identify the butterfly back at home on the computer screen: a Dark Green Fritillary. A High Brown (the only other candidate here) in particular has a line of white-centred, brown spots in the faune hindwing band, where this one has none. What it also shows very nicely (apart from the out-of-focus grass stem) is the beautiful silver spots and the brilliant shiny green colouration which gives the butterfly it's name (not quite "dark-green" to me...but still !). This latter colouration was something that I hadn't appreciated until I took this photo rather accidently. Sometimes pure science really is more interesting than applied science! The Victorians were very good at silvering the spots on pictures of fritillaries in their butterfly books, but modern publishing doesn't seem to be up to it. But I don't remember seeing the shiny green in any Victorian plates of a Dark Green Fritillary!

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  • Bug Orchid

    My Dutch botanist friend Corine showed me a special site a few weeks back for the rare Bug Orchid, not too far from Le Bugue. There are few places for this species known in Dordogne, but then it is quite easy to miss, unless you are really looking and know this exotic orchid. The best places are dry thin limestone grasslands with some scrub, in fact typical 'causse' habitat. However I've visited many of these areas in Dordogne and never seen the species. One thing that helps on a warm sunny afternoon is its fragrant vanilla perfume. This is a great help locating individuals. We counted around a hundred flower heads at the site.

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  • lizards & lavender

    I've been trying to revive the butterfly-attracting plants around the garden such as buddleia, lavender and sedum as well as planting others such as rosemary, honeysuckle, verbena and thyme. Last year there seemed to be very few butterflies in general, with Meadow Browns most regular. It's not too different this year but I have also recorded species such as Southern White Admiral, Marbled White, Common Blue, Mallow Skipper, Brown Argus and Glanville Fritillary - probably due to a few areas of rough grassland I've left at the end of the garden as mini hay meadows.

    Anyway, last year in March the builder's accidently destroyed what I thought was a Lady Orchid from its large basal leaves, but this year just across the narrow path a Lizard Orchid has reared its beautiful head amongst one of our lavender patches (see below).

    The flowers really do look like little whitish lizards hanging down. I found it as I was checking a Wall Brown that had come to visit the flowers. Looking back I think my "Lady" last year must have been a "Lizard". So that makes four species of orchid I've found in the garden including the Green-winged and Tongue Orchids plus Autumn Lady's Tresses. I've also found leaves of two more possible species as well, so hopefully other species will appear over the years as we "re-wild" areas.

    I thought the only lizards I'd see here would be the Western Green and European Wall Lizards which scuttle around the paths and grasslands !

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  • the larger fritillaries

    We've now seen just about all of the small fritillary species emerge here in Dordogne with the final one being Heath Fritillary in late May, though like most species it has emerged earlier this year with the warm spring. The Heather Fritillary always has an rich even orange background colour on the forewings and the dark markings are regular and heavier than the other similar species. The key marking is on the underside (and upperside) of the forewing near the outer lower edge where there is a larger dark marginal mark (or lunule), not seen on the other species.

    Summer really feels like it is arriving when the larger fritillaries start emerging - and that is now! Last week I found this male Marbled Fritillary in our little local valley.

    Yesterday out by the reservoir at Issigeac I saw my first male Siver-washed Fritillary - a big orange long-winged beauty.

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  • 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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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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