DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

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Dordogne

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Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • 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...

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  • 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!

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  • 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.

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  • 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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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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