la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • Great Grey Shrike

    It's unusual to find a Great Grey Shrike in Dordogne. They do occur occasionally in winter and seem to hang around for a few weeks or even months on a winter territory, before making their way back to breeding grounds in the spring. Normally if a "grey shrike" turns up in Dordogne it is a Southern Grey Shrike. These birds nest along the Mediterranean coast, whereas the Great Greys nest in the Massif Central and further east.

    A couple of weeks ago my friend Michel Hoare found a Great Grey Shrike near Beaumont, so whilst I was on a birding trip with a friend looking for Wallcreepers on the Vézère cliffs, we decided to make a short detour and return home via the shrike site. Following Michel's advice we checked the electric and phone wires and before too long found the bird. A fair bit paler than the Southern Grey Shrike but with very similar behaviour. Dropping down on the ground from the wire to capture prey before returning to the same position on the wire or nearby. As the sun was dropping low in the sky, it also semed to be basking in the sun to warm itself before going to roost. My friend Graham Lobley managed to get some photos of the bird to confirm the ID.



  • Forestry work at Cabant

    There seems to have been an increase in forestry activities these last few winters with the rise in popularity of woodburners. Although it looks a bit drastic immediately after the cut the trees coppice and re-seed and soon the woodland returns. In fact these clearings in the forest are important wildlife habitats for species which prefer a mixture of sun and shade including many butterflies such as Speckled Wood, Large Tortoiseshell, Lesser Purple Emperor, and one of out rearest butterflies: the Woodland Brown. Plants such as various orchids often appreciate a bit more light to complete their life-cycle.

    However I must say I was rather shocked when I visited our old house at Cabant near Mauzac recently to see so much of the woodland on the south side of the property had been cleared. Fortunately it will heal with time and the important limestone grasslands on the hilltop have been left largely untouched. However I still feel rather sorry for the new owners.



  • Wallcreeper days...

    We have had some very wet weather in Dordogne recently and the wettest was the day I took a group out to hunt for Wallcreepers aroud Les Eyzies. Despite the driving rain, the day started well for me in Bergerac with a Black-winged Kite on a post along the ringroad. Further on at the airport a Corn Bunting also braved the wet. I met the group in Les Eyzies around mid-morning as the rain continued. We headed up river towards Montignac and stopped at the Maison Forte de Reignac, a chateau built into the cliffs by the main road. From the protection of the tailgate we carefully scanned the cliffs - but no luck. We moved on to La-Roque-Saint-Christophe, an impressive long, tall cliff-face by the Vézère river inhabited by man since prehistoric times and notably a medieval village complete with houses, church, forge etc. Again we used the protection of the tailgate to scan from. We found a nice pair of Black Redstarts high on the cliff nearby, then a very bedraggled Peregrine sitting on top of its nestbox. The rain turned to drizzle so we walked the length of the cliff and back again but without success. Just as we were having a last scan of the cliffs, I saw a Wallcreeper back where we had just walked past! This is typically Wallcreeper behaviour - hiding (so it seems) as you walk past and then appearing some time later. We were lucky to watch it for several minutes and then it flew towards us along the cliff-face giving us a great display...before disappearing again! By now it was lunchtime and so we returned to Les Eyzies to celebrate. After eating we visited a couple of local sites for Wallcreeper and were rewarded with great close-up views at Tayac church.

    The afternoon was spent out on Faux Plateau where despite the changeable weather and high winds we added Black-winged Kite, Red Kite, Hen Harrier and Merin to our list.



  • Pyrenean Oak

    One of the commonest oaks on the sand around Bergerac is the Pyrenean Oak. It has very deeply-lobed leaves and comes into leaf late - in early May. It's a species endemic to SW Europe and NW Africa. A collection of fallen leaves in mid-winter makes an attractive photo. The leaves have an slightly russet colour, together with the partially curled form, gives an interesting texture to the picture.



  • Moss bonanza

    The other day I went out after several days of rain and the mosses and liverworts were looking magnificent. I've never been too good at identifying species but I like their different forms, textures and shades of green. At Ravenglass we had a little star-moss on the sand dunes called Tortula ruralis ssp. ruraliformis which was quite a rarity. It is a pioneer in more sheltered areas helping to fix the dunes. On the roadside near the house I found a very similar species (see below). It almost looks like a bit of sand dune! This is much older geology however: Tertiary sand/clay/gravels from several tens of million years ago.

    Further along the lanes and tracks I found more impressive-looking mosses including tall big-star Polytrichums and velvety Bryums etc. (see below). The spore capsules are often very attractive structures on stalks rising up above the main mass of the moss. However they did not seem to be in evidence.



  • flowers under the orchards

    Alot of spring flowers are showing now, which reminds me that I must go and look at Frank Jouandoudet's tulip sites amongst the vineyards of Bergerac and Bordeaux as detailed in the site guide section of our Crossbill Guide Dordogne (2018). Not only are there tulip colonies but other flowers of interest such of old "weeds" of traditionally cultivated fields such as these Field Marigolds. Photo taken by Corine Oosterlee in an orchard near Beaumont.



  • frogspawn

    The amphibians are getting active locally with the rising temperatures. Our common local frog is the Agile Frog. It is similar to the Common Frog found in the UK, but with a more pointed snout and longer legs. It is also usually paler with less dark markings. The Agile Frog spawn looks identical to Common Frog spawn, see below.This was a single spawn clump seen last week in a little pond on Cabant hill near where we lived in Mauzac. In the flooded valley bottom near our present house there were fifteen spawn clumps in a small shallow pool a few days ago. The A89 autoroute in Dordogne which runs west-east through the middle of Dordogne, marks the furthest south of Common Frog distribution in this part of France.

    Common Toads have also been active though I have not seen spawn in ponds. The continental species in the south-west of Europe is Bufo spinosus, which has recently been separated from the eastern European and British species Bufo bufo. In the last week of so with the mixed weather and warmer temperatures Mediterranean Tree-frogs have started their rasping calls from gardens in our hamlet.



  • forest side-show

    Recently I've been walking alot in the local forests and learning more about my new local patch. It's interesting as it is a mix of sandy ground and limestone outcrops as well as dry and wetland habitats - so potentially very diverse.

    Inspired by Corine Oosterlee's (a local Dutch botanist) photo galleries on her website I have also photographed a few other random sights on my travels. Corine has one gallery with old abandoned cars found in Périgord woodland. I found a nice example whilst looking at butterflies last week and missing a Goshawk (again). It's a Simca Ariane from the late 1950s. Wikipedia says around 165,000 were produced in France I think, it was initially very popular but soon sales flagged and by the mid 1960s production was wound up. It's design seems to have been sold to other companies in some far-flung places who produced versions for a while. Seems to be a bit of a Ford Zodiac / Vauxhall Cresta-like car - following the American styling of the era with "fins" and all on the back. The forest is doing its best to "soften its edges".

    On the other side of the hamlet on another forest trail I found these two entwined trees. I'm sure someone could make up a good caption for this photo (below) - or use it to inspire a child's story! Plucky oak (right) saves falling old pine...or some such. Is this the start or the end of a story?

    Back to proper wildlife next time!



  • 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.



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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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