DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

WILD

Dordogne

la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • Tulips

    Ok these aren't Wild Tulips (shown below in our garden), but it's a reminder that it's the tulip season and are there are some interesting wine chateaux and orchard sites between Bergerac and Bordeaux with fine colonies. The origin of these tulips here may date back to Roman times when vines were imported from Italy. There are various species of red and yellow but also a delicate pink species. For details of where to see these glorious blooms see my recent "Croosbill Guides: Dordogne" written wth Frank Jouandoudet. There are also a few sites on the limestone causse with Wild Tulip ssp. australis in a more natural context. They are similar to those of my garden but with narrower strappy leaves and thinner more ragged flowers. At this time of year in Bergerac there is always a field of cultivated tulips on the old Bordeaux Road by Lidl. The tulips are sold in aid of the "Tulips Contra Cancer" charity.

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  • first orchids

    The first orchids are now blooming in Dordogne and the commonest early season species is the Green-winged Orchid which is found on most soil types. It can be found in large colonies on meadowland but I was pleased to find a few flowering on our lawn yesterday. Last year just after we bought the house I also saw a Lady Orchid in the garden, so hopefully more species of orchid will show as the season progresses. We are generally on sandy ground here but these are pockets of limestone too, which most orchids prefer.

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  • an early Painted Lady...

    There are quite a few butterflies flying here in Dordogne with the fine weather. Early in the week I found my first Scarce Swallowtail of the year here in the garden at Maurens. Late this afternoon I found a smallish nymphalid butterfly fluttering high up around the trunk of our large cedar. I did not have my binoculars initially and thought it probably a small Red Admiral so I went to get them and fortunately the butterfly was still there resting on a branch when I returned. In fact it was a little male Painted Lady, my first of the season. Two have already been recorded this year in Dordogne on the Faune Aquitaine website - at the end of February. Looking at the records for the other Aquitaine departments, there are several tens of records so far in 2019, which is more than normal. Perhaps we'll get another "Painted Lady summer" - you never know !

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  • A large Cork Oak in Bergerac

    There's a fabulous large Cork Oak by the side of the road near us at Pombonne Park, Bergerac (see below). It must be around two hundred years old. This one was doubtless planted but the species's natural distribution reaches surprisingly close to Dordogne. I've seen young Cork Oaks (and Holm Oak) coming up naturally on areas of clear-felled Maritime Pine plantations in the Landes area of SW France (south of Bordeaux). It's a species best known from Portugal and western Spain (which together hold around 80% of the population), but it is also found around much of the western Mediterranean coastal zone both on the north and south sides. With temperatures rising it would seem likely that it will spread northward over the coming decades. This tree in Bergerac is protected by law and there is an information sign.

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  • A Hummingbird Hawk Moth knocking at the door...

    The weather here is finally changing for the better with an anticyclone set to sit over France for a week or two, it certainly feels like spring. Birds are starting to sing and early flowers are showing. Insects are also becoming active. I've seen the first butterfly since mid December and bumble bees buzzing around flowers during the rather warm sunny afternoons. However most surprising for me was a Hummingbird Hawk Moth on Tuesday last week inside our new house at Maurens where I was working. I heard a large insect banging against the front door window and thought it must be a shield bug or bumble bee....then I saw the moth. I've never seen one so early in the year but have read that they over-winter or hibernate in houses, old trees etc. After short bouts of flight it settled. With the sunny weather I thought it best to liberate it. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph it, but my friend Bob Gibbons who runs Natural History Travel kindly agreed to let me use a photo from his website. It's a lot better than mine would have been!

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  • Black Woodpecker

    This is the time to start looking for Black Woodpeckers (and indeed all woodpeckers) as the nesting season approaches and they begin to assert their territorial claims. They are more vocal but can be frustratingly discreet and difficult to see for such a large black bird. Over the last 20 or 30 years they have colonised Dordogne (from the north-east) and are now widespread through the woods and forest. Another good way to see Black Woodpeckers is to find their roosting holes (which can be near the previous year's nest hole) as we did for the Limosa birding holiday in November. This paid off with good sightings of two birds - one of which (the male with a full red crown) Mike Bye photographed this male on a plane tree.

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  • Brown Hare

    Faux Plateau is a great place for birdwatching but there is plenty of other interesting wildlife including orchids, butterflies and mammals. One mammal we regularly see is the Brown Hare and they are often quite confiding. They bound across a field and suddenly stop often not too far away allowing my groups to have a good view of them especially through the telescope. As in UK they are a hunted species in winter but numbers remain healthy. Beautiful backlit action photo by Simon Smith, a participant on the recent November Limosa birdng holiday in Dordogne.

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  • Red Squirrel at Le Teich

    Red Squirrels are common in France but not easily seen well. They are more arboreal than Greys in UK and so are often lost in the foliage high in a tree. Also they are not so bold as Greys. In autumn with leaves coming down and the squirrels collecting winter food supplies of nuts etc. you are more likely to see one scamper across a road as you drive or cross a track when you are out for a walk.

    During the November Limosa birding holiday we visited the excellent bird reserve at Le Teich on the Arcachon Bay. Apart from seeing plenty of waterbirds, one of our group, Mike Watson, found us a Red Squirrel whilst he waited on a bench in woodland as the group spent the last few minutes in the hides. The squirrel proved quite accomodating and we all had reasonable views with several of the group managing to take photographs, one of which (by Simon Smith) is shown below.

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  • Foxes and birds

    I've had an pearticular interest in Foxes and their relationship with birds ever since I was warden at Ravenglass back in the 1980s. There I think we convincingly showed that Foxes were at the heart of the collapse and extinction of the great Black-headed Gull colony and attendant terneries etc. There was some excellent work done by Niko Tinbergen and his Oxford Animal Behaviour Group (who camped annually at Ravenglas from the mid 50s to the mid 60s) showing the effectiveness of Fow predation on the ground nesting gulls and terns. I believe that a similar fate befell the Scolt Head gullery in Norfolk soon afterwards.

    On a recent Limosa birding holiday in November at Bordeaux we saw some fascinating duck anti-predator behaviour in a small lagoon as a Fox walked slowly around the edge of the water body partially concealed by vegetation. Once aware of this fact small groups of Teal and Shoveler nearby turned and swam towards the mammal but 'stayed at arms length' as if to show that they knew the Fox was there and were 'managing the situation'. In fact it was almost like they were threatening the Fox. Predators don't always get it their own way!

    Photo courteousy of Mike Bye, Limosa birding tour, Bruges Marsh, November 2018.

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  • Black-winged Kites now in Bergerac and beyond !

    Since they were first recorded in Dordogne in April 2012, the Black-winged Kite population has gone from strength to strength. Their stronghold was always Faux Plateau where there are probably around 6 pairs but more recently they have spread along the Dordogne valley westward adding another half dozen pairs or so. Bergerac airport is a regular haunt, I've watched them regularly around the airport before collecting clients for wildlife holidays and from the departure lounge before flying myself! With a similar life style to the Common Kestrel they do well in open country with woods and scrub often hovering or dropping down on prey from a post or tree. Although they were first recorded in 2012, they were several unofficial sightings in the ten years prior to this. A friend of mine who used to live in the valley near Belvès (at Siorac) saw two or three during this period. She was very familiar with these birds having lived and worked in East Africa as a professional conservationist for many years.

    Photo courteousy of Mike Bye: Faux Plateau, November 2018, Limosa Holidays tour.

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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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