DORDOGNE BUTTERFLY BIRDWATCHING WILDLIFE DAY TRIPS AND TOURS

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Dordogne

la roque gageac

Dordogne Wildlife Diary

  • White Storks

    White Storks are on the increase in Dordogne. There are now over a dozen pairs along the Isle river between Libourne and Périgueux. They are also increasing elsewhere in France and more locally around Bordeaux and the west coast in general. In their once last stronghold of Alsace in NE France they have become so common that people are starting to complain about damage to houses from the large nests! This population increase is however generally welcomed and it means that we are more and more likely to see the species in our part of Dordogne (the south). The other day I took a small group to Faux Plateau and we came across this small group which spent half and hour feeding along the banks of Lac de la Nette near issigeac, before flying on westward. Not only White Storks but also the shy, wary, Black Stork is increasing and may be nesting now in some quiet out-of-the-way flooded forest in Aquitaine. During my recent holiday in Spain, Joseph (my son) and me found a White Stork at the Sebes nature reserve at Flix where they have recently been successfully re-introduced. This area is a reedbed along the Ebro River where white Camargais horses have been introduced to graze, creating open habitat for the storks (and other birds) to feed. Platforms have been erected for nesting storks and the local stork population goes from strength to strength. It's not only happening in the UK! At several likely sites in southern Dordogne nest platforms have been also been erected and we hope to soon be able to report on the first breeding attempts here as well.

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  • A tiger in Spain

    Whilst on holiday in Spain I somehow managed to get the whole family, including my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, to come for a morning birding on the Ebro Delta. I'm pleased to report that they were suitably impressed with a great array of wetland birds including Flamingo, Purple Gallinule, Glossy Ibis and Black-tailed Godwit at the Migjorn tower hide (on the stream by the south bank of the estuary where it runs into the Mediterranean Sea). The excellent new MonNatura information centre at Tancada was also popular with the family. It showcases the Ebro Delta very well explaining the wildlife, historical and cutural interest of the area, all based in a restored salt-pan complex with beautiful old buildings. We saw more good birds here including Caspian Terns and apart from other things it's possible to see the small and pretty, endemic toothcarp fish whilst punting along the short canal!

    However for me all this was completely eclipsed by a butterfly Audrey and Joseph found for me by the Migjorn hide - the Plain Tiger. It's like an African version of the famous Monarch (and another milkweed species). This was a first for me and stunning to see such a tropical-looking butterfly in Europe. Subsequently we found several more on flowers further back amongst the reeds. The best things are always the surprise ones!

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  • Cardinals and Pashas

    I've just returned from a short family holiday to Spain and despite other duties I managed to do a few wildlife trips, including two trips with my son Joseph (11) - the first time he's shown any real interest in finding out what his Dad does! However by the time of my last trip to the Sierra Cardo monastery area, it proved a trip too many for him (for now).

    So off I went alone early one morning to a beautiful spot high in the hills near Rasquera, 45 minutes inland from the El Perello near the Ebro Delta, where we stay. It was cool at 8am and quiet, however the sun was rising. As I walked along the track through the forest I started to see a few Common Grayling and Wall. Finally on reaching the ridge the trees became more scrubby and I found an half-abandoned farmstead. Striped Graylings were common and there were a few Tree Graylings too. Here there were plenty of nectaring flowers and so I added species including Chalkhill Blue, Painted Lady, Bath White, Berger's Clouded Yellow to my burgeoning list. However the highlights were left for my return walk. By now it was nearing midday and very warm. Halfway back in the scrubby holm oak forest I came across several male Cardinal Fritillaries holding territory. I always think of them as the exotic 'Mediterranean Silver-washed Fritillary' with their flashy crimson patch on the forewing underside. It's a while since I saw a few in the Cevennes and on the dunes (in similar habitat) north of Bordeaux - both areas at the northern limit of Mediterranean habitat.

    Further on I was treated to a 'pleasure' of Pashas - four fresh males gathered at a particularly tasty animal scat on the track. Pity Joseph missed all that!

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  • Woodchat Shrike (almost) in the garden

    Around 7.30am this morning I heard a rather unfamiliar call emanating from the garden over the road. I was just walking down to the barn to move a few chairs out of the house. When I looked up from where the call was coming from I saw a shrike's outline amongst the branches of a small tree not far away, and it jogged my mind - of course a Woodchat. This species has become scarce in central France and is only really common now around the Mediterranean and Iberia. French birder friends of mine say that when they were young they could often find Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête-rousse) nesting in scrubby habitats locally. Sadly those days are long gone. This year I knew of a pair on the pastures west of Bergerac and a few others were highlighted on Faune-Aquitaine (the local wildlife recorders website) this spring. Such a beautiful bird - they are always such a pleasure to see. In fact they are really little raptors dressed up as pretty songbirds, sometimes maintaining a grisly 'larder' of their captures on a thorn bush. Indeed the song is a pleasant enough chattering warble, though the call I heard was rougher, a quickly repeated 'ge, ge,ge, ge' etc.

    Thanks to Mike Stamp for this great image of a male Woodchat Shrike near Bergerac in June.

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  • summer butterflies

    In the last month I taken several people out looking at butterflies locally and we've found an interesting selection. At this time of year there is a good variety and we can often see around 30 species a day in the best areas. There's a nice mix of blues, browns, whites, fritillaries, skippers plus some of the larger species like Lesser Purple Emperor and Great Banded Graying. We've also seen some rarer species like Woodland Brown, Great Sooty Satyr and Blue-spot Hairstreak. Below is a photo of a female Adonis Blue - this individual showing touches of blue. Photo below courtesy of Robert and Karen Brown. Rarely females can be completely blue with orange marginal spots (form ceronus) but they are generally brown. In the last week we have found small individuals, whereas they are generally a little larger than the Common Blue. The small size is related to higher temperatures when the eggs, larvae and pupae are developing in mid summer. Adonis and Common Blues are both frequent in Dordogne. The best way to separate them is by looking at the white fringes on fresh individuals. The Adonis shows black marks where the veins cross the fringe, often referred to as 'checkering'.

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  • Hoopoes

    We've heard Hoopoes singing here near Maurens all spring, as they do in most villages and hamlets in Dordogne, but they can be discrete and surprisingly difficult to see on the ground. If you do see one it is often when a bird flies up from the roadside where it had been feeding on the short grass of the verge. All you then see is a smallish pale bird with proportionally large flappy black and white wings and it's gone. The other day I was lucky when two birds flew into the garden onto the mature cedar. The first landed on a branch and then was swiftly followed by another which proceeded to feed the first. Pair-bond feeding or a late fledgling? Difficult to say but most probably the latter. I went to get my camera and managed this rather poor slightly out of focus image, but it does show the impressive bill length well. They feed like Starlings probing in the short grass and soil for invertebrates but can clearly probe deeper!

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  • Wild Boar surprise

    On Sunday evening I met a friend for a walk on Faux Plateau at the silo near La Micalie. It was cooler by 9pm and there were plenty of interesting birds about including 'the usual' Black-winged Kites and Stone Curlews. After parting company my friend went on to Montaut (and back to his gite in Hautefage-la-Tour in Lot-et-Garonne) where he heard Scops Owls at both sites. My return home was also interesting. As I drove back at dusk across the plateau and approached La Micalie I noticed animals in the field to my left (I assumed were Roe Deer). I slowed down and stopped realising they were a group of five Wild Boar, apparently a female with quiet large youngsters. Instead of running off they actually approached the vehicle, or at least the female did with the young holding back somewhat (gambolling a bit like lambs!). As she approached to within 10-15 metres of the van I wondered if she might charge the vehicle, or maybe she was just inquisitive and wondered if the minibus was an exceptionally large variety of cattle (the local race Blonde d'Aquitaine is very pale). Anyway after a brief inspection she sauntered on and as I started up the vehicle the group immediately raced in a tight group across the road in front of me and away to the field on the right behind the security of a hedge. Photos below taken with my little compact Nikon. In fact the photos failed to produce any usable images but I accidently pressed the video recording button in the excitement and as a result I could created these rough stills.

    Further on near Faux I came across a Roebuck standing firm in the middle of the main road, as I breaked and came to a halt, it finally sauntered away. On route home to Bergerac I passed five Little Owls and two Tawny Owls.

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  • Woodcock Orchid or Duck Orchid?

    On a recent Travelling Naturalist wildlife holiday here in Dordogne we were very fortunate to find a good range of late orchids - probably aided by the rather cool, wet spring and early summer. On the dry stoney hills above Condat on the Causse de Terrasson, tucked under a hedge, we found not only Woodcock but also Fly Orchids. Group member Mike Stamp took some great photos of the flowers, one of which is shown below. The discussion of the orchids included a question I am often asked and didn't know the question to (there have been a few of those!): why is the Woodcock Orchid so named by Linnaeus or one of his colleagues? I always thought it must be due to the orchid flowering during the 'roding' (display flight) period of the Woodcock. However it seems that it is due to the shape of the structure holding the pollinia (above the colourful lower petal or labellum). This apparently resembles a Woodcock. See what you think. Mike reckoned we should re-name it 'Duck Orchid'!

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  • Great Bustard at Faux

    I'd always hoped to see a Little Bustard on Faux Plateau, as thirty years ago they used to nest there. So far this hasn't happened. However a few weeks back I got a phone call from a birdwatching friend, Michel Hoare, to say that a Great Bustard was present at Faux near the silo. I was in the middle of leading a wildlife holiday at the time. In fact due to bad weather we were at Les Eyzies making a visit to one of the prehistoric caves. After a quick consultation over lunch with the guests we made the only sensible choice - go to Faux! Fortunately after lunch the bad weather abated and conditions were perfect for birdwatching. We arrived at the silo and set up the telescope scanning the area for a long grey neck and head sticking out of the crops. Initially we had no luck. Then suddenly the bird flew in to view about 500 metres away coming towards us before dropping down into the crops and disappearing. Still it was a brief but great sighting. Unfortunately the bird didn't re-appear for us and several days later was seen for the last time. It was a juvenile male, possibly a Spanish or British bird. It was first found by my friend Claude Soubiran who just happened by good fortune to be visiting the site with Jean-Philippe Siblet (the head of the nature conservation department at the Natural History Museum in Paris)! It was Mr. Siblet who kindly provided the photos below.

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  • Woodland Brown surprise

    The Woodland Brown is a rare species in Dordogne and in fact Europe as a whole. It was only 're-discovered' in Dordogne by a group staying at our gite around 2012 when they visited the Rouffignac Cave to see the prehistoric paintings. Yesterday I was doing a little butterflying with a regular visitor Margaret Mills, when we found one of these special butterflies near my former home in Mauzac. Walking through the wood I saw a smallish brown butterfly fluttering in front of us and thought initially that it was a Meadow Brown suffering a bit in the heat. It settled and to my amazement it was a Woodland Brown - at a place I have walked through hundreds of times between 2003 and the present day. Just goes to show...

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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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