Thursday, 2 May 2013

Honeyguiders return home

The last week has been spent guiding 14 splendid people around the area looking for wildlife.  Despite some dreadful weather much was seen.  The following is a summary of the events.

Honeyguiders botanising
April 25th - Honeyguiders arrive and after checking in at Chateau de Siran we go up to the Fauzan area.  We start by trying out the Curiosity Lauriole and then go to look at a large show of Pyranean Snakesheads before looking at Dwarf Irises and many more plants.  I was shown a new orchid for me in Provence Orchid.  A Montagu's Harrier flew over and Orphean and Subalpine Warblers sang in the scrub.

Provence Orchid
April 26th - A cold day and we begin at Minerve and walk down to the village.  Again many plants to occupy the botanists and a few butterflies too with Cleopatras attracting the most attention.  Birds were represented by lots of Common Swifts, 4 Alpine Swifts, 6 Crag Martins and 4 Red-rumped Swallows.  A splendid Blue Rock Thrush sang from a bush on the top of the Gorge Brian.  We moved on an took lunch by the meadows near Bois Bas.  The huge display of Green-winged Orchids attracted much attention as did a wonderful display of Wild Tulips.  We moved on to the Gorge above La Caunette for more flowers and views of Woodlarks.

Kentish Plover

April 27th - We headed off to the coast and stopped first at Etang de Vendres but the strong cold wind meant we did not go far.  We noted a Marsh Harrier and Grey Herons and Little Egrets nesting. Moving on the the meadows at Fleury we failed to find any Rollers or Bee-eaters and ended up at Pissevache.  The were a few waders present which were mostly Kentish Plovers but there was a superb Curlew Sandpiper in full summer plumage. The weather was very unpleasant as we headed south to Gruissan.  We noted a few subadult Greater Flamingos and tried the vineyards where we discovered a couple of Whinchats and a pair of Black-eared Wheatears.  The lagoons at Mandirac produced 40 Greenshanks and 20 Wood Sandpipers.  Four White Storks fed in one area where another sat on a nest.

Pair of Lesser Kestrels

April 28th - We headed off for St.Pons de Mauchien to enjoy a morning with the Lesser Kestrel colony.  We were not disappointed and saw dozens of these wonderful birds as they perched on TV aerials and rooftops.  We also enjoyed a great view of a Hoopoe singing from a roof. We eventually headed for Bessan to try our luck with other species.  As we arrived there were a few Buzzards around and we located a couple of Great Spotted Cuckoos flying in a scrubby area.  Eventually we did have great views of a number of Little Bustards flying around and displaying from the ground.  The botanists added Tongue Orchid to their list.   We had lunch at the end of the runway of Beziers Airport where three more Little Bustards called.  Our early success and no rain tempted us back to Pissevache and that turned out to be a good decision.  Here we discovered a rare sight of 12 White-winged Black Terns feeding with 15 Whiskered Terns over the sewerage ponds.  Scanning the tern flock on the shallow lagoon we identified 130 Sandwich Terns, 4 Common Terns, 4 Little Terns and a solitary Caspian Tern.

Black-winged Stilt

April 29th - Today we headed south to the Leucate area.  Checking the shore pools we could only find a couple of Kentish Plovers, 2 Oystercatchers and a few Black-winged Stilts.  Heading up to the Cap a cold wind and low cloud caused us to abandon the site immediately.  We stopped in a coffee shop at Le Franqui for an hour to escape driving rain and afterwards enjoyed a brief walk around the sewerage works in a rare dry period.  Here we found a Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and some Yellow Wagtails and a bedraggled Pied Flycatcher.  We had to find a place for lunch and ended up at Peyriac sur Mer.  A violent thunderstorm interrupted our lunch so we gave up and headed back to the hotel.

Subadult Greater Flamingos

April 30th -  Given the disappointment of the previous day we went back to Leucate.  This time we were able to walk the Cap and look at plants and search for migrants.  Early successes included a Hoopoe and a Common Redstart.  Soon a number of Northern Wheatears and 2 pairs of Black-eared Wheatears were discovered.  One particular area seemed to hold a number of birds most of which were Common Whitethroats but we did find a few Whinchats, a Pied Flycatcher, a Garden Warbler, Tawny Pipits, 2 Red-throated Pipits and best of all a Wryneck.  We watched some resident Sardinian Warblers and then surprisingly a Spotless Starling.  We walked a bit at Le  Franqui seeing Hoopoe, Cuckoo and plenty of Whinchats and Northern Wheatears. Some glimpsed some distant Bee-eaters flying over.  Heading home we stopped to watch a few Avocets and Greater Flamingos near Bages.

Baton Blue

May 1st - Last day and the best weather of the week.  We stop in a Corbiere Gorge where the Nightingale song is deafening.  Overhead Crag Martins and 6 Alpine Swifts dash by and on a crag a Blue Rock Thrush appears.  More plants are discovered and Orange Tip butterflies are very obvious. We move on to another area near to Queribus Castle where we do not see many birds but find Green Hairstreak and Baton Blue butterflies on meadows full of impressive Lady Orchids.  Our eventual destination was Bucarach where friend Jonathan Kemp was arranging us the opportunity to watch Griffon Vultures being fed.  We assembled on a hillside as the food was laid out.  Up to 40 Griffons quickly appeared but seemed reluctant to descend.  We also saw Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Hobby and a superb Red-footed Falcon.  A great end to a difficulty but productive week.

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