Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Coastal sortie

Again in glorious weather I took a morning trip to the WWT reserve at Penclacwydd.  Lots of people but not much different with birds.  A flock of about 70 Redshanks was a reminder that waders are very much on the move now.  Smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings were also present as was a predictable Mediterranean Gull.


Most of the beach areas were covered in people so I only dallied at Kidwelly Quay where I was able to observe the splendid new parking layout and landscaping.  Better than I imagined and best of all no parking charge.  Low tide here so apart from a flock of c80 Redshanks and a solitary Greenshank nothing else to report.  I did manage to snap a splendid male Pied Wagtail swaggering around with his brood.

Pied Wagtail

I returned home via Cilsan Bridge in the Towy Valley and was pleased to notice plenty of Sand Martins.  Up to 2,000 pairs nest in sand banks in the valley and they seem to have had a good year.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Glorious Wales

Returned from France and back in Wales with amazing weather.  A very warm and sunny day.


Lots of young Buzzards about calling incessantly and just to remind me of France a superb Hummingbird Hawkmoth put in an appearance on the honeysuckle in the garden.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

More bird activity in the garden

After breakfast it was noticeable how much more bird activity there was in the garden.

The garden

I suspect it is only local movement but a small group of juvenile Subalpine Warblers were accompanied by a couple of juvenile Sardinian Warblers.  Groups of Serins and Goldfinches were drinking in a small stone container as was a juvenile Cirl Bunting.  The latter was also being fed by an adult male.

Juvenile Cirl Bunting

Black Redstarts were also much in evidence as usual.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

High in the Pyrenees

Up early this morning and south to La Preste and up to the Prats de Mollo Nature Reserve.

The weather forecast was good but again we felt let down as cloud covered the nearest peaks.  A quick snack in the picnic area did produce some birds. A juvenile Lammergeier hugged a rocky ridge just under the clouds and later a lone Griffon Vulture crossed the skies.  In the forests behind us a Black Woodpecker called stridently and a male Crossbill sang from a distant conifer.  Finally 2 Crested Tits made a brief appearance with a flock of Coal Tits.

Griffon Vulture

We decided to brave the cloud and drive up to 1900 metres along the rough track.  Birds were hard to find although a Raven made its presence known with its raucous calls.  A splendid male Stonechat flitted from bush to bush and a Rock Bunting was singing from a single tree.  Looking down to a small meadow a Red Fox was resting on a single rock.

Rock Bunting

Finally the cloud got lower and we left to return home.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

First signs of return migration

Strong almost gale force westerly winds here today.

Black Kite

Just after lunch a Sparrowhawk and then a Black Kite headed purposely battled south.  It seems that a little migration may be beginning.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Afternoon of the Butcher Birds

This afternoon my grandson Morris and I decided to explore some tracks high in the mountains to the north of our house.

The first skirted a gorge area north of the village of La Caunette.  Wildlife was quiet except for a few Linnets and the occasional Cirl Buntings.


The second was a track much higher which got us up above the forest line. After areas of scrub the land opened up into heather clad open land.  Woodlarks were an obvious species feeding on bare ground but the highlight was finding family groups of Red-backed Shrikes.  Whenever I see these glorious birds I am reminded of my childhood and the many pairs which frequented my native Suffolk.

Male Red-backed Shrike

Many times I knew of nests and also found their "larders" of shrews etc spiked on brambles or barbed wire.  Sadly this species has largely gone from the UK now but I am pleased that they seem quite numerous in this part of France.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

On ya Bike!

The weather forecast was a little out.  Rain overnight and strong winds today but mainly sunny.

Waiting for the riders

We did little first thing but set off before lunch to a road junction just south of the village of Aigne.  Here just a few kilometres from our house the Tour de France would pass by on Stage 15 Limoux to Montpelier.  It is an extraordinary circus.  First of all thousands line the route, helicopters are permanently overhead and sometimes landing in adjacent fields and flotillas of expensive vehicles heavily covered in logos pass by.  Then only motor cycles are coming and then riders appear.  First the five or six stage leaders and a few minutes later the Peloten.  About 200 riders come hurtling down the hill closely packed and there is hardly a chance to spot the yellow jersey.

Here they come!
A tremendous experience but incredibly they have all passed in 30 seconds. Then is is back home to watch the final section on TV.

Woodchat Shrike

Only birds noted were 2 Swifts and a Woodchat Shrike.

Postscript - Mark Cavendish (Isle of Man) won Stage 15

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A Morning of Insects

It was already 26 degrees at Breakfast and managed 34 degrees by 2pm.

Holly aged 8 in action

This morning we had a look for butterflies and my grandchildren gave a hand being much quicker with the net than me. We caught Spanish and Southern Gatekeepers , Southern Small White and Speckled Woods.  We also noted Great Banded Grayling, Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra and Large White.

Male Cleopatra

We were also fortunate in finding a couple of the raucous cicadas which provide a daylight chorus of immense proportions.  I do not know what species these are and again young eyes were essential in picking them out.

Cicada sp

Cicada sp

Tomorrow the Tour de France passes close by and the forecast is rain.  Oh well!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wonderful Falcons and a French rarity

Three generations of birders left home full of expectancy for the day.  Myself, my son Jeremy and grandson Morris set off for St.Pons de Mauchiens for an extravaganza of that gorgeous tiny falcon Lesser Kestrel.  This is a scarce species in France and in recent years has been confined to the Camargue.  More recently birds were found nesting in Herault at St.Pons and the colony has grown to almost 100 pairs.

St.Pons de Mauchiens

Some birds are now spreading to adjoining villages so it seems strange to me that a Lesser Kestrel reintroduction scheme has been instigated a little further south near Narbonne.  The visit today was fantastic because most of the young have fledged and the narrow streets and roof tops resounded to the bird's calls.  Young birds were sitting around on TV aerials and rooftops waiting to be fed by the energetic adults.

Juvenile Lesser Kestrels

Juvenile Lesser Kestrel
We spent an hour watching these great birds suddenly realising that this was all taking place on Bastille Day a major French public holiday.  The birds were having no holiday the adults bringing in cicadas, crickets and other insects for the young.

Male Lesser Kestrel
We were reluctant to leave but we had an appointment with a French birder who showed us a splendid Lesser Grey Shrike a species on the edge of its range and sadly declining fast.  Only a handful of these beautiful birds remain and it is hard to imagine how their extinction in France can be avoided.  Thanks to John Andrews for arranging this. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

After the storm

The very hot, humid weather finally broke last night with thunder storms lasting several hours accompanied by  steady rain.

Male Serin

Waking up this morning temperatures had dropped and everywhere felt breezy.  Walking round to our recycling bins I was thrilled to see a group of 6 Golden Orioles by the campsite.  They are very vocal at the moment.  Birds were a bit more obvious with Serins, Goldfinches and Cirl Buntings all showing well. 

Female Montagu's Harrier

This afternoon my grandson Morris and I went out to reconnoitre the route of the Tour De France which passes close by us on Sunday.  We were looking for a potential site to watch.  One of the best areas had Rollers which made me think how good a deviation they would be as we waited hours for cyclists to go by in a couple of minutes.  Passing home through the vineyards a ring-tail Montagu's Harrier flew over and a Woodchat Shrike and a Hoopoe also gave good views.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Hot Day birding

Waking up at 7am I got up and made my way to  Lespignan.  The weather was gorgeous and already warm and a Hoopoe and female Golden Oriole flew across the road.  Hay making was in full swing on the meadows and dozens of gulls and Cattle Egrets accompanied the workers.  A quick glimpse of an Ortolan Bunting as it flew into the vineyards was the last moment of interest before I moved on. 


I drove down atrack by the marsh towards the sewerage works.  A Black Kite was being mobbed by Magpies but I was stunned as a small crake ran across the track.  Apart from the shape I could see nothing else and the most likely is Spotted but best forgotten.

Black Kite

I then went on to Pissevache where I was astonished to find the water completely gone from the brackish lagoons and only water on the sewerage lagoons.  Not many birds but lots of young Shelduck in a large creche.

Juvenile Shelduck

Moving back through Fleury there were plenty of Rollers on the wires by the nest boxes.  A few Bee-eaters were  feeding over the meadows and at least six Lesser Kestrels hovering over freshly cut hay.  On the way home I stopped in at the marsh at Capestang but by now it was very, very hot.  I took a quick walk and noticed 150 Cattle Egrets accompanying cattle and horses.  This is a very high number for this area.  Little Egrets were also present and a single juvenile Purple Heron.  Two Black Kites were overhead with hundreds of feeding Common Swifts  The heat finally made me turn around and head home.

Cattle Egrets

The day ended in the garden of the village restaurant in Azillanet when a superb Short-toed Eagle soared overhead.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Birds in the heat

A morning trip down to Olonzac revealed both Bee-eater and Roller the latter at a new site for me.


By noon the temperature went past 30 degrees and very little was seen.  By late afternoon small groups of Black Redstarts were noted and Cirl Buntings singing.

Female Black Redstart

After lunch we drove up to St.Jean de Minervois to get some white wine and still the countryside seemed largely birdless.  It was not until we were almost home again that we found two Woodchat Shrikes and a Southern Grey Shrike on overhead wires.

Southern Grey Shrike

After supper I decided it was cool enough to try again so at 8.30pm I set off for the area behind Minerve at Buoy Bas.  As I hoped I soon found a pair of Red-backed Shrikes nesting in a thorn hedge on an alpine meadow.  Cirl Buntings were in full song here and a lone Buzzard cruised over.  Small family parties of Woodlarks were sighted in several places and more Woodchat Shirikes were also found.  A Tawny Pipit was also on overhead wires near Minerve.

Juvenile Woodlark

I finished off by cruising the road between Aigne and Azillanet and was not unhappy because in the twilight a Nightjar hawked up and down the road calling loudly.  Arriving back to Montcelebre I was amazed to find another Nightjar close to my house.  This was the first time I have seen this species in this area.

More predictable was a Scops Owl starting up its sonic song as I entered the house.

That's more like it!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Back in France

Arrived to our home here in late afternoon yesterday.

Cutting grass was number one job so got up early to avoid heat and got going.  Turtle Doves were purring away in the distance and Serins in full song.  I could also hear the cat calls of Golden Orioles across our small valley which probably means family parties are foraging around the woods.

Turtle Dove

Plenty of insects around.  Cicadas accompanied sleep last night.  This morning the lavenders and leanders are being visited by lots of bee species and a couple of Hummingbird Hawk Moths.  Scarce Swallowtail, Iberian Marbler White and Wall butterflies were also noted this morning.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

It is good to be back here. Yesterday it was a very unforgiving hot day with temperatures in the mid 30's but today there is some cloud and the guage is showing 26 degrees which makes gardening bearable.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Back to France

Back to France and sunshine tomorrow so posts from there for three weeks.

My son and his family will be with us so the grandchildren and I will be busy.

Clouded Yellow

We aim to do some work establishing just how many butterfly species we have on our adjoining gardens.  I have managed to identify over 40 species so far but we have concentrated on the obvious.  Now we need to find out what browns and blues we have.

Southern White Admiral

It will be hot and birds keeping a low profile.  One species I am anxious to find as I have not seen it in France is Lesser Grey Shrike.  A few pairs nest in the region but they may have started dispersing already.  Early migration may be underway with Black Kites and Bee-eaters on the move in August.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Of Tennis and birds

I have been a bit of a couch potato watching all that tennis at Wimbledon.  I used to play a bit of tennis for absolute fun but I have to admire these guys in the men's singles.  What other sport do individuals have to be fit enough to keep up that pace for in excess of 3 hours?  Amazing.

Juvenile Siskin

So I have not been doing a lot of birding.  The weather the last couple of days has been superb.  Really warm and an opportunity to eat outside.  We are in such close proximity to our feeders on these occasions and the birds just ignore us on the whole.  Siskins are the most entertaining coming in good numbers with lots of juveniles.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpeckers come too and the juveniles seem to prefer the fat balls rather than the peanuts.  All these birds attract a fair number of predators.  The most unwelcome are local cats who get sent on their way with a well aimed clod of earth or a variety of threatening noises. Jays and Magpies cause havoc when they appear but tend to concentrate on eating the food provided.  Buzzards and Red Kites are overhead daily and this evening a Sparrowhawk soared over the house.