Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ruff & reeves

We left for the coast before the heat became too uncomfortable.

One of the Reeves at Mandirac

Stopping off at Lespignan there was little to seen except 2 Green Sandpipers and 3 Lapwings.  In fact we did not see much until we reached the Gruissan area and made for Mandirac.  The wet meadows were productive as usual with lots of Little and Cattle Egrets and the White Stork with the damaged wing which will probably stay there for ever.  In addition there were also 17 Curlews and 9 Ruffs.  The latter were all juveniles and there was only one male the rest being females or Reeves.  Up to a dozen flava  wagtails were feeding around the Black Cattle and overhead a Hobby was hunting the abundant myriads of dragonflies. 2 Marsh Harriers and a Buzzard passed by.  On the saline pools c200 Greater Flamingos were feeding.

flava wagtail.
We then left the meadows and driving down the main road by the rice fields we noticed a large congregation of herons and storks on a raised bank.  It seems that the fields are being drained prior to harvest and the birds were gorging on trapped fish and amphibians.  There were at least 40 White Storks a few Grey Herons and Great White Egrets and c30 Little Egrets and Cattle Egrets. 

Part of the feeding fenzy of herons and storks
It was very hot now so we checked the reedbeds before leaving.  Here again were plenty of Greater Flamingos and 2 Greenshanks.  Overhead 4 more White Storks were soaring south with 3 Common Buzzards and 2 Marsh Harriers.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Declining species

Taking a trip through the local vineyards this afternoon I was pleased to find a Southern Grey Shrike sitting on a dead tree in a place where I did expect to see it.  When I first came to this area 10 years ago there were at least 6 pairs in the area.  Now I can only find the one.  Birds are generally so numerous here that any decline can be hard to spot.  This species does seem to be in trouble here but why.  Insects are not in short supply but maybe the pesticides used in wine production are having some long term effect.

Southern Grey Shrike
Earlier in the day I sat in the garden looking for birds.  I was struck by how many Cirl Buntings and Woodlarks were singing their hearts out.  Having been absent for a week or so it was good to see 3 Rock Sparrows.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Very quiet today

Still extremely hot.  This afternoon I visited French ornithologist and artist Serge Nicolle.  We live within a few miles of each other but sadly had not met until today.  Serge is a real kindred spirit and we chatted for an hour or two about the joys of living in Minervois and the birds we had seen.

Willow Warbler

As we chatted on his terrace we could see plenty of Blackcaps feeding in a fig tree and a couple of Willow Warblers flycatching as well.  Two-tailed Pasha butterflies also were feeding on the figs with a few Red Admirals.

Red Admiral
 Sitting on our terrace after dark this evening the Tawny Owl was calling again from distant pines.  Having not ever had one here in six years this bird seems to have come to stay.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Feeding flexibility

We often spend time at breakfast here watching Black Redstarts coming to feed on moths which are on the outside porch walls having been attracted there by the outside security lights.  The birds are very adept at hovering by an insect before grabbing it and quickly moving on.  They find it almost impossible to cling to the walls so hovering is their best method.

Great Tit

I had never seen any other species attracted by this ready food source until this week when one of the local Great Tits decided to have a go.  This bird adapted the bull in the china shop approach by charging in and falling all over the place until it discovered it could easily cling to the walls.  Once this had been achieved the Great Tit was getting a better capture rate than the Black Redstarts.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Feeding Time

Griffon Vulture
Yesterday I took a drive down to the Corbieres where Jonathan Kemp was going to show me a vulture feeding station.  We left Limoux and headed south to near Bugarach.  the weather was unkind at first and heavy rain falling as we climbed the hill where offal from a local abbatoir was to be laid out.  The stench was awful as Jonathan dragged the boxes of offal to the feeding area.  Soaking wet we were glad to exit and head for the viewing area some distance away.  Still raining groups of people arrived to view the spectacle with birds already arriving.

Jonathan takes out the food

The horde arrive - photo Jacques Laurens

This LPO organised activity was first set up to assist Egyptian Vultures which are very rare in the Aude district with only a pair or two nesting.  Griffon Vultures have taken advantage of this bonanza and have now started nesting in the region.  Also a Black Vulture has appeared at the feeding station fairly regularly.

Egyptian Vulture

Black Vultures
Despite the damp start the weather dried up and eventually we counted 86 Griffon Vultures gathered on the free food.  They cleared up the meal very quickly and then all moved to a nearby hillside meadow to rest.  Two of the birds sat in a tree which I cannot remember seeing before.  Gradually the birds moved off and the assembled watchers were all very excited with what they had seen.

Vulture watchers
The LPO are to be congratulated in instigating the venture.  Their efforts are ensuring that vulture species are once again soaring above the skies in this beautiful part of France.

Lull After The Storm

Last night we endured a two hour long violent electric storm with very heavy rain.  Waking up this morning there was a lot of bird activity in the garden.  Once again it was mainly Blackcaps that were in evidence.  A quick around the hill produced at least 200 feeding in bushes and small trees.  Only one female Common Redstart was found.  A Sparrowhawk also drifted over .Later at least a 1,000 House Martins and swallows passed south.

Iberian Wall Lizard

Whilst out walking an Iberian Wall Lizard was sunning itself on a wall of course.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Inactive today

I have been close to home today doing a few things around the garden and house.  Still a Common Redstart and a Pied Flycatcher in the garden and a Short-toed Eagle went over.  I aslo enjoyed a wonderful flypast by a Southern White Admiral and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth.


We know winter is coming because a Robin has taken up residence in the garden.  It is interesting watching the interaction between this bird and the resident Black Redstarts.  The latter puff their chests out and chase the Robin away at every opportunity which means it feeds mostly along the fringes of the garden.

Black Redstart

I am very excited about tomorrow as I have been invited to attend a feeding station for Griffon Vultures well to the south.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Etang de Capestang

The Etang de Capestang is one of my favourite birding sites anywhere.  It is best in winter, spring and early summer and I had heard it was very dry just now so I had stayed away.  Anyhow I was moved to go this afternoon and see what was there.

Etang de Capestang
On my approach I noted a Honey Buzzard coming in high from the north-east which I hoped was a good omen.  I set off walking the central track.  It was immediately obvious that all surface water had gone and the only standing water was in the main channels and the main reedbed.  It was so arid that water birds were few.  Only a few Grey Herons, Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets.  A few Coots huddled on one small pool and Moorhens and Water Rails occasionally called from deep in the reeds.

Grey Heron
Passerines were hard to find but I managed Cetti's Warbler, Stonechat and a couple of Fan-tailed Warblers.  Migrants were represented mainly by hirundines.  Dozens of Sand Martins were feeding and moving through with smaller numbers of Swallows.  Two Whinchats clung to reed stems nearby.

Fan-tailed Warbler or Zitting Cisticola
Walking back I added little more except for a gathering of c500 Starlings being watched closely by a Common Buzzard and another Honey Buzzard battling south.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Another Coastal Excursion

We decided to go the coast again today but this time head south from Narbonne.  On the way to Narbonne we had a good start when a Red Kite flew across the road.

Red Kite

We moved quickly down to Port Leucate and checked the lagoon edges for waders.  We were not disappointed and found several small flocks.  They were mainly Kentish and Ringed Plovers but there were also 2 Dunlin, 3 Common Sandpipers and a Sanderling.

Common Sandpiper

After a splendid seafood lunch at Franqui we explored first the beach at La Palme but apart from 5 Curlews there was nothing much else.  We then concentrated at Peyriac de Mer further north.  Here there were at least 500 Greater Flamingos and happily quite a few young.  A huge flock of the same number of Coots was also present on the lagoons.  Great White Egrets were much in evidence with 18 feeding together and a single Sparrowhawk flew over.

Little Egret

Up the road at Bages there were more Greater Flamingos and at least 20 Little Egrets.  Five Black-winged Stilts rested in the hot sun but a Greenshank was feeding feverishly on the fringes of a salt lagoon.

A disappointing day without any of the scarce gulls (Slender-billed and or Audouin's) which I had hoped for.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Weather warms up again

The  wind abated and temperatures got up to 28 degrees.  We went down to Olonzac first thing for the market and a Sparrowhawk passed high overhead.

Short-toed Eagle

 On our return a Short-toed Eagle soared over our hill and Pied Flycatchers and Common Redstarts were still obvious.  I did a quick trip around our neighbourhood and also noted plenty of Wheatears.  Another Sparrowhawk was hunting the garrigue but the most amazing find was a young Roller near La Caunette - this is getting late for this species.

Young Roller

This evening 6 Mistle Thrushes went to roost in the forest opposite our garden and I got a good look at the suspected semirufus Black Redstart.  As I suspected it was a moulting male Common Redstart.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Quiet Day

Still quite strong winds but a lot of sunshine and temperatures under 20 degrees.

Young Cirl Bunting

Still plenty of Blackcaps, Common Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers around as well as small parties of what I assume to be resident Cirl Buntings.  A Short-toed Eagle passed over briefly.

Black Redstart semirufus - taken in India

We always have a few Black Redstarts around so any immigrants are difficlut to assess.  Today I did have  quick view of a bird which could be the Middle Eastern race semirufus but I need to see it again.  It was feeding with the other Black Redstarts as the light began to fade and definitely had red underparts.  My only doubt is it might have been a strangely plumaged Common Redstart.  I have seen semirufus a few times in Jordan, Oman and India so I am quite familiar with this form.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Stormy Day

 The change in the weather continued with us waking to gale force northerly winds and low cloud.  This later abated to some sunshine but then much needed light rain showers.  The temperature never made it above 18 degrees.

House Martins

During all of this only the usual Black Redstarts and a couple of Common Redstarts showed in the garden but there were hundreds of Swallows and House Martins passing to the south.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Change in the weather

Still warm but a strong breeze from the south-west and a thin layer of cloud.

Female Blackcap

Still at least 50 Blackcaps passing through the garden but another Garden Warbler and 3 Common Redstarts present as well.

Tree Pipit

A quick stroll around produced some different species with a splendid Subalpine Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Whinchats, 2 Tree Pipits and a Yellow Wagtail.  A pair of Ravens also passed over croaking incessantly.

Best news of all Norwich City got their first Premiership win.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Cuckoo's mate in the garden.

Morning here saw good numbers of the usual migrants but hundreds of House Martins going over and quite a few Red-rumped Swallows.  Searching in the hedge for warblers I was thrilled to find a Wryneck sitting up giving reasonable views.  I have not seen one here for some time.  When they were nesters in Suffolk years ago locals called them Cuckoo's mate as they tended to arrive in the same week.

Red-rumped Swallow

Whilst sitting watching the brids a splendid Two-tailed Pasha gave a wonderful flying display around the garden. 

Two-tailed Pasha

We had to take our guests Ben & Anne back to Beziers airport so afterwards we had a very speedy coastal trip.  Pissevache sewerage lagoons had two Black Terns and the sandy pools still supported about 30 Little Stints plus a few Dunlin and about 30 Ringed Plovers. 

Squacco Heron

Moving on to Mandirac near Gruissan there were 16 White Storks, Purple Heron, 2 Great White Egrets and a Squacco Heron on the wet meadows and a Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Pink-backed Pelican and a Garganey on the lagoons by the reedbeds.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Masses of migrants

It was beautiful last night with a bright full moon and plenty of stars and planets on view.  The Tawny Owl called for a while across the valley   This morning saw lots of passerines in the bushes of our garden.  We moved on to walk around the hill and were not disappointed.  Everywhere was crawling with Blackcaps and to a lesser degree Common Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers.  At one point 50 Blackcaps flew across a track in quick succession.  A couple of Firecrests brightened up the scene and a Peregrine soared overhead.


Moving back to the garden a Short-toed Eagle hunted our hill and a Raven soared high amongst a few puffy clouds.  Red-rumped Swallows, Black and Common Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, Sardinian Warblers and Serins were all active in the trees and hedges and all this culminated with another splendid Firecrest which visited us as we sat under the pergola drinking tea.

Sardinian Warbler
Butterflies were also impressive with Clouded & Pale Clouded Yellows, Great Banded Graylings, Chalkhill Blues and Cleopatras the most numerous.

Chalkhill Blue

It's days like this that make this place so exciting.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

They are still coming.

Awoke early and up because it is market day in Olonzac.  A quick look around the garden revealed plenty of Pied Flycatchers and Blackcaps.  One flock of the latter numbered at least 20.  A Garden Warbler was also located and a few House Martins were passing over.  Lastly a Raven called throughout most of the morning.

Blue Rock Thrush

The heat of over 35 degrees meant rest and siesta during the afternoon.  We did go down and explore the Cesse Gorge as temperatures cooled.  Dozens of Swallows and House Martins were feeding in the higher parts and a single Blue Rock Thrush flew across.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Another coastal look

Juvenile Whinchat
I had to pick up our friends Anne & Ben from Beziers airport early afternoon so I decided to go birding first.  I stopped off at Lespignan and immediately found a Red-backed Shrike, 4 Whinchats and a Green Sandpiper.

Little Stint

Moving on I stopped at Etang Pissevache and was pleased to find a largish flock of waders on the partially flooded lagoon opposite the sewerage ponds.  I counted 40 Little Stints, 10 Dunlin, 50 Ringed Plovers and 40 Kentish Plovers.  On the lagoons there were 5 Red-crested Pochard.

Ringed Plover

I continued to Etang de Vendres but the only species of note was an Osprey sitting on a post in the distance.  I finished off near Beziers airport where all I could find was 6 Common Buzzards.

Entertainment this evening was achieved by first a fire on the opposite hill quickly extinguished by local firefighters with an audience of participants from the local nudist camp.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Still some migrants

Waking up this morning I found a dull but warm day with quite a few birds visible in the garden.  There were quite a few Blackcaps some bathing in the two or three bird baths I have dotted around.  A Common Redstart was with half a dozen Black Redstarts and Cirl Buntings reached more than 20.  Maybe it was the lack of hot sun but there seemed to be good numbers of Goldfinches and Serins.  The star of the show was a juvenile Golden Oriole which flew into the pine trees of the neighbouring farm.

   In the afternoon trying to recover from Norwich getting beat by West Brom I took a drive up to the meadows near Bois Bas.  A single Red-backed Shrike was still present and 4 Woodlarks.  Migrants were represented by 8 Whinchats and a Wheatear.

  The really hot weather is forecast to return for next week so birds may still be hard to find.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

New Garden Species

Last night as we sat outside enjoying the balmy weather with friend Mark Lynton we were all astonished to hear a Tawny Owl calling loudly from the pines near our terrace.  My friend Ron Bennett has heard this species at Autignac about an hour to the north-east of us but I have never heard or seen it here before.  This brings the garden list up to 118 species. 


It has been a dull but still warm day.  A Pied Flycatcher still seems to be about but it was late afternoon before anything significant was noted.  High up in the threatening clouds 7 Honey Buzzards and a Peregrine drifted south.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Coastal Birding before intense heat

Shopping was needed in Narbonne so we left at 22 degrees and headed off for the coast.  Birding first so we went to Mandirac and tried the coastal lagoons and reedbeds.  It was a good decision and the first bird seen was a Gull-billed Tern flying across the road.  Checking out the lagoons there were 5 Lapwing, Greenshank and 2 Little Ringed Plovers.  Towards the rear of the open water a pair of Spoonbills fed quietly with a Black-winged Stilt.

Spoonbills feeding
We drove on further down the road and before turning got out of the car to watch 17 Pink-backed Pelicans soaring overhead.  This is a feral species locally and this is certainly the largest number I have seen at one time.

Pink-backed Pelicans - part of flock of 17
Leaving the area we stopped to watch a Black Tern feeding on a saline pool and were fortunate to pick out 2 Bluethroats and a Great Reed Warbler in the surrounding reeds.

Great Reed Warbler
It was now getting quite warm so we moved on to check the wet meadows at Le Petit Tournabelle.  Two White Storks were obvious with the usual scattering of Little and Cattle Egrets but also 3 Juvenile Purple Herons and 2 Glossy Ibis.

Juvenile Purple Heron

Glossy Ibis
 Eventually one of the Glossy Ibis settled in an extraordinary pose apparently warming its plumage.

Glossy Ibis "sunning" itself
By now the heat was pretty unbearable and we did our shopping and returned home to find the temperature was 36 degrees.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Thinking of Home

I cannot help but read with envy the reports of sea watching at Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire.  I always seem to be somewhere else when the birding is great in Wales.  No new birds for me but daily reports of all four skuas, Great, Corys, Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters and Sabine's Gulls set the pulse racing.  It seems that the weather has been grim and watchers might be cold and wet but what a daily tally.

Great Shearwater

I also have been reading about the fate of the young Manx Shearwaters at Newgale Beach.  It is extremely commendable of the RSPCA and their volunteers to rescue these ill-fated birds and give them a hand.  What is extraordinary is in the first instance that these people obviously did not think to contact the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales who have many people who are very familiar and experienced with this species.  Removing these birds to Taunton and killing any under weight are two very questionable decisions.  The birds are best released in the open sea where they can easily link up with more if their species and I understand thanks to Cliff Benson of Seatrust and Bob Haycock this will now happen.  Secondly Dave Boyle (Skomer) has already said what many of us know already that birds that are under weight still have a very good chance of survival and making it down to South America.

Manx Shearwater

I do hope that if this sort of unfortunate incident happens again the RSPCA will have forged good links with local ornithologists/conservationists to ensure birds get the best chance of returning to their way of life.