Friday, 4 November 2022

Wallcreepers and a quick summer/autumn review

 Once again I have been away from my blog for several months but the arrival of the one of our favourite regular rarities has stirred me into action

Wallcreepers have been reported this week from the chateaux at La Rochefoucauld and Confolens and I’ll be off to look for them very shortly and hopefully they will provide even better photo opportunities than they did last autumn/winter.

The months that have flown by since my last post (in May!) have turned up some interesting birds but the most abiding impression is of an overall decline in numbers and I suppose we have climate crisis to blame for that. Nevertheless I managed to get out most days with binoculars and camera and here are some of the highlights of the summer:

I was blessed with coming across a migrating dotterel for the second year running and although it stayed around for just one day it obligingly allowed me to take lots of pics. These two individuals are, as far as I know, the only ones seen in Charente for many years.


Flycatchers were one group which seemed to buck the trend of diminishing numbers and the pied variety was easy to find during early autumn migration.

Spotted were less so but a couple turned up in my garden.

 Wheatears and whinchats also brightened things up from Augustus onwards as they began their journey back to Africa.

And the prolonged drought made the bird bath inviting for some species.

As I write, the cranes are in the middle of their return migration with a couple of thousands passing over the house this week.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Spring Review

 Well, it’s the end of May and more or less the end of what has been a rather disappointing Spring migration. Whether this has been because of some erratic weather such as late frosts, a protracted dry period and unseasonal heat or simply that the numbers of returning birds are continuing to fall I don’t know but the finger is pointing towards climate change as well as the effects of intensive agricultural practices. 

To provide some personal figures from the last two months, I’ve seen only two red backed shrikes and half a dozen hoopoes, one garden warbler, two little ringed plovers, two short toed eagles and not a single honey buzzard or spotted fly catcher.

The dry late winter and early Spring meant that there were no flooded fields which largely accounts for the shortage of wildfowl and wader sightings although there were some individuals reported from the high lakes and the west of Charente.

On a more cheerful note, early May was the most interesting time with ten or more wheatears together in a field not far from my home and shortly afterwards I came across two whinchats, a species seen regularly during the autumn migration but rarely in Spring. Nightingales seem to be an exception to the general scarcity as they have been singing everywhere and it’s only recently that I’ve stopped hearing cuckoos virtually every day. Stone curlews are in their usual locations near the turbines and corn buntings, cirl buntings, stonechats and skylarks seem to be in good numbers. Yellow wagtails are breeding their as well as probably are quail but the only one I’ve heard this year was a few kilometres away. Hen harriers are not frequent this year but I’ve seen quite a few black kites.

I saw my first golden orioles although I’ve heard a few singing during the last few weeks, including one in my garden.

Speaking of which, here’s a list of what’s breeding this year in my acre or so of garden/park, woodland and buildings. Kestrel, wood pigeon, black redstart and possibly common redstart, serin, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, firecrest, blackbird, great tit, blue tit house sparrow and blackcap.(plus moorhen in the adjacent pond).

I’ve added a few of my pics of some of the mentioned birds. I’ll let you sort them out.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Golden Plovers and Spring in the Garden

 The weather was so warm a few days back that I managed to wear shorts while working in the garden but it’s turned a bit cooler now and rain has replace the sunshine. The rain is light and intermittent though and it seems that we are in for a Spring without any flooded valleys to attract migrating waders and wildfowl. For me this means working my immediate patch more and perhaps giving less time to the area around the Tardoire and Bandiat rivers. I keep an eye on the nearby plains where the wind farm is located in the hope of an early wheatear or whinchat but so far there is usually nothing to report other than a few wintering meadow pipits and the usual skylarks and stonechat. There was a little excitement this week though when I came across a flock of about a hundred lapwings in a field of winter wheat and in among them were about a dozen golden plover.

The lapwings gently shifted off as I approached but the golden plovers stayed put,
perhaps thinking that they were more camouflaged and not even stirring when a female hen harrier passed over.

Nowhere is more immediate than one’s garden and there is quite a bit going on there at the moment. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the bird table remains busy and the wintering bramblings seem in no hurry to head back towards Scandinavia. The warming Spring has shifted the focus elsewhere though and within the last week or two the dawn chorus has grown louder as more individuals join the choir. I use the term ‘garden’ rather loosely here as although my garden covers about an acre much of the song comes from the surrounding woods and fields. Thrushes have been singing for a while but I was delighted to hear the beautiful sound of my first singing blackbird last week and he has now been joined by several others. 
Robins are famous for singing all year and one is still doing so in the garden despite the sparrowhawk incident which I reported in my last post. 
A less familiar song but a very distinctive one is that of the short-toed tree creeper and he was doing his bit as he moved up (but never down) the trunk of the old lime tree in the yard. Other contributions have come from the thin trill of the firecrest, the loud whistle of nuthatches and the occasional distant woodlark.
Green woodpeckers have become more vocal, great spotted are drumming and even the moorhens in the pond seem to be calling more often.
Cranes are worth a mention as they are still passing north and about four hundred have flown over the house on two different days this week.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

Tree Sparrows

 Tree sparrows always strike me as the upmarket and tidy version of the house sparrows which probably would even describe themselves as a bit on the scruffy side. Sadly, though, they are increasingly difficult to find so I was pleased when a report came in of several of them visiting a bird table near Agris. It was in this area that I had last come across them on two occasions some years back so I assume there must be a breeding colony somewhere abouts. I could hardly invite myself to a stranger’s garden even if I knew the actual address so on a rather showery morning I took myself off to the general location on the off chance I might locate them.

To my surprise and delight I struck lucky within ten minutes of my first stop and counted at least 6 individuals mixed in with a few of their less tidy cousins. Here are a few pics; it’s their chestnut caps and black cheek spots which are most fetching.

Speaking of bird tables/feeders, mine have been very busy throughout the winter and the birds have already consumed two filled dustbins of sunflower seeds that I acquired after the last harvest. Blue and great tits have of course been the commonest visitors but a coal tit and a marsh tit also made multiple visits for while. Up to five bramblings continue to feed along with the regular goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and a single hawfinch. Surprisingly I have not seen a nuthatch or a great spotted woodpecker coming for food this winter but I’m pleased that a dunnock sometimes comes to nibble at fragments as does a robin.

Perhaps I should say ‘did’ a robin as I found some of its wing feathers in the garden this week and I think this is why…

This female sparrowhawk spent some minutes preening on a wooden archway during which time no birds understandably visited the feeders. But raptors have to feed too.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Dartford Warblers

 One of the delights of my time on the Isle of Wight was having dartford warblers around. They are one of the two warbler species that regularly occur throughout the year in the south of  England, the other being cetti’s, although some chiffchaffs and blackcaps now overwinter. In Charente dartfords are uncommon and localised as they particularly like gorse scrub and there’s not much of that around in this intensively farmed department.

However, there is one interesting location, Les Brandes, just outside Soyaux which seems to be a stronghold for a few pairs and some dutifully put in an appearance this week. Information about the site is available online including the inevitable chasse dates when it’s best not to be there.

There was surprisingly little else about though so in search of other localised species I went to have a look at the Trouve between its source and Masagnac. This is good place to find mute swans, coot and little egrets but little grebes are particularly abundant. Great white egrets, kingfishers, gadwall and water pipit sometimes occur there and I have seen migrating osprey on several occasions.

I couldn’t resist adding a couple of my favourite small birds, firecrest and wren, which I photographed this week.

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Birds of Luxé prairies

 The Luxé prairies lie along the north bank of the Charente river just east of the bridge at Luxé Gare. Part of the area is poplar plantation but most is wet meadows which are crossed by the new railway viaduct.

The natural wetland areas of Charente have long since been destroyed by drainage and agricultural practice and the nearest that you can get to such habitats are these parts of the river valleys which are subject to flooding. This particular one is interesting for several bird species and a few recent visits have produced snipe, green plover, zitting cisticola, water pipit, water rail (heard only) and black wood pecker.

The river itself is particularly wide just above and below the weir at Echoisie and alongside the expected kingfisher, cormorant, grey wagtail and mallard I was surprised to find a goldeneye earlier in the year. So surprised in fact that I did not recognise it at first despite having seen the species several times when I was living on the Isle of Wight. It stayed around for a couple of weeks as it seemed to find plenty to eat from its constant diving.

The 350 or so cranes which I saw on a recent trip to the prairies confirmed  that they are definitely moving back northwards but you’ll have to take my word for their direction on this photo..

And here are a few pics of the species I mentioned earlier Matching them up should not be too difficult.


Thursday, 3 February 2022

First blog for a long while…And the early beginnings of Spring Migration 2022

 Today my wife surprised me by asking if I had done my bird blog. What she really meant was my bird log which I usually send off to Charente Nature each day. I replied (rather guiltily) that I had not sent a post for almost a year and when asked why this was so, I had to have a think.

I could have said that I had been too busy or just simply lazy but although there is a good deal of truth in both those excuses I thought of something which was l little less self-damning. My motive for starting the blog was not simply to describe some of my birding activity in Charente but also to provide some kind of bird record for the department as I was at that time unaware of the existence of Charente Nature who offer an interactive website which is the source of the official record.

I have since referred to their work in several of my posts and encouraged anyone who follows my blog to register with them both to find out what is being recorded on a daily basis and, if they wish to do so, to add their own observations and even photos.

Perhaps I was thinking that my blog was therefore redundant but on reflection perhaps it isn’t. The website is very useful and informative but is primarily a data collecting tool and the scope for comment is rather minimal so maybe I should start posting my personal ramblings again for what they might be worth.

There were white storks around yesterday and today which indicates that return migration is already underway. I haven’t seen any of them but my friend, Steve Dolan, sent me his pics from near Suaux today.

There have also been reports of cranes this week. The last ones I saw were in the first week in January and they were still heading south but although it’s not been clarified I think that there latest birds must surely be moving back north by now.

The bramblings which have come down from the north in large numbers this winter are still with us though and are regular visitors to my bird table as I’m sure they are to yours.

While I’m at it, here’s another regular visitor to the table, a hawfinch.

There’s obviously quite a bit of catching up to do about the highlights of the last few months but I’ll leave that until the next post.