Sunday, 22 September 2019

Wheatears and Whinchats

It’s been a good autumn for wheatears and whinchats and this year they have been favouring a stubble field near to the wind turbines. The wheatears have been difficult to accurately count as their plumage  provides excellent camouflage against the stoney ground and it’s not until they move or show the white flash on their tails that they can be picked out before merging  into the background again. Nevertheless they were up into double figures on several days in early September and there were still at least four there yesterday.
Whinchats are much more obliging as they like to perch at the very top of any available vegetation and they too have made double figures on a few occasions.
Little bustard have eluded me so far although small flocks have been reported from stubble fields a little further to the west of where I live. All these species are migrants on the move of course and I expect that they will all disappear within the next few days.
Most of the swallows  seem to have gone now; there were hundreds busily feed above the wheatear field only a week ago but yesterday I saw only four. Their relatives, the house martins, were still around during yesterday evening, circling high above La Rochefoucauld.
I’ve not posted since last month and I can’t remember if I mentioned the first year woodchat shrike which I came across near Saint Front but this is the least expected bird which I’ve encountered this autumn.
Today we have the first rain for a very long time and it’s most welcome as is the respite from the very high temperatures of the last few weeks. I’m sure the birds are enjoying it, especially the moorhens who are walking about on the mud of the dried up village pond.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Late August and return migration is underway

Today it is raining which is something that I have not been able to say for many weeks. The long period of hot and dry weather has been even less conducive to birding than the usual inactive days of summer. I’ve done less cycling than usual and the birds have joined me I think in hiding from the heat.
The local forays which I have taken, though, have nearly always turned up about 30 to 40 of the usual summer suspects which for those not familiar with Charente are listed at the end of this post. A few birds such as mute swan and dartford warbler are not listed as they are very localised I do not often visit their habitats.
A few re-elections on the summer of 2019 .... I have seen fewer shrikes than usual but more yellow wagtails and cisticolas. Wood larks, rock sparrows and black woodpeckers are still to be found but only very occasionally and although I have not come across them, bee eaters have been reported nesting.
The last few days have seen the beginnings of return migration and I have seen my first wheatears and whinchats since the spring. Pied flycatchers have arrived in my garden as they always do at this time of year and on a visit to the lakes I came across greenshank and wood sandpipers, birds which are also on the move.

A (very) random list of Charente’s summer birds.

Barn owl
Tawny owl
Little owl
House sparrow
House Martin
Black redstart
Common redstart
Tree pipit
White wagtail
Yellow wagtail
Grey wagtail
Corn bunting
Cirl bunting
Melodious warbler
Bonelli’s warbler
Cetti’s warbler
Blue tit
Great tit
Long tailed tit
Marsh tit
Short toed treecreeper
Golden oriole
Red backed shrike
Green woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker
Wood pigeon
Collared dove
Turtle dove
Carrion crow
Common buzzard
Hen harrier
Black kite
Sparrow hawk
Red legged partridge
Grey heron
Little egret
Great white egret
Cattle egret
Common sandpiper
Stone curlew

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Hobby, Quail and Dartford Warblers

It’s the end of June and an extremely hot week. The crops are coming in and stubble fields are beginning to appear. As always, I wonder how ground-nesting birds survive this devastation of their habitat but they seem to hang on in there.
There were plenty of skylarks on the plains today and a blue headed wagtail was carrying food for her young. She was doing this in a sunflower field but for the past few weeks I have seen at least two pairs of adults in an adjacent grain field where I assume they nested.
Another ground nesting migrant, the quail, was calling  within a few feet of me but typically refused to reveal itself. But a single stone curlew and a male hen harrier did put in appearances.
The hobby is a spectacular visitor and one provided another close encounter as I watched him chase a skylark.  He came at great speed and I could hear the beat of his wings as he passed me...but the lark escaped!
A highlight of this month was to see my first dartford warblers in Charente. They were in their favourite habitat, an extensive area of gorse, which I checked out near Soyaux . More than one singing male was present.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Whinchat and Cisticolas

Whinchats move through here each year on migration but, as with wheatears, they are mainly seen on the return journey in Autumn. Nevertheless, I was happy to come across a female perched on a barbed wire fence at Galvert today. What made it more interesting was that I came across here only because I was tracking a pair of zitting cisticolas (aka fan tailed warblers) who were busily engaged in a courtship display.
This species seems to becoming more common in this area. I have now seen several in the Tardoire and Bandiat valleys but this is the first sighting away from nearby water. They seem to be attracted to uncultivated areas of low vegetation and their distinctive zigzagging flight seems to match their equally distinctive zitting song.
Goldfinches are nesting in my grapevine, hoopoes are on the lawn, nightingales are now rivalling blackbirds as the commonest singers but I’m still waiting for my first swifts and orioles.

Friday, 26 April 2019

More Spring Arrivals

It’s been a slow Spring with very mixed weather to greet our visitors from the south and I always wonder how those birds which are already into nesting and rearing young manage to cope with the unpredictable weather.
I’ve seen three wheatears up to now including one just a few yards from the house. She must have been very tired as she stayed in the same spot for a couple of hours. Bright coloured male common restarts have appeared in a couple of places and a few nightingales are singing. There seem to be plenty of cuckoos and hoopoes about and a few whitethroat but I’ve yet to hear an oriole this year.
On the nearby plains and close to the eoliens I have come across small flocks of yellow wagtails and there are several singing corn buntings there.
I’ve not travelled too far from my usual patch but a trip to the lakes produced several great crested grebes and a flock of forty cattle egrets. I saw no sign of the black or whiskered terns which have been reported from there on several occasions.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Spring 2019

It’s been quite a while since I posted a blog but Spring is upon us again, hope springs eternal and we can all eagerly await what this year’s migration might bring. In reality, not much has happened as yet (it’s only mid March) but sunshine and daffodils raise expectations and even more so does birdsong. I’ve spent a lifetime birding and have heard the sounds of many species around the world but I think I’m not alone in regarding that of the blackbird as being the most delightful. It’s pure musical phrases lack some of the power of the nightingale but they have a sweeter and happier feel. It helps, of course, that you can usually watch the male bird deliver that song from out of his golden beak while he perched on an exposed treetop or roof.
There are plenty of other species joining the Spring choir at the moment. The chaffinches are probably the noisiest in my garden but robins are piping up everywhere and I have listened to the distinctive song of the woodlark while having a morning cuppa outside the house.
🦅As for sightings of Spring migrants, I have found one stone curlew/thick-knee trying to hide in themiddle of a field, several chiffchaff and blackcaps  and quite a few black redstarts. All of the last three species can winter in Charente but not in the numbers which are around at present.
🦅From elsewhere in the department there have been a few reports of sand martins, hoopoes, black kites  and a smattering of wildfowl and waders including pintail, garganey and avocet....but then you need to be near wetland to find such delights. Sadly, the river valleys are not in flood at the moment.
🦅My most interesting bird this week was a beautiful male zitting cisticola (ex fan tailed warbler) which was singing on top of low vegetation by the side of The Bandiat near Agris. He was close enough for a great photo but I stupidly had left my camera behind.

It’s a bit late for me to fill in any highlights of the period since my last post but top of the list must be the amazing wallcreeper inside a ruined tower of the chateau near Confolens.


Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Flycatchers and whinchats

This, of course, is a spotted flycatcher and a couple of them (including this one) have been feeding in my garden this week along with the pied variety. They do not get on too well with each other nor with the common redstarts and the robin for that matter and much energy seems to be wasted while chasing each other about.
Up on the plains there have been quite a few migrating whinchats over the last few days. Some are in the sunflower fields while others occupy the hedges near the bio farm. There are also several common redstarts along with the occasional chiffchaff, blackcap, whitethroat, tree pipit and stonechat in the bio farm area. I can’t remember if I mentioned the wheatear which was on the plains last week but I have seen no others since.
As I passed through Galvert today a rock sparrow was calling, two hoopoe were flying around and a lone lapwing was feeding in a field.
I do remember saying that the stone curlews seem to have stopped calling .....nevertheless, I have in fact heard them this week.