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.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Pied Flycatchers

I seem to be forever apologising for the long intervals between some of my posts and my latest excuse is that I have had no landline or internet since July the 6th... well not until yesterday when France Telecom finally got round to repairing my line.
Meanwhile, the sun has blazed down, my lawn has whitened and the poor birds have become rather desperate for water so I have kept my bird baths full.
The annual return passage of pied flycatchers through my garden began much earlier than usual this year and I have had up four at a time flitting around over the last week or so. They have been doing the usual things: calling incessantly, flicking their wings when perched and then momentarily dropping to the lawn to catch an insect before returning to a low branch.
Another early appearance was that of a wheatear on the plains this week. Like the pied flycatchers, this species does not usually show up until late August/early September.
Other birds of note have been the rock sparrows around Galvert which have numbered as many as eight and groups of up to twenty four black kites scouring the recently harvested grain fields.
Speaking of raptors, I was alerted to the cries of peregrines while walking through Angouleme a few weeks back and for a few moments watched an adult and a young bird flying around the spire of Saint Martial’ church where I assume they are nesting.
The stone curlews seem to have departed early but red backed shrikes and orioles have still been around during the last week.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

June Round-up

Just in case anyone has missed me I apologise for the long gap since my last post.

Overnight we had a much needed thunder storm and a few centimetres of welcome rain after what has been a very hot period. During this time the farmers rushed to take in some of the grain, hay and rape crops which as always made me wonder how the ground-nesting birds cope. I suspect that just one pair of stone curlew now nest on the nearby plains but as I saw three birds together last week perhaps they had some breeding success. I have seen up to four hen harriers at one time so they also seem to be hanging on. To date, quail observations have been limited to just three individuals in the same area.

The little hamlet of Galvert which is just down the road has provided some interesting birding as I have managed to locate rock sparrow there more often than not and have also come across blue-headed wagtails in the nearby fields so I assume both species are breeding.

My bird sorties have been mainly restricted to cycle rides within 25 kilometres of the house and each one usually yields about 40 species although the constituents of that vary a little. Among the more unusual birds are zitting cisticola near La Rochette, spotted flycatcher at La Tâche, lesser spotted woodpecker, marsh tit and a very unseasonal crane which was walking around in the sunflower field opposite my house.

I have seen several red backed shrikes but they seem to be far less common than in recent years. Hoopoes which were abundant throughout May have now become reclusive but orioles are still calling everywhere.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Purple Heron et al

April is coming to a close so here’s a round-up of how it’s gone this year.
After a few days of warm weather which dried up the remnants of the winter’s flooding, the end of the month has turned wet and cool and household fires are lit again.
A surprise sighting on the Son-Sonnette this week was an adult purple heron. It flew up from a poplar plantation near Ventouse and perched at the top of one tree and then another, giving very good views of it long thin neck and long slim bill. A cetti’s warbler called from nearby as did several orioles which seem to have arrived in numbers in the last week or so. Near the Bandiat yesterday I came across my first hobbies of the year, three of them in fact. They were flying quite high but did not seem to be chasing the swallows and martins which were feeding close by. A single sand martin was among the many house variety and at least 15 swifts were also present. Perched in a tree was my first turtle dove of 2018. There was nothing on the river itself, however, except for a little egret. I notice that a new gouffre has opened up a little further upstream of the one down which the river used to disappear underground.
There are a few regular migrants that I’ve not yet come across this year, most noticeably whinchat and spotted flycatcher, but I was pleased to see a male wheatear on the plains a few days back and also a pair of quail which were flying low over the wheat field.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Black Storks and Greenshank

The fields are drying up rapidly and I expect there will be no water left after this week’s expected sunny weather. So it was perhaps the last few wetland migrants of the Spring that were visible this week. The black storks which I failed to see on my last visit to the Tardoire happily turned up the next day along with a few white storks together with a single greenshank  while on the Bandiat there have been several little grebes on view all week. Overall, it has been rather disappointing for waders this spring though a few other species such as ruff and ringed plover have been reported from elsewhere.
Gulls have not been plentiful either but a flock of ten black-headed were near the Bandiat a couple of days back and a Mediterranean gull turned up on the Tardoire.
Away from wetland birds, whitethroats and nightingales are now plentiful.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Shelduck and Rock Sparrows

The rain stopped more or less around 11am so I ventured out on my bike to the Tardoire. A pair of shelduck were there to greet me although they soon flew off further down the valley. The species is classed as a rarity in Charente and is essentially a passage migrant. Two stilts were also present, probably the same couple that I saw two days back.
I weakened and took the car to scan the Bandiat where the red crested pochards were still present but there was precious little else on the water other than a crested grebe. More than one nightingale was singing as were several blackcaps which seeem to have arrived in force. My first whitethroat of the year was also present in his fresh breeding finery.
The trip home took me over the plains where a pair of stone curlew landed in a field and disturbed the 28 rock sparrows which I had just counted. A female hen harrier flew by slowly, my second of the species today as I saw a male earlier.
Two black storks and two white were reported from the Tardoire after I had left the scene. You can’t win them all.