Sunday, 26 March 2017

Swallows and Barn Owls

Today was dry and sunny enough for me to mow the lawn, an activity not really conducive to birding,   but I did hear a firecrest singing at the end of the garden and also flushed a moorhen which had wandered up from the village pond.
Later in the day I spent some time driving along the D27 which runs past my house. Driving eastward in the afternoon I saw three swallows chasing each other near Saint Mary and the in the evening while driving westward I saw three separate barn owls between La Poterie and Villefagnan.
The only other bird of note today was a male hen harrier near Lairière.
Reports of little gulls seen up at the lakes of Haute Charente might send me up that way tomorrow..

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Back in France March 2017

Sunshine streams through the window as I write this but rain is forecast from midday and its predicted to continue until the weekend. All of which may explain why I took an extended break to warmer climes and different birds. California, Arizona, Hawaii and Tenerife are now behind me and I've started surveying Charente again.
First, the birds that have already arrived for the new breeding season: chiffs, black redstarts and blackcaps are plentiful and I found three swallows, a few meadow pipits and a little ringed plover in the Tardoire valley along with a few late cranes which have recently passed over northwards. But that's about it up to now!
There are two reasons for this, one is that it's still quite early in the year and the other is that despite the aforementioned rain there has not been enough of it while I've been away to flood the rivers. The migrating little ringed plover which I saw this week was making the best of a tiny pool in the middle of a field which in some Springs is completely inundated and a visit to the Bandiat revealed that not only is it not over its banks but that it clearly hasn't been so (yet) this year.
The waders and wildfowl which are not stopping off in the river valleys close to me have, however, been reported from the permanent lakes and ponds of Charente so I might take a trip to the high Charente once the rain stops.
Still, it is Spring! and the song of the blackbird is delighting us as always, woodpeckers are drumming, a robin is nesting by my back door and there's a chorus every morning. Things are quickly getting better.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Waterside Birds

The figure of under 50 species by mid Jan which I mentioned in my previous post seemed rather paltry so I took a trip to the Touvre in order to up it slightly through the addition of a few birds which like a wet habitat. 
And so I quickly added eight to my total:

Mute swan
Coot
Little grebe
Gadwall
Kingfisher
Little egret
Great white egret
Cormorant

For those who don't know it, The Touvre is an interesting river; it makes a surprising emergence (the second largest in France)from its underground course during which it has collected waters from the Bandiat and the Tardoire and then flows to the Charente at Angouleme. Its steady water temperaure have made it useful to man over the centuries including for the National Foundry which takes advantage of its coolness for producing military grade metals.
The birds are best viewed from the banks at The Sources themselves or a little downstream at Merignac where there is a handy parking area near the bridge.

Grey wagtail and several chiffchaffs were also around during my visit but I'd seen both of these earlier in the month.

A bonus bird on the way back was a male hen harrier near Agris which pushed 2017's total to a slightly more respectable 58.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Slow January

There is still no sign of any winter influx of passerines which means that by mid January my species count for this year is still just short of 50. The finch flocks are made up of either chaffinch, goldfinch or linnet with few mixed ones; there is no sign of siskins and only occasional mistle or song thrushes supplement the many blackbirds.
An interesting absentee up to now is the firecrest. This species is usually easily found in any woodland in these parts but perhaps its tiny size is not coping well with the chilly conditions.
In the garden the sunflower seeds and fat balls which I put out are being devoured at a fast rate but almost entirely by blue and great tits, house sparrows and the common finches. A great spotted woodpecker comes reasonably regularly, though, and a robin, dunnock and several moorhen are usually foraging on the what falls from the feeders. I've taken to hanging some of the fatballs in the window recesses and this gives delightfully close views of the tits which soon found then.
It's a common species, I know, but the sight of a tight flock of about a thousand woodpigeon was an impressive one yesterday. They were were heading southwest at the height of a few hundred feet.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Bullfinches

For those who are not aware, the weather over the last week or so has turned rather cold but usually with blue skies and this has sometimes forced a change of mind about setting out on a bike. So today I took off in the car to the Braconne Forest and had a pleasant wander around on foot.
I've mentioned in previous posts that I am always stunned by the tropical brilliance of the male bullfinch so it warmed me up today to get good views of one together with his more subdued looking partner. A pair of hawfinches were in the same location and a marsh tit was not too far away. in fact the forest was yielding far more birds than usual; admittedly most of them were great and blue tits but nuthatches were plentiful and I came across one short toed treecreeper and three cranes still moving south overhead.
That little group brought this year's tally to a non too remarkable 40 or so species. Earlier in the week I watched a flock of about 350 golden plover settling on the plains near Lairiere but  even more interesting was a flock of 9 lesser black gulls which were following a plough. The freshly turned earth also attracted 9 herons and almost as many buzzards.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Winter Woodlarks

I'm pretty certain that most woodlarks go undetected which is a pity of course. Apart from their distinctive song there is not much to draw the casual observer's attention unless they are viewed close up when the creamy supercilium can be seen extending round to the back of the head.
For anyone who is not sure what to look for: they are obviously lark-like in behaviour, usually in small flocks and often on the ground. They are distinctly smaller than skylarks and show a very short tail when they fly up, often silently. Usually they will settle again quickly but sometimes they will fly to an available tree.
I've seen a few small flocks recently including a dozen birds in the Bonnieure valley this afternoon and another ten near to my house. Also in the valley today was a flock of about fifty white wagtails feeding in a recently ploughed field. I was on my bike as usual and managed to clock up just over thirty species in a couple of hours, the most interesting of which (other than the woodlarks) was a single marsh tit near La Poterie.
The weather has been remarkably sunny and quite warm for the last three weeks or so but after the last flurry of autumn migration culminating in a substantial movement of cranes there has not been a great deal of note. Moreover, the unseasonal warmth has perhaps delayed the arrival of our winter visitors and I have yet to see redwing, fieldfare, brambling or siskin, and even lapwings have appeared in only small numbers.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Back 0n Line

To anyone out there who is still reading this blog.......

For some unknown reason (though this has happened before) I've been locked out of my blog by Google for the last couple of months and have not posted since early autumn.
Here we are now in the the build up to Xmas and all the cranes seem now to have passed over! ..but there is other stuff to report so, having just regained access, I'll trawl through my notes and do a catch-up in my next post.