Monday, 5 February 2018

Feb 2018 ...and a Very Wet Winter

My last post was almost three months ago!
I could put this down to the ‘where does the time go?’ age-thing or to my familiar wrestle with Google when I have been locked out of my blog..... again, probably an age-thing... or perhaps because I’ve been very busy or been away, and I can’t clearly remember if either of those are true.

But, for better or worse, I’m back on line and I’ll try to keep up.

There is an icy blast blowing today and snow is forecast for tomorrow but at least that will make a change from the seemingly endless rain of this winter; I can’t remember a duller or wetter one. All the rivers have been over their banks and into the fields but the floods are receding at the moment.
But it’s been pretty mild and this has had an effect on our winter birds. I’ve seen a very few fieldfares or redwings and just a handful of bramblings since my last post, and not a single siskin although some have been reported in the department.
My bird feeders have attracted the usual hordes of blue and great tits, house sparrows, greenfinches, goldfinches and chaffinches but only the occasional hawfinch or brambling so times can not have been too hard. A great spotted woodpecker is another regular visitor and a sparrowhawk’s ambush causes panic from time to time. A chiffchaff has been around the garden all winter but I have seen no sign of any blackcaps.
It’s always interesting to watch the different feeding strategies of the birds which come for food. The tits hang on to the fat balls as do the sparrows but the finches, robins and dunnocks often settle underneath and feed off the bits that fall down. The moorhens which come up from the pond adopt the latter technique, of course, and all these ground feeders seem to largely accept each other’s company. Not so with the sunflower seed feeders! Here there is constant warfare and the most aggressive bird seems to be the sharp billed goldfinch who likes it’s all to himself. Blue tits can be surprisingly assertive, however, and often hold their own against their bigger rivals. The tits take a seed away to break into it as do the woodpeckers but the finches break the seed open in situ, a much more effective tactic.
Away from the garden I have little of note to report other than some small flocks of cattle egret and three red kites way back in November but perhaps the most delightful thing has been the regular singing of mistle thrushes since mid January and even the occasional burst of blackbird song when a warm sun has made an occasional appearance.

PS    A very belated reply to a comment on my November post about migrating cranes; no, I have not seen any sign of the nearby wind turbines causing a problem for migrating birds. I can see the potential problem especially at night and when the blades are rotating rapidly but up to now the birds seem to be avoiding them perhaps because they usually fly at much higher altitudes.

Saturday, 4 November 2017


The return migration of the cranes seems to have been rather delayed this year possibly because of the mild sunny weather that we have been experiencing. Small flocks have been moving for at least a week but around 2000 birds passed over my house on the 3rd and 4th of November.

Since the last of the wheatears and whinchats finally disappeared on Oct 4th after their protracted stay on the plains, autumn migration has not been dramatic for me with little to report other than a solitary golden plover and a a couple of late house martins.

Of more interest though were a pair of peregrines which I found near Confolens. The location also yielded my first coal tit sightings for a couple of years and I watched a great white egret fishing in the Vienne river there but numerous reports of this species in the Charente have occurred recently while a friend in Fontenille reported four cattle egrets this week.

Speaking of the Vienne, but not strictly in the Charente Departement, I saw my first dipper in these parts close to Bellegarde airport. I had an hour or two to spare between dropping off one set of friends before another pair arrived and spent the time watching a stretch of the river from the D47 bridge. The bird obligingly stayed in view for some twenty minutes.

There have been some interesting recent reports of vagrant birds recently including a wallccreeper at Larochefoucauld chateau and another for several days at the chateau at Saint Germaine de Confolens.
Needless to say, I failed to locate either!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Two Wrynecks

A couple of corrections to my last post: the wryneck doesn't seem to have moved on as I've seen presumably the same bird in the same sunflowers on several occasions now including today. Also l checked the records regarding bluethroat sightings and the one that I saw this week is the fourth and not the second one this year.
Curiously, the other wryneck which I saw at Lac de Chaban was also still there when I visited today. It seems,therefore, that many passage birds make extended stopovers during migration. This is upheld by the wheatears and whinchats which have been hanging around the same two fields for over a week now. The wheatear count today was a remarkable 22 although the whinchats had gone down to 8.
Other notable birds I've seen over the last few days are a male marsh harrier near the local eoliens, four greenshanks and two green sandpipers at the lakes today along with four black-headed gulls, and  a pair of tawny owls in my garden.

Monday, 4 September 2017


The small sunflower field which I referred to in my last post still held a dozen or s migrating whinchats yesterday but the wryneck seemed to have moved on. An equally delightful bird had replaced it though, a male bluethroat. This is only the second one that I have encountered in Charente though they nest in Charente Maritime and I think it's only the second individual reported in Charente this year.
The sunflowers also held at least one willow warbler, a few stonechats and around 40 linnets.
Another pied flycatcher was in my garden but this one was strangely silent.
The hedges at the bio farm have not yet produced much this autumn but a couple of male common redstarts and a whinchats were there yesterday.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Wrynecks et al and Return Migration

It seems that the doldrums are behind us and movement is under way.
Wrynecks and black terns have been the highlights of the last few days for me but there have also been wheatears, whinchats and osprey.
The nearby plains contain many large fields of sunflowers but migrating birds for some reason have favoured just one small, detached triangle bordering the Artenac to La Tâche road. Seven whinchats were perched prettily on top of the plants there earlier in the week and that number rose to thirteen yesterday. Along with them were several stonechats, a small flock of linnets and a couple of willow warblers.
I've also managed to find two wheatears on the plains this week but they were making use of the open ground of course. On the earlier occasion mentioned above I was fortunate to flush a group of four woodlark from the path before they took refuge in the sunflowers.
Wrynecks have eluded me for several years in Charente but two turned up on consecutive days this week. One was a very obliging individual which sat still for some ten minutes on the top of a sunflower amid the whinchats, the other was more skulking and in a bush near the dam at Lac de Chaban.
I had taken a trip to the latter to look for migrating black terns and was rewarded with good views of three of these delicate birds dipping into the water. On two occasions while watching them an osprey passed over carrying a small fish. The only wader that I saw there was a common sandpiper but there have been reports of green and wood sandpiper and ruff from that location and the neighbouring Lac Lavaud.
Small flocks of yellow wagtails have also been on the Lairière plains and a hobby was flying around there earlier this week. Large numbers of swallows and some  house martins have been moving south although at least a hundred of the latter were still flying around the church square in Chasseneuil on Monday and some were still visiting nests.
The annual passage of pied flycatchers seems well underway as they have been reported from various locations including one in my garden.
Today I may go looking for the elusive little bustard as there were reports of small flocks on the plains west of here yesterday.
The weather is still curiously unsettled with some hot spells, cool snaps and the occasional welcome shower.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

August Doldrums

The rain has mainly abated and the temperature is more or less back to normal during August but this month, as always, is a pretty uneventful one for birds. It's not just that there are fewer birds to view, there is also very little to hear as most birdsong is to do with attracting mates and defending territory during the breeding season and all this has of course mainly come to an end. It's not entirely silent though; as I write this a black redstart is doing its loud and incessant tutting close by and a collared dove is calling from the wood but what's missing is the the birdsong. In the course of a two hour bike ride today I heard quitea few species calling but not a single skylark, blackbird or chaffinch.
For the sake of those, perhaps visitors to Charente, who want to know what to expect in midsummer inn these parts, here is a resumé of that bike ride:
As l left the house mid morning a black redstart was my first bird along with the inevitable house sparrows quickly followed by a green woodpecker calling. Plenty of swallows were flying around as I approached Saint Angeau where a few house martins mixed in with them. A quick pause at the Bonnieure bridge produced a grey wagtail as it often does and then a family of white wagtails was added to the list as I moved back into open country and dropped down towards the dry bed of the Tardoire. A few stonechats were on the power lines and the occasional starling was flying about before a small group of noisy jays put in an appearance.
It was not till I approached Coulgens that I made contact with any further passerines. A narrow strip of woodland held a flock of long-tailed, great and blue tits along with a robin and a (silent) warbler high in the canopy which was probably a willow warbler rather than the much commoner chiffchaff.
It wasn't until this point that blackbird and goldfinch put in an appearance and then a cirl bunting which flew up from the path. The common chaffinch delayed his entrance until La Rochette as did the wren and greenfinch..
Larger birds except for crows and wood pigeons had been even thinner on the ground but I managed to add magpie, kestrel and buzzard in quick succession and that was about it until the family of moorhens greeted me on the pond next my house.
But if this seems a rather underwhelming list take some heart from the fact that elsewhere in the department the following are some of the birds which have been reported in recent days:
Bee eater
Woodchat shrike
Grey partridge
Spotted flycatcher
Pied flycatcher
Wood sandpiper
Short toed eagle
Honey buzzard
Sitting cisticola
Turtle dove

As always, it's a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Late July.....and More Rain

Not just more rain but very much on the cool side as well!
Generally one doesn't expect too much that surprises by the time mid summer arrives and this year is no exception but here are a few observations.
The most interesting of these was a brief view of a peregrine as it flew across the upper stretch of the Bonnieure. I think this is only the second time that I've seen this precise in Charente.
All the grain is now in and the ground-nesting birds which have survived the combines can occasionally be seen or heard in the stubble fields. A stone curlew flew across the road near Romefort today and a few quail were calling from the plains as I cycled across yesterday. Meanwhile, the odd black kite scavengers for victims.
I came across a flock of five common sandpipers on the Charente near Mansle today and kingfisher was on a stretch of the river near Lichère.
On my local cycling excursions I am still coming across the occasional singing tree pipit and yellowhammers are more common on some days than cirl's while red back shrikes number at least 8 pairs within 10k or so of my house.
Sadly, after his earlier singing, there has recently been no sign of the reed warbler near Valence and I have yet to come across a bonelli's warbler this year. The nightjars are surely in the nearby forests but I have not made an evening visit to find out.....perhaps next week if it gets warmer.