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 T√Ęche, 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.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Red Crested Pochards and Stilts

The Spring floods are turning up some interesting migrants. An unexpected discovery this morning was a pair of red-crested pochard lurking at the edge of the flooded Bandiat near Vielles Vaures. This is the first time I have seen this species in France, never mind Charente. Also present there was a pair of migrating little grebes, a coot and two moorhen which were probably also on the move.

A few minutes earlier I had a look at the Tardoire and watched two black-winged stilts feeding close to a great white egret. The latter are now a relatively common sight in our department but I have not seen stilts here since the last flooded Spring a few years back. It’s a fascinating conjecture as to where these unusual birds are travelling to and from.

There was not much else at either site except for lots of swallows, a few house martins, four green sandpipers and four white storks which had been flushed by a gyrocopter. I note that another observer reported yellow wagtails at The Tardoire but I didn’t see any.

Yesterday evening as I returned from a walk, I heard my first stone curlew (thick knee) of the year calling from the field opposite my house.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Back from Texas

A three week break in Texas took me away to warmer climes and (mainly) different birds but now I’m swopping cardinals and mockingbirds for black redstarts and nightingales.
I’m still getting over the jet-lag but I managed a trip to the Tardoire valley yesterday. It’s still partly flooded yet the only passage birds were a single great white egret, a lonely lapwing, lots of swallows and a sand martin. A quick look at the Bandiat revealed more swallows, the call of a little grebe and a singing nightingale.
Back at chez nous a cuckoo was calling and I was happy to see that the regular black redstart had moved back in while I was away.
It’s curious that although Houston is much further south than Charente (on the latitude of, say, north Morocco) Spring migration seems more advanced here. Far more song birds are singing for instance.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Great White Egret

There have been some pleasant warm spells over the last few days but showers have helped the flooded fields to retain an attraction for a few early Spring migrants.
There is still not a great deal to report from my part of Charente but a great while egret and around a hundred black headed gulls were present in the Tardoire valley this week.
Because of the very wet winter and early Spring this is probably the best March for Charente birding for several years but unfortunately I am going to miss the next three weeks as I’m visiting my family in Texas.
Anybody who is reading this blog might wish to make their own comments about what is happening.