Friday, 21 April 2017

Montague's Harrier, Whinchats and Stone Curlew

I know that I should be calling a stone curlew a thick knee but I think the old name sounds better. Anyway, I saw my first of the year yesterday. It was wandering around on the nearby skyline not far from the turbines. There was no sign of a partner but I hope one turns up as there is usually at least one breeding pair up there. There is not much bare ground for them to settle on this year though as a good proportion of the plains is already taken up with well advanced winter wheat. One would like to think that this might lure the bustards back.
In the same area and fighting against the stiff NE breeze which has been spoiling the sunny days for over a week, was a hunting male montague's harrier, a summer visitor which I failed th catch sight of last year.
The whinchats in their fresh plumage were a delight to see as they perched very obligingly along an electric fence line at the bio farm.
Back at La Poterie a hoopoe has been calling from somewhere in the village and a nightingale is singing by the pond. Serin, firecrest, blackcap and whitethroat are all singing in the garden itself while blackbird, robin, black redstart, wood pigeon, greenfinch, house sparrows, starlings, tits and kestrels are already nest-building or feeding young.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Mid April Roundup

The glorious sunny weather continues and the migrants continue to trickle in. I have now seen three individual wheatears including  one that was close to some new houses in Saint Angeau.  A male whitethroat was on the plains a couple of days back and a female merlin which I watched there was presumably on its way northwards. Nightingales and cuckoos are quite plentiful now but I have seen only one hoopoe and heard another in our village. The tiny but noisy serins are singing everywhere including in my garden.
The most recent arrival for me was a melodious warbler which was chattering away from the same piece of scrub in which a nightingale, a chiffchaff and a blackcap were also singing.

The walls of my house have already acquired their usual nesting population of kestrels, starlings, house sparrows, robins and black redstarts but to date the tits seem to have shown just a passing interest in the nest boxes.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Wheatear and Tree Pipit

Well, the wheatear didn't take long in response to my last post as a solitary male was waiting for me on the Lairière plains early this morning. My bike ride took me on to La Tâche where a tree pipit was singing and then delicately parachuting down from his high perch....and so two more spring migrants have made their appearance.
As always, a few other species which were missing from yesterday's tally put in an appearance today: a yellowhammer was singing near La Poterie, a pair of mallards were on the village pond (these are wild ones and not the tamer ones that we have fed for the last couple of years) and from the house I watched a male hen harrier quartering the fields. Several swallows were also around as was a solitary kingfisher and a white wagtail by the Charente near Luxé.
A parting comment on yesterday's post is that song thrushes were challenging blackcaps as the commonest songster today.

Nightingale and White Stork

The Spring of 2017 is the first one for me when I heard a nightingale before I saw a wheatear but then we live in strange times. The bird was singing near the Tardoire near La Rochette and the stork was circling above the same river near Fougère.
Except for a wettish weekend, it's been a hot sunny end to March and April 3 was another hot day. Despite the absence of any flooding, I took a ride down to the Tardoire valley in search of early migrants. Besides the nightingale and the stork I had a two other firsts for this year, a male common redstart in Saint Angeau and a hoopoe near Saint Colombe.
Singing serins and black redstarts seemed to be everywhere although blackcaps are by far the commonest songster (including one in my garden) and it's a delight to hear the near cacophony at times from so many species defending a territory or seeking a mate. All in all, 43 species came my way today and only the moorhen was making use of any water.

Speaking of which.... I mentioned at the end of my last post that I would take a trip up to the Charente lakes. It proved to be a very successful one despite the absence of the reported little gull. The ducks were distant and I had not taken my scope but I clearly picked out three male garganey among the mallard and wigeon and also came across three shelduck which were resting on the lakeside during their migration along with four shovelers which were gliding on the water. The only waders that were around were two green sandpipers while other birds of note were a teal, several great crested grebes and a black kite.
If I can get away from the garden, which demands a lot of attention at this time of year, I will visit the area again this week as according to reports its waters have already attracted several passing waders including avocets and black winged stilt, and ospreys have been seen on several occasions.

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.