Sunday, 2 July 2017

July, Rain! and Rock Sparrow

 It's been a miserable week weatherise. I've seen no official figures but we must have had getting on for six inches in old money judging from the full containers in the garden. The fields are full of half harvested fields which have not been touched for a week now and I presume the farmers are as grumpy as the birds which are trying to shelter their broods.
I've quoted D H Lawrence before when he said that you never see a bird that feels sorry for itself and so, grumpy or not, they all seem to be getting on with it. Swallows, house martins and swifts were all flying low today as they fed busily over the stubble and many of them seemed to be young birds practising their fly-catching skills. Red backed shrikes were perched upright on the hedgerows as I cycled past (there was a gap in the downpour this morning) and corn buntings were already gathering in post breeding flocks with at least 15 in the sunflowers.
Rock sparrows are not an easy bird to find in Charente, in fact I can recall seeing the species just once before this summer, but at least one pair appears to be breeding in the small settlement of Galvert just a couple of kilometres from my house.
For the record, it's still possible to find about forty species of birds within a couple of hours but nightingales have now largely stopped singing so are hard to locate. Orioles are still plentiful though and I saw three hoopoes last week. Other less common species that are turning up occasionally are black kites, stone curlews and hen harriers. 
Apart from the birds, it's been delight to have posts of close views of hares and red squirrels during the last few weeks.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Scops Owl and Reed Warbler

After a day of much needed rain last weekend, the weather has turned rather showery and unseasonably cool. Nevertheless....
Scops owl are categorised as 'peu frequente' summer visitors to Charente which is the next group down from 'rare' on the Charente Nature site but they are pretty hard to come by. Their sonar-like call is very distinctive although it can easily be confused with that of a midwife toad so if you think you have located one make sure that is coming from an elevated position. (I once tracked down a likely suspect which was calling in the dark to echoes coming up from the village well.)
However, this time it was an owl rather than the unusual amphibian which I heard calling in the early evening from close to a friend's house in the upper Bonnieure valley and she told me that she regularly hears two of them there.
Reed warblers are not much more common here in my experience unless you can find any remaining reeds in our department; most have been replaced by poplar plantations. I have referred to a small patch on the Son-Sonnette in previous posts which usually hosts a pair or two in the summer and a male was rattling away there last week.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Quail and Spotted Flycatcher

I'm back from the UK (where I was treated to double figures of dippers in the Derbyshire dales) and have enjoyed a very hot and sunny end to May in Charente. My morning birding often takes me along the Tardoire valley on my bicycle and this is always a good area for red backed shrikes. So far this year I have located four breeding pairs between SaintAngeau and La Rochette (and another three pairs outside this valley) so it seems to be a good year for this species.
The Tardoire's waters in this stretch of the valley disappeared underground some weeks ago although I had the curious experience earlier in the month of standing in the virtually dry river bed near La Rochette and watching the water rising again and spreading like an incoming tide. The river's tree- lined course is still favoured by plenty of birds, though, and it was here that I saw my first spotted flycatcher of 2017.
It was while stopping to look at one of the shrikes today that I heard a quail calling from close by in a wheat field. Experience has taught me that it is a futile activity to try to actually get to see a calling bird so I just listened for a while.
While on the subject of birds calling, melodious warblers are particularly noisy at the moment, including one in my garden. Nightingales are still throbbing away, cuckoos and corn buntings have quietened down considerably, orioles are fluting all over the place and turtle doves are purring everywhere but I have not heard a hoopoe since mid month.
The good weather has meant that much of the hay is already in and as always I wonder how this has affected ground nesting birds. The quickly growing crops elsewhere are making it difficult to locate stone curlews but a pair were still showing themselves on the plains this week.
Along the GR 36 west of Saint Angeau at least two yellowhammers were singing yesterday along with a tree pipit.




Sunday, 14 May 2017

Hobby and Shrikes

It's mid May and almost all of the regular migrants have now put in an appearance. Orioles have been here for some time as have swifts and this week I saw my first red backed shrikes (both of them, dazzling males) and a hobby which was being mobbed by swallows.
A few species have eluded me although they have been reported elsewhere in Charente; I am still waiting for a spotted flycatcher and a honey buzzard  to turn up and with far less confidence for a wryneck. An even remoter possibility is catching sight of bee-eaters which have turned up in the south of the department for the second year running.
 A relative common species in the forests here is the inconspicuous bonelli's warbler but I have yet to come across one this year and today I am off to (a rainy)England for a week so I'll have to wait till I get back.
A serin is singing noisily outside the door as I write this. I won't see one of them in the UK either.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Osprey and Waders

A trip up to the lakes yesterday produced fine views of an osprey carrying a fish, five common sandpipers and three greenshanks. A brief glimpse of three gulls disappearing behind a slight rise was probably that of black-headed as some had been reported recently but there was no sign of any whiskered terns which had also been seen there. A couple of migrating whinchats were perched on a fence wire and whitethroats were plentiful.
Back at La Poterie, a male common redstart has been a colourful visitor to the garden but the nearby nightingale seems to have stopped singing; a cuckoo has been calling incessantly all week however.
On the nearby plains the occasional wheatear and whinchat are still passing through and corn buntings are singing get determinedly.

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.