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Saturday, 21 May 2022

Birding Languedoc trip to the Aude river flood plain, Lespignan and Pissevaches lagoon

I didn't write about our last trip with BL but most of what we saw on that outing we saw on Sunday as well, so I will stick with this trip whilst it's still fresh in my mind!

We have been to one part of the Aude river flood plain on our own a few years ago, and saw tons of Bee-eaters and some other interesting birds, but no Rollers which had been a target species. So this time we were more than happy to see three Rollers! A long time since the only one we have seen before, in Spain.

We started by making an impromptu stop to take photos of this magnificent field full of poppies. There are lots of them flowering at the moment, usually around the edges of fields and on verges, often on any kind of disturbed land but this field was just full of them!

The flood plain is very wide in some places and there are irrigation ditches to control the water levels. We learned that some of the flood plain is deliberately flooded in winter where there are vineyards - these vines are not using the usual American rootstock which is resistant to the vine pest Phylloxera, but by flooding the land the phylloxera is killed, without having any effect on the vine plants. Clever, isn't it!

Amongst other birds, we saw the Little Bustard again (we had seen some of them on the previous trip) and this one was a male who was calling - they put their heads back and emit a fart like noise!

Photo credit: K Allen

Here's the beautiful European Roller (Coracias garrulus):

Photo credit: K Allen

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris):

Photo credit: K Allen

I also saw a male Golden Oriole! I think I was the only one who saw it - just one of those times when you happen to scan with your binocs and something amazing comes into view! It had disappeared by the time I mentioned it to others, though I did confirm that there is nothing else that has a bright yellow body and black wings.... ๐Ÿ˜€ Most of the others saw one later in the afternoon (I didn't) so I guess that is fair. 

I saw this plant, Aristolochia something, on a previous trip as well, and Karline (our bird guide) pointed out to me that it is the host plant for the Southern Festoon butterfly, a species that I would love to see. After walking along beside the drainage ditch back to the road, I discovered that my glasses were no longer in my pocket where I had put them, as I can't get on with looking through my binocs or camera with glasses on. Somehow they must have fallen out of my pocket. ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ 

So K and I walked all the way back to where this plant was as I thought it might have fallen out whilst I was squatting down taking the photos, but nope, didn't find them. I'm now desperately trying to get new glasses made before we go on holiday in a couple of weeks time, and unfortunately I'm going to have to pay for them, as there is no way I can get to an opthalmologist for a prescription, then to an opticians to choose glasses, which will take some time to be made. That's the way it works in France if you want to be reimbursed by the healthcare system, and there's usually a 6 month wait for an appointment with an opthalmologist! I could get an appointment if I wanted to go to the centre of Toulouse, but we really don't fancy having to do that. So I'll pay - I can only just about get the glasses made in time as it is.

Thank goodness I still have some old reading glasses so I can at least see to read, cook, use computer screens, etc! I now have an appt for tomorrow afternoon at a local opticians where I'll get my eyes tested, then choose some glasses. This time I'll take advantage of the 2nd pair free offer - the last time my 2nd pair were prescrip sunglasses. 

On his way back to the group K saw this Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius):

Photo credit: K Allen

We then headed to nearby Lespignan, to view the Lesser Kestrels which are nesting in the roofs of the village. They were part of a very successful reintroduction programme and have spread to nesting in nearby villages as well. Again, these are birds we saw on our previous trip, but we saw more of them with better views this time! This next photo is a male Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), and the photo below that is of a male and a female who is the one flying.

Photo credit: K Allen

Photo credit: K Allen

We happened to be here on a Sunday when the Fete de Transhumance was being held, and the sheep and a few goats here were being moved from fields up on La Clape hills over a three day fete period involving three villages, to some fields around Lespignan. Normally the Transhumance is when the cattle (or other animals) are moved up to mountain pastures for the summer, or brought back down again. Philippa, our BL guide, reckons it's just an excuse for a party these days! We weren't very happy as the poor sheep were being herded around and around and the ones on the outside, including some small lambs, looked quite stressed with their mouths open. Thankfully, after having viewed the Lesser Kestrels and moving to a little park overlooking the lower village for our picnic, we could see that the sheep had been moved on to their new pasture.

A number of people on horseback (shepherds) joined in, as well as some horses and carts. This horse was beautiful!

Back to the flood plain and this time we crossed over the river to the other side, however we didn't see any more Bee-eaters this side, though we saw some Rollers inspecting the nesting boxes which have been put up on electricity poles.

Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) and Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) - the Rock Sparrow was in Lespignan but the Shrike was in the fields near the river. It's looking away from the camera but at least it is showing its lovely brown head!

Photo credit: K Allen

The Aude river.

I found a dragonfly I haven't seen before, an Orange-spotted Emerald (Oxygastra curtisii). This is the female - the male has green eyes.

These horses were quite friendly and came over to say hello and check us out. All but the dark one looked like Breton horses to me.

We then headed to the nearby Etang de Pissevaches and the filtration ponds, which you can't enter but can see some of the ponds from the road. There wasn't much about, some Mallards, Shelducks and Little Egrets, but quite a lot of birdlife flying overhead, such as Black-winged Stilts, Glossy Ibis and a Marsh Harrier.

On the lagoon on the other side of the road we watched some Little Terns fishing but they are much too fast for photos! I prefer things that don't move, such as this plant that I hadn't seen before. It's Hairy Sea Heath (Frankenia hirsuta) and grows in a low mound and looks quite similar to thyme.

A finger for scale, something I keep forgetting to do with tiny plants!

Since writing the above, I have been to the opticians and ordered some new glasses which will be ready in a week. The great news is that the guy said that my doctor could write the prescription and it would be accepted by the healthcare system - something we’ve not heard of before, maybe it’s new, but anyway, that means that most of the cost will be reimbursed! ๐Ÿค“

Saturday, 7 May 2022

A walk up the road and orchids in the lawn

I went for a walk up the road the other day to get a bit of exercise and Vit D. It's Lady Orchid time right now and there are quite a lot of them growing on the verges and wild patches.

Spring is a wonderful time for Euphorbia, here with Red Clover behind it looking very bright and colourful.

Since we moved here, a solar farm has been installed in this field which I would guess is about 2 hectares (5 acres). In the local newsletter, it says this produces enough electricity for about 11,600 households for one year! I wonder then why we don't have more solar farms. This department, being the most windy, has tons of wind turbines, but I have seen very few solar farms. Sheep graze in here too, to keep the grass down in the spring, so it's not taking away the land from agriculture completely.

I have no idea what that square cushion-like thing is though, anyone know?

Why did the caterpillar cross the road? ๐Ÿ˜€ This wasn't the only one I saw either, I saw a furry brown one on the tarmac too. Don't ask me what it is though!

We have a lot of wild lilac around too, and this one in particular seemed to be attracting quite a few butterflies. As well as the ones I've taken photos of, there was a Small Tortoiseshell and a Cleopatra.

Here's a Swallowtail (Papilio machaon), funnily enough when I got home K said that a Scarce Swallowtail had been in the plum outside the kitchen window!

I couldn't get a better picture of it but here's a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) - they are really common around here early in the year.

Another thing you see a lot of in the spring are these Judas Trees. I first noticed them whilst we were driving along the motorway last spring (missed them the previous year due to the lockdown). Then I noticed there were quite a few in gardens in villages and towns around here too. What is lovely is that they seem to self seed, as along the motorway there are trees of all sizes from little shrub sized ones to big trees. They are so colourful! They are the cousin of my old 'Forest Pansy' from my last garden; that was the Cercis Canadensis (Eastern Redbud), a North Amercan species but the Judas Tree is Cercis Siliquastrum which is a European and Asian species.

Another Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea).

Back in our garden and the new Nectar Bar is coming along nicely. I have a surprise free plant though! I bought three Gaura plants last year but this year there is something that is most definitely not a Gaura appearing which I didn't plant! It must have self seeded in the Gaura pot at the garden centre. Anyway, it's perfect for the Nectar Bar and if you don't know, it's a Valerian (the shoot with the red bud on it).

One of the Sages is already flowering! This one is quite big, the other two which are similar are quite a lot smaller, and the two that I bought (Salvia guaranitica) which said that they grew shrub sized appeared to be dead. On closer inspection more recently, it seems like there is growth at the base of the stems so I have no idea if it does this every year. I can't see it growing to shrub size if it does that. It wasn't like we had a harsh winter. As you can tell, I'm puzzled by that!

More orchids in the lawn - this one surprised me as we already had a flush of Ophrys in the lawn about a month or so back, and most are nearly over, and we have moved on to the Man Orchids. After checking ID on a Facebook group, it seems this is the same as the earlier Ophrys ones (or some of them) - the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes). They are known for having a variety of patterns on the purple/brown bit (think that is the lip/labellum) so no wonder I am confused!

We have lots of these growing now, they are the Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora) (he's got a funny skinny little body compared to the Lady Orchid๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€).

More buds appearing behind the one flowering.

These are some pictures that Keith took earlier in April when he had his zoom lens to hand and the view was lovely and clear over the mountains.

I had to get a picture of him whilst taking pics, with my phone! ๐Ÿ˜€

This was taken in the same place as my blog header picture, which was a phone photo taken by my sister in law.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Birding Languedoc outing to le Grand Castelou, Ile St Martin vineyards and a quarry on La Clape

I did think twice about whether to post this outing or not as the weather was pretty awful and the photos all seem rather dull! However there was one little creature that was worth a share, so here goes.

We started off at Le Grand Castelou, which is the wetland reserve I posted about a few months back where K and I visited at the end of December. It's a marshland area bordering on the Etang de Bages and has White Storks nesting there.

This hide is really badly designed (obviously not by a birder!) as the windows are far too narrow giving you only a small view and they are all at different heights, and the benches are suited only for kids to sit on them anyway. With a group of people it means there's always someone who can't see out properly, especially if there is something of interest to see. I'm surprised as it's a nature reserve within the Parc Naturel Rรฉgionale de la Narbonnaise en Mediterannรฉรฉ, who I think should know better. ๐Ÿ˜ž

We were still too early for Reed Warblers but there was still plenty of bird life around. Cetti's Warbler let us know it was around at the top of its voice, but as usual didn't show itself. We did get a distant glimpse of a Sardininan Warbler and a Yellow Wagtail. I have been learning that there are many subspecies of Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) but one that is commonly seen around these coastal areas is the Spanish one, M. flava iberiae, which has a white chin and white supercilium (eye stripe).

Photo credit: Keith Allen

Sardinian Warbler (Curruca melanocephala) Note the red eye! You might need to click on the image to bring it up larger to see properly, ditto the one above.

Photo credit: Keith Allen

Here we are by the side of a little water channel looking for the something special I mentioned up above.....

It's a Mediterranean Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)! I had never seen one before so it was a lovely surprise. They are so cute! Karline, our guide, knows what she is doing and how to hold creatures properly so she caught one for us to have a better look.

There's a colony of White Stork which nest here.

Photo credit: Keith Allen

We then moved on to a different habitat on the Ile St Martin, wandering through the vineyards, with attractive cliffs to one side and a view of Etang de Bages on another side.

It's such a shame the weather wasn't better. The sun did try to come out here, which warmed us up a little bit, and a few white butterflies emerged. but that was about it. 

This next photo shows some white flowers in the foreground between the vines. This is Diplotaxis erucoides, a western Mediterranean species known as False Rocket in France, and flowers all through the winter, particularly in the vineyards! I don't know why it likes vineyards so much, but it does add a bit of interest to the countryside as you are driving around in the winter. The leaves are edible, although you need to wait for some young shoots in the spring as there's not much leaf growth in the winter. This vineyard has been well weeded though - usually narrow tractors go through the vines grubbing out the weeds. I noticed the amount of pollinating insects all over it - so an extremely useful plant for insects which emerge early in the year when there aren't many flowers around.

Looking back the way we came there was a lovely view of Gruissan, on the Etang de Bages. We visited last September with my brother, including going up to this tower, the Tour Barberousse.

Below is a Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea).

In a couple of places around here the group went out onto the salt pans to see what birds could be found, but it just got windier and windier and I went back to the car (and I wasn't the only person!). The group didn't find much as the birds were obviously hunkered down somewhere more sheltered!

There was a lot of this sea foam around, I guess it's the wind that whips it up like this. I find it fascinating although a bit yukky too!

I did see these Avocets before heading back to the warmth of the car!

Photo credit: Keith Allen

At the end of the day we headed to this disused quarry at the base of La Clape, a small limestone range that runs between Narbonne and the sea. This plant stood out for me, and on closer inspection it looked very pretty. We later discovered that it is Amelanchier ovalis, known in English most often as Snowy Mespilus. In the autumn it has beautiful leaf colours and the leaves look not dissimilar to the Smoke Bush. It also has berries that birds love, sounds like a really good tree to have in a garden. ๐Ÿ˜€

Last, but definitely not least. The reason that we came to this quarry - the Blue Rock Thrush! They seem to love old quarries and are easy to spot as they seem to like the very top where they are silhouetted against the sky. Luckily this one came down in front of the rocks so it's colour could be seen. However, it was still rather far away so even Keith's zoom lens couldn't do better than this, and the image is heavily cropped!

Photo credit: Keith Allen

We have since been on another trip with BL, and we have two more booked up in May. They are exhausting though - the most recent one we had to leave at 6.30am!! When we get home about 12 hours later we are wrecked. ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜€