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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Birds and bugs around the Gulf of Morbihan

Make yourself comfy and sit down with a nice cup of tea as this is a long post. This dates back nearly two weeks, but when you come back from a day out with about 250 photo, it takes a while to sort them out and decide which ones to post! After visiting this bird rich area back in April (post here), here's my report from a revisit to the same places in mid May. Whilst there were fewer species and birds of interest viewable from the hides at the reserves, there were plenty of birds around, not to mention this time there were bugs and butterflies galore, so plenty to keep me occupied!

The first bird that needs a mention, although I don't have a photo, is one I've wanted to see more than anything for many years. I have been to many places in my 'where to watch birds' books from the Alps to the Pyrenees, and never so much as a glimpse of this elusive bird. But within five minutes of getting out of the car, what did we see but a Black Woodpecker! To get to one of the hides at the Marais de Duer, you have to walk through a small area of mixed woodland, and there's even a sign saying Black Woodpeckers here. Last time we were there, I thought "yeah, right" and contented myself with seeing Crested Tits instead. This time though we hit the jackpot! It was flitting from tree trunk to tree trunk and was hard enough to watch through binocs, but it's a big bird and easy enough to see well with the naked eye. Now Bluethroats have been bumped up to my No. 1 Want to See Bird and this area is supposed to be rife with them.... so maybe next time?

Along the open bit of path/cycleway to the hide we saw a couple of things of interest.

Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus).

There was one important thing that I learned on this day - don't dismiss every mottled looking brown/orange butterfly that flits by as yet another common old Speckled Wood. Sometimes they are something completely different! On the other hand, don't get too excited either, as sometimes they ARE Speckled Woods, only the one which had lost both its hind wings had me quite excited for a moment thinking it was something completely different...... :-)

Another lifer! A Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia).
It would have been nice to see the underwings which are prettier,
but it only wanted to pose like this.

The first hide had little of interest so we then backtracked, visited the other hide (Brent Geese, Black-winged Stilts, Reed Warblers) and decided to follow a path we hadn't walked along the previous time. This turned out to be a coastal path which we walked along for about half an hour before turning back. There was lots of interest along here, including seeing and hearing Whitethroats (no photos!) and a Grizzled Skipper (ummm no photo either!).

The coastal footpath after vising the hides at the Marais de Duer reserve.

We rounded a corner and I walked down onto the beach,
only to scare off two Shelducks and two..... yes they are Black Swans!

That was a nice surprise - also they are not totally black.
These Swans hail from Australia but have been introduced to Europe as ornamental birds,
and some have escaped and live happily as wild birds.

Mega zoomed in but at least we can ID them. Top two pictures are Black-tailed Godwits which are migratory birds and could well be breeding here in southern Brittany. The birds in the bottom two pics are Whimbrels which should have reached their breeding grounds by now I'd have thought. Maybe these ones are only going to Scotland and not the Arctic!

Top and Middle: Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa)
Bottom: Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus)
and in the centre a Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna).

In the top pic you can see how far away the shoreline is and that's where the waders were!
The rest are me doing what I love best - photographing bugs!

Here's what was enjoying this umbellifer plant:
Top left: a Honey Bee
Top right: a Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria)
Bottom two pics: Rose Chafers (Cetonia aurata)

A Wood White butterfly (Leptidea sinapis), a species I've only seen once before
down in SW France in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

On the way back from our walk we walked alongside a slow moving stream which had been quiet earlier, but with the sun and warmth the damselflies had woken up. There were dozens of Large Red Damselfies, many of them mating, many on the footpath in front of us so we had to watch our step. In fact when I stopped to have a closer look at the stream they were landing on me!

I had to ask for help with ID for this one but it's not surprising I couldn't find it. It's a different form of the female Large Red Damselfly, which is often much redder as seen in the pic below this one.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula f. melanotum).

This is a more red colour variant of the female,
which was the colour we were seeing on the mating pairs all around us.

Whilst watching damselfly activity I spotted something strange looking in the vegetation and was very excited to find my first dragonfly exuviae - the shed exoskeleton of the nymph. I believe this is from a Broad Bodied Chaser, as there were quite a number of them in the small pond across the road.

Dragonfly exuviae - probably from Broad Bodied Chaser.

A zoomed in pic of a Broad Bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa).
This was a male but you can't see its blue abdomen here!

We then went to revisit the Reserve at the Marais de Sene and have a late picnic lunch there. This is a paying place but I was a bit disappointed this 2nd visit. The most exciting thing here were Avocet chicks and whilst I shouldn't poo-poo dozens of Avocets and a good handful of Black-winged Stilts, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing! Frustratingly, the only hide where there were some good views of close up chicks was full of school children on a field trip, so although I tried to take photos through the window over the tops of the kids' heads, it proved impossible as the kids just kept jumping around!

Distant Avocet chick, taken through grubby plastic window of hide.

One hide has a boardwalk which crosses a lagoon and is the only place where you can actually view a lagoon from the open, rather than from inside a hide.

Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus), male at the back, female in front.

More Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus).

A lizard seen by the side of the boardwalk. This boardwalk was made from a plastic type of
material resembling planks and was really easy to walk on -
unlike the wobbly wooden planks throughout the rest of the reserve!

I don't know who is responsible for this damage but there were a lot of completely defoliated
sloe bushes and gorse bushes covered in these webs containing caterpillars.

After changing into my trainers from my hiking boots as my feet felt like they were going to explode from heat, we went back to the salines at Lasné, but it was very windy and there were too many people about for any real birding. So we decided as it 'seemed' like low tide to walk over the causeway to Île Tascon. This little island is only accessible at low tide and there are very few people who live here full time; most of the houses now being holiday homes. There is still a farm and most of the land is grazing for cattle.

We passed a few cottages all shuttered up like this with long grass!
Would be rather nice as a peaceful weekend getaway.

Looking back towards the mainland just after we got here;
I'm glad I took this photo as it shows me where the tide was.

We didn't really stop here for long as we didn't walk that far as there was little to really see, maybe about half an hour total. On the return walk I looked at the level of the sea and asked my OH if the water had been up to the edge of the concrete roadway when we walked across? He didn't think so.... ooops the tide was turning! On the causeway we stopped and watched for a little while and it really brings home to you just how fast the tide can come in. I wonder how many people have been stranded there over the years? A noticeboard with tide times by the causeway would have been a good idea for all those visitors and tourists wandering over.

Looking towards the mainland.

Looking back towards the island.

It didn't take long to come across the road!

This guy had to hop across the water over the rocks.
I hope the guys in the distance planned on staying on the island!

In the 10 minutes or so that we were in the car park before leaving, the water was well up and over the causeway, but a truck drove through it OK. I've no idea how high the water comes during an average tide.

The next time we visit we'll try to explore some different places on the east side the gulf. I think that the paying nature reserve at Sene is best visited during the spring or autumn migration for birds only, as it holds little of interest in the way of butterflies, bees etc as there wasn't much in the way of wildflowers. But all in all a fabulous day out!


  1. Amazing beauty you have captured Mandy

  2. The Fritillary is beautiful and I've never seen a Wood White before, so I enjoyed those. I suspect the denuded bush is the work of one of the Small Ermine moths.

    1. Hi CT, yes I love seeing new species or ones I rarely see! I did wonder about the Ermine moths because I have encountered the one that eats my sedums (bad news in the garden!), and the one that eats spindleberries (now that is interesting when it's not an ornamental plant). But I had never seen these webs in such profusion before - quite astonishing!

  3. Made it at last. Irene is off to the hairdresser and not around to remind me of the list of things I should be doing. Great set Mandy. Particularly liked the exuviae (a lifer for me - the word that is) Worst thing about your blog is that it reminds me that I don't have room for the big camera on a tandem holiday :-(

    One question springs to mind - where are the shorts? Then you could have stayed a bit longer on the island and paddled back. Looking forward to seeing some of these (maybe) in real life in a couple of weeks.

    1. Oh you are so going to get into trouble, Nick! Some people spell exuviae as exuvia but that probably doesn't mean you've heard of it. You'll start seeing it through you macro lens I bet, particuarly when you look at aphids. All that black gunk is not all living ones! You need a pocket camera which does reasonable macro for your cycling holiday.

      As for shorts - I was wearing zip off trousers! But it was way too cold for paddling, don't forget I'm nesh and southern and it was only about 20C with a sea breeze. What are you looking forward to, pics of me paddling in shorts? I'm not so sure about that! ...... oh hang on, Mandy reads your comment again and realises you are talking about your trip to France... duh!

    2. Ok, I'll go with you in shorts - just remember to throw OH the camera.

      Only 20C - to die for. Forecast tomorrow is for 18C and we think it's summer.

    3. It's bad enough in England when the temp hits 15C and is sunny, I've seen people in shorts when I've been in a warm jacket!

  4. Great set of photos and post, like the Glanville fritillary Butterfly very pretty and would love to walk along the coastal footpath, I just like been next to water. Were you not tempted to take the dragonfly exuviae home ! looks like it has come out of a horror film.
    Amanda x

    1. Thank you Amanda, I love footpaths like that with birds, butterflies and nice views, and best of all hardly any people around!
      Of course I brought the exuviae home with me, lol! It now sits in a ramekin (I rarely use them for cooking) along with a stem than contains a hoverfly pupa and the dead Ichneumon wasp which came out of it (it was parasitised but not sure why wasp died, yes I was raising it indoors!), numerous Swallowtail moults and head cases from 2 years ago, and a Swallowtail butterfly perfectly formed which failed to eclose so I dissected the chrysalis to see what was going on! Am I weird? :-)

    2. Nope, I often bring things home, have a rabbit scull in the cupboard !

    3. haha! I have a fox skull on the duck shed wall outside, but we did find the rotting carcass on our land. Over time all the teeth fell out.... :-)

  5. Wow! What an exciting location! When exploring places like this, I think about the people who never see the tiny things we do. We owe it to the world to document and share our findings :-)

    1. You are very right Marianne, I bet many people walk along these paths just looking at the scenery (or even scenery + birds) and I feel blessed because I see much, much more! Off to try another location a bit south east of the place above next week - supposed to be a huge area of reed beds/wetland and is a protected natural park.