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Saturday, 5 June 2021

Feathers, scales and prickles!

This was the title of a day out last Friday with Birding Languedoc but sponsored by the Decouvrons ENSemble programme of the Narbonnaise Regional Park and department of Aude, which luckily for us meant that our day out was free! We had been supposed to go on another Birding L. trip the day before, but it was cancelled during the week. We actually breathed a sigh of relief as these are long days out with a lot of driving at each end and a lot of standing and/or walking. Two trips in one week was quite enough, especially as for this day we had to leave home at 6.30am to meet up at 8am!!!

Today's trip was all based around the village of Feuilla in the Narbonnaise regional park, which just happens to be where Philippa, who runs Birding L., lives! So to make a nice change we were able to meet up at her house, and go back there for a mid morning coffee break plus lovely home made muffins. Having proper facilities in place of a bush for a toilet was great too! 😀

In the morning we visited a couple of places up on the garrigue around Feuilla. The weather was overcast all day which was a shame, in fact strange as it was due to be lovely and sunny and much warmer where we live inland! I guess it's the coastal influence, as we were not far from the coast. We saw a number of Woodchat Shrikes, Tawny Pipits, a Melodious Warbler and several different skulking garrigue warblers, including a Dartford Warbler that I would really like to see properly one day! We also saw Black-eared Wheatear which really pleased me as K and I have only seen them before in Greece, more than twenty years ago.

Mixed birds, not very good photos but for the record: Clockwise from top left, Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), Western Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) (photobombed by a Cirl Bunting that I didn't know was there until I looked closely at the photo!), and Woodchat Shrikes (Lanius senator).


This Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) was somewhat closer so I was pleased with these images that I managed to capture of it singing its face off.


I finally got a proper look at an Orphean Warbler when we were back at Philippa's having a coffee break. No photos though, and I think it was the only lifer of the day - but the more species you see, the harder it is to see lifers, so we are being very fortunate on these organised outings!


Above, typical garrigue and below, Perennial Lettuce (Latuca perennis) with tiny bees. The leaves are small and insignificant but edible, not that I have tasted it.


The spectacular Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys scolopax).


Looking towards Etang de la Palme on the left and the Leucate cliffs on the right.


Despite being overcast there were still a few butterflies about, including a beauty which I think is a lifer (need to check back over some photos from a trip from some years back - but which trip?).

On the left is the beautiful Provence Chalkhill Blue (Lysandra hispana), which we saw both on the garrigue and in the garden in the afternoon. On the right, top is a Spanish Gatekeeper (Pyronia bathseba) - note the pale Y shape on the underwing, middle is a Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) and bottom is Zygaena lavandulae, the moth I mentioned in my last post, which is a part of the Burnet group of moths.


I forgot to post this collage of Brown Argus on my last post, so as we saw it on this day as well I'll post it here. You can see that these butterflies and moths love Scabious flowers!


After our picnic lunch we went to the Jardin Botanique de Foncaude, which is at the far end of the valley in which Feuilla is located. This is a family run garden that was started in the 90s by Dominique Jalabert who has a passion for cacti and succulents, amongst other plants, and gardens in a very natural and wildlife friendly way. This is no city botanic garden; here everything is left as naturally as possible and the cacti and other plants grow in amongst the native vegetation with winding paths along in amongst them.

Sadly there have been a few less than positive comments on social media saying that the gardens should be better looked after/tidied/weeded, but these people don't understand this kind of natural gardening. In the wild these cacti and succulents wouldn't be weeded around! So seeing native grasses, scabious and euphorbia growing in amongst the specialty plants may not be what you'd see with them in, say, Mexico or Peru, but it's what you see here in the garrigue. We were lucky to see wildlife in abundance here, from Nightingales and Golden Orioles serenading us to butterflies and moths and for the 'scales' part of the title of this post, a water snake (Natrix maura) curled up beside the small pond and as you will see in a later photo, a Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus) in the grass!

The Provence Chalkhill Blue was here in the garden too, along with absolutely tons of these Zygaena lavandulae moths.


When you first enter the garden in the bottom of the valley, there are a number of shrubs and trees from around the world, including a huge collection of (I think he said about 60 species) young oaks! Dominique has national collections of agaves, dasylirions and yuccas. He also has a huge amount of Opuntias, which are the prickly pear cactus.

This amazing tree stood out with its copper coloured bark which was really smooth to the touch. Arbutus xalapensis is is known as Texas Madrone and is native to Central America, Mexico and the southwestern United States. We know Arbutus unedo here in France as the Strawberry Tree, because it, and the other species of Arbutus, have edible red fruit.


We then moved on to the main part of the garden which is planted with cacti and succulents. I must admit I know next to nothing about cacti but know they have some extremely showy blooms. Sadly, there were only two plants actually flowering when we visited; it doesn't help that it was overcast. But we still enjoyed the stunning plants on display.










I was told that the cacti above is known as 'Mother in Law's Cushion'! 😀 Upon googling, it seems that they are normally a round or barrel shape and are called Echinocactus grusonii, popularly known as the Golden Barrel Cactus and are endangered in their native Mexico.


As they only cut the grass by strimming it, they can leave patches of specific wildflowers and most certainly any orchids coming up. There was a large patch of these Lizard Orchids (Himantoglossum hircinum) in flower - up to now all the ones we have seen on the garrigue have been in tight bud only.


Karline, our bird guide, with her eagle eye spotted this Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)! I've never seen one before so you could say this and the water snake were lifers today as well as the Orphean Warbler. I couldn't get a very good photo as we were all trying to shoot it and it was liable to move off at any moment. Karline's partner is the son of the owner, Dominique, so she knows the garden very well and the creatures that make it their home, as she lives next door to her father-in-law (Dominique is both a male and female name in France). Because she lived close by she brought out her collection of snake moults for us to see (from three different kinds of snake) and bird feathers she had collected from colourful birds such as Rollers, Golden Orioles and Hoopoes. Like me, she has a collection of dead critters and hers included the Giant Peacock Moth (Saturnia pyri) - do you remember us finding the caterpillar in our laurel hedge last year?

To round off the day I bought a jar of creamy honey from the bees that feed on the flowers in the garden and surrounding garrigue. This had been a very special day out indeed. 💜 

4 comments:

  1. Great write up Mandy, you seem to be enjoying yourself 👍😀

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    1. Thanks very much Trev, much appreciated! Yes, loving living here, so much to discover. :-)

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  2. Another super trip out and great photos. The orchid is just stunning! - so beautiful. Always lovely to see your butterfly pics too - and see species we don't get over here. A wonderful post Mandy.

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    1. Thanks very much Caroline. We have 8 of those Lizard Orchids in our lawn! I've just been taking photos of all the orchids in the lawn - it's just incredible and I feel very lucky. I also saw two new lifer butterflies yesterday on a trip out! I'm doing well this year for new butterflies. :-)

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