Monday, 30 April 2012

Stormy Day

A low flying Honey Buzzard from a previous visit.

Breakfast saw showers followed by a promising sunny and warm spell.  This period saw a lone Honey Buzzard battling a strong wind up our little valley.  It flew so low over our garden that I could see every detail.  Soon dozens of Swifts followed and then a stunning male Golden Oriole flew across the garden into the pines and sang for a few minutes before moving on.  After that a violent thunderstorm for a couple of hour followed by more gentle rain for the rest of the day.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Wonderful Day

Black Storks taken in a previous year.

A beautiful morning with little wind.  Opening the door all I could hear were Bee-eaters.  Looking below our house a dozen of this spectacular species were gathered on telephone wires.   They were dashing off and feeding and returning to preen.  A wonderful sight in the sunshine.

Some this morning's Bee-eaters
I took a walk down the goat path below our house and Nightingales were singing loudly everywhere.  Lower down I noticed a small kettle of birds soaring up the hill way up high.  As they got closer I could clearly identify them as 2 Black Storks and 3 Honey Buzzards.  More evidence of migration was a male Wheatear and a singing Bonelli's Warbler.  Back at the house a Melodious Warbler was singing from an almond tree.  Later as I looked around the garden 3 Griffon Vultures and a Hobby soared up our little valley, gained height and passed to the north.

One of 3 Griffon Vultures over the garden today.

Serge and Francoise came for lunch and Serge's sharp eyes picked out an Osprey passing over the 120th species for the garden and the 16th raptor species.  As we watched the Osprey 2 more Honey Buzzards, Raven and a Sparrowhawk passed over with hundreds of Swifts and Swallows.  What a wonderful day!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Much More Like It!

A call from friend Stuart Gregory saw us spending the morning at the marsh at Capestang.  Although Stuart has lived within 30 minutes of the site for several years this was his first visit.  It was still cloudy with a southerly breeze and some brighter periods.

Wood Sandpiper

Approaching the marsh we stopped to admire a super male Montagu's Harrier before getting to our parking place.  Immediately a few Bee-eaters were passing overhead and Nightingales and Cetti's Warblers were singing noisily.  A couple of pairs of Black Kites and a similar number of Marsh Harriers were quartering the marsh and at least 50 Little Egrets were feeding in groups.  Four Great White Egrets were still feeding on the wet areas and Purple Herons were very much in evidence.  Closer scrutiny revealed 16 Whiskered Terns, 24 Wood Sandpipers, 10 Black-winged Stilts, Lapwing, Spotted Redshank and Greenshank.

Whiskered Tern

Moving on a bit Great Reed Warblers were singing in good numbers with at least a dozen present.  Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings, Bearded Tits and Fan-tailed Warblers were also encountered.  Large numbers of hirundines passed overhead together with Swifts and other indicators of migration were passing Blue-headed Wagtails and a couple of male Wheatears on the track.

Great Reed Warbler

We turned around and walking back watched a White Stork come in from the west and begin feeding voraciously amongst the other birds.  The wind precluded hearing many of the marsh birds but Water Rails and Little Grebes were picked up.  We decided to walk down the smaller track to a small bridge and were rewarded by a Night Heron, 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos and a singing Short-toed Treecreeper.  Arriving back to the car a Quail called from the meadows and  a superb male Pied Flycatcher greeted us from a nearby bush.

Night Heron

As we left the area we just had time to admire a splendid male Woodchat Shrike a fitting conclusion to a great morning.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Almost a Blank Day

Black Kite

The answer to the title of yesterday's blog is Yes it can.  Low grey cloud again, drizzle and wind a little lighter. Three or four singing Nightingales tried to lift the gloom and a Black Kite struggling north were the only items of interest.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

As Grim as it Gets

Can it get worse?  Low grey cloud, strong wind and incessant drizzle.

Red Kite on a better day

The male Pied Flycatcher was still about first thing but apart from him only the local birds.  A Hoopoe fed in the garden and eventually flew off to its nest in the farm buildings.  Then a bit of a shock as a Red Kite battled its way over going south.  We normally see this species in March and October so this was a very late date.

Male Cirl Bunting also in better weather

I took a walk out when the drizzle eased and once again flushed up to a dozen Tree Pipts, 2 Subalpine Warblers and a bright male Cirl Bunting.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Not Much Change

Wall butterfly

We awoke again to a strong and cold wind.  The latter had gone around to the east but still apparently unhelpful for migrants.  When the sun emerged I took a walk around and was surprised at how many Whitethroats and Blackcaps which were staying very close to the ground.  Every area of low vegetation seemed to hold some birds.  It does suggests that more birds are already here than we realise and we just need good conditions to be able to see them.  The sunshine did bring out some butterflies with Wall being the commonest species.

Pied Flycatcher - a previous visitor to our garden

Looking in the garden in mid afternoon mainly watching a male Common Redstart suddenly a superb male Pied Flycatcher appeared sitting on a garden seat.  Perhaps things are looking up.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Where Have all the Flowers gone?

Lady Orchids are still not fully out

My pal Barry Stewart from Gower asks what are the flowers like in your part of France at the moment?  Well first of all this area like much of Europe had the worst winter weather in living memory last February with local temperatures a prolonged -16C.  Not only have our gardens suffered with all mimosa trees killed and agaves also destroyed wild plants have noticeably been affected.  Some shrubs in the garrigue are looking very brown and although maybe not dead are slow in their recovery.

Common Jonquil - a prolific plant of early spring

As far as wild flowers are concerned their appearance seems slow.  Normally by now Early Spider Orchids and Yellow Bee Orchids are well in evidence but I have found none yet.  Lady Orchids are just appearing but are far from being in full bloom yet.  Early bloomers such as Bearded Iris, Spanish Snakeshead and Tulips have been good to spectacular.  Common Jonquil an introduced tiny daffodil was also prolific a week or two ago.

Yellow Bee Orchid

The weather here is still very unsettled.  The wind today was brutally cold and strong north-westerly albeit with a lot of sunshine.  The forecast is little better for some days.  No visible signs of migrating birds or any birds at all today.  Two super male Common Redstarts feeding outside our lounge window today.

Monday, 23 April 2012

A Promising Start


Sunshine and no wind welcomed the morning and I moved out on a walk locally.  There were 2 male and a female Common Redstarts in the garden.  Nightingales were really noisy now and a few more Orphean Warblers were joining in the chorus.  I walked down to the Cesse Gorge flushing a Whitethroat on the way.  In the Gorge 3 Crag Martins patrolled the cliffs and Subalpine Warblers sang all around me. I walked back and down the road to Minerve before turning up on the garrigue again.  A ringtail Montagu's Harrier slipped over the hill and a male Common Redstart fed on the path.  As I reached Montcelebre again a single Bee-eater flew over calling.  Hopefully this is the beginning of many more.

Corn Bunting

Nearly home I noted two additional territorial male Corn Buntings from my previous assessment.  I really cannot believe how common they are around the local lucerne fields.  The afternoon became cooler and cloudy with a brisk wind getting up.  Our 2 local Short-toed Eagles did a fly over and then there was an impressive movement of Common Swifts.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Catching Up

Yesterday was more like it.  The wind went slightly to the south and abated at least for early morning. A female Montagu's Harrier hunted the meadows at breakfast.  Walking round our area I was pleased to find Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers about and singing too.  A single Bonelli's Warbler sang from pines as did a newly arrived Tree Pipit.  Two male Redstarts in the garden and Nightingales sand and Cuckoos were also very noticeable.  The highlight for me though was finding a smart Ortolan Bunting posing for the camera.

The Ortolan Bunting

Today was a bit cooler but still a few migrants.  Tree Pipits were obvious with at least 6 around.  More Cuckoo activity and a few more Nightingales.  New was an Orphean Warbler singing continuously from an area of scrub.

Tree Pipit

I also assessed the Corn Buntings we have in our small community.  I reckon we have at least 12 singing males in quite a small area.  Probably more than the breeding population in many an English County now.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Back to Cold Wind and rain

Life is so frustrating at the moment.  Still a strong but cold westerly wind today with squally showers.  Unfavourable conditions for any migration.  By this time last year Red-rumped Swallow, Pied Flycatcher, Woodchat Shrike, Bonelli's Warbler, Orphean Warbler and  Scops Owl were all here in some numbers.  So far not a sign of any of these species.  What I do find particularly strange is that Pied Flycatchers are already on territory in the UK without a record here.

Red-rumped Swallow - three weeks late in this area

I still have my Common & Black Redstarts and a resident Short-toed Eagle flew over.  One very tired looking Swallow came through during the afternoon but nothing else.  Southerly winds but still cool are forecast from Monday.  Will this be the turning on of the tap?  Let's hope so.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

At Last a Good Migrant Day

The weather improved to day with a fresh westerly wind and sunny periods.  I picked up Rod Leslie and we went south starting along the shore near Port Leucate.  First we tried the fish market and soon located 4 Spotless Starlings.  We then drove down the shore finding two groups of Whimbrel totalling 15 birds.  They were a wonderful sight and allowed close approach. We also noted a Green Sandpiper and 2 Black-winged Stilts.

Part of the group of 15 Whimbrels

Time for a wash and brush-up

Then time for a feed again
We then moved on up to Leucate lighthouse.  We had not gone far when we almost trod on 2 Short-eared Owls and then later another.  A Tawny Pipit attracted our attention by its call and Rod found a splendid male Whinchat.  We stopped to watch 2 Thekla Larks and considered the differences with Crested.  We also noted a steady movement of Kestrels and Sparrowhawks which continued for most of the day.  We could not find any Spectacled Warblers or Black-eared Wheatears so moved on to La Franqui.  Here we immediately found 8 Slender-billed Gulls feeding by the roadside again letting us get very close.

One of the super Slender-billed Gulls
After lunch by the beach where a splendid male Common Redstart entertained us we moved up the road to the sewerage ponds at La Courselle.  Three Hoopoes, a Whitethroat, Nightingale and 3 Willow Warblers were noted as well as 3 Little Ringed Plovers, Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and 2 Blue-headed Wagtails.

Part of the group of Sanderlings

Next stop was the beach at Port Nouvelle where we found a large flock of small waders.  60 Kentish Plovers, 5 Dunlin, 8 Little Ringed Plovers and c30 Sanderling made up the flock.  We checked Peyriac and Bages but apart from a few lingering Greater Flamingos not much else.

Yesterday's Common Redstart

The splendid male Black Redstart
Arriving home after dropping Rod off at Oupia yesterday's Common  Redstart was still in the garden with a bright male Black Redstart who was new today.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Winter in April

The silence of the last two days has been caused by the most atrocious weather imagineable. Two days of gale force freezing northerly winds accompanied by driving rain some of which fell as snow on higher ground.  The temperature yesterday never topped 5 degrees. This is obviously not great weather for migrant birds heading up from Africa and as you would expect not easy to find.  Today the weather was at least sunny but still windy and cold.  Breakfast saw us watching a ringtail Montagu's Harrier hunting the meadows in front of our kitchen window.  As I went outside a Black Kite battled its way up the hill followed by a solitary Yellow-legged Gull the latter quite a rarity up here.

One of the many Kestrels seen today

I decided to search all the local sites and see what might be about.  The morning effort produced a Sparrowhawk but little else except for a few singing Subalpine Warblers which have been here a while now.  The afternoon was a bit better with a new singing Nightingale and a male Montagu's Harrier.  Checking the vineyards I found a pair of Hoopoes prospecting an old building and a Little Ringed Plover again in the vehicle washing enclosure.  Woodlark activity was very obvious as were a larger than usual number of Kestrels but still no sign of new migrants.

The very welcome male Common Redstart

Getting back home at last a lovely new male Common Redstart feeding in front of the house.  Lots of things that should be here include Red-rumped Swallows, Orphean Warblers, Pied Flycatchers and much more.  Finally a pair of Short-toed Eagles did their impressive display over the garden.  Mustn't Grumble!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Day By The Coast

I first awoke at 6.30am and from the bathroom window I could hear the lusty song of my first Nightingale of the year.

Nightingale in song

We were off to the coast and started by scanning Etang de Vendres.  Predictably Little and Cattle Egrets and Grey Herons were at their nests.  Otherwise we only noted 2 Marsh Harriers and a pair of Red-crested Pochards.  We moved on to Lespignan and flushed a Purple Heron on arrival.  We watched 2 Short-toed Eagles one of which landed on the ground giving amazing views.  A Water Rail called loudly and then the wonderful booming of a Bittern.

Great views of this Short-toed Eagle on the ground

We then headed for Pissevache via the Lesser Kestrel reintroduction site and at least 6 birds were in attendance.  Pissevache rarely disappoints and today was no exception.  The two tern islands held about 120 Sandwich Terns, 3 Common Terns and a single blushing pink Slender-billed Gull.  A single Kentish Plover was present as well as 6 Black-winged Stilts and c60 Avocets.  A Greenshank and c20 Redshanks were also there the latter resplendent in breeding plumage.  Another pair of Red-crested Pochards were on the sewerage ponds.

Redshank in breeding plumage

We then carried on down to Gruissan.  The vineyards again produced a super male Black-eared Wheatear but not much else except at the lagoon by the Telephone Museum.  There were 4 Gargarney again but this time 2 pairs.  After that it was back home to hear the disastrous news that Norwich had succumbed 6-1 to Manchester City.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Round and about

First thing I delivered a neighbour to Carcassone Airport and on the way back encountered 2 male Montagu's Harriers and a Short-toed Eagle. 

Corn Bunting

After lunch I checked a few local sites starting with Cesseras vineyards.  A lone Buzzard sailed over but I could not help noticing the many Corn Buntings singing from posts and bushes.  The population in this part of the World is thriving.  The same cannot be said for Southern Grey Shrikes.  I used to know 3-4 sites but cannot find them at all this year. A group of 3 Hoopoes gave me a whiff of migration.

Southern Grey Shrike

I checked out the Lac de Jouarre where rather surprisingly a Red Kite passed over.  At the Homps sewerage ponds there were still plenty of Swallows, House & Sand Martins feeding.  At Lac Accueil there was little except for an obliging Hoopoe.

Obliging Hoopoe
 Finally I stopped in Azillanet to get some bread and was astonished to hear a Scop's Owl give three or four calls from a small garden.  Look as I may I could not see the bird.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

In the Marsh Again

Working in the garden all morning and only a calling Cuckoo of note.

Great White Egret

At 3pm I left for my beloved marsh near Capestang full of anticipation.  The weather was strange - high cloud but very still and quite mild.  Starting my walk I was immediately aware of egrets flying about and it was not long before I deduced that 4 Great White Egrets were present amongst about 20 Little Egrets.  Looking up 2 Black Kites were interacting with five Marsh Harriers.  A single Buzzard was hunting the marsh and a Short-toed Eagle passed over high up.

Female Marsh Harrier

I was surprised that the marsh was not full of warbler song but it was almost silent.  Half a dozen Bearded Tits were reasonably active but I did hear 3 Moustached Warblers and eventually one brief snatch of Reed Warbler song.  Little Grebes and Water Rails were noisy and 4 Blue-headed Wagtails were present on the path.

Little Grebe

After a while Purple Herons began to make an appearance and 6 were located during the visit.  Scoping a large area of shallow water was productive.  Four Black-winged Stilts and 2 Snipe were busy feeding but 2 Glossy Ibis were my first for the site.  I turned to head back and by now hundreds of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were feeding over the marsh and c50 Swifts were high up overhead.

Purple Heron

By the time I got back to the car the rain started.  It was a strange darkish day so no new photos today.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Raptors and a lovely flower

The day started very stormy and as conditions slowly improved a single Black Kite closely followed by a Sparrowhawk. Later in the morning I took friends Richard and Georgina for a tour round the area.  We started by looking at the Pyrennean Snakeshead flowers near Fauzan and then took the road north of Minerve.  A superb pair of Montagu's Harriers floated alongside the road.

Wild Tulip probably australis

Birds were hard to find in very windy conditions so we looked at the Gorge north of La Caunette concentrating on plants.  Amongst a large area of Bearded Irises we found several Wild Tulips.  Heading home yet another Montagu's Harrier a female hunted the garrigue.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A Damp Day

We awoke to low cloud and a faint drizzle.  Tuesday is market day so we headed off first thing to Olonzac.  Shopping over we encountered two male Montagu's Harriers battling north against a strong northerly wind.

Male Montagu's Harrier

Getting home there was slight evidence of some migration with 2 Willow Warblers, a Blackcap and male Redstart feeding voraciously in the garden.  Then the heavens opened and we were confined to the house for the next two hours.  The rain eventually stopped and the weather brightened a bit.  I decided to go out and have a look round.  I started by checking out a site for Pyrennean Snakeshead and was pleased to find a few plants in bloom.

Pyrennean Snakeshead

I then headed down the hillside and visited the Lac de Jouarre.  Nothing to report there except a Hoopoe feeding on the perimeter track.  I moved on to the sewerage ponds at Homps where there were dozens of Swallows and three splendid male Blue-headed Wagtails.  I then took a small vineyard road from Pepieux to Cesseras mainly looking for Southern Grey Shrike.  No luck with that species which is worrying because their numbers decline each year in this area and this site was the last I know off.  I paused by a new washing lagoon for agricultural vehicles and was astonished to find a pair of Little Ringed Plovers apparently holding territory.

Male Blue-headed Wagtail - Spanish race which is resident in this part of France

Time to get back home where a male Marsh Harrier flew north and c30 House Martins passed over high up.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Almost Deja Vu

Scarce Swallowtail

First I forgot to mention a new bird for our community yesterday.  One of our neighbours has recently acquired a large draught like horse.  Coming home I was amazed to see an adult summer plumage Cattle Egret feeding by the horse.

Subalpine Warbler

Today was beautifully sunny and clear.  First thing a dark phase Booted Eagle flew ponderously over the house.We were expecting friends Paul & Jan  and after they arrived right on cue 6 Griffon passed low over the house. Later we took a short walk around Montcelebre and  heard at least one Subalpine Warbler.

Bearded Iris

After lunch we took the same drive we had done the day before.  Beyond Boisset we paused to check a Sparrowhawk and as we looked a Golden Eagle came into view and headed purposefully south. Heading back home we stopped just above La Caunette to admire a splendid show of Bearded Irises and a few Wild Tulips. Today was a great day for butterflies with lots of freshly hatched Scarce Swallowtails and also a few Moroccan Orange-tips.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Aerial combat

We took a quick drive around the area north of Minerve first checking out the meadows on the road to Bois Bas.  Nothing here except a female Stonechat.  Moving on towards Boisset we watched with admiration 2 Griffon Vultures soaring on the wind high over the hills.

Griffon Vulture

We continued on a bit just beyond the village just in time to see another Griffon Vulture sparring with a pair of Golden Eagles.  This is not an area where I am aware of nesting birds of this species but they were not going to put up with the larger interloper.  Sadly, I could get no photographs to record this amazing sight.  Eventually all birds disappeared over the hill tops.

Golden Eagle

Back home a Short-toed Eagle was overhead and 2 Black Redstarts around the garden.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Bustard Hunt!

We took our neighbours John and Hanny to Beziers Airport this lunch time so decided to go look for Little Bustards.  First we headed for Bessan but even as we arrived the place looked quiet except for larger than usual numbers of Magpies.  We looked around very carefully but found no bustards.  We did see a Marsh Harrier.

A Little Bustard from a previous visit
 We then returned and checked out the Western end of the Airport.  Just after watching our neighbour's plane take off we were scanning a field when the unmistakable sound of whistling wings caused us to look right in time to see a super male Little Bustard fly up and land by a nearby vineyard.  I then walked to the fence and there was a cryptic plumaged female Little Bustard moving in the long grass.  Walking back to the car the beautiful song of a Woodlark had me gazing upwards and a Corn Bunting rattled nosily on top of the fence.