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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Common Crane migration over Le Macherie

The annual migration of Common Cranes from their breeding grounds in Northern Europe and Russia is a spectactular and symbolic event in these parts whether you're into birds or not. For me, newly installed in France, this has been the first time I've witnessed this mass movement and have to say it's been wonderful to see these mythical birds flying over in huge flocks as they head South to Spain, Portugal & Northern Africa.
The breeding population of Common Cranes is roughly 250,000 with around 100,000 of these in Scandinavia and the Baltic region - these are the birds that migrate through here and by my rough reckoning I've seen about 6000 over La Macherie between the 4th & 19th of November ... not bad going eh?!
Cranes are one of nature's mythical creatures and have been revered for centuries with their annual passing often seen as symbols of  'regeneration'. In Greek mythology they were seen as messengers from 'the world beyond the north wind' and the classic V formation of travelling flocks, with the practice of individual birds taking it turns to head the group seen as a symbol of democracy - all this will be common knowledge to followers of Hyperborean worship (of which there are said to be about 17 worldwide) ....but that apart I rather think the Greeks have rather more to contemplate these days, which is a shame.

Anyway, why not catch yourself some 21st century Hyperborean crane worship next time your anywhere near SW France in November. Just look up! Here's some I prepared earlier .... (shot 14th Nov just outside La Macherie)

And of course there were plenty of photo opportunities, here's a small selection I've manged to edit from the many I have on disk from this year's migration.

All passed through now (da da da der ah de da ..... arrived on yet another CraneAir flight delivered on time, beating all other european 'fly pasts' !!) .......been back in the UK for a week and since my return not a crane to be seen. No doubt I'll be recording their flight back come next March!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Montmorillon - The City of Books

The nearest town to me here at La Macherie is Montmorillon, its where I go to buy food, occassionally socialise and one of the paces we perform when Jane and Mark are in town. With only some 7000 souls  inhabiting the place its hardly a buzzing metroplolis but it has to be said (and it's been said many times) that Montmorillon is something of a jewel in the Vienne crown.

Montmorillon is steeped in medieval history with many historic sites includig the Octagon, an 11th Century funeral chapel built by Crusaders,the Chapelle St Laurent and St Chatherine's Crypt with its fine frescoes, and its 12th Century bridge, le Vieux-Pont. It's main claim to fame however is it's association with books with a whole quarter of the town given over to the glorification of the written word. This area of the town, penned Le Cite De'Ecrit, is a major tourist attraction with visitors flocking to browse the many antique book shops (there's even a typewriter museum!) and hosts a yearly international book fair every June. Remarkably this area of the town was a crumbling area of dereliction before 2000 and a major investment and restoration project created this atmospheric gem of a place.

I went into Montmorillon the other evening, not to buy food nor to socialise, but to take advantage of some glorious Autumn sunshine and take a few pics - hard not to go for the obvious 'touristy' type shots and some of these most definitely are just that but one or two of these I think captures 'Magic of Montmorillon'

I should of course know what all of these buildings are called but shame upon shame I dont ... maybe you do? In either case I'll label them when tine allows!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trip to Le Brenne

Friday the 11th of November - Armistice Day of course and although there wasn't a poppy to be seen on either lapel or armband it is a public holiday here in France and the glorious autumnal weather brought many out into the great outdoors. Must admit though I wasn't expecting quite so many family parties and fellow enthousiasts in the Parc Naturel 'Le Brenne'

Situated just to the North of Le Blanc and about 50 kilometers from me in La Macherie, the Le Brenne area is a major fishing resource for France but also an area of outstanding wildlife was given reserve status in 1989. Its an area of many lakes and ponds - some small, some large and some say there are more than 1500 of them! Difficult to believe but as you can see from the following satellite image (Google maps) it's not a dry area!

 Explore the whole area here  and see how many you can count!

I only had 3 hours but managed a good explore of the Western end of the place - there's a scattering public hides on some of the bigger lakes, access to others is a 'stop the car by the road' job and many of the other lakes and wetland areas are frustratingly on private ground but all in all its a lovely area whether you're into wildlife or not. Now I'm not sure how 'into' wildlife the French are but although the public tracks thronging with strollers and the hides packed, I dont recall one fellow birder ... plenty of cameras big and small on show of course but think I was the only one with binoculars!

I think the French just love to admire beautiful things and its true they do value their countryside, more I think than we do in the UK. Anyway, before this turns political (this blog is supposed to be entertaining!) ... here's a few pics (not mine) of what they had come to admire.

 Etange Mer Rouge

Fond Ecran Eau

I did manage to reel off a few good photographs of my own from the hides, bird orientated of course but there's also a Coypu in there and joy of joys I managed my first Kingfisher pic!

Kingfisher. Shame about the obscuring branch but not a bad pose - look at that beak!

Reed Bunting. Looking splendid in the late afternoon sun

Coypu. Common mammals in Le Brenne, this one swam right in front of ther hide.

Water Rail. Always tricky to photograph because they're so shy .. the only other one I got was by mistake - it turned up in the background of a shot of some waders at Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire!

Here's a big brown cow with horns for those that like such creatures!

And to finish off one of several Great Egrets that stalk the lagoons in search of unlucky frogs .... this one looks like he's stepping over the ducks!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bird Report Oct 31st - Nov 7th

Another good week or so of mainly mild & dry weather here and once again I've stayed put and not ventured very far ... been content to observe the continuing passage of birds South and the week has turned up a several goodies.

I did stray to a new lake about 10k away called le grand etang (rather confusingly there are roughly 500 similarly named lakes in France but this one is near Rischauveron, the chateau featured in an earlier post). There were plenty of Great Crested Grebes (I counted 28) and the usual Mallard, Great White Egret (2), a Kingfisher and Cormorant (6) on the lake but little else and hoping for bigger wildfowl numbers as Winter approaches. In the associated woodland held plenty of Chaffinches, Greenfinch, both Great Spotted & Green WoodpeckersFirecrest (4) and Long Tailed Tits, whilst overhead there were Sylarks (c30), Woodlark (4) & Meadow Pipit (c15) on passage. Star bird of the aftternoon though was a splendid Marsh Harrier south over the lake ... never actually got my bins on it because I knew it something different from the more common Buzzards, so I just concentrated on trying to get a good shot - of the 20 or so pics I got one, but it was a good un!

Looks like a 2nd yr male to me but happy to be corrected. Hey I know Marsh Harriers aren't rare but to see one on passage (and this thing was belting past!) on the last day of Ocober is always a good record! I also had at least 9 Common Buzzards in the air at the same time at the same location.

The rest of the time my daily sojourns has been around La Macherie and my favourite walk down the valley of the river Gartemps nr Rouflamme, what I call the Rouflamme valley and although it's low in altitude, being a natural North / South valley it's a very reasonable place to watch birds on passage. I could expand on the various geological land features that aid and abet bird migration but maybe not now...too many birds to cram in!

Ok, well after thinking I'd somehow missed Common Cranes returning to their wintering grounds in Southern France, Spain and beyond, they came en masse on the 2nd Nov with roughly 300 over the barn. The previous night I'd also heard some eithetr flying over or feeding in local fields. A further 45 flew over on the 4th & on the 6th I had roughly 500 over during the day in flocks of up to 100 and suspect they've been flying over all week. The West European population of Comon Crane numbers about 100,000 and they all migrate over this part of France!

On the 2nd Nov I really thought I'd stumbled across ny first real rarity here in France. Scanning the fence posts as I like to do on a bright and breezy day I spied something that always makes the birder's heart quicken - something I couldn't recognize ... a real 'ey up, what's that' moment! It was plainly knackered, didn't seem to want to fly very far and hence I got some corking photographs .... can you guess what it is yet?

And then some even closer shots - here's just one of many, revealed this to be (I think) an immature Whinchat, not very rare at all but again, as with the Marsh Harrrier, a bird that should be safely tucked away somewhere warm & cosy in Africa by now!
On the 4th Nov I had a Red Kite  & a Merlin flying South down the Rouflamme valley, no pics of either I'm afraid but here's one of a series of pics I took of a Red Kite earlier in the year in the Pyrenees.

As yet there have been no real numbers of winter thrushes here, just the odd Redwing here and there and an obvious increase in Blackbirds, Mistle and Song Thrushes. No Fieldfares! Plenty of Robins about of course and there has been a noticeable increase in Cirl Buntings with a massive flock of about 120 seen on the 6th, along with c40 Meadow Pipits and c60 Skylarks. Most days there have been small flocks of both of the later passing over along with bigger flocks of Chaffinches. Woodlarks still abound with flocks of up to 20 not uncommon and although overlooked by many as a passage bird there have been some impressive gangs of Woodpigeons flying over too - really tricky to photograph because they fly so fast but this one isn't bad (pic below) 

Ok folks thats it for now, I'll be visiting Le Bren in the coming few days and maybe the coast so hopefully we'll be seeing some different birds to boost the species list for the year Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ah Balloo!

He's been mentioned in dispatches several times and there's been canine rumblings of discontent in the barn about the lack of doggie posts on the blog . . . .so here is my faithfull companion hound Ballo in his very own photoshoot!

He's a 2 yr old mixed breed pointer / lab, a type fairy common in gthis part of France and was rescued from a shambolic drunk farmer and restored to health by my sister and her partner.

He loves to be outdoors, will run all day and has recently developed a passion for fetching sticks from the river. He really is a fine looking hound and as you can see from the following he prefers the action sets to portrait poses! Enjoy ghe pics.