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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bird Report Jan / Feb 2012

I found the coldest of the Winter months here in the heart of rural France to be a strangely quiet affair so far as birds are concerned and whilst there were a few good records with one or two surprises, my impression is that many semi resident birds fly out of the area (probably south and west towards the coast) where food is maybe more plentiful.

There was a very cold snap here during the first couple of weeks of February with daytime
temperatures plunging to well below zero, with heavy snowfall that laid on the ground for weeks. There was a marked influx of finches and buntings around this time with up to 300 Reed Buntings (pic left)and similar numbers of Chaffinches feeding in local stubble fields. Slightly smaller numbers of Cirl Buntings but 150 on the 12th Feb was notable, with c30 Yellowhamers, c60 Greenfinches and c50 Goldfinches on the same day. A single Brambling on the 17th Feb in amongst a big finch flock is a poor return and my only record of the year so far. Surprisingly few Meadow Pipits around, with only single figure numbers most days with a flock of 60 or so on the 31st Jan the biggest gathering.

The very cold weather brought stacks of finches, tits and thrushes to mt bird feeding station in the garden and as often happens when all the waterways freeze over, on the 9th of Feb I had both Snipe and Woodcock flying around looking for unfrozen ground to probe. I rather think the arctic conditions did for any overwintering warblers in the village with my last Chiff Chaff and Blackcaps (pic right) on the 15th and 16th respectively, after that nothing until the following month. No Kingfishers in this period either and in fact none to date and although I know they take a hammering during cold snaps I hope not too many have perished.

Good numbers of overwintering SkylarksWoodlarks in local fields with flocks of 20 - 30 of the former typical and smaller numbers of the latter with 12 on the 15th Jan the biggest number recorded though I'm pretty sure I've had more some days.

Fieldfares and Redwings have been thin on the ground all Winter here and whilst there's been a handful of Redwings here and there I had only one Fieldfare during the whole 2 months on 22nd Jan. Both Mistle and Song Thrushes have been fairly noticeable with almost daily sightings and of course plenty of over wintering Blackbirds still about.

A stunning male Peregrine Falcon on the 21st Jan stood in the middle of stubble field near Pleasance was a sight to behold, albeit all too brief before it took off. Other good raptors around the same time included several good Hen Harrier sightings with single males flushed and seen quartering the fields a regular occurrence with a hunting pair on the 12th Feb. On the same day I had a possible Goshawk (pic right) fly towards me as I was trying to take a photograph of a Kestrel. Just about got a good shot of it but hard to tell whether it is a Gos or just a Sparrowhawk - if you have a field guide to hand judge for yourself!

There was a noticeable cold weather movement of Common Cranes at the end of Jan / beginning of Feb with c90 overhead on the 31st Jan and 45 on the 12th Feb. I'm not sure where they came from or where they were going but seemed to drifting SW. I noticed that whenever Cranes are moving so do Lapwings with c150 and c200 heading in the same direction on the corresponding days.

The last few days of February brought rising temperatures and the ground was fully thawed out by the end of the month. With some wonderfully bright and sunny days from the 25th onwards it was as if new life was being breathed into the countryside and I had some good local records including the first Common Cranes (pic left) heading North with c200 on the 25th and c600 on the 28th over the village. I also had 3 White Storks (pic below) calling and heading North on the 28th and a Great White Egret over the barn on the same day. A single male Black Redstart in the garden, also on the 28th, was my first returning breeding bird and Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Great Tits all started to sing from about this time.

The 29th of February was a glorious spring like day and a trip out to Le Brenne parc naturale was rewarded by a couple of displaying Marsh Harriers and plenty more passage activity with some 800 Common Cranes in total, c200 Lapwings and a very marked passage of Sklarks with maybe 300 - 400 north during the day.

So, into March and I've already had the first returning Chiff Chaffs, Blackcaps, Swallows, Cuckoos, Hoopoes and Corn Buntings. The nest time of the year is just around the corner so stay tuned for all of March's sightings.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

'Wagon Wheel' - Mark's big contre bass entrance!

The long awaited debut of our long suffering sound man Mark on le old contre bass and accompanying us on another of our favourite tunes 'Wagon Wheel'

Check out the clean cobble stones, recently hoovered by Janey Jane!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Jane n Mark are back and 'Beyond the Gap' is reformed! The way he's playing it wont be long before Mark will be performing with us on the old 'contre bass' but for now here's me and Jane doing one of favourite 'quiet' songs - Gypsy, originally penned by Suzanne Vega. Its a bit raw and totally unedited, the guitar really needs more treble but what the hell, we thought it was a good take!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Can I stay

Been a while since I posted a song on the blog so here's a cheeky but mellow little offering of another Ray LeMontagne song 'Can I Stay'.

Just a couple of notes for the attention of my dear father who I know keeps a keen eye on my posts but I gather has not figoured out how to listen to my songs! Just click on the white play arrow in the middle of the screen dad!

Oh and hope you got my birthday card for Saturday. Enjoy .... now you can scroll back and listen to all my songs, almost an album's worth for you to enjoy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring at Long Last!

At long last I can stop feeding the log burner to stay in overnight, I can throw off the second duvet and I can stop walking around looking like Michelin man, shed the layers and get my T shirts out! It’s a far cry from minus15C, frozen water pipes and no running water but warm sunshine and temperature nudging 20C within 4 weeks is certainly very welcome. 

The flowers are beginning to emerge again in the hedgerows with Celandines and Snowdrops especially prominent from late Feb. Wild Daffodils and several other flowers that to be honest I can’t identify (will have to get the field guides out!). 

I tried to take some ‘artistic’ photographs of the Celandines recently and here are a couple of the best.

Feb 29th was a particularly lovely day around here and I took the opportunity to grab my camera and binoculars and head for Le Bren. Highlights were a couple of splendid returning Marsh Harriers searching out a likely nesting site and several good butterflies including this Comma which was so obliging I'm sure it had just emerged from the pupae.

I shall be posting a bird report for Jan / February later this week and the Le Bren sightings will be included in that so I wont dwell on other avian highlights for the day.

Can't not mention this though - first Cuckoo of the year on March 8th (easily my earliest record) calling down by the river here at La Macherie.

A local singing Chiff Chaff on the 9th with 2 Blackcaps the following day were probably early returning birds rather than overwintering individuals and overhead Cranes have been wheeling North for the past 2 - 3 weeks along with Lapwings, Finches, Skylarks and a good passage of Golden Plover.

Shame I haven't been able to photograph any of these good birds. I've been trying to put a brave face on this and put it in perspective but for a photographer the sudden malfunctioning of your best lens is like watchmaker going blind! No need for the technical details but in brief, my 200-500ml Tamron lens decided one day last month to stop communicating with my camera and no end of cleaning of the electrical contacts and messing around will persuade it to start talking!

Not easy to take it back to the shop until I return to the UK but confident a repair will be forthcoming, at which point I'll be offloading in order to pay back the money I've laid out on this beauty (pic right) - the Canon EF 400 usm. The best prime lens of its kind and has been described as a 'belter' my some my fellow bird photographers. Not arrived as yet but eagerly awaited!