Search This Blog

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Moeze / Oleron reserve naturelle trip (Part 2)

Here we go again then, part 2 of our birding trip to the Moeze / Oleron reserve on the Atlantic coast of France and the focus this time is on the many smaller birds that abound on the food rich saltmarshes.

Yellow Wagtails were one of the most obvious birds around and luckily from a photographic point of view also the most colourful. Yellow Wagtails are one of those birds that look different depending where in the world you see them .... nothing to do with planetary perspective, that would be weird, it's just that they have many sub species. In layman's terms you could say that they have many cousins. Yellow wags in the UK for example are almost completely yellow whilst in France and Spain they have bluish heads. Here's a nice one from our trip and below British race bird (courtesy of Google Images)

You'll see a slightly different race or 'cousin' of the same bird in Scandinavia and another in Italy but to my mind the British race is the most colourful. There's a similar thing going on with other wagtails ... here's a White Wagtail on the reserve which is in fact the main species and below it's much darker cousin found in the UK, the Pied Wagtail.

Right that's wagtails sorted lets move on!

Warblers are a tiny (smaller than sparrows as a rule) group of birds that you'll more often hear than see but they were very obvious on the reserve with Whitethroats and Melodious Warblers singing from bushes and tree tops everywhere. On our last day we spent about 3 hours on a viewing platform near the visitor centre and being at tree top height it was ideal for photographing both of these species. I struggled a bit with the Mi lad ohs (my slang for Melodious Warblers because they're so perky and bold) and this is the best I could do ....

Much better luck with Whitethroats and some good captures here .... even got one singing in mid flight!

Have to say I was pretty impressed with how all of these came out, the detail is very good and at this kind of range (within 20 meters) and more or less filling the frame this is one situation where the Canon EF400 really shines. Just as well because I've just received the estimate from Tamron for fixing my 200-500 and at £235 it may well end with a drink 'accidently' spilt on it, if you see what I mean! I do miss the extra reach though and maybe it's time to start looking at a 1.4 or 2x converter.

Ok, moving on, and I promised some non bird pics from the trip. To get some idea of the landscape of the place I think fits the bill, you even get the dubious bonus of some mad birder with a feather in his hat!
I don't get much chance to photograph frogs, sometimes I'm wishing they'd shut up so I can hear the birds but as I happened to look over a bank there were some croakers looking quite pretty in a ditch surrounded by water flowers and with the sun on them (pic left). No idea what kind of frog it is!
The only other obvious photogenic animals about were Hares, particularly active during the evening. Included one at the end of part 1 of this trip report but they were so handsome looking hare's another!

When we explored the coastal strip we came upon a nudist beach... Mark made a play of scanning out to sea (there is a type of sea bird called a boobie!)... anyway, I moved on and I took picture of this lighthouse!

Always nice to add a bit of colour to the blog and whenever I see nice flowers or butterflies I usually snap them up. Here's a nice pink flower that I'm sure someone will know the correct name for ...

...and here's a couple of butterflies that I do know the correct names for!

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)
 In more ways than I'm going to make a swift return to a few 'odds and sods'  bird pics. Ever tried taking a picture of a Swift? Damned tricky and nearly always I've failed to get even half decent captures....they just fly so fast! I took loads from the viewing platform in the hope that maybe a couple would come out well enough to post. These are not nearly as good as I'd hoped but for the record ...

 A few more left overs from the many bird pics I took on the reserve


Little Egret
Spotted Flycatcher

And lastly here's a picture of some Yellow Flag Irises that Mark wanted me to take a picture so here you go matey!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Catch up time ....3 great birds, 3 great photo shoots

It seems to have been a real busy time over here for the past few weeks ... our band 'Beyond the Gap' have been practising almost non stop trying to get Mark (our bassist) up to speed with a full set before we set off on our Summer tour in aid of Cancer Support France (full article in the pipeline). I've had my mate (also called Mark) over for a week and for the past 2 weeks I've been fulfilling my Open University duties and marking student assignments (that's 3 Marks!).

Hardly full time 9 to 5 of course and I'm not complaining but certainly I've not posted a huge amount on here recently so here I am sat in bed at 1.00 in the morning posting something of a catch up.

A while back me and Mark were walking around the forested part of the Etang de Beauvour when we heard the distinctive trilling of a Wood Warbler, a good bird to have anytime, anyplace, except perhaps on an aeroplane sipping martini (the older generation will get that!). Anyway, we did a bit of stalking and crept as close as we could to where it was singing. In the end we just sat down against a couple tree trunks and waited for it come back to us, which it did and treated us with some splendidly close views ... he was so close in fact that on occasion I couldn't focus the camera! You'll see what I mean by this selection of photographs ....

On the same day I managed to get this reasonable close up shot of a 4 Spotted Chaser (pic below).... not sure whether this is classed as a dragonfly or a damselfly but nice detail and you can easily see the 4 spots (1 on each wing) and this is a female because of the yellowy brown body as a pose to the grey males ..... thanks

On another occasion we were out on one of my regular treks and we came across a couple of very handsome Red Backed Shrikes, the male in particular was in tip top breeding condition and sitting very proud. Problem was when I got in to position to take what I thought was going to be 'gripper' of a shot there was no memory card in the camera ... doh! To add insult to injury a while later we had an equally lovely Melodious Warbler singing it's heart out less than 10 metres away (I could almost hear the memory card laughing at me from its cosy little socket back home in my laptop!)

Well I don't like to be laughed at by my digital devices so with the memory card rounded up I paid a later visit and as I suspected this was a nesting pair and still in the same place. As with the Wood Warbler there was plenty of stalking, creeping around and waiting to be done and whilst these birds weren't nearly as fearless my patience was rewarded by these lovely shots....

So there we go, a couple of great photo shoots of 2 splendid birds from the past couple of weeks and I must be on something of a hot (shot) streak because yesterday morning I managed to get these cracking shots of a Nightingale singing. Most people are aware that Nightingales have a beautiful song but how many of you have actually heard one or seen one? They're actually very common throughout mainland Europe but scarce and declining in the UK (a few pairs nest on Thorne Moor, S Yorks but pretty much absent further North). I usually see a flash of russet red tail feathers as they dart in and out of dense undergrowth from where they usually sing but this was my lucky day .... a gap in the trees, a decent lens and hey presto!

Looking at that singing Nightingale I'm thinking it's a shame you can't hear it so I'm going to try and post either a video (it will be of a bush!) or a sound clip to go with the above.

There we go, caught up a bit, just need to finish off and post part 2 of our trip to Moeze / Oleron and I'll be almost up to speed!

France is Rockabilly mad ..... DOCKABILLY'S TRIO

Have to say I've kinda missed decent live music since being in France and although I'm sure some decent acts get to the larger towns and cities, out here in the rural heart of things it's a case of make your own music or get to like ROCKABILLY!

I''ve absolutely no idea why rockabilly (think Stray Cats or if you're old enough Hank Williams) is so popular in France but the scene is vibrant and there's many very decent French acts rocking their merry way through the bars here. One of best and most entertaining I've seen are a 3 piece outfit called the Dockabillys - they play regularly at the Commerce bar in Montmorillon (Henri, the bar owner plays in a similar style band and is mates with many of these guys!) and as well as playing good, tight songs they do this amazing trick where the singer and guitarist balances himself on the double bass and continues to play and sing! Here's them doing just that last week (pic right)

Yeah, I know not the best of photographs but I'm not used to mobile phones!

The Dockabillys have a more than useful following over here and if you ever get a whiff of them playing near you I'd highly recommend. Here's their site -

And here's a good clip of some of their best tunes

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Moeze / Oleron reserve naturelle trip (Part 1)

My old mate Mark from the UK popped across to visit last week and we had originally thought of heading down to the Camargue but decided against it because of the travelling time ... France is such a big country and too much time stuck in a car is never good! We decided instead to head out to the Atlantic coast and ended up spending 3 days on the Moeze / Oleron reserve naturelle and the surrounding coastline.

Although we had persistent Northerly winds the weather was kind throughout with blue skies and plenty of warmth and sunshine. Lots of good birds with a total count of 108 species for the 3 days (list at the end) and of course plenty of good photographic opportunities.

The reserve itself is a designated wetland / saltmarsh area situated some 30km south of La Rochelle and is split between a mainland segment on the West coast and the East coast of Isle De Oleron. We stuck with the mainland part around the ancient fortified commune of Hiers Brouage - worth a look if you're ever down this way ( )

If we're talking rarities then I guess the single Alpine Swift picked out amongst many passage Common Swifts would be your 'twitcher's' pick but the reserve is packed full of good birds such as Marsh and Montague's Harriers, Short toed Eagle, Hobby, White Stork, Purple Heron as well as many wading birds and passerines (small birds) and we had some cracking views of all.

Ok, bit of a photo montage but I know most folk just come on here to look at the pics!

First up are a selection of White Stork pics. Nesting platforms are commonly erected all over Europe to attract these harbingers of good fortune but it was good to see so many nesting in their natural habitat in trees. Anyway, here's my selection ....

Like those? I was very happy with the way these turned out, especially the courtship behaviour and twig bringing shots.

Sticking with the bigger birds here's a few raptor shots for you.
Marsh Harrier (oldish female)

Marsh Harrier - same bird as above

Montague's Harrier (Male)

Short Toed Eagle
Short Toed Eagle and the Moon!
Short Toed Eagle - same bird as above
Kestrel (Male)

Peregrine Falcon

Ok now I know this doesn't look like a bird of prey pic at first glance but for those of you with eagle eyes (excuse the pun) take a look at the nesting box and you'll see a Kestrel and for those of you who like me that need reading glasses for just about everything, below is a close up and hey presto he's caught some kind of rodent, think its a mole!

Kestrel with prey (mole?)

Here's the last of my bird of prey pictures from Moeze, a bit fuzzy but this is a Common Buzzard being mobbed by a Kestrel

Rounding off part 1 of this photo montage of our Moeze trip with the rest of the bigger birds, here's selection of some of the wetland species, most of these were taken near the information hut. Most of these birds with perhaps the exception of the Spoonbills will be familiar with British birders.
There were plenty of wading birds about and here's a nice shot of Ruff in flight and if you look closely you might be able to spot a single Redshank in the frame ...
Here's the Spoonbills and yes their bills really are like spoons!

Lots of Shelduck about ... here's just the one

Rarely do Black Winged Stilts make it across the channel but it has to be said they are the ubiquitous wading bird on any saltmarsh / estuarine habitat throughout mainland Europe and often taken for granted. I've always found them very photogenic though so here's a couple of this dainty long legged wader. Nice comparison of light conditions light here with the soft tones of the bird in flight (shot in the evening sun) contrasted with the much harsher midday sun shot in the second pic.

Little Ringed Plover's are total experts in the art of disguise and are often unseen as they stand stock still blending in with the background. I was already on to this one as I was walking across a wet field on our last evening but true to form when I got too close 2 other, previously hidden birds flew off from the same spot! The camouflage is obvious in this shot.

Ok, as promised, here's a list of species seen over the 3 days for all the birding nuts that like to see such things and I'll post part 2 within the next few days featuring the smaller birdies and non bird pics.
  1. Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
  1. Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
  1. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
  1. Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
  1. Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
  1. Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
  1. Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
  1. Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
  1. Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
  1. Eurasian White Stork [sp] (Ciconia ciconia)
  1. Eurasian Spoonbill [sp] (Platalea leucorodia
  1. Cattle Egret [sp] (Bubulcus ibis)
  1. Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
  1. Purple Heron [sp] (Ardea purpurea)
  1. Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)
  1. Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
  1. Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
  1. Merlin [sp] (Falco columbarius)
  1. Eurasian Hobby [sp] (Falco subbuteo)
  1. Peregrine Falcon [sp] (Falco peregrinus)
  1. Black Kite [sp] (Milvus migrans)
  1. Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
  1. Western Marsh Harrier [sp] (Circus aeruginosus)
  1. Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
  1. Eurasian Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
  1. Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
  1. Common Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
  1. Black-winged Stilt [sp] (Himantopus himantopus)
  1. Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
  1. Grey Plover [sp] (Pluvialis squatarola)
  1. Ringed Plover [sp] (Charadrius hiaticula)
  1. Kentish Plover [sp] (Charadrius alexandrinus)
  1. Black-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa limosa)
  1. Bar-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa lapponica)
  1. Eurasian Curlew [sp] (Numenius arquata)
  1. Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
  1. Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
  1. Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
  1. Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
  1. Ruddy Turnstone [sp] (Arenaria interpres)
  1. Dunlin [sp] (Calidris alpina)
  1. Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
  1. Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
  1. Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
  1. Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
  1. Common Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
  1. Whiskered Tern [sp] (Chlidonias hybrida)
  1. Woodpigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
  1. European Turtle Dove [sp] (Streptopelia turtur)
  1. Eurasian Collared Dove [sp] (Streptopelia decaocto)
  1. Common Cuckoo [sp] (Cuculus canorus)
  1. Tawny Owl [sp] (Strix aluco)
  1. Alpine Swift [sp] (Tachymarptis melba)
  1. Common Swift [sp] (Apus apus)
  1. Common Kingfisher [sp] (Alcedo atthis)
  1. Common Hoopoe [sp] (Upupa epops)
  1. Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
  1. Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
  1. Red-backed Shrike [sp] (Lanius collurio)
  1. Eurasian Golden Oriole [sp] (Oriolus oriolus)
  1. Eurasian Jay [sp] (Garrulus glandarius)
  1. Common Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
  1. Eurasian Jackdaw [sp] (Corvus monedula)
  1. Rook [sp] (Corvus frugilegus)
  1. Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
  1. Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
  1. Blue Tit [sp] (Parus caeruleus)
  1. Collared Sand Martin [sp] (Riparia riparia)
  1. Barn Swallow [sp] (Hirundo rustica)
  1. Northern House Martin [sp] (Delichon urbicum)
  1. Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
  1. Crested Lark [sp] (Galerida cristata)
  1. Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
  1. Zitting Cisticola [sp] (Cisticola juncidis)
  1. Cetti's Warbler [sp] (Cettia cetti)
  1. Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
  1. Eurasian Reed Warbler [sp] (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
  1. Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta)
  1. Willow Warbler [sp] (Phylloscopus trochilus)
  1. Common Chiffchaff [sp] (Phylloscopus collybita)
  1. Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)
  1. Blackcap [sp] (Sylvia atricapilla)
  1. Common Whitethroat [sp] (Sylvia communis)
  1. Firecrest [sp] (Regulus ignicapilla)
  1. Winter Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
  1. Short-toed Treecreeper [sp] (Certhia brachydactyla)
  1. European Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
  1. Eurasian Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
  1. Song Thrush [sp] (Turdus philomelos)
  1. European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
  1. Common Nightingale [sp] (Luscinia megarhynchos)
  1. Black Redstart [sp] (Phoenicurus ochruros)
  1. Common Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola torquatus)
  1. Northern Wheatear [sp] (Oenanthe oenanthe)
  1. Spotted Flycatcher [sp] (Muscicapa striata)
  1. Pied Flycatcher [sp] (Ficedula hypoleuca)
  1. House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
  1. Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
  1. Yellow Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla flava)
  1. White Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla alba)
  1. Meadow Pipit [sp] (Anthus pratensis)
  1. Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
  1. European Greenfinch [sp] (Carduelis chloris)
  1. European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
  1. Common Linnet [sp] (Carduelis cannabina)
  1. Corn Bunting [sp] (Emberiza calandra)
  1. Yellowhammer [sp] (Emberiza citrinella)
  1. Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)

And just to prove that I do take photographs of other things apart from birds here's a good Hare I managed to get some good evening shots of.