La Jallais, 7 April 2018

A lovely morning full of activity and birdsong at La Jallais the highlights of which had to be the several Nightingales which were doing their best to drown each other out with the strength of the songs. Two birds were on opposite sides of the road near the railway crossing while another was in the hedgerow below the farm. Needless to say all I got were some very dubious quality record shots as the birds stayed very well hidden !

Elsewhere at least four pairs of Stonechats were on territory, several Skylarks sang from abouve the larger fields and a flock of Whimbrel were also present busily feeding in one of the larger wet fields.

Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

European Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola)

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

I don’t know what this plant is called but the two little ponds along the track were covered in these lovely daisy-like flowers

Prairie de Tenu, March 2018

A spring visit to the Prairie de Tenu near Frossay with Ant in the hope of connecting with some early migrants or perhaps something a little bit different (I always fancy a Great Grey Shrike around these parts !). Alas, there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary but we did manage to get some excellent photos of a rather confiding female Kestrel along the road followed by a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwits busily feeding in the wet fields in preparation for their return north to their breeding grounds.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

 

Marais Breton, December 2017

A Christmas trip down to the Marais Breton and along the coast which produced, as expected, a lovely Short-eared Owl. Happy hunting close to the road and indifferent to the occasional car passing nearby we were able to watch it comfortably from a distance through the ‘scope. Later on we went to Port du Brochets where a very smart male Black Redstart was on show on the breakwater though it was impossible to get close to it.

  Short-eared Owl (Asio flammea)

  Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Redpolls

Along with the influx of Hawfinches during the autumn the other notable avian phenomenen was the number of Redpolls recorded in western France. They really are quite scarce here generally and I’ve only come across them once in 10 years but this winter many sites held small groups of birds of two subspecies: Lesser (cabaret) and Common (Mealy) Redpoll. The lakes in the north of the departement were a favoured spot and so in mid-December I met up with some fellow birders at Etang de Gruellau near Treffieux where we had some difficulty in initially tracking down the birds and then getting reasonable views of them as the fed in the alder and birch trees. Some rather poor photos below along with a charming Red squirrel which was nearby.

Redpolls, lower photo of presumed Common (Mealy) Redpoll (Acanthis flammea flammea)

Hawfinches

It’s been a record year, certainly a record autumn, for Hawfinchs with birds recorded just about everywhere in the region. Sites which had previously seemed out of the question for the species now have birds on a regular basis. Initially I, like many others I presume, had taken this influx to be an autumn movement but it now looks like these birds have installed themselves in new areas so it will be interesting to see how this pans out in 2018 and whether the number of breeding birds has increased dramatically. While most encounters with the species involve birds flying over and calling I have come across a few individuals here and there which have allowed decent views though invariably I haven’t had the camera to hand !

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes). The lower two photos taken on my local patch at La Jallais, definitely not classic Hawfinch habitat !

Autumn garden birds

Between one thing and another I haven’t been able to get out in the field as much as I would have liked so here’s a selection of photos of birds from my garden in late autumn. Enjoy.

Blue Tits and House Sparrow (Cyanistes caeruleus & Passer domesticus)

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Great Tit (Parus major)

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

 

Ouessant, 14-20 October 2017

Time for the annual LATT trip to somewhere in the north-west and Ouessant was the destination of choice again this year. Things had been looking good with a decent selection of birds seen there in the preceeding week but, as ever with birding, nothing is guaranteed. We arrived and while organising access to our rented house the first good bird turned up: a gentle, bubbling “bruuuup, bruuup, bruuup” indicated a Bee-eater somewhere overhead but try as I might I couldn’t pick it up. Throughout the day this bird toured the island while calling constantly and was recorded by most of the birders present but actually only seen by a handful.

As usual I did my own thing over the following days but it soon became clear that most of the good birds from the previous week had departed. A group of Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) were an interesting sight having apparently arrived last week in an exhausted state (presumably from Iceland ?). One of the juveniles had succumbed to the rigours of migration within a day and the rest of the family party installed themselves in the marsh below the Creac’h lighthouse where they showed pretty well most days.

Most of the rest of the week was a little disappointing though still enjoyable. The weather wasn’t particularly favourable for bringing migrants to the island being rather windy from the north-west and showery at times. However, the lure of seawatching in these conditions meant that most of the birders on the island were up at the Creac’h lighthouse on 19th where a minimum of 29 Cory‘s (Calonectris borealis) and 16 Great Shearwaters (Puffinus gravis) were noted, the latter a French tick too. The weather continued to deteriorate to such an extent that we decided to leave the island a day early as there was some risk that the ferry would not operat on the Saturday due to the conditions. All in all not a bad week but next year I think we’ll go there earlier in October !

Spot that !

22 September, right time, right place, nice conditions. A visit to the ringing station at Donges Est in the morning in calm sunny weather produced the usual birds in the nets but as the team weren’t overburdened with birds I decided to have a wander around. The obvious spot were the recently created pools along the embankment which I approached with the sun behind me. While still about 75 m away I set up the scope for a quick look at the pools and lo and behold, a Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) was feeding at the edge of the reeds. The bird was moving in and out of the edge of vegetation so I fired off a couple of shots, none of which unfortunately show the bird in the open. A couple of seconds later it disappeared and despite watching the area for the following hour it didn’t show again.

It’s in there somewhere !

Yes, that dark blob at the edge of the reeds really is a Spotted Crake !

Red-necked Phalarope, 13 September 2017

The past few days have proved interesting for seabirds around here and, along with a few friends, I’d planned on going to Le Croisic in the hope of catching up with some skuas and maybe even a Wilson’s Petrel. Then I received an e-mail from a collegue asking me to confirm that he’d indeed photographed both a Grey and a Red-necked Phalarope in the same spot near Port du Collet and just over the départemental border in north Vendée. And indeed he had, super photos of both species and quite close too. Looking at the weather forecast again it seemed a good seawatch was perhaps doubtful so I made a plan with Anthony to try for the phalaropes. Early on the Tuesday morning Anthony sent me a message to say both birds were still there so I finished preparing my gear and headed off south ASAP.

When I arrived I noticed Anthony was looking down into the canal where the bird was seen and yes, there not 5 metres away was a stunning first-winter Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus). It was happily feeding away, oblivious to our presence, and even when we got down to water level the bird would approach to within 2 metres of it’s own accord. We spent several hours there in total just soaking up the views, often without the use of bins’, and making the most of the opportunity. Given that I’d only seen one Red-necked Phalarope previously I was certainly in no hurry to leave but eventually we wandered up to the port in search of the Grey Phalarope, which had flown off in that direction just before I arrived. Anthony eventually refound it in the main channel but again it flew off before I reached the spot. A beautiful juvenile Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini) feeding along the channel provided adequate compensation, without doubt the best views I’ve ever had of the species.

We then headed inland checking out a few waders spots, to no avail I might add, then back to the coast via Bouin where a fly-over Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) was a nice year-tick. On our return the phalarope was still present so another hour was spent in it’s company. A truly delightful bird, not the most colourful, nor the rarest but for sheer charisma it’s hard to beat. Failing something else later in the autumn this is quite likely to be my bird-of-the-year !

 

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini). Photo: Anthony Oates