Sunday, 31 October 2010

Garden Birding in France

16th October to 7th November, hopefully ...

Been down here at the parents for the last couple of weeks now, unfortunately for me we've been working on trying to finish getting the house insulated for the winter - they're in the south west of France, balmy enough you might think, but actually as cold, or colder than the uk half the time, especially at night, so I'm not actually on holiday, or birding all the time, much as I would like to be.
Hence almost all of my birding has been restricted to the garden, and not much even at that. Although not all bad, as it has proven fairly productive for vis mig over the last few years, located as it is in a small lowland river valley just to the east of Les Landes forest (the largest in france) and a couple of hundred kilometres north of the Pyrenees.

Unfortunately it took 3 days to actually get to escape from the UK, due to the pesky french and their predilection for striking at the most inopportune moments (like when I want to travel), although I did manage to see a bunch of Firecrests and get Brent Goose on my yearlist down in Southampton at my brothers whilst I waited for the next flight from Bristol. But I made it in the end.

Typical garden birds seen over the last 2 weeks include such very nice non-typically british birds as Black Redstart, Cirl Bunting and Serin. News from the parents just before I left England was that the Eurasian Cranes had started arriving, with several big flocks flying over. Nice. And eventually I managed to see some of my own - only 12 or so the first time, but excellent birds as they slowly thermalled over one side of the woods, before somehow magically and almost instantaneously transforming into a perfect V and sailing southwestwards over the house and towards their annual maize field winter rendezvous. The following day saw 3 slightly more distant flocks of maybe a hundred or so each, all passing over in a southerly/south westerly direction. Very nice.

A Hawfinch on the drive first thing in the morning is always an excellent way to start any day, even if you then have to go on and battle huge sheets of plasterboard and fibreglass for the rest of it.
The Kingfisher from last year (or another, or even more than one) had returned, and been on the decking by the pond a couple of times as viewed from the lounge window. Once it almost landed while we were having lunch outside, unfortunately, wary as they are, it saw us and did a quick take and about turn mid-air. Other goodies include Firecrest in the pines, 4 or 5 Blackcap or more feeding on the overripe figs in the Fig tree (and even moving around into the very top of the highest pine). One morning I had just come out of the front door to saw some wood to be greeted by a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead at treetop height, calling noisily as it did so and of into the distance beyond the village.
Somewhat more regular garden birds in a uk context include a good complement of Robins (3 singing the other day, never seen so many here), Blue and Great Tits, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and various corvids etc. Mallard on three occasions, Grey Heron and Cormorant overflying the river. Collared Dove numbers up on previous visits, with 89 noted flying over in small flocks one morning, and then when two noisy tractors passed by, 75 at least in the air at once came back, obviously disturbed from their feeding just outside the village. Woodpigeons, Chaffinch and various other (often unidentified) flocks of small and medium sized passerines moving through southwards, often in good numbers, always good to see. Most birds get seen in the brief time around eating lunch and before siesta takes over, or by happening to randomly glance out of the window.

New birds today have included Goldcrest, a Nuthatch calling across the other side of the river, a showy Dunnock (for this part of the world) and the Serins and a Cirl Bunting showing particularly well in the birch in the veg patch.

Raptors have been fairly thin on the ground (or, to be slightly more accurate, in the air), with a sprinkling of Red Kites passing southwards in the first week or so, a couple of Common Buzzards on several occasions, presumably residents, the odd Sparrowhawk, and one lunch time, a Peregrine Falcon lazily moving around in the upper reaches. Oh, and something else, deserving of its own day account ...

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