Monday, 14 May 2012

Bird Report March / April

Doh .... late again with my bird report!

After a dismally dreary January and a particularly freezing cold February never has the month of March and early Spring been so welcome .... note to self  'never spend another Winter in this part of France!'

Rant over and on to the sightings. March was a very good month for early migrants with a ridiculously early Cuckoo calling along the River Gartemps on March 8th, my earliest ever by a country mile and didn't have another until the 30th (pic right). The day after on the 9th I had a singing Chiff Chaff  just outside the village which was probably a returning migrant rather than an overwintering bird and on the 10th I had a further 2 singing in the Rouflamme Valley plus 2 splendid male Blackcaps in the village (in a garden tree). There was a very gradual increase in numbers of both of these early returning warblers as the month wore on but the big influx came in the first week of April with up to 30 Blackcaps and 20 Chiff Chaffs recorded locally on the 6th.

A morning's birding at the Etang de Beauvoir on the 11th March saw in my first Sedge Warbler along with a first record of Stock Dove for me in France (5 beating North), about 200 Common Cranes in adjacent fields (pic left), a couple of Black Redstarts and a splendid male Hen Harrier displaying in the sunshine. The 2nd week of March was also good for northward passage of Lapwings and Golden Plover with up to 800 of the former and 60 of the latter overhead on the 11th being typical numbers. Good to see a few Golden Plovers standing fields ... almost like being back in Yorkshire!

The first Swallow of the year is always a magic moment for us birders and although mine was a brief glimpse of one sat on telegraph wires on the 13th March as I was driving (just outside Saulge) it was as iconic and welcome as ever .... 'hurrah, sunny days are just around the corner!' that's what my first swallow always says to me! I actually saw the same bird on the same telegraph wire the next day and had to get out of the car just to make sure it was real (it was!)

There was a minor influx of thrushes on the 14th March with 10 Redwings, c25 Song Thrushes and c15 Mistle Thrushes in local fields but the very poor showing of Fieldfares continues with none at all recorded in either March or April around here.

Etange des Landes
On the 14th March I took a trip out to a place called Etange des Landes in the Creuse area which is about 70k south of here. This is a large lake surrounded by forest and a well known birding and fishing spot. Glorious sunshine all day and my long drive was rewarded by some good birds including a high flying Black Stork, several returning Black Kites, 3 Black Necked Grebes, a displaying male Hen Harrier and a female Marsh Harrier ..... all returning Summer visitors or passage birds on their way further North. Lapwings were also heading North in good numbers with up about 200 over in the 3 hours or so that I was there, whilst on the lake itself there were still good numbers of Winter ducks including about 70 Wigeon.

On the way back I stopped off at Gueret and sat for half an hour on a bench I found at the top of one of the hills around there. It was just grand sitting in the sun and watching Chaffinches fly North over the tops of trees along with a couple of Skylarks, a Sparrowhawk and 4 Common Buzzards. Obviously a day for birds of all kinds to make a move!

The 26th of March seemed to be another good day for passage with clear skies and a slight easterly breeze. I didn't go very far, didn't have to ... just sat outside the barn and came on to a Black Stork circling on high, followed by an Osprey bombing North, followed in turn by a Black Kite floating in the same direction. I had my first House Martin shortly after that and to complete a full house of migrants over the barn I had 2 high flying Short Toed Eagles later on in the day.

A good haul of avian goodies for March so far you would think but the month had several other surprises up its sleeve yet with my earliest ever Hoopoe on the 30th (heard nr Saulge) and a Tawny Pipit on the same day in local fields. Corn Buntings landed in  the area and were singing from this date too and there were 2 Red Crested Pochards on the Etang de Beavoir on the same date ... so, all in all a very good month.

Into April then and the trickle of migrants turned into a predictable flood with big numbers of Chiff Chaff, Blackcaps and Cuckoos arriving in the first week or so and filling the woods with Summer song. I heard my first Nightingale on the evening of the 5th and before the month was out they were singing their beautiful melodies from nearly every hedgerow in the area. Just as tuneful but far less obvious are Wood Warblers and although I didn't manage to clock one I had single singing males on the 6th and 7th. Much less tuneful but we wont hold it against them, Whitethroats arrived on the 7th with 4 in the RouflammeWillow Warblers are common enough in the UK I find them very elusive over here so I was please to hear and see one on the same day, none since though  .... why is that? Anyone out there know why?

More 'firsts of the year' during the month  .... Tree Pipit (7th), Montagues Harrier (9th), Garden Warbler and Quail (both on the 13th and both heard and not seen!).

Resident birds of note included a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling on the 5th and a couple of Hawfinches overhead on the 16th. Not a bird but of note nonetheless I had at least 6 Swallowtail Butterflies in an uncultivated field on the 7th and very nearly captured them mating on camera. I've seen them before around here but never so many and hoping this is going to be a good year for this stunning insect.

I was back in the UK for 2 weeks at the end of April and although I had just the one birding trip it was a good 'un .... a day out in the Derwent Valley. Already posted this of course but click here if you can't be bothered to scroll back!

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