Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Still 'en Francais' - van travails, Jack Snipe & 1000s of Cranes

'Well I didn't far, in my beat old car, and I was fearin the worst' .. go the lyrics of a John Prine song I sometimes sing called 'Far from me' ... a familiar 'ear worm' for me and how it rang out loud in my head as my van, which had behaved impeccably all the way from East Yorkshire, started blinking warning lights on the dash some 50k south of Clermont Ferand.

This bloody van of mine has certainly caused me some grief, never known a vehicle like it, but like or not I'm on a road trip so we plow on and sort the problems as we go. Had a sneaky feeling I'd have to call on the RAC at some point but never imagined it would be so soon - I'm still in France for gods sake!

Net result is not good but I suppose it could be worse. I'm holed up in a hotel in Saint Fleur (at the RAC's expense) and van is in for repair. Initial diagnosis and estimates were frightening - head gasket failure (never good) and anything up to 4500 euros! Lots of updates later from the RAC ...such exquisite torture, and after 2 days I find out its a dead cylinder head plus a new radiator required - cost 2700 euros (ouch) but I suppose not catastrophic, still hurts big time like! I'll be on my way by the end of the week.

Firecrest, nr Amboise, 15/02/17
So before all that shenanigans I've actually had a good time a few good birds. On my way down from Dieppe I had the most enormous flock of Lapwings, somewhere near Bonneval - in traffic so couldn't stop but I reckoned on 4000+. First stop was somewhere nr Amboise, central France and a simple turn off into what looked like a good wooded area. It was! Lesser Spotted Woodpecker along with Greater Spotted and Green 'peckers', Firecrest, lots of Nuthatch and Chaffinches singing away in the sun.

In the same location I also saw 2 Brimstones and 2 Red Admiral butterflies. Its Spring!!

Next stop and berth for the night was an old haunt of mine from way back - La Brenne, nr Poitiers. Known locally as 'the land of a thousand lakes' I never quite got to grips with this place during my time in this part of France, mainly due the restricted access to most of the lakes but it remains a fascinating and complex web of wetland habitats.

I parked the van alongside one of the publicly accessible lakes - Etang de Mouton, and was immediately into many Common Cranes passing overhead. In total I estimated a staggering 2300 all heading NW within the space of an hour or so at dusk. Not sure if they were en route or simply coming into roost - either way, great to catch up with the annual mass movement of these majestic birds as they head towards their breeding grounds further north. I'm sure I'll see many more!

Etang de Mouton, La Brenne

Common Cranes, over La Brenne, 16/02/17

 In the morning I had more time to explore and came across 12 Jack Snipes all huddled together. So tricky to make out just what they were at first and quite odd I thought to see so many and they be the only wading bird present. Either way, although they're difficult to make out on the photograph, this was my best ever view of these usually very secretive birds.

Jack Snipes, La Brenne, 16/02/17 .. can you see em?

Great White Egret, La Brenne, 15/02/17

6 Water Pipits were the other highlights here, all in the same location as the Jack Snipes and I also had 4 Bullfinches (always a bit tricky to tick off in France), 16 Redwings and lots of Great White Egrets. I watched this one on the left for quite a while as it stalked its fishy prey, stamping the shallows and spreading its wings to disturb whatever lurked in the shallows .. and then it struck with that monstrous yellow bill!

Great White Egret, successful fishing!
Ah, it was all going so well! To me the van was driving ok, sleeping and cooking all ok and then with the blinking of a temperature light, disaster and an enforced stay in Saint Flour for a week. Major repairs are underway as I type and although I'd like to claim confidence for the trip ahead, I'm full of apprehension - what if the same or something similar happens again? It'll clean me out! Anybody want to buy a campervan? Had loads done to it!

Despite my pensive mood, Saint Flour is not a bad spot to be holed up in, especially since the weather has been pretty foul - snowing all day yesterday and it remains cold and blustery, so not a bad time to be hotel bound. I've walked around a bit, had a Crag Martin from said hotel which is perched at the top of the town with spectacular views over the Cantal region. Lots of Red Kites here and also added Raven, Woodlark and Marsh Tit to my species list so not all bad. Here's a few town & landscapes from roundabout and here's hoping my next post will contain nothing other than good days birding!

Great looking church, St Georges nr Saint Flour, 28/02/17

Saint Flour, 26/02/17

Saint Flour, 26/02/17

View from my hotel window in Saint Flour, 28/02/17

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