My lake

My lake

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Birding around the Gulf of Morbihan

We miss going birding as there are few places near where we live, so when I discovered that the area around the Gulf of Morbihan on the south coast has some nature reserves and marshy places which are good for birding, my mind was made up. It's migratory season right now and all we needed was for the weather forecast to look good. I picked a day, packed a picnic and off we set! We visited three sites, all on the east side of the gulf - the Marais de Duer, not far from Sarzeau, the Salines de Lasné near Saint Armel, and finally the Réserve Naturelle des Marais de Séné. These places are all about 1 hour 50 mins from home which is OK for a full day out, but oh how I wish we had the same kind of sites on the north coast!
Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The first place we visited was the Marais de Duer. Here there are two hides and various pathways leading to them. From where we parked we walked through a mini pine forest and there was a board showing that Black Woodpeckers inhabit this area. This is my most want to see bird, that I have looked for from the Alps to the Pyrenees, in vain! Of course we didn't see one, but almost as good, we saw three Crested Tits - my favourite bird. They were common garden birds visiting our feeders when we lived the other side of France, and we did see a few when we first moved to Chateau Moorhen, but not a one in the last eight years, sadly!

The first hide was a high one with two flights of steps up with a great view over the lagoons. I lugged my dslr around with me just to take landscape shots (and then cursed it for the rest of the day as most of where we visited was flat and I didn't dare leave it in the car). My SX50 superzoom was of course the camera needed to get the bird shots as even a 300mm lens on the dslr is pointless with the birds often being far away.

Just a note - we were very surprised in this first hide to find that all the windows were padlocked shut and we had to shoot through the plastic, which was a nuisance. We then found the same at every single hide, including the ones at the Nature Reserve at Séné. Very annoying, and it also made them rather hot and stuffy instead of nice places to have a good sit down and spend time in. :-(

View from the tall hide at the Marais de Duer taken with my dslr.
On the island are the Spoonbills seen in the picture below.

Not a good shot obviously having seen the distance,
but it was really cool to see these Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia).

We saw tons of Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) both here and later on in the day, so here are a selection of photos of them! I can't remember when I last saw any, although it must have been around the Med.

In the collage below, top left the bird is tending an egg in the nest which is just a scrape in the ground on the island.

Next stop was the Salines de Lasné. A saline is a an area where salt is made in salt pans, but we couldn't see any sign of this. All the salines looked drained and full of mud, the same for the area given over to oyster farming! There is an island very close to the salines which can be reached at low tide and the inhabitants can drive over during this time.

View out to the sea within the Gulf. The tide was coming in.

In terms of water birds there were very few seen here, but the walk along the 'digue' (sea wall) was very interesting for other species. We saw Wheatears, Linnets and for me a very exciting sighting of a Green Hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi). I've only ever seen them 18 years ago in south west France. I wasn't into butterflies back then but who can forget a tiny emerald green butterfly? Unfortunately my photos were rubbish!!

We also saw (and heard!) Zitting Cisticolas and saw a Cattle Egret in a back garden! My photos of the Egret were not very good as it was very distant, but were good enough for a definite ID.

Took a while to ID this pair, but they are Linnets (Carduelis cannabina).
The male however is not in breeding plumage which is the familiar pink chest
and pink top of head. We did see a male with those colours along this walk.
The female at the bottom is collecting nesting material.

This is a male Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).
We saw quite a few of them (or the same bird many times!)
I think they are really handsome birds.

We then moved on to the Nature Reserve at Séné. Here there is a visitor centre, picnic tables, toilets and a rooftop observation centre. If you want to visit their hides you have to pay though, but at €5 a head that was pretty reasonable I thought. By this time it was warming up quite a lot as this area is flat and inland a little bit from the main gulf (near a tidal river) and is sheltered from any cooling breezes from the sea.

My OH. Why are those viewing holes always at the wrong height?!
At least this was one place where you can take photos without
annoying plastic windows in front of you!

There were boardwalks leading to the hides (5 in total) and the blackthorn
was in blossom, butterflies were about and it was very pleasant
strolling through these sheltered areas.

Redshank (Tringa totanus)

The next two collaged photos show the two lifers that we saw that day. (A lifer is a bird (or other species) that you see for the first time).

Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus).

Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa).

The most common duck was the Shelduck which was at all the sites we visited. In fact there were very few ducks at all, and we only saw a few Mallards which made a nice change!

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), a very handsome duck.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) - the one on the left is a female.

Lastly, here is a test, dear readers. Who knows what this species is? ;-)

No prizes for guessing, though. Sorry. :-)

All in all, a fabulous day out seeing loads of migratory species. We plan to go back next month. I also found a website of the Friends of this nature reserve with a photo list of all species seen at the reserve, including butterflies, insects, spiders and Odonata (dragon and damselflies). They have such an amazing amount of butterfly species spotted here, including various Fritillaries and something I'd never even heard of which is a Mediterranean species, so I'm planning to go back in September too (once the kids are back at school and tourists gone) for the butterfies and Odonata! :-)

Species seen (not including very common birds):

1.  Shelducks
2.  Black Winged Stilts
3.  Avocets
4.  Spoonbills
5.  Little Egrets
6.  Crested Tits
7.  Blackcap
8.  Chiffchaff
9.  Zitting Cisticolas
10. Linnets
11. Wheatears
12. Cattle Egret 
13. Skylark
14. Black-tailed Godwit
15. Spotted Redshank
16. Redshank
17. Whitethroat (my OH saw it, I didn't)
18. Ringed Plover (possible, it was very distant)

Also heard many Cetti's Warblers.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A few critters seen recently

My OH discovered this little lizard without a tail indoors because one of the cats had brought it in. I thought it had lost its tail in the process but looking at some images on the web it looks like this is a tail that is already regenerating. I'm glad to say it was saved and put back outside near the steps to the garage, where there are plenty of gaps between the rocks for it to hide inside. It could be a Common Lizard or a Common Wall Lizard, but I have never delved into the different species of European lizards before!

Little lizard with a regenerating tail on my OH's hand.

And a slightly closer up view.

I was removing some weedy old compost from the tops of the large pots that contain my Oleanders which live out all year, when I moved one slightly and wondered why it was wobbling. I tilted the pot and brushed out what I thought was a stone. Oops, no, it was a tiny toad! 

I worried sick I might have crushed it as it looked a bit flat but appeared uninjured. So I took it round to the back door and went to get my camera. I had hoped it was a Midwife Toad which are only this size when mature (about 1 1/4 inches/3cm) as I know that we have them here from the bleepy noise they make every evening from about April onwards. But after a bit of research it is none other than a young Common Toad, which take quite a few years to reach full size. The way to tell the difference is that Common Toads have horizontal slits in their eyes and the Midwife Toads have vertical ones. This one came to life after I took a couple of photos so I took it back to where I found it and put it under some plants growing out of the house wall.

Very small Common Toad (Bufo bufo). Isn't that a nice Latin name? :-)

Here it is coming to life after its wee shock, and the lovely surface here is my gardening glove!

I was happy to see a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the peanuts a few days ago as it's the first one I've seen this year. They are normally quite common visitors to the bird feeders. I took these photos out of a house window as if I'd gone outside it would have flown off.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major).

The following photo is a very zoomed in picture of the moorhens' nest, where I was pleased to see that Madame is now sitting on the nest! This is really early for them so hopefully there will be a number of little black pom-poms to watch around the lake soon. You can just see her right in the middle - a black head and the top of the red beak.

Madame Moorhen sitting in her nest.

Not quite wildlife but new life. There are often sheep in the paddock across the road but they do move around to other paddocks. So when they were moved back to this one recently there were already two lambs that were of a fair size, like the one below. But a couple of days ago I was over in our orchard checking out the blossom on the fruit trees when I discovered one of the ewes with twin new born lambs!

A not so new born lamb.

Here's a tatty old ewe with two tiny lambs.

I'm surprised she let me take photos as they usually move away when they have lambs with them.
The sheep here always look really tatty by this time of year!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Early morning dew

I took these photos on 1st April as it dawned lovely and sunny and dewy. I can't resist that combination as it seems quite rare here. So off I went into the garden as soon as the sun came up, still in my dressing gown, to get some pictures.

Nice reflection in a droplet on the same tree as below.

This is my Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'.
This is its 3rd spring here and so far not a single flower has opened up.
Unfortunately the buds just drop off. :-(
Cross fingers that I get just a few blooms this year!

A variegated Weigela with an orb web.

Dewy tulips.

Greengage tree with a lovely web.

Greengage tree again in front of another plum tree.

This borage survived winter and is flowering now. It is very
hairy around the flower buds which hold the dew beautifully.

On the sunnier side of the garden this is a Horse Chestnut leaf that was just unfurling.
A few days later they were all opened up.

Prunus subhirtella again in the early morning sunshine.

Then I found these amazing droplets on some rose leaves. I could have really done with the tripod I'll be getting next month for my birthday present from my Mum!

Dewdrops on a rose leaf.

They were so perfect!