The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 30 May 2014

Provence Trip - Day 6

The view from my veranda at dawn on our last full day was completely obscured by fog.

Luckily, it slowly burnt off.

 

 I took a short walk out the village, just to enjoy the local area one last time.  A family of Cirl Bunting, Melodious Warbler and Western Bonelli's Warbler in full view, plus this striking Red-and-black Shieldbug (Graphosoma italicum) were the highlights.
 
 
The destination for our French birding swansong was the unique area of La Crau.
 
On the way, we stopped at the Alpilles mountain range, where Andrew's 'best ever Bonelli's Eagle site I've ever found', was.
 
It was indeed perfect, in full view, with a plenty of cliff visible from the ground.  Best of all, as soon as we got there, the female Bonelli's Eagle was in the nest!
 
We were then treated to a great show, as the male then flew in to furnish the nest with greenery. 
 
Perfect.
 
Whilst we were here, Craig somehow spotted a Blue Rock Thrush on the same cliff, which went on to show as well as it could do at the distance.  With this and the Eagles in view at the same time, I really did not know where to look!
 
We eventually got to the vast arid plains of La Crau.
 

 
 
The first stop by an airfield looked promising, but besides a Southern Grey Shrike, there was little to see.
 
Eventually though, Andrew heard a calling Little Bustard, and a great deal of scanning the long grass later, and the male was spotted.
 
It took a while, but he did eventually come out into the open, along with two female.
 
 
We moved on to an even bigger area of pristine habitat, where we stopped for a comfort stop. 
 
 
 
We had searched every wire on he way here, for a Roller, but without any luck.  Then, as we were just re-entering the vehicle from this stop, I spotted one flying out towards some distant bushes.  A good score!
 
We drove out into the middle of the plain to have a very special alfresco lunch, surrounded by the calls of Little Bustard, and the songs of three types of lark.  The rarest of these, being the Calandra Lark with its more scratchy song, which we later saw well from the van.
 
 
A flock of Cattle Egret was an odd sight over the dry stuff, and another Southern Grey Shrike was about.  I got a glimpse of a probable Red-rumped Swallow whizzing by, but couldn't quite clinch it. 
 
There was plenty of interesting insects around, such as Southern Marbled White, this striking beetle, Mylabris variabilis...
 
 
...plus, a gigantic Robber Fly, Dasypogon diadema.
 
 
After lunch, we continued driving slowly along the rough tracks, scanning.  We failed to find any hoped-for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but we did see a number of Lesser Kestrel.  One bird helped us with the identification by flying right over us calling.  A strange squeaky call, nothing like Common.  It's a good thing we saw them here, as we ran out of time to visit a nearby colony.
 
We saw a number of other things from the van, such as Short-toed Lark, and a Montagu's Harrier sparring with a Black Kite and a Hobby.  The van I wasn't in spotted a pair of distant Stone Curlew.  It was surprising we didn't see more.
 
We eventually got back to our starting point, and the Roller that we had seen on the way out was still around.  We went on to see two more birds just down the road, one of them sitting on it!  A real crowd pleaser.
 
 
We got back, very happy indeed.
 
In the evening, I had a go at hearing Nightjar just outside the village, but the strong wind thwarted me.  I very nearly got poured on with rain too.
 
 
We all got home safely the next day, though I couldn't resist looking for birds from the train.  I somehow had the fortune of seeing a displaying Honey Buzzard as we zoomed by!  Just goes to show the richness of this area of France.
 
It was an amazing trip, and I really have run out of superlatives.  A huge thank you must go to all how organised it, but particularly Andrew and Ruth of Wildife Proven├žale. http://www.wildlifeprovencale.com/
 
We did miss one or two things, but that means something to come back for, and I hope it's sooner rather than later!
 
I didn't identify enough of the insects of plants to come up with comprehensive lists, but needless to say they are all surely extensive!
 
Total birds recorded by me: 153 (24 lifers!).  The group recorded 156.  These included 18 species of raptor, the same amount as I've seen in the UK in my whole life!
 
Greylag Goose
Mute Swan
Shelduck
Gadwall
Mallard
Red-crested Pochard - Camargue
Red-legged Partridge (heard)
Quail (heard)
Pheasant (heard)
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Greater Flamingo - Camargue
Cory's Shearwater - Camargue
Yelkouan Shearwater - Camargue
White Stork - Camargue and La Crau
Cormorant
Grey Heron
Purple Heron - Camargue
Great White Egret - Camargue
Little Egret
Cattle Egret - Camargue and La Crau
Glossy Ibis - Camargue
Egyptian Vulture - Barronies
Honey Buzzard
Black Vulture - Barronies
Griffon Vulture - Barronies
Short-toed Eagle - Everywhere!
Golden Eagle - Barronies
Bonelli's Eagle - Alpilles
Marsh Harrier - Camargue and La Crau
Montagu's Harrier - Barronies and La Crau
Sparrowhawk
Goshawk - Barronies
(Red Kite - seen from train)
Black Kite - Everywhere!
Buzzard
Little Bustard - La Crau
Coot
(Stone Curlew - La Crau)
Black-winged Stilt - Camargue
Avocet - Camargue
Lapwing
Kentish Plover - Camargue
Ringed Plover
Redshank
Curlew Sandpiper - Camargue
Sanderling
Dunlin
Little Stint - Camargue
Collared Pratincole - Camargue
Slender-billed Gull - Camargue
Black-headed Gull
Little Gull
Mediterranean Gull - Camargue
Yellow-legged Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Little Tern
Gull-billed Tern - Camargue
Black Tern - Camargue
White-winged Black Tern - Camargue
Whiskered Tern - Camargue
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Feral Pigeon
Stock Dove
Woodpigeon
Turtle Dove
Collared Dove
Cuckoo (heard)
Scops Owl (heard)
(Tawny Owl (heard))
Alpine Swift - Everywhere!
Swift
Bee-eater - Barronies and Camargue
Roller - La Crau
Hoopoe - Barronies
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
Lesser Kestrel - La Crau
Kestrel
Red-footed Falcon - St Jalle
Hobby
Peregrine
Red-backed Shrike - Everywhere!
Southern Grey Shrike - Barronies and La Crau
Jay
Magpie
Alpine Chough - Vercors
Jackdaw
Rook
Carrion Crow
Raven
Calandra Lark - La Crau
Short-toed Lark - La Crau
Crested Lark - Camargue
Skylark
Woodlark
Swallow
Crag Martin - Barronies and Alpilles
House Martin
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Crested Tit - Mont Ventoux
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Wren
Dipper - Vercors
Firecrest
Cetti's Warbler
Chiffchaff
Western Bonelli's Warbler - Barronies
Melodious Warbler - Everywhere!
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler - Camargue
Zitting Cisticola - Camargue and La Crau
Blackcap
Garden Warbler
Western Orphean Warbler - Barronies
Subalpine Warbler - Barronies
Sardinian Warbler - Camargue
Whitethroat
Robin
Nightingale
Redstart
Black Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush - Alpilles
Stonechat
Wheatear
Blackbird
Mistle Thrush
Starling
Dunnock
Blue-headed Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Tawny Pipit - Everywhere!
Cirl Bunting - Everywhere!
Ortolan Bunting - Barronies
Corn Bunting
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Crossbill
Siskin
Goldfinch
Linnet
Citril Finch - Mont Ventoux
Serin - Everywhere!
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Rock Sparrow - St Jalle
 
Off to Italy on a non-birding trip tomorrow!  I promise I won't have as much to relate afterwards!
 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Provence Trip - Day 5

This night was affected by a huge thunder storm, and none of us got enough sleep as a result!

Day five dawned to a mutiny in the camp!

Most of the group were keen to go off to the local market, leaving just the two of us who wanted to go birding!

Luckily, Craig was able to take us keen ones out for the morning in the smaller vehicle.

We just stayed local, first just checking whether those pesky Eagle Owl were back at their roost. They weren't.

So, we headed up into some scrubby habitat not far from where we were on the first day.

A Hobby immediately appeared above us, and proceeded to chase House Martin, coming very close indeed.

The plants and insects were of particular interest here, with familiar things like Chicory...


...and some less so like Berger's Clouded Yellow.


At least four Ortolan Bunting were singing competitively around us, with one bird showing itself off particularly well.



What a spot this was, with plenty of Lesser Butterfly Orchid around.


This large beetle caught my eye, and I found out later that it's the wonderfully named Peach Flathead Root-borer (Capnodis tenebrionis), the pest of the local Apricot fields that Andrew told us about.


Lots of Rose Chafer beetles buzzed around too.

After a quick look at the massed Griffon Vulture resting on a cliff, we proceeded to a wooded area along the banks of a river, a favoured area for woodpeckers of four species.

Rather predictably, we only encountered the two commoner ones, with Wryneck in particular evading us again!  They are supposed to be common round here! 

What we did manage to see though, was the strange sight of a pair of Crossbill fledglings sitting about in deciduous woodland, plus yet more interesting plants and insects.

These included this pretty Goat's-beard...


...and a few more daunting Fritillaries, though this one stayed still enough to prove it to be a Glanville Fritillary.


 

Also in this area were a few Hornet, a Burnet Companion moth, and the largest Ants I've ever seen.

We headed back to our accommodation to meet up with the rest of the group for a lovely lunch, eaten on my spacious veranda.

In the afternoon there was a threat of rain, so we again headed out to a couple of local places.  The first was a walk through the strange oil shale landscape.

Orchid were again prominent, such as this Woodcock Orchid.


Plus, we finally found a Lizard Orchid in flower, just.


Whilst I knelt down to take this picture, someone spotted something behind me.  It was a terrific find sitting brilliantly camouflaged in the vegetation.  The local Praying Mantis, called the Conehead Manits!  What a beast.


I experimented with taking photos through my scope from a distance.


We reluctantly moved on, and found a load more goodies, such as this Common Broomrape (form maritima, as its parasitizing a species of Eryngium (Sea-holly family))


Someone did well to spot this Fox, staring at us from the other side of a deep quarry-like depression.


Time to move on, and we headed for a fantastic heath-like habitat, not looking for anything in particular.

Whilst here, we had more views of Rock Sparrow sitting on wires, Red-backed Shrike, Tawny Pipit and Ortolan Bunting all showed well, plus we added yet another Orchid to our trip list, Fragrant Orchid.


Despite the increasing dark clouds, I picked up a large raptor being mobbed by a smaller one.  Round here, there's a good chance that any BOP in this situation is likely to be a Golden Eagle, and indeed this was!  A Peregrine was having a right go at it.

We had got pretty far from the vans by this stage, so it's no surprise that the heavens chose this point to open!


Luckily, it was near the end of the day anyway.

By the time we had got back the rain had stopped, so I thought it was worth a quick nip out before tea.

I headed up a road from the village cause I'd heard that an interesting Orchid had been found.  Indeed, there it was by the road, the absent from Britain Violet Bird's-nest Orchid, with its flowers not quite out fully.  Still a spectacular thing.


Also here I found some Slender Broomrape...


...as well as plenty of Roman Snail enjoying the damp (here with Garden Snail for comparison).


The first day of the week with no bird lifers, but still very enjoyable.  That will all change tomorrow I hoped, as we are headed for the semi-desert of La Crau!

Provence Trip - Day 4

21st

Today, we were heading for the Vercors mountains to the north, but first we stopped off in an open valley. 
There were several dead trees full of holes that we were hoping held nesting Wryneck.  In this area was the only Garden Warbler of the week, and yet another Red-backed Shrike showed.
The local Griffon Vulture were flocking over the hillside, possibly due to a recently discovered kill.  A Black Vulture drifted past and gave great views.  With all this raptor activity, I scanned for more.  Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Black Kite, and Short-toed Eagle were soon found.  Finally, a distant Honey Buzzard put in an appearance.  That’s eight species of raptor from one spot in half an hour!
On top of those, a lifer was seen, as a few Alpine Chough tumbled over a distant rocky ridge.

But, no sign of any Wryneck.
 Next, we entered a narrow canyon where Andrew had seen Wallcreeper in the past, the main target of the day.

Before we moved from the vehicle, a small herd of Chamois was spotted on the mountain-side opposite.  These included a young calf with its mother.

We soon had more sightings of Honey Buzzard, possibly of birds passing through.  Marsh Tit and Firecrest called, Western Bonelli’s Warbler sang, and one or two people saw the Dipper in the stream below us, which I only heard.

A Glow-worm larva was a nice find.

 


Just after we left, a black Red Squirrel (a form not uncommon in these parts) ran across the road in front of us.
We then made the ascent up to one of the taller mountains, and the favoured rocky cliffs of the Wallcreeper.
 
This is where we had lunch, and at this spectacular vista there was a welcoming party…

 

We again suffered greatly from strong winds, and this, coupled with the late spring at this altitude, probably contributed to us totally failing to find my most prized target.

We did however see a few snippets of interest.   We had better views of Alpine Chough, I found a Scotch Argus butterfly, and we enjoyed the carpet of colourful Trumpet Gentian.

 


I was disappointed in not seeing Wallcreeper, but there are worse places to drown your sorrows, as we entered Orchid paradise in a lush nearby valley.

 


We took a very short walk along a stretch of road, and found six species of Orchid, the most numerous being the Military Orchid.

 
 


Equally rare in a UK context was these Loose-flowered Orchid.

 
 


Here, the plants were crowded close together on the road verge, here Military stands in front of Fly and Man.

 


Both of these I’ve seen in the UK, but no less exciting for that. Fly Orchid.

 


And Man Orchid, far smaller than those I'd seen before.

 


Also in this fabulous area were a load of quality insects, including the day-flying moths Mother Shipton and Speckled Yellow.  There was also loads of stuff I failed to ID.  I could have spent all day here!

The birds were of less interest here, but even with only sporadic moments of looking up, I was picking up Honey Buzzard here and there.  I could have got some of my best views of this species had I taken my scope on the walk.

Even once we were back in St Jalle, it wasn’t the end of the day.
We rushed through our tea in order to have a go for Eagle Owl in a nearby valley.
On arrival, no birds were in view at some of their favoured roost spots.  So, it was simply a waiting game to see if they would appear out of their favoured crack in the cliff.
Although the wind was not all that strong in St Jalle, the narrowing walls of the valley we were watching from were clearly having a funnelling effect, and it was gale-force.  Despite Andrew’s beliefs that this would not affect the birds, the Owls never showed.  I can’t believe the wind wasn’t a factor.
Another blow!  All in all a fairly disappointing day!
Hopefully tomorrow would be better, even though most of the group wanted to go off shopping!

Provence Trip - Day 3

20th

It was a long drive, but we felt it was all going to be worth it, as we visited the world-renowned vast wetland of The Camargue.
Even before we got there, I had spotted a Squacco Heron on the edge of a rice paddy field, and we drove slowly past a dry field that had a few Crested Lark in it.  A distant flock of Glossy Ibis were also spotted.
As soon as we exited the vehicles at the first stop, we were hit with an appallingly strong wind.  Would this put a real downer on the day?
The first place we stopped had reedbed and freshwater pools on both sides of the road, and although these were hidden by reeds, we had a constant stream of birds making their way from one to the other.
Several male Red-crested Pochard were seen in flight, a Hobby flew over, Purple Heron were building their nests…

 

…and Whiskered Tern were on the move.

 

It was amazing that anything was making itself heard in the wind, but I was still able to pick out the grating song of a Great Reed Warbler, alongside their smaller cousins.
At one point, I noticed three darker herons flying in the distance. Surely Night Heron, I thought.
Black Kite were the commonest bird of prey, and a few Marsh Harrier were quartering about.  Just before we were about to leave, two Great White Egret took flight.  A smart spot!   

We headed for a comfort stop at a visitor centre.  In the car park, the ubiquitous Melodious Warbler sung.

 

The ‘song’ of the Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler) was all around, but they were only distantly seen in flight. 
Andrew wanted to show us a White Stork nest, but was surprised to discover the tree had gone!  Probably fallen in winds like those we were experiencing!
We moved on to a fabulous viewpoint over the marsh, and our first views of the famous Greater Flamingo.

 

Before this, as I got out of the van, I disturbed a huge Locust, probably a Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria), but it fled before I could get a photo.
The lifers came thick and fast at this spot.  A male Sardinian Warbler sung nearby, and I eventually saw it, although briefly.  Over the wetlands two Gull-billed Tern hunted. We went on to see a few more, including one resting in a flooded field.

 

After a great deal of squinting, I somehow managed to find some of the hoped-for Collared Pratincole, but they were right at the back, mostly hidden by vegetation.  Just occasionally one would fly up and show off its distinctive flight and white rump.

Meanwhile, a Fox was worrying the colony of Black-winged Stilt.

 

To add to the birds hunting low over the water, two young Little Gull were found, as were a few Black Tern.  Last, but not least, Craig found us a sparkling adult White-winged Black Tern into the bargain.  That’s all the European marsh Terns in one spot!
Just before we left, I managed to get a good view of a Zitting Cisticola finally, sitting on a bush.

We reluctantly moved on, but it wasn’t long before we ground to a halt once again.  First, we came across some intact White Stork nests…

 

 …and then we had a couple of Bee-eater fly over.  Some movement in a horse field revealed themselves to be the bulk of the Collared Pratincole colony, so finally we could get good views.

 

The Bee-eater we had seen earlier, were now hawking about over the same field, and as we left they were sitting in bushes right by the road.  The only Tree Sparrow of the week flew past.
We moved on to a lunch spot, chosen more for the shelter it offered rather than anything else!

It didn’t stop us looking for wildlife though, and I found this Birthwort, a rare farmland plant in the UK.

 

The only unusual ornithological observation here was a distant loose group of four Kestrel hunting.  I’ve never seen so many Common Kestrel hovering so close to each other for so long before, and Andrew suggested they were probably Lessers.  Unfortunately, they were just too distant and into the sun to pin them down, but I did try!

We then started to make our way slowly towards the sea, alongside the saltpans and the mouth of the Rhone.  There was a myriad of small waders about, such as the plentiful Kentish Plover.

 

This Curlew Sandpiper was a treat in summer plumage.

 

And, there were a lot of Little Stint about (plus Sanderling).

 

But, one of the main targets was the Slender-billed Gull, and we had no trouble seeing them as they flew past to bathe in a nearby tidal pool.

 

Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) were everywhere, as were Yellow-legged Gull and Avocet.

We eventually made it to the sea, but the strong wind meant we were battered by a sand storm!  In the brief moment we were out of the van scanning the sea, we were able to spot distant small Shearwater, probably Yelkouan Shearwater, and I found one or two huge brown Shearwater in addition, no doubt Cory’s Shearwater.  We also had a few Black Tern go past, and then fly off inland.

We stopped off at another viewpoint and comfort stop on the way back, and I flushed a Night Heron from by the entrance.  Plus, I finally got a glimpse of a distant Great Reed Warbler singing from near the top of a reed stem.  Another tight flock of Black Tern whizzed by, clearly migrating.

We made it back home eventually, and we commented how we’d seen all that on a very windy day.  What must the birding be like in perfect conditions!?  It was another long day, but a very satisfying one!

Later in the evening, someone found this Oak Hawk-moth roosting on a fence.  This was the only nocturnal moth I was able to see all week, as although a moth trap was available, it wasn’t being run sadly.

 


 

Back up the mountains tomorrow…

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Provence Trip - Day 2

19th

I managed a bit more of a lie-in this morning, but there was no rest for the wicked, and we were soon out, heading for the intimidating presence of Mont Ventoux.

On the way however, we stopped off at a bit of open farmland near the village, where we had no trouble seeing the hoped –for Rock Sparrow, as a pair prospected holes in the top-structure of a telegraph pole.  Lifer number eight of the trip!

 
 


Also in this area were plenty of Corn Bunting and a Red-backed Shrike.  We watched the holes in a nearby dead trunk in the hope a Wryneck was nesting there, but no luck.

Onto Ventoux itself, and the view was wonderful.

 


The same couldn’t be said for the weather, as although it was dry, it was blowing an absolute gale! You could barely stand up!  We wondered whether this walk along the road at the base of the ski-lifts was all going to be a bit hopeless. 

Luckily though, the birds did start to slowly appear, and it wasn’t long before Andrew had spotted the special bird of the area, the Citril Finch.  I missed them though. 

We then made our way down into a sheltered area of pine forest, where it was more comfortable for us, and seemingly, more comfortable for the birds, as they seemed to be everywhere!   Not only did I see the Citril Finch well, but there were Crossbill all over the place, and a number of Short-toed Treecreeper called, and were eventually seen.  Also things like Redstart and Nuthatch around, plus my only Dunnock and Wren of the week!

As we ascended back to the road, we were visited by a pair of Crested Tit.

 

We continued along the road towards a viewpoint, and were rewarded with a load more sightings of the Citril Finch, though whenever they showed in the open, they were distant.

 

There were a number of interesting flowers about, such as this Hepatica.

 


We soon decided it was sensible to turn back, as the path we were on was getting more and more exposed to the wind!

A number of Firecrest were heard on the way back, but only one was briefly seen.

We were all thankful to get back into the shelter of the bus!

We drove higher up, and got right to the summit and the ski-centre.  No wildlife to see up here of course, but on the way driving slowly back down the other side, we were hoping for Rock Thrush, but the wind was a great hindrance, and it soon became clear it was not going to happen. 

We stopped for lunch at yet another impressive rock-face.

 


Here, a pair of Peregrine was nesting, and one of the birds was flying around, on our arrival.

All week, our lunch was a fantastic buffet of salads, with bread and cheese.  Plus, the very best locations were picked to have it!

We moved on to another Golden Eagle nest nearby.  Once again, we were treated to a great spectacle, as the female bird flew over to our side of the valley, only to be mobbed by a Kestrel.  It then retreated slowly and drifted up high.

 

The male was then seen attending the nest, though we were unable to see its contents.

On the short drive to some more farmland habitat, we had a Hoopoe fly along beside the van!  Oddly, the only one seen all week.

We drove slowly along the narrow roads with the windows open to see what we could find.  A Quail called from a cereal field, and we were treated to another Montagu’s Harrier flypast.

We eventually found the main target of this excursion, as a Southern Grey Shrike sat on some wires, showing off its pinkish chest.  After it had flown off, we drove further on, and found a pair hunting in a Lavender field.

 




We had almost reached home, when I suddenly spotted two birds of prey hunting over a field, as we whizzed past at speed.  I judged their size as fairly large, one greyer than the other, holding their pointed wings in a high V, and interpreted this as being a male and female Montagu’s Harrier, and called it.  I was totally wrong, but I was at least right to bring it to people’s attention!  They were a pair of Red-footed Falcon, a scarce passage migrant in the area, usually as a fly-over. 

They both went on to give us quite a show of tandem hovering, and perching on nearby trees and wires.  Andrew was chuffed!  He put the sighting on the local rare bird news network, and I understand a number of people were rather jealous!  They weren’t around the next day.    

 

In the evening, I was doing my bird list out on the veranda, when two Bee-eater flew over.  Not bad this.  Plus, we had The Camargue to look forward to the next day!

Provence Trip - Day 1


I had the most photos and videos for this day, so the other posts will be shorter, I promise!

16th

The night before I left for France, I had a great evenings moth trapping near Guildford, at the workplace (which happens to be a large garden) of an old friend from college.  We got one new macro moth for me, in the shape of an Ochreous Pug, and had great sightings of a roosting Tawny Owl, and a probably bat-hunting, Hobby.  As we packed up, my first Nightjar of the year was heard from the adjacent Whitmoor Common.  This evening may have caused me to have been sleep-deprived for my trip the next morning, but it was worth it!

17th

The next day, After a 10 hour journey involving four trains and a minibus, I was quite knackered.  I’d already noted Black Kite and Hobby from the train by the time we got to Valence.   Spirits were high in anticipation amongst our group of 11, as we approached the heart of The Barronies, on the edge of the Alps.

 


As we were driven by our guide Andrew, into the small village of St Jalle, it was just getting dark, but we were still welcomed by a singing Nightingale.  On the short walk down to our accommodation, in a number of ‘gites’, we heard the odd call of the Scops Owl going on.  A promising start!

 


18th 

I attempted to have a lie-in in order to catch up on sleep, but my body clock wasn’t having it, and I couldn’t get back to sleep once I awoke at 6.  Oh well, may as well go birding then! 

It was a beautiful morning, and all the birds were singing.  The most prominent being the very numerous Serin



…and the Black Redstart, which seemed to be singing from every roof-top throughout the week.

 

On top of those, an odd song led me to some pines towards the centre of the village.  The two notes at the beginning of this Common Redstart song, was unlike what I was used to, and heard on their own in the distance sounded like nothing I immediately recognised.

 

Also just around the village, I saw a distant Turtle Dove, heard a Melodious Warbler, and saw Woodlark, Black Kite, Corn Bunting, and Cirl Bunting. What a place!

On arrival back at the gites ready for departure, I found out that someone had found a Scorpion in their accommodation!  Rather than being disgusted as many people would be, us nature lovers considered this to be brilliant!  What a strange lot.  The beast was only about 2 inches long, and I later discovered it to be a young Euscopius flavicaudis, which is often found inside buildings.

 


We did eventually tear ourselves away from the village, and headed for the first proper wildlife stop close-by in the lower Barronies.  Worth the visit for the view alone.

 

As soon as we rocked up, I spotted a Tawny Pipit sitting on a post by the road.  Lifer number two (if you count the heard-only Scops)!  We went on to see a few of these throughout the walk, often giving their rather unimaginative song.

 

Also right by the van, Andrew heard a Western Orphean Warbler singing, sounding like an unenthusiastic Blackbird.  It eventually showed well, or be it distantly.  This turned out to be the only one of the week.

 

 

This area is the place to see vultures, so it was no surprise that almost as soon as I started scanning the mountain ridges, I picked one up.  What was a surprise though, was that mine was in fact a Black Vulture, by far the rarer of the two larger species, identifiable at long-range by its drooping wing-tips.

We started walking through some lovely scrubby, rocky, and grassy habitat, and soon came across a number of interesting butterflies.  These included the bright orange Spotted Fritillary, as well as more familiar species like Small Heath and Speckled Wood, or be it the more rufous southern form.


 

Interesting birds continued to show left, right, and centre.  A fantastic Ortolan Bunting sung its Yellowhammer-like song, and a Red-backed Shrike came increasingly closer.



 

I continued to scan for raptors, finding a distant Goshawk (merely an also-ran on a day like this!), two brief, probably migrating, Honey Buzzard, and finally some of the enormous Griffon Vulture.

Butterflies were everywhere, even though it was only mid-morning.  The Blues were particularly mesmerising, but those I did ID were Mazarine, Adonis, and Common Blue (one of which rested on my scope, and then my hat, for half the journey!), as well as a few Small Blue.

 


As we were scanning the wheeling groups of Griffons, someone spotted a whiter bird with them.  An Egyptian Vulture!  It drifted closer and closer, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it in the camera in the featureless blue sky.

I was briefly distracted watching a Dingy Skipper, and found myself left behind by the group.  I took one last quick scan of a nearby mountain-top, and found not one, but two Short-toed Eagle circling around!  I had to film them even though they were distant.  But, what should appear out of the blue, but the Egyptian Vulture!  The 'Shorties' showed well in the end.

 

The Egyptian was the only one of the week.

Moving on, we entered a small wooded area, mostly made up of young Oaks.  This had a Southern White Admiral flicking around, and several singing Western Bonelli’s Warbler. 

There was also this pretty Jewel Beetle.

 


We’d already heard a Subalpine Warbler earlier, but finally, a male posed on a bush for us.  Also, I managed to spot some distant Alpine Swift.  They did eventually come closer, but not easy to film!

 

The plants were impressive also, with Lady, Lesser Butterfly, and Woodcock Orchids.

We made it to the ‘Rock of Cairo’, so called because it looks like a pyramid at some angles.

 

 From here, we had amazing views of the Griffons flying beneath us, and Andrew showed us one of their nests on the adjacent cliff.  Around this nest, I noticed a lot of hirundines flying about.  These were Crag Martin, which were also nesting in the vicinity.

On the insect side of things, I had this unidentified Scarab Beetle land on me…

 

…and there were a lot of both Scarce and Common Swallowtail butterflies flying around, though they were hard to capture on film.  This one a Scarce.

 

We made our way back to the bus for lunch, but I was constantly being distracted by various insects, and got left behind somewhat! 

There were a lot of these impressive Carpenter Bee about the place.

 
 


More of the familiar butterflies noted were Wall Brown and Brown Argus.  I also however, identified this Red-underwing Skipper.

 

On the way back past a stand of pines, I could swear I heard a Crested Tit, but it remained hidden.

Finally back at the bus, and there aren’t many places where you can eat lunch surrounded by the songs of Western Orphean Warbler, Ortolan Bunting, and Tawny Pipit, whilst circling over you are Alpine Swift, Short-toed Eagle, and these impressive beasts…

 

It was at this point my camera battery went flat!

Later, we had a short walk up a mountain track, where the wind was a tad stronger.  Indeed, we struggled to see any small birds at all.

Nonetheless, in a meadow by the van was a smorgasbord of interesting insects, including these Ant-lions, Libelloides coccajus.

 


We were supposedly heading for a viewpoint overlooking a Golden Eagle nest, but as it turned out, we needn’t have gone as far as that.  Because, we had views of the pair of eagles interacting distantly over a nearby mountain, before drifting off.

Also among the interesting insects here were a Small Purple-barred moth, a Bath White butterfly, and an unidentified small yellow butterfly/moth with a black border which baffled me.  More Spotted Fritillary were about, as well as the more familiar Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

 


Also here were a lot more Lady Orchid.

 


After that successful stop, we headed back to base through some beautiful farmland.

 


We came to a halt in the middle of some cereal crops, where this rare Pheasant’s-eye grew.

 


The main reason for stopping here though was for the farmland birds.  A Red-backed Shrike and two Turtle Dove were immediately in view.    A bit more scanning and the vice-leader Craig found a Montagu’s Harrier quartering nearby.  It was a young male, and it put on a bit of a show for us, or be it fairly distantly.

While at this spot, I noticed a distant sand-bank, and I could swear the two birds flying about over it were rather Bee-eater-shaped.

We drove on, only to come to a quick stop again, as the two Bee-eater were flying around over the road!  What stunners!

 


We finally made it back to the accommodation that I appreciated properly for the first time.  This was part of my room, based in an old Nunnery.  Rustic!

 


And the view from my veranda.

 


Just outside the building were a number of Lizard Orchid, or be it none of them in flower yet, as well as this huge Prickly-pear Cactus.

 


After a lovely meal at the local restaurant, we retired for the night, and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow!  What will tomorrow bring?