The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Provence Trip - Day 4


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!

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