The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

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... 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!

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