Sunday, September 16, 2012

La Brenne (again)

La Brenne (View from a Hide)
No visit to France is worthwhile without a trip to the La Brenne region! Renown to be one of France's best kept secrets and only a half hour drive from Dee's parents house this is without doubt one of our favourite birding hotspots.

A patchwork of fishponds, heath and red sandstone outcrops La Brenne is an area of rich flora and fauna delicately preserved by its ‘National Park’ status. Known locally as 'The Land of a thousand Lakes' this is a rich tapestry of habitats including marshes, deciduous woods, dry heathland and farmland.

Berger's Clouded Yellow
With such a big area to explore we normally visit a selection of locations we've become familiar with, and in particular the Reserve Naturelle de Cherine. Our first destination at Etang Du Gabriere (Etang - meaning man-made lake) is a 10 minute walk from a small car park and almost immediately after parking a look across the heathland produced a number of Stonechat (4) and Corn Bunting (6). The walk down to the hide is a delight with many species of Dragonfly, Damselfly and Butterflies just waiting to be explored, 97 species of Butterfly have been recorded here! Being so late in the year we still managed an excellent selection which included of note: Camberwell Beauty (1), Grizzled Skipper (3), Common Blue (20+), Berger's Clouded Yellow (2), Scarce Swallowtail (2), Glanville Fritillary (2), Knapweed Fritillary (3) and Map (3). I still have a number of images yet to be collated which includes several Dragonfly.

Coypu, or in French  'Ragondin'
By the time we'd settled into the hide a decent record of Wheatear (8), plus Great-white Egret (2), Whinchat (1) and Common Buzzard (1). The lake itself was generally quiet but held an excellent number of Cattle Egret (27) as you can see from the image above, among which were a few heavily outnumbered Little Egret (3). The water level seemed high and thus the only wader noted was a single Snipe. During our stay Black-necked Grebe (1), Reed Warbler (1), Gadwall (4) and Great-crested Grebe (7) were the only other notable birds but a couple of Coypu, several European Pond Tortoise and numerous Common Green Frog were of interest.

Our next stop was the raised hide at Etang De La Gabriere which affords good views of the lake and surrounding reed bed. Before moving down to the hide Dee and I enjoyed a small picnic lunch under a large Oak, the temperature a now commendably 26C. The short walk to the hide produced a few more Butterflies which included Speckled Wood (3), Silver-washed Fritillary (1) and Wood White (2).

Wood White
Once again the lake itself was generally quiet with not a single Tern or Hirundine to be found. One of the highlights here was Dee's first sighting of Water Rail, when first an adult appeared followed a short time later by a youngster. Amazing considering Dee is a constant birding companion and has a list any birder would die for! Only other birds of note: Reed Warbler (1), Chiffchaff (1), Blackcap (1) and Purple Heron, when one was seen at distance.

At Etang des Essarts, where the main nature centre is located the walk down to our third hide of the day produced a few more Butterfly additions with Wall (1) and Short-tailed Blue (1). Our first decent wader count of the day with Black-tailed Godwit (15), plus a few other additions with Kingfisher (1), Pochard (3), Little Grebe (2) and White Wagtail (1). The highlight was a Marsh Harrier perched on some dead wood overlooking the lake.

Buzzard Record Shot!
Our final destination was the large Etang de la Mer Rouge and here we took a stroll around the wooded area adjacent to the lake. Just prior to arriving our first and only Honey Buzzard of the day, plus a real pale phase Common Buzzard which you could have easily mistaken for Rough-legged, having an almost white inner tail.   On the far side of the lake a fourth Great Egret of the day and circling towards the middle the unmistakable sight of Osprey high above. Our final bird of the visit was the one and only Tern of the day when a Common dived right in front of us as it made it's way through!