Sunday, 17 November 2013

Lac du Der

Last week (13-15th November) I joined Phil Smith and Pete Wells on a jolly to Lac du Der to see the cranes and hopefully a few of the other local specialities. Lac du Der is just south of St Dizier which in turn is south west of Reims. To get there takes around 3.5 to 4 hrs driving from Calais so it’s not too far for a midweek trip or long w/e.
We arrived there just after lunch on the Wednesday and went straight to the W/SW bank of the lac to see what was happening.   Out on the lake you could see a line of cranes on an island and overhead there was a constant movement of cranes – it seems these were taking advantage of the sunny weather to move on. In amongst all the toing and froing a few cranes flew past at close quarters but most of the time the cranes are high and/or distant:

Whilst my main interest was in the cranes there were a number of great white egrets around one of which kept walking to just in front of us (30 – 40 yards away) though once there he lost his nerve and flew off a couple of hundred yards only to walk back to in front of us again.

Great white Egrets
In the meantime Pete was scoping the lake finding a 30 odd strong flock of Bewick Swans and a small flock of goosander:


The only downside of the afternoon was the spectacle of the cranes returning to the lake for the night time roost – it didn’t occur; well it did occur but all the birds came in from the north of the lake – the opposite side to where we were. None came past us.
Still it great day.
Thursday was going to be our only full day in the field and was going to be spent around the Foret d’Orient and associated lakes searching for woodpeckers ( black and middle spotted) and hawfinch.
The day started very overcast but on the way to the Foret we crossed an arm of the Lac du Der just south of Eclaron on the D 384. The sight there caused us to stop and walk back to bridge – the river, which was about as wide as the Stour,  was full of herons/egrets and cormorants. Phil made it 44 great whites egrets, 1 little egret and 3 or 4 grey herons and hundreds of cormorants. They started flying off downstream as we approached but the sight was amazing:


The most GWE  I could get in frame at one time. Also a few coromorants.
As we drove on we kept on encountering flocks of cranes feeding but normally they were distant and when they weren't they would fly off if you stopped:

Sadly as we reached the Foret d’Orient the rain started and continued all day which effectively ended the birding though we did visit a hide over-looking the lake and got a few more trip ticks.

Our last day (well half day) was spent in the forest just north of St Dizier near Trois-Fontaines. Again it started over cast but slowly the sun started to emerge. The forest can only be birded from the logging tracks as there are no paths though it though we were lucky in that hunting wasn’t allowed on Thursdays – I was told it was boar hunting that occurred there.
First off things were very slow with only buzzards and marsh tits being found but eventually we found 3 woodpeckers ……unfortunately all were great spotted. Finches were in short supply though a couple of fly-by probable haw finches were seen. What was not in doubt was the id of the male hen harrier and peregrine falcon that flew overhead.
A move to slightly close to Trois-Fontaine proved to be very  beneficial in that a flock of finches came out of the wood and landed in a nearby hedgerow – it contained at least half a dozen bramblings. Whilst watching the finches a nuthatch was heard calling in the wood.  A small bird flew across to the hedgerow and I was expecting it to be the nuthatch but it wasn’t …… was a lesser spotted woodpecker:
Brambling and Chaffinch
Lesser spotted woodpecker
A few hundred yards away as we were walking another logging track Phil spotted 3 haw finches (as I got on them they flew off),  then moments later Phil found certainly 1 and probably 2 middle spotted woodpeckers. I spent what seemed like several minutes trying to get on it/them and the moment I did it flew off……..bloody typical.
That was that really as it was time to go.
So quite a productive trip even though birding was pretty much restricted to the first afternoon and the last morning. Whilst the cranes may not be there in the numbers we saw a trip in early spring when the woodpeckers are drumming would certainly be worthwhile – it should make them a little easier to locate.

So thanks to Phil and Pete for inviting me along, to Pete for doing all the navigation and Phil for sleeping quietly in the back of the car.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Snow buntings, shore larks and litter

Angie is getting better now so much so that she is away for the w/e with friends so today I was free to go where I wanted. Given how little seems to be going on in east Kent I went to the Bay ….it was a welcome change from the Rifle range and the “Toilet Block” and it had the added attraction of some snow buntings being found there yesterday.
I saw nothing between the poly tunnels and the beach - I took the footpath across the fields rather than the track so as to start my beach walk by The Lodge.
I hadn't gone too far when I flushed a snow bunting from the landward side of the beach and as I followed it onto the beach I spotted  Adam, camera in hand, 30 yards away – he was with the rest of the flock.
I didn't join him because I had some near me and allowed me to get pretty close – in fact one ran past me only 3 yards away. Normally Sandwich birds are pretty skittish.

How do you like your snow buntings....with or without litter
Eventually one of the snow buntings flew up and the rest flowed; they flew north up the beach. I joined Adam and we had a slow stroll along the beach hoping to re find them.
We didn’t actually see a lot else as we made our way north but a female stonechat seemed determined to keep up with us and it was accompanied by a robin and then a couple of chaffinches.
As we were opposite the Prince’s new club house we started finding reed warblers and it was whilst we were checking these out that we spotted 3 shore larks.

Shore larks and littler
We tried for some time to get close but typical of Sandwich shore larks they ran away keeping the distance between us to around 30 yards. 

This continued for quite some time but then they took to the air and flew past us flying towards the sea and looking for all the world as if France was their next stop.
Time was getting on and the sky was darkening so we started to walk back. Half way back the shore larks flew past us and landed 50 yards away. Needless to say we tried again to get closer and needless to say we failed - they moved further north back towards where we  first found them.
We resumed our walk south where we found a lone snow bunting and 200 yards further along I found the initial flock only now their numbers had grown to 11.

More litter

I probably spent another half hour with these crawling around on the damp shingle before the threatening weather forced me to give up……..just in time as it happens as the heaven opened just after I got to the car.
The only thing to spoil what was a very enjoyable morning was the amount of litter and plastic on the beach. It tends to collect in amongst the stranded rafts of sea weed which is exactly where the snow buntings and to a lesser extent the shore larks seemed to spend most of the time – over 50% of the shots I took of the snow buntings have littler in them.