France, Round II

Posted on Apr 21, 2014

At the risk of setting an impossibly high standard of blogging frequency, here’s another quick update after another great week.

Last Monday, after a terrible night on the floor of Luton Airport, Claire, Harriet and I flew out to southern France. The first 2 days were spent at Les Tourades, A Rocha France HQ and my home for most of last summer. It was fantastic to be back, and the garden did not disappoint –  it was as if, by flying a few 100 miles south, we’d been transported forward a few months  into the height of British summer. There were butterflies everywhere, the pond was writhing with frogs, and already there were some huge grasshoppers, in flight bigger than a songbird.

Hyla arborea, apparently hasn't moved since last year

Hyla arborea, apparently hasn’t moved since last year

Monday afternoon, we cycled the entire site – about 17miles, and Tuesday was spent in the office, recovering from sunburn, sleep deprivation and “mal au derrière”.

Garrigue

Garrigue

On Wednesday we packed all the kit into the back of “the tank” – a Peugeot 806 – the biggest car I’ve ever driven, and set off through the rice paddies along the northern edge of the Camargue. We met with Timothée at Patrick’s house, north of Montpellier, and had lunch on his terrace whilst discussing plans for the season and listening to hoopoes ‘ooping’. And we finally got hold of some all-important long term data! After lunch we drove on south to Roussillon, where Claire & Harriet will be based until the end of  June. First stop, after checking out their new static caravan home, was Carrefour for 2 mountain bikes, several kilos of pasta and rice, several litres of wine and some bedding. 

After a cold night in the caravan, Thursday was spent in Garrius (the northern half of the field site) and Friday at Roller Avenue, Roller Road, and Roller Street (the southern bits). We saw all the nestboxes and some of the natural cavities, checked most of them with the snake cam., discussed land use mapping, insect surveys & RFID readers, met several land owners (all very friendly and welcoming), watched some birds, got some more sunburn, some more mal au derrière, and became quickly exhausted from cycling against the Mistral wind, which always seems to blow from whichever direction you’re cycling in. 

We found loads of little owls on eggs, and the jackdaws were clearly interested in breeding too (although we found only 1 egg). To my surprise we also found 2 incubating Iberian green woodpeckers – 1 in an old tree hole, and another in a nestbox. I’ve no idea how common this is, but was under the impression that green woodpeckers excavated a new hole every year. What use are they as a keystone species if they use up our valuable nestboxes?!

Some old mountains

Some old mountains

Salse Chateau

Salse Chateau

Alas, we were a little too early for the Rollers, but we did see marsh harrier, montagu’s harrier, kestrel, white stork, hoopoe, common & great spotted cuckoo, swift, short-toed & crested larks, black redstart, wheatear, whinchat, barn swallow, house martin, serin, pied flycatcher, yellow wagtail & sardinian warbler (apologies to those species I’ve omitted). The trip to Roussillon was rounded off nicely when a huge flock of bee-eaters flew overhead whilst we were devouring our bolognaise on the veranda on Friday night.

Montagu's Harrier

Male Montagu’s Harrier

Saturday, it was back to Arles for me, where the final avian highlight was the flamingos honking through the dusk as I enjoyed a BBQ with a friend from last year.

Thanks to everyone at Tourades for their usual hospitality, and good luck to Harriet & Claire, who will hopefully be contributing to this blog in the coming weeks. And thanks for getting to the end of this post. A ‘quick update’ turned into a full hour of Monday morning procrastination!