News from Le Sud

Posted on Jun 5, 2014

(Here’s the latest from Harriet & Claire, who are currently studying the Rollers of Roussillon, southern France)

“We’ve been enjoying life in the South of France for 5 weeks now, so thought it was time for an update!

Habitat Mapping

The first week mostly consisted of us trying to remember our way round the field site, every vineyard looks the same!

To try and prevent us from getting lost too often we started with the habitat mapping. This consisted of updating the maps that Tom produced last year and classifying every field (there were over 1600 of them…!) and landuse within a 1km radius of each nestbox and natural cavity. A task much harder than it sounded! Most of it was done by bike, our bodies regularly reminding us that we were not fit enough for all this cycling! Thankfully, we’re now much fitter and better at cycling against the infamous Mistral…

Nestboxes

Nest box monitoring has been underway since we arrived back in April, and the boxes have been a hive of activity, some literally! At the start the boxes were only occupied by Little Owls, Jackdaws and a few Kestrels which gave us a chance to practice our camera skills before the Rollers arrived. Since April we’ve had 15 boxes occupied by Little Owls, 15 occupied by Jackdaws and three by Kestrels. Not all of these, unfortunately, have reached the chick stage but those that have are keeping us entertained! Most of the Jackdaw chicks are now pretty much ready to fledge and the boxes are becoming pretty cramped. We assume most of them will fledge in the next few weeks, creating a bit more space for some Rollers!

We’ve also had a few surprises in the boxes! A couple of boxes have active Bee and Wasp nests in them…let’s just say we no longer check these boxes! A lone Hoopoe, much to our delight, also occupied a box. She managed to lay a full clutch, however something scared her off as she disappeared a few days later. We’ve also had three Iberian Green Woodpeckers occupy natural cavities and a box. One nest fledged three chicks successfully, the others weren’t so lucky. One was predated at the egg stage and the other predated at the chick stage.

Now onto the Rollers! We first spotted one on the 22nd April and we had our first eggs nearly a month later on the 18th May. Currently we’ve got eight confirmed Roller nests, with a further five unconfirmed, and this is rising daily. We’ll hedge our bets on those last few but we reckon they will turn out to be Rollers! This means we’ll hopefully see some chicks before we head back to the UK and hopefully get to deploy some PIT tags.

Out of the nest boxes we’ve also seen a fair few birds. These have included Purple Herons, Woodchat Shrike, Common Shelducks, Common and Alpine Swifts, House Martins, Sand Martins (admittedly a little further south!), White Storks,  more European Bee-eaters and Great  Spotted Cuckoos to name just a few!

Invertebrates

After a slow start, with not many invertebrates (well ones Rollers are interested in) things have started to pick up. Initially we were only finding small Bush Crickets, some were even too small to be included in our transects. Now there is an abundance of Grasshoppers and Bush Crickets which are much bigger and more appetising for the Rollers and a good sign considering there will be hungry chicks to feed in a week or so! We’ve been hearing Cicadas around the field site for the past few weeks but we caught a glimpse of our first one a couple of days ago, admittedly not on one of our transects, but it’s still a good sign! We’ve also been finding Mantids (mainly Empusa pennata) on our transects, which we certainly weren’t expecting. They’re pretty cool though!

One of our favourite past times is butterfly chasing, specifically in one area in Garrius that’s teeming with invertebrates! Here we’ve spotted plenty of Burnets, Carpenter Bees and a number of butterflies including, Swallowtails, Spanish Festoons, Common Blues, Wall Browns, Speckled Woods and more recently Marbled Whites. Even though these don’t interest the Rollers they keep us entertained!”