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Bienvenue à La Belle Vilaine
Self-catering, holiday cottages on the South Brittany/Loire Atlantique border in France.
Friendly family run gite accommodation where dogs are welcome.

Nature Notes from La Belle Vilaine Gites, Brittany
April, 2006

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Wed. 5th The weather is improving - sunny again today. Whilst driving to work this morning a HOOPOE flew across in front of my car!
Thurs 6th Still sunny, but the breeze has a definite nip to it. A Heron flew over the garden this morning - not an unusual occurrence, but a very helpful one as it turned out, because about an hour later an Egret flew over - this bird was at least as large as the Heron and so we are fairly sure it must have been a Great White Egret. We have seen one, once before, in the Brière nature reserve (July 31st 2003) which is only a short flight from here. We are quite used to seeing Little and Cattle Egrets (the beak was too long to suggest Cattle) in flight over the garden and this bird was much larger. The neck was held in typical Egret fashion- so we ruled out Spoonbill also (which has a straight neck in flight). Had we been able to establish the beak colour (yellow in Great White and black in Little) we would have "nailed it" - one for the "one that got (or flew!) away" list, I think!
Fri 7th The gite gardens are just the place to be at the moment - in the sun, yet sheltered from the cold breeze. Today brought our first Comma butterfly of the year (that we have seen, anyway!)
Sat 8th Weather as yesterday - about 12 degrees in the shade, but the wind-chill factor lets the side down. I came across a Hare in the road near our gîtes, it was so big that, at first, I thought it was a dog! It disappeared into the gorse bushes. Whilst walking the dogs in the woods this evening we saw a large Roe Deer and a pair of HOOPOE.
Mon 10th Sun shine but still with a cool breeze. Yesterday when we were walking the dogs we had very good views of the pair of Hoopoe again - still in the same spot. We also continue to see the processions of caterpillars, which are in fact known as "les Processionnaires du Pin". We often count lines of over 70 crossing the roads nose to tail - literally "stuck" to each other. Many are killed by passing cars, but the survivors can be seen burrowing under the soil to metamorphosise into moths. These caterpillars cause extreme irritation if touched and are especially dangerous for dogs.
Thurs 11th We had a very nice, sunny yesterday but today has turned grey and cold. We had a pair of BLACK KITE over the garden on Tuesday and also saw the HOOPOE pair in the same spot in the woods nearby. Yesterday I saw an ORANGE TIP butterfly in the garden.
Sun 16th A sunny day, 16 degrees, but still with a cold breeze. The swallows are busy collecting mud from the newly-ploughed fields to build their nests. A Comma butterfly was in the garden.
Mon 17th8th
A bank-holiday walk along the cliff path at Pénestin. We found good numbers of Early-purple orchids.
Tues 18th Whilst playing boules this evening, we heard the Cuckoo calling nearby.
Fri 21st The SWIFTS have arrived in town! Whilst we have had Swallows here around our garden for a few weeks now, I heard my first Swift "scream" (one of my all time favourite sounds!) of the year whilst shopping in La Roche Bernard this morning. These birds always seem to prefer to set up home in built-up areas, whilst the Swallows prefer the quiet of the countryside (like me!).
Sat 22nd Well what a day!!! The sun is shining - over 22 degrees and t-shirts are the order of the day! Add to that a "lifer" and (obviously) new bird to the garden list, bringing it to 76 species! And what was it that caused all the excitement? ..... A WHITE STORK flew over the garden (and circled for quite a time in the area of the village) this morning!!! WOW!!!! It so happens that one of our neighbours claimed to have seen a "Cigogne" a few weeks back and I was extremely sceptical - well now all three of us have seen it with our own eyes. After lunch we walked the dogs down for a swim in the river and there we heard a newly-arrived warbler singing. It's always tricky to tell the difference between Reed and SEDGE WARBLER and especially so at the beginning of the season (out of practice!), but I plumped for Sedge and then tracked it down - the white eye-stripe confirmed I was correct. Just a few minutes later came another newly-arrived summer visitor, (or two) - SANDWICH TERNS - busily plunging into the Vilaine for fish. As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day - on the way back home, as we passed by the woods, we had a very good view of a BLACK WOODPECKER - we have seen this species (the size of a crow) several times in the same woodland and over the garden, but always in flight - this individual helpfully perched openly on the trunk of a nearby tree!
Sun 23rd
Another warm day - 23 degrees, but overcast at times. I actually saw a male Cuckoo today and heard the bubbling call of a female answering him. The butterflies are becoming more and more apparent - today's list includes Brimstone, Large White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Oragne Tip and Comma.
Mon 24th Warm and dry, although we had rain overnight. Yet more new arrivals today and yesterday evening. As we played boules on our pitch yesterday evening a CLOUDED YELLOW butterfly flew across in front of us. Today has brought 3 TURTLE DOVES back to our garden - this species nested here last year.
Tues 25th Warm and dry, but not as warm as of late. We discovered some small, pink flowers in our garden - having consulted our wild flower books we now know that it is called "Common Storks' Bill" ..... obviously brought by the White Stork that flew over on Saturday !!!!!! Another discovery was of this year's first SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY to visit the garden, although this species is more abundant in August.
Thurs 27th A fairly warm day, but nothing exciting! There was a Holly Blue butterfly (Azuré du nerprun - in French - "nerprun", according to my Larouse encyclopedia is "niger prunus" in latin ... this doesn't help, as among the "prunus" (like blackthorn and wild cherry) in my english books I can't find this exact latin name!! - but it certainly isn't Holly!!!). The other bit of news is that "our" Kestrels, almost certainly, have eggs as I witnessed the male coming in to feed the female, who then returned to the nest.
Fri 28th
Today it stayed dry - and that's the best thing I can find to say about the weather! However, the good news is that our pair of Turtle Doves have been busy nest-building in the same Elder tree that they (well, at least some Turlte Doves) used last year.
Sat 29th
A slightly nicer day than yesterday. We took the dogs for a walk in the woods nearby and came across a Red Squirrel - I wish I'd had the camera, as it was quite obliging. We also saw a Wall Brown butterfly. Check out today's Daily Diary (link below) for news of some other new arrivals.

La Belle Vilaine
Self-catering, holiday cottages on the South Brittany/Loire Atlantique border in France.
Friendly family run gite accommodation where dogs are welcome.