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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.

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Nature Notes from La Belle Vilaine Gites, Brittany

January 2008
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Click here for a full (bi-lingual) list of Birds and Butterflies seen in our garden

New for 2008 - Moth trapping evenings for our guests here at La Belle Vilaine.

New Year's Day 2008 dawned bright and sunny and so after breakfast we set off on-foot into the woods with the dogs. My first pleasant surprise was to, finally, spot 4 BRAMBLING (Pinson du Nord) amongt a flock of finches then came an even better "spot" - a BLACK WOODPECKER (Pic noir) first got our attention by calling loudly and then, helpfully, flew across infront of us and away over the fields.
After lunch we set off, by car this time, towards Vannes and the nature reserve at Séné marshes - the reserve is only open on Sunday afternoons through the winter, but you can use the observation point on the roof of the Visitor Centre and check the bi-lingual list of latest sightings. Afterwards we drove the short distance to the "free" side of the reserve with its viewing platforms and hide looking out onto the mudflats. Here follows a list of the most interesting species we recorded:-
Some of the species recorded on New Year's Day

Little Grebe (Dabchick) (6)
Great Crested Grebe (3)
Cattle Egret (en-route)
Little Egret
Sacred Ibis
Spoonbill (4)
Black Swan (1 on reserve)
Shelduck (100+)
Wigeon (pair)
Pintail (10+)
Shoveler (1)
Marsh Harrier (3)
Hen Harrier (male)
Avocet (100+)
Lapwing (200+)
Snipe (10+)
Black-tailed Godwit (4)
Spotted Redshank (1)
Green Sandpiper (5+)
Black Woodpecker(nr. home - a.m.)
Brambling (near home - a.m.)
Reed Bunting (4+)

Grèbe castagneux
Grèbe huppé
Héron Garde-boeufs
Airgrette garzette
Ibis sacré
Spatule blanche
Cygne noir
Tadorne de Belon
Canard siffleur (whistling duck!)
Sarcelle d'hiver
Canard pilet
Canard souchet
Busard des roseaux
Busard Saint-Martin
Faucon crécerelle
Avocette élégante
Vanneau huppé
Bécassine des marais
Barge à queue noire
Courlis cendré
Chevalier arlequin
Chevalier culblanc
Pic noir
Pinson du nord
Bruant des roseaux

Wk 1 Yesterday sunshine and a Bank Holiday - today overcast and no more excuses, there are lessons to be planned. So here I am "stuck" in the office with my nose in books. But the thing about living here is that exciting wildlife is never very far and my day has just been brightened by the arrival of a FIRECREST (ROITELET A TRIPLE-BANDEAU) in the hedgerow outside the window. This beautiful little bird with its striking, black and white eye-stripes is a regular in January - this is the third year I've recorded it.

Friday 4th - I was watching 6 Songthrushes (Grives musicienne) on the lawn as I ate lunch, when they were joined by a flock of 32 REDWING (GRIVE MAUVIS). We then set off for a walk with the dogs and saw several FIELDFARE (GRIVE LITORNE), a female HEN HARRIER (BUSARD SAINT- MARTIN), a male MARSH HARRIER (BUSARD DES ROSEAUX) and finally a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (PIC EPEICHETTE) which we were lucky to see as the only clue we had was the very quiet tapping it made.
Wk 2 I begin to get the feeling that Spring is in the air! Or at least the local birdlife seems to be preparing for the coming breeding season. Cormorants (Grand cormoran) are sporting their white breeding-plumage patch (visible in-flight) and several Skylarks (Alouette des champs) were singing whilst hovering above the plains by the river. Back at work this week, hence a much shorter report, but today we walked the dogs from home and saw a lone CATTLE EGRET (Héron Garde-boeufs) in the field adjacent to our garden and 4+ CRESTED TIT (Mésange huppée) feeding in the woods with a large flock of other tits. As is always the case, we first heard the distinctive call and so scanned the flock to find them. As we left the woods three Roe Deer (Chevreuil) bounded away across the fields.
I have just put out a plea, on an internet forum for ex-pats in Brittany, for other nature enthusiasts in the local area to send me details of their sightings in order to broaden the scope of these reports. If anyone reading this lives in Morbihan or the Loire Atlantique, please contact me with such reports for inclusion. Thanks.
Wk 3

A wet week – especially Tuesday (torrential rain and strong winds). It's that time of year again in the UK - the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch - and I'm feeling nostalgic and more than a little left out! So what did I do about it? Posted a suggestion on our local Forum of ex-pats in Brittany that we do something on our own in a small way just for fun. So far have 6 participants – after just a couple of hours!
Last week I said Spring was in the air – I forgot to mention the lambs that were born 2 weeks ago in our hamlet. Aaaah! (or should that be Baaaah!?)

Highlights bird-wise this week include a humongous flock of FIELDFARE (Grive litorne) on a 4-acre field near the river – numbers ran over 300. Feeding with this flock were also several Chaffinches (Pinson) and BRAMBLING (PINSON DU NORD) - very similar to the Chaffinch and very often flocking with them (but a winter visitor here), look out for the more orange colour and the flash of a white rump in flight (the Chaffinch has a green rump). Also hunting for food nearby was a stunning female HEN HARRIER (BUSARD SAINT-MARTIN) who came very close to us. As we entered the woods to head back up-hill towards home we stood still –always a good idea in woodland. Within a space of 3-4 minutes we heard and then located the following(in order of appearance):- Goldcrest (Roitelet huppé); Long-tailed Tit (Méssange à longue queue); Blue Tit (Mésange bleue); Great Tit (Mésange charbonnière); CRESTED TIT (Mésange huppée); LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Pic Epeichette); Great Spotted Woodpecker (Pic épeiche); Green Woodpecker (Pivert); Jay (Geai des chênes); Robin (Rouge-gorge); Blackbird (Merle noir); Fieldfare (Grive Litorne) and Dunnock (Accenteur mouchet).

I have received a garden list from a lady living in central Brittany . She counts some very interesting mammals among her regular garden visitors - Red squirrel; Weasel; Pine Marten; Hare and Roe deer. Other garden visitors have included: Newt; Fire Salamander; Slow worm and glow worm and my personal favourite report is of the Marsh Frog who “sings louder when we are sipping wine on patio listening to Queen”!

The local area also hosts many of the same bird species as here (further south) and friends of hers have Crested Tits and Black Woodpeckers in their garden. Chris has recorded a total of 51 bird species in her garden since she began keeping records in April 2004. Apart from the usual garden bird species she has recorded: Nuthatch; Treecreeper;
Grey wagtail; Goldcrest; Yellowhammer; Marsh tit; Barn owl; Tawny owl; Redwing;
Lapwing; Whitethroat; Brambling; Siskin; Kingfisher; Bullfinch; Grey partridge; Fieldfare 
and Cuckoo. A Green Woodpecker regularly hunts for insects under the stones around her pond and she, too, has recorded Cirl Bunting in the fields around her home. Chris has yet to find Sacred Ibis and Hoopoe in her neck of the woods and although an Osprey was seen around last year, she wasn't lucky enough to catch a glimpse - never mind, there's always next year! Thanks, Chris, for your info - keep the reports coming in.

Wk 4

Well, what a week ! Last Saturday I was reading an article about this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which takes place this weekend, and felt very left out! I used to enjoy taking part and even organised the participation of the school where I taught. So, in a flurry of madness I posted a suggestion, on a local forum, that we organise our own Brittany Big Garden Birdwatch. Not really expecting any replies, I have been amazed to find that around 30 households have taken up the challenge – all echoing the same sentiments! We even have around 5 French households joining in. As I write, the results are coming in (23 so far) and I will be very busy sorting the data into some form of final report.

Otherwise this week, I had a fantastic view of a BARN OWL (CHOUETTE EFFRAIE) on our neighbour's fencepost as I drove home from work on Wednesday evening. FIRECREST (ROITELET A TRIPLE-BANDEAU) have been present in the nearby woods and in the garden. A beautiful male HEN HARRIER (BUSARD SAINT-MARTIN) spent a good 5 minutes quartering the field at the end of the garden as we ate our lunch on Friday. This afternoon we were literally surrounded by birds in the woods. The sun was shining and they were calling as they flitted from tree to tree. There had to have been over 100 individuals, a mix of the following species: LESSER and GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (PIC EPEICHE et EPEICHETTE), Green Woodpecker (Pivert), Chaffinch (Pinson), Goldcrest (Roitelet huppé) FIRECREST, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit and CRESTED TIT (Mésange à longue queue, charbonnière, bleue et huppée). I had the best views yet of the Crested Tits.
Have just received details of FROGSPAWN (FRAI DE GRENOUILLE) hatching in Brittany.

Brittany Garden Birdwatch Participant!
I have also received some photos of the bird feeding station. Here's one of our Brittany Garden Birdwatch, showing a Great Spotted Woodpecker taking part in the survey ! Thanks to Susan Proud for kindly supplying the photos.
....... I make it Blue tits 8, Greenfinches 1 ! Well, OK, there may be the odd Great Tit - hard to tell from this angle! In any case this is obviously "haute cuisine"!
Brittany Garden Birdwatch weekend 26/27th Jan
Click here to see nature photos taken in our garden other photos to be found in Archives.

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.