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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

July 2009 - scroll down page for this month's reports

New user-friendly archives - Easy access to all previous Nature Notes dating back to November 2005 -
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Click here for a full (bi-lingual) list of Birds, Butterflies and Moths seen in our garden

Birdwatching holidays in South Brittany and Loire Atlantique. See bottom of page for details.

Possibility of Tuesday changeovers - trial period for cheaper ferry crossings. Contact us.

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If you are planning a holiday and wish to know what species are possible at certain times of the year, please refer to the Archives page. As we now have over 2 years of month-by-month archives and numerous photos of species recorded available we have decided to condense the Nature Notes into monthly report at the end of the month. Each report is now divided between the groups of species - Bird, Butterfly, Moth, Dragonfly and Mamal.

Encore une année de treize lunes! Worst luck! Apparently this will be the last one (I believe we had 3 years with 13 moons on a trot – bringing bad weather) and next year we can look forward to a more normal summer. So book now! Lol! July 2009 was rainy, windy and cold for the season. The moths, butterflies and dragonflies all voted with their 6 feet on several days!
But, being a fabulous spot to see wildlife, we still did rather well here at La Belle Vilaine – and just in case guests need a helping hand to find us, we now have a super sign at the gates, made by the very talented Michelle Johnston of Pottery Pets. See photo at the foot of this report.
Our house name is a play on words – the Vilaine River flows nearby (we are situated not far from a bend in the river and so we have the river to the north and the west of us); the word “vilain/vilaine” means “ugly” in French, but the river is very beautiful “Beau/Belle”. Clever, hey?

One of this month’s highlights has to have been the sighting of a Pine Marten by a couple who stayed in our gites mid-month. Their dog alerted them to something during an evening stroll through the nearby woods – from their description to me the following morning and knowing that this lovely mammal is present (Paul has seen one and never lets me forget it!) I am pretty confident of the report.

Birds

Being housebound for the whole month of July, following surgery, I only have a few reports of birds to bring you this month.

Black Kites (Milan noir) – continue to fly very low over our garden several times a week.
Turtle Doves (Tourterelle des bois) – great excitement in the second week when a fledgling was sitting on a post in the garden. No doubt from one of the two nests in our garden hedgerow. The adults continue to call from our bushes daily.
Goldfinches (Chardonneret) – Talking of bird calls, these delightful little guys have discovered the thistles in the wild part of the garden and adults and youngsters (distinguished by the lack of red on the face) are busy feeding on them. Their calls are like the tinkling of little bells.
Little Owl (Chevêche d'Athéna) – Continued its visits at dusk until mid-month.
Mallards (Col vert) – groups of up to 50 fly east over our garden every evening. You would expect an early-morning repeat of this in the opposite direction – but twice during the last week of July I have been out checking the moth trap at dawn (6am) and witnessed flocks of Mallards passing over from west to east!
Swallows (Hirondelle rustique) and Swifts (Martinet noir) – large, noisy groups of these hirundines circle over the garden every evening collecting insects. As I sat by the garden pond on two occasions I was treated to a close up view of a Swallow swooping down to drink – magic!
Green Woodpeckers (Pivert) – Calling noisily around the garden daily.
Sparrowhawk (Epervier) – one passed overhead on 30th .
House Sparrows (Moineau domestique) – flocks boosted by fledglings are also busy feeding on the weed seeds in the wild part around the pond. A male was feeding a fledgling on 30th .
Kestrels (Faucon crécerelle) – It would appear that the pair that nested just across the field next to the garden were successful. We are treated to regular excited calls with 4 individuals flying together – one day they were particularly agitated and it soon became clear why – another bird of prey, possibly a Hobby (Faucon hobereau) was passing over their territory.

Butterflies

Despite the disappointing weather, we did have quite a few sunny days which brought out the butterflies and other insects. On the wing in the garden this month:

Swallowtail (Machaon)
Short-tailed Blue (L'Azuré du Trèfle)
Common Blue (Azuré commun)
Brown Argus (Collier de corail)
Gatekeeper (Amarylis) – the first ones appeared on the 1st.
Meadow Brown (Myrtil)
Dingy Skipper (Le Point-de-Hongrie)
Red Admiral (Vulcain)
Painted Lady (Belle Dame) – still very fresh individuals emerging
Clouded Yellow (Souci)
Brimstone (Citron)
Comma (Robert le Diable)
Wall Brown (Mégère)
Large White (Piéride du chou)
Small White (Piéride de la rave)
Speckled Wood (Tircis)
Small Heath (Procris)

Swallowtail on Buddleia gites south Brittany
Swallowtail (Machaon) butterflies
are daily visitors here at
La Belle Vilaine Gîtes
Short-tailed Blue (L'Azuré du Trèfle)
Short-tailed Blue butterfly - nature holidays in South Brittany and Pays de la Loire

Moths

Great excitement came with the discovery of two humungous caterpillars this month. The first was discovered by my friend Charlotte’s cat in her garden about 1 km from here. She called me and brought up the “baby snake” (8 cm long) to show me. It turned out to be a Willowherb Hawk-moth caterpillar.

The second discovery was even bigger – 10 cm of fat caterpillar, discovered by the dog of one of our gite families. This one goes onto our garden list and is a real coup! Death’s Head Hawk-moth (Sphinx Tête-de-morte) – as the caterpillar is here and at this stage of its development, then the moth (female at least!) must have been here about 3 weeks ago. This moth is the second largest in Europe – the largest being the Great Peacock Moth, which I caught in my trap here in May.

We had several sightings of Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Sphinx Morio) feeding on our large buddleia by the front gate.

Other records of moths came from 2 nights’ trapping towards the end of the month – disappointing numbers, due to the cold weather. Species caught included some new ones for the garden list –

Small Clouded Brindle, Brussels Lace, Plum Lappet (not found in the UK), Least Yellow Underwing and False Mocha.

I was delighted to have a couple of keen naturalists on holiday here at the end of the month. Niamh (8) and Stephanie (6) were very keen to learn all about birds, butterflies, moths and dragonflies with me. One morning I greeted them with the news that I had caught a goat, 2 tigers and an elephant in my moth trap!!! All true, of course – The Goat Moth, Garden Tiger, Ruby Tiger and an Elephant Hawk-moth. What a shame there was no Leopard that day! But we caught the Leopard (moth) during their second week .

Death's Head Hawk-moth caterpillar - wildlife self-catering holidays South Brittany
This huge (10 cm) caterpillar was
probably about ready to pupate.
Proof of a previous visit by
Death's Head Hawk-Moth.
Note the characteristic yellow horn, which
has little yellow "nodules" all over it.
This first-generation caterpillar is likely to successfully pupate later this year (end of September/early October).
If this moth has the opportunity to mate and lay eggs before heading back south, retracing its parents' steps, the resulting caterpillars will only survive if we have a warm winter.
Another Hawk-moth caterpillar
discovered in a nearby garden.
This time, that of a Willowherb Hawkmoth.
The front-end is to the right!
Again the offspring of a migrant from the south which will struggle to survive the winter in the north France.
Willowherb Hawkmoth caterpillar self-catering nature holidays South Brittany
Plum Lappet gites in South Brittany France
Plum Lappet
A species not found in the UK.
Caught here in our Skinner Moth Trap
on 25th July.

Dragonflies

The garden pond is continuing to attract many insects. The usual Azure Damselflies, Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies, Broad-bodied Chaser and Emperor Dragonfly were joined this month by Black-tailed Skimmer, Beautiful Demoiselle, Red Darter and Small Red Damselfly.

Small Emerald Damselfly
(Leste verdoyant)
Resting on vegitation in our garden pond.
Most Damseflies rest with their wings closed along their "back" (dragonflies rest with wings at 90 degrees to their body).
However, this family of damselflies ("Emeralds" in English and "Spreadwings" in American) holds its wings out - a useful aspect of behaviour to note when identifying them.
Small Emerald Damselfly - gites south Brittany
Small Red Damselfly wildlife holidays South Brittany and Pays de Loire
We have good numbers of this species - Small Red Damselfly (L'Agrion délicat)- mating and laying eggs in our garden pond.
To differentiate between this and the Large Red Damselfly look at the legs - red for the Small and black for the large.
(Yes, I know it is holding its wings out - it was about to take off!)
We commissioned our good friend (and Elaine and Cheryl's agility instructor) Michelle Johnston to make us this great sign for the entrance to our property.
Michelle will make a pottery model of any animal, to order.
Click here to go to our links page and follow the link to her site
Self-catering birdwatching holidays in South Brittany and Loire, France
La Belle Vilaine plant list - CLICK HERE .
Let us use our extensive local knowledge to help you to look for exciting species such as:
Bluethroat, Black Kite, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered and Black Tern, Hoopoe, Black Woodpecker,
Red Squirrel, Camberwell Beauty, Swallowtail .... Click here for details of our last-minute deals for mid season breaks at low season prices.
Birdwatching breaks available all year.
White Stork breeding colony - see photos in July 08 Notes.
Moth trapping evenings for our guests here at La Belle Vilaine.

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.