Wednesday, 20 July 2016

My French Adventure (Part 1)

This is the start of my adventure in the Vercors, a region in the south-east of France. Being close to the Alps, this region promises to be an interesting place to explore and as it is July, this was the ideal time to find some great flora and fauna that inhabit this mountainous region. This was why I decided to come here on a holiday set by Naturetrek. I met up with the group of strangers and the two guides that I was going to share this adventure with at Heathrow airport and we took our flight to Lyon together.

Small Heath
Once picking up the two hired mini buses, we made our way through the French countryside gradually towards our base for the week at a hotel in Lans-en-Vercors. We bought items for our lunch and had a picnic at some picnic tables by the side of the road. It was here where we had a taster of the knowledge that our two guides possessed. One of them, Paul, was very knowledgeable about plants and butterflies as well as a few other insect groups and was showing us the plants and insects that we could see growing and flying around a grassy verge, like this small heath and this thyme. Our other guide, Byron, was our bird expert and he could imitate bird calls very well by whistling.


Mint Moth
Some kind of Wave Moth

Farmland and mountains!
We continued travelling east towards our destination. We were still in farmland countryside as we drove past fields of sunflowers. The mountains were still growing taller with every passing mile. The Vercors was still several miles away. We stopped at a small airfield for a spot of plant and bird watching. Several small aircraft flew low over the airfield as we spot a corn bunting singing in a tree close to where we parked the buses along the roadside. Quails were calling somewhere deep within the crops growing outside the aerodrome's fenced borders.
Corn Bunting

Dark Mullein
Red-backed Shrike
Then two birds sitting on the fence itself caught our eye. A male and juvenile red-backed shrike! The male was very handsome with his red back, grey head and black mask. I had always wanted to see this species since one appeared on The Animals of Farthing Wood, a cartoon series that I once loved watching as a kid. On the show, it was known as the 'Butcherbird' as it was predating the rodent characters and skewering them on a barbed wire fence. Gruesome for a kid's show, I know, but back then it fascinated me. The bird itself does predate insects, rodents, small birds and lizards and impales them on thorns or barbed wire in real life. Sadly though, shrikes rarely breed in the UK anymore and are usually seen as migrants passing through during spring and autumn months (and yet they always elude me when they do show up in Norfolk). Here in mainland Europe, however, they are more common and I am so glad to have finally seen one at last.

Map Butterfly
At another location, we studied the roadside bordering more agricultural fields for more plants. We found some plants that are much rarer in the UK, such as Deptford pink. There were many butterflies here, too, feeding on bramble flowers. The best of them was a map butterfly, so called because of the markings on the underside of its wings, which apparently look like road contours on a road map. We also saw many buzzards in this rural part of France either flying or perched on telegraph poles.

Deptford Pink
Black Chafer
Painted Lady
Holly Blue
Mountain views!
As we continued driving east, the flat farmland landscape became more and more rugged. We had reached the Vercors! We drove up a steep, winding road with breathtaking views of the mountains and gorges, before arriving at our hotel at Lans-en-Vercors. This was just day one and I was already enjoying the wildlife we had seen already along with the stunning French scenery. The real adventure starts tomorrow!

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