Friday, 22 July 2016

My French Adventure (Part 6)

Marsh Warbler
As the rain prevented us in seeing the marsh warbler a few days before, I was glad when we were given the opportunity to visit Les Bruyeres again during the morning of day 6 for another try in finding it. Only a few of us decided to join Byron for the early start outing, but it was worth it. There was no rain to stop us this time, only a thin layer of mist and a cool breeze. A pair of roe deer was seen running away from the bus as we arrived, vanishing deep within the mist. Serin were singing and a black redstart was feeding her young that sat on a fence together. Then, poking its head out from the edge of a reed bed by the river, there it was... a marsh warbler!! We had found one of the trickiest birds to see instantly!

Marsh warblers are another typical brown bird like most warblers. It isn't exactly anything to get excited about in the looks department, but it is a legendry songster in the bird world. This bird has an amazing repertoire of songs that it can sing. But what is incredible is that it has learned them from other birds, many species in fact. The marsh warbler is a mimic and on average can imitate the songs and calls of about 75 different bird species from across Europe and Africa where it migrates to in the autumn. Sadly for us, this individual only performed a few notes and that was it. I did not hear it make any imitations, but I did manage to get a couple of photos of it.

Juvenile Black Redstarts
We went back to the hotel to celebrate seeing the marsh warbler with a croissant as we had breakfast with the rest of the group. After breakfast, we got on the buses and made our way into the French countryside for another day of exploring. We had a whole day to kill as our leaders were planning to take us to a special place later in the evening for an encounter that I shall never forget. Before that though, we killed time with a few stops during the day.

Cirl Bunting
We made two stops during the morning, both in areas of farmland. The first was only a short stop to photograph mountain scenery, though the birders in the group (me included) were distracted by a singing Cirl bunting up in a tree. This is a rare bird in the UK, found only in Devon, but here they were more common. Then a serin showed up to pose for me. As a Norwich City fan, this was the nearest bird in France that I could get to a canary.


Great Green Bush-cricket
Our second stop was at another area of farmland with fields of wildflower meadows. Here we found plenty of butterflies, a black kite and I heard a nuthatch. Probably the most memorable things for me here were the great green bush-crickets. They were huge, green and everywhere. But this wasn't the reason why they were memorable. I was trying to photograph these large, camera-shy insects, which was hard to do in the long grass. The camera was finding it hard to focus on them. I got the odd good photo, but then I found this one on the side of a hay bale. It was in the open and with nothing obstructing the image, it was my best chance for a clear shot. I crouched down and got the camera close enough to focus. I took one shot and was about to take another, but then it launched into the air with its clumsy flight right into my arm, causing me to knock backwards and photographing the sky instead! Members of the group that was with me all laughed at what happened. Let me tell you, those crickets hit hard when they fly into you!

For the afternoon, we went to the top of another plateau near Gresse-de-Vercors. It was another really hot day and though most of the group went higher up for a walk, I was suffering from the heat. So I decided to stay by the vehicles with Byron and another member of the group at a viewpoint car park. We found more alpine marmots from where we were as well as many butterflies flying around us, feeding on the flowers. There were swallowtails, a Berger's clouded yellow and a common brassy ringlet. But then I saw something large glide down to join them on the flowers. It was the one butterfly I wanted to photograph all week and failed narrowly a few days before; an Apollo!!! I had gotten my second chance! I am so glad to finally get some photos of it, though I would have loved to get one with its wings open.
Common Brassy Ringlet

The Beaver lake
After having our evening meal at a restaurant at Gresse-de-Vorcors, it was time to head for the main event. As it neared dusk, we reached our destination, a pair of lakes near Vif. Though there were no signs that they exist, these lakes were home to a family of beavers! Unlike their American cousins, European beavers rarely make dams or lodges. In fact, around the lakes, I could not see anything of the sort that proves that they live here at all. No dam, no lodge, no tree damage, nothing! But apparently they are here and have a home within the island in the centre of one of the lakes. All we had to do was wait.

Sunset over the mountains and lake
Marsh Frog
Most of the group waited along one side of the beaver lake, but I decided it was best to spread out to another corner of the lake. I waited alone for some time, hearing a female golden oriole, a turtle dove, the odd burst of song from a nightingale and the noisy croaking sounds of hundreds of marsh frogs that were in and along the shore of the lake. Things got more interesting when someone from the group was walking around this body of water and stopped to chat with me about what I had seen and heard. As we were whispering to each other, nightjars were starting to call and were then flying over us and the surface of the lake. Then, something in the dimly lit water a few yards from where we were standing caught my eye. It was a beaver! I alerted my companion with a tap on the shoulder and pointed at it for her. She did not believe me at first, thinking it was a floating log, but then it dived down and she was as excited as me, though in whispers.

The beaver showed up a couple more times before the rest of the group and a few locals came over to my end of the lake to see. At that point it was swimming away to the opposite end of the lake. I couldn't believe it! Only the two of us had the closest of encounters with it amongst us all. Unfortunately, the light was too poor to get any photos of it, so here's my drawing of it instead. After my beaver encounter, I joined the rest of the group at their end of the lake and listened to the plaintive single noted calls of European scops owls and watched bats flying over us, while a full moon rose above a mountain. It was a magical night, one I shall never forget.
The Moon rising over a mountain 
The Moon

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