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Wild and Exotic Tales from a French Country Garden

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Old Tuesday 25th April 2006, 22:02   #1
Renee Redstart
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Talking Wild and Exotic Tales from a French Country Garden

Birds of the Charente Part 2

Wild and Exotic Tales from a French Country Garden

Every time we arrive at our house, before unpacking or anything, the first thing I always do is pop straight round to the back to see how the garden is looking, and take in the magnificent view beyond. So, like a bull at a gate, and without camera in hand, I went charging round. Yes of course, Hoopoe was there! It flew onto the stone wall which divides our garden from the neighbouring farm and posed. Well it would wouldn’t it, if I had no means of photographing it! Then it flew up into the farmer’s tree. Needless to say it had gone by the time I returned with said photographic apparatus! But, all was not lost throughout the fortnight’s stay, as I was to discover.
We had first seen Hoopoe while we were there in July 2002. As we looked out of the window at our neighbour’s land, we saw the strangest bird we’d ever seen outside Africa. It was poking about in the ground with its extremely long beak, and we noted its exotic appearance with boldly striped black and white wings and tail feathers. Then on another day, when we were upstairs, we heard a bit of a commotion downstairs (downstairs being one big open plan bare stone room with a kitchen corner). We rushed down to see this new (to us) strange bird flying round the room! It must have got in through the side window. We opened the door quickly and let it out. We didn’t have a Bird Book in France at that time, and not having any idea what this bird was, we journeyed in to Angouleme to nose in a suitable book in a bookshop. When we looked through one of the books, we found out the bird was called Hoopoe. As suspected, it had migrated from Africa. We were amazed and thrilled to have such a migrant on our patch. Although known to arrive in Southern England too, we had never heard of it. We subsequently saw Hoopoes virtually every time we went out there, one time glimpsing the tell tale black and white tail feathers disappearing as it flew away from our garden. Very frustrating for us, because it had been in the part of our garden very near the house where we often sit, but as I walked unsuspectingly, in what had become my usual blunderbuss fashion round the building, I had startled it. This is because we haven’t got a back door yet and I could be going round carrying a laundry basket or whatever. This then happened another couple of times. But whenever I remembered to creep round carefully and quietly, of course there was nothing there.
On Easter Sunday last year we saw two Hoopoes pecking around on our neighbour’s chalky drive and garden, on what was a wet day with damp soil and puddles. And in August last year we saw one again. It flew down and pecked around on open land, before flying towards a tree. This Easter, we were to see them almost every day, and sometimes twice in a day. They have been ground feeding in the same spot every year, and I managed to get pictures this time. We have seen them flying over the fields as a pair and again perched in the same tree where I saw one just after my arrival this year. Snap! I managed to photograph it, and on two occasions at that, in that same tree. Not having a really powerful lens, the images of the bird are fairly small, but you can see what it is and I’m really rather pleased with what I’ve got, I have to admit.

On the journey down through France, we always see Buzzards perched on posts along the roadsides, and had seen the odd one or two around fields not far from our house. But we had never seen one from our own garden. Then, perched for a long time in a tree at the bottom of the field we can see from the back of our house, was this rather large bird. It wasn’t very clear, but I took this to be a Buzzard.
What we do see regularly on our walks around there, are Kestrels hovering over the fields. Now there was one that we often saw circling and hovering over next door’s sheep field that we can see over the garden wall. The sheep weren’t actually in the field at the time, because they were in the lambing barn. I managed to photograph the Kestrel on two occasions. Again, not all that clear, but treasured as my personal record for now of a Bird of Prey at work nearby.

Now we come to my friend the Black Redstart. Like the Hoopoe, this was a bird I didn’t recognise the first time I saw one a few summers ago. Through binoculars I had seen this charcoal coloured, robin like bird, foraging around in the hot dry chalky soil at the other end of the orchard. Then it flew onto an old vine post, not far from the kitchen window. I could then see its red tail, and it wasn’t difficult to ID from a bird book. I later saw a Bill Oddie episode on TV where he ventured into some awful concrete place in West London, I think, looking for Black Redstarts. I’ve got my own, I thought smugly, thinking that they do use an odd mix of environments! I have noticed that it is the Black Redstart’s morning routine to come and perch on this particular post, from where I should get a good view from the kitchen window for a photo. Opening the window startled him of course, so I sat outside at breakfast, on as many days as I could, camera at the ready. He then decided to use a post further away from the house for most of his posing! Therefore, the photos aren’t as good as I had hoped they would be. During our second week there, the female came and posed on the same post, but quickly became camera shy. We don’t get them in any great number, usually only one or two at a time. At this time of year they regularly like to fly to and from the blossoming fruit trees, quivering their red tails as they land. Then they pose from post to post before flying away again. I love them!

Both last Easter and this Easter, I saw a yellow-breasted finch beaked bird. The nearest bird I could find in the books was a Yellowhammer. It was too high up to photograph for anyone to ID, but they are in the region, so I’m recording it as that unless I find out differently another time.
Half way through our stay, I heard melodious singing coming from a tree near the house. It made a change from raucous Collared Doves or the insistent French accented Chaffinch! This bird was quite plain and not very distinctive in appearance, with a beige and cream breast and brown/fawn back. Again, impossible to get a clear photo, because they’re usually high up, appearing too small, and against the light. My husband later remarked that my photos had an awful lot of blue and not much bird in them!! Thumbing through the books, I decided it was most like a Garden Warbler. This bird is not, however, listed in my French book of birds in the south west of France. Another one which may come to light in the future.

Just after I had seen the Hoopoe depart on that first day here, I heard and saw a ‘new’ bird in the damson tree near the house. Seeing blush pink patches on a creamy breast with a brown tail, my first thought was that it might be a Redpoll, or was it a Linnet? As usual, I couldn’t see the top of its head, so couldn’t see any telltale red on the head. Over the next few days I saw this bird several times. While peeping in on BF on my ‘slowdem’, I took an interest in Dizzy’s ID dilemma. Her birds looked different to mine, however, and I couldn’t find Redpoll in my Southwest book. Neither was it shown on the maps in my English book of Birds in Europe as being in that region of France. I began to think it really was more like a male Linnet.
Then we almost had a tragedy. Outside one of the windows, on the ground, was a small brown bird with a speckled cream breast. Very likely a window strike casualty. It looked identical to the pictures of a female Linnet I had seen. We worried that Miss Linnet, as we then called her, would die of cold out there that night. We tried to push nesting type material around her to keep her warm, but she didn’t want to know! She argued and shuffled along against the wall. Seeing her independence and no sign of a broken neck, we felt hopeful she would survive. Perhaps she was only dazed, and would leave as soon as she could. I couldn’t get to sleep that night, worrying about her. At first light I was up and straight out to look if there was a little body there. There wasn’t! She had gone and I felt confident she would be OK. So if she was a female Linnet, (and I hadn’t had the heart to photograph the poor little thing while she was so nervous), then I concluded that the pink breasted one was a male Linnet. Linnets - another first for me!

After packing the car on our last mornings there, we always go round to the back of the house to drink in the view before departing. As we did so this time, we saw the very thickest of mists over the vineyards, much thicker than the previous one. It gave the illusion of being a sea mist over a port. As I was about to leave, the Black Redstart came flying in for his regular morning perch on his favourite post. So it was “Au revoir” from my Rouge-queue noir. And “À bientôt” from Renée Rouge-queue.


May I send thanks to Sue for her support over cyberspace (any mistakes in these reports are entirely mine and not hers!)


Photos below show Black Redstart, Hoopoe and Linnet

Any photos not fitted on this thread will appear together with the French translations in a separate thread.

p.s. Pam - it works! â è œ ô ë yay!
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Last edited by Renee Redstart : Wednesday 26th April 2006 at 10:56. Reason: added more accents, courtesy of Paminfra
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Old Tuesday 25th April 2006, 22:34   #2
Judo
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Thank you Renee, a fascinating read, very enjoyable. Lovely lot of birds you have on your French patch. Am now off to read your other post.
All the best, Judo.
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Old Tuesday 25th April 2006, 23:39   #3
Dizzy
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Hi Renee,
Thanks ~ I enjoyed this read also...and what a list of birds...lucky you...I am turning the colour green as I type..lol...I'd love to see any of them. Have to agree - your bird does look different from the redpolls in my garden, but then the last thing you could call me would be knowledgeable....let alone expert! so hopefully someone will be able to confirm your Linnet for a definate.
Hope you've got a few more accounts of your time in France ready to post

Best wishes
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Old Wednesday 26th April 2006, 00:37   #4
Sue Wright
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Hi Renée,

Many thanks again for transporting me across to France where I was sitting at your beakfast table looking up in the trees, at the posts and across the fields taking photos of them all ~ well, I can dream at least!! Beautiful photos Renée, you've done a great job in perfecting them! You've come a long way in your Birding years and all the sightings you had while there must have been a delight.

Oh that Black Redstart, it all brought me vivid memories of my first and only one and that, of all places, was at Cologne airport; our daughter and I were up in the lounge waiting to get our plane back when outside on the ledge of the window was this most attractive Bird, we watched it feeding for all the time we had to wait and it was so memorable an experience, which is more than can be said for the airport back in 1994.

Thanks for that Renée, sheer bliss once again and so worth the little wait.

Sue.
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Old Wednesday 26th April 2006, 07:14   #5
Renee Redstart
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sue
Hi Renée,


Oh that Black Redstart, it all brought me vivid memories of my first and only one and that, of all places, was at Cologne airport; our daughter and I were up in the lounge waiting to get our plane back when outside on the ledge of the window was this most attractive Bird, we watched it feeding for all the time we had to wait and it was so memorable an experience, which is more than can be said for the airport back in 1994.

Sue.
More proof that Black Redstarts choose very odd places! Not unlike Pied Wagtails, who incidentally, use the Auchan Supermarché carpark when in France, while ours divide their time between Sainsbury's and Tesco's! What wonderful relief you had while waiting in a non too memorable airport. As I've often said, Birds really can make the day in less than perfect circumstances.
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