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Post Info TOPIC: France - Carcassonne

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France - Carcassonne

Back yesterday from a week in Carcassonne down in the Languedoc region of France, from Monday 28th May to Monday 4th June. The town is mainly known for an enormous hilltop citadel known as La Cite, dating back centuries, that dominates the skyline and brings in masses of tourists. As usual for me this was a family trip with time for some birding; myself and my parents this time. I chose the digs so we were handily placed for me to walk out of town along the River Aude and hopefully find some birds. The weather was iffy when we arrived but got pretty nice, up to around 26C but always a bit breezy. Local geography is such that it rains more than you might think in the deep south of France.

In the town the profile of birds was much as the UK, with stacks of Pigeons, and noisy Magpies and Starlings, but the only gulls were Yellow-leggeds loafing on the river and there were simply hundreds of House Sparrows. Also there was a permanent presence of dozens of Swifts and in the old town centre always many House Martins. They seemed to be warmly tolerated nesting in places they have probably inhabited for several hundred years in many cases. There were no Bullfinches or Chaffinches and not many Tits. Serin was the predominant finch, so that is an obvious difference, but there were plenty of Greenfinch too. The common warbler was Blackcap, no Chiffchaffs were found anywhere.

The best bird of the trip was actually seen on our first morning, from the Pont Vieux as we walked back over the river into the town centre from the citadel. Having seen Buzzards and a candidate Honey Buzzard high over, my mum said 'what's that big bird?' and we realised we were looking at a Short-toed Eagle lazily gliding over us. They are really big, a Yellow-legged Gull came up to mob it and was significantly smaller. The eagle was wholly pale underneath and showed textbook flight shapes but the appreciable size was handy to clinch the ID.

Later from the balcony of our apartment looking over the river I saw a Black Kite and then we all enjoyed a Hobby that swept in and chased some swifts around, catching one and scooting off with it. A fair haul of raptors in the end on the first full day.

That day also produced a female Black Redstart in the town in an abandoned building; over the week I saw a couple of different males around holding territories and catching food that looked like it was for young. This was much as I expected.

I went for a fairly early walk on the Wednesday and this was good. Along the river there were several Cetti's Warblers singing, which I didn't really bother trying to see, but it wasn't long before I heard a Nightingale. It turned out to be a common bird along the river, I heard around 5 or 6 singing and saw a couple of birds feeding in the open giving brilliant views, amusingly while a cat sat below them apparently uninterested in the chance of a bite to eat. 2 new songs for me although not new birds were Cirl Bunting and Melodious Warbler. The Melodious had me thinking Sedge Warbler initially but I soon worked it out. They are smart little birds. There were plenty of Cirls, in more mixed habitat than they need in the UK. Also seen that morning were Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.

On the Thursday I pushed on further down the river and found a brilliant wood butting onto a large plot of vines, with the river on the other side. On my first visit I found Spotted Flycatcher, Hoopoe, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, more Cirls and another Melodious Warbler singing, plus I heard more Nightingale and Cetti's and nearly trod on a Red-legged Partridge. There were abundant insects and on a sunny afternoon it was bliss.

Returning to the wood early on Saturday morning produced more great views of Spotted Flycatcher gathering nest material, but having heard Golden Oriole it was nice to see a male fly into a tree above me and pose for a second. There were a few about but not showing well. Whilst listening for them I picked up a singing Woodlark which was wonderful, and while I listened to that a Bee-eater flew up to a tree in front of me and sat for long enough for me to grin like an idiot and think what a nice time I was having, before it disappeared again.

The last good sighting of the trip was when 2 Hobbies circled over our balcony sizing up the swifts on the Sunday night. One was a smart adult bird, the other looked like an immature.

I paid more attention to butterflies on this trip. There was plenty of interesting stuff around although much of it eluded an ID. On the citadel I found something I think was an Idas Blue. I saw some Clouded Yellows and nominate aegeria Speckled Wood but my favourite was seeing Glanville's Fritillary over a bit of roadside ground that was carpeted with flowers. In the UK you just know it would have been a nondescript bit of lawn in the name of being 'tidy'. Also notable were lots of lizards, numerous huge Violet Carpenter Bees and a Coypu swimming along the river.

Overall a good trip, nothing rare seen but great fun finding what is out there. I got 45 species in total, with 2 lifers amongst 8 new birds for overseas.

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This forum is dedicated to the memory of Eva Janice McKerchar.