Monday, 31 January 2011

La Ferme aux Grues

A weekend of birding around the lakes and woodlands of the Champagne region is the added bonus of needing to re-supply with enough fizz to last through the coming year’s celebrations. After filling the car boot, it’s on with the birding, and firstly into the woodlands.

Looking around the Oak and Hornbeam woodlands surrounding Lac du Der and at the Foret d’Orient, the contrast with English woodlands is immediate; the French manage their broad-leaves for a supply of firewood. Coppice clearings and woodpiles are everywhere, resulting in well-structured woodland habitat. Even on a murky, frosty morning we quickly found four species of woodpeckers including Middle-spotted and Black, as well as numerous Short-toed Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Firecrests, Hawfinch and both Willow and Marsh Tits.

Lac du Der, France’s largest artificial lake, was not at its most accommodating; an icy north-easterly blowing across the water. Dabbling duck were abundant, principally Mallard, Teal and Wigeon, with a few Shoveler and Pintail. Greylag Geese, wintering birds from Sweden, were everywhere, with 100+ White-fronts and a few Tundra Bean thrown in. Bewick's Swans numbered 50 or so, with Whoopers only slightly less numerous. At least 50 Great White Egrets were noted, mostly around the shallow pools and floods beyond the lake, but not a single Little Egret. Buzzard, Hen Harrier and Peregrine hunted around the lake.

The highlight of the afternoon is the arrival towards dusk of the Cranes as they gather to roost on the islands. They feed by day in family parties in maize and other stubbles in the surrounding countryside, although the normally productive feeding viewpoint at La Ferme aux Grues was surprisingly quiet.  By late afternoon they  join into large noisy flocks drifting in low over the lake banks towards the roost sites.  As hundreds gathered on one of the larger islands, a party of five Wild Boar scuttled through, scattering Cranes in all directions. By the time frozen fingers had almost snapped off, around 1,500 had assembled on the islands within our view.

Below: La Ferme aux Grues, Foret d'Orient, Cranes arriving at the roost, Lac du Der.

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