Saturday, 12 May 2012

Birds of a feather?

Regularly, throughout the season, we notice campers as well as gîte guests going for a walk, armed with a pair of binoculars. Others are staying on the premises, pointing their binoculars at trees and listen very attentively to the surrounding sounds. No doubt these people are bird watchers, who keep an eye and an ear out for everything that warbles and flies or flutters.
I am a total nitwit when it comes to nature, and I have asked some of these people what exactly they were looking for, and what they found. Bird names like red-backed shrike, a tiny little bird, several types of woodpeckers that hammer our trees, red kites and a variety of song birds were mentioned. I think I myself might have spotted a golden oriole, I certainly have been woken up by nightingales, and I had a number of brief encounters with hoopoes.
However, I am more excited about encounters with in my eyes more exotic species. In winter, and only then, I have seen a white heron around here. It stands in various fields around here, flies off very elegantly, and I assume it is every time the same bird I have seen around here. Last winter I drove through Chazelle, and there it stood, on a weir in the Grosne, close to the lavoir. Fortunately I had my camera ready, hence I could have a good picture of him before he flew off. An internet search revealed that it might have been a great egret, but having said that, an expert could come up wit a better determination.
Last summer a pair of storks took residence in Cormatin. We spotted them for the first time in a field near Cormatin, pecking the ground in search of, I believe, worms or frogs. They build a nest on a chimney of the Cormatin château. I know that storks are not exactly rare; in the Alsace, but also in Southern France and in Spain almost every bell tower is crowned with a stork’s nest. But the whole population of Cormatin, all 503 of them, find the storks a fascinating phenomenon.
My last spotting was a rather strange one. Towards one September evening I was looking out over the fields from our sitting room, when I noticed a swarm of birds landing on the telephone cable running to our house. I saw them with the sun aslant behind them, hence I could not see them very clearly; still they did not seem ordinary birds. When I looked at them through a pair of binoculars, I noticed they were beautifully coloured birds. I managed to catch one with my camera just before the swarm took off again. With the help of a small bird book for laymen and some internet research, I suspected these had been European bee-eaters. Checking this with a birdwatcher confirmed this suspicion. The swarm was migrating, and obviously landed in Chazelle for a short break.
And then I thought how to close off this blog? The answer came the same day. We drove through Saint-Gengoux on our way to the local cave to get some wine, when we saw, sitting on a gate post in the middle of the day, a tawny owl. They normally live in the woods, and although Saint-Gengoux is not exactly a metropolis, it is also not that rural that tawny owls would nest in the town itself. The owl looked a bit sleepy, and I suspect it somehow got lost and mistook the gate post for a tree.
The moral of this story: to see interesting birds, it pays off to keep your eyes open in stead of investing in expensive equipment!

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