Weather: Scorchio & humidio every day. Clear blue skies.
Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Beautiful Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Common Winter, Dainty, Emerald, Goblet-marked, Large Red, Orange Featherleg, Red-eyed, Small Emerald, Small Red, Small Red-eyed, Southern Emerald, White-legged and Willow Emerald damselflies. Total: 18
Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Broad Scarlet, Club-tailed, Common Darter, Downy Emerald, Dusk Hawker, Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy, Keeled Skimmer, Lesser Emperor, Lilypad Whitefaced Darter, Norfolk Hawker, Orange-spotted Emerald, Ruddy Darter, Scarce Chaser, Southern Darter, Southern Migrant Hawker, Southern Skimmer, Small Pincertail, Western Clubtail, White-tailed Skimmer, Yellow Clubtail, Yellow-spotted Emerald and Yellow-spotted Whiteface dragonflies. Total: 26
Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Woodpigeon, Rock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo (H), Swift, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker (H), Green Woodpecker (H), Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin, Skylark, Tree Pipit (H), Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Wren, Nightingale, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler (H), Grasshopper Warbler (H), Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap (H), Chiffchaff (H), Wood Warbler (H), Firecrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Red-backed Shrike, Starling, Golden Oriole (H), Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Serin (H), Greenfinch, Yellowhammer (H), Cirl Bunting. Total: 77
Plus: Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Kite, Bonelli's Warbler, Cattle Egret, Great Reed Warbler, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Short-toed Eagle, Whiskered Tern. Total: 9
5-spot Burnet, 6-spot Burnet, Adonis Blue, Black-veined White, Brimstone, Brown Argus, Clouded Yellow, Comma, Common Blue, Common Heath, Essex Skipper, Green-veined White, Great Banded Grayling, Heath Fritillary, Holly Blue, Large Chequered Skipper, Large Skipper, Large White, Lesser Purple Emperor, Map, Marbled Fritillary, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Pearly Heath, Purple Emperor, Red Admiral, Ringlet, Silver-washed Fritillary, Small Copper, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Small White, Speckled Wood, Swallowtail, Weavers Fritillary, White Admiral and Wood White butterflies. Total: 38
Burnet Companion, Cream Spot Tiger, Fiery Clearwing, Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Scarlet Tiger moths. Mullein, Pebble Prominent Notodonta ziczac & Vapourer moth caterpillars. Total: 8
7, 22 & 24-spot Ladybird; Banded Snail; Bee sp.; Beetle sp.; Bee-fly; Black Millipede; Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle; Bluebottle; Blue Chafer; Box Bug Gonocerus acuteangulatus; Buff-tailed Bumblebee; Chequered Beetle Trichodes alvearius; Common Carder Bee sp.; Conehead nymph Conocephalus sp.; Crab Spider; Crane Fly; Cricket sp.; Cross Spider; Dock Bug; Dolycoris baccarum final instar nymph; Fire Bug; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper sp.; Great Green Bush Cricket; Green Lacewing; Green Shield Bug; Hairy Shield Bug; Harvestman Spider; Hornet; Hornet Mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria; Horse Fly; Hoverfly sp.; Ichneumon Sp.; Ichneumon Wasp Amblyteles; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Longhorn Beetle Leptura cordigera; Marmalade Hoverfly; Mayfly; Mediterranean Spotted Chafer; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Minstrel Bug; Nursery Web Spider; Paper Wasp; Pond Skater; Poplar Leaf Beetle; Raft Spider; Robber Fly; Roesel's Bush Cricket; Ruby-tailed Wasp; Sawfly; Scarlet Lily beetle; Scorpion Fly; Soldier Beetle; Speckled Bush Cricket; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle; Wasp; Water Boatman; Wheat Bug Eurygaster austriaca. Total: 61
Common Wall Lizard; Coypu; Edible Frog; Grass Snake; Green Lizard; Slow Worm Anguis fragilis. Total: 6
Carthusian Pink, Heath Spotted Orchid, Lizard Orchid, plus many, many more.
‘How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?’ Charles de Gaulle
‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece!’ Claude Monet
‘...but we’ll be back for dinner...especially if you’re having soup de jour!’ Kellyn Roth
‘This dragonfly came up to me. He was hovering right in front of my face, and I was really examining him, thinking, how does he see me? I became enlightened.’ Ziggy Marley
Situated in central France, south of the Loire and with well over 1,000 lakes, the 160,000-hectare area of La Brenne is known locally as ‘The Land of a Thousand Lakes’.
It is said to be one of France’s best kept secrets - probably due to the size of the area and its ability to remain hidden from the casual tourist. It is an area of rich flora and fauna delicately preserved by its ‘National Park’ status. Its’ origins date back to the Middle Ages when many lakes and ponds were turned into fish-farms by monks.
Since gaining its ‘National Park’ status in 1989, the area has established itself as an exceptional location for bird life with over 260 species recorded; of which around 150 remain to breed. However, it’s not only bird life that flourishes, as the area is home to an abundant array of lepidoptera and odonata. The flora is also richly diverse, with plenty of orchids. It is also home to vast reedbeds, heathland and ancient oaks. The woodlands and heaths provide natural shelter for Roe and Red Deer.
From the 1960s, a number of gravel pits and sand quarries were created in Vienne, at different places along the Rivers Clain and Vienne, principally to the north of Poitiers. In 1992 the ‘Groupe Ornithologique de la Vienne’ was transformed into the ‘LPO Vienne’.
A mosaic of wet meadows, water bodies, islands, channels, ditches, gentle slopes, reeds and willows, it offers both fauna and flora ideal conditions. From the start, ‘Vienne Nature’ has been involved in providing inventories of many amphibians, dragonflies and plant species.
Note: Some of the places and events described below may or may not be in the right order. Unfortunately, my memory isn’t what it once was!
The sweat was pouring off me, whilst my shirt was clinging to my back. The temperature had reached nearly 40 degrees, while the humidity was even higher. Two-litre bottles of water were disappearing down my throat at regular intervals, only to stream out of me almost immediately.
We were currently in one of the many ‘Étangs’ or man-made lakes, in Vienne - a charming area of rolling fields, wild flower meadows and lakes. It had only been a short drive from the hotel, journeys that were to prove the norm for this trip.
In the middle of a very hot and humid afternoon, I was walking around on my own, somewhat lagging behind the group, doing my own thing, looking down at one of the smaller étangs, when I heard a shout up ahead. I raced up the trail to find most of the group looking down at one of the local specialities…
A few days earlier, I had travelled down to Poitiers. This time, instead of flying, I went via EuroStar. It made a very nice change.
Leaving home at 8.30, I caught the train down to Tottenham Hale, then a tube to Kings Cross. A short walk over to St Pancras, where the EuroStar terminal was, arriving around 9.30.
Whilst waiting for the train, I met up with a few of my fellow travellers, all sporting the familiar Naturetrek blue luggage tags. Soon, we were all passing through passport control and baggage check and on our way.
An hour and a half later, we arrived in Lilles. We had to take a short walk, from one terminal to another, to continue our journey. The SNCF train, taking around 3 hours or so, eventually arrived at our destination, Poitiers.
It was a lovely journey, sitting back, relaxing, as we sped past the scenic French countryside. Door-to-door, the whole trip only took around 8 or 9 hours. It was much better and easier than flying - better for the environment, too.
Nick and Cora, our Tour Guides, met us at Poitiers station and we drove the short distance to our first hotel, the ‘Hotel de France’, located in the pretty town of Montmorillon. As we unloaded our luggage, we could hear and see lots of House Martins and Swifts, screaming their lungs out, above us.
We transferred our bags from coach to hotel, where we were met by none other than 'Rene', the character played by Gordon Kaye in BBC1’s comedy classic ‘‘Allo ‘Allo’. Well, at least he looked like the spitting image of Rene, albeit without the moustache. I had to bite my tongue.
It was still warm and muggy out, even though it was early evening. I had a nice little room, overlooking the courtyard, which also doubled as a dining area. After dumping my bags and freshening up, I went back down and joined a few of the group in a relaxing cold beer.
Dinner was at 7.30. Due to the language difficulties, there was some ‘confusion’ as to what we were ordering, but I was happy enough with my meal, avoiding the fish dish.
Another beer followed afterwards and then Nick outlined the days ahead. Breakfasts were at 8, leaving at 9, returning to the hotel around 5. All pretty straightforward.
Or so I thought. Next morning, after a good night’s sleep, I showered and dressed and headed down to breakfast at 8. Only it wasn’t 8, it was 9 o’clock. Everyone was downstairs, kitted out and ready to go, waiting for me. Somehow, my travel clock and mobile phone hadn’t been put forward, like I thought they had. Luckily my gear was ready and so just returned to my room, grabbed my bag and headed back down. Embarrassment and thirst were the only casualties.
Most of the group travelled in the tour bus, while I and two others travelled in the car, with Cora. I apologised to them for being so stupid and keeping them all waiting, whilst glugging down a 2-litre bottle of water.
It felt even hotter today. Thank God for in-car air-conditioning. Although, it didn’t help when we stopped for our first visit and started our working week in earnest.
As we drove to and from our destinations, we witnessed the hubbub of local life. Tractors, carts, people, all starting their working day. It all seemed quaint and very rural – an escape from the rat-race. In the nicest possible way.
Our first stop was at a very old looking stone bridge, overlooking a small, freshwater stream. Nick was obviously an expert around the vicinity and knew where the best spots for invertebrates were to be found.
Local knowledge, experience and expertise are essential on trips like this. It was the reason why we started on a high note. Nick soon spotted a Lesser Purple Emperor butterfly, fluttering around, just along the water’s edge. I had only heard of a Purple Emperor, which was also present, so this was a new one for me. In the sunshine, its’ gorgeous purple hue could clearly be seen reflecting off the wings.
Also in this area, we spotted Banded & Beautiful Demoiselle, White-legged and Goblet-marked damselflies. There was also an Orange Featherleg damselfly seen, which is a localised Vienne species and uncommon in the area. I also spotted a lovely posing male Scorpion Fly amongst the nearby bramble, its’ big, bright red stinger clearly in evidence. It was a fantastic start! And we were only 30 minutes in to the trip.
Then we drove to our first main stop, a place called the Étang de Plaisance, in the Persac area, a not inconsiderable area of parkland. It had a large étang at its’ center, a place also used for coarse fishing. It was a superb self-contained area, allowing me to wander off on my own, as I like to do. The rest followed Nick, while I noticed Cora tracking me.
I had a superb 50 minutes or so, wandering around the whole étang. I strolled slowly and carefully around one of the fishermen, whose 2 or 3 expensive-looking rods were arcing out over the water. I was about to try out my best French accent on him, when he turned around, smiled and said, ‘Allo pal, hae yer doin?’ in a broad, thick Glaswegian accent!
Not the first thing you expect out here. After some pleasantries, he quickly informed me of a good place to see Odonata, pointing over to a smaller pond, which was surrounded by trees and shrubs, just off the beaten track.
I thanked him and headed towards it. However, I didn’t stay long, as it was mostly in shade and very boggy. Soon, I was again tracking the étang.
Keeled Skimmer, Black-tailed Skimmer and Small Pincertail dragons were quickly added to the already growing list. Large Red and then a lovely male Small Red damsel were also seen. Plus another Orange Featherleg damselfly.
I finished my circuit and rejoined the group. Just as Nick was pointing out a Beautiful Demoiselle high up, on a branch, which had just flown in. Shortly after, I spotted a male Broad Scarlet. I had seen and photographed several of these in the Camargue a year or two ago. However, the bright red body, posing exquisitely in the sun, was too good to resist taking more photos.
Then, a few male Scarce Chasers appeared. Skimmers and Pincertails seemed to be prolific along this stretch. The one Willow Emerald of the trip appeared here, briefly. Unfortunately, it was only seen by myself and one or two other people.
There was the constant sound of ‘plop, plop’, as I walked along. Edible Frogs were regularly jumping from the bank into the water, as I approached. They were the first of many that we saw, or rather heard, throughout the whole trip.
Just before we broke for a much-needed lunch, especially for me, a cry went up. I dashed over and was just in time to photograph a Weaver’s Fritillary, before it fluttered away. This was another butterfly I hadn’t heard of before and so was delighted to see it, let alone photograph it. It was in the company of a rather lovely Small Copper, my first sighting of one this year.
In all, we spotted, as a group, nearly 20 species of Odonata in this area alone, including several butterflies, moths and other insects. It was a wonderful morning’s work.
Lunch was superb. Just as it was in the Camargue. French bread, French wine, French cheese, French ham, everything you could want, all of it mouth-watering. We sat in the shade, around a couple of wooden picnic tables, in very pleasant surroundings.
This time, I had remembered to drink plenty of water throughout the holiday. Especially in the heat and humidity we were experiencing. I had forgone the liquids while on the trip to the Camargue, where it was even hotter and I had suffered as a result.
After lunch, Cora came over to inform us that she had found a newly-emerged Orange-spotted Emerald. Another delight, another first! Not long after, she spotted another dragonfly, a newly-emerged Southern Darter. Ditto!
Although touted as 'just' the driver for the trip, Cora proved to be invaluable in spotting quite a few species during out short stay. I kept my eyes peeled for the inverts, but also kept my ears open should Cora cry out.
As we were all more than happy with the area, Nick let us wander about for another 30 minutes or so. I was delighted and headed off back to the spot which I considered to be the best place in the area.
Here, I spotted a beautifully posing male Beautiful Demoiselle. And it was here that I unknowingly photographed a Yellow Clubtail. I had never seen one before and only realised what it was when I arrived home and processed the photo. I had thought it was a Pincertail. Nick confirmed it later, by email.
Sadly, it was time to move on. We visited several other areas today, including Govex GP; River Ford; Boufour; Bous De L’hospice and Sillais. All wonderful places to see Odonata and other wildlife.
The afternoon brought us more of the same, but we added Four-spotted Chaser, Broad-bodied Chaser, Hairy Hawker and Ruddy Darter to the Odonata list. I also spotted Fire, Dock, Minstrel and Wheat Bugs. More butterflies were added to the Lepidoptera list, such as Marbled White, Silver-washed Fritillary, Common Blue, Brimstone and White Admiral. A few Hummingbird Hawkmoths were also seen, for good measure.
It was quiet on the birding front, as they weren’t really the focus of the trip. At least, not for me. I guess the standout bird of the day, were several stunning Bee-eaters. However, they were quite distant.
It was an excellent first day, with over 20 species of Odonata seen. The temperature scale eventually touched the late 20’s by the end of the day. However, I had drunk the requisite amount of water, which Nick and Cora handed out frequently, which enabled me to concentrate on the work at hand.
We eventually arrived back at the hotel about 5.30. I showered quickly, sorted through the day’s photos and then headed downstairs, for a well deserved cold beer. I chose a very flavoursome glass of Leffe.
Dinner was again at 7.30. This time I managed to get what I ordered – steak and ice cream - although not on the same plate! ‘Rene’ was good fun, trying to understand our poor French, especially mine. A few more beers were had, including the local produce, before retiring to bed around 10.
I woke up the next morning in good time. I had to make doubly sure that my travel clock was now showing the correct time. It was and so met up with the others around 7.30 for breakfast. It was the usual continental fare, so I settled for cereal, orange juice and fruit. I was wary of overdoing the food intake, given what had happened to me on earlier trips. Even though I don’t usually drink coffee, it was actually very nice here.
We were all soon ready to depart around 9. This time, I travelled in the bus and not long after, we were soon arriving at our first destination of the day, a river site near Eports.
Earlier, Nick and Cora had stopped off at the local supermarket, to stock up on bread and water and a few other things. The supermarket was called ‘LeClerc’, the French equivalent of ‘Tescos’. It was a shopping mall I have encountered several times before, usually whilst on rugby trips. They were the main sponsors of French rugby, especially in southwest France.
It was again another excellent day. I found myself saying that every day. It was that kind of trip. I was in my element, hunting for invertebrates – I had already broken out the kevlar-reinforced trousers, in anticipation!
This morning, we stopped off at two places – Eports and Thollet. The mercury had risen another notch up the scale. Factor50 had already been liberally applied.
We made a quick stop at a little picturesque village, which included an old historic-looking Chateau. It smacked a bit like a piece of ‘dead stuff’, as I like to call it. So, while the others took in the ‘olde-worlde’ scenery, I wandered off in search of wildlife.
I soon found a few Common Wall Lizards, scurrying up, down and about the, well, walls. It was only a brief stop and we were soon on the road again.
Let’s get the day's birding out of the way first. Nightingale, Kingfisher and Cattle Egret were the notables. Actually, I photographed very few birds out here. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested; I was only going to make the effort if they presented themselves close up.
No, I was out here for the inverts! And we were presented with some spectacular stuff, once again. First up, were my first-ever sightings of Club-tailed dragons. More Pincertails and Demoiselles were present as well and in good numbers. We even found a newly-emerged Small Pincertail.
However, what caught my eye, were the brilliant insects at one particular place. Another small stony bridge, over an equally small stream. The area was surrounded by lots of bramble, bracken, shrubs and a few wild flowers. Actually, the setting looked quite idyllic.
To my delight, I found my third Chafer beetle species in as many weeks. However, this one was even more spectacular – a Blue Chafer, its’ carapace iridescent in the sunshine. We found hundreds more, in the days ahead.
Also found in this diamond of an area, was a male Roesel’s Bush Cricket, Great Green Bush Cricket, Black and Yellow Longhorn beetle, a Conehead nymph, a Thick-kneed Flower beetle, a Robber Fly with lunch, Minstrel Bugs aka AC Milan bugs and a Box Bug.
If that wasn’t all, one of our tour party discovered a Slow Worm and promptly picked it up. It immediately left its’ calling card all over her hand. Earlier, we had found a dead Grass Snake, under the bridge. There were more Lesser Purple Emperors here, one of which was in its’ dark morph form. Another Black-veined White completed the area total.
It was a fantastic little spot and I could have spent all day here. The second stop, just before lunch at Thollet, didn’t provide any further additions to the list, other than a fleeting glimpse of a Coypu, as it swam from one bank to the other.
Lunch was again bountiful and wonderful, at a picnic site, near a place called La Trimouille. I just can’t get enough of crusty French bread! The wine wasn’t too shabby, either. It was all very plentiful – we weren’t going to starve out here!
The afternoon visits brought us to St Pierre; Chateau Guillaume and Charneuil. All of them set in amongst scenic fields, woods and grass verges. The countryside here was quite stunning.
The afternoons proved to be the hottest parts of the day. Even so, I managed to avoid sunburn, chapped lips and dehydration, all suffered on previous trips. I’m starting to learn, albeit the hard way.
The wildlife seen so far was superb, but then Nick managed to find us a rare, for this area, Southern Skimmer, a male. After everyone had seen it, I and a few others, were allowed to try and get close, for a photo opportunity. While we were snapping away, another male appeared.
This was the spot that Nick had seen a Dusk Hawker appear, a week earlier. Unfortunately, there was no sign of it today. We spent a good ninety minutes here, by another little bridge and stream and I managed to get a few decent photos of anything that moved.
In another area, by a river and with a wonderful wild flowery meadow, we found Black-tailed Skimmers and lots of Banded Demoiselles. At the same spot, a Wood White butterfly appeared, fleetingly, in amongst several Marbled Whites.
Then one of our team found a Heath Fritillary, my first. We were already doing very well on the Fritillary front. There were several plants holding lots of Mullein Moth caterpillars.
As for other insects, we were delighted to find more Blue Chafers, again shimmering in the sunlight, like little sapphire gemstones. On one particular flower, name unknown, there were several Scarlet Lily beetles, Minstrel Bugs and a Chequered beetle. A veritable goldmine!
The day seemed to disappear and soon we were heading back to our hotel. We were up to nearly 30 species of Odonata now. Nearly as many in two days, as compared to the whole trip to the Camargue.
We had dinner in a more salubrious and upmarket part of the hotel, as apparently the dining area we had been using was closed on Fridays. It was Nouveau Cuisine, but it didn’t bother me unduly. I was watching what and how much I ate.
More importantly, the beers were cold, even allowing for the fact that they were only lager. We still have much to teach the French.
After dinner, we did the checklist, with Nick advising us to pay our bar bill this evening, before retiring, instead of in the morning. It would save time.
The next morning followed the, now, usual routine. After Brekkers at 7.30, we were packed and ready to go around 8.30. We sadly bade our fond farewells and grateful thanks to 'Rene' and hit the road.
We were heading towards La Brenne, to our second and final hotel. However, we of course made several stops on the way.
A large Nature Reserve called Pinail was our main stop this morning, just on the border of Vienne, where we spent all morning walking the ‘loop’. This place held one of our main target species and a local speciality – the Yellow-spotted Whiteface darter, another new one for me.
We had only just entered the area, when Nick excitedly called out that he had found one. It was already very hot and humid and the sweat was pouring off me. I had opted to trail behind everyone, letting them head off into the distance a’ways, before I followed. So I was the last one to see it, as I had somewhat lagged behind the group, doing my own thing…
The first Yellow-spotted Whiteface darter sat up nicely for everyone and, when all the group had seen it, the photographers stepped up. I did my usual trick – take a photo, step closer, take another. Until I was satisfied that I had nailed the shot.
There were several more of these beauties further up the trail, but none were as obliging as this one. Other Odonata seen here, were more Broad Scarlets, Emperors, Four-spotted Chasers and several Emerald species.
The wind was quite strong here, at times and it made photography quite challenging. And the heat just seemed to increase hour on hour. With associated rises in the humidity, as well. Pass the water, nurse!
The butterflies and moths were on top form again this morning, despite the wind. We had good views of Large Chequered Skipper, Common Heath and another Weaver’s Fritillary, to name but a few.
There weren’t as many insects, possibly due to the windy conditions, but probably because of the terrain and the flora. The only outstanding invertebrates were several small Raft Spiders, sunning themselves on the lily pads, awaiting elevenses.
There was also what looked to be a species of diving beetle, but it disappeared before I could bring the camera to bear. There were also lots of, by now, Edible Frogs everywhere, constantly diving down as we approached.
Soon, we were back at the start and enjoying another fantastic lunch. I became more adventurous and decided on a different cheese to slide in between the crusty ham baguette. All washed down again with the delicious local red wine.
Afterwards, we strolled along another track in the same area, this time looking for a few bird species. To our delight, we came across a very tuneful Bonelli’s Warbler, or Bonetti’s Warbler, as I called it. Soon after, a lovely Firecrest hove into view, its’ crest flaring, delighting everyone.
At this point, most of the group headed back to the bus, to escape the scorching sun. Nick, myself and a couple of other tough nuts carried on. We were rewarded by sightings of yet another Weaver’s Fritillary and more Marbled Whites.
From here, we drove to a little town called Angles-sur-l’Anglin, to sit down in a local café, for a wonderfully refreshing ice cream. I managed to mumble a coherent bit of Franglais to the waitress, who tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a giggle. I even managed to get what I asked for!
We were again heading into the hottest part of the day. Stopping off at a track, in amongst several fields, the group did a bit more birding. We spied a Short-toed Eagle high up, slowly gliding past and, while the rest carried on birding, I walked up and down the track, both sides, looking for inverts.
I was well rewarded too, as I spotted a fast-moving and very industrious Ruby-tailed Wasp, near the bus. Its’ electric dark red and blue colours unmistakeable. A little earlier, just as we exited the bus, a Fiery Clearwing moth flew in. Nick cried out and managed to trap it in a specimen jar, giving everyone a great view of it.
Whilst on my own, I found a newly-emerged White-tailed Skimmer, then, further down the track, I found an Emperor and a few Black-tailed Skimmers.
Then, to my utmost delight, I found my 4th species of Chafer. This time, a few Mediterranean Spotted Chafers could be seen, some of which were busily creating the next batch. My fourth in four weeks – the thought of London Buses sprang to mind. Further on, I discovered a red and black Longhorn Beetle Leptura cordigera.
We bumped on down the dusty track a little further, seeing more Skimmers and Chasers, before moving on. However, not before seeing another lovely Heath Fritillary.
We set off for our new hotel, the ‘Au Boeuf Couronne’, in the village of Mezieres-en-Brenne, arriving just after 5. It was yet another very picturesque and quaint locale, with our hotel set adjacent to the town square. We noted the local bar, nearby. In this heat, it already looked very tempting.
However, there were a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, there was no air-conditioning in the hotel and we were heading in to the hottest last few days. Phew! Secondly, sadly there was no ‘Rene’ here. Very disappointing. However, the bar staff were quicker at this hotel. I was in my room, showered, changed and back down by the bar, cold beer in hand, inside 30 minutes.
Dinner was again reasonable - it was a set 3-course meal. Food at this hotel was plain and simple, which suited me. The problem was that this evening’s main course was fish, so I opted for the vegetarian meal. There was a mother and daughter with the group, the mother was a vegetarian, while the daughter was a vegan. They seemed to cope.
I didn’t let the minor disappointments get me down. I was having a great time and getting some great photos. Our table was also set outside, shaded from the bright sun, with screaming Swifts and House Martins flying over, again. It was a wonderful accompaniment to our meal.
There followed the usual post-dinner cold beers, checklist and tomorrows itinerary. Nick did a good job of managing our expectations. He had to; the first few days were unbelievably brilliant!
The next day, a Sunday, continued the trend. Being a Sunday, the roads were fairly quiet and we again got to our first port of call quickly. It was one of the many upsides of this trip – not wasting too much time travelling.
Today we were taken to Terr D’Picadon and Maison du Parc, where we had lunch, followed by a visit to Prissac. At least, I think that’s where we went and how they’re spelt. It was all more of the same, great finds everywhere. Including more new species to see.
A reserve near Cherine, an area of scrub with four or five bodies of water of various sizes, was the first place we pulled up at. We walked along a track, with bushes, trees and shrubs either side. There were plenty of things to see. First up, were plenty of Emeralds, including Southern and Small Spreadwing, as well as a Downy Emerald, which made a brief appearance.
However, then disaster struck! My camera battery failed, so I inserted the spare one. Somehow, that failed after 5 minutes! I couldn’t believe it – the spare should have been juiced up. I had brought a third battery but it was back at the hotel.
I was about to contend myself with a morning of just using my binoculars, when Nick offered to drive me back to the hotel to pick it up. Fortunately, the hotel was only 10 minutes away and so, about 25 minutes later, we were back with the others.
I apologised profusely to Nick, telling him I wasn’t always this dim. Well, not all the time. He had performed above and beyond the call of duty - I shall definitely mention him in despatches!
It was a good thing, too, as plenty of photo opportunities presented themselves and I would have been kicking myself had I not had the chance to snap them up.
This morning we found Ruddy Darter, Southern Darter and two fantastic Southern Migrant Hawkers, which were again new for me. There was also a newly-emerged Emperor, found by one of the locals.
Other wildlife seen were, in no particular order, a Pebble Prominent caterpillar, Green Shield Bug, a Paper Wasp Nest, a female Roesel’s Bush Cricket and, lastly, a Green Lizard.
We stopped off at a very busy picnic area, for lunch and, because all the best tables had been taken, we decided to change to Plan B, a covered picnic area at the Maison du Parc. It was a similar area and set against another wonderful backdrop. Not long after lunch someone spotted a lone distant Black Redstart. I hadn’t seen one of those for ages.
We then took a slow stroll around what would have been a large étang but the lake had nearly dried up. Nick stated that this little area was a speciality for Common Winter damselfly. He wasn’t wrong, as he spotted one within minutes. Another new species!
We also came across more Southern Darters, Southern Emeralds and another Large Chequered Skipper. With the lake almost dry and not much else to see, we decided to move on.
The afternoon brought not only hotter weather, but also another target species – Lilypad White-faced darter. The first place Nick had driven us to proved to be disappointing, with no sightings at all. He wasn’t too hopeful for the second place.
However, he was thankfully proved wrong, as, out over the lake he spotted a couple of them, flying amongst all the Darters, Skimmers, Chasers and various damselflies. How he could spot them amongst all the others was amazing. However, Nick then advised us of the Lilypad’s erratic flight and soon I was able to pick out a couple myself.
We were standing at the edge of the lake, between a few trees and bushes and, after waiting patiently, one of the White-faced Darters flew in and landed close by. I managed to get a few record shots. Another Downy Emerald was seen, hung up high in a tree, in the shade.
We were only at this particular area for the White-facers and, as it was supposed to be private land (we were given special permission) and the fact that most of the rest of the group wanted to push on, we headed off to the next destination.
By now, a few things were starting to become apparent. Not only were the days getting progressively hotter and more and more humid; most of the group were starting to flag. I was actually a bit surprised by the fact that my energy levels were still ok.
We pulled up at a few other, small places, one of which was another small étang at Prissac. The rewards were lots of ovipositing Azure damselflies and a very newly-emerged Small Red-eyed, clinging on to a stem with its’ exuvia directly opposite. We had probably missed it by only an hour or so. Our last, quick, stop gave me a lovely, bright red Poplar Leaf beetle, by the side of a road.
Then it was back to the hotel for a cold shower, cold beers, dinner, checklist and bed. Because of the heat and humidity, I had stripped the bed down to just one thin cotton sheet. Even then it was quite uncomfortable trying to get to sleep. However, the upside was that my shoulder didn’t seem to be playing up too much. Well, not greatly – it’s had its’ moments.
After breakfast, we spent most of the morning at a place called Bellebouche South, also having lunch there. The étang at Bellebouche near Mezeieres-en-Brenne boasted one of the largest lakes within the 'Brenne National Park'.
Just before that, we had started our day at a reed bed site near Vendouvres. We were in search of Yellow-spotted Emeralds. Eventually, we saw around half-a-dozen. Unfortunately, none of them landed, staying constantly on patrol. However, we did get some really close views of them, as they flew up and down their piece of turf.
Today was the hottest one yet. Still, mustn’t complain – someone has do it! I had also remembered to charge both my spare batteries overnight and had turned the GPS off on the camera. It was the GPS that was draining the battery power.
We arrived at Bellebouche in good time and began the days’ work. It was birds first up, sitting down in our first Bird Hide. We were presented with excellent views of a Heronry. Little and Cattle Egrets, Purple Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons and Whiskered Terns all proved good value, as they flew back and forth. Unfortunately, they were a bit too quick for me and my camera, but I did try.
On the walk to and from the Hide, we spotted Large Chequered Skipper, Marbled Fritillary and a Vapourer moth caterpillar.
From here, we moved on to other, smaller, areas, back on the Odonata hunt again. Soon it was another delicious lunch, after which Nick gave us a choice of either heading back to the hotel, for a quick siesta and to avoid the hot sun. Or to go with him and look for some Variable damselflies.
Tough decision. Nick and I, together with two others, headed out. We were unlucky in not finding any Variables, but Nick did find one Dainty damselfly. Another first for me. It was adjacent to a long, dusty road and we had to be careful of oncoming traffic.
Here, I found lots of Keeled Skimmers, a few White-tailed Skimmers, Broad Scarlets and Ruddy Darters. Then Nick found a lovely Scarlet Tiger moth, sheltering in the shade, from the hot sun. I was a tad envious - in this heat, it was a good idea.
We returned to the hotel and picked up the rest of the group, to head out for our last trip of the day. We were promised a slow, lazy walk, in the shade, along another river, which was bordered by trees and shrubs.
It proved to be another brilliant area, for me anyway. By now, there were only a few hardy souls left, willing to go the extra yard – the rest had stayed close to the bus, or in the general area.
Only three of us followed Nick down the trail, adjacent to the river. By the time we returned, an hour or so later, we had spotted several fantastic sights.
Odonata first – Scarce Chaser, another Yellow Clubtail (again I didn’t notice until I arrived home), Red-eyed damsel, Southern Darter and one of my own target species – a male Norfolk Hawker.
If that wasn’t enough, we also spotted two Map butterflies interacting - another new species for me. I spotted another Raft Spider on the lily pads and then…
And then, to my delight, not an invertebrate, but my first-ever sighting of a Cirl Bunting! Not just two adults, but several juveniles as well. They were all fairly close, sitting up on a branch, near enough to discern the lovely yellow features on their faces and throats. Fantastic!
It’s probably a good idea, at this point, to say that Nick and Cora were also pointing out some of the beautiful flora at the many places we had visited. I’m afraid all the names went largely over my head, because of my poor memory.
However, I do recall that there were some lovely Orchids to be seen, including, in this area, a Brenne Orchid Site, a Heath Spotted Orchid and, earlier, a few Lizard Orchids. I await the names of other interesting flora we saw, from Nick, when he does his own trip report.
We finished quite late this evening, getting back to the hotel after 6. When we eventually returned to the hotel, I was so tired, exhausted and hot that I forgot to take my bag from the bus and had to leave it there overnight. With my walking boots, which I gave to Cora to throw away the next day, as they were finally past their sell-by date.
The evening followed the usual routine. Feeling quite exhausted, from the day’s events, I went to bed a little earlier than usual, while some of the guys followed Nick in to the local ale-house.
The next day was our last full day, before heading home. It was also forecast to be yet another hot one. The earlier decision to leave my wet weather gear at home proved to be inspired.
After another light breakfast, we headed out for our final trip visits. The group had now seen 43 species of Odonata, of which I had seen 41. I wasn’t sure, at this stage, how many species I had photographed. That delight was to come, when I arrived home to process all the photos.
We eventually reached a group total of 44. I had thought that I had missed 2 of them, but managed to see one more species at the last gasp. I had also unknowingly seen the other, the Yellow Clubtail, so 44 it was. I believe Nick had said that it was close to the tour record.
Today was, unbelievably, even hotter than ever. So hot, in fact, that even the Odonata seemed to be retreating to the cool, shady areas. Nick had managed to read the situation and decided to take us to another couple of Bird Hides, where we could take some respite from the hot sun.
This decision had been made just after the first stop, at Plan d'eau near a place called Migne, where we had found 5 and 6-spot Burnets, another female Roesel’s Bush Cricket and a Hornet Mimic hoverfly. However, by mid-morning even Nick and I were flagging under the sun’s onslaught.
Actually, the first de la Sous Hide, at Piegu, was a delight to be in. There were several of the locals already in situ, also armed with cameras and long lenses. Here, we found a Whiskered Tern colony, a few of which would fly up close to the Hide and dive for fish, right in front of us.
We were informed that this particular area was good for Little Bittern and eventually, we managed to see one or two flying around. Unfortunately, I only managed one poor record shot. It was here that I managed to see my 43rd species of Odonata.
Nick had spotted a lovely lone Lesser Emperor flying around, just in front of the Hide. I managed to see it several minutes later, its’ bright blue ‘saddle’ very obvious.
I could have stayed here for a while longer, but Nick wanted to take us to another Hide, at Foucault Reserve, near Rosnay. This one wasn’t as good, inasmuch as the wildlife were all quite distant.
However, out on the lakes, we spotted several wader species, including Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover and Common Terns, with chicks. Just before we left, a juvenile Stonechat flew in close and perched up on a stem, before quickly noticing us and promptly flying off.
Outside the Hide, someone found a cracking Great Banded Grayling, which eventually landed, giving most of us very good, close-up views. We walked around the area for another 30 minutes, seeing a fleeting Camberwell Beauty.
Earlier, whilst tucking into our last lunch, set in yet another beautiful scenic woodland area, we spotted a pair of Redstarts sat on another wooden bench, quite close and then a lovely Nuthatch could be seen, picking its’ way down a nearby tree.
This was followed soon after by a lovely Swallowtail, which had just flown in, posing nicely for us. It was eventually surrounded by all the photographers in the group. I’m actually going to miss the lunches here - crusty French bread! And the wine! And the…oh well…
Eventually, by this time, I was being hit by fierce attacks of torpor, with lashings of stupor and so took it easy until we made our final return to the hotel, for tea and medals, around 5.30.
After the usual few beers, dinner and checklist, I had an extra beer with Nick and a few of the others in the Hotel grounds. For some reason, the local ale house was closed. A celebratory very good end to a wonderful trip.
After breakfast and the usual check-out procedure, I was packed and ready to go. On the way to Poitiers train station, we stopped off at St. Savin, where we took in wonderful views of the abbey church, a incredible piece of 900-year-old architecture, which is a UNESCO site, situated adjacent to the River Gartempe. It was another ‘dead stuff’ photo opportunity, one that even I couldn’t avoid.
However, I was still in Odonata-mode, looking down over the bridge, to the river below, taking in all the Demoiselles flying about, all of them Banded. We then took a slow stroll down a grassy verge, along the river, where Nick screamed out at a passing Dusk Hawker. I just about managed to see it fly past. My 44th species of Odonata!
And that was it – holiday over. Nick and Cora drove us to Poitiers Station, where we bade our fond farewells and very grateful thanks for all their efforts, for the late morning train to Lille.
There was a short delay - nice to know that the UK weren’t the only trains that were late. Onboard, there was a little difficulty with the bags - a large family were seemingly bringing everything they owned with them, taking up all the baggage space - and then a slight dispute regarding our seats. All was resolved with a shake of the shoulders and a raising of the hands - the French way - and we were soon off and running.
There was a short wait at Lille and then we boarded the EuroStar to St. Pancras. Soon, we were arriving and disembarking. It was chaos at St. Pancras, as I knew it would be, so I had already made my farewells to most of the group at Lille.
I had again sat with the same ladies I had travelled down with and said my farewells to them at St. Pancras. I managed to purchase a cheap, one-way ticket to Sawbo, using my Seniors Railcard and, after a trouble-free journey on the Tube and the Train I arrived home just before 5pm.
My shoulder was now aching badly after carrying the heavy bags – I made a mental note to purchase a new one, one with a handle and wheels!
All in all, an excellent trip – nine out of ten. It exceeded all my expectations and was a very good substitute for the Bulgaria trip. Nick & Cora were brilliant and Dave Smallshire had better watch out – there’s a new kid on the block!
NB: The services of ‘Rene’ are only available on request.
‘Mange tout Rodney, mange tout!’ Derek Trotter