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Updated: 1 hour 51 min ago

On the beaches of Brittany

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 22:51
By the mid-point of our recent family holiday to Brittany my attempts at wildlife photography had been confounded by the weather. Not only did the low light present a challenge, but the cool conditions had been holding back the spring migration of birds and the early emergence of butterflies which I had hoped would be well underway by mid-April. So when the sun put his hat on for a few hours we were tempted to head down to the beach at Suscinio, at the eastern end of the Golf du Morbihan.Male Kentish Plover, SuscinioThe male's plumage matched the colours of the beach pebbles superbly A very attractive wader
I had walked a good 20 minutes from the car looking for the Bluethroats which breed there when the rain came down, catching me without a raincoat. It was probably the nadir of the trip and I shuffled back along the beach having seen no Bluethroats cursing my luck. I trudged past some small areas at the back of the beach which had been cordoned off for breeding Kentish Plovers, thinking how woefully inadequate they looked on a beach which appeared popular with dog-walkers and sun-worshippers.A front view of the male's head patternThe female Kentish Plover lacks the male's striking head pattern......making for excellent camouflage in the context of the beach as this wide-angle view shows
Then a peep just ahead of me alerted me to the presence of a pair of Kentish Plover - one of the birds I had most hoped to see on the beaches of Brittany. I had to walk past them to get back to the car so headed down to the water's edge to avoid any potential nest site and made my way carefully past. The pair posed beautifully for a few photographs as I skirted their adopted patch of beach.
White-spotted Bluethroat, SuscinioA distinctive song from a distinctive birdNow that's just showing offThe close encounter with the Plovers had put sufficient spring in my step to have another look for a Bluethroat - this time I was more successful, as a male belted out his song across the marsh behind the beach from a prominent perch. The rain had stopped by now and other birds decided to show themselves - first a Fan-tailed Warbler, the archetypal little brown job, and then a Black-winged Stilt, a proper newspaper of a bird with its red, black and white plumage.
A typical view of the skulky Fan-tailed Warbler, though one would occasionally burst into the air in song flight......and a couple of times sat out in the openFan-tailed WarblerThe weather and my mood had improved substantially by this point so I returned to my ever-patient family. As we left we were serenaded by a deafening frog chorus, but couldn't see a single one of the choristers! I can highly recommend Suscinio if your are in the area - a fairy tale Chateau provides a stunning backdrop to the wildlife-rich marshland behind the sweeping bay, and if you are short of time and energy, you don't have to go far from the car park to enjoy it all.
Black-winged Stilt, SuscinioA presumed male, judging by the extent of black on the head......and a presumed female flying over the car park
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Channel hopping

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 22:30
Just back from an Easter break in Brittany with the family, where two themes dominated: first, the almost unrelenting greyness of the skies, which made photography a bit of a challenge; and, second, the presence of a number of species which appear quite catholic in their habitat tastes on the near continent, but ridiculously fussy, or absent altogether, here in the UK.
Male Cirl Bunting in the last of the light at QuiberonA range restricted species in the UK, but more widespread on the other side of the ChannelIf you can imagine Sandbanks and the top bit of Studland put together with a lot less dogs, you would not be far off the Quiberon peninsular - but can you imagine Cirl Buntings breeding at Sandbanks?For some of these species the English Channel appears an insurmountable obstacle to establishing (or re-establishing) a breeding presence; for others, the slight difference in climate has the same effect; and for others still, the reasons for their relative success over the water are a bit of a mystery. One such is the Cirl Bunting - restricted to a few specially managed coastal slopes in the south west of the UK, but apparently much less of a fusspot across the Channel.
Female Cirl Buntings were not as showy as the males - this one was skulking in the car park at Pointe du GrouinThe song of the Black Redstart echoed around the citadel at Mont St MichelDifficult to photograph the dark plumage against the insipid skyWe saw a pair of Cirl Bunting at our first stop on disembarking the overnight ferry at St Malo, on the rocky headland of Pointe du Grouin, and another pair on the sandy peninsular at Quiberon on Brittany's south coast, near where we spent the rest of the week. I also bumped into them on some non-descript farmland away from the coast confirming the impression of them being fairly widespread across the French countryside.
High in the Abbey grounds of Mont St Michel, a lone Lesser Black-backed Gull had staked out a small lawn within the cloisters Mont St Michel from the mainlandThe bridge linking Mont St Michel to the mainland. Not sure Cornish planners would permit this at St Michael's Mount - and a good job too!Before heading for the south coast of Brittany, we thought we should visit Mont St Michel - a worthwhile detour which, as well as the spectacular setting and fascinating history of the Abbey, had the added bonus of singing Black Redstart on the ramparts and rooftops.
Serin in Carnac-Plage - another species which is common on the near continent but rare in the UK Short-toed Treecreeper: ditto. Very similar to our Common Treecreeper but my eyes and ears tuned in to the subtle differences eventually.Sunset at Quiberon
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