Dordogne Butterflies: Part 2
So, I'd already hit the jackpot with the Swallowtails found earlier in the week. One thing I hadn't got which became an afterthought, was a shot of a Swallowtail roosting with it's wings closed. Surely we wouldn't find more, would we....?
Wednesday 29th June
It was back up to the Causse de Terrason above Condat for 6.30am. Another glorious still morning with no mist today. We headed straight for the area where we’d had luck with a Swallowtail the day before hoping it wasn’t a one off. A few worn Spotted Fritillaries were roosting on the usual flowerheads before we decided to split up to cover more ground, Dad taking the ‘good’ side, me going for the usually quieter ground. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t gone far when I heard an excited shout. He’d not done it again had he? As I got to Dad he said he’d found another Swallowtail. He HAD done it again, though he lost points for what happened next. He said it had its wings closed yet I was looking down at one with its wings wide open. “You mean wings open?” I quipped. “No, closed, there” and in front of Dad no more than 6 feet from the Swallowtail I was looking at was another! Boom! Talk about the early bird catching the worm! As I’d got some shots of the open wings the day before I spent my time with the roosting individual shooting various angles. It’s hard to put into words what it felt like to have such a stunning butterfly there in front of me, looking like an absolute majesty. A look over my shoulder and there was another. I can’t recall a more perfect moment spent photographing a butterfly. The sun was now climbing and giving a lovely warm glow and this really set off the butterfly and background.
After reluctantly leaving the Swallowtails to it, we went back to the car for coffee before we headed towards the higher ground. This was again teeming with butterflies but what caught our attention was an unusual bird call. We worked hard to locate it but when we did we were both suitably impressed as it was a spanking male Cirl Bunting. Beauty! No more new butterflies but a thoroughly enjoyable few hours.
In the evening we headed down to the meadows around the house. A roosting Wood White was a good start but things nosedived dramatically as the meadow that had been home to so many Black-veined Whites was now a ruin of cut grass! It was a heart breaking sight and put a real dampener on things. The adjacent meadows were thankfully intact and seemed to have more residents than before, no doubt thanks to some mass immigration…
Thursday 30th June
A much needed lie in today, with us up by about 10am for a decent breakfast. We decided to go a little further afield today and chose the Plateau d’Argentine as our destination for an afternoon visit. We departed at midday and the drove North West along some very scenic roads. The small town of Cubjac stood out as a real gem, reached via a bridge over a wide river and weir which led into the very quaint looking town centre. Further on we noticed some great looking butterfly habitat but as was becoming a frequent occurrence, there was no obvious place to pull over and park up. Onwards we went, seeing Jays aplenty as well as a few Buzzards and Black Kites, some of them perched up on hay bales. We eventually arrived at Plateau d’Argentine at 1:25pm and fuelled up with coffee. A little wander around the parking area revealed a Spotted Fritillary, a few Turqoise and Common Blues and an as yet unidentified skipper. We then began exploring the main reserve and sadly didn’t add any new butterflies to our list. The weather was fairly windy and overcast which didn’t help our cause. A few sizeable lizards were good to see but they were impossible to get close to, shooting off into the undergrowth as soon as they sensed us. We spent a good three and a half hours walking around and whilst we did see a good number of butterflies we both came away feeling a little disappointed.
On the way home we stopped at a disused quarry where a few blues and a Small Copper were noted. We called it quits and heading back home, enjoying a few beers and a hearty salad for dinner, ready for another early start on Friday.
Friday 1st July
We opted for another early session to avoid the heat of the day and played it safe, heading to the Causse de Terrason. A few dragonflies were roosting up for a change so we took some pics of those before Dad found a very smart Baton Blue – a new butterfly for the trip. The usual Marbled Whites abounded as did a dishevelled Spotted Fritillary. We then found a roosting Swallowtail but resisted the urge to photograph it. We meandered a bit further down the track than normal, stopping to listen to a Golden Oriole. As that was singing, I saw what I thought was a Jay fly out of the scrub but it didn’t look right so I got the bins on it and realised it was a Hoopoe. At last! I got Dad onto it and we watched it for a few minutes with its crest up for a short time before it disappeared from view. We turned around and headed to the top area and this revealed another Baton Blue, a Black-veined White and the usual suspects seen during previous visits.
It was then time for a coffee and biscuit break back at the car. We then explored a new area close by and in a small glade found a few Weavers Fritillaries bouncing about, more blues, hairstreaks and Marbled Whites and another Swallowtail, this one a very friendly and inquisitive one! For the next hour or so we added Speckled Wood, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Heath Fritillary and Cleopatra to the list.
For some variety we left the Condat area and drove across the Vezere River to check out the other side of the valley. A wrong turn took us to hunting territory so we made a quick exit and found the right road and parked up. The public footpath was well hidden but I went for a quick look. It headed up into woodland and after a while I gave up and turned back to meet Dad at the car. I checked the map and the path was supposed to lead to some clearings so we agreed to give it a go. After 5 minutes of climbing I went on and left Dad to have a rest. By the time I reached the clearing I was knackered, sweaty and irritable. Then a Swallowtail flew past. Mood lifted, I had a super quick look around and loved what I saw. Loads of pockets of meadow full of wildflowers and there butterflies everywhere. I met up with Dad and we agreed that the climb was too far with camera gear so we went back to the car. A check of the map revealed a potential alternative entrance so we headed for that. It didn’t work out as planned but we did find an adjacent area at the end of the small village/hamlet of Les Farges and with ample parking, decided to have a look around. In summary, it was covered in excellent habitat with plenty of butterflies present including lots of Swallowtails, Cleopatra, Brimstone and Great Banded Grayling. Certainly a site to be revisited…..
Saturday 2nd July
Today was our last full day so we wanted to make the most of it and have a good one. We arose at our now normal time of 5am but looking outside it seemed like bed would be a better alternative. Thick cloud and a stiff breeze made butterflying a questionable choice but we were up and by the time we were on the road the cloud was being blown over. We arrived at our newly scouted location at just gone 6am and the first butterflies found roosting were marbled whites, an Adonis Blue, and a Spotted Fritillary. I nearly stood on a Swallowtail which was roosting almost on the ground and only noticed it when it flashed open its wings. It was still quite dull so whilst Dad did some filming I went off exploring. An hour later and I’d not found anything of note so heading back towards where we started to see if Dad had discovered anything. On my way to him I found a large area of flowers and quickly noticed a roosting Swallowtail. I did a lap of the flowers to cover all angles and it was a good job I did as on the same flower was another Swallowtail. I moved in for a closer look and then noticed a third just a few flowers across. Incredible. And it made me wonder if they like to congregate like this as this is the second time this week we’ve found them close together. It then rained for the first time all week so we hastened back to the car for some coffee whilst the rain clouds scudded over. It didn’t take long for the weather to improve though unfortunately the wind was a little stronger than it had been all week. Returning to the Swallowtails, it was pretty much impossible to get both butterflies in focus on the same flower but you can’t have it all so I spent some time with the single Swallowtail and got some nice shots with a cleaner background than previously. The occasional flash of open wings made for some nice variation and I came away with a big smile on my face and hopefully some decent images.
We then had a long walk around the various pockets of meadow, with Golden Oriole song a constant distraction. The exploration paid off as we found a roosting Two Spotted Fritillary and a Heath Fritillary, though the latter didn’t hand around as the sun started to emerge and immediately triggered mass flight with butterflies everywhere.
Great Banded Grayling were particularly common, gliding powerfully low over the dry stone and grasses. An Oberthurs Skipper was a first for the trip and Dad managed to see a Golden Oriole which I missed.
We then returned to the house for the last time to get packed ready for the long drive home. Once we'd done most of the packing and had dinner we had one final walk down to the meadows nearby as I wanted to get at least a record shot of the Red-backed Shrike. It was of course in its usual place so I opted for a stealthy approach using hedges, trees, long grass and my bag hide as cover. I got into a cracking position but after twenty minutes there was no sign of the shrike so I made an equally stealthy retreat. Getting back onto the road and looking across to where I'd been sat the shrike. I conceded defeat to a very sneaky bird!
All in all, we'd had a brilliant week with so much fantastic wildlife seen. We'd hoped to see more butterfly species but couldn't complain with those we did manage and the time spent with the Swallowtails was by and away one of the best butterfly related memories I've had. Quality not quantity, as the saying goes. We will definitely be back for more!
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