About Two Owls

Monday 28 August 2023

Tour de France Part 2 The Dordogne

We were up fairly early, breakfasted, packed the van and headed off across the Gironde vineyards towards the Auberge de Castel Merle at Serseac in the Dordogne. This would be a new department for us so we didn't really know what to expect other than what friends have told us, that it was a beautiful area to visit. We travelled from what you could describe as flat arid dry marsh landscape to a lush green forested, deep river valleys with picturesque villages many with a medieval looking architecture.  

After we arrived in the Dordogne we had a little time before we could check-in to our hotel so we had a little explore locally and parked in a lay-by at the edge of a forest and found a number of species of butterfly and a Wall Lizard.  We also came across a single Pyramidal Orchid on the road verge.

Pearly Heath & Large Skipper © Nick Hull

Female Wall Lizard  © Nick Hull

Pyrimidal Orchid © Nick Hull

Our hotel was 300 years old and started as a farm house and later developed into a hotel and was still owned by the same family and they believe there had been a building there since Roman times.  It was situated on a promontory high above the Vézère River. 

This is the view of the hotel on are arrival.

Hotel de Castel Merle, Sereac Dordogne

We were allocated the Garden room which is through the door on the right of this photograph.

View of our room there is an entrance hall to the right out of view.

This is the view from the door of our room looking across the large patio area with the two pavilions where we had breakfast in the mornings

View from the door of our room

This is the view looking down over the river Vézère from the patio promontory below.

Looking down from the hotel patio over the Vézère River 

I'm not sure how high up we were but possibly 200m above the river but the steep rocky cliffs provided a nesting site for a pair of Peregrine whose young had just fledged and they were often screaming and chasing around very close and sometimes landing in the trees that were on the patio.  There were several pairs of Golden Oriole and one morning while recording the dawn chorus I ended up recording a territorial dispute between two pairs right over the patio area.  The screeching cat like calls would of woken the dead, though Jackie slept through it even when I tried to wake her.  In fact more or less everywhere we went near the river we recorded Golden Oriole though I never managed to get a shot of one they always seemed to hide behind leaves or a branch.

One morning whilst I was waiting for Jackie to join me for breakfast a Red Squirrel ran along the fence to get food from the bird feeder as they do.

Phone shot of Red Squirrel going to the feeder.

It was now our eleventh day in France and the plan was to visit a few sites along the valley starting just a mile or so up the road where there was a view point to look across the valley and a woodland trail good for butterflies. In fact it turned out to be very close to the lay-by we stopped at the day before.

View Point

From the view point we had a grand view over the valley and saw several Black Kite and listened to them calling.  Though it is also a place to see eagles none were seen by us whilst we were there.  So we moved across the road onto the woodland trail and didn't walk far when it opened up into a small meadow.  It was a nice warm sheltered spot and butterflies everywhere. We found Adonis Blue, Pearly Heath, Marbled White, Peacock, Red Admirals and Meadow Brown.  Though for us the ones that took our attention was Black-veined White, Heath Fritillary and Woodland Grayling mainly as they are species we don't get at home.

Heath Fratillary © Nick Hull

Woodland Grayling © Nick Hull

A slightly worn Black-veined White

We then moved on to a old stone quarry again for butterflies also for a chance of finding Ocellated Lizard which we failed to find.  Though we did add a few butterflies to our trip list with Essex and Small Skipper, Adonis Blue, Spotted and Heath Fritillary then for us here the more interesting were Great Banded Grayling, Southern White Admiral and Wood White.  We also added a bee-fly species I haven't seen before and a damselfly to the small Odonata we had seen.

The Great Banded Graylings were very flighty and wouldn't settle close for a really good shot so I had to shoot at distance so couldn't get any real definition and detail but you can see what they are.

two shots of Great Banded Graying © Nick Hull

There were plenty of Wood White and again because the was so hot to get one settled for any time to get a shot was next to impossible but managed to get few ok shots 

Wood White © Nick Hull

Whilst searching around the quarry slightly hidden behind a large bolder Jackie found this super Red Helleborine a plant we have only seen once before many years ago.

Red Helleborine © Nick Hull

The last butterfly we found here was this slightly worn Southern White Admiral when they are fresh the colours are stunning but unfortunately this one was a little faded but none-the-less it was another species to add to our holiday list for the Dordogne. 

Southern White Admiral © Nick Hull

Alway interested in the Odonata and came across these damselfly, which our guide gave as Blue Featherleg which I thought was a new species, but it wasn't until we were home that checking the scientific name that I realised it was a name change for White-legged Damselfly.  None the less it was new for us in France.

Blue Featherleg (White-legged Damselfly) © Nick Hull

Another species which was nice to find here in the quarry was Dune Villa a Bee-fly a pretty scarce species in the UK and the second time I've recorded one in France. 

Dune Villa © Nick Hull
We spent some time here trying to see the lizard but eventually we decided to move on to our next planned location.  This was right on top of the hills with an amazing almost 360º view and again the guide book said a chance of eagles. Here the scubby causse hillside habitat was provided us with some nice views of a number of butterflies many we had already seen but one or two new ones.  

Like this Cleopatra a stunning butterfly which was visiting the Vipers Bluegloss and allowed me to play with the camera settings to get a few acceptable shots.

Underside and upperside of Cleopatra butterfly © Nick Hull

I also managed a few more shots of various Hummingbird Hawk-moths as they zoomed around the Vipers Bluegloss.

Humminbird Hawk-moth manoeuvring  to come in the Vipers Bluegloss © Nick Hull

We decided we had seen most of what was on offer at this site and it was approaching lunch time so we  headed off to lunch. Which turned out to be a bit of an odd experience but that's another story.  As we were getting into the van I picked up movement on the bramble and it turned out to be this Blue-spot Hairstreak.

Blue-spot Hairstreak © Nick Hull

On the 13th we drove along the valley to Limeuil a very picturesque village next to the river where the Vézère River which starts under the ridge to the left and the Dordogne River continues under the bridge on the right.

The twin bridges / viaduct over the Vézère & Dordogne Rivers © Jackie Hull

There was a good House Martin colony under the parapit of the bridge and there were several Swallow also nesting nearby as they were coming into pick up mud from the bank to build their nests.

House Martin coming in to the bank for mud for nest building

Swallow doing the same with one coming and one leaving with mud.

We walked back to the van to cross over the two bridges to continue our planned route, as we neared the van we had close views of a Black Kite that circled over us before drifting off down river.

Black Kite © Nick Hull

Once we had crossed the bridges we stopped on the opposite bank for a brief stop at a slipway for boats to enter the river where we had a few odonata along the river bank.

When I first saw this pair of Western Demoiselle I thought they were Banded it wasn't until I was checking through my photographs I noticed the dark pigmented area extends to the tip of the wing and looking it up in a reference found they were a new species for us in fact possibly one we have overlooked in the past.
Western Demoiselle - male & Female © Nick Hull

This pair below we have seen in the back in Dorset but with the name change in the reference we didn't realise until later but they were very nice to see.
Female & Male Blue Featherleg (White-legged Damselfly) © Nick Hull

This following species I thought was a bright female of the previous species until I noticed the blue eyes so took a few shots of it, which I'm glad I did, as it was another new species for us

Orange Featherleg Platycnemis acutipennis  Nick Hull

Whilst there we also had Azure Bluet once called Azure Damselfly, Black-tailed Skimmer and a new beetle species Blue-violet Chafer an absolute stunning beetle.

Blue-violet Chafer Hoplia coerulea 

Our next stop was just a couple of miles further up the road, we passed through a small wood and exited out into farmland.  As I was looking for a safe place to park up Jackie said whats that hovering over there and I pulled over and took a look, it was a Black-shouldered Kite.  Then I heard a Crested Lark and had a brief view as in pitched in to the grass field to our left.  We walked up the road slowly keeping an eye on the area where it pitched in and it flew up from a totally different place or perhaps another bird  By the time we decided to move on we had see at least three Crested Lark, lots of Corn Bunting, Skylark and a Black Kite.

It's strange when we are in France we take time to have lunch out and theneat light with a glass of wine in the evening.  So we headed into Campagne for lunch and after went to the Chateaux where in our guide book mentioned orchids and Common Redstart was easy to find there.

The Chateaux and lake at Campagne

As we walked into the ground of the Chateaux there was a lake and a small river that fed the lake and lots of odonata Azure Bluet, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Scarce Chaser, Emperor Dragonfly

Common Bluetail (Blue-tailed damselfly) Ischnura elegans © Nick Hull

Blue Chaser (Scarce Chaser) Libellula fulva  © Nick Hull

As we walked around the lake we approached some mature Beech trees and we both heard the song of Common Redstart and it very nicely appeared for us and landed ready to be photographed, what a stunner.

Common Redstart (male) © Nick Hull

Also under the trees here we found more Red Helleborine a fairly scarce plant in the UK and here we've have found them in two different locations in a couple of days.

Red Helleborine © Jackie Hull

Further around the lake I photographed a pair of damselflies in cop, the male having very blue eyes and checking later they were indeed Blue-eye's, which used to be named Goblet-marked Damselfly, another new species for us.

Blue-Eye (Goblet-marked Damselfly) Erythromma lindenii © Nick Hull 

As we were leaving I had a quick shot of this Paper Wasp Polistes dominula a species that is rare in Britain I think only known in a area of Richmond in Surrey.

Paper Wasp Polistes dominula © Nick Hull

As we got back in the car park I spotted a large fritillary fly by in front of the van and land on a buddleia and it turned out it was a Silver-washed Fritillary and new for the holiday.

Silver-washed Fritillary © Nick Hull

This brought another day to an end and it was back to the Castel Merle for our last night in the Dordogne and start our journey home with another brief visit to the Loire before continuing to Normandie for our last few nights before catching the ferry home.