Two Little Bustards from the Niort (Deux-Sèvres) population have been equipped with Argos satellite transmitters and have recently (early October) already been tracked successfully. One moved immediately to northern Spain, and then on again to near Caceres, 250 km west-south-west of Madrid, presumably to winter there alongside the resident Spanish birds. The other has so far just moved a couple of dozen kilometres from its starting point, but will probably also move south later. Although clearly an expensive option, satellite tracking has already provided some extremely detailed results for several species where traditional ringing recovery rates are very low. Firm evidence of where the birds are wintering should help with protecting this species which is in real danger of extinction as a breeding bird in France.
The latest issue is as varied as ever. Since 1984, Ospreys have re-established themselves as breeding birds in central France, and both adults and young have been ringed to study their dispersal and longevity. A paper in this issue gives preliminary results of recoveries and sightings of colour-ringed birds. It is interesting to note that at least some of the adults originated from populations in eastern Germany, and presumably stopped off on their way back to their natal area, although most Ospreys do seem to be faithful to the general area where they were born. Other papers cover the status of Cory's Shearwaters as a passage visitor to the Bay of Biscay; the steadily increasing numbers of Eleonora's Falcons seen in mainland France (mainly, as expected, around the Mediterranean, but also at migration watchpoints in the Pyrenees and Massif Central (plus several records from Brittany)); and some new criteria for aging adult/first winter Pied Flycatchers. Another 'points chauds' article covers some seawatching spots in Brittany, particularly Brignognan (Finistère). There are also shorter items about the first Common Nighthawk and Blyth's Pipits seen in France, and the first breeding record of Goldeneye (in Lorraine). For those who don't read French, there are summaries in English, and of course the photos, maps, charts and drawings are pretty international.
It may take some time, but the law (sometimes) gets there in the end. Two farmers who flattened and drained 20 ha of marshes in the marais de Brouage (close to the excellent LPO reserve of the same name south of Rochefort) in 1995, have recently been found guilty at the court of appeal, and have been fined 30,000 francs each, with costs of 10,000 to be awarded to the three conservation organisations, of which the LPO was one, that pursued the case over four years. The west coast marshes of France have been the target of major LPO campaigns in the past, and several areas of land are now managed by the LPO (see a major article in L'Oiseau magazine no. 56 (3rd quarter of 1999) for an overview of progress to date in this rich wetland area).
The first year's results of action to protect the harriers breeding in this attractive area of north-west Charente-Maritime, in western France, have been encouraging. A team of a dozen volunteers covered a zone of 50,000 ha from mid-April to mid-July, searching for nests and working with the local farmers to protect them; the nests are of course under threat from normal harvesting operations, usually being on the ground in growing crops. Fifty-six pairs of Montagu's Harriers were located, 32 nests found, from which 92 young flew successfully. It was estimated that eight pairs of Hen Harriers were present, but just two nests were found, from which three young flew. Twelve young Marsh Harriers were seen, from an estimated 13 'pairs', but they all nested in areas adjacent to the area surveyed.
The LPO Délégation-Loire has recently published a book on the status of birds in the département of La Loire, which lies between Beaujolais in the north-east and the Monts du Forez in the south-west, with the upper reaches of the River Loire running through the middle of it. The bulk of the book is a species-by-species summary (e.g. Short-toed Eagle, Stone Curlew, Whiskered Tern, Black Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike, Citril Finch, etc.), illustrated with photographs and drawings. In addition there are surveys of the major habitats, and some suggested itineraries through some of the more productive areas. From LPO-Vienne comes the Livre Rouge of the nesting birds of Poitou-Charentes, covering the rarer and more threatened species of this central-west region of France. Each of 96 species is given a double-page spread, with a map showing whether it is increasing, stable or decreasing in each of the four départments that make up the region, plus accounts of its preferred habitat, status, ecology, threats and conservation measures being taken to counteract them. Both books are available from the LPO in Rochefort and both appear, along with lots of other goodies, in the LPO's 2000 catalogue.
It seems to have been a good year for the White Storks nesting in Charente-Maritime, with 225 young White Storks ready to fly from 60 nests, many of which are on artificial platforms erected by the LPO. In addition, a pair of Spoonbills have nested for the first time in the department, with two young hatched.
The summer issue of L'Oiseau Magazine (no.55) has an encouraging article about the status and behaviour of Tengmalm's Owl in France. Recent surveys has shown that numbers and range have increased in the last few years. The species nests in upland forests in the eastern half of the country, and more thinly in the south. Management of many forests has become more sympathetic for hole-nesting birds such as this, with more trees being left to achieve maturity. This has helped Black Woodpeckers to increase their range quite dramatically, and Tengmalm's Owls are very fond of using old woodpeckers' nest holes in which to lay their own eggs. They also take very easily to nestboxes, so much so that limits have needed to be placed on the numbers provided in case the birds 'lose the habit' of using natural sites!
The major paper in the Vol. 6, No. 2 issue of Ornithos concerns the current status of shrikes in France, with details given of their range and populations as of 1998. All five species have declined during this century, with Lesser Grey only just hanging on in Languedoc. The results of a census this year shows a very slight increase in one of its two remaining pockets of population. Great Grey Shrikes have their highest numbers in the Massif Central and the Jura, with other birds thinly spread across the north-east of the country. Southern Grey Shrikes are mostly found in Languedoc-Roussillon and adjacent areas, maybe 2000 pairs in all. Both grey shrikes are found more widely in winter. Languedoc-Roussillon (plus Corsica) is also the heartland of the Woodchat Shrike's range, it having virtually disappeared from former areas north of the Loire. Currently numbers appear to be stable, though dramatically reduced from what they were fifty years ago. Only the Red-backed Shrike gives any indication of a recent increase, with higher densities in some places, although as yet not much sign of a range increase. It remains still very thinly scattered in the northern third of France.
Also in Ornithos 6 (2) is another in the excellent series of 'points chauds', this time the Île de Ré, with details given of all the best places to watch birds on this island just west of La Rochelle. Not only does is have a rich breeding bird population (Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Bluethroats, egrets, herons, etc.), it is also a marvellous spot during autumn migration, both for passerines and for storm-driven seabirds.
If you are on holiday in the Cévennes/Grands Causses area and want to know more about the vultures of the region, you would be well-advised to visit the Belvédère des vautures. This visitor centre is open 10.0018.00 every day from 15 March to 15 November, and has an observation deck equipped with telescopes, video links to nesting sites nearby, an exhibition area, museum and shop. Guided walks are also available. The address is Le Truel, 48150 St-Pierre des Tripiers (Tel: 05 65 62 69 69; Fax 05 65 62 69 67). The nearest large town is Millau.
Griffon Vultures are also being reintroduced to other parts of France the Baronnies, north of Mont Ventoux, for instance, so it's worth looking out for them there too. Eggs were laid in 1998 without success, but it's early days yet. An interesting fact emerging from these schemes is just how far vultures will wander it's by no means unusual for vultures from Spain, central Italy and France to turn up in each other's colonies.
The report for 1997 has appeared in the first issue of Ornithos for 1999 (Vol. 6, No. 1), and as ever makes interesting reading. White Storks continue to increase (219 pairs, excluding those in Alsace, raising 420 young), but Black Storks seem to be stuck at less than 35 pairs, although their range has increased slightly. With protection, Lesser Kestrel numbers in the Crau area increased once more, to 48 pairs, raising 60 young, but Bonelli's Eagles continue to decline (25 pairs), and this species is seriously threatened in France. For those of us who saw our first Collared Pratincoles in the Camargue many years ago, it's sad to see that there were only six pairs there in 1997, their only breeding site in France. The Brittany population of Roseate Terns remained about 100 pairs, but American Mink killed at least 49 adults; efforts to eliminate this serious seabird predator are being redoubled. Puffin numbers remained stable, despite mink predation in places, but Black Wheatears appear to be extinct as a breeding species in France none were seen in 1997.
The same issue of Ornithos contains papers on identification of Balearic and Yelkouan Shearwaters, the winter status of grebes in France, hybridisation between Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls on the Loire, and a behavioural study of Little Crakes on migration in Corsica. Returning to rare breeding birds, there is an account of the successful breeding of a pair of Black-shouldered Kites in 1998 in les Grands Causses, not far from the reintroduction site mentioned above, a significant range expansion for this currently dynamic species.
The latest issue LPO's flagship publication, L'Oiseau Magazine, carries a news item about the Rock Sparrows that nest on the historic Abbey of Fontevraud, in the Loire valley near Saumur. This colony, of about 15 pairs, is the most northerly in Europe (i.e. the closest to the UK!), and the birds nest in holes in the walls of the abbey. On-going renovations were threatening to fill up all the nesting cavities, but discussions between local LPO representatives, builders and architects have led to modifications that should allow the birds to continue to nest there. The best way to see the birds is to visit the abbey itself (a marvellous building, containing the tombs of Richard the Lionheart, Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine), but those philistines too mean to pay the fee might like to note that a week or so ago I saw the birds from the public carpark by the Logis Bourbon in the centre of the town.
L'Oiseau Magazine appears four times per year at 160 francs (only 135 francs if you are an LPO member), and is the best source of information on birds and bird conservation in France. The same issue (No. 54) contains articles on the hunting petition (of course), Black Storks, Gannets nesting on boats in the Mediterranean, an interview with the director of the national park of Schiermonnikoog (Netherlands), cornfield flowers in your garden, Red-backed Shrikes in Alsace, the reserve of the Marais d'Yves, the story of bird of prey protection in France, raptors in Haut-Allier, birding in Peru, plus lots of news, reviews and recent rarities, etc. Quite a varied feast, as usual.
This year OCL will have been in existence for 20 years, and they are having a party from 2729 August to celebrate. This will take place in Ispoure, near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Basque Pyrenees there will be singing, dancing, eating and birding. For more details contact OCL, 11 Rue Bourgneuf, 64100 Bayonne (Tel: 05 59 25 62 03; Fax: 05 59 25 62 06; e-mail: email@example.com). OCL was set up to study and protect birds migrating over the Pyrenees, and each seasons runs watchpoints at the passes of Organbidexka, Lizarrieta and Lindux at the western end of the mountain chain. In autumn 1998, 27,317 birds of prey were counted at the former, with around 1500 each at the other two sites the totals were reduced because of poor weather for long periods. Black Kites and Honey Buzzards were the most numerous species, but there was a whole range from Short-toed Eagle to Osprey to provide variety. The bad weather brought some bonuses for the watchers with a variety of waders which normally pass along the coast being seen, and even a flock of 57 Spoonbills! At Organbidexka, 278 Black Storks and 12,575 Cranes were also counted. The OCL newsletter for April gives full details, and includes an interesting analysis of Red Kite passage over 20 years. As a large proportion of Europe's Red Kites pass over the Pyrenees to winter in Spain, it is worrying that the general trend, having been rising until 1989, has been declining since then. It is possible that this reflects a decline in the success of birds breeding in Germany and Eastern Europe.
The first Egyptian Vulture to return to the Gorges du Tarn from Africa was seen on 17 March, with a second bird on 21st. There are high hopes that last year's successful breeding attempt in this region will be repeated this year, hopefully with more than one pair being involved. Already 72 pairs of Griffon Vultures have laid eggs, with 25 young hatched to date. Four pairs of Black Vultures have also laid eggs, with two other pairs on the verge of doing so. The Gorges du Tarn and de la Jonte are rapidly becoming a major stronghold for vultures in southern France, a major success for reintroduction schemes to follow elsewhere.
Some good news concerns the Ortolan, which has at last (in a decree passed on 9 March) been added to the list of species fully protected in France. Up to now its status has been rather vague neither unprotected nor fully protected primarily because of pressure from hunters in the south-west of France where passage birds have 'traditionally' been trapped for food. It is good to see its status clarified, particularly as there have been requests from some chefs to be allowed to add it to the menus of their gourmet restaurants. As if French cuisine was not rich and varied enough to need the addition of a bird in serious decline all across Europe! It now remains to be seen how effectively the new law is enforced.
The report on rare birds seen in France in 1997 has recently been published in Ornithos (Vol. 5, No. 4, 1998). Two new species were added to the list during the year a second-winter Great Black-headed Gull seen in at Capitello, Corsica on 3 November, and a Brown-throated Sand Martin over the Crau, Bouches-du-Rhône on 25 September. The first Red-necked Nightjar this century (and there isn't much time for another!) was picked up dead, also in Bouches-du-Rhône, on 12 June. There were nine sightings of Desert Wheatears, mostly in late autumn (cf. influx to UK at the same time), and a group of eight Pine Buntings overwintered in the Camargue early in the year. An exceptionally large influx of Rough-legged Buzzards 73 in all occurred early in the year. The subscription rate to Ornithos is 230 francs (190 francs if you're a member of the LPO) for those wishing to receive this journal on a regular basis. The same issue contains an article on an influx of Snow Buntings in 1996/97 and the breeding status of Fulmars. The mystery photo(s) concern various birds of prey ironically the same issue contains a cautionary tale about a wintering Hobby (photographed) that turned out to be a Peregrine!
Following a meeting with her counterpart from the Czech Republic in March, Madame Dominique Voynet, the French environment minister, has agreed to finance two more Argos satellite transmitters for use in the ongoing study of Black Stork migration between Europe and West Africa. For the past four years birds nesting in the Czech Republic have been fitted with these transmitters, and several have been tracked to their wintering grounds just south of the Sahara. (For news of those that, thanks to French hunters, did not make it, see the item for 18 November, below.) Current news concerns 'Marie', a young bird that flew from a nest in Burgundy last September and overwintered in Mauritania: in early March she was noted crossing the western Pyrenees, heading for home. Not far behind was 'Guillaume', heading for Luxembourg from wintering grounds in Burkina Faso his outward journey in the autumn took just 20 days. This ability to follow birds for the whole of their journeys is one of the most exciting developments in modern migration studies, and this is just the beginning.
An interesting study of wildlife killed by road traffic in France has recently been summarised in L'Oiseau magazine (No. 53, winter 1998). Staff patrolling 350 km of motorways in the area around Dijon, in north-east France, systematically collected dead birds and other animals found by the roadside, marking their position and removing them for subsequent analysis. This study took place over the period 19921997, on a motorway system where the average density of traffic was between 15 and 20,000 vehicles per day. The figures are pretty horrendous: 2930 birds, 2587 mammals and 549 'others', this last containing species not so systematically recorded for various reasons. Among the birds were 1311 Barn Owls (44.7%), 571 Long-eared Owls (19.5%) and 381 Common Buzzards (13%). In fact the majority of birds killed were raptors (83.3%), including Red Kite, Honey Buzzard and Hen Harrier in small numbers. Other birds killed in significant numbers included Pheasants and both partridges, with a long list of oddities including Black-necked Grebe, Smew and Nightjar. Among the mammals, the majority were rodent eaters this seemed to be the common factor with the birds killed with 743 Red Foxes, 615 Wild Cats, 452 of the two species of marten (not easy to distinguish as 'galettes'!), and then Badgers, Polecats, Stoats and Weasels in smaller numbers. Hares, Rabbits and Hedgehogs were the most numerous of other species 3 pigs were the most surprising of these.
Three significant factors emerged: (1) far fewer fatalities resulted where the motorway ran through wooded as opposed to open areas; (2) there were more birds killed where the road was level with or above the surrounding terrain, as opposed to where it ran through a cutting; (3) high densities of rodents by the roadside led to more road deaths. The most fruitful solution in the short term was thought to lie in reducing the populations of rodents by the roadside by keeping the ground bare or, better, because far less labour intensive, encouraging dense low bushy vegetation where rodent numbers could be high but where they were difficult for the predators to get at them. The study is continuing.
In a notable range expansion, a pair of Lammergeiers bred successfully in 1998 in the Ariège département, there being no previous breeding records from this area in the eastern half of the French Pyrenees. In 1997 a pair had hatched one young, but it died before fledging, a not unusual occurrence with inexperienced pairs. In 1998 they chose a more sheltered site for their nest, in an area with one of the densest Pyrenean populations of chamois, whose bones are an important food source for Lammergeiers. In August the single chick left the nest, hopefully the first of many in the years to come.
Impressive numbers of Mediterranean Gulls pass along the Atlantic coast of France on migration, peaking at the end of January. One of the best sites for observing these birds is at the Lac de Hossegor, to the north of Biarritz a total of 1098 were counted here on 1st February 1998. Many of the birds are nowadays carrying coloured rings, either from ringing activities elsewhere on their migration routes, or at their nesting colonies. Of 44 ringed birds seen during the 1997/98 season (main migration mid November to mid March), 16 were ringed in the Netherlands and Belgium, 15 in Hungary, 6 in Italy, 5 in the north of France and 2 in the Ukraine.
A census of Corncrakes in Maine-et-Loire during the 1998 breeding season, produced the encouraging total of 527549 calling males. Of these, 400 were in the Basses Vallées Angevines, close to the city of Angers. The numbers here were slightly down on 1997, but this was thought to be because of high water levels in the spring displacing birds from some of their traditional sites. The LPO continues to work closely with local farmers to manage the meadows in this area, the most important in western Europe for this threatened species, in as 'Corncrake-friendly' a way as possible.