Birding at the Manoir de Gurson, Dordogne

A fleeting visit by Ken Hall

This guesthouse is situated about halfway between Libourne and Bergerac, in the west of the département of the Dordogne. I stayed here for a couple of nights in early July 2017, and although a bit late in the season for birdsong, there was still plenty to keep me occupied. As an adjunct to the sites mentioned in David Simpson's guide (Birding Dordogne), some of which are not too far away, the following is a note of what could be seen in even just a short visit.

The approach to the house is along an access road with an open plateau of grassland to the left, and a similar area sloping away to the right with rather more in the way of scattered bushes. The manoir itself occupies a commanding position overlooking a valley where there were a series of lakes, with mixed woodland on the far side. The grounds themselves are quite extensive – 40 ha – but the woodland is only part of a much larger area of similar habitat stretching away to the south. Broad paths have been mown through the grassland and then down the slopes and along the side of the lakes to allow easy access on foot without undue disturbance to the vegetation and wildlife. [Click on all images for larger versions]

Manoir de Gurson as seen near access road © Ken Hall Manoir de Gurson as seen from the woodland opposite the terrace © Ken Hall

One can of course, just sit on the terrace and scan to see what might appear over the woodland opposite. During my time there this produced several sightings of Honey Buzzard, one indulging in its curious wing-flapping display, a couple of Short-toed Eagles being mobbed by a Common Buzzard, a noisy family party of Kestrels, and a series of Black Kites drifting past from time to time. On one evening there was clearly a massive hatch of flying ants, and I counted at least 20 Black Kites high overhead, picking off the ants in much the same way that gulls can be seen doing in the UK.

In the early morning, a Woodlark was singing from across the valley, and at other times the calls of Golden Oriole, Blackcap, Nuthatch, and Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers came from the woodland. No doubt other woodland species would be found if more time had been available.

Black Redstarts, Swallows and White Wagtails were nesting in or near the main building itself, and from here a circuit starting down the slope through some scattered pines and gorse bushes produced a singing Tree Pipit and a pair of Stonechats. By proceeding cautiously I managed good views of several European Pond Terrapins sunning on some exposed tree stumps before, inevitably, they plopped off into the water as I got nearer. This species is listed as Near Threatened in the 2009 IUCN Red List of European Reptiles, so it was good to see them seemingly flourishing here.

Looking down the slope to the lakes © Ken Hall Manoir de Gurson as seen from one of the lakes © Ken Hall

The lakes are also home to plenty of Marsh Frogs, which made quite a cacophony once the evening came, and large numbers of bats (species unknown to me, I'm afraid) headed off in this direction from the house at dusk. One imagines that someone with a bat-detector could spend some productive time here of an evening. The valley leading down to the lakes contains a nice mix of bushes and grassland, where both Corn and Cirl Buntings were singing, as were Melodious Warbler and Whitethoat. A couple of Red-backed Shrikes perching in the hedgerow, as well as along the fence by the entrance road, added a bit of colour to the proceedings.

I enjoyed my stay, short though it was. The Manoir de Gurson could well make a good base for a small group of birdwatchers who wanted to explore this part of France. If their interests extended to wine-tasting and history, so much the better! For more details, see their website.

PS. For more information about birds and bird conservation elsewhere in France, do take a look at my LPO News site .