Updated September 2006
This is a report on holiday trips which Nancy and I made to La Brenne in the Indre Département of France from 3rd to 10th May 2003, and again in September 2006. The weather in 2003 was awful, rain, rain and more rain, with just two fine days. In spite of this we recorded some superb birds, as you will see. In September 2006 we enjoyed lovely fine warm weather, and just 1 day's rain, all 3¼ inches of it!!
Visited again in May 2011 - see La Brenne blog
Click for the complete Species List
The journey down following a crossing from Dover to Calais was by way of Paris (la Francillienne), Orléans and Châteauroux to the Gîte at Martizay, North of le Blanc. This was excellent, and we arrived in good time to retrace our steps to Mézières for a superb meal. On the way back to Martizay afterwards, fine views of a Tawny Owl beside the road
Out early, as usual, for a stroll through the village, always enjoyable and rewarding, especially as this was the only fine morning of the holiday. Within seconds of stepping into the lane, a Hoopoe came flying close by - the only record of the trip. Soon I added Serin to the list, but the noise from singing Nightingales made it difficult to hear anything else - honest! Shortly afterwards, beside the recycling bins in a layby, there was a fine male Cirl Bunting to enjoy, a lifer for me. There were sightings every day after that, including a Gîte garden tick!!
Away from the village, I found some damp poplar woodland, with Golden Oriole to admire, and both Melodious and Icterine Warbler singing, too
After breakfast, we strolled into the village centre for shopping and a good old nose around, adding Spotted Flycatcher, Common Buzzard, and Swift to the notebook. Then it was off for an exploratory drive around as the sky clouded over and it rained (Oh goody)
We found the reserve and surrounding lakes at La Chérine, and enjoyed a damp stroll in from the "back" rather than the visitor centre, which we afterwards found! Here were added Honey Buzzard, Whiskered Tern, the first of very many superb and spectacular Black-Necked Grebes, Purple Heron, Sparrowhawk, Cattle Egret, Pochard and Tufted Duck. By the time we had dinner at the Auberge at La Gabrière , the "list" stood at 44, and we ate overlooking a large lake populated by Great Crested and Black Necked Grebes, and Whiskered Terns. Bizarrely, the restaurant sported a fine collection of stuffed birds for me to practise my limited identification skills on - the wine didn't help, either
Today we visited the museum in Le Blanc, and found, to our interest, and relevance to this site, that Iron workers from here had migrated to the Sussex Weald in the 15th Century to take their expertise to the development of the blast furnace in the iron industry there - of which the workings in the Forewood and Crowhurst were an important part
Afterwards, we went back to the PNR reserve at La Chèrine.Basically it's sandy heathland, with lakes and ponds, and an excellent scrape with strategically placed hides - a brilliant place. Gadwall, Black-winged Stilt, Black Tern, Black Woodpecker, Great White Egret, Dunlin, Cattle Egret, Purple Heron, and Savi's Warbler were highlights of today, as also was a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker busily carrying food to their nest within feet of the hide on stilts which overlooks the reedbed a short way from the visitor centre
Back at the visitor centre I discovered from an assistant warden that there was to be a guided visit to the Purple Heron colony, and was lucky to bag the last 2 places on the group of 8 allowed to go later in the week. I also discovered that in order to reduce disturbance to this colony, a large section of the visitor route was closed
After doing other holiday things today, rain drove us to the shelter of the hides at La Chèrine again to fill in the late afternoon until dinner. Safely and drily parked in the hide overlooking the scrape, we sat, watched and waited. Our reward? Night Heron (a fly-past of 4), Teal, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Egret (at last), Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, and lots of birds all being busy, oh, and a Common Pheasant!. A superb way to spend a couple of hours. By now the trip list stood at 84
Another day doing mainly non-birding things, giving an opportunity to enjoy the unique countryside in this little-known part of France, and some unusual brightness in the firmament. Even so, of the 54 species recorded, Grey Partridge, Hobby, Red Backed Shrike, Black Kite, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, and Linnet were additions to the list from a variety of places. Being dry today, and close, there were raptors soaring about all over the place
During the afternoon we found the lakes at Le Blizon, where we listed 57 species in an hours walk through the heath, lakes and mature copses, including more Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Tree Pipit, Cattle Egret, and Honey Buzzard. Near to the Gîte, we saw a female Montagu's Harrier, ever so close to the road over some rough uncultivated fields - later we saw a male also, and again on 2 further days
A cycling day out West of the Brenne, towards Preuilly sur Claise today, produced spectacular Eagle sightings on the only other fine warm and sunny day. As we stopped to look at a Montagu's Harrier, we also clocked Common Buzzard, Kestrel, and Hobby. Whilst watching this lot, a superb Booted Eagle came drifting over at height, and as we watched it pass overhead, a Short-Toed Eagle flung itself out of a copse we had lately cycled past, and displayed above the trees until the other Eagle had disappeared, a remarkable and memorable experience. Today was also a good day for falling over Cirl Buntings, probably because we were out of the national park into dryer, more open, agricultural habitat
Prompt at 4pm we were at Chérine reserve centre - at least one of us with stiff legs and a sore neck from cycling along looking heavenwards all day! We met up with the small party (which included a chap on holiday from his work at the Marquenterre reserve!!) to be taken to the Purple Heron colony. On the way we enjoyed 2 displaying male Red Backed Shrike, and, from a hide now out-of-bounds to ordinary mortals, excellent views into the colony of 12, possibly more, Purple Herons. I still can't believe our luck in finding out about, and getting on this guided visit, apparently one of only 4 to be offered. The wine was particularly good that evening, even if we were a bit late sitting down after a truly memorable experience
Today we visited the Maison du Parc beside the chateau at Le Bouchet, near Rosnay. This is a must see for any visitors to the area, and after early rain, in fine sunny weather, we enjoyed a good long wander round, and an excellent lunch in the restaurant there. Our visit also led us to the Etang Neuf nearby (not the one near Mèzieres). Here, as well as adding Shoveler (!) Marsh Harrier, Fan tailed Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler to the list, we found butterflies in numbers, including Swallowtail, Purple Emperor, Grizzled Skipper, Map, and a Fritillary I still haven't been able to identify, and wild flowers in profusion. A superb day which ended in a violent thunderstorm
And so home on an annoyingly lovely day, but, despair not, for as Nancy drove us homewards through the Vierzay forest just North of Vierzon, another Short Toed Eagle appeared beside the road!
This was a superbly relaxing holiday, and the (approx) 50% of the time we spent looking at birds was some of the best birding I have experienced in France. There were also plenty of non-birding places to see and things to do
This year we travelled by Norfolk Line to Gravelines having booked through the Ferry Travel Club, saving about £100
on the Dover/Calais fares. This had the added advantage of sailing close to the seawatching site on the Jeté Clipon at Dunkerque. Excellent crossing during which I saw a Pomarine Skua about 2 miles off Dover, and 7 Arctic Skuas, including 5 chasing terns by the outfall in front of the Nuclear Power Station just West of the harbour entrance
The journey to the Gite in Le Pont Chretien near to Argenton-sur-Creuse was straightforward, though delayed by a traffic jam around Paris. Lovely warm welcome at the Gite from Annie Young, and both Tawny and Little Owls calling as we drifted off to sleep
Next day we went to Rosnay for lunch and a look in the PNR visitor centre. The restaurant was full to overflowing, always a good sign in France, and there were no events listed for the week, so we went on to Cherine via the Etang Neuf. Suprisingly most summer visitors seem to have departed, no warblers or terns, and the only grebes were Great Crested Grebes still feeding young. There were good views of Bearded Tit, Purple Heron and Kingfisher here, too
Later, there was a distant Red Kite near the Etang Neuf, where, around the lake, there were butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers in profusion so we almost didn't realise how few birds were around. The striking thing about the Grasshoppers were the vivid blue wings they displayed when in flight, completely new to us, and I failed in my attempts to photograph them. That evening at the Gite were White Admiral, Silver Washed Fritillary, and Camberwell Beauty butterflies, with Wood Warbler and Garden Warbler busily feeding - the Wood Warblers were even swiping insects from spider's webs!!
A couple of days later, after a superb and leisurely lunch back at Rosnay, during which a Hornet decided to try my beer and fell in, we went out to Azay - le Feron, following the advice of a warden at Cherine, to see if we could find Little Bustard and Stone Curlew. Rolling open fields, some cultivated after harvest, some still with stubble and re-growth, were the recommended areas, so we found a suitable vantage point on a back road between Martizay and Azay, and waited. No Bustards to be seen, but after a couple of hours, as the afternoon wore on, two Stone Curlew showed about a half-mile away to add to the Booted Eagles and Montague's Harriers we had by then enjoyed good close views of. There were also Wheatear and Corn Bunting, Cirl Bunting and, near to St Michel on a roundabout route "home", almost the last Whiskered Terns in the Brenne! Back at the Gite this evening were Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Blackcap to see
Apart from casual sightings as we walked and cycled about, this was the only real birding of this immensely relaxing trip. The Moulin du Pont a lovley place to stay, I can thoroughly recommend it, and their website
A pleasant feature of the visit in 2006 was the insect sightings, here's a selection - I couldn't get pictures of the grasshoppers with their wonderful azure blue wings open, they were just too quick for me
Click for the complete Species List
Guides - 1 - Guide Nature de la Brenne, J. Trotignon & Tony Williams
2 - Les Oiseaux de Brenne, J-F Hellio & N van Ingen
Maps - IGN Carte de Promenade 34
- Parc Naturel de la Brenne - 3615 IGN - Institut Geographique Francais
La Brenne National Park - http://www.parc-naturel-brenne.fr/ - I love the terrapin at the foot of each page!