France, Autumn 2011

My main target for this 6-week trip in relation to Odonata-spotting was La Plaine de la Crau in the Camargue region of southern France, where I was hoping to see a few species new to me. However, it’s a long way down and it’s best not to be a slave to one activity so we made multiple stops for various reasons en route.

Two maps will help to clarify this report: a Google map of the trip and my French locations map with precise site markers.

29th Aug – 1st Sep: Le Parc Naturel Régional de la Brenne

White-tailed SkimmerThis area boasts 2000 étangs [lakes] so it would seem to be tailor made for dragonflies. I’d stopped here briefly in 2003, which is about 6 B.O. [Before Odonata 😀 ] and snapped my first, dreadful dragonfly picture which, I now know, was a White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum). Just for a laugh, here’s that historic, trail-blazing shot. It was also B.D. [Before Digital] so that shot was on 50ASA slide film. This time, with dragonflies being the main reason for the visit and armed with a DSLR, I was hoping for something better.

We were here four days and visited 0.1% of the étangs – two!

Étang de Bellebouche
Our base in La Brenne. The campsite pitches are not huge (for France) but made a very pleasant stopover out of the main tourist season.

Winter DamselflyThere is a large main lake which is home to colonies of Purple Herons in the season. However, there are also two small fishing lakes on the eastern side of this just beyond the campsite which proved the most productive area for Odonata; here we identified 12 species:

  • Damselflies (Zygoptera)
    • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens);
    • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii);
    • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans);
    • Small Emerald Damselfly (Lestes virens vestalis) – new;
    • Winter Damselfly (Sympecma fusca) – new.
    • Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis);
    • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes);
  • Dragonflies (Anisoptera)
    • Southern Darter (Sympetrum meridionale);
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum);
    • Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum);
    • Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum);
    • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum;

Étang de Cistude
We made a relatively brief day trip here where there is a reception hut run by the WWF with a good set of books on sale. Some well-constructed boardwalks to another observatory but this is mainly a birders’ spot. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, this is where we spotted our first ever Small Emerald Damselfly (Lestes virens vestalis).

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Small Emerald Damselfly (Lestes virens vestalis) – new
  • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)
  • Southern Darter (Sympetrum meridionale) – mite-laden when it came to the females

6th – 11th Sep: La Plaine de la Crau

We based ourselves on the very well equipped (wi-fi included) municipal campsite (Les Romarins) at Mausanne-les-Alpilles for six days. Les Alpilles are a picturesque set of modest, rolling hills just east of Arles and south of St-Rémy-de-Provence; they are well worth a visit by any Francophile.

Mausanne-les-Alpilles
IMG_2870 Lesser EmperorTo my surprise, whilst walking into town down a back street close to the campsite, we came across what we referred affectionately as the Maussane ditch. It’s a limited body of water, only about 10ft/3m at its widest point and considerably narrower in others, but it produced a surprising haul of 10 species.

  • Damselflies (Zygoptera)
    • Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis)
    • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
    • Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis)
    • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Dragonflies (Anisoptera)
    • Spotted Darter (Sympetrum depressiusculum)
    • Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens)
    • Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
    • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
    • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) – on the campsite itself, new
    • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)

I also strongly suspect that we saw Dusk Hawkers (Boyeria irene) zooming about the campsite but, alas, they never settled for a confirmation shot.

Canal de la vallée des Baux
IMG_1621 Spotted DarterThis canal runs east-west about 4 kms south of Mausanne-les-Alpilles itself. The canal is crossed by two roads, D27 and D33, which offer rudimentary parking with canalside access. There is a footpath but the banks are quite steep and overgrown so care must be taken. It was our first ever sighting of a Spotted Darter (Sympetrum depressiusculum) so we visited it three times and found 11 species. I later realized we had snagged our first White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes) here, also.

  • Damselflies (Zygoptera)
    • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
    • Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum)
    • Western Demoiselle (Calopteryx xanthostoma)
    • Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis)
    • White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes) – new
  • Dragonflies (Anisoptera)
    • Spotted Darter (Sympetrum depressiusculum) – new
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
    • Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)
    • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)
    • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) – on the campsite itself
    • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)

Peau de Meau
IMG_1668 Copper DemoiselleGenerally considered to be the star Odonata attraction in the area, a permit, on sale from the Ecomusée de la Crau in the town of St-Martin-de-Crau, is required to visit. The permit cost us €3 each for a day and was well worth it because this is where I was captivated my my first sightings of the stunning Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis).

There’s a series of information boards  dotted around a walk of the area but the main Odonata interest seemed to be along a stream flowing immediately behind the cap park at the entrance.

  • Damselflies (Zygoptera)
    • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
    • Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis)
    • Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale)
    • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Dragonflies (Anisoptera)
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
    • Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens)
    • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)
    • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)
    • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
    • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope)

Étang des Aulnes

After turning south off the D24 to head towards the Peau de Meau, the Étang des Aulnes is on the right. Beyond the first parking area is a second which has a sign muttering something about fishermen. (Sorry, too many bottles of wine ago.)  The large étang itself looks more suited to birders but we found quite a bit of Odonata interest in a small set of “finger lakes” just south/left of the gravel parking area.

  • Damselflies
    • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
    • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii)
    • Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum)
  • Dragonflies
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Ischnura elegans)
    • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
    • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope)
    • Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)
    • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)
    • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)
    • Spotted Darter (Sympetrum depressiusculum)

Marais de Vigueirat

This is quite well done with a couple of routes including some board-walks over the marshy areas. The car park also has sun-shaded parking bays, which is a nice touch. Less amusing were the swarms of mosquitoes that plague the place, being a hot, steamy marsh. We began sauntering around and quickly realized that speed was of the essence to avoid being bitten to death; pausing to snap photos was asking for trouble. There were literally thousands of Scarlet Darters which we disturbed with almost every hurriedly taken step but it was not an enjoyable experience. Personally, I wouldn’t bother again, sad though I am to admit it.

Despite our haste, we did spot the following.

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)
  • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)

19th – 29th Sep: Lauragais, Fanjeaux

We frequently explore an area from our favourite French campsite at Fanjeaux. It stretches up to Les Montagnes Noires in the north, down towards Mirepoix in the south and west towards Toulouse. Calling it all the Lauragais (an area surrounding Laurac) is a bit of a stretch but it seemed a handy tag for the general region.

Fanjeaux, Les Brugues

This base, to which we are addicted, was instrumental in developing my fascination for Odos. It is a dairy sheep farm with an irrigation lake which was teeming with no fewer than 17 species of dragonflies and damselflies, sometimes in huge numbers.

This year a potential problem is rearing its ugly head – fish farming. A breeder of Koi Carp has been allowed to use the lake which is now stocked with massive Grass Carp (to eat the vegetation) and literally thousands of small Koi Carp (the cash crop). This is intensive fish-farming with numbers being maintained artificially high by food supplements. As a result, this year Odo numbers seemed to have crashed alarmingly [my opinion]. I fear their eggs are too good a food source for the fish and the damsels have no floating vegetation remaining on which to oviposit. This September, we saw only six species.

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
  • Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)
  • Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) – a fly-through, I believe

La Rigole, La Prise d’Alzeau

The Canal du Midi runs through the valley just north of Fanjeaux. It is fed by water channelled from Les Montagnes Noires further north in a brilliantly engineered small canal called La Rigole. Its “source” is La Prise d’Alzeau near Saissac. This is where I was first captivated by Beautiful Demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo). It’s quieter in September but we did spot a species new to us this year.

  • Common Darter (Enallagma cyathigerum)
  • Blue-eyed Hooktail/Large Pincertail (Onychogomphus uncatus) – new

La Rigole, Lac de Lenclas

Once out of Les Montagnes Noires, La Rigole flows into the plain below. At one point, it runs in a curve around a man-made lake called the Lac de Lenclas. This was a new discovery for us in spring, 2011, and we returned in September to see what we could find. What we found, amongst other Odos, was my first sighting of the brilliantly colourful Violet Dropwing/Violet-marked Darter (Trithemis annulata). This seems a little out of its accepted range but it is expanding, apparently.

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)
  • Violet Dropwing/Violet-marked Darter (Trithemis annulata) – new

Lac de Balestié

Spurred on by something approaching desperation at the lack of Odos at our base camp, we went in search of alternative local habitats and found this lake about 10kms south on the way towards Mirepoix.

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii)
  • Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)
  • Southern Darter (Sympetrum meridionale)

30th Sep – 5th Oct: Pyrenees, Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Just when I thought Odo spotting was at an end once we arrived in the Pyrenees to enjoy a brilliantly clear spell of mountain weather, while visiting a few Tour de France cols, we bumped into this lake which would probably fall into the category of a classic montane habitat.

Lac de Payolle

IMG_2094 Common HawkerOur first Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) was the star attraction here, apart from the stunning scenery, of course. 🙂

  • Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
  • Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)

Posted in 2011, France, Trip reports

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