This area holds a special place in our hearts because of a delightful campsite on a dairy sheep farm run by an equally delightful French couple, Luc and Nadine Vialaret. The campsite is perched beside farmer Luc’s irrigation lake, created by a modest dam. This lake was instrumental in my getting hooked on Odonata; we have personally logged 19 species on this one lake in the past few years. Using this as a base in the region, we make sorties to other surrounding tourist and wildlife attractions. This year we added four interesting new worthwhile wildlife spots to our normal list for the area:
- Mirepoix: River Hers
- Lac de Montréal
- Lac de Montbel (north-east end)
- Argens-Minervois: Canal du Midi
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As delightful as the campsite at Fanjeaux remains, all is not now rosy in the garden from an odo-nutter’s viewpoint. In 2011, farmer Luc made an arrangement (which I assume to be financial) allowing an intensive farmer of Koi Carp to use his lake. In addition to several thousand young Koi Carp, dozens of immense Grass Carp, each roughly the size of a nuclear submarine, were introduced “to control the vegetation”. The result has been the apparent complete destruction of the vegetation such trhat there is now no floating vegetation at all, adversely affecting oviposition, certainly of the damselflies but also of Emperor Dragonflies. Added to this, any eggs which are successfully laid are in very real danger of predation by the several thousand voracious mouths of the growing Koi Carp.
To cut a long story short, in my modest amount of time spent on observation, this has utterly decimated the Odonata population of the lake. Numbers of individuals are severely reduced and, indeed, I believe at least four species – those which are dependent upon floating vegetation – have been eradicated. Whilst I am personally greatly saddened by this loss of an erstwhile superb habitat, I am interested in returning to monitor developments. Besides, it’s still the best campsite in France. 🙁
Mirepoix is a delightful bastide town from a tourist point of view, anyway, but now we’ve discovered an odonatology attraction. On the north side of town flows the Hers river which provided a satisfying haul of dragons, on a first visit. In addition to the river banks, there was a “flush” caused by a less than attractive drainage pipe. Though the pipe itself may have been unappealing to humans, its trickle of water into suitable vegetation attracted a couple of flush-loving species, Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) and Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale). Indeed, this gave us our best shot yet of a female Keeled Skimmer.
Along the banks of the river itself, the main characters of interest were Common Clubtail (Gomphus vulgatissimus) and a particularly cooperative copulating pair of Western Demoiselle (Calopteryx xanthostoma).
In addition to the large, probably better known cousin in Canada, there are several towns/villages called Montréal in France. This one lies just a few miles east of Fanjeaux and is something we drive through when visiting Carcassonne. This year we discovered it had a small lake created, like many French lakes, by a dam. Small the lake maybe but, in about an hour, we spotted nine species of Odo although one of those remained steadfastly elusive and unidentified, though I think it was a red darter of some kind. My main interest was in one of the now missing species at our Fanjeaux campsite, the Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum), which we observed ovipositing here.
The Lac de Montbel is a large man-made reservoir involving several dams and is, unsurprisingly, a resource featuring watersports. We tried it once a couple of years ago and it proved rather unexciting. However, this year we discovered that we had been looking in the wrong place. This year we discovered the north-eastern end of the lake which proved much more productive from a wildlife perspective. Here we found nine species of Odo including one of this year’s almost ever-present newbies, the Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barabrus), and, most excitingly because it alighted for Carol, a Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope).
This north-east end of the lake also proved interesting for butterflies including a new one to us this year, Large Chequered Skipper (Heteropterus morpheus).
This is some distance east of Fanjeaux towards the Mediterranean coast. Though it didn’t produce a notable species count, I’ve highlighted it because we spotted White Featherlegs (Platycnemis latipes) lurking around the marina here, rather uncooperatively from a photographic viewpoint, in the reeds. There was also a restaurant beside the canal which served what must be the worst chips/French fries I have ever eaten but that’s another story.