Provence, Jun 2014

A.k.a. France 2014: Part 1.

We had no trip to France hunting Odos in 2013, other than a 1-day pause at the Marais Poitevin en route to Spain in early August. Last year’s miss was due mainly to my having a cataract operation that stole May and June. So in 2014 I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms and eagerly booked our normal 6-week trip spanning the last week of May and the first week of July.

Our 2014 French trip was not designed purely for Odos. Carol was keen to search for orchids, particularly on the causses  around Millau. So, with May drawing to a close, we spent 3 days heading south to Millau for our first major stop spending 5 days scouring the area for plant life. I enjoyed the change.

After what was deemed a pretty successful orchid hunt netting us about 20 species, we headed further east to Provence where I was keen to revisit the Peau de Meau in the early part of the season. Our one previous visit of the highly acclaimed Peau de Meau was in September so we should have missed a number of early-season species. In Provence we stayed once again at Camping les Romarins, the barrier controlled and very popular camping municipale in Maussane-les-Alpilles. We’re not sure quite why this campsite is quite so popular since it seems rather impersonal to us with neighbours rarely exchanging pleasantries, but it’s convenient being in the very pleasant small town, has inclusive wi-fi and is reasonably well equipped. Besides, we’ve yet to find a better option in the vicinity. Ah, maybe that’s why it’s so popular? We stayed for a week between 3rd and 10th June.

As well as the Peau de Meau, I was also interested to see what we’d come to know as the Maussane Ditch, in Maussane-les-Alpilles itself. This unassuming little oasis in town had done as well as its famous neighbour last time.

A swift aside to grumble about my being screwed by Google: RIP Google Maps, enter “New” Google Maps. Why do improvements usually result in a degradation? Does New Google Maps now do what I want? No, of course not. I can no longer embed a map into a web page like this in the way I’d like, i.e. zoomed in to the area I’m discussing. So, after much heartache, I’m trying something new in Mapbox. I don’t have quite the control I’d like over icons and text formatting but it’s one heck of a lot closer than Google’s latest autocratically enforced pathetic offering. [I used to really like Google.]

So, using Mapbox, here’s a map showing our visited locations in Provence. My old approach was to make the number within each icon the number of species found at that location. I don’t seem to be able to use personalized icons so the number now represents the location referred to in my text. Who knows, maybe that’s a better approach for this usage.

Mausanne-les-Alpilles Ditch [#1]

First stop, Maussane Ditch, almost literally right outside our chosen campsite.

J14_1107 Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis[16]I’m not sure whether this really is a ditch, as such, but there is a small water course running alongside the Avenue des Alpilles in front of the Salle Agora. In Amerispeak, we might say this is “one block north” of the D17 which is the main road running east-west through the middle of town. This “ditch” was a revelation during our original September 2011 visit notching up 10 species including the delightful Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis) and Spotted Darter (Sympetrum depressiusculum).

On this occasion we discovered that the “ditch” actually joins into a small stream, the Gaudre du Trible which flows south through town. Our ditch was looking a little too overgrown in places, suffering from a little neglect, perhaps. Doubtless that’s a delicate balance when it comes to Odos when too much attention would disturb the inhabitants. I don’t think it wants to become too congested, though. Fears somewhat allayed, after a slowish start, we did begin seeing our friends though it was the newly discovered Gaudre du Trible  that proved to be the main area of activity.

Here’s our combined list for this visit.

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis)
  • Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
  • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii)
  • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes)
  • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)
  • Keeled Skimmer (Orhetrum coerulescens)
  • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)

The 10 species listed above take our total species tally at this modest location in the middle of town to an impressive 15.

Peau de Meau Reserve, Plain de la Crau [#2]

The Peau de Meau reserve in the Réserve Naturelle des Coussouls de Crau, just south of Saint-Martin-de-Crau, has an almost Mecca-like reputation among dragonfly enthusiasts.  The area of interest for Odo-nutters is a stream flowing along the north-western border of the reserve; it runs NE-SW just inside the entrance right beside the car park. Given its reputation, Our September visit in 2011 netted what I regarded as a pretty paltry 10 species; heck, I spotted that many in our ditch at Maussane-les-Alpilles. 🙂 I should note, though, that on my first visit to the Peau de Meau in 2011, I spent an awful lot of my time distracted by my very first encounter with the utterly captivating Copper Demoiselles (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis) that abound there.

J14_1168 Aeshna isoscelesThis time, once again armed with our necessary permits purchased (€3 each) from the Ecomusée de la Crau in Saint-Martin-de-Crau, we set off in hopes of significantly improving our count and improve it we did. This time we saw 14 species taking our total to 16; still not that impressive, to be honest, ‘cos I’ve logged 17 at my favourite farm campsite at Fanjeaux. Still, it was a good day because we snagged our first ever female Blue-eyed Hooktail (Onychogomphus uncatus). The biggest surprise of the day for me, though, was my first meeting in parts foreign with a couple of Norfolk Hawkers (Aeshna isoceles), much more appropriately called Green-eyed Hawkers in this neck of the woods, patrolling the stream and with not a single Water Soldier plant in sight.

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis)
  • Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale)
  • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii)
  • White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes)
  • Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles)
  • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope)
  • Yellow Clubtail (Gomphus simillimus)
  • Blue-eyed Hooktail (Onychogomphus uncatus)
  • Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)

I still can’t get enough of those Copper Demoiselles, though. 🙂

Canal de la Vallée des Baux, D27  [#3]

Just a few kilometres south of Maussane-les-Alpilles lies this stretch of the Canal de la Vallée des Baux. It was an instant hit with me in September 2011 because it provided my first ever encounter with a Spotted Darter (Sympetrum depressiusculum). Access could best be described as less than terrific because the canal side is raised, rather like a dyke, and quite overgrown so you can’t get really close to the water. However, the vegetation on the side does provide good habitat for a lot of the Odos venturing a short distance from the water.

Our route to and from the Peau de Meau takes you past this site so J14_1218 Gomphus pulchellusI couldn’t resist calling in on our way back from the Peau de Meau to see what we might find.  We were there less than an hour. I’m very glad we did call in, though, because, although we spotted only six species this time around, one of them was the Green-eyed Hawker/Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles), along with a Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus) that settled in the vegetation beside us.

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii)
  • Orange Featherleg (Platycnemis acutipennis)
  • Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles)
  • Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus)

Etang des Aulnes [#4]

J14_1226 Crocothemis erythraeaThe Etang des Aulnes itself is a large body of water that doesn’t look promising as Odo habitat, too much big open water, though it may be reasonable for birders. The main area of interest where Odos are concerned is a small collection of what I think are fishing ponds dug into the eastern side of the étang. This is where we concentrated our efforts. The weather was not at its best but we managed to notch up 11 species, which I suspect is not a great tally for this spot, in reality.

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Small red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum)
  • Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii)
  • White-legged damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Orange Featherleg (Platycnemis acutipennis)
  • Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope)
  • Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum)
  • Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)

So, in summary, I was a little disappointed at not seeing any species new to me but our first female Onychogomphus was very welcome as was our first foreign encounter with Aeshna isoceles. And [I can hear my English master cringing] how bad can seeing Caloptery haemorrhoidalis be?

Technorati Tags: nature,wildlife,dragonflies,damselflies,odonata,travel,France

Posted in 2014, France, Trip reports
2 comments on “Provence, Jun 2014
  1. Simon Mackie says:

    Hi John , we seem to be following in your footsteps again!! We are exploring some sites during our vacances in Provence and are doing rather well already…I will email when I return home , may even attacha few pics.
    My reason for dropping you a line or two is to bring to your attention thr Mausanne ditch…we did well although at first it did look a tad sparse, I think the vegetation has been stripped. Check any pictures of I.elegans you may have taken in the past as I only found one….the others blue-tails were all I.pumilio!!
    Better for me was the Boyeria irene found on the nearby stream…!! Again a sighting due mostly to the lack of bank cover.
    We’re off to find Aulnes fishponds…many thanks for sharing site info.
    Regards Simon

    • JC says:

      Well done Simon and thanks for the contact and particularly for the I. pumilio information – I’ll certainly go back over any old shots I have and check (I’m up in Norfolk hunting at the moment), especially since I’ve never actually recorded one of those little beasts. 😉 I may well have been guilty of assumption/lack of concentration so it’s worth a check. I confess that most of my concentration effort felt as if it was centred on distinguishing Whitelegs/Featherlegs. If only they were bar-coded. 😀

      At the time of this trip the ditch was quite overgrown, at the end nearer the campsite, anyway. Changes in vegetation do provide disturbance, don’t they?

      Yes, please do email on your return and I’d certainly be interested in any pictures you’d like to share.

      Bon continuation, John

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