France, June 2018

After a 3-year break, we finally managed to return to France. We had something of an agenda meeting various people so we were partly playing tourist and partly odonata (and orchid) hunters. We knew we would visit our favourite dairy sheep farm at Fanjeaux, so I’d be able to monitor its recovery progress since the devastating effect of a Koi Carp farmer using the lake a few years ago, happily since departed. I also planned to stay in La Brenne again, about  half way south, so that we could get a dose of both odos and orchids. Here I was particularly interested in trying to track down the Lilypad Whiteface (Leucorrhinia caudalis).

2018 is being a very unusual year for weather. England enjoyed a blistering spring and uncharacteristically good summer – so good that May and June reminded me of the famous standpipe summer of 1976, that everyone remembers. Conversely, France had had a dreadful spring and the Costa Blanca of Spain, usually very predictable, was also suffering some unsettled conditions, though not as bad as those in France.

One of our agenda items was meeting some Australian friends with a holiday retreat in Marseillan, a favoured area of ours on the Languedoc Mediterranean coast. Both near there and near to Fanjeaux, I had found a few sites where the enigmatic Splendid Cruiser (Macromia splendens) had been reported a few years earlier. If fortune favoured the brave, maybe I could catch a glimpse of that, though I wasn’t holding my breath. Working back north, as conditions were unusually fine by late June, we spent three days at the Parc des Volcans, high in the Auvergne [830m/2700ft], which proved to be most interesting.

Longstanding arrangements having been made, we set off on 31st May to return on 1st July. For a change, we sailed on the Transmanche Ferries  Newhaven-Dieppe route, now operated by DFDS. I liked it.

Here’s the map of locations.

Neufchatel-en-Bray, Normandy, 31 May [#1]

Disembarking the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry in the early afternoon, we covered the mere 30kms, arrived and were established at our campsite early enough to check out the local plan d’eau. One previously good pond was now very overgrown but the main lake was still good. This is not a terrifically exciting site but these increased the species count to more respectable levels (8):

  • J18_0490-Black-tailed-Skimmer_thumbBeautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)
  • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
  • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
  • Blue Featherleg (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)

Rosnay, La Brenne, 01-05 Jun [#2]

Our previously favoured stopping place at Bellebouche in La Brenne looked as if it were being spoiled on our last visit with a couple of fishing lakes, formerly grand for odonata, having been drained; it seemed as if a development for equestrian events was in progress. We had seen a potentially pleasant camping municipal a little further south at the village of Rosnay, complete with a small étang on site, so decided we’d give that a try. It was, indeed, very pleasant, and we would definitely head straight there were we to go again.

J18_0625 Dewy FeatherlegOur weather was relatively pleasant, albeit with a few evening thunderstorms. We were soon finding odos, most numerous of which were the extensive population of Blue Featherlegs/White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes). My highlight was most definitely a misty morning which, being literally on top of the population and knowing their evening roost, gave us the chance to snag some shots of dew-covered damsels after many years of hoping for such an opportunity.

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
  • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
  • Blue Featherleg (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum)

J18_0660 Migrant Spreadwing3kms down the road south of Rosnay was an impressively flowery meadow containing masses of Tongue Orchids (which we also had on site and which were impressively protected from the mower) and Lesser Butterfly Orchids. Here we also found the following scattered odos:

  • Migrant Spreadwing (Lestes barbarus)
  • Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)

Terres de Picodon, La Brenne, 2 Jun [#3]

J18_0721 Lilypad WhitefaceThis marvellously rich but compact little site was really the reason I wanted to come to La Brenne; it’s  a treasure. I had been introduced to it by a fellow odo-nutter, Nick Ransdale, several years ago when we notched up a very respectable species list including our first ever Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis). However, we had missed out on the much sought-after Lilypad Whiteface (Leucorrhinia caudalis), there being a known colony here. This time visit was at the front end of the Whiteface’s flight season so I was hopeful. Happily, not only did we find some but we found one in particular which was alighting on a floating leaf not too far from the bank. Joy unbounded! There were several present that I could see but most were at a distance in the middle of the sizeable pond.

  • Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
  • Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
  • Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum)
  • Large Redeye (Erythromma najas)
  • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)
  • Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea)
  • Lilypad Whiteface (Leucorrhinia caudalis)
  • Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

Maison du Parc, La Brenne, 04 Jun [#4]

J18_0768 Dainty BluetThis is essentially a visitor centre for La Brenne. It has a restaurant and, of course, ice creams but most importantly a good sized pond at its rear. Unfortunately only two sides of the pond are publically accessible but it is worth a visit. I was particularly happy to see a mating pair of Dainty Bluets/Dainty Damselflies (Coenagrion scitulum). We used to see these at Fanjeaux (see below) but sadly no longer.

  • Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus)
  • Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum)
  • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)

Les Brugues, Fanjeaux, 05-18 Jun [#5]

This is normally our favourite dairy sheep farm camping site. I say normally because this year it was experiencing extremely unsettled weather. We drove into a doozy of a thunderstorm as we approached Fanjeaux and conditions were frankly rubbish for hunting odonata for the entire two weeks of our stay. We’d hoped that conditions would settle and improve but this proved not to be the case. We experienced frequent heavy downpours. There were just a few brighter intermissions which enabled just one old familiar site to be checked plus one new site. Without our preset agenda of catching up with friends, we would probably have left. The meagre two sites (not including Les Brugues itself) we did visit in this area are listed below.

This site includes its own irrigation lake, a lake whose originally prolific odonata population numbered 20 species, was knocked for six about 5 years ago when a Koi Carp farmer began using it to raise Koi intensively. Koi Carp are voracious feeders and will eat anything and everything. Grass Carp had also been introduced to eat [a.k.a. clear] the vegetation which added to the devastation, there being greatly reduced choices for most damselflies to oviposit. The odonata population plummeted. Three years ago when we last visited, several species were hanging on but in very low numbers. I was interested to see how, if at all, things were recovering, though clearly this years atrocious weather did not help.

J18_0858 Migrant SpreadwingThe species count for the time of year was about what we had encountered three years ago. Individual species numbers were perhaps a little higher though nowhere near their former levels. Most surprising was what appeared to be a brand new species, Migrant Spreadwing/Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus), a species which I had not personally observed here before. I don’t recall seeing it near here, either, so I have no idea of its potential origin. Clearly it’s not called a migrant for nothing. A new species may be a positive sign for re-colonization, though.

  • Common Bluet (Enallagma cyathigerum)
  • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
  • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
  • Small Redeye (Erythromma viridulum)
  • Migrant Spreadwing (Lestes barbarus)
  • Western Willow Spreadwing (Chalcolestes viridis) – 10/06/2018
  • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
  • Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)

Lac de Lenclas, 08 Jun [#6]

This is one of my favourite odonata spots in the Fanjeaux area. It is a municipal lake created by a dam and surrounded by a curving arm of La Rigole, the engineering masterpiece of a small canal that feeds water into the much larger Canal du Midi. With multiple habitats, lake and canal, on one site, it supports a varied array of odonata species.

J18_0955 Western DemoiselleOn a single afternoon that provided a relatively bright intermission to our distressingly unsettled 2-week period, this is what we found. I was particularly interested to note that the immature male Western Demoiselles Calopteryx xanthostoma) emerge with essentially uncoloured wings. This is a useful contrast to Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) whose immature males already show the wing band, albeit slightly fainter, and Beautiful Demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo), whose immature males have decidedly brown tinted wings. The books mention this but it was fun observing it.

  • Western Demoiselle (Calopteryx xanthostoma)
  • Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis)
  • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
  • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
  • Blue Featherleg (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Orange Featherleg (Platycnemis acutipennis)
  • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
  • Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum)
  • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)

Ladern-sur-Lauquet, 09 Jun [#7]

    This was a new site which I was keen to to visit because I found records of Splendid Cruiser (Macromia splendens) here. It’s about 35kms east of Fanjeaux and proved to be an apparently sleepy village – sleepy until we parked near an old camper van surrounding by strange individuals playing loud, even stranger noises that pass as music to some. [OK, I know, I sound like my parents did.]

    J18_0988 Common ClubtailThere were intermittent spells of sunshine for our brief visit and we found five species though not, of course, the elusive M. splendens. We were still probably a little too early for it anyway; the records of it that I found were mostly for very late June/early July. The sight of several Common Clubtails (Gomphus vulgatissimus) was pleasing, though.

    • Western Demoiselle (Calopteryx xanthostoma)
    • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
    • Orange Featherleg (Platycnemis acutipennis)
    • Common Clubtail (Gomphus vulgatissimus)
    • Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus)

    Lac de Sesquier, Loupian, 20 Jun [#8]

    J18_1052 White FeatherlegThis was a newly discovered water body on this, our second stay at the friendly little camping municipal at Loupian. It appears to be mostly a fishing lake, judging by the surrounding club signs, but there were a few species of odos in decent numbers on the lake, most notably the White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes). Most numerous, though, were Small Red-eyes (Erythromma viridulum).

    • Western Demoiselle (Calopteryx xanthostoma)
    • Small Redeye (Erythromma viridulum)
    • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
    • White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes)
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
    • Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii)

    Marais de la Grande Palude, nr Sete, 23 Jun [#9]

    We wondered if there might be some Dark Spreadwings (Lestes macrostigma) here – it’s a near coastal marsh, which seems about right, and according to the distribution map in Dijkstra/Lewington, they are in the general area. We didn’t find any, sadly.

    J18_1122 Southern Darter femaleFreshly emerged Southern Darters (S. meridionale) and Blue-eyed Hawkers/Southern Migrant Hawkers (A. affinis) were good to see, though.

    • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
    • Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna affinis)
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) 
    • Southern Darter (Sympetrum meridionale)
    • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)

      Lac de l’Estivadoux, Auvergne, 26-28 Jun [#10]

      Lac de l'EstivadouxThis is one of the most amazing pieces of habitat I’ve ever seen. We didn’t even see that it was a lake initially, so richly vegetated is it; it looks more like a very flat field as one drives past on the road heading south. Carol spotted it as a lake as we drove past a second time in the opposite direction, when more is visible behind the roadside trees. It is a modestly sized shallow lake, maybe half a metre deep at most, filled with vegetation, dense in places. It is a high altitude lake sitting at 1200m/3900ft.

      We were here specifically in search of the Crescent Bluet/Irish Damselfly (Coenagrtion lunulatum), which I’m assured is present. I’m desperate to avoid having to visit Ireland to see it.  Sadly, we failed to find any in our three days of searching, even using my Salomon Aquatech shoes (now called Techamphibians) to wade into the shallow water. Maybe the damsels had finished early this year with the very bad weather that preceded our visit. I’ll just have to try Belgium next time. 🙂

      J18_1312 immature Yellow-winged DarterThe lake was teaming with life, though, including several difficult to see (for some of us) specialist species that prefer shallow, well vegetated waters that may be seasonal and dry out: Robust Spreadwing/Scarce Emerald (Lestes dryas) and Spearhead Bluet/Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum). It also netted us a new addition to our catalogue, another specialist of this habitat type, the Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum), all freshly emerged so not yet red. This last was wonderful compensation for missing out on my initial target species; difficult dragonflies are harder than difficult damselflies, IMHO.

      • Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas)
      • Common Bluet (Enallagma cyathigerum)
        • Spearhead Bluet (Coenagrion hastulatum)
        • Azure Bluet (Coenagrion puella) 
        • Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
          • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) 
          • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
          • Yellow-spotted Emerald (Somatochlora flavomaculata)
          • Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum)

          Lac de Bourdouze, Auvergne, 27 Jun [#11]

          J18_1358 Brilliant EmeraldLac de BourdouzeAnother more picturesque, more conventional lake high in the Auvergne not far from Estivadoux, this proved to be Emerald City with no less than three Emerald (dragonfly) species in residence: Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea), Yellow-spotted Emerald (Somatochlora flavomaculata) and Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica), one of my few missing UK species. The wind was high, too, and the observation point faces the sun, which seemed intense in the clear air at this altitude (1170m/3840ft), but we did what we could.

          • Common Bluet (Enallagma cyathigerum)
          • Large Redeye (Erythromma najas)
          • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
          • Yellow-spotted Emerald (Somatochlora flavomaculata)
          • Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica)
          • Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea)
          • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
          • Blue Emperor (Anax imparator)
          • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthterum cancellatum)

          Lac Montcineyre, Auvergne, 28 Jun [#12]

          J18_1432 Yellow-spotted EmeraldThe third in the triumvirate of high altitude (1180m/3870ft) Auvergne lakes that we visited in our 3-day stay, this looked a little tedious at first but that changed dramatically as we were getting ready to leave. A swarm – 20 or so – of what turned out to be Yellow-spotted Emeralds (Somatochlora flavomaculata) were zooming over a small patch of nettles beside a stand of trees, feeding. The heavily vegetated background was far too confused for attempting any flight shots but then, to my surprise, they began landing on the nettles at relatively frequent intervals. They didn’t seem to be devouring anything once settled so maybe they really were just resting, taking a break? Alternatively, as Downy Emeralds are known to do, they were time-sharing the airspace. What a lucky break.

          • Common Bluet (Enallagma cyathigerum)
          • Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas)
          • Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)
          • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
          • Yellow-spotted Emerald (Somatochlora flavomaculata)
          • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

          Posted in 2018, France, Trip reports

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