Wildlife Pics from the Dordogne

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Shield Bug, Pale Clouded Yellow, Meadow Brown, Knapweed Fritillary, and wasp, sawfly or ….a?

Conspicuous by their absence from my last post – I know, my last epistle was quite some time ago, suffice to say that online teaching is, despite what the gutter press seem to think, pretty all-consuming and involves spending most of the day stuck in front of a screen, so blogging has dropped out of favour as a spare-time activity – anyway, as I was saying, notably missing – notable, that is, to long-suffering followers at least – notably missing from my account of our trip to the Dordogne last summer were the plethora of wildlife photos which usually occupy around nine tenths of most of my posts. Fear not, that’s because I’ve saved them all up for one gargantuan holiday-snap snore-fest, with no people or views at all! (You can’t say you weren’t warned.)

This first photo neatly epitomises one of my favourite things about our trips to France – the sheer abundance and variety of the flora and fauna, well – particularly the insects.

Although there’s a lot of photos here – some might say too many – it’s a tiny sample of the many I took. Whilst my family and friends were floating down the river on rubber rings, or reading their books, or swinging through the trees doing their best Tarzan impressions, I wandered around the local woods and fields, camera in hand. Sorting through the vast assortment of resulting shots, choosing some favourites, and then trying, with varying degrees of success, to identify some of the more exotic species has been a highly enjoyable but fairly lengthy process. Not that I’ve restricted myself to the more exotic species here, I’m almost as happy to be photographing things which are very common at home…

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Meadow Brown on Horse Mint

I generally consider my memory to be atrocious, but weirdly, I’m confident that I can remember where each of these photos were taken. This Horse Mint, for example, grows behind the wall which runs alongside the road into the village. Whereas this thistle..

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Another Meadow Brown.

…was growing in a field next to the river, upstream of the campsite, a particularly happy hunting ground.

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Pale Clouded Yellow

Every trip seems to bring something new. I didn’t know, for example, that there was such a thing as a Pale Clouded Yellow.

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Pale Clouded Yellow
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Clouded Yellow

Ordinary, bog-standard Clouded Yellows sometimes appear in Britain as migrants. I saw one near Arnside once, a couple of miles from home, which really confused me at the time, because I knew what it was, but really didn’t expect to see it flying in a field in Cumbria, having only previously spotted them in France.

I don’t think that Cleopatra’s occur in the UK, I’ve certainly never seen them before.

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Cleopatra

They proved to be quite elusive, so I was quite chuffed to catch this one on my phone, although, with its wings closed, it looks very like a common-or-garden Brimstone. When they open their wings however….

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Cleopatra

…they’re quite different.

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Knapweed Fritillary

We were a few days later into the summer this trip. It’s amazing what a difference those few days made. Some butterflies have a brief lifespan in their adult phase. On our last trip we saw quite a few Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails, as well as numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries. Not this time.

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Knapweed Fritillary

But I did see lots of fritillaries. At the time, I was convinced that there were two different species, but looking at the photos now, it seems to me that they are probably all Knapweed Fritillaries.

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A pair of Knapweed Fritillary

I usually saw them in pairs, and often with one of the pair raising the back of its abdomen in what I took to be part of some sort of wooing process.

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A mating display?
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Wood White?
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Wall Brown
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Rock Grayling.
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Grizzled Skipper?

This little chap was compensation for a long and fruitless chase of a much larger butterfly, which may or may not have been my first, and so far only, sighting of a Camberwell Beauty.

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Common Blue.
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Common Blue
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Common Blues.
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Common Blue.

I’d already had an uncommonly good summer for spotting and photographing Common Blues around home, and they were abundant again both in the Dordogne and then, after we moved on, in the Tarn Gorge. Somehow their blue seemed even more vivid in the French sunshine.

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Holly Blue. I think.
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If anything, grasshoppers were even more abundant, more elusive, more variable and more difficult to identify than the butterflies.

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Some of the larger ones have very striking red or blue wings, sadly only visible in flight.

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Striped Shield Bug on Wild Carrot.
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Striped Shield Bugs – mating?
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Striped Shield Bug on Wild Carrot with a passenger.
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Hairy (or Sloe) Shieldbug.
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Assassin Bug?

There are thousands of species of Assassin Bug apparently, of which this may be one.

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My first thought was that this was a Carder Bee, but it has no pollen baskets, so now I’m wondering if it’s even a bumblebee at all. I’ve concluded that, not very confident at identifying bees on my home patch, I shan’t even attempt to do so with these French bees.

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I will say that this isn’t a bee, but something imitating a bee’s markings. I’m not sure whether it’s a bee-fly or a hoverfly, although I’m inclined to the latter.

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I saw a few of these large and strikingly ugly black and orange flies.

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As with the bees, I saw a number of wasps, or wasp like creatures, which don’t seem to be in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’ guide. There were some very thin waisted black and orange bugs which I think were ichneumon wasps of some kind. But I’m not sure whether the black and white creature below, sharing a flower with a burnet moth, is a wasp or a sawfly…

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Here’s another…

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…with a fritillary. And something similar, but yellow and black…

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Last time I took lots of photos of damselflies, dragonflies and demoiselles. Not so much this time, although the demoiselles were still present in large numbers by the river. Here’s a solitary damselfly…

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And what I thought was an unusually hairy, stunted and unglamorous dragonfly…

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Robber Fly

…but which I’m now pretty sure is a species of Robber Fly. Having said all those uncharitable things, I should say I’m actually quite chuffed to have spotted this, if only because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. That short, stout proboscis is for piercing prey and injecting venom. And the stiff hairs on its face, visible here, are called the mystax, from the Greek mystakos, also the origin of our ‘moustache’, via Latin, Italian and French. Which is the kind of trivia I find very satisfying.

All of which brings me to the last section of my insect photos, the moths.

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Six-spot Burnet Moth
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A colourful micro moth.

One of the wildlife highlights of our last trip had been the almost daily sightings of Hummingbird Hawkmoths, This time, the Meadow Clary which they seemed to favour had mostly finished flowering and to begin with I saw far fewer. Then, after my pursuit of the suspected Camberwell Beauty, I wandered into a part of the campsite I hadn’t previously ventured into. Having said there would be no views, here it is…

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It was unmown, full of wildflowers and a haven for butterflies. And in one corner, there was lots of Meadow Clary still in bloom, and loads of Hummingbird Hawkmoths too..

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

I have to confess that I was fascinated by them.

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

An example, I believe, of convergent evolution, Hummingbird Hawkmoths have evolved in a similar way to hummingbirds in order to occupy a similar ecological niche. Like hummingbirds, they use very rapid wingbeats to hover close to species of tubular flowers and use their long tongues to reach the otherwise inaccessible nectar.

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth on Meadow Clary
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Hummingbird Hawkmoth
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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

I guess they must land and rest sometimes? But those legs don’t look particularly practical.

Whilst the insects sometimes left me bewildered, the flora is even more diverse and confusing. I think I would have to move to France, massively improve by rusty schoolboy French, buy a comprehensive local field guide, live in the Dordogne for a decade or two, and then I might muster the same semi-confident familiarity that I’ve grasped with the plants around home.

A couple of very distinctive species did stand out however…

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Thornapple

This one, it turns out, is no more at home in the region than me, being native to North America.

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Thornapple

I was struck by the way the seedpods form in the nodes, where the stems branched, which seems unusual.

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Thornapple leaves.

Don’t be fooled by the presence of the word ‘apple’ in its name, because apparently the whole plant is poisonous.

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Thornapple seeds – highly poisonous.
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Thornapple seeds.
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Thornapple flowers.

They were growing in amongst the sunflowers and where the height of the sunflowers had forced them, they had grown to around two metres high.

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Field Eryngo?

Although I think this is Field Eryngo, I actually saw it, not in the fields, but growing in clearings in the woods. It looks like a thistle but is actually related to our own Sea Holly.

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Unfortunately, I have no idea what this plant is, with its striking red stems, tiny white flowers and colourful berries.

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It was growing by the cycle path at the edge of the village, and I suppose might have been introduced.

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Seedheads of a mallow? I liked the shapes.
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Robin’s pincushion galls.
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A Common Lizard I think.
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These four photos are all, I think, of the same lizard, which was basking on the wall one morning when I walked past on the way to the bakery and still in the same spot when I came back.

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This last is on the wall of the Chateau we visited, so definitely a different lizard!

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And finally, this toad had apparently been our lodger and was revealed as such only when we took the tent down in preparation to move on the Tarn Gorge.

Wildlife Pics from the Dordogne

17 thoughts on “Wildlife Pics from the Dordogne

  1. Great photos Mark! I’m very jealous. In 1990 we were travelling from Sarlat to Rocamadour along the plateau edge and I could see nothing but butterflies as we drove along. We didn’t have the time that day to stop and let me out to play. I always wanted to go back for another look but never did. 2 years later we booked a holiday in the Cevennes with a view to walking and seeing the wildlife in that area – it was 1992 – the year the whole holiday season in France was a wash out! Yes, I am jealous – very jealous. 🙂

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Thanks Ken. Maybe we’ll be allowed to holiday in France again, at some point, and you could go back and take a look – I can definitely recommend it.

  2. Wow, it’s amazing that just over the channel is so much new wildlife to see as well as wildlife that is rarer here, such as the clouded yellow butterfly and humming bird hawk moths. You must have been inyour element.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Absolutely – I was in my element – I’m ready for some warmer days and a bit more wildlife to see now too. Roll on spring.

  3. Superb photographs. Thornapple is a fascinating plant, though I have only looked at it and read about it. I suspect it is less fascinating if you actually try it. Great to see photographs of things I have only heard of, and hear of things that were completely new to me.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Yes, maybe not a good idea to try Thornapple. How did we ever work those things out all those millennia ago? It’s no wonder my kids are fussy about trying anything new, it must be an evolved response, when so many plants seem to be poisonous.

      1. It doesn’t even look attractive, so I have no idea why someone would eat it. On the other hand it is very interesting and is a good talking point for the teachers in school parties – not so much for the pupils!

        Goodm point about the kids – I suppose we can’t blame them for ti. 🙂

        1. beatingthebounds says:

          Hmm. Doesn’t stop me getting vexed when they turn their noses up and refuse a plate of my very fine cuisine, but perhaps I should strive to cultivate a more relaxed attitude?

          1. It’s easier to be relaxed when they have left home…

            I’m very relaxed now I have one in Leeds and one in Toronto. Just worried the one in |Canada might not get his citizenship approved and will want to move back.

            1. beatingthebounds says:

              Our kids have somehow become very grown up (and much taller than me!). The days when they would rather be in Leeds or Toronto seem frighteningly close. I suppose we will cross that bridge as we have done all the others….

              1. Yes, there were a few years where they were backwards an forwards, moving in and out as it suited them, then silence.

                It was strange at first but I soon got used to it. It’s strange going to the fridge and finding things are still there…

  4. We wait a while and then all in one you bring us all this. Fantastic stuff, I’ve seen a Clouded Yellow here on the coastal path last year, but a Pale Clouded Yellow? Does that come over here as well? Some great Fritillery photos as well

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I’m not sure about the Pale Clouded Yellow’s migratory habits. I have a feeling that there are more Clouded Yellow species, as well as a whole host of additional types of Fritillary. Hopefully, not so long until my next post.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Thanks Martin. I’m looking forward to everything going back to normal (not some so-called ‘new normal’), but I guess we may all have to wait for a while.

  5. I’m seen some pretty grim reports about teachers being given a hard time now parents have a window into the “classroom”. Everyone of course is now an expert. I think it’s pretty amazing how teachers, schools, colleges have adapted so quickly in an effort to try and give our young people some semblance of a normal education in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Can’t even begin to imagine how tough it is both for the teachers and the kids.

    Anyway back to an amazing post, full superb photos and fascinating information. Now I know why you disappeared for hours at a time! Isn’t it amazing how much joy and pleasure there is from campsite, a river and a small collection of woods and fields. Happy, happy times and memories. I guess it’s been some solace in the past few months, looking through the photos, researching what you’d discovered and taking your mind back to those lazy simple days. What I wouldn’t give right now just to sit round a BBQ on a warm summer evening with you and all the gang, talk some nonsense and laugh out loud! 😊

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      “What I wouldn’t give right now just to sit round a BBQ on a warm summer evening with you and all the gang, talk some nonsense and laugh out loud! 😊”
      Couldn’t agree more – roll on that campfire. I’m even stockpiling wood for the day when we can have our neighbours back in our garden to sit around a fire and talk rot to our hearts content. Until then, weekly zoom quizzes are a great stop-gap!

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