We visited the Lot Valley, France, from the 8th - 15th June. We stayed with French friends who have lived in the Albas area for many years combining work in Cahors with all the delights of owning a smallholders farm. At this time of year the woods are alive with birdsong and the late afternoon skies filled with raptors.
We travelled with Ryan Air from London Stanstead to Rodez, hired a car through Holiday Autos and were soon on our way to Cahors and then Albas.
Most of the land around the farmhouse is given over to vinyards and woodland. Around the edges of vinyards there are patches of rough ground.that are particularly good for songsters. The soil is chalky and of poor quality hence the miles of vinyards.
In the farmhouse garden the typical birds were Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff, Black Redstart,Blackcap and Nightingale. The latter three were noisy, enthusiastic singers so don't expect a lie-in! Black Redstarts are in fact the ubiquitous bird of the Lot Valley found wherever there are buildings, in towns and around farmhouses but equally at home in the vinyards. There were at least two pairs of Nightingale in the vicinity of the farmhouse, one showy pair (that played "cat and mouse" with the cat) breeding along a small path running along the perimeter wall and another, more typically elusive, in some rough ground about 400 metres from the house. Other birds were often briefly heard, a snatch of song, as we drove along the Lot.
A Bonelli's Warbler was seen on two mornings in the mature trees in the garden. An adult and juvenile Firecrest were found on one morning in the neighbouring pines. A Hawfinch, a regular in the Cherry orchards in the Lot Valley apparently, flew overhead on one morning but we never managed to pin one down otherwise.
Most days we walked the woodland, predominantly oak, surrounding the farmhouse. Wild Boar inhabit these woods and around their favourite watering-holes, their presence was evident from the scratchings on the trees. We saw, along the edges of the higher tracts of woodland, many Cirl Buntings and Subalpine Warblers and two separate Woodlark. Indeed the trill of the Cirl Bunting was a characteristic sound of the Lot at first light. In a tract of wood near the farmhouse, Spotted Flycatchers were abundant whilst a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker was uncharacteristically showy. At least 3 Redstarts were seen, including two gorgeous males.
Along the Lot river itself, Crag Martins and House Martins were common around the towns and bridges, with Swallows more abundant along the quieter stretches. White Wagtails were present wherever there were gravel banks. An occasional Black Kite would lazily drift over the river; a pair displayed regularly over the Lac Verte just north of the river. In the towns, Serins trilled noisily from the parks and gardens.
A morning walk through fields just south of Albas produced a delightful Hoopoe. A sadder sight was thediscovery of a Barn Owl lying by the side of a dusty unmade road - the latest hit and run victim. It clung onto life but was clearly paralysed and a local hunter was asked to finish what the driver had not. How a driver had managed to hit a Barn Owl on such a poorly made road beggars belief.
With the right weather conditions, later afternoon raptor watching was a delight. After heavy rain on the evening of the 11th, the skies on the afternoons of the 12th and 13th were filled with birds of prey. At least 4 Short-toed Eagles, displayed over Bouyerou from 5-7pm on the 12th often disappearing beyond sight as they worked the thermals. On the 13th we counted, 2 Short-toed Eagles, 8 Buzzards, 2 Kestrels, 1 Hobby and 3 Black Kites all from the farnhouse garden.
A trip to Domme in the Dordogne produced the wonderful spectacle of 3 Peregrines displaying above this village hewn into the rocky outcrop. The cliffs themselves were a swirl of Crag Martins.
There are many other birding delights in the Lot Valley for sure. To the south, the Quercy du Blanc holds Ortolan Buntings and Stone Curlew. To the north-west the forests hold Black Woodpecker - along the Lot the Eagle Owl has re-established territories apparently. I was surprised not to see a Honey Buzzard given the numbers of Buzzards in the air at any moment.
This was not a listing trip. We contented ourselves with 'what found us'. There's a lot more still to find should we return.