Feathers, scales and prickles!

Day trip 28th May 2021 – Feathers, scales and prickles!

Guide of the day: Karline Martorell accompanied by Philippa Benson and Dominique Jalabert
Participants: 5
Weather conditions: agreeably overcast with little wind, temps ranging from 19°C to 23°C+

Highlights of the day: Black-eared wheatear, Woodchat shrike, Tawny pipit, Thekla’s lark, Golden oriole, Zygaena lavandulae, Three-toed skink, Lizard orchid and a large number of cacti, agaves, dasylirions and yucca!

This day trip was sponsored by the Narbonnaise regional park as part of a programme called Découvrons ENSemble, which consists of over 180 free natural history outings organised by the Aude département and the regional park.

We spent the morning searching for summer-visiting garrigue birds such as Black-eared wheatear, Woodchat shrike, plus Orphean, Subalpine and Spectacled warblers (not all very cooperative – singing well but skulking in trees and shrubs). Karline explained the different strata used by each species: Sardinian and Dartford in the lowest shrubs, Subalpine and Spectacled (rare) in the mid-sized bushes, with the largest of all the warblers present locally – Orphean- to be found in the taller bushes and shrubs and even in small to mid-sized trees. This might help narrow the options when you see a bird skulking!

As we arrived back in the village, a Golden oriole was showing well just opposite the winery where we had a mid-day break tasting 3 wines by the characterful Alban Michel from the Sabots d’Hélène.

Then we enjoyed our picnic with a curious Woodchat shrike before visiting the family-run Jardin Botanique de Foncaude with founder Dominique Jalabert. Over the past 30 years, with the help of family and friends, Dominique has planted over 2,000 species across 7 hectares in a wild, natural setting amongst the rocky garrigue habitat. As we visited the botanical garden, we were able to add scales (a Three-toed skink and a Water snake) and prickles (cacti, agaves etc.) to the morning’s feathers!

Just click on the link below to read or download the detailed trip report and bird list.


Trip report and bird list 2021.28.05 Feuilla and the Jardin Botanique de Foncaude

Black-eared wheatear

French name: Traquet oreillard

Scientific name: Oenanthe hispanica

Interesting information

This species is easy to identify: its cream colour contrasting with black cheeks, throat and wings. The female is much less contrasted with the wings, cheek and throat tending be more brown rather than black. It therefore has a more overall brownish appearance.

Call and song

Distribution and habitat

The Black-eared wheatear prefers open arid environments. A patchwork of bare soil, rocky outcrops or dry stone walls, as well as clean vegetation is essential to its presence.
In France, 90 % of the population is in the  Languedoc-Roussillon region and mainly in the Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales departments.
In the Aude, the population is declining and is confined to the dry grassland and low scrubland of the coastal fringe.

Distribution maps: region and county

Breeding birds Atlas – Languedoc Roussillon (2012-2021) – source: faune-lr.org

Breeding birds Atlas – Aude (2012) – source: LPO11

Conservation status and population trends

With less than 500 breeding pairs in France, this species is considered rare. A decline of 40 to 70% of the population has been observed since 1999. That’s why the IUCN Red List considers this species as endangered in France and in the region. The main threats are related to the gradual closure of its habitats (abandonment of pastoralism and maintenance of garrigues, reduction of fires).

When to see this species in the Languedoc-Roussillon

The Black-eared wheatear can be seen in the Languedoc from mid-April. It leaves for its winter quarters at the end of August/September. The graph below shows the average numbers of Black-eared wheatear seen in the Languedoc by month.

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