About 18 months ago, one of my UK dragonfly enthusiast contacts helped me out (not for the first time and certainly not the last) with the identification of a (to me) confusing specimen in France. At the same time, he offered to provide me with some information regarding interesting French locations for Odonata when I returned home. He’s a busy chap and the details didn’t turn up. He didn’t forget, though. Last week, having remembered for a second time, an email arrived with some new location suggestions together with what less-than-common species might be found there.
One of the sites mentioned was the Ile d’Oléron where, apparently, there are populations of the so-called Dark Spreadwing (Lestes macrostigma). This curious damselfly has a preference for brackish habitats and, according to the distribution map, occurs in scattered small populations. We are now up at the Marais Poitevin, just inland from La Rochelle, visiting friends Mike and Linda – not a million miles from the Ile d’Oléron. Today was forecast to be hot (34°C/93°F) and sunny; a somewhat cooling coastal breeze and a hunt for an uncommon Odo might be just the ticket. We took Mike and Linda along for a day out and a seafood lunch.
Navigation Officer Francine got us to the Ile d’Oléron in about 90 minutes. The route took us through an ironing-board-flat coastal marsh area south of Rochefort. For some reason, though dead flat, we find this area intriguing. So do hundreds of pairs of White Storks (Ciconia ciconia), who nest there. White Storks like to nest well above the ground and many of the locals erect platforms on posts specifically for their benefit. Some of the Storks seem to prefer a more exciting lifestyle, though, and shun the architect-designed platforms for those provided by high voltage electricity pylons. Francine snapped this shot as we drove by. (Readers should note the French have failed to provide anywhere safe to stop along this main road, hence the on-the-run snap.)
My dragonfly information mentioned specifically the minor roads between Arceau, Boyardville and St-Pierre-d’Oléron. After a coffee at a cafe run by the most unhelpful cafe owner in France (we should have voted with our feet and walked away – how some people manage to stay in business eludes me), we headed straight for Arceau. A small fishing lake in town yielded a Winter Damselfly (Sympecma fusca) and a couple of other more common suspects but not our main quarry. However, we stopped at the roadside beside the first ditch leaving town and … bingo! Linda and Francine were immediately onto a tandem pair of Dark Spreadwings. Further along the road we found a couple of ponds with a mother lode of the beautiful creatures. That cooling coastal breeze crossing the island also made photographic conditions rather difficult but, along with many discards, we did manage to secure some recognisable shots and were great to see.
Odo-ed out and stomachs beginning to demand attention, we continued to Boyardville and found a pleasant local seafood restaurant before heading back to the mainland to call in at Brouage, mainly for Mike and Linda’s benefit, who hadn’t seen this intriguing village sporting completely intact mid-17C fortifications, bang in the middle of the marsh. It was originally a coastal military base but the sea has now retreated. It was getting a little too hot (36°C/97°F) to do very much touristy stuff, though, and we soon headed back home with the car’s air-conditioning struggling to keep up.
All in all, a grand day out – except for the cafe. Take my advice and, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood, steer well clear of a cafe called “Le Croix du Sud” at the harbour in le Chateau-d’Oleron. 😉