Fun with Flycatchers

This year’s spring and early summer (if you count this as summer before the solstice) has been famously atrocious, not only in the UK but in a lot of France as well. Although farmer Luc at Les Brugues, Fanjeaux, says late winter and spring were quite dry here, I have never seen such a lack of insects around and over his irrigation lake. We’ve seen ones and twos of a couple of handfuls of odonata species but the numbers are dreadful. It really is pitiful.

There is a dearth of birds on the lake, too. A resident Grey Heron is sometimes to be seen, who does his/her best to eat some of the fish but we need more, and preferably something that will take huge fish measuring half a metre. A pair of large Pike would be handy. We saw a Mink here last year but not now.

We’ve been forced to use a different pitch because someone was occupying our favoured pitch for Frodo, and this has proved quite successful. We’ve heard a decent collection of birds from our new vantage point. Using the Merlin app to recognise bird calls we apparently have a Wryneck locally, though we’ve haven’t managed to see it.

Our usual suspects include the good ol’ Chaffinch, Serins, Blackcaps, Starlings (which may be Spotless), Goldfinches and the delightfully fluty-sounding Golden Oriole, amongst others.

Chief amongst the others, certainly for entertainment value, has been a small collection of Spotted Flycatchers. These fabulous little birds have tirelessly been using various posts around our pitch as vantage points from which to hunt.

Early one morning (just as the sun was rising – well, early for me, that is), I spotted a Spotted Flycatcher regularly using a post with the sun behind it. I thought that might make an interesting subject if I could get it with backlit wings. I positioned a chair, focussed on the post and waited with my camera on “pro capture mode”, which buffers and discards shots until you fully depress the firing button.

Flycatcher, FanjeauxIt’s a handy feature but still relies on a good deal of fortune when it comes to wing position, which is entirely random. I kept trying as the bird was launching itself after a fly and I think I managed one half-way reasonable attempt.

Spotted Flycatcher, FanjeauxThen I realised that the bird returning to the post might actually produce something better. Once the bird had taken off, I’d been stopping. Now I decided to keep going and wait for it to return. At last, one of my attempts, and only one, produced something I really like, the Flycatcher just about to settle on the post again, with its wings flared..

I don’t know how long I sat trying but I managed to fire off 861 images (the camera runs at 10 frames per second in this mode). I kept just a small handful. Thank Darwin I wasn’t using real film.

Posted in 2024 Summer