A clear blue morning dawned much calmer with little in the way of any of the local winds. We decided to try the shorter of farmer Luc’s walks which he puts up markers for, though towards the end of the season they can get tough to follow. Fortunately we’ve done it several times before and know the turns. It’s about 4 miles with a dip down into the neighbouring valley then up to the village of Fenouillet-du-Razés. The operative word there is “up” and with hardly a breath of wind it was in honesty a bit hot; perhaps not the best choice of days for the walk. Francine was making it harder by carrying her camera and managed to snag a mating pair of Lang’s Short-tailed Blues (Leptotes pirithous), which were the most interesting of a poor selection of wildlife seen. The walk loops back along a ridge to re-enter the rear of Luc’s farm. We have had trouble with grass and seeds on previous occasions but this is such a desiccated year that hardly anything is now growing. That aspect of the walk was easier.
Farmer Luc would, I suspect have had a very tough time this year with the lack of rain were it not for his dammed lake. The farm fields are main used to grow feed to support his 300 dairy ewes whose milk is used in the production of Roquefort cheese. The lake is used to irrigate the fields and is one of the main attractions that keep us returning to this campsite, as well as the friendly owners, of course.
When we first began visiting, as well as making a delightful location in which to camp, the lake supported a vast array of wildlife including water birds on the lake, frogs and snakes in the lake, birds, red squirrels and tree frogs in the trees around the lake, and all manner of insect and reptile life in the campsite beside the lake. Farming activity added to the interest. My greatest interest was the impressive collection of odonata species, dragonflies and damselflies, which bred in the lake. I counted 18 species many of which were in impressive numbers. I have seen dozens of pairs of damselflies ovipositing in the floating vegetation.
Then Luc let a Koi carp farmer use the lake. Grass Carp were introduced to eat the vegetation and literally thousands of Koi were raised. From a wildlife point of view this combination spelled disaster; Koi will eat anything and everything and all floating vegetation vanished courtesy of the Grass Carp. Odonata species dropped and numbers plummeted, water fowl disappeared and the lake changed character utterly; once a wildlife haven, it began to look dead.
Happily the fish farmer is no more and we were hopeful that the lake would recover and regain something of its former wildlife glory. Here we are for the first time in four years but it is late in the season and the jury is still out. The lake is lower than we’ve seen it because Luc has had to use much of its water. There is, though, still no vegetation to be seen in the water. The lake has many large fish in it but there are no small fry to be seen. With little or no plant life, this makes us wonder is the bigger fish have eaten all the small fish. Save for a Grey Heron hunting on the side of the lake, there are still no water birds resident, though a small flight of ducks did visit. There is nothing for dabbling ducks to dabble at, though.
There used to be thousands of frogs, the chorus of which at night used lull us to sleep but has driven some campers away. On an earlier September visit, we literally couldn’t move a foot in grass beside the lake without disturbing a froglet or two. It was teeming. Now there is almost nothing. We have seen one or two frogs plop into the water but the nights are quiet. A handful of frogs did have a singing match one lunchtime but it is the exception rather than the rule.
With little for it to prey on, I haven’t seen a snake in the water. In the past we’ve seen one take a modestly sized fish and large tadpoles.
I have seen ones and twos of 7 species of odonata but none in great numbers. The most numerous appears to be one of my personal favourites, a relatively recent immigrant to France from Africa, the delightfully gaudy pink Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata). There are still Willow Emeralds (Chalcolestes viridis), which oviposit in overhanging rather than floating vegetation but their numbers are not what they used to be.
This is an exceptional year. It doesn’t look wonderful but I reserve judgement; I need a June visit, really.