Around 10° of latitude due south of the UK sits the landlocked Dordogne département, in southwest France. The landscape feels instantly recognisable to British visitors whilst the weather is warmer and with more chance of an Indian Summer. For the naturalist there are a wide range of interesting habitats including dry rocky hillsides, arable plains, heathlands and wetlands. However the area is dominated by oak forests set amongst mixed farmland with fine limestone meadows, cut through by the great Dordogne River itself beneath some impressive cliffs. Traditional farming and other land practices have left many wildlife habitats intact, making almost any location of interest.
November is a fine time for birding in the Dordogne. The region's winter visitors arrive, while its resident birds are still active and the climate can still be very comfortable.
Wintering alpine birds are a regular but little known feature of the Dordogne, coming to the lower levels here to escape the harsh conditions in Europe's high mountains. If you know the sites, Wallcreepers can be relatively 'easy' to find on the cliffs and ancient buildings beside the main rivers - our groups have seen up to three birds in one day! Come early November, a few Alpine Accentors often accompany them amongst the rocky ledges, too. Peregrines and Ravens are active in good weather, while Crag Martins - which only leave the Dordogne for a short period during the winter months - should still be cruising past the cliffs in the autumn sunshine.
With its extensive forests, the Dordogne is rich in woodpeckers, with up to five species to be found in autumn. Green and Great Spotted are the commonest species, but we will also visit woodlands that harbour the majestic Black Woodpecker. With sharp eyes, we could spot the tiny Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (which has a penchant for thinner branches in the treetops) and, with luck, we may encounter the elusive Middle Spotted - surely Europe's most attractive woodpecker and always a delight to see.
We have a chance of seeing Common Cranes - which migrate across this region in their thousands - and will be present during the Red Kite autumn migration, as birds move south into Spain. The localised but beautiful Black-winged Kite is now becoming established in this corner of Southwest France.
There are plenty of other interesting ‘locals’ to watch out for on our travels, including Cattle Egret, Hen Harrier, Stone-curlew, Crested Lark, Dipper, Crested Tit, Firecrest, Dartford and Cetti’s Warblers, Rock Sparrow, Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting - even Eurasian Eagle Owl, if we are lucky. If the sun smiles on us, there may be the chance of finding a few late butterflies – perhaps the last of the year’s Speckled Woods, Clouded Yellows, Red Admirals and Long-tailed Blues. Late flowers are another bonus with many species flowering well into the autumn here.
A visit to Le Teich bird reserve, at Arcachon Bay on the Bay of Biscay coast, will add variety and help to ensure our birding gets off to the best possible start. November shorebirds can include Great and Little Egrets, Spoonbill, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and Black-tailed Godwit.
Our guide David Simpson lives in the Dordogne and is author of the books ‘Birding Dordogne’ and the recently published ‘Crossbill (Wildlife) Guide Dordogne’. He designed and led our first two tours to the Dordogne (in May 2012 and 2013), as well as our first trip for Wallcreepers here back in February 2014 - all quickly sold out. He has continued to lead tours to Dordogne and these inaugural November breaks will be our ninth and tenth visits to Dordogne with David. Set yourself up for the winter with this delightful late season tour to rural France!