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 River Dordogne 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. The commonest species are Green and Great Spotted, 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 well 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 and Cirl Bunting. 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 even Long-tailed Blues. Late flowers are another bonus with many species flowering into the autumn here.
Visits to Le Teich and the Marais de Bruges wetland reserves near Bordeaux will add variety and help to ensure our birding holiday both gets off to a good start and ends with a flourish, with a variety of waterbirds and passerines possible.
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 our November 2019 and 2020 breaks will be our tenth and eleventh visits to Dordogne with David.
Set yourself up for the winter with this delightful late season tour to rural France!