Our first birding tour in Haut-Jura of the year took place on May 15 and 16. The weekend was very rich in observations and emotions. Sunday was one of the most incredible days of our “Birds of Jura Mountains” tours!
On Saturday 15th, Luca and I meet our guests earlier than expected, at 9am, due to the forecast bad weather conditions. After meeting the group and having welcome coffee, we got into the cars for a short drive. The goal for this early morning is to search for a Tengmalm Owl spotted earlier in the season. Even if the species was present ten days earlier, there is no guarantee that we will be able to show it to our guests. We do not control nature and many factors can limit our chances: predation, bad weather, etc.
We reach the famous tree with 4 old Black Woodpecker cavities, much appreciated by our Tengmalm Owl who finds there an ideal entrance diameter to settle there. Huge relief when I take my binoculars and see a chick there at the entrance to the cavity, patiently watching us.
He is even joined later by a second youngster! Our guests are delighted.
We stay in the area for a while while maintaining a sufficient distance so as not to disturb the birds, although this species impresses with its high tolerance towards humans. This attitude is quite unusual in our country where hunting is still very present and many species are extremely fierce.
The tour begins wonderfully and it is only the beginning of these two days that we are not ready to forget! We then return to our lodging, very comfortable and ideally located for our itinerary. The group is great and we have a fantastic evening. This first day was full of emotions but the second will be even more incredible.
We start very early with a breakfast at 4:45 am. The goal is to be on the ground at first light, to try to observe the male Tengmalm Owl feeding the young. The male is generally well hidden during the day and is very difficult to find.
Once there, we find our two young Tengmalm Owls peering from their lodge, staying warm in these freezing temperatures (only a few degrees above 0 at this time). As soon as we arrive, Luca and I hear a surprising call! A quick glance exchanged and we exclaim “Pygmy-owl!”.
Quite incredible because after spending time in this forest massif since the beginning of the year, I had not yet heard the species on this site. This year, the high densities of Tengmalm Owls in this locality largely explain the discretion of the Eurasian Pygmy-owls, coupled with strong populations of micromammals in the forest which limit competition between predators.
Following several notes from the male Eurasian Pygmy-owl, we try to locate the bird and suggest that the group stay for a while to photograph the juvenile Tengmalm Owls. The second surprise was the proximity of the singing Eurasian Pygmy-owl, about 40-50 meters from the Tengmalm Owl’s nest. The third surprise, and not the least, was the discovery of the female in the area and little calls from a spruce tree with a Great Spotted Woodpecker cavity potentially carrying the nest! We discover rejection pellets at the foot of the cavity. Our day starts off very strongly.
We spend an unforgettable moment in the company of two small owl species whose nests were spaced about 25 meters apart. Incredible discovery and the first time I have had the nests of the two related species so close from each other.
The afternoon was devoted to the search for other mythical bird species in the Risoux massif. Our walk took place along authorized roads and trails. As this massif is classified in the Prefectural Biotope Protection Decree, it is forbidden to enter the forest from December 15 to June 30, in particular to limit the disturbance of the Capercaillie as much as possible in winter but also during the breeding season. The species is very sensitive and populations are declining. This protection also benefits other vulnerable species of this forest such as the Hazel Grouse.
After a few minutes of walking we come across two Hazel Grouse, one of which lands nearby on a branch. Our moment of joy was quickly cut short as it immediately descended and then spun off, when walking, this species tends to escape on foot. This bird is very shy and it is particularly difficult to observe in good conditions.
Other species are noted along our walk, notably the Ring Ouzel. This magnificent bird is now located in the Haut-Jura, the Risoux massif being currently one of the best sites in the region to observe it. Others like the Red Crossbill (several family groups) but also more common ones like the Mistle Thrushes in high densities, the Eurasian Bullfinch, the Crested Tit, etc.
But the highlight of the show is yet to come! We continue to walk for a while, the rain having intensified in the afternoon, then decide to turn around, soaked and with a little lowered motivation with this weather which will have followed us all weekend. But what a good decision it was! As we walked along the road back, a particularly heavy black silhouette appeared in the distance by the roadside. A male Capercaillie! We see he’s displaying. It is in fact a bird that has been present in the area since this winter. We stayed there for a few minutes, the time to observe it and take a few pictures, then we went around the individual who did not hesitate to “charge” us!
Thus ended this first “Birds of Jura Mountains” tour in 2021. The weather conditions were particularly bad this year with persistent cold and sometimes very heavy rain. But we were nonetheless particularly rewarded by species that are among the most difficult to see in France and a group of guests who are always positive, with whom we have shared very good moments!
Everyone will remember this exceptional tour in the company of the birds of the Jura 🙂
Guide Salva Fauna