The Thieves of La Brenne

21st May 2022

The regional nature park of La Brenne is an ancient patchwork of forests, grasslands, marshes and lakes to the north of the River Creuse, and located at the heart of France.

The ancient woodlands are full of butterflies and the rough grasslands hold red-backed shrikes, stonechats and corn buntings. But it is the wetland birds of the Etangs that bring the birdwatchers to the many hides tucked into the fringing reeds looking out across the water. One small etang is dotted with islands where a noisy colony of black-headed gulls nests in the tall, tussocky sedges. A few whiskered terns have their flimsy nests on the water-lilies at the far end of the lake and occasionally bounce round at great speed on their long, slender wings making the gulls look plodding.

Two or three black kites cause regular havoc by making repeated sorties high over the colony and then idling on by. The gulls rise like a well-drilled regiment to defend their nestlings by creating layers of defense with birds at high, medium and low altitudes. But the tactics are to little avail; one kite suddenly arches over and stoops at great speed through the flock, twists in and plucks a plump nestling and assorted nest debris from the tussocky grassland. The kite is then chased off by the angry mob. Once the kite has got away calm is quickly restored.

Both red and black kites have this remarkable ability to stoop down and snatch something from the off the ground with both feet and the incident reminds me of red kites in mid-Wales stooping to pick up sticks for their untidy nests and perhaps in so doing showing off how agile they are to their mate.

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