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Nature & Wildlife

Across the region, we are lucky to have a wide variety of habitats and landscapes giving us the opportunity to observe a wide range of flora and fauna. From windswept shores to inland waterways, from plains to craggy rockfaces, each has secrets to share. 

At Living, we have teamed up with experts in the region to show you what to watch out for at the different times of year...


Picture Perfect - wildlife photography at its best

Picture Perfect - wildlife photography at its best

Chris Luck meets Stephen Rennie, a professional nature photographer based in Charente-Maritime, and picks some of his favourite winter subjects from Stephen’s library…

ALL PHOTOS © Stephen Rennie 

A well-stocked bird table will attract lots of interest in the depths of mid-winter, but there is still plenty to be seen by heading out and about. Although many bird species will have left long ago for warmer climates and several other resident creatures will be dormant or hidden, for some species it can be the best or perhaps only time to see them. Stephen Rennie has captured some common species that can be relatively easily seen in the west and south west of France although not always in these poses or at such close quarters. According to Stephen, achieving some of the better shots usually requires patience, an understanding of the species concerned and how to approach them, knowledge of the fundamentals of photography and, finally, a little bit of luck. Some striking photos result from a simple chance encounter with a camera handy. 

sanderlingsSANDERLINGS, CALIDRIS ALBA, are a small wader of about 20cm that arrive on the western coast in August – October.

The vast majority of these are birds that nest in the Siberian tundra with only the occasional birds from Iceland (Icelandic Sanderlings migrate to America for winter). They will spend the winter here until April or May and can commonly be seen feeding on the mud flats and the sea shore close to the water line where, along with other waders and seabirds, they eat worms and other invertebrates.






This unusual and comical photo of a Barn Owl, Tyto alba, is a classic example of a chance encounter when driving around with camera at the ready. It was standing crouched near the side of the road with its eyes firmly closed and head feathers flattened to form a rain hat having been caught out in torrential rain. Although most of us know the Barn Owl as a bird that flies in darkness or near darkness they will sometimes venture out on dull winter days and I should mention that sadly this is a bird that is suffering badly from loss of nesting places and road kill from traffic collisions – both situations could be rectified with relative ease by restoring hedgerows and installing Barn Owl boxes.





This super photo of a Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, taking to the air is a bird that doesn’t need much visual introduction to most people. It’s a bird that has to make some interesting manoeuvres at times, sometimes even somersaulting when landing to get the air out from under its large wings. They are usually seen in winter standing in fields and open spaces where they eat almost anything that shows itself from worms to young rats - they really are not fussy eaters.







The Short Eared Owl, Asio flammeus, perched on this post is one of the owls that can commonly be seen out and about flying during the day, even midday in winter. They fly with deep, slow wing beats and glide for long distances low over open countryside where they hunt voles and other small mammals, occasionally they will eat insects. Outside the breeding season in winter, they frequently gather in communal roosts which are sometimes quite large and something to look out for. They are mainly a bird of marshlands and wide open flat countryside including the coastline, hence the French name “Hibou des marais”.






Reed buntings, Emberiza schoeniclus, are small sparrow sized birds that everyone can see in summer or winter within a short distance of your home if you look in the right habitat. Typically found in reeds as the name implies, they can be seen at many of the ponds, lakes, marshes here as well as the coastal areas. In winter, they form flocks some of which can be quite large. If you have a pond or lake nearby with reed buntings you may be able to tempt them to a feeding station in your garden where they will eat seeds. In summer the male has a black head, white collar and a drooping moustache. Females and winter males have a streaked head.




Perhaps surprisingly, the Red deer, Cerf élaphe, in French, has seen a quite remarkable population growth in the last 25 years with an overall fourfold increase. Present in 40% of France, they have only the hunters to reduce their numbers since their only natural predator, the wolf, was hunted to extinction in France by the 1960’s. In recent years, the wolf has returned in the south east of France after crossing from Italy and is now a fully protected species. This photo was taken during the rut giving Stephen some nervous moments as the deer kept advancing on his position. All ended well though and both parties went their own way. The Red deer rut is generally referred to as le brame du cerf in French, literally the bellowing of the deer.




Highly sought after by the hunters there are less than 100 couples of Snipe, Gallinago gallinago, actually nesting in France. In winter, however, numbers are dramatically increased with over-wintering birds and others on passage from the main breeding grounds on the marshes and tundra of northern Europe. They will often stay hidden and unmoving on the ground only taking to the air at the last second when approached when they flash away flying low with a rapid zigzag flight. Best opportunities to see them are when they are foraging in the mud for worms and other invertebrates.



Stephen Rennie

Stephen has lived in France for more than 20 years and is now based in Saint Genis de Saintonge. Passionate about nature in all its aspects, Stephen runs various photography courses. Choose from a three-hour course on the Gironde estuary covering birds, flora, landscapes including technical training with a choice of seasonal subject matter, up to a full five-day ‘Total immersion in Charente-Maritime wildlife’. After a short stroll to assess your photographic level, several aspects of training are addressed before you are introduced to approaching wildlife in a natural environment, ‘photo hunting’ and field techniques, camouflage, stalking and other tricks used by wildlife photographers.

This all takes place in the extraordinary settings that the region offers with its wealth of different coastal habitats including the sea, river estuaries, marshes and islands plus a nature reserve. 

Stephen also runs weekends in the Pays Basque Pyrenees and provides various other photographic services including photographing your pets or other animals at your home. Visit Stephen’s web site for more details and don’t hesitate to contact him in English even though the website is in French. Cameras can be provided, otherwise a camera with a 300mm lens or a good bridge camera is fine.

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© All Rights reserved. Originally published in Living Magazine December 2013