I decided to take my second day trip to Romelere and near-by Clairmarais Forest in northern France this year, with my friend Patrick Giles on Sunday 19th June. We had gone in May with 2 other pals on a birding trip, and the two of us really wanted to try the area in June for butterflies and dragonflies, as well as the brilliant birds found in there which are scarce in Kent.
The weather wasn't predicted to be too good and ideally we wanted calm, warm and sunny conditions, but the forecast was for windy and cloudy. I picked Patrick up just after 2:30am and we caught the 4am train through the tunnel. We decided on a walk in some woodland west of Calais in the early morning to keep out the wind. This was a good choice, not only was it sheltered, but we found some really good birds, including Honey Buzzard.
As the sun started to warm up we headed to St Omer and the small wetland nature reserve. This is a beautiful place, so tranquil. We wandered round the reserve for a couple of hours, hearing loads of warblers singing, including snatches of Savi's, plus a lovely Marsh Warbler which sat up in view singing away for ages. Just outside the reserve on the vegetable plots I noticed a small dark bird feeding at the edges of some crops - a Bluethroat, one of the special birds of the area.
After some lunch we drove the short distance to the forest, by which time the sun was trying hard to break through the clouds. There were stacks of damselflies and butterflies, and we had a rush of excitement noting many White Admirals and Large Skippers. Wandering slowly along the tracks we made our way down to a lake surrounded by trees, with a few ready banks attracting loads of dragonflies. Here we added Scarce Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer to our trip list, and Patrick spotted a Large Tortoiseshell flying a little way off, which we managed to stalk up to and get a few photos. These are now extinct in Britain, and this was a new butterfly for both of us.
Whilst distracted by all the insects, we also could hear Golden Oriole singing frequently, and saw a few Honey Buzzards overhead. A little later we bumped into a couple of chaps from Belgium who were also over to enjoy the insects of the forest. One was particularly knowledgable and directed us to a site where we found 2 new dragonflies, an immature male Scarlet Darter and a Western Clubtail. We also saw a Silver-washed Fritillary on the deck by the lake.
Walking back to the car six hours later we were still seeing various butterflies and dragonflies along the bushes, and it's so hard not to keep stopping and taking photos, even though I already had over a hundred already taken.
All that was left was the drive bacl to Calais and through customs to the tunnel. In the queue to show our passports to the French control a bloke was swiping all the cars doorhandles and steering wheels with a stick then moving to the next car, When he got to us he did the same, then proceeded to ask where we had been, what we had been doing etc. I joked to Patrick that just for once it would be fun if they really grilled us and we could show them all our optical gear and photos etc. Sure enough, when we got to the border control we were ushered to one side where upon a young lady came over and asked many questions, culminating in her requesting to see my photos. I was well pleased, and showed her over 40 photos before she got bored and said she had seen enough. A quick look in the boot, noting old trainers, crisp packets, a couple of flasks and a telescope and we were waved on. Great fun.
And home by 8pm GMT, tired but having enjoyed a brilliant day