Two weeks holiday in the Loire Valley with Mrs D's parents (the Outlaws) was a fine way to tackle one of the quieter times of the year, especially as the outlaws are holed up in a farmhouse beside a gorgeous Chateau miles out in the middle of nowhere.
Lauriere boasted acres of wildwood, meadows, poplar groves and even the lazy river Marconne, the home of Coypus and dragonflies.
Add a grey continental type Barn Owl that roosted in the barn next to our digs, hot and cold running Black Redstarts, Green Bushcrickets and the occasional passing Honey Buzzard and it did very nicely indeed.
Before Mrs D and I got down to the Chateau though , we stopped off in Sandwich, waiting for a ferry over from Dover (lots of Med Gulls in Dover and Calais harbours, Little Gull and Gannets, Fulmar and Kittiwakes on the way across), which meant a quick ogle at the superb Lizard Orchids which bloom beside the Royal St Georges Golf Course in Kent.
Magnificent plants, hundreds of 'em blooming on one of the snootiest golf courses I've tramped across...a good start to the hols!
Loadsa Pyramidal Orchids and Viper's Bugloss flowering too.
Once in France there were a few hurdles for the dedicated birder - I couldn't help noticing they drink an awful lot of wine there, which curtailed more than one early morning expedition, and the birds are generally rather shy, probably as a consequence of drunken birders staggering through the undergrowth - thank God for wires for them to perch up on is all I can say.
The poplars around the Chateau were awash with Golden Orioles, typically skulking - there were no less than seven in the tops of these trees above, but the French are more likely to cancel Bastille Day than Golden Orioles are to show well.
C'est la vie.
Blackcap, Stone Curlew, Woodlark, Cirl Buntings and Green Woodpeckers were always on hand if I didn't fancy straying too far, and the river Marconne, which flows through the estate had Beautiful and Banded Demoiselle and Scarce Chaser.
Norfolk Hawker and Southern Migrant Hawker were in the woodland rides and open spaces nearby, as were ticks and mozzies galore.
Just down the road a pair of Red Backed Shrikes were darting back and forth from a nest in a patch of scrub - but the species was by no means common. Still worth spending an afternoon with though.
Probably ten years or so since I last visited the area, so I was keen to check on the Lac Du Pincemaille near Rille (about 30km west of Tours).
A large section of the lake and woods have been set aside for wildlife, and it really is the business these days.
Purple Heron and up to five Great White Egrets were regular, with Whiskered Tern and hordes of Little Egrets.
The edges of the lake resounded to the incessant call of Fan Tailed Warblers, and Melodious Warblers, though scarce, were still in full song.
Yellow Legged Gulls, Turtle Doves and nesting Hen Harriers were pretty cool too.
Reed and Cetti's Warbler, and even a singing Marsh Warbler, seen briefly early one morning, were a good dawn chorus, and Wood Warbler and Short Toed Treecreepers were in the pines on the southside.
Cirls were everywhere, though frustratingly difficult to approach, while Yellowhammers were a bit easier.
Add a few Hobbies overhead, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the tropical whistling of Golden Orioles and even a passing Black Kite one day, and it was pretty good gentle euro-birding.
Early wader passage included up to seven Green Sandpipers, plus Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover and Common Sands, and small flocks of Lapwing.
Such a relaxed fortnight was not without its dangers - the wonderful Thierry de Bresson, one of the family (his brother Henri is the Count - I kid you not) who can call the Chateau at Lauriere their ancestral home, delighted in showing me the wildest and most nettle and briar ridden patches of their land, particularly when I was wearing shorts and sandals (I still bear the scars), although my first afternoon using a shotgun was potentially more dangerous.
Leaving the safety of Lauriere far behind we met up with some of the locals and went off to the "Ball-trap" - clay pigeon shooting to you and me.
My training comprised of six pints of lager and a pint of champagne, then I was handed 30 rounds and asked to pick my shotgun.
I remember muttering: "Don't shoot a cow, don't shoot a cow" as a feeble safety mantra, before taking aim and firing at the clay. And missing by a considerable margin.
It was like Frank Spencer auditioning for the Wild Bunch.
30 times I tried and 30 times I missed - you see alcohol and guns just don't mix.
The clays might as well have been space hoppers the state I was in.
Still nothing died, which had to be a bonus.
After that experience I needed to calm down, so went back to watching the Black Reds at the Chateau (the woods held a few Dark Red Helleborine and Greater Butterfly Orchid, but they had largely gone over) and Serins buzzing around the markets in the surrounding villages.
And when I got bored with them, there was always the Great White Egrets at Pincemaille or the Stone Curlews nocturnal calls to keep me happy.
What a great fortnight - thanks to Mrs D's folks for putting up with us, and everyone in the Loire (especially at Lauriere and the Bar De La Bascule in Noyant) for their unceasing support in the search for more wine and beer, and the odd bit of wildlife.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies....