Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Sentinels

A picture post...

Sentinels in the evening sun.

Blue Stinger!

Getting the balance right....

Delicate Blue Hunter.

Spare green wings?


The Banded Demoiselles [Calopteryx splendens] Caloptéryx éclatant are really rather magnificent in the strong evening light.

Click on the pictures to "view on black"...
and at a better resolution.


Posted by Tim

Monday, 13 July 2015

They're back......!

In the "Big Freeze" of February 2012, we had overnight temperatures of less than minus 18 degrees Centigrade for around a week...
one morning we awoke to -21°C....
in fact, during that week the temperature never rose above -6°C.

It killed all our overwintering vegetables...
and it killed wildlife, lots of wildlife....
amongst them our Wasp Spiders <i>Argiope bruennichi</i>.

There were none to be seen in 2013 either...
nor in 2014! We'd effectively lost a species from the meadow.
Our meadow is an island in a sea of agriculture...
there are no natural corridors for things like the larger spiders....
except where the trees happen to touch.
The little spiders parachute in on silk.

At the lake end, the ground is kept mown, either by machine or sheep...
I felt that we'd never have this rather magnificent spider back.
Then Susan, of "Days on the Claise"....
when I went to mow her verger with Betsy....
happened to mention that there were plenty in the long vegetation...
so I "spidernapped" four large females....
and released them in one small area of our meadow.

Sunday evening I was having a walk around and....
as I had done on previous occasions....
paid special attention to where I had released the kidnapped madames...
and, hey....
there were six webs visible from the path...
including one occupied by a male.

A male Wasp Spider...
much smaller and less highly marked than the dame!

A female wasp Spider....
highly marked...
yet difficult to find!


They're back... they're back... the Argie-Bargies are back!
Hopefully Susan will allow me to do a further spidernap later this year.


Posted by Tim

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Well, well, well... we're in a vole lotta trouble again?

We took our WorkAwayers to Chédigny to see the roses on Sunday...
they are a couple of lively Japanese who are honeymooning around the world...
before settling down to the nitty-gritty of life.

A rather industrial window for Chédigny...
but rather nice all the same!

Whilst they wandered around looking at the roses...
still wonderful, despite being visibly frazzled by last weeks heat...



Just a few of our favourites...
top to bottom:
Nuage Parfumé
Sir Cedric Morris
Westerland

....Pauline and I sat by the Lavoir and listened to the sound of the bees in the flowers and the rippling Ruisseau d'Orfeuil....
the stream that runs through the lavoir and joins the Indrois further down.

We had some fun people watching...
everyones' eyes were on the roses...
and it being the "weekend of gardens"....
in the UK as well as in France...
there were crowds enjoying the roses and the very strong sunshine!!

An awful lot of pictures were being taken...
and I have decided that there is nothing really more amusing than watching someone trying to see their iPad screen and take a photograph in strong sunlight....
I was very tempted to snap a picture of one rather large elderly gentleman in cargo shorts...
using a towel over his head and fullsized iPad....
rather like a Victorian using a "plate" camera...
I don't know where the camera is on the back of an Eye-Pad...
but he was having much trouble at that end of his "arrangement"...
presumably because the towel kept blocking the lens!
Perhaps I should have videoed it for posterity and U-Bend...

I decided to compare the ruisseau with our millstream....
it was wonderfully clear and hadn't had a catchment-full of mud poured down it...

Directly in front of the bench...

I was hoping for shots of damselflies...
but none were to be seen...
the environment was suitable though...
the stream beyond the lavoir was rich in vegetation...

Upstream... beyond the lavoir
looks choked to us... but will give both cover and food to river livers!
and similar conditions downstream, beyond the bridge...

And downstream...
equally rich, not as choked though...
but still perfect cover.
The rosebuds in the foreground and the flowers at the top....
are all part of the same rose... Kiftskate...
a vast climber.


...over which feet tramped and paused only to photograph the lavoir and another vast Kiftskate rose that enveloped it....
which was sniffed by many but to me has no scent...
just beauty!

Suddenly I saw movement... something scuttling... it was a Southern Water Vole [Arvicola sapidus] Campagnol amphibie....
I watched it scuttle and swim... past me and the rosegazers...
as I tried to get the camera switched on and ready...
nada!!
That wouldn't have happened in analogue days...
take a picture, wind on, fresh bullet up the spout...
but with the digital compact I have, there is no "sleep" mode and...
if you choose the option to stay on 30 minutes... the maximum...
it eats batteries working the screen...
you need a bagful of ready charged spares to get through a day!!
My SLRs, however, go to sleep and are ready at the press of the shutter button

No, by the time the camera was ready, the vole was under the bridge.

Many "pardons" as I ran in front of rose-snappers and to the other side and leant over...
trying not to damage myself or the rose...
not... a... sign!!

No way could Pauline report that on Faune Touraine...
in the middle of a "town" full of people, such a record just would not be accepted...
although there a many instances in the UK where they have been seen in town streams and streamlets...
in fact there are photographs of Water Voles with shopping trolleys taken near a branch of Sainsbury's somewhere "opp t'north" [##]...
Pauline came to look at the wonderful clear stream... and just then another, larger water vole came through...
this time I got some photos... not good, as you must admit...


Unmistakeably a vole... no visible ears...
and the dark tail, only half the length of the body clinches it!

but good enough for a 'record' shot....
so Pauline duly recorded it that night...
and  so now we are in trouble...
now we are awaiting the....
"NO, you did not see this!" ...
emails from the moderator...
so, please note, Chédigny is not just about the roses!!
And Water Voles are happy in noisy, crowded environments...
and I'll be going back...
with the right equipment and an apple or two!

Posted by Tim




[##]And some film from one of the Bill Oddie TV series "Bill Oddie Goes Wild"...
series one - episode six...
got that nugget from Wikipedia whilst "glooking"* for the actual image...

I think it must exist on U-Bend somewhere.

I didn't find the shopping trolley image though....
but I found a wonderful site about Shropshire Water Voles [A. terrestris] called...
About a Brook  by Kate Long.

And Pauline found these interesting A. terrestris sites:
http://www.wildlifeinthecity.org/urban-wildlife/water-vole/
http://www.wildlifeinthecity.org/images/uploads/Animal_Facts_-_WaterVoleWINC!.pdf
and this map: Press the "back" arrow to go back one page...
otherwise it shows all sightings for all species...
by going back one page you get A. amphibius sightings for South East UK...
it is interesting to look at the map that loads...
the black and white hatched squares are where there are no observations of anything....
which points to a lack of recorders for those areas.

* "Glooking"... Googling for something

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Elusive visitors... no more!


On Friday afternoon Pauline came in and hissed...
"They're back"
"Who are back?"
"The Black Woodpeckers... they just flew over me!!"
"What do you mean...THEY?"
"There were two of them and they've just flown into the old willows!!"
Up until this week, all we'd seen of them had been one large, floppy winged woodpecker flying overhead from one ridge to the other going  "breeep-breeep... breeep-breeep... breeep-breeep"... their flight call...
and by large, I mean bigger than a Jay or a Jackdaw!

I grabbed camera and dived out of the front door...
We could hear their "kweee" calls coming from the old trognes...
Black Woodpeckers [Dryocopus martius] Pic Noir have a wonderful range range of calls...
and I crept across the bridge...
and again....
very...verry.... verrry..... verrrry slowly....
across the open ground between the bridge and the trognes...

I saw a movement, raised the camera and managed to grab this shot....

A female Black Woodpecker in the green...

before it flew off.

I walked back up to the bridge to show Pauline...
"They are still here" she said, not looking at the picture... "Listen!!"
And yes, I could hear the "kweee" calls and the odd "breep"...
close by...
they were still in the willows...
this time I walked very quickly, but quietly, back to the willows and then crept slowly.... round to where I had first spotted one...
I could hear the "kweee" calls from a couple of places...
once heard, it is unmistakable.... extremely similar to an artisan telling you that that repair is going to cost an awful lot of money.
I saw movement and a female flew up onto a vertical branch...
this picture is as good as you are going to get...

Perched in the classic woodpecker pose...
the small red cap, white eye & bill all showing well.

I am using Manual focus at the moment because Autofocus is always slightly off the spot...
but Autofocus would have done better than this...
had I remembered to focus, it would have been nice and sharp!!

She flew and was immediately replaced by the male...
I didn't know this until I looked at the pictures on the computer...

You can clearly see the full red cap of the male here....
and how close he landed to where the female was....
very slightly lower and a bit to the right!!
my thought was that she'd moved and re-settled in almost the same spot.
And "she" also flew off...
they were still in the willows, but at the far end of the five...
I crept quietly forward, but, more sightings and photos were not to be...
with their "breep"ing flight calls, I think they headed for the old pollarded alder in the middle of the meadow.

Pauline and I kept hearing them during the afternoon... at various places along the riverbank...
but late in the evening we saw the pair again...
I looked up to the top of our big walnut as I could hear the Turtle Dove purring...
and saw the unmistakable shape of the Black Woodpecker...
it would have made a very nice photograph....
I turned to tell Pauline... and it flew.
But only a couple of seconds later a second bird, presumably the male again, landed in exactly the same spot...
Pauline kept watch, but by the time I had got the camera....
I was just in time to see that one fly, too!!

It seems, though, that one bird exactly follows the other...
if they do stay around we might be able to learn more about their behaviour!

We are right in the middle of their breeding season and they are spreading*...
so these might be last year's juveniles needing new spaces!! 




* The BWP [Birds of the Western Palearctic] states that the population is increasing rapidly...
in France there was under 1000 pairs in the 1970s...
by 2002 it was around 32,000...
and Birdlife International [2004] reported the population to still be increasing in France, Belgium, etc...
and they are quite willing to use small patches of woodland if there are other patches nearby.
Another entry I noted was...
"Plant food rarely taken, though sometimes in quantity: fruits of cherry Prunus, apple Malus...."
Damn, another one after the cherries!!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Elusive visitors...

Long time - no blog post....
We usually have a hiatus around this time of the year, there is just so much to do in the garden and the meadow...
especially now that the potager has reached maximum size.
All this means that we are just too exhausted, by the evening, to concentrate on little more than holding knife and fork for eating... and more drastic... holding a glass straight!

But what we have had over the past few days has got fingertips to keyboard at last...


I was on my way out into the meadow on Wednesday morning to rake up some fresh cut grass for the "maggot"....
and as I drew near the  five old "trognes"....
the big old pollarded willows...
I heard thumping noises.

Hard thumping!!

Now, Richard's son Eric has been having great troubles with their brand new irrigation system since needing to use it in earnest...
his wife told me it had broken down seven times on the first day!!
So, I thought that there was another problem and he was using the age old remedy...
whacking it hard with a length of wood!!!

But, as I walked forward more, the thumping was no longer in line with the pump house....
it was more and more to my left and slightly below me...
energetic woodpecker or vole with a Kango?
I crept forward very...verry.... verrry..... verrrry slowly....
and saw a large woodpecker thumping its white bill against the rotten wood of the nearest old willow...
hold on... white bill?
Black Woodpecker!!!!
And, sure enough "breeep"... and it flew up onto one of the trunks in the sky...
and sat there, looking at me...
and what did I have to photograph this wonderful bird with...
a wooden rake!!
Then, casually, it flew over the longère... "breeep-breeep... breeep-breeep... breeep-breeep"...

Well, that was very nice... thought I.... and carried on to do the raking I was meant to be doing.
I mentioned it to Pauline when I got back so that it could be recorded on Faune Touraine.
"I've been hearing them all week" says she...
"Oh?" was my response!
Pauline is way better at identifying birds by sound than me... a severe short-sightedness from an early age made her a "Bird-Listener"....
rather than a birdwatcher...
and she hasn't abused her ears with rock music through headphones either!!
Since a cateract operation corrected that, she's been able to watch them more clearly too!
But, I've lost my microscope that talked!

A slight pause in the tale, here...


Posted by Tim