Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Owl Howl...

More owl news....
all day yesterday, Pauline was hearing a Tawny Owl calling in broad daylight.
Now this usually occurs if it is being mobbed....
but normally stops when it gets fed up and moves off.
Either this one had something to stick aroud for....
or whatever was rattling its cage wasn't very effective!

Then last night on our return from Yzeures...
see the previous post...
were three calling round us...
two males and one female.
They appeared to be flying around as they called...
and there was us thinking that we'd certainly got a pair...

Then less than twenty minutes ago...
I saw one of them!
Pauline is in the hangar [Dutch barn] sowing seeds...
I went to talk to her and just as we began talking...
a large Tawny left the Kestrel box I put up last year and flew across our orchard and vanished into our most wooded area.
That was at 1:10 PM French time...
a lovely sight...
but unfortunately the closest view for me only...
Pauline was concentrating on sowing and only heard the rustle and clip of its claws on the box as it left... she looked up to see it going away over the verger!!
No pix... no camera in hand

As we said in the nestbox post....
birds choose where they want to nest...
despite the best efforts of box builders!!
 The box isn't being used as a roost...
Tawny Owls like to perch upright!!
And... going on the books, the box is the wrong shape entirely!!
However, they have been observed using old crow's nesting platforms...
we just hope that we've not disturbed "her"!

"She" must have been very nearby yesterday as well...
Pauline kept hearing a raptor call that sounded a bit like a buzzard...
but wasn't right...
and it was also, like the Kingfisher...
at a frequency that I can no longer hear*...
and she heard it again as the owl flew off.


*I was all too aware of my loss of some frequencies last night...
there were calls that were inaudible to me... and others where I couldn't hear all that was described.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The birds of Yzeures sur Creuse

 LPO Touraine invite you to two events in Yzeures sur Creuse! The first, on Tuesday 1st April at 8pm, is a talk on the Birds of Yzeures, by Jean-Michel Feuillet, a local naturalist and animateur. This event, intriguingly illustrated by a photograph of a bee-eater, is in the Salle Auditorium on Place François Mitterand, is free to all.

The second event, entitled Swallows is a workshop for youngsters from eight years upwards, and is also free. This is at 3pm on Wednesday 16th April in the Library at Yzeures. A splendid opportunity for your child to get covered in clay making a swallow nest! For more information and to inscribe, contact the Mairie on

In France, what we know as house martins, sand martins and swifts are all varieties of hirondelle, the swallow itself being a hirondelle rustique. Hirondelle may be better translated as "hirundine", but that's a bit of a mouthful for most eight-year-olds, although on second thoughts many are perfectly au fait with the diplodocus!.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Mighty Moorhen

This is obviously an area where moorhens gallinula chloropus (gallinules poules d'eau) breed successfully, the bridge over the bief being a prime feature in the best territory. We have blogged about these confiding birds several times, for example here.

For the past couple of weeks we have been hearing "pip..pip..pip" noises from the waterside, which signal the presence of a pair of moorhens, walking or swimming along the water's edge, and periodically stopping to view a choice piece of real estate where they can build a nest. Today the inevitable happened - two couples met, competing for the same territory. One male (probably) was up on the top of the bank.

Who, me?

The other male (almost certainly) rushed up the bank at him.

Yes, you!

Chaos ensued....

All hell broke loose

They hit the bief in a great fountain of water, squawking loudly, leaning backward to kick with their long finned toes, while the females (presumably) took cover. The Marquess of Queensbury's rules forbidding biting, kicking or gouging clearly did not apply, while pecking and water boarding were the order of the day. After about 30 seconds of punishment handed out by both sides, one bird eventually fled (flew! how often do you see that?) downstream, leaving the victor in possession - until the next encounter.

These punch-ups were repeated at intervals of about two hours throughout the day. They are, as I write this shortly before midnight, at it again. Tim has threatened to get some logs out of the chaufferie to bung at them if they keep it up all night.

To the victor the spoils

In spite of the beating the birds give to each other, nobody was seriously hurt and the females were duly impressed, which is what it's all about, really.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Orchids go on line

Here's an exciting piece of news for French orchid-spotters, from Benjamin Griard, for the Faune-Touraine team:

The VisioNature family of websites has grown. The National Orchid Society "la Société Française d'Orchidiphilie" has just put a national data entry site on line:

Its purpose is to collect your data on wild orchids. You can log on to it, as with all the other sites of this type, using the same identifiers (your e-mail address and password) that you use currently on Faune-Touraine. It will soon be spring and the orchids will soon be back! 

Good observations!

If you aren't already registered on a VisioNature site and would like to be, you can join directly on orchissauvage, or via the faune-touraine website if you live in Indre et Loire, or from one of the "other sites" if you live in elsewhere in France. Be prepared for a question about your background in Natural History (e.g membership of organisations, etc) and it's all in French, of course. I have undergone a crash course in bird names and behavioural descriptions (comportement) and made a couple of stupid mistakes, but the team has been very kind.

VisioNature is a great way of learning what's around and where you might see it. The gallery of photographs is always worth a look - there are some professional-quality pictures there, look out for Céline's work in particular.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Owl together now

It has been a great privilege to overhear what I can only describe as an operatic love affair worthy of Tristan and Isolde, between two Tawny Owls [Strix aluco] Chouette hulotte. But it is as though we are listening to the opera on the radio. We have never seen any of the protagonists, but we have heard them up to three times a night for the past six weeks - and the drama is by no means over yet. In the absence of any of our own pictures, here is a wonderful picture by Martin Mecnarowski from the Czech Republic.

Copyright Martin Mecnarowski under Creative Commons

We have learnt a lot about Tawnies, their behaviour and particularly the sounds they make since 16th February, from both literature and observation. I basically knew that the females calls "kee-wick" and the male goes "tu-whooo". ""Tu whit tu whoo", the merry note of Shakespeare, is not the call of one bird but the combined contact call of a pair. I learnt that they mate for life (only four or five years on average in wild birds, though a captive bird reached the age of 21) so it's to the female's genetic advantage to form a bond with the best male possible. What the literature doesn't say is that she initiates the process (in our hangar in this case) with screeches and trills of high excitement when her hormones reach the right state of readiness. Mid February is a typical time for this to happen, when she is about 9 months old. The four males that responded may not all have been the same age, and on 4th March she kicked off a response from what sounded like eight males - probably every male for miles around.
Her "kee-wick" calls were loud and carried a long way.
However the trill, though soft and musical, does not carry. It is supposed to only be audible over some 50 metres. It is rare for humans to hear this trill from a wild bird, and there is only one recording of it on Xeno Canto out of 188 Tawny Owl recordings [I've put that in lower down].

One male (bolder?) came into the hangar to call for her, several nights running. She called out with regular shrill "kia" noises, and he hooted in reply to make up the "tu whit tu whoo". I recorded these calls with the voice recorder on my veteran Nokia mobile phone. At the time I thought I hadn't got anything. It was only when I downloaded these recordings that I realised that they actually aren't too bad. The tricky bit of this was to get the recording out of the phone. and onto something that can process it. Nokia's software doesn't do it - in the end I just treated the phone as another storage device, found the recordings with Explorer and copied them to the computer.

These are the Nokia recordings from just after midnight, 16th February....
first the female calling "kia" and the male hooting gently

and again 

His lyrical hooting calls contrasted with the fortissimo blast he gave one night in challenge when another male had the temerity to respond from outside. I was standing in the barn listening in darkness, and I didn't know the doors to the hangar were open! She too was outside, moving around probably from one telephone/electricity post to another.

After that we heard them flying up and down the valley several times per night, she leading, he following, stopping briefly in a tree or pole to call to one another. 

The owls were also coming together for more intimate meetings, and some of these were in our hangar. After numerous attempts I managed to make a recording of the trilling call, this time being made by the male. It's recorded on an I-pod using a microphone intended for voice memos. The quality is awful, with a lot of white noise, and it failed completely to pick up the female's high-pitched call. The Nokia is much better quality, albeit fainter.

First we heard the female calling, then the male replied with some gentle hoots. Then (30 seconds into the recording) he started to trill. She continued to call, although that didn't record. You can just pick out the trill, particularly in the later part of the recording.
Unfortunately, this recording is extremely faint and crackly...

but this one, from XenoCanto is somewhat clearer

We continue to hear them on their nightly rounds of the valley, and at dawn we hear the male calling from the direction of the river. It is very probable that they will breed, although we don't know where - they may take over the barn owl box. Then we might see some of these...
Copyright: owl (under Wiki Commons)

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Nature rambles in Touraine

Today, along with a lot of "pub" (advertising material) this little leaflet arrived in our letter box.

Going out in Touraine

It's the 2014 Calendar of Nature trips in Sennsitive Natural Spaces, and it's full of walks and visits to a wide range of sites, led by various bodies including the LPO and La Maison de la Loire at Montlouis.

Take mountaineering gear if planning to join the 5th August visit. If you wanted to join the 4th March trip - bad luck.
It's an essential item for any nature lover in Touraine. It's so new it isn't on the Conseil Général's web site yet, but you will eventually be able to download a copy (keep nagging here - select Environnement if necessary). You should also find copies at a Tourist Office. The Conseil Général's Environment pages can be found here.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

February Filldyke

Here's the wet weather summary for February.....

February 2014

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   8.3 (Mean Minimum     3.5 / Mean Maximum     13.2)
Minimum           -0.9 day 03
Maximum          19.2 day 24
Highest Minimum  8.5 day 20
Lowest Maximum   8.0 day 11
Air frosts       3

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  64.2 [2013 - 49.5
Wettest day      12.3 day 13
High rain rate   7.2 day 08
Rain days        18... 12 in 2013

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     45.4 day 07
Average Speed    5.6
Wind Run         3783.8 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1022.2 day 27
Minimum          985.0 day 10

February 2013

Temperature (°C): 
Mean (min+max)   5.4 (Mean Minimum     0.5 / Mean Maximum     10.3)
Minimum          -4.2 day 20
Maximum          15.4 day 19
Highest Minimum  5.9 day 01
Lowest Maximum   5.5 day 12
Air frosts       9

Rainfall (mm):

Total for month  49.5 [2012 - 12.6mm]
Wettest day      20.4 day 01
High rain rate   18.0 day 09
Rain days        12

Wind (km/h):

Highest Gust     36.7 day 05
Average Speed    0.7
Wind Run         334.9 km

Pressure (mb):

Maximum          1031.5 day 03
Minimum          995.5 day 10


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Birdland Real Estate Inc.

In the UK it has been National Nestbox Week...
which reminded me to get the boxes I started last year...
  • a] finished...
  • b] installed!

As far as I got with a Sparrow Commune last year
Flats 2 & 4! For the reason outlined below...
But we only got the Owl Box and Kestrel Box up!!.

It is really easy to find wood for nestboxes in the Bricos....
they often have chariots of off-cuts for a measly 5€ to 15€...
depending on what wood they've got in them.
Discard any obviously treated timber...
in France this usually means the sickly yellow stuff.
All you then need is a bit of time...
a saw and some screws...
or a hammer and nails....

Another source is more natural...
large, round chunks of firewood [at least 15cm diameter]....
cut a slice off each end and hollow out the middle section...
make a hole of the desired size [see the table below]...
and make sure this angles slightly upward...
birds do this naturally in the wild...
it creates a drip edge along the top and helps keep water out of the nest!

One tip with the natural approach...
use fresh timber!!
I used a nice length of chestnut to create "Sparrow Villas" [above & below]...
from our delivered firewood...
three years drying before delivery...
and it took two more to hollow out!!

Finally finished... and wood straps replaced with zinc on last years section.
If you get too close to the side, whack a bit of mud in!

Des-res for five families... installed, unfurnished, beautiful views...
and right where they've been living under the tiles for the last few years!!

Never again... 
next time it will be a fresh hunk of Willow or Ash from "out there"
You can also use a rotten'ish length of Willow...
protect the upper cut surface from the weather...
using a bit of good timber horizontally or something similar...
and then drill a good sized starter hole of around 2" [50mm] diameter.
Go well in, in many directions, through the hole, but don't try to fully hollow it out.
Suspend this high in a tree [at least 4 metres] and the Woodpecker will do the rest.

Last year we installed an Owl Box...
while aimed at Barn Owls, Tawny Owls are often users of these as well.
For those who drive past, it is the "oil derrick" on the far side of the main meadow...
this had to be at least five metres off the ground... it is!
It is at the absolute limit of stretch of our triple-set ladder free-standing...

These are the stages...

First... decide to prospect for oil and build a derrick!
Check the box fits on the swivel top...
Make sure it all fits together...
while you are near a workbench!!!
Dismantle the three main parts.
Trolley them all the way out to the furthest point from any road...
and erect the "derrick" and tie it down!
Re-assemble the component parts... the ladder is not touching the tower, by the by... it has legs.
The removable sides of the Owl Box are off in the middle picture... it made manoeuvring easier.
Finish assembly, remove ladder and watch the cars slow down... and wait!
So far...
no takers!!

We see Treecreepers here [Short-toed only in France] and they require a different style of nest...
they nest in crevasses in the bark of old trees.
Pauline was splitting some Sweet Chestnut a couple of years ago and the whole of the core of the log came away...
I have created the basis for nestboxes from the outer section...
These will be wired under a junction of branch and trunk...
never nail a nestbox in place on a living tree...
and always allow room for expansion of the tree...
trapping a couple of lengths of timber under the wire away from the box works fine...
The wire will cut into those first!
That applies to all tree mounted boxes!

Now, the two nest "boxes" shown below are very incomplete...
once in place I will nail bark in place on the "nestbox" to fill the gaps...
and use some of the copious amounts of moss and some mud to finally seal it up...
all I need leave is a small rectangular hole in contact with the tree's own bark.

Two rustic Treecreeper nest boxes

There are plenty of patterns for boxes on the web...
or just use your own imagination!!
For hole sizes see below, also...
and don't forget the open-fronted boxes for Robins, Black Redstarts, "Chizzicks" [White/Pied Wagtails]...

2013... An indoor box of chipboard, two different "hole" boxes and an open fronted box.
Boxes two and four went to Susan of Days on the Claise... for her orchard and potager area.
Nestboxes do NOT need perches... in fact they are a hazard and help predators get a grip!!

2014... The same indoor box, the same tall box... a new open fronted box and the LPO Red Cedar box.
Another type of box that you can make at home is a woodcrete / hempcrete box...
here all you need is a suitable mould or chicken-wire former...
some wood straw / chopped hemp stalk...
and some lime mortar....
ands plenty of space to leave them whilst they "go orff"...
the best to start with are swallow "cups" and house martin nests....
then progress to open fronted boxes.
For shapes, look up Schwegler style boxes on the web.

Pretty... but not for birds...
Two more "nevers"... NO to bright colours and NO to perches....
these even have a platform as well... perfect for a predator to stand on! NO!!
[The  picture is from a cake box from the local boulangerie]


The most difficult thing is siting the box correctly...
you need to take into account the compass direction of the prevailing Spring and Summer weather...
in your locality...
and the target species preferences for height and location....

There are no hard and fast rules...
but there are three things to avoid!
When I first joined the BTO... too many years ago to count...
the usual "compass" points were NW to ESE....
but this angle has narrowed in all the more up to date advice from them...
to between North and East...
the main NEVER has remained the same...
facing SE to West... too much sun and heat...
and they also face the Spring and Summer rains.
NEVER put them near feeders if you continue feeding all year....
NEVER  place too many boxes of the same type close together...
50 to 100 yds is a good rule to follow for territorial species...
This advice, though, is for installation in private homes and small gardens...
when erecting boxes in woodland or well-sheltered sites, the main "Never" rule is the one to follow...
along with the number of boxes for the same target species...
Oh, and always tilt the box forward slightly, too.

But if you "watch" the birds themselves, these "rules" just don't apply!!
They will use the most convenient hole, site, etc....
often in the most unlikely places...
Bluetits nest in the WestSouthWest face of the barn wall...
but they'll have gone in quite deep probably.
The Sparrows nest just under the tiles... "Some Like It Hot" ?
The Black Redstarts nest regularly in the pocket of an old stockman's coat that has been slung...
for some unknown reason....
way up high in the "hangar"...
or in an old Swallow nest* in the "shed"...

The old swallow nest has been lined with moss...
on the beam behind, the outline of an old nest centred on a nail
And the nestbox that came with our registration of the Pré as a Refuge LPO [vanity nature-reserving... but worth it]... gave East  to South East as the "compass" points!!
[*I've noticed that the Swallows tend to use an old nail as the starting point for their nests here....
plenty of those around!! See picture above]

Which reminds me that I haven't mentioned "indoor" nestboxes...
except pointing one out in a caption above...
outbuildings are a favourite place for some birds...
all the shelter needed... and well hidden away!
The chipboard from the Brico trolleys is perfect for these...
same patterns... mainly open-fronted... and put them up all over your dependances!
And chipboard boxes can be used out of doors, they last a couple of years...
use a good roofing material [old flat tile, suitable sized piece of slate, etc]...
and a bit of MATT varnish or paint on the outside...
there are numerous sources of water-based...
ecologically sound...
neutrally tinted...
outdoor varnishes and paints available.
But the simplest and "cheepest" protection is linseed oil!
Only applied to the outside of the nest.

The "indoor" chipboard nestbox in place.

Anyway... siting the boxes...
I have worked my way through all the often conflicting advice and have created this little blurb....

The box should face between North and East, to maximise light, and reduce weather ingress.
Unless there are trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, face the box between North and East, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds.
Many birds will reject boxes that face due West, for example, because the box may stay too hot.

Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m, well hidden in vegetation.
Those for spotted flycatchers need to be 2-4m high, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook.
Woodpecker boxes need to be 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.
Specialist boxes... owl, hoopoe, kestrel, etc... tend to come with advice if bought...
but even plans usually give siting info.

Kestrels like to be high up!
This is right beside one of "our" female Kestrel's favourite roosts...
the streaks on the corrugated iron are hers!
The box is made mainly from OSB3 offcuts...
OSB is Sterling Board to UK residents...
the No 3 indicates water resistant.

Don't pre-fill a nest box...put perhaps a little woodshaving in the bottom...
[except for woodpeckers who like to create their own residence as commented above]...
but the best way to help the birds is to provide material such as hair from cat & dog grooming, cotton, wool, lawn moss and feathers.
The most tidy way to present it to the birds is in an old wire feeder or in a rolled length of 1/2" Chicken Netting.

Mainly cat hair... time they gave something back...
along with lawn moss and some of the insulation the Sparrows keep pulling out!!

Nest boxes should normally be put up in Early January, through to the end of February. ...
at the latest...hmmmmmmmm! The LPO say by the end of April at the latest... duhhh!?
"Nestboxes are best put up during the autumn.
Many birds will enter nestboxes during the autumn and winter, looking for a suitable place to roost or perhaps to feed.
They often use the same boxes for nesting the following spring.
Tits will not seriously investigate nesting sites until February or March." [RSPB Site]
Birds will often chose a ‘well-weathered’ box, and so, really...
it is best to put them up when you've made them...
and leave them in position for the following years.
Don't expect them to be occupied immediately...
and don't be upset if they aren't used for a few years...
you may have erected them within the territory of an established pair with a good nest site.
You could consider moving it after three or four years...
unless you've seen it being used as a winter roost...
such birds may well be short-distance migrants and will not have the same territories as nesters.
They may also have other residents in winter months... dormice being one!
In fact, you can make mammal specific boxes, too!

Some dimensions, etc....

Enclosed Nest-Boxes... [Diameter of hole]
Blue Tit.....................................25mm (1in)    
Great Tit...................................28mm (1 1/4in)    
Tree Sparrow.............................28mm (1 1/4in)    
Nuthatch....................................32mm (1 1/2in) [who will then "perfect" the hole with mud]    
House Sparrow...........................32mm (1 1/2in)    
Starling......................................45mm (1 3/4in)    
Great Spotted Woodpecker...........50mm (2ins)    
Little Owl...................................70mm (2 3/4in)    
Tawny Owl................................150mm (6in)    
Jackdaw.....................................150mm (6in)    

Open fronted nest-boxes:
Pied Wagtail
Spotted Fly Catcher

You will find that birds like Little Owl, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl and Kestrel have specific desires when it comes to boxes...
and are usually slightly weird!!
But if you need some therapy [old style] and are into basketry...
you can weave your own "bread basket" nest platforms...
kestrels like 30cm minimum!!

Maintenance of the boxes....
Do not check them during the summer, for obvious reasons....
unless you know them not to be occupied.

The written advice is that...
"They will need cleaning out from time to time... usually in the Autumn."
but ...
don't forget that sites they choose themselves never get cleaned out by other than by themselves......

The sight of bits of moss drifting past the window allowed me to get this picture on Tuesday...
of a Bluetit having an early Spring-clean!!

Nice to have a home with your own bodyguard...
the  Kestrel roosts on the cemented-in beam!

Additionally, the assorted parasites that share the nest with the birds are a valuable food source in winter....
and the nest is often a roost [as mentioned above]...
or as briefly mentioned also, a winter home for rodents...
especially dormice in field boxes...
and squirrels in larger ones...
as well as lizards, etc.

You can make "nichoirs" for these animals as well...
and for bumble and solitary bees....
not forgetting...
wintering cover for insects!
But more about these in another post!!
get building!!
There is time yet...


Books to help you...:-
In English...
BTO Guide 23.... Nestboxes by Chris du Feu [BTO 1993]
This gives very explicit advice for a very wide range of boxes...
there is a 2008 edition [main section extract downloadable from the BTO as a .pdf file]
also available from Abe Books [seven copies at various low prices]

In French... but very clear.
Nichoirs & Cie by Bernard Bertrand and Thierry Laversin [éditions de Terran - 2006]
Doesn't stop at Birds... covers bees and other insects, reptiles and mammals... as well as feeders.

Les Cahiers Techniques crom the CPN...
No 106: FABRIQUONS DES NICHOIRS... [May 2004... but still around... got our copy from the Maison de la Nature at the Cherine Reserve in the Brenne]
Aimed squarely at Middle School age range [8 to 13] it is perfect for French "beginners"... clearly written and easily followed... all the necessary info is there and the cartoons are wonderful!!

Web Links for more advice...:-
RSPB - Nest Box Advice
BTO - Make a Nest Box
Schwegler  - You can download their catalogue in English from this site

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"Butterfly Special" for Susan and Elizabeth...

Just a quick post on a dismal morning...
take a look at the "Spotted on the Web" feature...
near the bottom of the side bar.
You will find it interesting reading.

And yesterday, while moving some logs, I was told off by a Peacock...
it behaved in a way I'd never seen before...
it flashed upper and lower sets of "eyes" individually...
and then began to rotate the sets...
a very strange effect that...
and then flashed odd "eyes" in a random fashion...
before settling back down!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The owl service

The rain has gone from fire hose to showers and today it turned off completely for a whole day. Everywhere are signs of a ridiculously advanced spring.

In Preuilly-sur-Claise for the Saffron Fair on Saturday, we saw an almond tree just coming into bloom.

Taken with my elderly Nokia mobile, I'm afraid

Yesterday Tim spotted a lizard (European wall lizard) sunning itself, and today a Brimstone butterfly flew past. The frogs are croaking, the great spotted woodpeckers are drumming, the male wren is singing (no change there). The cirl bunting is up on the wych elm by the road belting out "a little bit of bread and no - erm - prompt?!!". Today one of the chiffchaffs started up right in front of us. The blackbirds are a definite couple. A male house sparrow in immaculate breeding plumage does the hippy hippy shake in front of two females who weren't too impressed. Wings half extended, knees bent and bob up and down. Doesn't he look daft, Ada?

But the most remarkable spring song came from the Tawny Owls [strix aluco] la chouette hulotte. The romance unfolds as follows:

2nd February: Loud "kwik-kwik" calls coming from the hangar in the evening, where a female tawny owl is perching on a cross-member. The red 2CV is directly underneath, and is covered in white splodges.

9th February: Loud "whooo....whooo" calls from the barn roof. This time we have a male.

12th February: The female is in the hangar again. The "kwik-kwik" is rapid and chopped off, interspersed with "kia" calls, sounding more urgent and excited.

13th February: Two males, one calling from the riverbank, one more distant.

15th February: The female starts. The "kia" call is accompanied by an extraordinary trilling hoot, very musical and pure, but not loud. [We found out that this warble is sometimes called the "xylophone trill", en ocarina in France. It is often regarded as a sign of distress or agitation.] She doesn't sound at all distressed, and keeps it up for some time. Then we hear a male's "tu whoo" from the Aigronne. Finally we are treated to a duet, both birds in the hangar, she giving a soft yelping call, he responding with gentle hoots. I try recording it with the voice recorder function of my mobile, but only get a faint echo of what is happening.

17th February: the following night, but after midnight, the same thing happens, with the female calling and (in the wee small hours) I am awakened by the duet. Tim has put recording equipment together, using a minidisk recorder with a small parabolic microphone (officially an educational toy, but capable of much more). I didn't like to wake him at such an hour.

According to the outstanding website God's Own Clay, the trill is rarely heard in the wild, and Xeno Canto has one recording of it (made on an I-phone!) out of 175 Tawny Owl examples. We're hoping the owls may get it together again tonight at a more reasonable time so we can record them.  As for pictures, Faune Touraine has lots of Barn Owl images in its photo gallery but no pictures of Tawny Owls, neither has Tim's brother Nick on his Flickr site. I'm sure we could get a picture of one or both of the birds, but we don't want our presence and the flash to drive them away. So here's a lovely portrait of a young tawny by Thomas Helbig [Germany] taken at the Falconry Centre Greifenstein in Bad Blankenburg, Thuringia.

Copyright Thomas Helbig

Between 8pm and 10pm we hear the male calling, then the female, with a tremolo trill as she flies past the front door. They are in the trees by the Aigronne this time.
11pm and Tim comes in saying he can hear four different males calling at the same time, so it looks like quite a party tonight and she'll be able to take her pick.
11:45pm: first the female ("kia"!) then a male ("whoo"!) fly past the house, heading upstream.

Something tells me we haven't heard the last of this!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Launching Noah's Ark...

It is all in the News, our weather...
"The French department of Finistere, in the west of the country, was placed on red alert as forecasters warned of huge waves and extensive flooding.
Ten other French departments were also on alert for rising water levels.
At least two people died and scores had to be airlifted to safety after floods hit south-eastern France earlier this month."
BBC News Channel 1/2/2014....

So what has it been like, this last January...

Warmer and wetter...
than 2013...
almost twice as wet as 2012!

January 2014

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   8.1 (Mean Minimum     4.1 / Mean Maximum     12.1)
Minimum          -0.9 day 14
Maximum          16.4 day 08
Highest Minimum  10.1 day 06
Lowest Maximum   6.2 day 20
Air frosts       2

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  71.7 [2013 -
Wettest day      9.6 day 02
High rain rate   9.0 day 04
Rain days        21... exactly the same as 2013

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     36.7 day 02
Average Speed    3.7
Wind Run         2725.2 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1022.0 day 11
Minimum          984.8 day 29

January 2013

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   3.9 (Mean Minimum     0.4 / Mean Maximum     7.4)
Minimum          -7.5 day 16
Maximum          15.1 day 31
Highest Minimum  4.9 day 09
Lowest Maximum   0.0 day 06
Air frosts       10

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  61.2 [2012 - 37.8mm]
Wettest day      10.2 day 09
High rain rate   99.0 day 18
Rain days        21

Wind (km/h):
[see our comments in the first post in January!]
Highest Gust     33.1 day 21
Average Speed    0.5
Wind Run         285.3 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1041.0 day 15
Minimum          0.0 day 06 [a bit vacuous this!!]

Other local bloggers have been "covering" the weather...

Colin and Elizabeth on The story of our life in and around Braye-sous-Faye ...
and today [February the Third]... The Paddy Fields of Richelieu.....
Amelia on In a French Garden...
Niall and Antoinette on Chez Charnizay...
it is affecting us all!

The Met Office has done a set of charts for this January's weather in the UK...
Just for comparison....
I thought I'd look back a century....
courtesy of the Met Office Archives

January 1914
Dull in the East:
Bright in the North and West:
Unusually Large Range of Pressure.
Floods in the Thames region...

January 1913
There was a deficiency of precipitation over a large part of northern Scotland, all other districts returning an excess.  
#The percentages for Scotland were low [18% Dunrobin, 32% Strathpeffer]...
but excessive everywhere else: 234% Woolacombe, 238% at Glasnevin, 246% Spurn Head, 252% Dublin...

So, not a lot of change really...
But, what might be to come?

Jan 1915
Dull in the South and East.
Brighter in the North and West:
Floods in the Thames region...
[Almost a duplication of 1914!!]

Jan 1916
Rainy in North and North-West.
Dry in East South.

Jan 1917
Wintry, Much Snow in Many Places.

Jan 1918
First Part Wintry with Snow and Severe Frost : Second Part Spring-Like.
Sunshine. daily sunshine was above the normal in England.

#This is the same as reported yesterday for last month on Auntie Beeb!!


Recent post on "Flint Bling" on Touraine Flint

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

25 et 26 janvier 2014 : Grand comptage d'oiseaux du jardin

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch is in its thirtieth year. During the weekend of 25th/26th January, spend an hour recording the birds that use your garden, and pass the results to the RSPB.

Meanwhile, in France... 

The Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), in conjunction with the National Natural History Museum of France, is running the same thing, on the same days, for the second year. Last year, Britain achieved nearly 600,000 observers, France just over 3,000 who recorded 160,000 birds. The numbers in France may seem small, but it is possible to obtain valuable scientific data nevertheless. For example, the LPO has issued a press release entitled "Unusual absence of birds frequenting our bird tables" pointing to a 30% reduction in numbers and attributing it to the poor spring of 2013 and the mild temperatures which mean that migratory species are staying further north than normal. This count will provide evidence to show whether those northerly species have started to arrive.

And last year was just the first year.  The LPO's introduction to the snappily-titled "appointment in the gardens to count the birds there" is here.

All you have to do is
  1. choose a day and one-hour time period that weekend
  2. choose a place - your private garden, workplace grounds, local public park or balcony
  3. count the birds you see. A downloadable sheet is provided for this purpose with pictures of the 52 commonest garden birds on it, though hawfinch might be a bit optimistic. This sheet also gives the French names for these birds, which you will need for entering the data. There are a number of sites which give bird names in English, French and their scientific form, such as this one. For those with Android, you can buy an app, apparently.
  4. submit the counts via the oiseauxdesjardins website here.
Crib sheet, page 1

The birds have to be using your garden. That is, a buzzard flying overhead does not count. A sparrowhawk diving through in search of prey does count. Also, record the maximum number of birds of any particular species you see at any one time. You may think there are more than three bluetits around, but you can't be sure.

That fourth point is the fun bit. Full details of the registration and data entry procedures are here. It explains that oiseauxdesjardins is a national site (using the VisioNature database), but there are a number of regional or departmental sites with portals to the national site. If your garden is in one of these areas, you will be redirected to the local site to complete your observer's registration and enter your data. You can record more than one garden, but you only register as an observer once.

The registration procedure is:
  1. Go to
  2. Click on "j'aimerais participer" (green box at the top of the page)
  3. Select your département.
  4. If you have a local site, you are redirected there. In Indre et Loire this is In future, you will always use this local site. .If redirected, once again Click on "j'aimerais participer".
  5. Fill in the registration form (name, address, e-mail address) and validate it. An e-mail will be sent to you with your password. When you receive this, you can sign on to the observatory and register a garden.
To register a garden,
  1. Decide on a name for your garden.
  2. Click on Participer - Oiseaux des Jardins - Ajouter un Jardin.
  3. Select your département
  4. Select your commune.
  5. Locate your garden on the map by moving the red pointer.
  6. Enter the name of your garden. 
  7. Click on Suivant.
  8. Fill in the Garden Description form then click on "enregistrer les données" to register the garden.
To add your sightings:
  1. Click on Participer - Oiseaux des Jardins - Transmettre les observations de mon jardin.
  2. Enter the day and time of your birdwatch session
  3. For each species of bird you have seen during this session that is on the principal list of garden birds, click on the bird, enter the count and press suivant.
  4. For any species not on the principal list, bring up the data entry form by clicking on one of the principal species, and select ajouter une espece. Click on the species, enter the count and press suivant.
Incidentally, there is a lot of interesting stuff for birdwatchers on your local site - recent sightings, rare species, the birds of your commune, news releases... The database handles reptiles, amphibians and mammals as well as birds, although there is little data at present. The number of sightings rather reflects the number of observers, and we are few in la sud Touraine. I notice that Tim's observation of Wood Duck in April 2011 made it to the records when someone read his post on this blog!

The RSPB has made use of sophisticated technology such as a smartphone app to register bird sitings in real time, and a downloadable data set of last year's results. But unsophisticated old me, I don't have a smartphone or a recent enough version of Excel to handle the data set. The RSPB recently renamed its magazine from "Birds" to "Nature's Home". My response was "Eeeoouw". Are we in danger of getting a bit too family friendly? 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Stranger on the Shore

Yesterday we spotted a new bird for our commune, and a species out of the ordinary for the Touraine at that. A Shelduck [Tadorna tadorna] Tadorne de Belon was sitting rather forlornly at the edge of our neighbours' étang.
Shelducks can be seen in wetlands throughout Britain at any time of the year, but are mainly a coastal winter visitor to western continental Europe. Our visitor has probably been blown off course by the recent storms.

Here's my profile

Tim had glimpsed this bird on Sunday while driving past, but thought it had to be a "funny mallard" - a domestic cross-breed or Cayuga mallard. The pond is almost completely devoid of covering vegetation and has few avian visitors - a regular pair of mallards, the occasional grey heron, and the birds we can't mention in case they get shot...
We checked it out on the way back from Chatellerault, and recognised the stranger immediately. We went back to the house for binos and camera, and walked cautiously back down the road to the étang. The bird did a nice little fly-round for us and went back to its original place.

And I look like this underneath
Tim has taken a load of pictures - more may follow if he has the time to process them properly.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The mystery of the stag on the roof

As La Nouvelle République relates in its article of 5th January 2014, 'Type "Verneuil-sur-Indre" into any search engine and immediately links will come up to the stag discovered trapped on the roof of a garage in the commune.' The story was picked up by the media around the world, particularly in anglophone countries that compared his unfortunate position with that of Rudolf, Santa's red-nosed reindeer. 'The very media-friendly stag on the roof has spiced up the lives of the people of that commune, "Le très médiatique cerf sur le toit a pimenté leur vie"'. The NR's video of the rescue, led by Philippe Bruneau the mayor and involving a piece of landscaping fabric, a broom, the fire brigade and a couple of ladders, has logged 280,000 views, and the Youtube copy 180,000.

Now what do I do?
It is thought that the animal got onto the lean-to roof during the night of 4th November 2013 from the garden which overlooks the wall at the back. Once there, it found it too slippery to climb back. The rescue unfolds in the video below, the pathetic sight of the stag, scrabbling helplessly for a foothold, being poked with a broom, and finally catching on to the idea that it could walk on the cloth, and the inelegant final clamber over the wall to freedom. By 11am on November 5th it had vanished.

Olivier Laffargue of BFMTV was one of the few to remark at the time that the animal was of an east Asian species, and that nothing was said, in public at least, about how it came to be where it was. The black-and-white still photographs showing the animal lying on the roof gave no real idea of scale and the species was not mentioned in 5th November's media frenzy. A cerf is by implication a red deer stag. More properly this should be called a cerf élaphe, cervus elaphus. The delicate build, dark colour and fluffy backside all point to this being a sika stag (cervus nippon, cerf sika). A fully grown sika stag - as this one is - can be less than half the weight of a well grown red deer stag.

Sikas are natives of the far east and were introduced into various hunting parks throughout Europe from the 19th century. The species is an invasive alien. Sika and red deer interbreed readily and the genome of the British population of red deer is now affected by hybridisation. This is the fear behind "the dark side of the story", as the NR's Billet column puts it. On the afternoon of 5th November, the prefecture, alerted to the presence of a sika deer on the roof of a garage in the commune, issued an arrêté, an order that it should be killed. "People locally with hunting interests wanted to destroy the animal, and therefore the prefect has authorised shooting it because it is not a native species", announced the mayor.

As well, rumours began to run wild about the presence of the sika. Certain villagers, walking in the forest to pick  mushrooms, spoke of livestock transporters in the surrounding woods. Some said they saw these lorries the day before the presence of the deer in the village, others after. From there followed all sorts of hypotheses: that the stag was released by persons unknown; that it was sought in order to recapture it.

But as any loyal Archers fan knows, deer do not take kindly to trucks. Deer farmed for venison are not taken to an abattoir for slaughter - they panic, resulting in injury or death from shock, and tainting of the meat by the presence of stress hormones. Instead they are picked off one at a time by a marksman using a silenced rifle.

There now follows a hypothesis of my own. This sika was not going to slaughter. It was tranquilised. It was on its way to someone's illicit hunting preserve like the one discovered at Bourgueil at the end of December, where large game animals are effectively farmed, and shoots are sold for a tidy sum, "de coquettes sommes d'argent". Somehow this one got away Yes, the roof was slippery, and the deer appeared too wobbly on its pins to negotiate the slope. That could be down to exhaustion, or to intoxication, or both. The appearance of half a dozen blokes and their equipment, and sparkling brass helmets in the case of the pompiers, did not appear to faze it particularly. And having safely negotiated the fabric, it was not so exhausted as to prevent it jumping over the wall and fleeing at top speed.

The prefecture's arrêté came too late. The story of this creature, its successful rescue and its happy release into the forest, went around the world. The subsequent killing of the stag would have been a media disaster for Verneuil-sur-Indre. So where is it now?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

La Météo... Wet with rare outbreaks of Sunshine

A Weather Review of 2013

A summary of 2013

2012 records are in [brackets and italics] in this table.
Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   12.0 (Mean Minimum     6.1 / Mean Maximum     17.9)
Minimum          -7.5 on 16/01/2013 [-20.6 on 07/02/2012]
Maximum          38.7 on 21/07/2013 [26.7 on 15/03/2012]
Highest Minimum  23.8 on 27/08/2013 [21.1 on 18/06/2012]
Lowest Maximum   0.0 on 06/01/2013 [-6.0 on 07/02/2012]
Air frosts       59  [41]

Rainfall (mm):
Total for period 717.3 [777.0 for 2012]
Wettest day      33.9 on 14/09/2013 [371.4 on 16/03/2012]
High rain rate   99.0 day 18/01/2013 [165.6 day 08/08/2012]
Rain days        174 [79]

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     42.8 on 24/12/2013
Average Speed    1.1
Wind Run         7881.1 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1041.0 on 15/01/2013
995.5 on 10/02/2013

The Wind data are unreliable early on... 
a new windspeed sensor was only installed halfway through the year...
until then it only had two cones... not three...
in strong wind that meant that it often got stuck...
unable to turn with the wind. 



Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   3.9 (Mean Minimum     0.4 / Mean Maximum     7.4)
Minimum          -7.5 day 16
Maximum          15.1 day 31
Highest Minimum  4.9 day 09
Lowest Maximum   0.0 day 06
Air frosts       10

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  61.2 [2012 - 37.8mm]
Wettest day      10.2 day 09
High rain rate   99.0 day 18
Rain days        21

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     33.1 day 21
Average Speed    0.5
Wind Run         285.3 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1041.0 day 15
Minimum          0.0 day 06 [a bit vacuous this!!]

FebruaryThe pré is part of the floodplain of the Aigronne...

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   5.4 (Mean Minimum     0.5 / Mean Maximum     10.3)
Minimum          -4.2 day 20
Maximum          15.4 day 19
Highest Minimum  5.9 day 01
Lowest Maximum   5.5 day 12
Air frosts       9

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  49.5 [2012 - 12.6mm]
Wettest day      20.4 day 01
High rain rate   18.0 day 09
Rain days        12

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     36.7 day 05
Average Speed    0.7
Wind Run         334.9 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1031.5 day 03
Minimum          995.5 day 10

March...saw more Snakeshead fritillaries than in previous years!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   7.4 (Mean Minimum     1.3 / Mean Maximum     13.5)
Minimum          -6.2 day 15
Maximum          21.2 day 07
Highest Minimum  10.3 day 08
Lowest Maximum   5.1 day 29
Air frosts       11

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  43.2 [2012 - 395.1mm]
Wettest day      5.4 day 07
High rain rate   43.2 day 31
Rain days        16

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     29.5 day 08
Average Speed    0.2
Wind Run         148.0 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1016.0 day 03
Minimum          981.8 day 11

AprilFortunately the pré is much lower than the house!!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   10.8 (Mean Minimum     3.5 / Mean Maximum     18.2)
Minimum          -4.5 day 03
Maximum          29.9 day 24
Highest Minimum  12.3 day 17
Lowest Maximum   7.8 day 06
Air frosts       6

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  59.4 [2012 - 9.9mm]
Wettest day      15.6 day 11
High rain rate   18.0 day 11
Rain days        9

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     31.7 day 09
Average Speed    0.1
Wind Run         35.6 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1020.6 day 19
Minimum          989.8 day 09

May...and still it rained and rained!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   12.9 (Mean Minimum     6.6 / Mean Maximum     19.1)
Minimum          1.3 day 24
Maximum          27.0 day 07
Highest Minimum  13.1 day 08
Lowest Maximum   12.4 day 20
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  64.5 [2012 - 9.6mm]
Wettest day      10.8 day 21
High rain rate   16.2 day 08
Rain days        17

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     15.8 day 08
Average Speed    0.0
Wind Run         0.4 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1014.4 day 13
Minimum          989.0 day 16

JuneThanks to the rain we discovered four more types of Orchid on our land.

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   17.7 (Mean Minimum     10.8 / Mean Maximum     24.7)
Minimum          5.3 day 26
Maximum          33.0 day 06
Highest Minimum  15.9 day 18
Lowest Maximum   18.8 day 13
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  40.8 [2012 - 16.2mm]
Wettest day      12.3 day 13
High rain rate   14.4 day 13
Rain days        16

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     18.4 day 23
Average Speed    0.0
Wind Run         0.8 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1021.6 day 26
Minimum          997.2 day 17


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   22.7 (Mean Minimum     14.1 / Mean Maximum     31.3)
Minimum          9.2 day 01
Maximum          38.7 day 21
Highest Minimum  18.1 day 19
Lowest Maximum   16.6 day 03
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  9.3 [2012 - 15.0mm]
Wettest day      3.9 day 02
High rain rate   7.2 day 02
Rain days        8

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     20.9 day 29
Average Speed    0.2
Wind Run         286.1 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1030.7 day 30
Minimum          1002.0 day 02

August...we tended to see the morning sun...

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   17.0 (Mean Minimum     12.7 / Mean Maximum     21.2)
Minimum          0.0 day 11
Maximum          37.9 day 01
Highest Minimum  23.8 day 27
Lowest Maximum   0.0 day 11
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  41.7 [2012 - 30.3]
Wettest day      8.7 day 06
High rain rate   7.2 day 07
Rain days        10

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     19.4 day 02
Average Speed    1.6
Wind Run         349.0 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1032.7 day 10
Minimum          0.0 day 11
[Not really!]


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   17.5 (Mean Minimum     10.5 / Mean Maximum     24.5)
Minimum          4.7 day 10
Maximum          31.5 day 24
Highest Minimum  16.0 day 28
Lowest Maximum   17.9 day 17
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  61.2 [2012 - 7.8mm]
Wettest day      33.9 day 14
High rain rate   21.6 day 28
Rain days        12

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     30.6 day 17
Average Speed    2.1
Wind Run         1045.1 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1027.2 day 22
Minimum          1000.9 day 29


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   15.0 (Mean Minimum     10.3 / Mean Maximum     19.8)
Minimum          0.0 day 28
Maximum          26.8 day 03
Highest Minimum  16.2 day 04
Lowest Maximum   11.0 day 29
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  170.1 [2012 - 84.6mm]
Wettest day      30.6 day 28
High rain rate   39.6 day 14
Rain days        23

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     22.0 day 23
Average Speed    1.9
Wind Run         1110.7 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1026.0 day 06
Minimum          0.0 day 28 [Not really!]

NovemberPrivé - the walnuts were scarce this year!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   7.1 (Mean Minimum     3.1 / Mean Maximum     11.2)
Minimum          -4.3 day 28
Maximum          19.0 day 07
Highest Minimum  14.3 day 07
Lowest Maximum   5.9 day 18
Air frosts       5

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  69.6 [2012 - 87.6mm]
Wettest day      20.1 day 05
High rain rate   82.8 day 05
Rain days        15

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     39.2 day 10
Average Speed    3.4
Wind Run         2100.3 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1034.4 day 26
Minimum          993.3 day 05


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   5.9 (Mean Minimum     -0.1 / Mean Maximum     11.9)
Minimum          -6.7 day 10
Maximum          17.9 day 16
Highest Minimum  9.3 day 24
Lowest Maximum   7.5 day 14
Air frosts       18

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  46.8 [2012 - 75.8mm]
Wettest day      15.3 day 28
High rain rate   9.0 day 28
Rain days        15

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     42.8 day 24
Average Speed    2.9
Wind Run         2184.9 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1033.0 day 14
Minimum          987.0 day 24
The odd zero pressure readings are probably due to a transmission breakdown...
we have seen odd "flat spots" on the graphs...
and the batteries were renewed during the year!!

Wishing everyone a Happy, Health and Prosperous 2014...
and here's a prayer for more clement weather.


There is a new entry for the blog about the meadow here on Art en Saule.