Thursday, 29 January 2015

What this way has passed?

I mowed the meadow last week....
yes, it is only January...
and the grass hasn't grown very much....
but I needed to do it......
mainly to demolish the molehills...
and destroy tussocks.

I need to get out there with equipment in February...
and towing everything in the trailer, behind the mower, is a lot easier...
than trudging back and forth and wasting valuable time.
So obstacles must go!!

As I was passing close to the bief [millstream] I saw some tracks...
lots of tracks....
large, cloven tracks. Looks like a deer to me...
certainly not wild boar...
no rear spike holes...
and no horribly turned over soil!

Not very clear, but deep...
heavy animal or moving rapidly?


Having mowed, I went out again with camera and the trusty Field Studies Council "Animal Tracks and Signs" leaflet...

Too small for Red...
no Sheep about...
and no Wild Boar rear spikes!
Closest to Sika deer...
and the hole... below right...
is in the wrong position for a Wild Boar

Yes, deer was the closest match....
but they fell 'twixt Roe Deer and Red Deer...
matching the closest, Fallow or Sika....
now, the nearest of either of them is well to the north in the Sologne.
And that was as far as this post got until today!!

This morning, glancing out  of the window...
as we often do... might miss something...
we saw seven Red Deer hinds [Cervus elaphus] Cerf élaphe biches, of differing sizes#....
trotting towards the meadow from the hill to the North.
They crossed the Aigronne by our Norway Maples, without stopping....
they were out in the open in broad daylight...
and continued across the pré in the direction of the bief...
on the line they were following, they would have crossed that...
at the point I saw the tracks above....
that is where we couldn't follow... no windows that way...
and at the speed they were trotting, no time to get out of the house.
There was no time, either, for Pauline to get her camera operational and take a pic!
And it was on the windowsill........
They were visible for about forty seconds...

They had probably been disturbed from their lay-up or lair by a stray dog....
or someone getting too close...
and decided to head for the "safety" of the woods on the other side of the valley.
Nice to see tho'... So, problem solved...
Red Deer!

[# - The size varies quite considerably depending on the food supply...
also the bloodstock availability...
a good example of this is the decision to limit the size of the herd in Grizedale Forest...
in the Lake District...
to 350 head. The weakest stag when I last saw the Deer Museum there...
was a fourteen point Royal with a six-foot span.
Compare that with the poorly fed, uncontrolled herds in Strath Halladale...
near the RSPB Forsinard reserve in the Flow Country...
[Caithness, Scotland]... smaller, weaker beasts altogether!!]




Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Black Day at the forge!!

In the front garden we HAD two Bee Orchids [Ophrys apifera] Orchis abeille...
I use the word "had" because someone didn't talk to his workmen...
and they, also, did not talk to us before they acted.

We have the roofers in to do the longère...
they use a huge JCB "Long-in-the-Arm" to do the heavy work...
some of the tiles are now off the roof and in a crate....
and they needed to put the crate somewhere to stock it.
Without asking us, they drove the damn machine along in front of the barn and hangar...
and have crushed out of existence the two Bee Orchids...
you cannot even see the fluorescent markers that I was using!!!

So, here is a final picture of one of our two Bee Orchids!


RIP...
little clown!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Nous sommes tous Charlie

This is the picture of the week from the LPO:






Illustration : Cécile Rousse / LPO

Nous sommes tous Charlie

L’attentat du 7 janvier plonge la LPO et toute la communauté des naturalistes dans une détresse insondable.

Nous sommes tout à la fois effondrés et en colère. Effondrés face au vide qui se présente devant nous. En colère contre l'obscurantisme.

Le temps est au deuil. Oui nous vous pleurons. Mais nous continuerons de parler de vous au présent.

Allain Bougrain Dubourg
Président de la LPO


   [En savoir plus] 
                              





Please follow the link "En savoir plus"

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The wise thrush

... as Robert Browning called the song thrush (turdus philomelos, grive musicienne) in "Home Thoughts from Abroad":
There's the wise thrush:
He sings each song twice over
Lest you think he never could recapture
That first fine careless rapture.
I make no apologies for re-posting Tim's stunning portrait.
We have included the song thrush in a previous post here.

At this time of year the thrushes don't do a lot of singing, but they do fill themselves with food. This one was working a patch of rough meadow for grass snails.

Curses! I'm spotted!


When the weather is frosty, the snails hide in the thick vegetation and seal themselves up

Searching the bramble patch

I watched him or her pick out eight snails in about fifteen minutes, and take them to a spot out of sight behind a bramble bush.  When I went to refill the bird feeders in the meadow, this is what I found.

Thrush anvil

What looks like a slightly paler patch of earth is a rough lump of stone projecting slightly from the muddy soil. (The meadow is mostly alluvium, but with some quite substantial rocks in, and this is also the site of the former mill). It is surrounded by a scatter of broken grass snail shells. Clearly the thrush is using it as an anvil. It stands beside or on the anvil holding the snail shell in its beak and wellies it against the rock until it breaks. Then the thrush eats the goodies inside.

The French name, "Musician thrush" is a charming description of one of my favourite singers..

Monday, 29 December 2014

Winter has come

Until now the weather has continued to be mild. A week ago the last roses were in bloom. Suddenly the wind has swung around to the North, and a few snowflakes fell as our chickens took their first cautious steps on the loose in the potager.

As we were thawing out over coffee yesterday we became aware that dozens of birds were feeding in the alders outside the front door, where we have hung a large dried sunflower head and a fat-ball feeder. As well as the usual bluetits, great tits, goldfinches, greenfinches and robin, there were some round, plump, bright greenish-yellow stripy small birds wearing black berets. They foraged over the alder seed heads, never staying in the same place for long.

Female siskin - well stripy

Siskins (Tarin des Aulnes, carduelis spinus) had come to visit us again. We blogged about them in 2010 here, here,(with pictures) in 2011, here and here in 2013, but we missed them last winter, when it was mild all the time. I make no excuses for doing another post about them.

Acrobats on the alder - male siskins

They cling, bobbing up and down, to the skinniest twigs to pick out the alder seeds, and twist themselves into knots to get at their favourite food. Their name in French means "Alder Finch".

Ever charming


Today they came back, and explored the cherry tree and the willows as well as the alders. In the sunlight they looked even prettier. The males were in one group and the females in another, in different trees.

female siskin - one of my favourite photos


Male siskin - bright colours aren't everything you know!

Now let me see....

I know there's a seed in there


Alder seed on its way down

Always they were in the company of other birds, mainly goldfinches and sparrows.

Goldfinch selecting an alder seed

Goldfinch - slightly unusual view, of the back of the neck

My picture of the day. Just an ordinary sparrow.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Robbin' Robin

I made a new fat-ball feeder yesterday and hung it up....
in fact all the feeders are now out...
and the one in the meadow is getting a hammering!

But back to the new one...
I hung it, temporarily, near the front door...
to make it easier to see who's using it.

The sun hadn't been up too long before someone found it....


I remember these...
I just need to lean in and...
PECK!
I have a feeling...
that someone's watching me...
Aww!
Who cares....
let's have some more!


We think he may be last year's Robin...
who also used to access the fat-balls this way!
Cheeky...
that's what he is!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Weir, art thou going? River improvements part III

Our posts here and here about the programme of improvements to the Claise basin described the achievements in our corner of the Aigronne valley, out of 77km of river bank works in the last three years.

Now operations have started on the section of the Claise between Le Grand Pressigny and Etableau. If you go down the rue des Réaux towards Abilly you will see, or rather you won't see, the familiar line of poplars screening the decaying former furniture factory building near the déchetterie.

Stumps, logs and branches next to the Iron Bridge
The trees that remain, apart from the big oak, are mostly small alders.

View towards the weir from the Iron Bridge. The house behind the high hedge to the right is for sale.
.
See "Improving the Aigronne Part II" for a translation of the poster
Poplar is an excellent timber, widely used for construction throughout France, and good poplar wood is valuable. The tradition was, when a daughter was born, to plant a poplar plantation to pay for her dowry when she got married. But these trees were too far gone. The smaller notice describes how the trees will be disposed of. Given that a Prefectorial edict obliges the commune to do the work; that turning dead and fallen trees and branches into biomass is not easy to do cost-effectively; and that the cost of hiring the mulching equipment needed to compost the remains is beyond the resources of the town council, SARL ETREN is authorised to burn what it cannot turn into biomass.

The field behind the digger is scheduled as building plots
The poplars were rotting at the heart, potentially dangerous, and they had to go. The weir is in the background.

You can read the small poster if you can fly. But it's important!
Be that as it may, the poplars were in the way of the really big undertaking.   Under the European directive on water courses and La loi sur l’eau et les milieux aquatiques (LEMA), the commune has to remove (literally, to "suppress") the weir, and return the river to a semblance of its original state. Given that water mills have been in existence since classical times, we are talking prehistory here.

La Nouvelle République in its article of 22nd November 2014 describes the weir project thus:
in May 2015, the barrage will be removed and the bed of the Claise re-aligned, rebuilding part of the banks with rock, earth and pebbles, with the objective of reducing the width, giving back to the river an appearance of the original bed, permitting the water level to rise and restoring the rate of flow.
The weir from the town bridge
The weir was built in the 1970s to provide a swimming area and sustain the water level in periods of low water. It is now obsolete. Nobody wants to swim there: the water is dark and forbidding, the bottom is squidgy and covered with leathery, slippery poplar leaves, and there's a heated public swimming pool on the other side of town. La NR continues:
the prefectorial mandate governing the operation of the weir obliges the commune to keep it open for nine months of the year. This obligation has never been respected. The repeal of this mandate will require the community of communes of Touraine du Sud (CCTS) to remove the weir and return the site to a fit state. The CCTS's land management brief makes the work possible. A partnership with the region [Centre], the département [Indre et Loire] and the water agency [for the Loire and Brittany] allows the rehabilitation of the site to be incorporated in the restoration program. This new project will be 100% subsidised.
 See also the CCTS web site here and here.

Suppress the barrage? Sounds simple enough. No big deal. A bigger deal will be the heavy lorries thundering past carrying the "rock, earth and pebbles" to the site and thundering even louder as they return empty at top speed. A major issue will be disposing of the tonnes of concrete of the barrage itself and the spillway, and the unknown tonnage of silt (la vase) deposited behind the weir. Where will it go? How much is there? How many lorryloads?

And just what is meant by the river's original bed? When the ground is saturated, it is easy to trace old meanders of the Aigronne, for example in the fields south of Rivau. The Claise valley between le GP and Descartes opens out to become several kilometres wide, the site of a prehistoric swamp/lake bed. Watermills go back to the times of Alexander the Great; human life in the Aigronne and Claise valleys goes back to the Upper Palaeolithic, 350,000 years ago. How far back should we go in restoring the river to its "original state"?

For us, the biggest issue of all will be when the sights are turned on Richard's weir and sluice gate that direct  the Aigronne's flow into the bief that runs past our house and the Moulin de Favier. That weir has been there for at least two hundred years, and is shown on the Napoleonic cadastral map of 1812. The mills existed when the Cassini  maps were drawn in the 17th century, and, since La Forge was an undershot mill, there must have been a weir too. The Cassini map does not show such fine detail. The sluice is new (1980s) and was constructed along with the étang. It is left permanently open.

The Dechartes have a history of the Moulin de Favier going back to the 12th Century. The habitat supports at least one nationally proteced species - the water vole - and local rarities like the Large Pincertail dragonfly. We have a duty to preserve la patrimoine, be it history or nature. On the other hand, everyone has a right to clean water, including the migratory fish such as eels which are blocked by such barrages.. I'm not quite sure how turning our bief into a stagnant ditch full of mosquitos will improve the milieu aquatique.

And the history of Le Moulin de la Forge is a matter for another post.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Wow, wow and thrice wow

Our profound thanks to our friends Martin and Denise for alerting us to the sight of the year - migrating cranes coming in to their overnight stopover in the Brenne. This is just a quick post and we have all the videos (with stereo sound) and Tim's photographs to come.
If you can, GO TOMORROW!!!!

We've visited l'Étang de la Mer Rouge many times without seeing much. Our friends had visited on Tuesday and were raving about it - would the birds all have gone on? We saw not one crane as we pottered around the Brenne this afternoon. However at La Mer Rouge I caught the sound of a few calls on the wind.


At last (4:20ish) parties of cranes started to fly in. Lots of cranes. They milled around a bit - and flew on! Just over the wooded hill on the other side of the Étang.


Should we go or should we stay? We went. We found them again near the chateau de Bon Asile down a dead end off the D20, which turned out on further map study to be a continuation of the Chemin rural du Blanc that leads past La Mer Rouge. There were a few hundred cranes in the fields opposite the house but the incredible noise hinted at many more on the far side of the hedge.


Still they were restless. Tim spotted an osprey perched on a post in the middle of the field. A murmuration of starlings happened. Then...


Then the cranes took off en masse. Thousands of them. They were streaming back towards La Mer Rouge. What a sight! Both of us switched our cameras to video and filmed until we could no longer hold up our hands. Still they came  past.


Another dash, this time back to La Mer Rouge in rapidly failing light, and the cranes were visible as grey bands on the far bank. Marvellous!



But why thrice Wow? We were just eating our tea back home when I thought for an instant that one of the cameras had started playing a video by itself. I could hear cranes. I could hear cranes outside! Two large parties were circling up there, one above us and one above Grandmont or La Jarrie. No idea how many, it was pitch dark, but there were easily several hundred, going by the racket, and could have been as many as a thousand. And they were looking for somewhere for a little R&R. Forty minutes later, we heard them again. I think as I write this that they are just along the valley...

Update: 11,500 cranes were counted in Indre the following morning.

A further update [Sunday 16th at 11AM]:
We missed them... but there have been parties and singles seen over our region...
yesterday, we saw a group of twelve flying south-east....
in the direction of the Brenne...
and a singleton flying west...
the weather has bottled them up... and yesterday Grus-Grus reported...
that from Indre...
"plus de 35 000 grues sur les dortoirs en Brenne, ce qui constitue un nouveau record"...
so the spectacle goes on...
and will stay this way until the weather improves!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Stanley... his last year.

Stanley... 2011 to 2014 [possibly]
Stanley was found early this year on our woodchip "patio"...
we had decided that the existing woodchip had composted a bit too much over the winter...
so I began to remove it to use as mulch on one of the front flowerbeds.
Shortly after I began, I started to find chafer grubs...
probably Rose Chafer... our most common....
when I un-woodchipped a monster with really powerful looking jaws...
he was three times as large...
his sides were less complex than the chafers'....
and he looked altogether more solid.

The "young" Stanley

He was found near a chunk of willow log....
that we'd been using as an impromptu glass/mug putting down point...
and was most certainly a large, rotten wood denizen.
A quick look through the most likely suspects revealed nothing like him...
so I went for the less obvious and realized...
quite quickly...
that he was a Stag Beetle [Lucarnus cervus] Cerf Volant!
Cor! Exciting... well, I thought so.
he was living off the rotting woodchip of our "WOODCHIPIO"®...
although mother probably hadn't laid him there...
more than likely she'd laid her eggs in the old chunk of... then... slightly rotten willow.

Stanley can be recognised by the simpler folds along his sides...
this is a Rose Chafer grub and Stanley for comparison...

Stanley is on the left... the Rose Chafer larvae are inset...
note the much more ridged appearance of the two chafer grubs...
also their smaller head.

What to do with Stanley...
little else than pot him!
A reasonable size black plastic pot was to hand, so a handful of the chosen "feed" went in...
followed by himself... and topped off with yet more expatio.
Not long after, I found another smaller specimen, not as active as Stan...
but still too large to be a Lesser Stag Beetle larva...
the adults of which we get plenty passing by on the "WOODCHIPIO"®...
that one was also duly potted up.

The two pots were stood by the back door so I could keep an eye on them.
After about two months I noticed that Stan's food had depeleted somewhat...
so I took the opportunity to change the media and have a look at both specimens...
the smaller one was no longer with us...
just a husk remained... parasitised??
But Stanley was still very active...
and a right woodworker he'd turned out to be!!
And, as you can see below, a plastics muncher as well.
He was duly repotted into an old ceramic flowerpot...
I'm sure that black plastic wouldn't do him any good!!
The pots were always given the occasional watering to keep the expatio moist.

This...
PLUS...
These...
EQUALS...
THIS!!!

Another couple of months past and I noticed that the food level hadn't gone down very much...
had the plastic damaged him?
Only one way to find out, tip the contents of the pot out.
Only half came out...
along with this splendid pupa...
I breathed a sigh of relief...
took the pictures below...
upended the pot again and put it gently back over him...
and using a bit of card, returned Stanley to the upright.
You can see the inside of the pupal "case " in the second picture below.

Side view.... No wonder the Egyptians revered the Stag Beetle...
looks just like a Mummy!!
And you can see the edges of the sarcophagus here!!

They spend three to five years in the dead wood of the tree trunk...
but how long Stanley had been on our "WOODCHIPIO"®...
who knows...
he may have been laid there by a female we spotted close by a few years before...
or in the wood whilst it was stacked out on the pré by the old trognes....
there is plenty of rotting willow that never got brought up to the hangar down there.

This is not Mummy... this female was pictured by the longère in July 2010


But the "WOODCHIPIO"® hadn't been there before the "Big Freeze" of 2012...
that was when we ground up all the dead Cherry Laurel and made the sitting out area...
However, the chunks of willow had been out under the trognes for a couple of years before that.
So, who knows....

So, how long does the pupal stage last?
About four months at least...
because a few days ago, on checking the pots early in the morning, I found Stanley...
struggling, upside down on the top of his expatio!!

Stanley... wide-eyed and legless!!

Unfortunately, I feel he's hatched too early...
the latest, unseasonably warm spell after a cold snap might have triggered his emergence early...
too early to find a mate... pity.
There is a wonderfully illustrated and interactive life-cycle on Maria Fremlin's website.

Some Stag Beetles we've come across....

This one was trying to cross the road...
not a good survival technique, really!!
 
We found this really huge one crawling allong the pavement in La Celle Geunand...
he was four inches from the tip of the antlers to the tail...
impressive, non?
Sitting on the car bonnet...
"C'mon... If you think you're big enough!!"
Stanley...
a bit on the small side...
I don't think his diet was really up to scratch!!
Call these "antlers"!!

As you can see from the above pictures, we do get quite a few Stag Beetles in this region....
partly because of the vast amount of forest which is managed mainly for hunting and firewood.
But how long this situation will continue, who knows...
a lot of new building, especially institutional and commercial....
has been designed to be heated using woodburners....
mainly in the form of woodchip... but also log and pellet.
At Paulmy, a woodchip supplier has set up a "chippery"...
to coin a word... and is buying up waste wood to convert and dry.
In Descartes, the local paper works is looking to build a CHP* unit...
this will be using an estimated 200,000 tonnes of woodchip [plaquettes] garnered from a radius of around 100 kilometres.
To make this viable, the closer & cheaper the wood the better...
and that means all the "brash"... the wood too uneconomical to sell as firewood...
and normally left to rot in a pile....
suddenly has value and will vanish from the environment...
and along with it the potential for wood boring beetles to exploit stacks of rotting timber...
to our loss, environmentally.
Individuals can counteract that loss by stacking old timber...
neatly and closely, in a corner of their property...
or, if you have the space, anywhere convenient...
for example; two decaying chunks have fallen from our old "trognes"...
they have been left where they fell... I now mow around them...
and the "cleanings" from the river I managed to get dumped on our side of the Aigronne....
I will harvest the most useful wood from those piles...
but the remainder will get stacked, closely, for beetles and other wildlife.
So, please, create a "dead log" pile, somewhere.

And if you have youngsters... or grandchildren who visit...
invest in a Junior Bug Observation kit or two...
and point the young ones at the "dead log" pile...
all will be quiet for hours at a time...

-----------ooo~000~OOO~000~ooo-----------

*CHP = Combined Heat and Power

Some further reading...
Maria Fremlin's Stag Beetle site: http://maria.fremlin.de/stagbeetles/index.html

People's trust for endangered species
http://ptes.org/get-involved/surveys/garden/great-stag-hunt/

Days on the Claise: http://loirenature.blogspot.fr/2014/10/stag-beetle-lucanus-cervus.html
and
http://daysontheclaise.blogspot.fr/2008/09/big-black-beautiful-beetles.html