Thursday, 11 June 2015

Well, well, well... we're in 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

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Return of the moorhens

Once again the moorhens gallinula chloropus gallinules poules-d'eau are building a nest on the millstream outside our bedroom window. One bird (probably the female) is directing operations and weaving twigs into the cushion shape that will be the base of the nest. The other (the male) is doing most of the fetching and carrying.

Now don't tug, dear
We cannot tell whether or not this female is Myrtle, our soap opera star from last year, or one of her daughters. The male may well be inexperienced, because last year's male disappeared before the chicks hatched.

I'll just go and get some more, dear, is that right?
The flag iris, site of the moorhen nest for the past three years, is this year spread out across the stream bed, and looks unlikely to produce enough cover for the birds. This nest is an innovation, set upon a stone, possibly a piece of masonry from the old forge. However, as Tim puts it, they will have to go up another six inches to be in with a chance.

There's a nice twig over there ...
Did you know that moorhens have teeth? And scarlet underpants?
Presently the water is clearer than we have seen it for years, and there is plenty of waterweed. Today we heard the clear whistle of a kingfisher for the first time since autumn last year. The mallards anas platyrhynchos canards colvert are nesting a little further upstream than last year. The duck is as dignified and the drake as attentive as ever. It's getting better!

Posted by Pauline.

In go the trout

Yesterday on our way into the village we saw more than the usual number of white vans and cars parked by the bridge.

Taken through the car window - did we mention that it was raining?

It would appear that the issues that we described here between the members of our local fishing clubs, the Gaule du Grand Pressigny of late memory and the AAPMMA "La Truite de l'Aigronne" are resolved and the AAPMMA has taken over. Fishing permits are on sale and the stocks of farmed brown trout and (non-native) rainbow trout were being released as usual.

Large red boxes were shuttling from the back of the pick-up to the river bank. Grey boxes waited to be emptied. The colours identify the species. Further along the river, a smaller red box was in transit, carried gingerly across a field. Meanwhile...

Monitoring the dispersal of the fish
As for the person with the bucket heading purposefully for the river bank, we will charitably assume you also were monitoring the dispersion of the released fish, and not helping yourself to a bucketful of gawping tourists....

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A name changer...

One of our other blogs...

Touraine Flint

has changed its name and header...
it is now...

Following Others' Footsteps.

The change came about when we realised that there is so much history to this area...
and, for us particularly, that of La Forge itself and its environs...
that the title "Touraine Flint" was a "bloggers handicap"...
especially that flint word.

We are finding bits of flint all the time...
some of it is worked...
and some of it is from Man's workings past and recent.
However, flint is especially hard to photograph clearly and show detail...
but there will still be reports of findings...
moreover...
we've recently found out a lot about the buildings here at La Forge....
and we've just had the roof of the longère fettled....
which revealed more detail still....

it isn't just those from pre-history that have lived here...
and that is occupying a lot of our thoughts and time.

And Pauline has been... and still is...
researching some wonderful snippets of WW1 information from a scrap of paper...
that, in 1915, someone used as a rawlplug in our old kitchen...
a fascinating, one hundred-year-old story...
actually a set of stories...




But we felt that our original aim for Touraine Flint was off target...
so we've changed...

To see much more...
with illustrations....
visit..

Following Others' Footsteps.

Friday, 20 March 2015

S.O.B.

Normally, this would be in the sidebar....
but I don't think this should.
It is from the BBC News channel this morning...
and I have quoted more than normal, too.
The link is in the header below:

One in ten wild bees face extinction in Europe

From the BBC article:
"Almost one in 10 of Europe's native wild bees face extinction, according to the most comprehensive expert assessment so far.

"The European Red List, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, found 9.2% of nearly 2,000 species are threatened with extinction.

"Another 5% are likely to be threatened in the near future.

"Threats include loss of habitat from intensive farming, pesticide use, urban development and climate change.

"The new assessment made a number of recommendations, including:
1] Better monitoring and assessment of common and rare species
2] More protection for habitats supporting bees
3] Regulation of trade in managed bees, which may spread diseases
4] Long-term incentives to farmers to provide habitats for bees.

"Bees need to be incorporated into how we think about and develop sustainable agriculture."

"Insect pollination has an estimated economic value of 15bn euros per year in the EU alone.

"Boosting populations of pollinators would bring benefits to wildlife, the countryside and food producers, said the report."


But will the powers that be accept or ignore the comments...
will the agrochemical industry lobby be more powerful than science advisors??

Friday, 20 February 2015

Ripples at the fishing club

Individual fishing clubs in Indre-et-Loire are affiliated to the départemental FDP37, La Fédération Départementale de Pêche 37. This gives them the right to call themselves an AAPMMA - un Association Agréée de Pêche et de Protection du Milieu Aquatique, a recognised association of fishing (with rod and line) and protection of the aquatic environment. FDP37 is in turn a member of the regional federation l’Union Régionale des Fédérations départementales pour la pêche et la protection des milieux aquatiques des régions Centre et Poitou-Charentes (URFCPC), which is a member of the national federation la Fédération Nationale de la Pêche en France et de la protection du milieu aquatique (FNPF). Got that?

I'm what all the fuss is about. Blup.
Gradually the local associations of the communes bordering the Aigronne have merged so that AAPMMA « la truite de l'Aigronne » is now a body representing 114 fishermen of eight communes. Originally this was the AAPMMA of Le Petit Pressigny which has gradually mopped up the other associations. The latest to be engulfed (sorry, merged) are the Betz-le-Chateau and Le Grand Pressigny associations.

Reading the article in La Nouvelle Republique of 19th February 2015 gives an impression that the AGM on 7th February of the newly merged and renamed AAPMMA "the Aigronne Trout" must have been a rather distressing business. Although the association after the merger now has three vice-presidents, it was still necessary to appeal for younger members to put themselves forward for election to the administrative council, to be held on 21st November. The average age of those serving on "the committee" was too high for comfort. Anyone who has served on such a body knows what that feels like, and how depressing it is to be the junior member at 63.

As for the merger (le regroupement), that of the Betz-le-Chateau club and its membership had gone according to plan, so there would be continuity for the fishermen (and it is almost  exclusively men who fish here).

On the other hand, the dissolution of AAPMMA "la Gaule Pressignoise" - the Grand Pressigny fishing club - had not yet been achieved, the outstanding balance of funds had not been handed over, and the fishing tenancies for the sector were lacking. Should a grant to AAPMMA La Truite de L'Aigronne from the Indre-et-Loire federation FDP37 enable a release of trout on that species' nursery grounds, they could only release the young fish where they hold fishing tenancies.

FDP37 wanted to move towards a merger from the beginning. Despite lacking the prerequisites, "certain fishermen" of the former AAPMMA la Gaule Pressignoise want to form a separate club (or re-form the old club). They still have the fishing tenancies and the money, but they aren't an officially recognised body. Only an AAPMMA can issue fishing permits, with or without an official stamp for trout. You can only fish on the Aigronne if you have a permit, even on private land. Standoff.

Or as they say in the playground, "Fight! Fight!"

Normally, 100kg of young rainbow trout (not a native species) would be released into the Aigronne from the bridge by Moulin de Favier or in the Aigronne just behind our meadow, the furthest extent of their remit, in two batches about six weeks apart. Further up the Aigronne and the Remillon, in the communes of Charnizay, le Petit Pressigny, La Celle Guénand, 300 kilos of brown trout and 90 kilos of rainbow will be released, and on the Brignon, i.e. Betz le Château, Ferrière Larçon, Paulmy, Neuilly le Brignon, 50kgs of brown trout and 110kgs of rainbow. This adds up to rather more than three quarters of a tonne of alevins.

Electric fishing - sampling the Aigronne's population

The released fish are sterilised females. These grow quickly and look well, but they do nothing for the long-term population except to bamboozle the native males into attempting to breed with them in preference to the less attractive native females. The future of the Aigronne is a Category 1 trout-fishing river without breeding trout, and no amount of knocking down of barrages or regrading the river bottom will bring them back.

It is interesting to compare the attitude of the fishermen towards the native brown trout with the hunters' approach to the declining population of pheasants.The Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) have attacked the issue scientifically with careful study, planning and testing of results.

A sample taken from FDP37's website
The fishermen, with the LEMA law behind them, appear to want to knock down sluice gates to permit migratory fish to pass, and for the brown trout, do what they have always done: pour money into the water in the shape of little wiggling fish.

Posted by Pauline
not...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Some funny looking pheasants

We have numerous gamebirds in the valley, Partridge, both Grey (perdix perdix) perdrix grise  and Redlegged (alectoris rufa) perdrix rouge,and Common Pheasant (phasianus colchicus) faisan de colchide. In summer we hear Quail calling from the field just across the road and from our meadow, often heard but seldom seen. Last year was a particularly good year for them.

The population of these species has regularly been augmented by the release of cage-reared birds (d'élévage). Such introductions have contributed to the variations in colour to be seen in the pheasant population.

Here's Jeremy - last year's king of the hill

And here's the new kid in town

At the end of January a most unusual individual visited us - a female pheasant, as could be seen by comparison with the other females with her.
She is almost black - actually a very dark blue-green - with a blue tail and silver primaries. She seemed rather more shy than her companions, who crowded down to the area under the feeders in gaggles. There were ten female pheasants feeding together at one point. She only just came within the distance my Fuji SL1000 can manage and nowhere near the feeders.

Hold your head up, gel. That's a bit better.

We identified her as a melanistic Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus mut. tenebrosus), as much from the company she keeps as from the colour. She is a mutant, or a throwback to an ancestral hybrid. We have not seen her again.

Struggling for a closeup

Meanwhile on 5th February, this male individual was spotted in a garden in Pont de Ruan and recorded for posterity on Faune Touraine.

Copyright Jean-Claude Domenger, avec nos remerciements à Philippe Diard, Faune Touraine

This individual was logged as a green pheasant (phasianus versicolor), faisan versicolor, a Japanese species and as such a collection escapee, but in our opinion he's more likely to be a melanistic common pheasant too, or a hybrid. His back and rump are blue when they should be olive-grey, and he lacks the beautifully patterned feathers draped around his shoulders like a stole.

Interesting that they should both turn up within the same week.

Ours is most definitely not a female Green Pheasant as they look almost exactly like a female common pheasant. Green and Common pheasants can interbreed and have escaped from aviaries, so he may be a throwback to an ancestral Green.
UPDATE: these melanistic common pheasants are known in the North of England as Blue Pheasants, and in Norfolk, confusingly, as Green Pheasants.

And this is a beautiful Green pheasant from Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium,
 Creative Commons's Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license
Melanistic birds like these are often used by gamekeepers as markers, because they are so visible. Groups of female pheasants stay together outside the breeding season (in other words inside the hunting season) and if he can see the black one, he knows where his birds are.

The statistics for these releases is astonishing: according to a study in 2008 on behalf of the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) a total of ten million are released annually across France. Despite the releases, the ONCFS found that the number of pheasants in France is decreasing.

The ONCFS studies highlighted the patently obvious: that the ability of cage-bred pheasants to adapt to life in the field is poor and becoming poorer.
In order to provide that volume, breeders have a very small gene pool to dip into. The birds are in-bred. Not intellectually gifted to start with, pheasants are getting increasingly stupid. I can vouch for that: I once had to brake to a standstill on a road in North Yorkshire that was blocked by escaped young pheasants milling around unable to decide what to do. They are dismissed by French shooters as 'faisans de tir', and by anglophone hunters as "no fun to shoot any more". I will leave to the imagination the sort of hunter that shoots them.

The ONCFS has put in place a plan that will develop a stock of pheasants by natural population growth.

This includes
  • a three year moratorium on the shooting of naturally - reared pheasants
  • a ban in certain places on the release of pheasants
  • released birds to wear wing-rings or "ponchos" indicating that they may be hunted. 
  • certain communes have a "plan de chasse faisan". These apply different combinations of the three different actions above. Our commune is not one of them, so release and shooting go on as normal here.
A local bird wearing a yellow "poncho" turned up three years ago at Braye-sous-Faye.
Colin & Elizabeth blogged about it here.
Pheasant with a poncho, plus pheasant-wrangler's thumb.
From Ducatillon sales brochure, according to whom this is a female.
According to anyone else, this is a male.
Not just the birds then.

Every release, be it a spring release of young adults or a summer release of juveniles, is to be followed up with a population study to see how it pans out.

You can find the website of the Fédération de la Chasse de L'Indre-et-Loire here, and their page on pheasants here.

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


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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.