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

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Ivy

.. is the name of a famous London eatery. It's also a vital resource for insects - and therefore insect-eating birds - as the year comes to a close. Friday was sunny much of the time, and the ivy plants on the bridge over the bief were swarming with insects.

What I know about insects could be written on a very small postage stamp, but Tim helped me with the identification, as far as the family level anyway. One critter defeated us both completely, my thanks to Susan for identifying it. There were some very striking animals among the ones we saw and I can understand the fascination that insects have for so many people.. Here are a few.

1. Ivy bee - Colletes hederae
Colletes hederae is a  recent addition to the list of European bees, being described as new to science in 1993. It was first recorded in Britain in 2001. Appropriately, it is collecting ivy pollen.

2, Colletes hederae

3. Colletes hederae

4. Tapered Drone Fly eristalis pertinax, male
5. Tachinid - Ectophasia crassipennis (male)

6. Ectophasia crassipennis

7. Ectophasia crassipennis

8. Ectophasia crassipennis

9. Left -  Ectophasia crassipennis   Right - drone fly eristalis sp

10. As above, lightened

11. Episyrphus balteatus - the marmalade hoverfly

12. Milesia crabroniformis

13. Milesia crabroniformis

14. Drone fly eristalis spp (centre) with another small fly, probably Amphidae

15. Drone fly eristalis sp
16. The German wasp or European Wasp,  vespula germanica, la guêpe germanique, and a friend




Monday, 13 October 2014

A few pictures of chiffchaffs

... le pouillot véloce, phylloscopus collybita, out of the 49 or so taken out of the spare bedroom window on 11th October as they chased flies on the house wall in the sunshine. In between times they were going "chiff-chaff".

This is my favourite.

How long are those primaries?


At rather a strange angle

Got one!

Look! It's a really nice one!

A nice view of those primaries

How to look cute

I got one as well!

Cute and primaries! What more could one ask for?

Small greenish yellow warbler, dark streak through eye, pale streak above and below,  dark legs, short wings... check. Er - rather a long beak, flattish head - is this one a willow warbler?

'Oo're you lookin' at? Hey, there's a hom sap over there with a camera!