Thursday, 27 September 2012

Strange?... [and THIS is called bird WATCHING.]

We have Black Redstarts [Phoenicurus ochruros var. gibraltariensis] Rougequeue noire here but we seem to lose the male each summer... The book shows the male in all his dinner suited glory like this photo....
Picture taken July 4th '06

and this is how he arrives... [there is another picture here from March of this year]

And then he and the female bounce around a bit in their courtship... lots of "ball bearings" being heard... and then the male seems to go invisible... still hearing the "ball bearings"... but we seem to have two females chasing each other around. And one "female" feeding the other that is begging... typical courtship behaviour... so one female must be a 1st summer male. [According to the book]

Female, male, first year male? Who knows...
whichever, this bird was sitting where our kitchen sink now is...
behind the newly installed double-glazed windows.
The only way in was via the owl-slot in the gable end.
This brood was raised successfully and so was a second.
[Picture taken 17th July '07]
The 2008 broods were raised in what is now our guest room!
The loft hatch was in place by 2009!!

We've noticed this occurrence now for two years running... either we are very unfortunate and have lost the mature male twice, or something else is going on.

But, do the books always get it right? These are just my thoughts...

Does the male have his main moult at the end of summer, just before migration... which makes sense as it gives the bird new feathers just before the  long flight... and a moult of the worn primaries just after mating. And it would make sense for two reasons... firstly, he renews his feathers just before he has to do a lot of hunting... and secondly, he can get into a plumage that makes him less obvious!
I ask this because we find the black wing primaries up in the longère's grenier... a reasonably safe place to "undress"! With a food supply on hand amongst the beams, too.

In which case, the female may well have a moult whilst she is sitting and being fed by the male... it makes evolutionary sense... she wouldn't waste energy moulting before, as all her spare energy is going into the eggs. But, as she remains the same colour all year, we can't really tell.

The Black Redstart is a 'short distance' migrant... like the Robin... if we see them here in winter, they won't be 'our' Black Redstarts. Ours are probably in Spain... but no further south than Morocco or Algieria.

And, whilst mentioning migration, which is now in full swing, we have a very colourful visitor at the moment.... just passing through on the way to Africa... a male  Redstart [Phoenicurus phoenicurus] Rougequeue á front blanc.
Now as you can see from Pauline's picture here... he is glorious!

You can clearly see the rusty-red breast and the white forehead that identify him as a male Redstart.
I've seen Redstarts only in Spring and they've never been this bright... is a similar moult pattern going on here too? We don't get Redstarts here, and this is a first sighting for us at La Forge, so I've nothing on which to base a comparison.

But, on another tack.... is the male Black Redstart also like the Robin in that he can have a number of wives? But that wouldn't explain the begging behaviour... this though is what birdWATCHING is all about... observations and records... followed by ponder and discuss!

The book: Collins Bird Guide [Le Guide Ornitho] Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterstrom & Grant [1999]

Monday, 24 September 2012

There's something under my piles! Don't ask....

I was shifting some of my piles...
of grass....
the other day when I came across some amazing lines in the exposed grass and moss.

This is one of my piles with the nearest part removed...
you can just make out the dark shadow of two runs in the foreground.
Which once all the grass is removed reveals a network...

... and this is a closer view of the network in the foreground...
...and, by the blade of grass in the middle of the previous picture was the entrance to the underground world.

These are the runways of voles [campagnols] who seem to occupy around 90% of our land. They have taken advantage of where I raked the grass into rows ready for collection, to move under cover between areas of forage.
They have also eaten undercover... there are places where they've made cosy, moss-lined nests.

This is a "day bed"... a place where the vole can lay up and eat fresh gatherings whilst under cover.

Another indicator that tells me these are voles, are the latrines. Mice eat and 'go' on the run, as it were! Voles are tidier.

A latrine.... The bright green droppings are the freshest.

Which particular vole, I cannot be certain.... but both Short-tailed Field Vole [Microtus agrestis] Campagnol agreste and Bank Vole [Clethryonomus glareoulus] Campagnol roussâtre are present in this particular area... as is the "Mining Vole" Common Pine Vole [Microtus subterraneus] Campagnol souterrain. Unfortunately our best collector of evidence always starts at the head end!!

I also found this wonderful nest when I was cutting back bramble on the fence line between us and our neighbours.

It is the nest of a Harvest Mouse [Micromys minutus] Rat des moissons.
  • It is a loose woven ball of grass.
  • There are no signs of an exit/entrance hole. 
  • It is also exceptionally clean.
These are all indicators to me of what it was...
Its position, quite high up in the brambles, isn't really an indicator as this would have been a very good site for many birds.
No hole? Yes, no hole. The harvest mouse pushes its way in and out, the hole closing behind it. This leaves the young in a secure, invisible package.

All animals leave signs of where they've been, but they are not always so clear as these. Amelia on A French Garden blogged about damage to hazelnuts... voles again probably... or possibly dormice.
Click on the last photo of hers to enlarge it... you will see a small hole in the nearest... just behind that beautifully shaped opening. This seems to indicate that the initial thief was probably a woodpecker or a jay [see the pictures below] and the nut was left in the crook of the branch and then eaten by a rodent. The more I look at this picture, the more "dormouse" shouts at me... the nibbling just looks too 'polished' for a vole! [The French Garden site opens into a new tab or window... you will be able to compare the picture with those below by clicking between the two.]

Most of the hazelnuts below have been damaged by a woodpecker or Jay, some have had further "rodent" enlargement.

From top...
1] Probable Jay or Woodpecker
2] Again bird damage... Jay? But with a bit of nibbling.
3] Rodent... very untidy... Rat or Squirrel
4] Rodent... neater... probably Field Mouse [voles are even tidier!]

Squirrels split nuts from the top... they also chew all round a pine/spruce cone... as opposed to nibbling... and leave it very untidy. But splits in the scales like these...

You can see clearly where the sharp tip of the upper mandible has pierced the scale.

... are the work of a crossbill. The photo above is from this post about crossbills.

Winter tracks and signs are often easier to spot... we wrote about some here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Seeing a man about a trogne

On Monday night we went over to La Rabiniere at Betz-le-Chateau to a book talk organised by the “Champs des Livres” association. Mainly because I am fascinated by trees...

The author was a man passionate about “Les trognes” which is the main title of his book.

That passionate man, Dominique Mansion, founded and runs the Maison Botanique at Boursay in Loir et Cher.

Les Trognes... book cover

He spoke of the history of the trogne, the reasons, the wildlife… he spoke quietly, intensely and with burst of loud emphasis. He was utterly captivating… so much so that I would have bought the book afterwards… if I hadn’t already bought a copy as we went in!!
His illustrations are marvelous… both detailed where needed and beautifully freely drawn where the impression is what counts.

The trogne goes back to prehistory… but for more of that follow this link to Art en Saule our website about the "Pre de la Forge" as well as discovering the reason behind his continued fascination with "Les Trognes"

I pollarded our old willows because I love trees and knew that they were old and needed a haircut… I was also aware of the wildlife that a pollarded tree supports… but my knowledge pales beside Dominique’s!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A photopost of strange things

First up is this yellow Crab Spider [Misumena vatia]....

"Perhaps no one will spot me... will they?"

now Crab spiders are renowned for their camouflage... Misumena is usually found on flowers. This one was probably hunting in the flowerheads of the yellow Compositae [Dandelion family] ... mainly Hawkbits/weeds... that are below this Spindle. [She also comes in White or Pale Pink... the male is smaller and quite dark.]
But... this is her egg sac... hidden inside those folded leaves....
She is meant to stay guarding her valuable deposit until her death...
which given this colour combination will probably be sooner rather than later.
And the seed head of the Spindle is well on its way to becoming bright pink...

Perhaps she is hoping that the pink will confuse predators....

Then there was this little weevil on the window yesterday evening....

The weave on my handkerchief will give you some idea of how small a weevil it is.

...some weevils, despite the damage that they can do to plants and fruits, just seem to look rather cuddly in close-up. This could be one of three Curculio sp. weevils... most probably C. nucum which feeds on Hazel nuts... with the other weevil pictures that I have recently taken, a Weevilly Recognized post is on its way.

Then there was this American import... the Buffalo Treehopper [Stictocephalus bisonia] Cicadelle bubale or Membracide bison.. a truly alien looking, alien import. And for the damage it can do take a look at A French Garden where its egg laying harms the vines and leaves red leaves!

Come on then! Have a go...