Sunday 25 July 2010

May 2009

Found Birds-nest Orchid at the side of the road at Boussay 

Saw a pair of Black Kites near Chambon... later, saw a pair of Red Kites at Perrusson!!

Nightjar calling [over meadow? Going on volume of sound... I was not going to dance around on our bridge with a pair of handkerchiefs though!]

6.30am Opened door to let out a moth and get a morning breath of fresh air.... saw a Red Squirrel bounding across to the lime tree. First we've actually seen here although we've picked up the evidence of well harvested spruce cone cores often enough.

2009 March

Brambling with flock of Chaffinches - front garden
Cranes flying ENE 5.45 PM [Approx 60 Common Cranes].
 After rainy day quite mild. Wind almost due West, quite strong.
Stone Curlew night call flying over field opposite.
At same time: Little Owl at Bezuard, Tawny Owl in the Lime or Spruce.
Earlier, territorial dispute between two Buzzard pairs over meadow.
Weather sunny, no wind.
Sunny, warm, still day.
Chiffchaffs calling, swifts?, Montague's over field, Black Redstarts, White and Grey Wagtails.
Woodpeckers hammering.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Once bitten...

After a hectic weekend with a lot of wildlife about I am going to write about.... CLEGS!
Horseflies to some... family Tabanidae to others.... these are large insects with a particularly nasty bite [to me anyway].
I was first bitten by one in 1970 and my whole arm came up like a well stuffed sausage so, whenever they are about, I declare war.
That said, I should only kill half of them as the males tend to be vegetarian [nectar feeders].... but I'm not going to stop and ask!

When I was bitten in '70, it was able to get through an ex-US Army jacket and my workshirt [but that was probably nothing compared to a horses hide!], all four layers quite tight fitting [the army jacket was three layers thick] so if they are about I now tend to wear very loose fitting clothing which reduces the contact points... except for exposed skin.
To me the most fascinating thing about the horsefly group are the eyes... the one shown here has very clear colouring on the eyes... this varies between species. [You will notice from the eyes that this one supports Jamaica and is wearing wrap-around sunglasses!] The colour also fades away after death [I can vouch for this!!]

What allowed me to get this close was the fact that these were feeding on the bonnet of the '56 2CV. They were probably males as they seemed to be drinking the dried drips of aphid sap on the bonnet [the car was parked under our lime].
Their feeding method was to use the front feet in a sweeping motion across the surface towards their head, covering in the process about a centimetre circle.
They would then extend their proboscis and work over the small patch immediately under their head.
That completed, they moved forward about a centimetre dabbing the proboscis on the bonnet as they went.
They then stopped and repeated the 'harvesting' action.
They moved up and down the bonnet in straight lines.... turning and shuffling sideways to do a return sweep.

According to Chinery [Collins; Insects of Britain and Western Europe 1986] about 160 species occur in Europe.... the one here is most likely to be Tabanus bromius which has a very simple eye pattern [although there are a number of similar species this is the commonest (Chinery)]. The actual Cleg Fly [Haematopota pluvialis] is much smaller and unlikely to be the one that got through my jacket.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

More about the Crossbills

As promised here is a bit more about the Crossbills [Loxia curvirostra].
We were sitting in the garden when a 'thump' came from the direction of one of our big spruce trees.
We had noticed green, immature cones lying around the tree base and had thought that it was the equivalent of a fruit tree's June drop.
Then we heard another one fall and I glanced upward to look at the tree and saw a red flash as a bird moved.
My first though was woodpecker, but then the bird came more into view and it was red all over.
I went and got the binos at first and then the big 'scope. The first picture is of the male Crossbill wrecking the spruce tree! Not a good shot, but the best I could get... I was handholding the camera
against the eyepiece of the telescope. [The adaptor was indoors and I thought they'd fly.... in fact they stayed an

The crossbill feeds upside down, starting at the base of the cone and moving towards the tip. It works very systematically... down one strip, back to the top, down the next and so on. Sometimes it just levered the scale upwards... on other occasions it ripped the scale off the cone and spat it out.
The next pictures show the damaged cones.
The damage done! This was the sight at the top of the tree.

I collected up some of the fallen cones to take close up photographs.
You can see in these cones the way the feeder rips the scale up and out to get at the seed beneath.

And the final picture is of the top end of the middle cone in the above.
The little split with a hole at the end is the damage caused by the beak

We had a party of three feeding together... the male that is shown above, a female [very different... mainly green... a shade close to the cones themselves] who we only caught glimpses of and a young / immature male who was far more orange than red.
They tended to move around the tree in a parroty sort of way... lots of leaping from branch to branch and walking sideways along the branches... very interesting to watch.

There is also a side angle to this damage... as mentioned in the previous post, we have had an increasing number of small birds feeding inside the damaged parts of the cones. These include juvenile Blue and Great Tits, Black Redstarts, Melodious Warbler, our resident Blackcaps and also non-insectivorous species like Chaffinch and Sparrow

Tuesday 13 July 2010

One of the old records: August 2008

Dry, overcast with a little drip of rain early AM and Very late PM. Just before dusk - two Muskrats by tractor ford plus Moorhen and chick. Later, after dark [10.30'ish] with a very light sprinkle of rain - Glowworm [♀] by fence / telephone pole - very bright - showing three bars [reception must be getting better]. Also very cricket'ous - bloody loud and everywhere.
When looking at laiterie to check on building progress, checked also the Black Redstart's nest - all hatched - John later confirmed that all had fledged and flown about a fortnight before. I just love the idea of a wild bird that uses a double glazed room to raise its young!! But it's got to stop... we've sealed the hatchway and John has finished the bathroom light-pipe so no way in now.

Frédéric mowed the verger, etc... Tim strimmed the rest of the field. Standing on the bridge, Pauline heard the Kingfisher  ... it came at speed along the bief and then came back and perched on a branch in full view - no camera!! That's the second time it's done that [the first time it had the temerity to turn round and give both side views [I wonder what a kingfisher's snigger sounds like?] It flew up and down a couple of times before shooting back towards Le Moulin de Favier. It looked fabulous in the sunlight.

Today [13th July 2010] - for the last few nights we've been unwillingly interfering with nature again... our lounge windows/French doors have a pair of pale green net curtains to help keep the sunlight levels in the room down [they face due South]. However, at night, the male Glowworms gather in number [15 last night].... given the colour is close to the female's lights it must be a case of "Cor!! Look at the lights on her then!" They'll just have to up-put until we go to bed.

Point to note; we've not seen/heard the Kingfisher for about two years now. The Aigronne was made very muddy by an extremely severe storm two years ago that washed fields away [5 litres of rain per cubic metre fell in 45 to 50 minutes] and the water quality changed overnight! It is now recovering... but no visible fish. The Banded Demoiselles are increasing in number by our bridge though.... and real weed is beginning to overtake the amount of blanket weed.

Monday 12 July 2010

A change of approach now we are here!

Date as for log entry.
Well, we are now in France and this website will become more frequently updated as we are here every day!!
It means that the remaining, originally chronological entries will be posted as and when... usually when they match the date being reported in real time.
We've been here a fortnight already and have seen a lot... without leaving the premises.
With our first lot of unpacking came the unexpected sight of a Purple Emperor butterfly... no, we didn't get a photo and we don't know if it was a Lesser Purple Emperor either [we were too overwhelmed at having such a creature on our hands to count the dots.... two on the front wings of the Purple and two on each pair in the Lesser according to the books.]
Then we were bombed by a female Stag Beetle... we were sitting outside, enjoying a late evening spot of calm [as you do] when we saw a large, at first slow moving, object rise from the sunflowers opposite... and head straight for us at an ever increasing speed... it buzzed just over our heads and used the warmth coming off the building to circle and rise into the Cherry Laurel... there are some beetles that were never meant to fly.
Later that week we saw a Lesser Stag Beetle [much smaller] for comparison [very convenient!}
And then for the past few days we've had a small family of Crossbills wrecking the tops of our Spruce trees... this in turn has brought in a host of other birds... including a Greater Spotted Woodpecker.... all feeding on the wrecked cones.
There will be more on the Crossbills later in the week when we've processed the pix.