Thursday 30 September 2010

Bad GPS? Food source? Migration?

This evening I was sitting on the bench outside the house [to be] planning how to tackle the next stage [with a glass of Anglo-Dutch Wildflower in hand] when I noticed that hundreds of Swallows, House Martins and the occasional group of what looked like Wagtails [no binos, so couldn't confirm.... just going on jizz] passing EAST overhead. Everytime I thought they'd stopped another flight came over... there was group after group [not all directly overhead... to misquote Tennyson "Some to the left of me, some to the right... straight into the east flew the X-hundred"]Straight down the Aigronne Valley toward Le Petit-Pressigny.... BUT, was someones Tom-Tom misfunctioning?
An hour later they all came back, drift after drift... or, as I later thought, were they following a rich food source down the valley and then returning to roost.
We thought we'd seen the last of the Martins and Swallows last week.... were these Northern ones on their way South, tapping a rich food source... or was it just bad programming by the makers of Swallow-Tom?

Thursday 16 September 2010

16 September 2010 - Snakes Alive

Came across this little fella [about 35cm long].... it is a young Viperine snake [Couleuvre vipérine or Vipère d'eau] Natrix maura.
Viperine snake [Couleuvre vipérine or Vipère d'eau] Natrix maura
Pauline used Planete Passion to get a fix on his identity.
Planete Passion state that they are very variable ["Its colouring is extremely variable, olive greens, greenish brown, yellowish brown, greys, yellowish orange and reddish browns. On its back are two rows of dark lines, angled backwards, which are often joined together to give a zigzag pattern."]... indeed the illustrations on their site show five different colourways and patterns. They also say "but if threatened it adopts a very similar intimidating pose to a Vipére" and whilst being manouvered for a photograph, it took up a strike pose and then relaxed and slid off in the direction I'd hoped. It moved very fast and in almost all shots is slightly blurred against the background. [I've sharpened them as best I can.]  Visit Planete Passion to get more information and see the other pictures.
This is the first "live" snake we've seen on the property.... the only other observations have been sloughed skins.
Thanks to Susan from Days on the Claise for this link to the reference on Reptiles and Amphibiens de France [it is an English Language site despite the french title]
Viperine snake showing a zig-zag pattern at the right

Viperine snake [head detail - note the round pupil]
Other observations today:

Suddenly the Swallows are gone.... as are the House Martins from town! Summer is finished!

A male Sparrow Hawk [Epevier d'Europe] took a small bird [probably young Goldfinch] in the Sunflowers next to the house. It came from the meadow at flower-top height and dove in directly in front of me. Came out again very swiftly and composed itself [and its prey] on a sunflower [tournesol] head and then flew back towards the meadow.

Friday 3 September 2010

29th August to 2nd September 2010

Woorple, woorple, woorple!

Once again, late afternoon, on our way home after visiting the Chamussay Foullees we see the bee-eaters!
And, yet again they were over a field of lucerne near Gatault [on the D103] just down from our house [about a kilometre].
This time we were part prepared.... we had binos and my camera [but with the standard lens - useless for capturing them.]
We stopped and watched for a while then hurried back to the house to get telephoto lens [and dump our shopping.]
Fortunately, they were still there when we returned.
We spent quite a while watching them wheeling and hovering over the field, swooping up to the electricity lines to eat their catch.
Later that evening they came over our field but it was getting dark by then and they were difficult to see except when they were sillhoueted against the sky.

Bee-eater [Merops apiaster] [French name: Guepier d'Europe]

Then, on the 31st, we saw them again.... same spot!
Rushed back to the house to get the equipment we should have taken on Sunday.... they had stayed!
Spent even longer watching them and got some good pictures.

Bee-eater in flight

They look and sound so strange and tropical with their intense colour and burbling song.
We drove up to Les Richardieres and looked down on them from above...
the farmer came past and asked us if we were watching the guepiers...
he told us that they come through at around this time every year and stay for around three weeks...
fattening up on the insects feeding on the lucerne no doubt.

He also told us they come through in March on their way to their nest sites.

On our way back.... after they'd moved off down the Aigronne valley, we came upon them again... wheeling over the road.  Some were even sitting in the way of the car and seemed reluctant to move!!
Eventually they cleared a way for us to proceed.... and about an hour later came straight over the house!
Then I remembered that I'd noticed another area of lucerne just the other side of the Moulin de Chevarnay... they were probably heading for that.

Lucerne [also planted as Alfalfa]

Yesterday I checked out the lucerne the other side of Moulin de Chevernay... it had been mowed for winter forage!!
But as I was working on our meadow around 8pm [clearing a way to the Blackthorn for their Sloes] Pauline saw them fly over on the way back to the 'roost' area..."They sounded just like a party of schoolkids on the way back from an outing" she wrote in our logbook.

And tonight a large party flew over towards the 'roost' area at around 7:30pm... I went outside to see them but all I could hear was their "worpling".

Bird on a wire
In flight

Really tropical!!
Just a small part of the whole flock

All these can "bee" seen on flickr