Sunday 31 October 2010

Old Friends

Yesterday on the way up the valley to Le Petit Pressigny we saw another osprey being mobbed by two crows. The Osprey - chocolate brown bird, white underneath - was not a lot bigger than the crows but with longer, narrower wings. It isn't just the fishermen who appreciate the regular re-stocking of the Aigronne, one of France's premier trout rivers.
Today we visited Beaulieu-les-Loches for the 'Fil et Bio' exhibition. Here we met an old friend - Jim the Mushroom Man, formerly of Leeds Farmers Markets and now based in Loches. He and his partner Philippe have 30 hectares of caves where they raise Japanese mushrooms - Shiitake, Oyster and Eryngii at the moment - and have just secured organic status. As well as Loches market, they sell from their shop at 45 Rue des Lilas.
Heading home, we saw and heard three young peregrine falcons spiralling around the steeple of the old abbey church, again being mobbed, this time by jackdaws.
Finally arriving home at 6:10 pm, it was almost dark and a little owl was calling. Then over the hill came a familiar trumpeting. A single crane grus grus (grue cendré) was heading south, grue-ue-ueing for his mates as hard as he could. According to the latest RSPB magazine, a bird can fly up to 70% further in V-formation than on its own, so this one could be in real trouble. We thought of several captions for this picture, such as "You fellows might have told me the clocks went back today!".

Thursday 28 October 2010

Busy migrants

Today was dreary, damp and misty, the only colour provided by the big flock of small passerines flitting between our lime tree and the bare field opposite recently sown with wheat. The greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches could be resident, or more northerly birds replacing our summer breeding colony who have moved on. Just because you see them all the year round, it doesn't mean they are the same birds. Recently they were joined by Bramblings [Pinson du nord] Fringilla montifringilla, the chaffinch's orange relative, and Siskins [Tarin des aulnes] Carduelis spinus. The adult birds, having moulted in summer, now look very fine.

Bagger discovered my fleece tunnel sheltering the winter lettuce plants. I could only find a rather ragged, used piece of fleece when I was constructing it, having bought the young plants on a whim at Descartes market when the night temperature was minus two. He found a hole in the fleece at one side of the tunnel and stuck his head through. Hm, no voles there yet. Fortunately when he pulled his head out again he didn't pull the whole thing down, but it was definitely a smaller hole than the width of his whiskers!

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Osprey on migration

This afternoon we came out of the laiterie by chance, to see an Osprey [Balbuzard pêcheur] Pandion haliaetus heading across our meadow and away southeast. How lucky can you get!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Birds about

Pauline went into the old kitchen this morning to find a Wren [Troglodyte mignon] Troglodytes troglodytes trapped in the room. Whether this was the same wren Tim found shut into the laiterie last week we don't know, but her method of trying to escape was the same - fly into the window glass as hard as you can with a loud bang, fall back, return to the far side of the room and repeat. We assume she got in via the chimney - the temperature fell to minus 2 last night and she will have been looking for a cosy spot to roost. She left apparently none the worse.

Tim spotted a Goldcrest [Roitelet huppe ] Regulus regulus and some small green warblers (probably Chiffchaff [Pouillot veloce] Phylloscopus collybita) in the cherry tree this morning, along with the resident goldfinches, great tits and blue tits. There is also a small grey-brown warbler which is much harder to see and we have not yet identified it. The ordinary mixed wild bird food in the feeder and Tim's home-made fat block are going down well, but the warblers are also flycatching in the sunshine.

Our local Crows [Corneilles noires ]Corvus corone corone have some confusing calls - we heard imitation raven grunts and what sounded uncommonly like common cranes this afternoon, but it was only the crows taking the mick.

Monday 25 October 2010

Vole trouble

Our city-dwelling tom cat, Baron aka Bagger, has discovered in himself the capacity to catch mice. Catch, you understand. Very gently, he brings back all items to the front door. And if the door is open, he brings them inside and places them on the floor for us and his sister to admire. As of yesterday afternoon, a fully alive vole is somewhere lurking under the furniture, or in the firewood stack, or maybe someone may discover him when they put on a shoe. Bagger's sister RonRon is a student of wildlife, and watches the vole's progress with great interest, but so far has made no attempt to catch one herself. She prefers to find a warm spot and curl up "asleep" (waiting for the main chance).

We could have at least six species of vole in our environment. Bagger has already brought us a specimen of the Campagnol Souterrain microtus subterraneus. We know this as the Mining Vole because of its little tunnels everywhere, a few inches below the ground and in the floor of the barn before we concreted it. It is more properly known as the Common Pine Vole. How dull. Who thinks of these names?
The little chap running around our living room looked bigger than the Mining Vole and is possibly a Common Vole [Campagnol des Champs] Microtus arvalis or Short-tailed Field Vole [Campagnol Agreste] Microtus agrestis – if and when we catch him, we’ll have him in a dentists chair and look at his teeth! We have two live traps down [a Longworth small mammal trap, baited with “Snacky Cracky” – a sugar-and-nut confection from Lidl that has proved irresistible to small rodents in the past] and a commercial "multi-capture" trap. A couple of years ago, a band of brothers took it in turns to venture into our kitchen – a series of wood mice, all male, went straight for the trap and the Snacky Cracky. Unfortunately before we put the trap down, mouse number one spent some time in the kitchen, sampling this and that. An intellectual mouse, he nibbled the spine of the dictionary. Thirsting for refreshment as well as knowledge, he chewed the foil capsule on a bottle of Cremant de Loire!
Tim encountered a Bank Vole [Campagnol Roussâtre] Clethronomys glareolus out in the meadow. We saw a Water Vole in the millstream but whether it was the Northern Campagnol Terrestre Arvicole terrestris or the Southern Campagnol Amphibe Arvicole sapidus species, goodness knows. Once upon a time, they were both Arvicola amphibius. The lumpers and splitters have been at it again!