Wednesday 24 November 2010

House of flying Baggers

Outside our bedroom window hangs a bird feeder stocked with sunflower seeds, along with a fat-ball on a wire. These are visited by a constant stream of blue tits and great tits which have become adept at extracting the seeds. Yesterday the supply ran dangerously low, so we received a deputation - three great tits and a blue tit perched on the window bars, the largest of the great tits rapping on the glass with his beak. Bagger the tom cat flung himself at the window with a great thump, much to the birds' amusement. They simply retreated a little into the sprawling branches of the buddleia while we retrieved the feeder, refilled it and hung it up again. Then straight back they came. Tim has now made secondary double glazing panels in a thick plastic film, to protect the glass from the cat, and vice versa.

Cats watching birds

Bird watching cat

We have seen other species - chaffinches, robin and dunnock picking up "crumbs" from the ground; nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker briefly in the pine tree - but the tits are always present. Behind the laiterie we installed a fat block filled with dried insects, from Gamm Vert, and this lasted no time at all! Tim is now making his own fat blocks, using the Gamm Vert packet as a mould.
Hello.... is there anybody in there?

I said HELLO! Rat-a-tat-tat!!!

Look.... no wings!!

Sunday 21 November 2010

Cranes and Panthers

So many cranes are now leaving the Lac du Der to the north of us that some had to come our way eventually. We came out of the house late yesterday morning to see a group of 54/52 heading south over the hill and "grue"ing heartily. I flagged this to as they have no records for Indre et Loire this year. There are always a few, but not 40,000 at a time (what a noise that must have been)!

54 Cranes [Grus grus]
52 Cranes... where did the other two vanish to so quickly?

We were on our way to the Huilerie Lepine at Aveilles en Châtellerault, where the family business of walnut oil extraction was celebrating its 200th anniversary with an open day and Marché Gourmand. Instead of our usual route via Barrou and Lésigny, we went through La Guerche and Mairé, then through some very Brecklandish acid heathland / mixed woodland obviously maintained for hunting. The woodland is lined with deer fencing and there are numerous open rides. For several metres to either side of the road, an open stretch had been freshly ploughed - by humans as a fire break - whereas the verges had also been freshly ploughed - by boars, or possibly by deer. This looks like an excellent wildlife area, if not right at this moment! In the plough area, Tim spotted and photographed a fine array of what appeared to be Panther Cap mushrooms Amanita pantherina.... poisonous, almost as deadly as the Death Cap Amanita phalloides but much more striking... like a dark brown Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria.

Further on we came to La Chêne Rond, a major hunting lodge where dozens of hunters were standing along the edge of the road, shotguns broken, waiting for something to happen. Probably lunch.
When we came home Tim consulted the oracles and determined the mushrooms to have been The Blusher, amanita rubescens, which is good to eat. A bit too close for comfort to the poisonous kind for me!
The Blusher [Amanita rubescens]

Monday 15 November 2010

One last butterfly on the wing

Still mild and moist and plenty of insects about. RonRon the nosy cat poked an ichneumon fly and got stung [they use the short ovipositor in defence], to her great indignation. A very small mayfly rested on the door of the laiterie, building up its strength for a mad short life. A red admiral was searching along the edge of the millstream in the sun - one last forage before hibernation.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Le Petit Peuple de l'herbe

In the vast barn of the Prieure at Le Louroux yesterday, we found a fantastic exhibition of photographs taken of the insects on and around the Etang by David Greyo. This exhibition was presented in conjunction with the Conseil Général d’Indre-et-Loire for just the two days of the Fête de la pêche. The superb pictures provided clear examples for educational panels describing the different insect groups - ideal for an entomological novice like me. There was also a slideshow of shots including the grebes, terns, ducks and owls that make the Etang such a valuable wildlife area. An absolutely unmissable achievement - and all for two days? More about David Greyo and "Le Petit Peuple de l'herbe" can be found on his Blog

Friday 5 November 2010

Autumn leaves

Raking the leaves is a philosophical occupation. The town has the latest technology as we saw today - a Stihl leafblower/sucker/broyeur. With one of these you can reduce a pile of leaves to a handful of instant leafmould, at the cost of the earth's precious resources. We have a rake (Dutch, plastic) and Big Hans (Bettawear, also plastic) and a couple of pop-up bags. You rake the leaves into piles, put on Big Hands and hoist the piles into the bags. The leaves are going in the traditional small chickenwire enclosure to become leafmould eventually, or alternatively to blow all over the field - we shall have to see! Today's rakings half-filled the enclosure, and are less than a tenth of what's on our handsome Small-Leaved Lime (Tilleul). There are both Large- and Small-leaved Limes in this area as we noticed today in Chambon.
While raking the leaves, you can think of all sorts of things. How many crows are there in that big roost up the valley? As night fell, the numbers sounded positively Hitchcockian. Was that our resident Stone Curlews calling, or a migrant? Will the bats come out for me, as they did for Tim last night? How can I stop myself singing 'Les Feuilles Mortes"?

Thursday 4 November 2010

Late butterfly

Today was mild and humid as it has been all week. Insects are making good use of the ivy flowers on the bridge, including a Small White butterfly pieris rapae, la pieride de la rave.

Today we went to the Mairie to snitch on the muskrats. They didn't seem to have heard of the new decree there, but we now know that our neighbour Eric Decharte is an authorised trapper and we can contact him to get them 'rehomed' (ahem).