Tuesday 22 March 2011

Pic Noir!

Tim and I were working this morning on the new potager area when a loud "hip-hip-hip-hip" call rang out from the direction of the poplar plantation next door. "What on earth's that?" I said, or words to that effect. I have to recognize birds by sound, and this wasn't familiar. A wader? too loud. A raptor? Wait a minute, that's an odd-looking crow, just heading west over our meadow. Big round floppy wings? White beak? A black woodpecker (dryocopus martius, or pic noir)! This is a new bird for La Forge, although we've seen another near Paulmy. According to Les oiseaux du bassin de la Claise Tourangelle the black woodpecker is confirmed as nesting in the commune of Le Grand Pressigny, so we were hoping to see it. What we heard was the call of a male bird. No pix, sorry!

Monday 21 March 2011

Spring is on its way - part III

Two Green Woodpeckers and "Pickle"*
Yesterday morning, we saw our first swallow (hirondelle) flying over the house. This morning, Tim watched a pair of green woodpeckers (pic vert) searching for insects in the verger and two kingfishers (martin pêcheur) zipped past the kitchen window, heading down the millstream like two brilliant blue darts [and too fast to capture on film!]. To top it all, a flight of cranes came by, on their usual ENE flightpath. The red squirrels were clambering about in the alders next to the Aigronne, and the water vole chugged past on an errand.

Green Woodpecker concentrating!
[Not the greatest of pix.... handheld through telescope and double-glazed windows!]

[* For "Pickle" see De la Bonne Bouffe]

Monday 14 March 2011

Cranes again!

This afternoon just before 3pm, we heard a single "greueueue" as a formation of 24 cranes flew over the house. It's been a lovely day today, enough to bring out brimstone and peacock butterflies, and setting the skylarks singing too. The crane formation broke up as the birds encountered the thermals over the sun-baked south-facing scarps of the Aigronne.

Just some of the cranes almost overhead.
They spiralled upwards in a loose group, but the east wind carried them over towards le Grand-Pressigny - sunwards - and they were obviously struggling to keep their ENE direction. They were pointing that way, but heading ESE. They were still trying to gain height when they disappeared from view.

Circling in a thermal... 2nd from left and one at bottom seem to be using the undercarriage!?

Two fighter jets whizzed over at the same height as the birds - heaven help the crew if they hit a crane!

Going away... with the sun glinting on their wings.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Spring is on its way part II

The chiffchaff (phylloscopus collybita Poillot véloce) is definitely here - I heard it singing. A pair of them is working hard at the flies over the millstream. The sound of someone rubbing steel ball bearings together alerts us to the return of our male black redstart (rougequeue noir) in his favourite lookout point on the roof of the grange. There are up to three pairs of greenfinches visiting our feeders, mainly engaged in clearing up the spilled grains kicked out by the smaller and more agile birds. Some of the sunflower seeds are so solid they defeat even the greenfinches, which are almost twice as big as the siskins and much heavier in the beak. The tits seem to be spending more time fighting than feeding, and are outnumbered at the feeders by the finches.

The dog violets at the foot of the longère wall are in full flower, as are the miniature tête à tête daffodils. Cowslips are coming out here and there, and at les Hautes Thurinières the almond is in flower and plum blossom is on its way out.
Almond blossom

Today though, the wind has swung round to the south and it's started to rain (much needed, alas). Today and tomorrow there are carnivals, fêtes foraines and vide-greniers associated with the beginning of Lent - we visited one at Charnizay this morning, and the famous Manthelan carnival, in its 122nd year, is this weekend too. Those nasty weather gods are at it again!

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Summer visitor

Yesterday evening a small, yellowish bird with a black face showed up, flycatching over the bief.... this is the picture I managed to grab of the face...

Black around the face...

Obvious eye-stripe!
Couldn't figure out what it was, the light was a golden evening sunlight... that coloured everything!
Managed to get another picture that showed more of the bird... and the jizz [way it behaved and looked] said Warbler!

Probably a Willowchiff.... which is birdspeak for "Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff" as these two are so similar, it is usually only when you hear them sing you know the difference....

Then, this morning it was outside the door, flycatching again... but had lost last nights black face... it was a Chiffchaff [probably - they are usually the first to return...] and then later there were two of them flitting about... and only twenty days to Summer time!
Dark legs....Chiffchaff! Probably?

Saturday 5 March 2011

A red letter day

Today was special in more ways than one. It was a lovely spring day, although still with a bit of a sharp breeze. The young sparrowhawk was up early and enjoying the sun.

What do you do on a cold and frosty morning... spread yourself about a bit!

While we were admiring him, a pair of red squirrels whisked by, going from branch to branch along the river bank without touching the ground (the first time we've seen them down there). This afternoon, Tim planted out the last of his rooted willow cuttings, seventeen cultivars and over 100 plants in all. He still has to plant out his marker stakes, cut from our own willow trees and which grew just as well! While I was erecting a meagre barrier to the ragondins composed of blackthorn clippings jammed into the straw, I came across what looked like a hare's lying-up nest (a form).
The form.

Then a pair of freshly minted brimstone butterflies zoomed up and down the riverside, such a bright yellow they seemed almost green.
Meanwhile, an orange-tipped bumble bee was getting spectacularly drunk in the crocus flowers. It spent some time in each of the flowers, but never seemed to get any farther, like a toper on market day staggering from one pub to another.
Hic! Loverly drop o' nectar this!

When touched, it waved one leg blearily in a sort of "I'm havving a wunnerful time!" way. A riddle from my childhood: what's the difference between a sick elephant and a dead bee? Answer: one's a seedy beast and the other's a bee deceased.

More gratuitous Sparrowhawk shots....

Warm enough... now what's for breakfast!?

Friday 4 March 2011

Spring is on its way - official


The first of our Tête à Tête daffodils (jonquilles) was declared open today! These fragile-seeming blooms, only 10cm off the ground, have joined the crocuses and snowdrops in celebrating the sunshine, if not the vicious north wind.
Crocuses enjoying the sunshine.

There are a few ground-hugging wild flowers in addition to the hazels and alders shedding pollen everywhere from their catkins. Should the bees be tempted out they will find a bit of sustenance. Common field speedwell veronica persica (veronica de perse) has colonised any patch of bare soil, including the potager area, with its bright blue flowers. The same goes for the red deadnettle lamium purpureum (ortie rouge). In the meadow there are patches of lesser celandine ranunculus ficaria (ficaire), along the edge of the millstream and along the old ditch, hinting at hedges and willow trees long gone, that we are now reintroducing.

Field Speedwell

Red Deadnettle
Lesser Celandine