Wednesday 13 April 2011

Not exactly a bowling green

Our front lawn, such as it was, now looks like a scale model of a battlefield after an artillery bombardment. Meandering trails of tufts of moss and grass are punctuated by shallow shell-craters. This happened last night or early this morning – a quick surgical strike without collateral damage.

There’s a long long trail a-winding….
Speculation – what caused it? Sangliers (wild boar) or deer would have caused considerably more damage. Besides, any animal of any size approaching on foot would have to come in via the bridge or the field across more grass, so why there, surrounded by fences and walls? Voles are too small to achieve such destruction in such a short time. We suspect either green woodpeckers or jays, after leatherjackets and other grubs.

Well it wasn’t exactly a bowling green anyway
The mass of feathers under the spruce is the result of another type of monster altogether - we have had woodpigeons nesting there, and the sparrowhawk (probably) got one. We found the corpse of an unfortunate squab, too, and no doubt the rest will die too. Forgive me if I don't grieve over the loss of a woodpigeon or two, after what they do to our brassicas and soft fruit.

Moths from underneath

There really should be a book about moths, aimed at those of us who see them in the comfort of our own living rooms, as they flutter against the window! The underside of the wings and body is often as subtle and delicately patterned as the upper side, though not as brightly coloured. Our latest such visitor was a female small emperor moth (pavonia pavonia, or sometimes saturnia pavonia, le petit paon de nuit). It's only the female that flies by night - she hangs about during the day, waiting for a male (day-flying) to turn up.

Female Emperor Moth

This female was particularly dim-witted, as she proceeded to deposit her eggs on the cold stone of the window mullion. She had a full range of food plants to choose from only metres away - alder and bramble to name but two, emperor moth caterpillars are not choosy. Unfortunately, the neatly glued array of eggs has already been pillaged, probably by a blue tit.

Here are the moth and the newly laid eggs.

 This isn't the only moth to have laid in an odd place.... Susan from Days on the Claise reported it here with reference to the Fox Moth [Macrothylacia rubi] le Bombyx de la ronce which seems to like doors! We've had one lay in almost the same position on one of our doors.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Reddit, reddit... croak!!

This afternoon we were visited by a creature I had been longing to see... A Tree Frog [Hyla arborea] Rainette verte.
I was pretty certain we should have it around... but they are notoriously difficult to see... but this little* fellow wasn't!
It was just hopping across the grass at the back of the longére... and not very well camoflagued at that, either!
I had to take a photograph, so while Pauline ran to find my camera, I wet my hands on the dew-laden grass and picked it up. [Never handle a frog, toad or newt with dry hands... it is not appreciated... and in fact, is bad for them!]
I passed the frog to Pauline once she'd returned with the camera, and forgot to mention wetting her hands as I was rather over-excited!
The tree frog quickly left the hot hands and made for her shirt and then her hat... and posed quite well!
Trying to vanish on a shirt!

And then on a hat!

I then returned it to the moist vegetation and in this last picture you can see how well it can blend in!
But invisible at last in the nettles and goosegrass!!

*4 cms long! Look at the material of Pauline's shirt and the stitching on the hat... that will give you an idea of size!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Aliens in our midst

On Monday morning, Tim glanced through the door to see a pair of ducks floating nonchalantly downstream. Small, dumpy ducks. Not the usual Mallards.... he reached for his camera....

Wood ducks! (aix sponsa, canard carolin)

Wood drake... or Wood Duck drake?

These are in Category E in L'Inventaire des oiseaux de France, which means that they are an escaped or released non-native species that is not capable of establishing a long-lived breeding population in the wild without human assistance. In other words, somebody somewhere has lost a couple of pet ducks. Wood ducks, or Carolina wood ducks as I know them, are a North American species, very popular in wildfowl collections. Ken, your ducks are here!

Their close cousins, mandarin ducks (aix galericulata, canard mandarin), are by contrast accepted on the French "list" in Category C. That means they are a non-native species which is either reproducing naturally in metropolitan France without interference from man, or a visitor from a natural population in a neighbouring country - there are reputedly more mandarin ducks in the wild in Britain than in their native South-East Asia, and this population is thought to be the origin of wild mandarins seen in northern France. Category A birds are generally accepted French native species - they breed or migrate here. They differ from category B species only in that they have been seen since 1950, whereas Category B birds have not.

That leaves Category D - non native species that may possibly be wild individuals that have got to France under their own steam, literally in the case of birds roosting on a ship. An example is the Cape Petrel, one specimen of which was seen in the Var in 1844! (Thinking about it, that was probably under sail, not steam). These, in twitcher terminology, are a bit streaky.

All those categories clear? Good. There will be a test later...

Incomers of a different sort are with us now - whitethroats, cuckoos and swallows, and yesterday our first nightingale (luscinia megarhynchos, rossignol philomèle) started tuning up in the trees by the riverbank. Rare in the UK, the rossignol is quite a common bird here. I am listening to one as I write this. In the Loire, if you want to find a nightingale, look for a bush. Is it singing, VERY LOUDLY? No? find another bush. By contrast to its name, the nightingale sings both night and day. I've only ever seen one nightingale - unfortunately it was road kill, in Crete.

Evening light on the Cherry blossom

The cherry tree is in full blossom, covered in bees of many species, sizes and colours. It flowers and fruits late, although not as late as the morello in the orchard. The demand on our bird feeding station in the cherry tree is reducing - the siskins have gone, as have most of the tits and goldfinches, although there are lots of greenfinches and our loyal ground feeders - robin, dunnock, chaffinch, house sparrow - are still with us.

More cherry pictures:

Walnut and Cherry

The Japanese look.

Sunset stamens.