Friday 30 March 2012

Can't tell me Stork from mutter!

We were having last years bonfire today... along with this years. Great fun, huge heat.... especially on a hot March day.
But as we were taking a well earned drinks break, I pointed out to Pauline a huge bird circling overhead... a lone Black Stork [Ciconia nigra] Cigogne noire... it was probably using the heat from the bonfire to add lift to those huge wings.

The camera chose to focus on the moon... but who cares... beats a vampire any day!
Here the stork is in focus.
Right overhead...
The sunlight gives it an almost "plasticy" look.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Oh! What a beautiful morning... Oh! What a beautiful day!

I've got a wonderful feeling everything's coming my way... TIMBERRRRR!

Pauline and I were enjoying a glass if ice-cold Hoegy by the cherry tree this evening when our attention was drawn, by the cats' behaviour... ears pricked and watching intently, to activity on the opposite side of the bief.
We saw two watervoles, one very dark and one paler chasing each other about... up and down the bank, in and out of the water, too and fro from the bridge to right opposite us. Then all went quiet...

As it got cooler we moved inside to refill glasses and listen to the Archers... Baron was still outside and jumped up onto the window sill  as if asking to come in... then he became interested in the bief again.... and on standing up I saw that the voles were at it again.

Collins Field Guide to Mammals of Britain and Europe cite the chasing about as breeding behaviour... will we be hearing the patter of tiny volefeet soon?

Incidentally, there was a very interesting programme on Auntie Beeb [Radio Four] yesterday about "Darren Tansley - Vole Warrior" It is available on Listen Again.

I will now start the day again...
Having made a New Year's Resolution to walk round the field as often as possible this Spring through to Autumn... I decided to start today... we'd heard a cuckoo, seen a swallow fly past the bedroom window... and I wanted to check out the fritillaries... it was a lovely stroll along the biefside, tripping over bramble and tussock but I saw our first cou-cou and while I was taking a picture of it, a cuckoo started up in the woods next to Bezuard... and like Niall & Antoinettes'... it seemed to be staying put!

Our first "cou-cou"... or Cowslip.

I then found a female Oil Beetle [Meloe proscarabaeus or M. violaceus... the first is more common]... as I have also recently photographed a male, I'll blog about these later with some more info.

Female Oil Beetle. Big girl isn't she... and despite the size of her abdomen, she couldn't half move!!

Strolling on the wier looked a site in the sun... and the older willows are looking well... though some are leaning a bit... I'll turn these into metre high pollards for easy harvesting of pole. A job for tomorrow or Friday... but it must be done before March is out!!

The wier [barrage] giving plenty of aeration to the water flowing over the older rocks.
I turned back along the riverside to look for the fritillaries... but no luck! I noticed that the bramble had been very hard hit by the freeze... this will make it easier to cut back this year... there won't be anything nesting in it at this time... it is too open.

Eventually I got to our non-Sloe bush [flowers much earlier than the Blackthorn...] Pauline is pretty certain it is a hybrid plum-blackthorn... it certainly shows hybrid vigor as can be seen from the two pictures below.

Lovely thick blossom.... will there be a frost?
It was alive with bees [mainly honeybees] and other insects all after the early source of nectar... even a dung fly looking for something a bit tastier.

The bees love this early nectar!

Monday 26 March 2012

Destruction.... shock, horror!!

Two blog entries in a day... but this one won't wait. We have just witnessed the destruction of a field boundary opposite  our meadow... on the opposite side of the Aigronne. The shrubs were ripped up and deposited on the river bank... right on top of the last remaining clump of fritillaries around here!!

This was some of the patch in 2004
These fritillaries are not yet out [see this Days on the Claise post], fortunately, so may well be protected by the dumped bushes from the old hedge line. But yet another wildlife corridor destroyed.... OK, the hedge was in a terrible state... gappy and dying... why? Because they will insist on "trimming" their hedges with tractor mounted flails on a long arm... because it is quicker and cheaper than hand cutting with a billhook. The flail method leads to disease... which then creates gaps in the hedge... which soon means that the hedge is worthless as a boundary... so it gets removed.

One of our patches the same year... but not seen them here for around two years.
We think the coypus have had them.

But dumping it into a gap beside the river, whilst convenient for the farmer [or contractor?] is no substitute for proper management.

In the same place, but on the riverbank in 2004 were these Purple Toothwort

The destruction of wildlife corridors leads to isolation of species and their eventual disappearance. All along the Aigronne at the moment, there is a mass clearance of all the old trees.... especially the poplars... and we will be blogging about this in the next few days and explaining why the way it is currently being done is a bad way of proceeding if it is to benefit wildlife.

If it is just being done for the fisher folk is is a sad thing.

First cuckoo of spring

We heard our first cuckoo cuculus canorus coucou gris yesterday! It sounded more like an "oo-cuck-oo", rather hoarse and rusty, and just the one call, so he was probably just passing through. No photo, naturally - we didn't see him, but the cuckoo has actualy quite a weak call, so if you can hear him, he's close enough to see.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Hey!! That's almost a tail full!

With apologies to Mr Hancock and the Blood Donor sketch!
Living in rural areas brings rural problems... this particular one might make readers scratch a bit.

Jerry turned up after almost a week on the prowl elsewhere... he had also picked up a hitch hiker... in fact several, it turned out later!

He wouldn't let us get near his tail when stroking him... as he had been away for so long, and him being a 'full' tom and all... I at first thought he was a bit sore round the nethers... then, whilst he was yet again grooming himself down there, I saw....


He had a female Tick [Ixodes ricinus] La Tique du Mouton, fully engorged, at the base of the tail...on the underside... NO wonder he was tender behind. For personal reasons there is no picture of the Tick in situ... not for Jerry's modesty... just for our personal safety...
Removing the offending beast was no easy task.... it eventually entailed [aarrrg!] leather gauntlets and the use of the "wrong"* trousers as a lap protector.... me holding Jerry very, very, very firmly, whilst Pauline used the wonderful Tick Remover...

The Tick1 Tick Remover from Clas Ohlson... Sweden's answer to DIY!!
Gently pulling, she removed the tick, head and all... with this implement there is no chance of  bursting the tick, or squeezing blood back into the wound.
Jerry did NOT like that at all... fought all the way! And then sulked... as only cats can!!

This is the tick trapped in the remover...
The upper picture shows that the mouthparts have come away cleanly!
The idea is to get the head and mouthparts in the very narrow slot...
fat chance with a struggling cat!!

But a few cat treats soon brought him round and the comfort 'petting' allowed a fuller inspection... which revealed a lot more, in different stages of development, so I can, therefore, reveal the three stage development of the Sheep Tick. Get ready to itch... but please read.... as in Susan's blog entry on the processionary caterpillars, these ticks are dangerous. Also please read Susan's comment [it is the first one]on this blog entry.... There is also a very good entry on Lyme Disease on

Ixodes ricinus is what is known as a hard tick... this is to difference it from soft bodied ticks... not to do with its attitude! It has three stages after hatching....

From left: Engorged female, male, engorged 1st instar [nymph]
The reason they are posing so nicely is that they've been for a swim in a little
Eau de Vie du Mirabelle at around 75% ABV... and are drunk...DEAD drunk!

The female that is shown above lays a huge mass of around a thousand eggs, in long grass, and then dies.
Out of the egg comes the nymph [or first instar]... which as you can see from this picture is very, very small.  The newly hatched young crawl up a grass stem and using a sense organ called Haller's organ, situated on their front legs, 'sniff' out a suitable host. At this first stage it can be any mammal passing that has some blood in it! Size at this point is not important... it needs food, fast, to survive and allow it to develop to a second instar nymph. Once fed [engorged] it lets go and falls off the host... back into the environment... where it moults... and becomes dormant for the winter.

Unfed and dead 1st instar and engorged 2nd year tick

Stage two, the second year, is much the same. It awakes from dormancy and again crawls up a stem... and waits... if it gets too dry, it crawls down again to rehydrate and then tries again.The race is on to find a host, feed and moult so that it can complete stage two... much like a computer game really! If it doesn't get a feed before it has used up its energy resources.... it DIES! But it only takes one adult female to lay thousands more...
Once fed and moulted it hibernates again...

Female from the front showing mouthparts
Mouthparts are showing clearly on this shot...
taken just after release from the Remover.

The mature adults come out of dormancy in the spring and mate... this can take place on or off a host... once mated the female goes in search of that final meal so that she can complete the life cycle.

The head and mouthparts in close-up...
Outside are the two Palps [used to help hold the head in place]
Between them is the Hypostome [the syringe]
Prevention is the best cure....

Effective self protective measures include:
  •     Use of repellent on skin (DEET) and/or permitherin on clothing
  •     Avoiding contact with overhanging vegetation where ticks are likely to be questing
  •     Wearing light coloured clothing to easily see ticks and brush them off before they attach to skin
  •     Tuck trousers into socks or shoes to minimise ticks under clothing
  •     Regular checks for ticks on clothing
  •     Full tick examination once leaving tick areas- prompt removal (less than 24 hours) greatly reduces the risk of  transmission
  •     Regular use of tick treatment on companion animals... we use Frontline [available from Point Vert / Gamm Vert amongst others]
  •     Excluding sheep or deer from garden areas
  •     Ensuring garden borders and lawns are keep short
  •     Consider installing a 'buffer zone' of stones or chipping around rural gardens bordering woodland or grassland

Fuller details are:

Sheep Tick / European Wood tick - Ixodes ricinus
The life cycle of Ixodid ticks involves four stages: the egg stage and three parasitic stages, larva, nymph and adult.
Ixodidae... hard ticks.

GENUS           Ixodes
SPECIES         ricinus
LOCATION     Europe and north Africa (from Iceland to Russia and  down to the Atlas Mountains/Iran)
HABITAT        Woodlands, heath lands, forests and bushes
ACTIVITY     From March to June and August to November
LIFE CYCLE  Three host tick - egg to adult takes 1-6 years (usually 2 or 3 years)
MATING HABIT    On or off host before females can engorge
                             Females feed for 6-13 days before dropping on the ground, laying thousands of eggs and dying
FEEDING HABIT     Female adults can grow 200 times their initial size when engorged. Feeding causes tick paralysis
HOSTS         Adults target medium to large mammals: sheep, cattle, dogs, deer, men, horses
                    Nymph and Larva target small mammals (90% insectivores), rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles and bats
HOST SEEKING     Seek host using Haller's organ
  •  Dogs: Borrelia burgdorferi, B. afzeli, B. garnii
  •  Cattle: Babesia divergens (redwater), B. bovis, B. ovis, Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease),
  •  Staphylococcus aureus (sheep tick pyremia), Ehrlichia phagocytophila (cattle tick borne fever),
  •  Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), Rickettsia conorii (Boutonneuse fever), Anaplasma marginale
  •  Horses: Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Louping ill, Ehrlichia equi
  •  Man: Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Louping ill, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever),Tick borne encephalitis

SIZE         Female: 3-3.6 mm
                Female engorged: 11 mm
                Male: 2.4-2.8 mm
                Unfed Nymph: 1.3-1.5 mm

* The "wrong" trousers are my chainsaw leg protectors.. they are big, clunky, mighty uncomfortable... but very necessary!

Thursday 15 March 2012

Moving times for the boidz....

The migration is in full swing.... first we had the Cranes [see the post for Feb 23rd].... but ever since we have noticed little and large bunches or lines of birds flying over.
And this is without actively looking out for them.

Some will be birds flying North'ish to get to their breeding grounds... I write "'ish" there because a lot of them.... some LBJs, some thrush-like, at least two groups of large waders and Tuesday morning a very large skein of geese.... have not been heading diagonally across and over us South to North.... rather WWSW to EENE, along the valley towards Petit Pressigny. They might, therefore, be following the river as a navigational aid.... even with all the management work taking place, the actual course of the Aigronne will not have changed appreciably in our lifetimes and those of our ancestors.... so, to a relatively short-lived bird, it is a fixed aid.

Part of the skein of Brents... click to enlarge... the inset then shows the white 'flash' at the back.
The geese, small, stocky and black with a white patch on the side, were Brent Geese [Branta bernicla] Bernache cravant... leaving the Bay of Biscay and the Marais Poitevin and heading inland before eventually swinging north towards Norway, Finland and Northern territories of Russia. The waders, probably Black-tailed Godwits [going on size], were possibly using a similar route....

And there have been more noticeable changes, too, around the house....

Vanishing... Robins... our winter ones probably sing with Breton or even Kentish accents. We don't seem to have Robins around here in the summer.

Arriving... Black Redstart and Stonechat... the males making themselves very obvious on the tops of walls and potager posts, White Wagtail wagging around, Warblers flycatching from bief side bushes...

Black Redstart [male]

White Wagtail male gathering nesting material...

We will probably notice later that Greenfinch and Goldfinch numbers have decreased as they move to their breeding territory and use the feeders less.

My feeder...FILL IT!!
OK...MY millet, then!

"Such ill-manners", said Mr Creosote...

And changes in attitude... birds that are normally feeding quietly are now getting more aggressive with each other... male Chaffinches, Sparrows and Tits spend a lot of time just chasing around... not just trying to get someone else off the feeder, but really trying to get them out of the tree.

Even the Moorhens have been becoming more territorial... chasing the juveniles away... especially the male, he's the worst. There is a difference between the sexes that is not in the books... the male Moorhen has a larger red plate above the bill... noticeable when they are together under the feeder... broader and slightly higher up the forehead than the female. There is, however, a difference... possibly only in the breeding season.... between the two sexes in the tail... the male cannot seem to be able to tuck the white outer feathers away... so, when viewed from the front, even if you can't distinguish the difference in the plate, the male is the one who goes around with the tail more erect with the white showing. Even one of the juveniles.... the one the resident male is most agressive toward... seems to be having difficulty with the white sides... probably another male on the way.

And Pauline mentioned to me that the Bluetits are busy at one of the holes in the barn wall....

And that afternoon [at 4:10PM]... we had a flight of Cranes over... they used a thermal from the big steel-clad sheds at Grandmont to gain more height.

Circling in the thermal
 They must have been quite tired... this lot were hardly 'grue'ing at all. The wind had been from the North East all day... the were coming from the South West.... headwind all the way.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

"Ratty" lives!!

Noon 14th March...
I have just seen Ratty [our water vole] taking a drink at the water's edge and then scuttling away up the bank along one of the runs... so Jerry must have caught that one elsewhere on the land... probably down by the river as I had hoped.
It now begs the question.... what sized population do we have?

Tuesday 13 March 2012

13th... Unlucky for some!

It is with regret that I have to report the probable passing on of our male Water Vole...
I have just returned from the village to find Jerry trotting towards me with something large in his jaws.
Large and dark.... it was a Water Vole... I managed to get it off him long enough to see that it was a mature male.

My greatest regret is that it wasn't the Rat that has recently taken to gleaning under the bird feeders.

Gleaning under the feeders.
Heard a seed drop!

I am happier that it wasn't a pregnant or lactating female Water Vole... we will be keeping our eyes peeled for signs of activity along the water's edge outside the kitchen window.... it might not have been OUR male....Jerry does go off to the banks of the Aigronne to hunt... and we haven't got through the bramble yet to see what's around down there..

Monday 12 March 2012

Spring Cyclamen

Way back in 2003 when this lovely place first became ours, we planted half a dozen corms of each of two species of cyclamen under the lime tree. Cyclamen hederifolium, the ivy-leaved cyclamen known in Britain as sowbread, flowers in vast pink drifts in many gardens here every autumn. This has settled in nicely and is spreading. The other species, cyclamen coum, flowers in spring and I thought we had lost it, as there was never any sign of it. Last week a little pink whirlygig showed itself among the ivy and dead leaves - one brave cyclamen coum flower!

Cyclamen Coum amid the ivy leaves
The leaves look very unhealthy, as you can see from the photo (bottom left and top right). This may be down to the cold - unusual to find temperatures below -20 in its native Eastern Mediterranean, I suspect.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Sous l'Étang - A Grand Day Out... the final part.

From the Maison de la Nature, we drove the short distance to the other new hide at the Étang de la Sous.
This is beyond the older hide overlooking the ponds at the back of Étang Ricot...
so drive on past the first parking area and stick to the D44 until you reach the second. [Near a slight bend to the left]

The Étang de la Sous information board.
This was going to be a short stop to see what the lake had to offer... before driving back to to the Étang Purais to see what afternoon light gave us at the viewing point.
There was a lot of activity, but nothing really special... some good views of Teal [Anas crecca] Sarcelle d'hiver... along with coot, cormorants and colverts [Mallard duck]... so the rest of this blog will be in pictures...

Coot [with a tide line!]


Colverts... and a couple of female Teal
A'dabbling we will go...o... a'dabbling we will go!

Teal... one up... three down

Teal... two up... two down

Six posts from a trip to the Brenne... and in winter, too... must go more often!

Go on! Quack orf outa here! 'Smy trunk!!

And we never did make it back to the Étang Purais.

Mallard Airways... flight 4468 (short-haul)... leaving for another étang!

Thursday 8 March 2012

Gadwalling around... More from a Grand Day Out

Reed at the Étang Ricot
From Rosnay we drove back towards the Maison de la Nature and the Cherine Nature Reserve [part is also hunted over... this is France!]. A lot of management work has been undertaken in the last couple of years, cutting down an overgrowth of scrub and clearing space into the reserve and this has improved the view considerably... whether or not it was for the hunters or the wildlife, it helps both!

If you are coming from the direction on the Maison du Parc there is, at the bend just before the entrance to le parking for the 'original' hide overlooking Étang Ricot a point where you can pull off the road. This overlooks the Étang de Monmélier, opposite the bulk of the Cherine. The bank of the étang rises quite steeply away from the road to a flat area overlooking the water or, sometimes, mudflat if the lake has been drained.
This is a fabulous spot for a bit of "birding"... we've watched Stilt, Whiskered Terns , Purple Herons and deer at this spot... and the new clearance work gives you a very good view over some of the reed beds and clear water that can't be seen from the hide on the Étang Ricot... look out for harriers working the reed beds.
Étang de Monmélier didn't disappoint on our "Grand Day Out" either.
There were two large groups of Greylag geese in the distance, and we heard, then saw, Wigeon [Anas penelope] Canard siffleur - the whistling duck... there were Shoveler [Anas clypeata] Canard souchet, Pochard [Aythya ferina] Fuligule milouin and Teal [Anas crecca] Sarcelle d'hiver... but the sighting that excited me the most were some Pintail [Anas acuta] Canard pilet [here is a link to a super picture taken in the Brenne]**... my best sighting for around twenty years... they were hidden in the reed when on the water, but were flying around quite a bit; the male looking quite spectacular in the low angle,  harsh, golden sunlight. **[the picture link opens in a separate window.]

We then drove on to the Étang Ricot... and the 'original' hide.

New Étang Ricot board and map of Cherine Reserve.. click to enlarge and read.
There was absolutely nothing about... but the light on the reeds was attractive.

Ricot Reflection [enlarge this]
So we rapidly departed for the Maison de la Nature itself. There was nothing doing in the visible water in front of the big viewing windows of the centre itself, so we bought a new guide on Reptiles an Amphibians and, as that was open, walked down to the hide overlooking Étang Cistude.

Étang Cistude board and map of Cherine Reserve.. click to enlarge and read.
There were a number of people already in there... and there was a lot of activity out on the water... particularly Gadwall [Anas strepera] Canard chipeau. I find these a most attractive bird with their tones of grey, brown and gold. Our attention was drawn by another watcher to some European Pond Terrapins that were trying to get some sun. That, and the way the light was catching the Gadwall, made me decide to go and get the camera... it was in the car as we don't, normally, lug the bag around when we go to the Maison de la Nature and I had binos "in pocket". There was then a "French Ramble" [1.5km route march] to the car and back to the hide.

While Pauline took pictures of the cistudes[Here's the link back], I concentrated on trying to get a good shot of the ducks. They were swimming quite close by and the light was still good.

Gadwall pair... the blue LED light is not a recognition feature!
[Caused by reflection through a water droplet!
They are "dabbling" ducks.]
The male Gadwall... the subtle colouration shows up well here.
I also took pictures of the terrapins... but as they don't really move much, even in warm weather.... there is no point in putting up pictures that are already on the blog!
After a bit more watching we decided it was time to move on to the other new observatory at the Cherine... the Étang de la Sous.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

The Thick-necked Heron [Ardea grossneccus] - More from the Étangs Foucault...

The Thick-necked Heron

This is a picture blog with the stories in the captions.

The headline story will follow...
first a couple of Great Crested Grebes [Podiceps cristatus] Grèbe huppé displayed...

First the grebes swim towards one another... but not looking at each other...
...when they meet, they gradually rise out of the water, flicking their heads from side to side...
occasionally banging their bills together...
...then they dip their heads away alternately... before...
... turning to swim parallel with each other and...
...diving at the same time to get a bit of weed.
So good so far... but this pair didn't continue by rising at the same time with weed in mouth and then walking on the water towards each other. [Like this] A shame... perhaps they weren't that interested in each other... or there was too little weed... or they were new to the game...who knows.

And now the headline...  a sighting of the rare Thick-necked Heron [Ardea grossneccus] Héron gôutpikée...

The heron mentioned in the last posting seems to have been successful... it looks large though...
....but, it doesn't seem to be dead yet...STAB with the bill...
... is it dead yet... picks it up again... wow! It is big... no wonder it is having difficulty... it is as big as its head!
Ahha! It's caught a good sized Pike [Esox lucius] Brochet...
no wonder it is having difficulties...
it has caught more than it can eat in one go.
It is a bit of a beak full...
he's going to have fun flying off with that!
No... he's not happy with it... another STAB... will that finish it?
Now what's he doing? Looks as though he's getting ready to fly off with it...
Yes... that's well positioned... he'll fly off now and eat it elsewhere.
No.... I think he's going to swallow it now.... he'll choke!!
By George...he's going to do it!!
And there you have it The Thick-necked Heron [Ardea grossneccus] Héron gôutpikée... in all its glory!
And that's what comes of large lunches... take off.

We then moved on towards the Cherine...