Friday 29 November 2013

The Sprawler

While waiting for the EDF meter reader to turn up, I photographed this Sprawler moth Asteroscopus sphinx (formerly called Brachionycha sphinx grrr) Noctuelle-Sphinx or Noctuelle de Cassini. He (we think, but he's keeping his antennae well tucked in) has been perching on our front door for several days now, and given the recent sub-zero nights he has need of that fluffy coat. The meter reader looked rather chilled too.

Who's got hairy legs then?

Adult Sprawler moths are found throughout much of northern Europe. They are active from October to December in France. The larvae feed on the leaves of deciduous trees, mainly oaks - spoiled for choice round here! Presumably the eggs are deposited on twigs. The fur coat is excellent camouflage against oak bark, though not so good on a window. Last night no less than four of them were distributed on various windows and Tim found the big eyes rather spooky - he said, "Ever felt you were being watched?".

... and a hairy chest, too!

Further information and pictures may be found in English in UKMoths, and in French in Lepinet, Les Carnets du Lépidoptériste Français. Here you will find photographs by Phillippe Mothiron. No pun intended...

Thursday 21 November 2013

L'éperon Murat : attention, fragile!

So read the headline on page eleven of Sunday's La Nouvelle République....
and it was an article about the new plans for the site that we wrote about here as part of the post on Sunday 20th October.

So whilst I took advantage of the "drier" weather to scalp the areas of grass we tread most...
Pauline translated and summarised the article.....

La Nouvelle République, 17 novembre 2013
L'éperon Murat, warning, fragile!

It is one of two sensitive natural areas in the Loches area.
L'éperon Murat (the Murat Spur), at Ferrière-Larçon, benefits from protection which is entering a new phase.
About a hundred sheep are pastured on the Murat Spur, where the Larçon joins the Brignon. This is one of the headline actions undertaken for a decade aimed at preserving this sensitive natural environment (1).
The objective is simple: the animals participate in the maintenance of the dry grassland of this promontory, an environment which has become rare in the region (2).

Protection of the Murat Spur, act II
The Conservatoire d'espaces naturels (CEN) of the Centre region is studying a management plan which is nearing completion. At Ferrière-Larçon a couple of weeks ago, the assocation made public the new plan for the next ten years. In broad outline, the planned actions are much the same as those to date.

The extensive sheep pasture, which was re-established in 2005, will continue, in collaboration with the same farmer, Pascale Jacquet from La Celle-Guénand.
The sheep-farmer has the use of the land rent-free,
In return he must follow a list of exact duties.
"I am not from a farming background", explains M. Jacquet, who practises "agriculture raisonnée" [minimum intervention agriculture #] and sells direct from the farm.
"When I wanted to go into sheep, I didn't have room. So I accepted the proposal. I apply something very like the system of transhumance in the mountains."
Of his 250 ewes, between 30 and 100 are thus pastured on the Murat Spur.

"It's typical of what we're trying to do in environments formerly maintained by farmers and which, difficult to get to, are no longer of interest for traditional farming", explains Rolland Paillat, scientific study officer at CEN and principal author of the 2014-2023 management plan.
[It is also similar to the principle of the "Flying Flocks" and other conservation grazing as used by The Wildlife Trusts  and others in the UK.]
A more overgrown area
The restoration of the grassland will therefore continue.
This will happen notably by the removal of numerous pine trees which will give air and space for other plant species. In particular, the eight protected plant species (all orchids) and the twelve other regionally uncommon species, such as the Summer Pheasant's Eye [Adonis aestivalis] Adonis goutte-de-sang which the Murat Spur is home to.
That is without mentioning the varied fauna which lives in the 31.5 hectares of the site, owned by the conseil général.

The Junipers, that can be seen behind the oak and the orchids [ Cephalanthera sp.]
in this picture, are encroaching quite rapidly in some places... the sheep don't eat it!

In all, over the next ten years, 250,000 € is expected to be invested to safeguard the Murat Spur.
(1) With Les Prairies du Roi on the outskirts of Loches, it is one of two Sensitive Natural Spaces in the Loches area.
(2) Mainly financed by the Region and the conseil général.
The Murat Spur is one kilometre south of Ferrière-Larçon, along the D50.

31.5 ha acquired by the conseil général

Types of environment...
Chalky dry grassland, oak woodland (pubescent and sessile), heathland...

A close up of the turf.
More than 360 plant species, including eight regionally protected species (Man Orchid, three Cephalantheras: rubra, longifolia and grandiflora, Small Spider Orchid Pyrenean fragrant orchid, Violet Limodore, Burnt Orchid and Pyramidal Orchid).


Nationally protected: Large Blue butterfly, Western Whip snake, Western Green lizard. Also nine species of bat, which will be the object of particular attention in the new management plan. This is notably to preserve their hibernation hollows.
The maintenance of the ripisylve* of the Larçon will also be an objective of the management plan.

[Links in the above three sections go to Loire Valley Nature.]


The site is open to the public (sic).
Two organised visits take place annually by CEN on the theme of orchids.

(*Riparian forest = natural woodlands beside watercourses)
(# Similar ideals to the Wholesome Food Association's rules)
Five more hectares...
A particular effort will focus on the hillside of Montaugon, a plot of a little less than five hectares recently acquired by the conseil général.
"It is an environment similar to the Murat Spur, about 500m away as the crow flies, which has long been abandoned.  The first tree-felling work has started", Rolland Paillat from CEN commented.

The full article is here...

Now some more pictures from L'éperon Murat...

Hybrid Lady Orchid [possibly Lady x Man]

Milkwort thriving in the short turf left by the sheep.

Variations on Spider Orchids
Burnt Orchid
A couple of 'hoppers
A pale Green-winged Orchid
Cephalanthera longifolia
Fly Orchid

CRANE UPDATE: Cranes on weather radar!

Follow this link to see the migration of the cranes on the 13th of November...
showing up on the Rain Radar on Meteo60 []...
32,700 Cranes left Lac du Der in the space of around 4 hours... starting at 8AM.
There are three weather radar clips on the entry for the 13th...
each showing various quantities of birds.
It would seem that some reached Gallocanta in Spain the following day...
their count went from 14,000 in the morning of the 14th to 39,000 by the evening!!

Not counting the 28 500 that remain at Lac du Der...
there are still over 50,000 in North Germany that are still on passage!!

Sunday 17 November 2013

Flying South.... Southwest... 'ish...

A very large flight of Cranes [Grus grus] came over very late on Friday evening...
it was almost totally dark, with low cloud, and we didn't see them.

But Pauline heard them first...
through the double glazing and with the radio on...
and the tap running!

They must have been quite low and directly overhead...
They had a 7.2 kph tail wind to assist them and vanished into the distance at amazing speed...

Boy, were they a'bugling!!
Their conversations were probably on the lines of...
"Told you it would turn nasty this week... we should have left much earlier!!"
"Yes, dear... you've been repeating that all the way! Can we change the subject now, please!!"

... and from the juvenile wing...
"Are we there yet?!"

Wednesday 6 November 2013

The ivy canteen

At this time of year, Ivy [Hedera helix] le lierre is in full bloom.
We have a fine specimen on the bridge over the bief which is enjoying the unseasonable sunshine and warmth. Its many flowers provide an invaluable resource for bees, hoverflies and other insects that go particularly for the nectar, topping up the sugar levels in preparation for winter.

Even today, an overcast, humid November day, the ivy is busy with insects. No bees today, but plenty of flies, solitary wasps and beetles.

I hope someone may help me identify them!

A view from a bridge

Homing in
The closer you get, the more you can see
Closer still...

And the nectar-lovers are prey to the next level in the food chain - birds, lizards and spiders are lining up to be served. We have seen tits, robins, redstarts, wagtails and chiffchaffs diving in and out of the cloud of insects, snapping up the diners.

Meanwhile, the cats look on, more in hope than in expectation... maybe there will be a midair collision?

All through the year, the dense evergreen foliage provides shelter from wind and rain for small birds, insects and bats. Wrens are particularly fond of ivy as a roost.

In late winter, when other food is scarce, there will be juicy black berries which the blackbirds and thrushes love.

We've torn down this ivy more than once, but it has always grown back. Ivy quickly becomes too much ivy, and smothers more delicate plants, not to mention the damage its weight and clinging roots do to rendered walls. But we always leave some to flower - for the entertainment value alone!