Wednesday 22 January 2014

25 et 26 janvier 2014 : Grand comptage d'oiseaux du jardin

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch is in its thirtieth year. During the weekend of 25th/26th January, spend an hour recording the birds that use your garden, and pass the results to the RSPB.

Meanwhile, in France... 

The Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), in conjunction with the National Natural History Museum of France, is running the same thing, on the same days, for the second year. Last year, Britain achieved nearly 600,000 observers, France just over 3,000 who recorded 160,000 birds. The numbers in France may seem small, but it is possible to obtain valuable scientific data nevertheless. For example, the LPO has issued a press release entitled "Unusual absence of birds frequenting our bird tables" pointing to a 30% reduction in numbers and attributing it to the poor spring of 2013 and the mild temperatures which mean that migratory species are staying further north than normal. This count will provide evidence to show whether those northerly species have started to arrive.

And last year was just the first year.  The LPO's introduction to the snappily-titled "appointment in the gardens to count the birds there" is here.

All you have to do is
  1. choose a day and one-hour time period that weekend
  2. choose a place - your private garden, workplace grounds, local public park or balcony
  3. count the birds you see. A downloadable sheet is provided for this purpose with pictures of the 52 commonest garden birds on it, though hawfinch might be a bit optimistic. This sheet also gives the French names for these birds, which you will need for entering the data. There are a number of sites which give bird names in English, French and their scientific form, such as this one. For those with Android, you can buy an app, apparently.
  4. submit the counts via the oiseauxdesjardins website here.
Crib sheet, page 1

The birds have to be using your garden. That is, a buzzard flying overhead does not count. A sparrowhawk diving through in search of prey does count. Also, record the maximum number of birds of any particular species you see at any one time. You may think there are more than three bluetits around, but you can't be sure.

That fourth point is the fun bit. Full details of the registration and data entry procedures are here. It explains that oiseauxdesjardins is a national site (using the VisioNature database), but there are a number of regional or departmental sites with portals to the national site. If your garden is in one of these areas, you will be redirected to the local site to complete your observer's registration and enter your data. You can record more than one garden, but you only register as an observer once.

The registration procedure is:
  1. Go to
  2. Click on "j'aimerais participer" (green box at the top of the page)
  3. Select your département.
  4. If you have a local site, you are redirected there. In Indre et Loire this is In future, you will always use this local site. .If redirected, once again Click on "j'aimerais participer".
  5. Fill in the registration form (name, address, e-mail address) and validate it. An e-mail will be sent to you with your password. When you receive this, you can sign on to the observatory and register a garden.
To register a garden,
  1. Decide on a name for your garden.
  2. Click on Participer - Oiseaux des Jardins - Ajouter un Jardin.
  3. Select your département
  4. Select your commune.
  5. Locate your garden on the map by moving the red pointer.
  6. Enter the name of your garden. 
  7. Click on Suivant.
  8. Fill in the Garden Description form then click on "enregistrer les données" to register the garden.
To add your sightings:
  1. Click on Participer - Oiseaux des Jardins - Transmettre les observations de mon jardin.
  2. Enter the day and time of your birdwatch session
  3. For each species of bird you have seen during this session that is on the principal list of garden birds, click on the bird, enter the count and press suivant.
  4. For any species not on the principal list, bring up the data entry form by clicking on one of the principal species, and select ajouter une espece. Click on the species, enter the count and press suivant.
Incidentally, there is a lot of interesting stuff for birdwatchers on your local site - recent sightings, rare species, the birds of your commune, news releases... The database handles reptiles, amphibians and mammals as well as birds, although there is little data at present. The number of sightings rather reflects the number of observers, and we are few in la sud Touraine. I notice that Tim's observation of Wood Duck in April 2011 made it to the records when someone read his post on this blog!

The RSPB has made use of sophisticated technology such as a smartphone app to register bird sitings in real time, and a downloadable data set of last year's results. But unsophisticated old me, I don't have a smartphone or a recent enough version of Excel to handle the data set. The RSPB recently renamed its magazine from "Birds" to "Nature's Home". My response was "Eeeoouw". Are we in danger of getting a bit too family friendly? 

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Stranger on the Shore

Yesterday we spotted a new bird for our commune, and a species out of the ordinary for the Touraine at that. A Shelduck [Tadorna tadorna] Tadorne de Belon was sitting rather forlornly at the edge of our neighbours' étang.
Shelducks can be seen in wetlands throughout Britain at any time of the year, but are mainly a coastal winter visitor to western continental Europe. Our visitor has probably been blown off course by the recent storms.

Here's my profile

Tim had glimpsed this bird on Sunday while driving past, but thought it had to be a "funny mallard" - a domestic cross-breed or Cayuga mallard. The pond is almost completely devoid of covering vegetation and has few avian visitors - a regular pair of mallards, the occasional grey heron, and the birds we can't mention in case they get shot...
We checked it out on the way back from Chatellerault, and recognised the stranger immediately. We went back to the house for binos and camera, and walked cautiously back down the road to the étang. The bird did a nice little fly-round for us and went back to its original place.

And I look like this underneath
Tim has taken a load of pictures - more may follow if he has the time to process them properly.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

The mystery of the stag on the roof

As La Nouvelle République relates in its article of 5th January 2014, 'Type "Verneuil-sur-Indre" into any search engine and immediately links will come up to the stag discovered trapped on the roof of a garage in the commune.' The story was picked up by the media around the world, particularly in anglophone countries that compared his unfortunate position with that of Rudolf, Santa's red-nosed reindeer. 'The very media-friendly stag on the roof has spiced up the lives of the people of that commune, "Le très médiatique cerf sur le toit a pimenté leur vie"'. The NR's video of the rescue, led by Philippe Bruneau the mayor and involving a piece of landscaping fabric, a broom, the fire brigade and a couple of ladders, has logged 280,000 views, and the Youtube copy 180,000.

Now what do I do?
It is thought that the animal got onto the lean-to roof during the night of 4th November 2013 from the garden which overlooks the wall at the back. Once there, it found it too slippery to climb back. The rescue unfolds in the video below, the pathetic sight of the stag, scrabbling helplessly for a foothold, being poked with a broom, and finally catching on to the idea that it could walk on the cloth, and the inelegant final clamber over the wall to freedom. By 11am on November 5th it had vanished.

Olivier Laffargue of BFMTV was one of the few to remark at the time that the animal was of an east Asian species, and that nothing was said, in public at least, about how it came to be where it was. The black-and-white still photographs showing the animal lying on the roof gave no real idea of scale and the species was not mentioned in 5th November's media frenzy. A cerf is by implication a red deer stag. More properly this should be called a cerf élaphe, cervus elaphus. The delicate build, dark colour and fluffy backside all point to this being a sika stag (cervus nippon, cerf sika). A fully grown sika stag - as this one is - can be less than half the weight of a well grown red deer stag.

Sikas are natives of the far east and were introduced into various hunting parks throughout Europe from the 19th century. The species is an invasive alien. Sika and red deer interbreed readily and the genome of the British population of red deer is now affected by hybridisation. This is the fear behind "the dark side of the story", as the NR's Billet column puts it. On the afternoon of 5th November, the prefecture, alerted to the presence of a sika deer on the roof of a garage in the commune, issued an arrêté, an order that it should be killed. "People locally with hunting interests wanted to destroy the animal, and therefore the prefect has authorised shooting it because it is not a native species", announced the mayor.

As well, rumours began to run wild about the presence of the sika. Certain villagers, walking in the forest to pick  mushrooms, spoke of livestock transporters in the surrounding woods. Some said they saw these lorries the day before the presence of the deer in the village, others after. From there followed all sorts of hypotheses: that the stag was released by persons unknown; that it was sought in order to recapture it.

But as any loyal Archers fan knows, deer do not take kindly to trucks. Deer farmed for venison are not taken to an abattoir for slaughter - they panic, resulting in injury or death from shock, and tainting of the meat by the presence of stress hormones. Instead they are picked off one at a time by a marksman using a silenced rifle.

There now follows a hypothesis of my own. This sika was not going to slaughter. It was tranquilised. It was on its way to someone's illicit hunting preserve like the one discovered at Bourgueil at the end of December, where large game animals are effectively farmed, and shoots are sold for a tidy sum, "de coquettes sommes d'argent". Somehow this one got away Yes, the roof was slippery, and the deer appeared too wobbly on its pins to negotiate the slope. That could be down to exhaustion, or to intoxication, or both. The appearance of half a dozen blokes and their equipment, and sparkling brass helmets in the case of the pompiers, did not appear to faze it particularly. And having safely negotiated the fabric, it was not so exhausted as to prevent it jumping over the wall and fleeing at top speed.

The prefecture's arrêté came too late. The story of this creature, its successful rescue and its happy release into the forest, went around the world. The subsequent killing of the stag would have been a media disaster for Verneuil-sur-Indre. So where is it now?

Sunday 5 January 2014

La Météo... Wet with rare outbreaks of Sunshine

A Weather Review of 2013

A summary of 2013

2012 records are in [brackets and italics] in this table.
Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   12.0 (Mean Minimum     6.1 / Mean Maximum     17.9)
Minimum          -7.5 on 16/01/2013 [-20.6 on 07/02/2012]
Maximum          38.7 on 21/07/2013 [26.7 on 15/03/2012]
Highest Minimum  23.8 on 27/08/2013 [21.1 on 18/06/2012]
Lowest Maximum   0.0 on 06/01/2013 [-6.0 on 07/02/2012]
Air frosts       59  [41]

Rainfall (mm):
Total for period 717.3 [777.0 for 2012]
Wettest day      33.9 on 14/09/2013 [371.4 on 16/03/2012]
High rain rate   99.0 day 18/01/2013 [165.6 day 08/08/2012]
Rain days        174 [79]

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     42.8 on 24/12/2013
Average Speed    1.1
Wind Run         7881.1 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1041.0 on 15/01/2013
995.5 on 10/02/2013

The Wind data are unreliable early on... 
a new windspeed sensor was only installed halfway through the year...
until then it only had two cones... not three...
in strong wind that meant that it often got stuck...
unable to turn with the wind. 



Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   3.9 (Mean Minimum     0.4 / Mean Maximum     7.4)
Minimum          -7.5 day 16
Maximum          15.1 day 31
Highest Minimum  4.9 day 09
Lowest Maximum   0.0 day 06
Air frosts       10

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  61.2 [2012 - 37.8mm]
Wettest day      10.2 day 09
High rain rate   99.0 day 18
Rain days        21

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     33.1 day 21
Average Speed    0.5
Wind Run         285.3 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1041.0 day 15
Minimum          0.0 day 06 [a bit vacuous this!!]

FebruaryThe pré is part of the floodplain of the Aigronne...

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   5.4 (Mean Minimum     0.5 / Mean Maximum     10.3)
Minimum          -4.2 day 20
Maximum          15.4 day 19
Highest Minimum  5.9 day 01
Lowest Maximum   5.5 day 12
Air frosts       9

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  49.5 [2012 - 12.6mm]
Wettest day      20.4 day 01
High rain rate   18.0 day 09
Rain days        12

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     36.7 day 05
Average Speed    0.7
Wind Run         334.9 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1031.5 day 03
Minimum          995.5 day 10

March...saw more Snakeshead fritillaries than in previous years!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   7.4 (Mean Minimum     1.3 / Mean Maximum     13.5)
Minimum          -6.2 day 15
Maximum          21.2 day 07
Highest Minimum  10.3 day 08
Lowest Maximum   5.1 day 29
Air frosts       11

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  43.2 [2012 - 395.1mm]
Wettest day      5.4 day 07
High rain rate   43.2 day 31
Rain days        16

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     29.5 day 08
Average Speed    0.2
Wind Run         148.0 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1016.0 day 03
Minimum          981.8 day 11

AprilFortunately the pré is much lower than the house!!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   10.8 (Mean Minimum     3.5 / Mean Maximum     18.2)
Minimum          -4.5 day 03
Maximum          29.9 day 24
Highest Minimum  12.3 day 17
Lowest Maximum   7.8 day 06
Air frosts       6

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  59.4 [2012 - 9.9mm]
Wettest day      15.6 day 11
High rain rate   18.0 day 11
Rain days        9

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     31.7 day 09
Average Speed    0.1
Wind Run         35.6 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1020.6 day 19
Minimum          989.8 day 09

May...and still it rained and rained!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   12.9 (Mean Minimum     6.6 / Mean Maximum     19.1)
Minimum          1.3 day 24
Maximum          27.0 day 07
Highest Minimum  13.1 day 08
Lowest Maximum   12.4 day 20
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  64.5 [2012 - 9.6mm]
Wettest day      10.8 day 21
High rain rate   16.2 day 08
Rain days        17

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     15.8 day 08
Average Speed    0.0
Wind Run         0.4 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1014.4 day 13
Minimum          989.0 day 16

JuneThanks to the rain we discovered four more types of Orchid on our land.

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   17.7 (Mean Minimum     10.8 / Mean Maximum     24.7)
Minimum          5.3 day 26
Maximum          33.0 day 06
Highest Minimum  15.9 day 18
Lowest Maximum   18.8 day 13
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  40.8 [2012 - 16.2mm]
Wettest day      12.3 day 13
High rain rate   14.4 day 13
Rain days        16

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     18.4 day 23
Average Speed    0.0
Wind Run         0.8 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1021.6 day 26
Minimum          997.2 day 17


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   22.7 (Mean Minimum     14.1 / Mean Maximum     31.3)
Minimum          9.2 day 01
Maximum          38.7 day 21
Highest Minimum  18.1 day 19
Lowest Maximum   16.6 day 03
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  9.3 [2012 - 15.0mm]
Wettest day      3.9 day 02
High rain rate   7.2 day 02
Rain days        8

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     20.9 day 29
Average Speed    0.2
Wind Run         286.1 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1030.7 day 30
Minimum          1002.0 day 02

August...we tended to see the morning sun...

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   17.0 (Mean Minimum     12.7 / Mean Maximum     21.2)
Minimum          0.0 day 11
Maximum          37.9 day 01
Highest Minimum  23.8 day 27
Lowest Maximum   0.0 day 11
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  41.7 [2012 - 30.3]
Wettest day      8.7 day 06
High rain rate   7.2 day 07
Rain days        10

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     19.4 day 02
Average Speed    1.6
Wind Run         349.0 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1032.7 day 10
Minimum          0.0 day 11
[Not really!]


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   17.5 (Mean Minimum     10.5 / Mean Maximum     24.5)
Minimum          4.7 day 10
Maximum          31.5 day 24
Highest Minimum  16.0 day 28
Lowest Maximum   17.9 day 17
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  61.2 [2012 - 7.8mm]
Wettest day      33.9 day 14
High rain rate   21.6 day 28
Rain days        12

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     30.6 day 17
Average Speed    2.1
Wind Run         1045.1 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1027.2 day 22
Minimum          1000.9 day 29


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   15.0 (Mean Minimum     10.3 / Mean Maximum     19.8)
Minimum          0.0 day 28
Maximum          26.8 day 03
Highest Minimum  16.2 day 04
Lowest Maximum   11.0 day 29
Air frosts       0

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  170.1 [2012 - 84.6mm]
Wettest day      30.6 day 28
High rain rate   39.6 day 14
Rain days        23

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     22.0 day 23
Average Speed    1.9
Wind Run         1110.7 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1026.0 day 06
Minimum          0.0 day 28 [Not really!]

NovemberPrivé - the walnuts were scarce this year!

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   7.1 (Mean Minimum     3.1 / Mean Maximum     11.2)
Minimum          -4.3 day 28
Maximum          19.0 day 07
Highest Minimum  14.3 day 07
Lowest Maximum   5.9 day 18
Air frosts       5

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  69.6 [2012 - 87.6mm]
Wettest day      20.1 day 05
High rain rate   82.8 day 05
Rain days        15

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     39.2 day 10
Average Speed    3.4
Wind Run         2100.3 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1034.4 day 26
Minimum          993.3 day 05


Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   5.9 (Mean Minimum     -0.1 / Mean Maximum     11.9)
Minimum          -6.7 day 10
Maximum          17.9 day 16
Highest Minimum  9.3 day 24
Lowest Maximum   7.5 day 14
Air frosts       18

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  46.8 [2012 - 75.8mm]
Wettest day      15.3 day 28
High rain rate   9.0 day 28
Rain days        15

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     42.8 day 24
Average Speed    2.9
Wind Run         2184.9 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1033.0 day 14
Minimum          987.0 day 24
The odd zero pressure readings are probably due to a transmission breakdown...
we have seen odd "flat spots" on the graphs...
and the batteries were renewed during the year!!

Wishing everyone a Happy, Health and Prosperous 2014...
and here's a prayer for more clement weather.


There is a new entry for the blog about the meadow here on Art en Saule.