Thursday 27 March 2014

The birds of Yzeures sur Creuse

 LPO Touraine invite you to two events in Yzeures sur Creuse! The first, on Tuesday 1st April at 8pm, is a talk on the Birds of Yzeures, by Jean-Michel Feuillet, a local naturalist and animateur. This event, intriguingly illustrated by a photograph of a bee-eater, is in the Salle Auditorium on Place François Mitterand, is free to all.

The second event, entitled Swallows is a workshop for youngsters from eight years upwards, and is also free. This is at 3pm on Wednesday 16th April in the Library at Yzeures. A splendid opportunity for your child to get covered in clay making a swallow nest! For more information and to inscribe, contact the Mairie on

In France, what we know as house martins, sand martins and swifts are all varieties of hirondelle, the swallow itself being a hirondelle rustique. Hirondelle may be better translated as "hirundine", but that's a bit of a mouthful for most eight-year-olds, although on second thoughts many are perfectly au fait with the diplodocus!.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Mighty Moorhen

This is obviously an area where moorhens gallinula chloropus (gallinules poules d'eau) breed successfully, the bridge over the bief being a prime feature in the best territory. We have blogged about these confiding birds several times, for example here.

For the past couple of weeks we have been hearing "pip..pip..pip" noises from the waterside, which signal the presence of a pair of moorhens, walking or swimming along the water's edge, and periodically stopping to view a choice piece of real estate where they can build a nest. Today the inevitable happened - two couples met, competing for the same territory. One male (probably) was up on the top of the bank.

Who, me?

The other male (almost certainly) rushed up the bank at him.

Yes, you!

Chaos ensued....

All hell broke loose

They hit the bief in a great fountain of water, squawking loudly, leaning backward to kick with their long finned toes, while the females (presumably) took cover. The Marquess of Queensbury's rules forbidding biting, kicking or gouging clearly did not apply, while pecking and water boarding were the order of the day. After about 30 seconds of punishment handed out by both sides, one bird eventually fled (flew! how often do you see that?) downstream, leaving the victor in possession - until the next encounter.

These punch-ups were repeated at intervals of about two hours throughout the day. They are, as I write this shortly before midnight, at it again. Tim has threatened to get some logs out of the chaufferie to bung at them if they keep it up all night.

To the victor the spoils

In spite of the beating the birds give to each other, nobody was seriously hurt and the females were duly impressed, which is what it's all about, really.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Orchids go on line

Here's an exciting piece of news for French orchid-spotters, from Benjamin Griard, for the Faune-Touraine team:

The VisioNature family of websites has grown. The National Orchid Society "la Société Française d'Orchidiphilie" has just put a national data entry site on line:

Its purpose is to collect your data on wild orchids. You can log on to it, as with all the other sites of this type, using the same identifiers (your e-mail address and password) that you use currently on Faune-Touraine. It will soon be spring and the orchids will soon be back! 

Good observations!

If you aren't already registered on a VisioNature site and would like to be, you can join directly on orchissauvage, or via the faune-touraine website if you live in Indre et Loire, or from one of the "other sites" if you live in elsewhere in France. Be prepared for a question about your background in Natural History (e.g membership of organisations, etc) and it's all in French, of course. I have undergone a crash course in bird names and behavioural descriptions (comportement) and made a couple of stupid mistakes, but the team has been very kind.

VisioNature is a great way of learning what's around and where you might see it. The gallery of photographs is always worth a look - there are some professional-quality pictures there, look out for Céline's work in particular.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Owl together now

It has been a great privilege to overhear what I can only describe as an operatic love affair worthy of Tristan and Isolde, between two Tawny Owls [Strix aluco] Chouette hulotte. But it is as though we are listening to the opera on the radio. We have never seen any of the protagonists, but we have heard them up to three times a night for the past six weeks - and the drama is by no means over yet. In the absence of any of our own pictures, here is a wonderful picture by Martin Mecnarowski from the Czech Republic.

Copyright Martin Mecnarowski under Creative Commons

We have learnt a lot about Tawnies, their behaviour and particularly the sounds they make since 16th February, from both literature and observation. I basically knew that the females calls "kee-wick" and the male goes "tu-whooo". ""Tu whit tu whoo", the merry note of Shakespeare, is not the call of one bird but the combined contact call of a pair. I learnt that they mate for life (only four or five years on average in wild birds, though a captive bird reached the age of 21) so it's to the female's genetic advantage to form a bond with the best male possible. What the literature doesn't say is that she initiates the process (in our hangar in this case) with screeches and trills of high excitement when her hormones reach the right state of readiness. Mid February is a typical time for this to happen, when she is about 9 months old. The four males that responded may not all have been the same age, and on 4th March she kicked off a response from what sounded like eight males - probably every male for miles around.
Her "kee-wick" calls were loud and carried a long way.
However the trill, though soft and musical, does not carry. It is supposed to only be audible over some 50 metres. It is rare for humans to hear this trill from a wild bird, and there is only one recording of it on Xeno Canto out of 188 Tawny Owl recordings [I've put that in lower down].

One male (bolder?) came into the hangar to call for her, several nights running. She called out with regular shrill "kia" noises, and he hooted in reply to make up the "tu whit tu whoo". I recorded these calls with the voice recorder on my veteran Nokia mobile phone. At the time I thought I hadn't got anything. It was only when I downloaded these recordings that I realised that they actually aren't too bad. The tricky bit of this was to get the recording out of the phone. and onto something that can process it. Nokia's software doesn't do it - in the end I just treated the phone as another storage device, found the recordings with Explorer and copied them to the computer.

These are the Nokia recordings from just after midnight, 16th February....
first the female calling "kia" and the male hooting gently

and again 

His lyrical hooting calls contrasted with the fortissimo blast he gave one night in challenge when another male had the temerity to respond from outside. I was standing in the barn listening in darkness, and I didn't know the doors to the hangar were open! She too was outside, moving around probably from one telephone/electricity post to another.

After that we heard them flying up and down the valley several times per night, she leading, he following, stopping briefly in a tree or pole to call to one another. 

The owls were also coming together for more intimate meetings, and some of these were in our hangar. After numerous attempts I managed to make a recording of the trilling call, this time being made by the male. It's recorded on an I-pod using a microphone intended for voice memos. The quality is awful, with a lot of white noise, and it failed completely to pick up the female's high-pitched call. The Nokia is much better quality, albeit fainter.

First we heard the female calling, then the male replied with some gentle hoots. Then (30 seconds into the recording) he started to trill. She continued to call, although that didn't record. You can just pick out the trill, particularly in the later part of the recording.
Unfortunately, this recording is extremely faint and crackly...

but this one, from XenoCanto is somewhat clearer

We continue to hear them on their nightly rounds of the valley, and at dawn we hear the male calling from the direction of the river. It is very probable that they will breed, although we don't know where - they may take over the barn owl box. Then we might see some of these...
Copyright: owl (under Wiki Commons)

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Nature rambles in Touraine

Today, along with a lot of "pub" (advertising material) this little leaflet arrived in our letter box.

Going out in Touraine

It's the 2014 Calendar of Nature trips in Sennsitive Natural Spaces, and it's full of walks and visits to a wide range of sites, led by various bodies including the LPO and La Maison de la Loire at Montlouis.

Take mountaineering gear if planning to join the 5th August visit. If you wanted to join the 4th March trip - bad luck.
It's an essential item for any nature lover in Touraine. It's so new it isn't on the Conseil Général's web site yet, but you will eventually be able to download a copy (keep nagging here - select Environnement if necessary). You should also find copies at a Tourist Office. The Conseil Général's Environment pages can be found here.

Saturday 1 March 2014

February Filldyke

Here's the wet weather summary for February.....

February 2014

Temperature (°C):
Mean (min+max)   8.3 (Mean Minimum     3.5 / Mean Maximum     13.2)
Minimum           -0.9 day 03
Maximum          19.2 day 24
Highest Minimum  8.5 day 20
Lowest Maximum   8.0 day 11
Air frosts       3

Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  64.2 [2013 - 49.5
Wettest day      12.3 day 13
High rain rate   7.2 day 08
Rain days        18... 12 in 2013

Wind (km/h):
Highest Gust     45.4 day 07
Average Speed    5.6
Wind Run         3783.8 km

Pressure (mb):
Maximum          1022.2 day 27
Minimum          985.0 day 10

February 2013

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