Friday 1 January 2016

A sort of non-winter

As the New Year begins, temperatures remain unseasonably high. This is no doubt the reason for some unusual wildlife sightings. Yesterday lunchtime on the back road out of the village towards les Roches we met this young hedgehog [Erinaceus europaeus] herrisson sniffling its way along the roadside. Hedgehogs are mostly active by night but not this one. It looked extremely fit and showed no fear of us.

Young Hedgehog, Les Roches

Would you happen to have a worm about you?

There might be one under here ...
We are regularly entertained by large flocks of siskins [carduelis spinus] tarins des aulnes - between twenty and fifty at a time twinkling through the trees.

Despite appearances, this picture is the right way up
Female siskins living up to their French name in an alder

Male siskins - little beauties

The bright sunshine reveals the subtleties of plumage, regardless of species. The olive green of siskins, greenfinches and green woodpeckers emphasised by swirls of yellow, black and in the woodpecker's case, scarlet. Great spotted woodpeckers [dendrocopus major] pics épeiches are doing their best to reduce the top branches of our ancient walnut tree to wood chip. You can see the pieces flying out as they hammer away. Their green cousins have been doing likewise, although they mostly feed on the ground.

A suitably scabby branch for a male great spotted woodpecker

This time of year is mating season for owls. A little owl [athene noctua] chevêche d'Athèna posed beautifully for us on the pile of assorted timber / firewood just beyond our fence. This pile is all that remains of the greater part of the poplar plantation next door, which was harvested in late summer. We know that little owls have nested over the road at Bezuard. It looks as though they are back. What the orioles that nested in the plantation will do next summer is anybody's guess.

Bits of this timber are disappearing from time to time - rather more than the woodpeckers account for!

The tawny owls [strix aluco] chouettes hulottes have been conducting their annual competition for best male vocalist, with up to six dotted about the valley giving it all they've got. We have a winner, who is now doing a circuit of the house and meadow every evening, hooting confidently.

But this year the tawnies may have competition for the owl box. We have seen several times a pair of barn owls [tyto alba] effraie des clochers on roadside fence posts only about two kilometres down the valley. Tim was photographing the Christmas full moon when another barn owl, this time a dark morph, flew past on the opposite side of the road. We also have encountered a long-eared owl [asio otus] hibou moyen duc on the far side of the river. These big birds have quite a large range and could nest anywhere in the locality.