Sunday, 20 August 2017

A LONG Gardening Break...

...or yet another "Hiatus on the Homefront"

After yet another gardening break...
and we are almost ready for the growing season...
OK...OK... I know it has gone mid-AUGUST...
but the drought and then the heat held us back.
But, on the other hand, we'll be eating food "out of season"....
when it begins to get expensive in the shops...
So any bloggin' has taken a back seat...

We had a marvellous visit, though, at the start of May, by fellow LPO Refugers...
a reunion for LPO members who have declared their patch of land, or balcony...
as a Refuge LPO....
which visits a different persons refuge each year...
and this year, we had been asked to host the  day...
with lots to see and lots talked about.... a guided walk around the Refuge...
broken around midday by a picnic lunch, plenty eaten... quite a lot drunk...
and then a great Orchid Walk from Susan of Loire Valley Nature in the afternoon.

The Moorhens decided to nest just beside the bridge this year...
having destroyed the patch of yellow iris...
there is only so much bending and destruction of the leaves that a plant can take!!
But the nest was very visible from the bridge and gave a very nice intro to the site...
and, for a change, had local naturalists... whispering!!

At the six egg stage... she finally laid nine.
Five survived through the early days and were split 2 & 3 amongst the adults.

Then Pauline led the group around the meadow using her new chariot!!
The day was nice, weatherwise... and plenty of wildlife seen...
and we even river-dipped...
with a net!

Pauline introducing the visitors to the meadow...
the raised side bar of "The Chariot" can be seen on the right.

Lunch was had.... and on the way to the orchids, we stopped on the 'flatlands' above Chaumassay to see if we could spot the larks that frequent the fields just there... and anything else that would be different from the valley fauna... and were treated to a wonderful exhibition by a male Hen Harrier... both quartering the fields and.... new for me... trying to flush small birds from the treetops.
As there has been a "vole crash" locally, I am presuming that this 'out of the ordinary' behaviour is a little observed method of hunting when times are tight.

The walk proved interesting...with a number of oddities spotted... the best for me, though, was discovering the very strange larva of a Bloody-nosed Beetle [Timarcha tenebricosa] le Crache-sang.... a "Jabba the Hutt" type of critter....
anyway...
here's a load of pictures from the day.



Two views of a male Beautiful Demoiselle [Calopteryx virgo meridionalis] le Caloptéryx vierge méridional...
this is indicated by the fact that the wing colour doesn't quite reach the body...
in C. virgo virgo, it goes from the body almost to the wingtip.

A nice fat Roman or Burgundy or Edible Snail [Helix pomatia] escargot de Bourgogne, or Gros blanc...
and also known as escargot de Champagne....
these are actually really heavy when they get to this size!!
 
Spiderlings of the Garden Spider [Araneus diadematus] l'Épeire diadème...
which carry the same back pattern as the adults.
All orb-web spiders... as well as many other species...
form these dense clusters of newly hatched youngsters for the first few days.

A Woundwort...
most probably Marsh Woundwort [Stachys palustrisÉpiaire des marais...
given the habitat and pattern on the labia....
although hybrids between Marsh and Hedge Woundwort are not uncommon.
We have Hedge Woundwort by the front fence.... and is a lot darker...
this, though, is by the Aigronne.

A "nest" of Peacock caterpillars on a nettle plant
And then the afternoon and orchids...

Susan of Loire Valley Nature giving a talk on the orchids at Chaumassay....
before leading a walk along the road and up through the woods to the right.


Two colour shades of the Monkey Orchid [Orchis simia] Orchis singe...
first, a reasonably normal version...

....then a hypochromatic version.
Hypochromatic means lacking in colour.... and this one is very pale...
but you can see a tinge of pink.

Then it was single file up the hill into the woods.

Where, as mentioned, I discovered the "Jabba the Hutt" larva of a Bloody-nosed Beetle...
they feed on members of the Goosegrass family...
in this case, found on Madder [Rubia peregrina] Garance voyageuse.
And a male Crab Spider [Synema globosum]... named for the female's very spherical abdomen.
This fella is 3 to 4mm from nose to tail...
in fact, his front legs, at 4mm long, make him look much larger.


We also dipped a net in the millstream before lunch and came up with a few goodies...


A caddisfly larva in its sand tube...
possibly one of the Limnephilidae, which tend to build long, straight tubes....
you can just see its front pair of legs... the others hold it in the tube...
and a Water Mite...Hydrachna sp. possibly, as the habitat fits.


A couple of mayfly larvae... type again unknown... an Olive or a Dun of some sort...

And, finally, a Freshwater Shrimp [Gammarus pulex]...
along with a very small spire-shelled water snail.
And so went the day....
In other news...
the moth trap has had two airings per month...
middle and end on the "half-moons" as it cannot compete with a full moon...
and the identified species count is now up to 230 micro and macromoths...
with plenty more unidentified... mainly the micros.

My favourite spider, Argiope, is back with a vengance... they seem to be everywhere in the verger and one in the potager... plus some casually spotted in the meadow...

And the bief [millstream] has been declared out of bounds to fishermen... it has become a nursery for truitelles... baby trout.
More on all this in future posts....

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A slight Hiatus on the Home Front....

or "Apologies for no major post last week..... or this, and this and that for that matter"

Sorry... with all this fine weather, and a need to get spuds in the ground at the right time this year... I hadn't pre-prepared anything...
But the moth trap has had two airings so far this year... and we've started to get visitors to the windows at night!
The Swallows are back... swinging in and out of the barn.... and paying a visit in here, too... which took a bit of juggling to create an escape route....
The Black Redstarts are back, as well....and the duck gave us a nice present the other day... a fresh egg that she'd laid on the fly down by the old apple tree.
How do we know it was fresh? Because anything like an egg down there wouldn't have lasted overnight....
A Little Egret had been fishing in the bief...and flew past the bedroom window just as I looked out... no need for binos...
The Nightingales are back... three singing males at least... and a Zizi was singing from the wall early doors... a Zizi is the Bruant Zizi... or Cirl Bunting... relative of the Yellowhammer... with a similar song but it keeps what it doesn't want a secret... "Little bit of bread and no..."
It misses out the "cheeeese"
We've got a group of young Viperene Snakes [Lat] Coulevre vipérine who have holed up together just inside the barn door... four is the maximum seen at one time.

So here are a few pictures taken recently.....

Here's the Bruant zizi... aka: Cirl Bunting.... zizi'ing his little heart out!!

There are four Viperene snakes in this picture
... count the heads... one sunbathing...
three in the gap 'twixt barn wall and the metal...
sunwarmed...
hinge.



Three from the moth trap....
R>L: a Brindled Beauty, a Small Lappet and a Lunar Marbled Brown....
the curate who named the last probably had cataracts.... it is all grey!!

 
A hoverfly.... hovering!

An Ichneumonid wasp...
possibly a female Ichneumon xanthorius based on looks and flight period.
{But, only experts can really tell... and not from photos!!}

Black Redstart [male].... showing his "shirt-tails"!

And finally... for the moment... an orb weaving spider.
Tetragnatha sp.... possibly Tetragnatha extensa which is the most common...
but I need the other side to be certain...and this one was...
thirty centimetres off the ground in stinging nettles!!




Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What's nibbling me willows?

I have been playing "catch up" in the meadow and along the millstream...
I haven't been able to get onto the meadow over-Winter for three years...
so I have been felling timber that needs to be felled as quickly as possible....
with the intention of tidying up afterwards...
the only tidying that I have been doing has been to create a safe environment for me to work...
or to clear the paths.

Some of the felling has involved the "nursery area" that is outside our bedroom window....
three of the young willows were too deeply rooted when Stuart and I were lifting them for replanting elsewhere....
and that, coupled with the fact that the ground had become very unstable by the time we reached them....
and we had no real purchase in the sticky goo... all that meant that they were left...
and, in reality, neglected for a further two years.
By that point they were too large to try and move, so I cut them off as waist high pollards...
this is the height that some biomass and basket making willows are kept at...
which means no back-breaking bending....
the oldest known pollard, some four thousand years old....
and found in the river bed of the Derwent in Yorkshire, is this same height...
so early man thought that too!

And therefore I began to harvest them in a three year cycle.... to create "bushes"...
which has been interrupted by three bad winters...
so I had a mix of four, five and six year old wood...
and I decided to cut them all and start again, because we only want bushes there...
the trees that they had become were blocking our view...
this resulted in a lot of timber
which I cleared to the side as I went, the largest one of which had its top in the millstream [bief]....
the butt end on the bank where I could get at it easily.

We couldn't help but notice....
as we looked out of the bedroom and kitchen windows at the newly cleared area....
that two of the willows were missing bark from the base...
and I thought to blame it on the ragondins [coypu]...

Two out of the three have had the bark stripped from the base... fortunately NOT all the way round

About two weeks ago, however, we noticed that someone had stripped bark from the branches that I had left lying in the bief...
immediate presumption... coypu!

Lovely white wood under that willow bark!

Then we saw this....

The focus isn't too sharp... I'll add a better one at the end

...now, according to the books ragondin do eat bark, but apparently reluctantly... as Pauline has discovered, they "only eat bark when they are desperate" as they prefer grass... visible and growing all this winter... and the fleshy roots of the teasels, thistles and similar plants... which we also have in plenty, despite their efforts and mine, in the orchard... as well as elsewhere.
But they stop at bark... they don't eat young wood!! Not like that, surely....
only a beaver leaves traces like that!!

Now, we've seen beaver activity... right in the heart of town, near the railway station... and they are spreading out quite rapidly from their point of reintroduction on the Loir in both 1975 and again 1995.... 13 animals in both cases... but up the Aigronne??
We needed proof before reporting it on Faune Touraine, the local focus for Citizen Science data collection...on an ever increasing diversity of wildlife.

So, time to deploy the "pieges photographiques"...trail cameras to Anglophones!
We had a stealth beaver... bark was going missing... but no triggers...hmmm!
The ducks were triggering the traps, as were the coypu as they swam past...
and the rats using the branches as a highway to avoid having to swim too much!
But, not what was bark stripping... by which time we had three cameras watching a twenty-five square metre section of stream...
so I contacted Martin of Wildlife & Countryside Services, the supplier of two of our photographic traps and our Wildlife Accoustics bat detector...
and a very useful source of advice....
who came right back with a probably cause... temperature...
beaver swim with only the nose and a flat area between that and their ears...
out of the water...
so as it emerges to feed, the temperature difference between animal and water...
is too little to trigger the PIR on the camera... try different positions!!
AND, bingo....

Yes, a beaver.... right outside the kitchen window...
... we were probably still up!!  And it is thanks to Simon that we've got these stills to insert...

.... yes, a positive sighting of beaver!!

These are European Beaver [Castor fiber galliae] Castor d'Europe....
and are genuine French ones, not Polish as I had read...
the reintroduction was from a remnant population on the Rhône.
Pauline immediately reported the wood chewing evidence on Faune Touraine...
back dated, which is quite normal....
whilst I tried to get a still from the video... nothing I had would play ball... or were programs I haven't had the chance to play with [learn]... but, again help was on hand in the form of Simon of LVTT and Days on the Claise who, after some Dropboxery and his preferred program... lifted out a couple of stills that Pauline reported the sighting with on Saturday night.... it would have to be the First of April!!
But we've supplied the photographic evidence along with the record....
so hopefully no "no you didn't" emails from the moderators on Faune Touraine...
probably thinking "Mon Dieu... it's those damned Anglais again!"

Pauline also had emailed Yohann the River Technician....who Susan posted about in December [an interesting read about a difficult job in itself].... during the afternoon to let him know... he came back with the nearest to us he'd seen activity was near Gatault... only about 2 kilometres from us downstream... so, as they have a multi-kilometre territory when confined to a stream, it/they have probably been going up and down quite regularly... or are doing so now? Looking at the grey wood on the largest stump, they've been here for at least three years it takes around that long to colour... and I hadn't noticed any damage before that....

The bright bits just as the shadow starts are teeth marks from the lower jaw.

BUT we may have also blown the myth that ragondin only eat bark when they are desperate... we got three videos where one particularly large animal stripped and ate the bark.... the tail said coypu, not beaver... unless it was so perfectly "side on" that it appeared the same as a coypu's... but my guess is that coypu will eat nice young bark if it is "presented" to them.

This stretch is perfect for European beavers as... because they burrow... there are plenty of old coypu homes ready to occupy.
It is calm and quiet, assorted different depths of water, too, so an underwater entrance would be easily maintained... even in the driest of summers.
We will keep watching... and feeding... our beaver(s) and add more information as and when!!

Here is the actual video of the beaver... uploaded via Blogger, so invisible on Safari and on Apple machines even if you are using Firefox, sorry....


video

And a much better picture of the tooth marks on the branch...

Yes, it does look dry... I rescued it before the branch broke at that point completely...
it is now strapped to a length of roofing lath as it has almost broken at the thinnest point.
Now... if that isn't natural news for us, I don't know what is!
We keep getting surprised!!

Monday, 3 April 2017

News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert,

News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert

Exciting news will be appearing here later today!!
____________________________________

....on a more mundane level, the moth trap has had two runs so far this year....
....the ducks are looking for somewhere to nest....

....and we have a nest of vipers....
....actually no... a nest of viperine snakes... coulevres viperines...
a relative of the grass snake.

Monday, 27 March 2017

One man went to mow...

...went to mow a meadow! At the moment in my case, it is one man and his cat to follow on.

We have around two hectares to mow....
that's around five acres in English money...
and the grass needs to be removed...
to lower the fertility and allow the weaker species to grow more successfully...
and hamper the efforts of  les orties* [nettles].

To mow we have "Betsy"...
our big two-wheel tractor with its 53" cutter bar.
To rake we have me and a Bulldog wooden rake...
so at the moment we slowly get a field full of humps and rows that become humps....
and humps that become bigger humps....
and so on....
and on!


Driving Betsy... the grimace is obligatory (as is the hat!)

When Betsy arrived she wasn't heavy enough at the cutter bar, so a cut of around three inches...
[or fifteen centimetres... I am of old measure]...
became a one foot high trim whenever the wheel hit a molehill.
It was very tiring to use and left me aching...
then the suppliers, Trackmaster, sent me two weights to attach to the bar and all changed...
she still bucks at humps but it is easier to get the front down again and she is, overall, more controllable...
which is vital when working near the willows!!
And I have since added a pair of large, wide skids... as those that are supplied as standard, just cut deep two-inch furrows!!



It is a big meadow.... this is the smaller bit....

The other reason for being able to mow large areas quickly and easily is that the meadow has Creeping Thistle [Cirsium arvense] Chardon des champs...
which needs to be kept cut before it flowers and the wind dispersed seed blows everywhere.
This is what the Wildlife Trusts have to say on the subject
.

So you can see that it would not be beneficial to the birds to eradicate it completely...
not that I think I could!!
And, in 2016, thanks to the Barn Owl Trust and Mammal Society....
and Pauline's research....
the mowing regime has changed yet again... but that will be another post!


The selected areas of nettles [*les orties] that I am mowing are to reduce their competition with the grass.
I have no intention of trying to win the that battle either as...
[1] we want the butterflies that use nettle as a foodplant for the young... and
[2] we use the nettles as fertilizer and occasionally as food.
Well, that's my excuse, anyhows!!

Still mowing.... here at least you can see one of the paths along the edge of the bief (millstream).
Betsy is manufactured in Italy by part of the Ferrari works and moves at walking pace...
so I'm driving one of the slowest Ferraris on the planet....
but there is a big advantage with that...
we are working the land for the wildlife it contains and being able to stop instantly and walk forward to inspect for nests when birds fly up is a great help...
also, by cutting the grass and not chopping it with a flail or a whirling blade, allows the grass to fall aside and allows small beasts to fly, walk, run away.

Occasionally I get flying voles...
these rocket out of the grass and run along on the top, before diving back into the sward...
when they run ahead, this is usually repeated a few seconds later.


One of the first 'humps' is visible to my right in this picture.... it grew as the year wore on....
and had finished at around this height when I mowed through it last week.
We will be able to harvest compost from the bigger of these piles.

Betsy has another attachment...
a big wood-chipper that can handle up to three inch trunks....
but that's yet another posting.

/|________________________________________________|\

* Les Orties = The Nettles
(Thank you Susan for the correction.  
[The Nettles is a Celtic band - J.Nettles is an actor])