a french garden


14 Comments

Garden Birds

The real hot days of summer (la canicule) are behind us.  Amelia and I found that this summer with the temperatures often between 35 and 40 degrees Centigrade, we were sitting less in the garden.  Oh, well, I told her, it is a good excuse to go to the beach!

asters

Now in late September it is milder and we can attend to the neglected tasks in the garden.  And to admire the autumn flowers and of course to sit down for a cup of coffee.

front garden

Our garden is usually very peaceful, except for the chattering of the birds.  But the garden would surely not be the same without the birds.

When we first bought this house we had very few visiting birds.  Now I am amazed with the variety of the birds.  They all need water, and so we have placed several watering havens for the bees and the birds.

The hoopoe has become a regular summer visitor to the garden.

Hoopoe

The green woodpecker made a bright splash of colour in the garden.  It is the first year that I have seen the woodpecker in the front garden.

woodpecker 1

The Redstarts have remained one of my favourite birds.  This year they occupied four nests that I had made for them and they raised at least four young ones in each nest!  We get both the black Redstarts as well as the common Redstarts.

red start 1

Birds require plenty of water, not only to drink but to keep their feathers clean and their antics in the trough provide us with lots of amusement.  We  see Redstarts taking their bath almost every day at the moment.

red start 2

I am almost sure that they actually enjoy frolicking in the water as much as my granddaughter used to do.

baby sparrow 1

The sparrow make their nest under the eaves, and I am sure that they must have had three broods this year.  Like all baby animals, they too look cute.

baby sparrow 2

But without a doubt, my favourite, at least for this year, is the warbler (I believe it is the melodious warbler).

Sometimes we have mistaken it for a sparrow as it is shy and moves away quickly, but its fine beak is a give-away.  The warbler has also started taking bath, but it is a quick dip in and out.

A couple of year ago, from a holiday in Malta, we brought with us a few seeds of what I call the giant fennel.  It has grown to well over two metres high and its flowers certainly attracted the bees.  Now in seeds, it seems to attract the warbler.

warbler 3

We shall certainly try to replant it next year, if nothing else to make sure that this beautiful bird keeps coming to our garden.

IMG_0149

– Kourosh


7 Comments

Redstarts Breaking News

A few days ago, coming out of the back room from the kitchen I noticed that the red-start had thrown out a tiny broken egg shell.

IMG_0196

I was quite excited hoping that the birds would let me have a quick look.  But, as both the male and female guard their nest, I am reluctant to disturb them too much.

Three days later, I did get my chance, as I saw the female returned with a caterpillar and then a few minutes later she left the nest,  So I rushed to have a look.  All five babies must have thought their mummy is back

IMG_0126

Kourosh


20 Comments

A Regulus ignicapillus in the hand

Back door

Our dining room faces onto a small patio facing the front garden.  Water and food is placed on the patio for the birds to eat, drink, bathe and generally frolic for our amusement summer and winter.

We get large numbers of sparrows and tits with the flock mentality of one for all.  This means that when one is startled they all take off en mass.  Sometimes the startled birds lose their sense of direction and we occasionally hear a tell tale knock on the window.  Usually, they fly off but sometimes they are stunned.

IMG_0004

The other day we heard the fateful rap on the window and ran to check that all was well.  A stunned bird was lying on the patio, so I picked it up and even I with my limited birding knowledge realised that it was not a sparrow.

Firecrest

It was completely stunned so Kourosh quickly took a few photographs and then dashed off for a cardboard box.  He found a conveniently small one and I placed the bird in the box and closed the lid and left it in a quiet place.  A couple of hours later we heard a scrabbling from inside the box.  We opened the box outside at the back of the house and the bird flew directly into the trees.

The dark box treatment is the best course to take to prevent a stunned bird from freezing in the winter or dehydrating in the sun of the summer.

Next we had to find out what it was!  I thought it might be a Goldcrest (the smallest British bird – I’m not sure why that stuck in my mind.)  I was on the right track though – it is in fact a Firecrest.  I think I have heard it in the back garden, it has a very distinctive call, you can listen to it here http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/roitelet.triple-bandeau.html

My book on the birds of the Charente-Maritime calls it the Roitelet triple-bandeau and says that it nests in this region but can also migrate in winter.  It also identifies her as a female, the male having a bright orange stripe instead of the females more yellow stripe on the head.  I hope her disagreement with our window does not put her off nesting in the garden or visiting the patio.


44 Comments

Is It Spring yet?

Recently we have had a few rainy days and the mornings were misty.  I have, therefore, been a the little late feeding our visitors with whom we share our garden.  I was not talking about the bees for once, but the birds.  Before Amelia and I even finish our breakfast, they gather outside our dining room hoping that I would hurry up and feed them.

sparrows waiting for breakfast

Eventually, I tell Amelia, I will go and feed the birds before I have my second cup of tea.

Sparrows

The blue tits are my favourite – but don’t tell that to the sparrows; they might get jealous!  The blue tit waits in the olive tree for her chance.

Blue tit in the olive tree

Lately we have another little visitor, but that one can not fly.  He also comes to take his share of the breakfast.

little mouse

Amelia is always telling me off for leaving too much seed on the ground.  But honestly, it is not my fault.  You might not believe that these little birds eat five kilos (over 11 pounds!) of seeds each week.  If I forget they literally tap on the window or sit outside the French windows begging!

I know that this is not a brilliant picture, but the wren – another of my favourite birds – has found a little hollow in the ash tree outside the study.

Wren

Forgive me for another poor quality photo, but recently each time we have entered the so-called atelier, Amelia and I have heard more noise coming from the barn owl house.  So, my curiosity got better of me and I climbed the ladder and stuck my camera rapidly in the entrance and had a quick shot.  There you are.  Our owl visitor has brought his girl friend to share his studio flat.

pair of Barn owls in the barn

I had been warned and I withdrew my hand rapidly just as the male flew out touching my sleeve.  As at that time I was not sure what picture, if any, I had managed to take, I had another sneaky shot. The female was there giving me a cold shoulder and hopefully guarding her precious eggs.

Barn owl (female)

So, the bees and the birds are all getting ready for the new season.  Our plum tree started to blossom just as February commenced.

Plum tree in blossom

I know it is too early, but often I like to walk to the bottom of our garden, beyond the beehives, in the woodland walk along the river Seudre, and I imagine that the winter is over.  The river bank under the canopy of trees reminds me of Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,

Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring,

And gentle odours led my steps astray,

Mixed with a sound of waters murmuring

Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay

Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling

Its green arms round the bosom of the stream,

But kissed it and then fled, as thou mightest in dream.

– Kourosh

 


27 Comments

Give Nature a Home

We have a RSPB sticker on the car that says “Give Nature a Home” but we mean in our garden.

Tit under fireplace

Today this young Great Tit (Parus major) appeared in the living room under the fireplace.  I’ve no idea how it got in, probably when the French windows were open.

Juvenile tit in hand

He was quickly scooped up and taken outside.

tit pecks finger

He was quite perky enough to peck the finger that was trying to rescue him and he was left near the feeding station where he would see the other birds.  There are no cats to worry about and he quickly hid in a clump of Alyssum by the wall.  So far, so good.  However, I could not resist checking to see if he had flown off a few minutes later.

He was still there and I gave him a fright.  He broke cover went to the left and fell down the well!

Tit comes out of well

It is not easy to recover a fledgling Great Tit from an old well with lots of nooks and crannies to hide in but he was eventually caught.

Tit in rose

This time he was placed high on the rose bush opposite the feeding station.

Tit sits in rose

Just stay in the garden and out of houses and deep wells.

 


8 Comments

La pigeonnière

A lot of birds come into the garden.  Some visit only seasonally, others are here all year round.  At the moment two couples of collared doves honour us with their presence and one pair has nested high in an old elm in the back garden.

My grandfather kept pigeons or “doos” as they are called in Scotland, which he also raced.  His pigeon loft was neat and practical but a far cry from the beautiful dovecots in the “chocolate box” pictures of an English country garden.  I prefer my pigeons and doves free but they have been associated with man from the beginning of civilisation and have been housed in varieties of different structures all over the world.  I have admired many dovecotes in beautiful gardens in the UK and seen pigeonnières and colombiers in France.   “La pigeonnière” is usually associated with other buildings such as a château whilst  “le colombier” is more frequently an isolated structure or dovecot , the columbine being French for dove.

It was only recently that I was able to go into the ruins of a seventeenth century pigeonnière near here at the Domaine de Seudre (http://www.domaineduseudre.com/).  Previous visits to their restaurant had been in the evening and I was impatient to see what the inside of the pigeonnière looked like.

It was not at all what I had imagined.

When I saw the terracotta jars (cruches) I wondered if I had mistaken the purpose of the tower.  I had expected to see ledges or little boxes.

I asked the Mme. Cardineau, the proprietor, about the pigeonnière and she assured me that it was a traditional style, built using the terracotta pots for the pigeons to nest in and that although they were deep the pigeons were very clean and would keep their nests clean.  The fertiliser that they recovered from the floors of the pigeonnière was very important for the crops of the estate.  I have discovered that another word for this fertiliser is “la columbine” which seems such a beautiful word when you compare it with a lot of English words that we might replace it with!

Not everyone was authorised to keep pigeons, it was a right only granted to a noble  “lord” or “seigneur” of the correct social standing and who possessed a large estate.  It was explained that the right was given to keep one pair of pigeons for every “are” of land in the estate.  An “are” was roughly the amount of land one labourer could work in a day .

In addition, the workers on the estate were given a pigeon a week for food.  The pigeons were certainly a blessing providing food and fertiliser but they could also ravage the crops in search of food and the pigeonnières were sometimes enclosed to keep the pigeons inside when crops were being sown.

They were also a ready reckoner to calculate the wealth of the nobleman.  In the sixteenth century the pigeonnière  would still have been under feudal rules which limited the number of pigeons a nobleman could keep according to the size of his land and so the size of the pigeonnière was a direct guide to the wealth and standing of its owner.  Of course, the pigeonnières often faired better than the fortunes of their owners and this has given rise to the French expression “se faire pigeoner” which means to be cheated or “conned”.  For instance, a prospective suitor might be persuaded that the family he was marrying into was wealthier than he estimated by looking at the size of their pigeonnière.

Today the pigeonnières have fallen into disuse and you are more likely to find tourists living in renovated ones than pigeons living in the real thing.


3 Comments

A bird in the hand

One has a tendency to marvel at nature, at the wonderful accomplishments of simple creatures.

But let’s face it – they make mistakes too.

In my opinion it was all the sparrows fault.  They have a tendency to flock down on the patio and then when one decides to leave the others all fly off frequently sowing panic amongst the other birds.  My poor robin must have been startled and misjudged his trajectory on taking flight.  Luckily, I heard the bump and went out immediately to retrieve the unconscious ball of feathers.

He was treated to the dark box in a quiet place therapy.  I think a lot of birds must succumb when left motionless in the cold.  Yesterday it took less than an hour before the robin was back on his feet. He was able to fly from the box on ground level to perch on a phone line high above the ground before heading to a favourite bush to take cover.

I do like stories with happy endings!