a french garden


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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.

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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

 


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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.

 


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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.


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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!


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Hoopoe rescue

My solitary lapwing is still visiting.  He has now trained me to re-hydrate dry puppy  food and put this outside the living room door.  I hope he appreciates them as much as the other birds do.

The glacial weather continues in this normally clement area of France, it was -13 C this morning at 8 a.m.  I am spending more time beside our log burning “insert” – a closed log fire that in addition warms the air by a heat exchange system. I am wondering if it is our house in particular or if all houses have their share of unexpected visitors.

My lapwing makes me think of a summer visitor to the garden who also has an elegant crest – the hoopoe (Upupa epops) or huppe.  One in particular, paid us a visit last year – entering via the insert.  This is in itself quite a feat as the insert is not open like a normal fireplace but blocked by a heavy metal plate.  Returning home one afternoon at the end of April last year we were alerted by a scuttling noise emanating from the insert.  When we opened the glass door a hoopoe was perched in the far corner on top of the cinders which luckily dated from some days earlier!

He looked amazingly smart for something that had just come down a chimney.  My husband happily took up the challenge to retrieve him and enjoy the rare opportunity to have a hoopoe in his hand.

 

The hoopoe looks such an exotic bird with its colourful markings and retractable crown feathers.  We had often seen them from afar and we were even more impressed with its markings and regal composure when we had the opportunity to view it so closely.  Not wishing to cause it distress we quickly released it into the front garden.

He took flight and shook off the inconveniences and affronts of falling down a chimney and being handled by a human with regal aplomb and looked down at us from the telephone wire with the hauteur of regard suitable for such a magnificent bird towards mere earthlings.


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The solitary lapwing

During the past few days I have noticed a solitary lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) in our front garden.  I found this rather strange as I have only seen them previously in flocks during cold weather in the nearby fields.  I admit to having a special fondness for them as they recall my childhood following my father on his fishing trips in the west of Scotland.  There too they were in flocks and I loved to hear their distinctive cry which gives them their common name of peewits.

Being unsure of their habits I checked with the RSBP website and sure enough they do flock on farmland and ploughed fields.  So what was a single one doing in our garden day after day?

The worrying aspect of this is that his chosen “patch” is just outside our living room door (glass door).  He appears to be looking in forlornly from the sub-zero outside while I sit comfortable beside my log fire.  It seems as if I am refusing entry to  a reticent guest.

I warn myself of the dangers of transferring human emotions to animals with no ability to feel them.  After all that patch of the lawn is now clear of snow and I have seen the blackbirds feeding on it so the lapwing must be doing likewise. Then he walks past the window again and stands one leg as if he is trying to warm up the other one.

I really must get out more.