a french garden


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We give Nature a home…usually

We plant flowers that all the bees like – not just the honey bees.

It is not too difficult finding the flowers for us and the bees.

I love Wisteria and it was good to see that a female blackbird has chosen the Wisteria growing on the wall of our outbuilding to make a nest.

Another blackbird has chosen to nest in a cherry tree in the back garden.  (A blackbird nesting in a cherry tree?  Not much hope for our cherries.)

Some accommodation is specially made and it is not only this Anthophora that has made use of this bee house.

The Barn Owls have taken to their adapted trunk high up in the outhouse.

Some accommodation, like the window shutter, is improvised and is a home for the Barbastelle bat.

Of course, good accommodation includes bathing facilities, much appreciated by the Redstarts.

However, when a swallow chose our living room it received a resounding shout of “Out!”, and the doors were firmly kept closed until it had chosen another nest site.

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Not such a daft old bat

Sadly our annual bat visitor left us two days ago.  It was sad to look and find an empty space behind the shutter.  I checked the shutter on the other side of the French door but I knew he did not like that side.  No bat on the wall or on the shutters.

Then it occurred to me that it had started to rain two days ago.  So Kourosh was duly dispatched to the atelier with a torch because if anyone could find a needle in a haystack it would be him.

So, not very far away from where he had roosted last year, our bat had remember that there was a good place to shelter in inclement weather.

It does mean that the photographs are not so good as he is quite high up and the angle of the photograph is directly underneath him.

I’m glad he has not left us yet.  The weather is forecast to improve next week.

 


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Do bats sunbathe?

What a ridiculous question!  It is a well known fact that bats like hanging about in dark places like belfries or caves.  In fact, our bat gave up his usual place behind the front door shutter last year to hang in the atelier when it was very wet.

So I was surprised yesterday, as I was enjoying sunshine and temperatures in the lower 20’s, that the bat looked as if it was doing the same thing!

Bats in France often find shelter in old quarries or disused railway tunnels so perhaps, after a winter of hanging about in places like that, a nice bit of sunshine on the back of your neck feels really good.

He often moves up and down the wall behind the shutter during the day but he had moved half-way out from behind the shutter, and because the sun was shining in from the side, his whole body was in the sunshine.  He must have been very hot because I could not have sat out in the sunshine in a black fur coat!

So perhaps sunbathing bats are more common than we think.

 

 

 


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Return to the garden in March

After two weeks of holidays we were happy to see the garden again but it was at a slow, measured pace we gave the garden its customary “so good to see you” check over.  We have returned with a ‘flu the like of which we have not suffered from in many a year.

Even the dandelion clocks in the grass look good.

There is more red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) than grass but that suits the Anthophora and bumble bees.  The Anthophora fly very quickly but look very similar to fluffy grey bumble bees – only there are no grey bumble bees (in France, anyway).

The Hyacinths where we sit at the front of the house smell delicious, overcoming our poor sense of smell at the moment and kindling the hope that soon all will return to normal.

We have missed the main pollen fest from the big willow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden.

All kinds of bees are still visiting the tree.

There seems to be plenty to satisfy the needs of all comers.

The Hellebores have done well this year and are constantly visited by the bees.

In the vegetable garden the broad beans are doing well and are very attractive to all sorts of solitary bees.

I wish I could have stayed looking longer as I saw these two almost immediately.

Certainly the wild bees are wherever you look.

Our apricot trees are flowering and I am sure will be well pollinated but whether the weather will allow us to have apricots this year remains to be seen.  Temperatures of 21 degrees yesterday and 23 degrees today are warm for this time of year and we can have frosts up until May.

But the one thing that lifted our spirits was to find “our” Barbastelle bat was waiting for us on our return.  He had taken up his usual position behind our living room shutters.  He is only little, I would estimate about six centimetres from the back of his body to the tip of his head.  He has been visiting us annually for about four years now and we look forward to his visits, see “Many Happy Returns” for last year’s visit.

I find him very attractive and he does not seem to mind me taking photographs although I try to be as rapid as possible as it does disturb his beauty sleep.

 


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Jumping spiders!

I think most of you will have seen the great video by Jürgen Otto’s of the jumping spider Maratus speciosus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_yYC5r8xMI.  It is coming up on six million views now.  I really like some of the other ones that are set to music like the YMCA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYIUFEQeh3g which always makes me laugh.

However, I had never expected to see a jumping spider waving its legs at me in real life.  Especially not on the dining room table.

saitis-barbipes-2

I would like to point out here that it is only 5mm. and apart from scuttling very rapidly – it can jump.

saitis-barbipes-1

Even a bad photograph is better than none as I am not sure whether I would have believed it myself since the famous Maratus spider is a native of Australia.

Working back with the help of Wiki I found out that there is a large family of Salicidae or Jumping spiders and there are members of this family present in Europe.  My spider bears a striking resemblance to Saitis-barbipes which is present in France.

I feel rather favoured that he waved his fluffy orange legs at me before skilfully disappearing under the books and papers on the table.


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May orchids at St-Maurice-de-Tavernoles

Path to orchids

It was a warm sunny day with a partly covered sky when I finally went to see the path of the orchids at St-Maurice-de-Tavernole.  I’ve had the intention of going since I was given the beautiful guide “Les Orchidée Sauvage” of the Haute-Saintonge which is available free, thanks to the funding from the Communauté de Communes de la Haut-Saintonge but I always seemed to miss the season.

The path did not look too promising and the whole area was deserted.  So I thought it unlikely that I could find any, armed only with the small guide.

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Anacamptis pyramidalis

In fact, my greatest problem was trying not to stand on any!  I had seen pyramid orchids before, one had even appeared in our own garden.

Neotinea ustulata

Neotinea ustulata

I think this is a burnt orchid, named for the dark colour at the top of the flower but I am only using the guide as I have no experience.

Orchis purpurea

Orchis purpurea

I think this is a purple orchid but naming orchids is not really for beginners.  In addition, it is a frequent occurrence that orchids form hybrids in the wild.

Orphys scolopax

Orphys scolopax

This looks like Woodcock orchid which is very similar to Bee orchids except for the little green beard or mucron.  They can form hybrids with other orchids such as the bee orchids, fly orchids or spider orchids.

Orphys insectifera

Orphys insectifera

I had always wondered what a fly orchid looked like and I think it is a good enough lure to attract flies or other insects to attempt a copulation and thereby allow them to dump their sticky pollen sacs onto the insects head.

Orphys aranifera

Orphys aranifera

I was a little disappointed with the spider orchid as I had expected it more “spidery” but I must admit that the lobe of the orchid does look like the body of a spider.

Orchis anthropophora

Orchis anthropophora

The “hanged man” orchid has a very sinister name for such a beautiful flower.  I have to point out that these names are direct translations from the French common names and could quite well have different common names in other languages.

Unknown

Unknown

I could not find a name for this one.  Maybe I am not looking closely enough or perhaps it is a hybrid.

It was an amazing visit even seeing the masses of orchids was something I had not thought possible – and we were all on our own.  Perhaps there are more visitors during the weekend but it seemed a site worth sharing.

View from the Orchid Path

View from the Orchid Path

The path seems more like a long thin island with the vestiges of nature clinging on to their permitted territory but surrounded by fields tilled by man for man.

I had noticed a lack of insect activity which I put down to the isolation of the natural area but as I was leaving I came across two bees that made my day.

Eucera longicornis

Eucera longicornis is a beautiful bee and the male has extremely long antenna and it was interesting to find him with the orchids as he is reputed to be one of the bees duped into pseudo-copulation with the bee orchid.

Shrill Carder bee

I also heard the Shrill Carder bee queen – something I had wanted to hear since reading “A Sting in the Tale” by Dave Goulson (See Chez Les Bourdons).

Our bee orchid

To complete the day of surprises I got home to find a Bee orchid (Orphys apifera) struggling over the top of the stone edge to the front border, fighting its way through emerging (unwanted) Lily of the Valley.

Covered bee orchid

I was also able to find another that had appeared last year struggling through some spreading bulbs.

Uncovered bee orchid

I did mark my last year’s orchid but obviously it needs a larger marker but now I have given it some light I hope it will survive.  It does show that they are coming up every year in the same place (unless I choke them) and also there is a new one that has seeded itself.  Strangely, I did not notice any bee orchids on the Orchid Path.

I must re-visit the Orchid Path to see the later orchids and bring a picnic as there was a small picnic table available.  There was also much more to see in the way of other wild flowers.

 

 


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Honey Bees

It was all the fault of our beekeeper friend Michel who had me hooked on bees.   Every time he visited our garden, he kept telling me: ‘There, you can place a hive…. and over there another….in fact you have room for several hives near the river and just outside the wooded area.’

Looking at the garden through the wooded area

Looking at the garden through the forest walk

In January we bought the first and then the second hive and Amelia lovingly painted them and decorated them.  In a normal year Michel would have given me a swarm, but this was not a normal year, and he had lost far too many of his own hives.  So after waiting and waiting – and I am not a patient man – I phoned all over the place to buy a swarm.  It proved difficult, but eventually I found someone who promised to sell me a swarm, but not before end of May.

Then the first  May Swarm arrived.  I was delighted, especially as it directly entered the little ruchette (six frames mini hive) that I had placed on top of the old chicken coop.  Later in May it was transferred to its permanent hive, now named Cornucopia, because of the horn of plenty that Amelia had painted on it.

Oh, well, I thought that plus the swarm I had ordered we should have enough on our hands.  But the bees had another thought in mind.  One sunny Friday afternoon in early June More bees arrived, this time in the little ruchette above our main house. The second swarm were named Violet, after the little violets that Amelia had painted on their destined hive.

A few days later I set off to my rendez-vous in the Périgueux region to collect the swarm that I had ordered.  Michel accompanied me as I must admit that being actually allergic to bee stings, I was somewhat nervous travelling back the 220 km (135 miles) with a car full of bees.

It was an idyllic spot for anyone and a lovely place to keep bees as well as his horses.  The rolling hills where surrounded by forests and farmlands.  He told us that he had in all over 100 hives.

Beekeeper's house near  Périgueux

Beekeeper’s house near Périgueux

We loaded the hive with the promised black bees (Perigueux Noir) and drove back full of excitement.  Back at home we opened the hive and let the bees discover their new home.  However, our excitement somewhat evaporated as we discovered that the bottom board was not fully aerated and in our hot summers that was something that we urgently needed to change.

We had to wait a couple of days for the ladies to settle down.  Then Amelia and I armed ourselves with the necessary tools and the smoker to investigate the hive properly.  The second problem was that lifting the top outer cover, we saw that the top inner cover consisted of a piece of very old plywood simply nailed to the brood box.  Carefully I removed the nails and lifted the entire hive to place it on a new fully aerated bottom board.  When we lifted the body of the hive, one of the frames dropped through the bottom of the hive.  We had no choice but smoke the poor creatures and open the hive.  Once we lifted the old frame, we saw that it was very old decayed Langstroth frame with the support ends rotted away.  We also noticed that there were no waxed sheets on the frames but the bees had started making their own honeycomb wax.  We did what we could, namely replacing the broken frame with a new waxed one and replaced the bottom board and the top inner as well as the outer cover which also was broken and looked like a museum piece.  So the moral of the story was never buy swarms from strangers, no matter how friendly they might appear.

Nevertheless, we named this hive of black bees as Poppy as we had noticed them returning to the hive with black pollen, distinctive of the poppies in the garden, as well as yellow pollen.

A week later Michel came over so that with his experienced eyes we could inspect the ruchette Violet and see if they could be transferred to their permanent home.  We also hoped to examine the new arrival from Périgueux, as it was clear to us that they were not a big colony.  Task one was accomplished very successfully and we even managed to see her majesty Queen Violet.

Queen Viollet

Queen Violet

She had already made a sizeable brood on at least two of the frames.

Violet - 1st Inspection

Violet – 1st Inspection

The inspection of the hive Poppy confirmed our original feelings that the colony was indeed quite small.  The good news was that they had started making a small area of brood cells on an old frame.  Nothing too exciting, but not having seen her queen we had to content ourselves with that.

Poppy first Inspection

Poppy first Inspection

We scheduled a second inspection a week later.  That proved much more exciting.

Firstly the hive Cornucopia was doing so well that we had to place a honey super on the hive.  Opening Poppy we saw that indeed there was a sizeable brood area on at least two frames.   Although we had placed a ruchette on the old chicken coop in case we had to replace Poppy, things looked more hopeful for Poppy.

Poppy second inspection

Poppy second inspection

Violet was doing admirably with classic areas of brood cells  on both sides of several frames.

Violet second inspection

Violet second inspection

She was duly transferred frame by frame from her ruchette to her beautiful new home

Violet transfer to hive

Violet transfer to hive

We returned towards the house when I pointed out to Michel that there were a fair number of bees again around another ruchette on the old chicken coop.  Michel walked closer for a closer look: ‘You have a new swarm’.’  There bees all over the tiles on the roof.

June Swarm

June Swarm

I had promised Amelia that I will not keep more than three hives, but at the end it was not me that chose the bees but they chose us.

We have chosen the name of Sunflower for the newly arrived swarm as the arrived the week that the sunflowers have opened up.

L to R: Sunflower; cornucopia; Poppy; and Violet

L to R: Sunflower; cornucopia; Poppy; and Violet

The forest of sweet chestnut trees are less than half a mile from our garden and they are still in flower; the sunflowers in the field across the road have not yet opened, but other sunflower fields have opened only just a few hundred yards away.  Around the numerous forest, not far, there are plenty of brambles in flower.  So, I hope that we can keep our bees happy and more importantly healthy, and I hope that they will like Amelia’s French garden as much as we do.

– Kourosh