Comet Neowise – Take 2

Last night I could not resist trying for an improved photograph of the comet Neowise.

I felt this would be a “historic” photograph for the garden, so the camera is pointing straight down the middle of the back garden.  I ramped up the ISO to 6,400, opened the lens to f4 and held the shutter open for 17 seconds.  This time gave me the most pleasing photo.

Strangely, the comet was more difficult to see with the naked eye last night although I think the photograph is better.

It is just as well we don’t have comets too frequently because I do not think I could cope with going to bed at 1 a.m. on a regular basis.

A secret corner of paradise

I will share with you the secret of a little corner of paradise!

It seems, in any case, to be a secret, for when Amelia and I mention lake Carcans-Maubuisson to most of our French friends, they claim that they have never heard of it.  They all tell me that the largest lake in France is Lake Annecy (Lac d’Annecy) in the Haute-Savoie.  But lake Annecy covers an area of 27.5 square kilometers.  Lake Geneva, admittedly is large (580 Sq Km), but it is only partially in France.  Lake Carcans-Maubuisson or sometimes referred to as Hourtin-Carcans, depending on the leaflet of which tourist office you look at, is indeed the largest inland lake, entirely in France.  It covers an area of 56.67 square kilometers, and is just 50 Km west of Bordeaux in the Aquitaine region of France.

Lake Carcans Maubuisson to the North and Lake Lacanu below it.  The Atlantic Ocean on the left.
Lake Carcans Maubuisson to the North and Lake Lacanau below it. The Atlantic Ocean on the left.

Just on the Southern shores of the lake is the little town of Maubuisson, with its main Boulevard du Lac running along the shore.

Lake Carcans- Maubuisson
Lake Carcans- Maubuisson

Amelia and I escape to this little corner of paradise whenever the windsurfing fever takes us, or we just feel that we need a little relaxation from weeding and looking after Amelia’s ‘afrenchgarden’.

I love to just sit on the terrace of the café ‘Le Bord’eau’ and have a cup of coffee.

Le Bord 'eau
Le Bord ‘eau

I often look across the bay and watch the boats, the catamarans, and the windsurfers sailing across the lake.

Water sports heaven
Water sports heaven

We went to Maubuisson on 2nd of September but the French holiday season had finished.    The temperature was between 28 degrees Centigrade (82 F) and 34 Centigrade (93 F).  The water was warm and there were only a small number of holiday makers, mostly locals on the beach.

30 degrees and the summer is over!
30 degrees and the summer is over!

As we swam in the lake damselflies and dragonflies skimmed over the lake and sandy shore.

Azure Damselfly -(Coenagrion puella)
Azure Damselfly -(Coenagrion puella)

Amelia drew my attention to a pair of azure damselflies at ‘it’, on the sand.  Even during mating they appeared to indicate that they too loved Maubuisson .

Azure Damselflies mating (Coenagrion puella)
Azure Damselflies mating (Coenagrion puella)

We took a stroll in the weekly street market and watched the regional products on display.

Home-made Pate
Home-made Pate on sale

The Basque family  (Euskadi is their own name for Basque) were selling cheese and home made cakes.

Basque (Euskadi) cheese and cake
Basque (Euskadi) cheese and cake

The little Basque girl would be at school in a few days, but today she was helping mum.

Basque girl in the market
Basque girl in the market

The fishmonger was displaying beautiful fresh fish and his stall was certainly very popular.

Fishmonger in the market
Fishmonger in the market

The little dog waited patiently and hopefully.

Fish for dinner?
Fish for dinner?

There were several stalls selling local and regional handicraft: pottery, clothes and jewelry.

Local jewelry
Local jewelry

I mentioned that there are two lakes in that area.  To the North is the lake Carcans-Maubuisson and below that is lake Lacanau.  There is, however another little jewel in between these two lakes and that is lake Cousseau.

Lake Cousseau
Lake Cousseau

It is a nature reserve and can only be reached on foot or on bicycle.  The lake, now covering some 6 square kilometers,  was formed some 3000 years ago after the last ice age came to an end.  Initially lake Cousseau was joined to its sister lakes on the North and the South, but as the water receded, the area around the lake became, as it is today, a marshland ideal for the wildlife.

Lake Cousseau and its marshland
Lake Cousseau and its marshland

Whilst I enjoyed the absolute peace and beauty of the countryside, Amelia was busy (bee-sy?) taking macro photos of the bees , the damselflies, and the butterflies.

Amelia relaxing (I think) in the nature reserve.
Amelia relaxing (I think) in the nature reserve.

Along the path back from the lake I did see the white-tailed bumble bees gorging themselves on the heather.  This one’s pollen sac was so heavy that I wondered how she could fly.

White-tailed bumble bee on heather
White-tailed bumble bee on heather

It is rare in our area of the Charente-Maritime to see and hear the cicadas (Cicadidae).  But the Gironde region is that little bit more south. I could hear many cicadas singing in the hot mid-day , but when I looked carefully I eventually spotted him (or her?)


I found it difficult to photograph the little insect, but hopefully the very short video clip  (only 12 seconds) is more demonstrative as the cicada moves down along the bark of the tree.  I will not even try to explain how cicadas make their  wonderful sound, since  Sue in her Backyard Biology blog so wonderfully explains and illustrates it.

I looked up beyond the cicada, at the deep blue sky,

blue sky
blue sky

And I thought once again how lucky I was.  As Amelia and I drove back home I recalled the lyrics of an old song:

‘If paradise is half as nice as heaven that you take me to, who needs paradise, I’d rather have you.’

– K

The beekeeper’s car

Bee keepers are full of surprises.

Michel's Renault

The other day our friend Michel turned up to show us his latest project completed.

90 year old Renault

His offer to go for a spin was promptly taken up by my husband and son-in-law Tim.


The dress code was casual!

Renault reversing

I have no interest in cars myself but I was completely seduced by the beautiful cream Renault.

The tour begins in the Renault

A perfect day for a drive in the country, even without your shirt!

Tim's royal wave

Tim gives the royal wave, quickly falling into spirit of the occasion.

Six months of work

Michel has been working on the engine of this ninety year old Renault  for the last six months.

Renault from rear

Aren’t bee keepers clever?



The lilies are doing well this year in the garden.  I am seduced by the cheap packs of bulbs I see in the UK after Christmas.  I haven’t really a plan of where they should go.

Pink lily

Its easier to find a place for them in the winter when you have forgotten what other perennials you have planted and it looks as if the place is empty.  I don’t regret squeezing them in as their perfume is mingling with the second flowering of the Wisteria and filling the garden with perfume.  I never see much interesting life on them: the odd spider or fly – certainly no bees!

Dull moth

I was so surprised to see this dull moth sitting on one of the lilies sipping nectar!

not closeThen I saw the orange flash.  I had never seen a hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) at rest on a flower.

This moth had worked out that it could expend much less energy at rest on the lily and still reach the nectar.

Better hover

He still couldn’t resist the odd hover from time to time.

mmm. so good

The moth spent a few minutes on the lily and seemed to be enjoying it as a nectar source.  I had always thought that the lilies either had poor nectar or they were not recognised as nectar sources because they are “exotic”.

What are other gardeners experiences with lilies?  Do you get interesting critters on your lilies (maybe bees :))?

Do bees have different characters?

On July 10, Sue posted Bird Brains maintaining that birds do have different characters – which I definitely agree with.

Taking things a step further I now wonder if bees have different characters too.  I have just met a bee with attitude.

Anthidium on camera

I must admit that it is really “bee time” over here and I am having plenty of models to take photographs and identify (hopefully).

Anthidium bee on camera lens

Usually they pay little attention to me and I have to follow their movements as they visit the flowers but this one seemed curious of the camera.

Anthidium bee and camera lens

Luckily I had my trusty assistant on hand to photograph my friendly bee.

Anthidium on camera lens

She was certainly not camera shy but had not quite got the idea of posing in an alluring position on a colourful flower.

Anthidium on back of neck

Tired of posing she seemed up for a game of hide-and-seek.  I think she has the advantage over me for this game.


I thought it was time for my trusty assistant to borrow my camera which was equipped with my Macro lens to see if we could get a close up.

Bee kissIsn’t she sweet!  I would call that a bee kiss and we haven’t even exchanged names.

I think she is Anthidium manicatum but I am not too sure about her species name.

Back home

It was good to be back home and back in the garden.  The weather was kind to me and my first day was warm and sunny and I was out first thing to take stock of the garden.

Potager overgrown

It is frightening to see how overgrown the garden gets with some warmth and rain.

Flowering radishes

Even the radishes had flowered!

Flowering leeks

So had the leeks.

Halictus bee in leek

This Halictus bee enjoys the leek flowers as do the bumble bees so I don’t have the heart to cut them down.


I have cleaned up this part of the potager.  A word of warning – do not weed in low rise jeans and a short tee shirt.  I now have nasty sunburn across the lower part of my back.


There is so much to do!  The blackcurrants need picking.


The cherries are just about ready and strangely the birds have left us some this year.  Perhaps because they are not very sweet and don’t have much flavour this year.  I was relieved to hear that other people around have the same complaint so it must be the strange spring we have had.

Reine de Reinette

The Reine de Reinette apple tree has an annoying habit of setting too much fruit so the little ones have to be knocked off so that decent sized fruits mature.  I have two Reine de Reinette trees.

Hydrangea cutting

The Hydrangea cutting K. took from our bush has flowered before we have found it a place and planted it.


The little Salvia my friend Linda gave me at Christmas was put in the trough so that I wouldn’t lose it in the borders.  No need to worry about losing it now!

Anthophora in Salvia

My cute little Anthophora love the Salvia.  They remind me of little koala bears the way they hold onto the flowers.

Halictus species on radish

This is another problem, the bees totally distract me.  they are everywhere and I keep finding different ones.  This Halictus is feeding on the radish flowers.1-IMG_9571

The poppies are everywhere, just like the bees.


The poppies are favourites of tiny Halictus or Lassioglossom bees.

Two bees

They are so tiny you might not realise that they are bees unless you look very closely.


Every time I pass the Nepeta, the bees attract me.  This one is Anthidium florentinum, I think, a new one to the garden.

Bobby James

I try to appreciate the flowers that are almost past like the Bobby James rose that is only getting established now but like a lot of ramblers will only flower once a year.  I’ve entirely missed  my peonies.

Valerian seed

The Valerian is just about over and the seed heads are floating  around the garden and new plants will probably appear next year.  They are very welcome and are a bright addition here and there.

New Dawn

Several of the roses like “Shropshire Lad” have not done well in the cold rainy spring but “New Dawn” above has kept its bright green foliage even though it is not well-situated in a shady area.

Canna leaves

This Canna leaf has me guessing.  I don’t know what has made the holes but if it was moving from right to left it was finding the Canna very nutritious and growing at a steady rate.

There is so much to do in the garden that I despair to getting it back into some semblance of working order.  There are still seedlings to plant out that are flowering in their seed trays but the garden is still beautiful, if unkempt.

My first dinner back home was sea bass caught in the Gironde estuary by K. served with our new potatoes and fresh-picked peas followed by our strawberries for dessert.  It re-enforced the good points of having a garden and I  looked more calmly at the work ahead with a full stomach.

Off the well trodden paths

When I visited Minerve in the Languedoc-Roussillon last week we parked in the visitors car park outside the village which must be reached on foot.  The car park was well designed and the light stream of visitors parked and followed a well-trodden path for their initial view of the beautiful village.  Afterwards they followed the paths to the village pausing to take in the scenery and the atmosphere.

Osmia bee on Cistus
Osmia bee on Cistus

Alongside the path the wild flowers were growing in abundance and the wild bees were out in their numbers.  I think this is a Cistus incanus which is a Mediterranean plant so I’m not sure whether it has arrived here by itself or it is indeed native to this area of southern France.  It is so beautiful and provides the perfect foil for my bee which I think is the same Osmia cornuta which is nesting in my bee hotel in the garden.

Osmia collecting pollen
Osmia collecting pollen

The Osmia do not collect pollen on their legs.  The female Osmia have a brush of pollen-collecting hairs on the underside of their abdomen.

I was engrossed in my bees when I heard a voice from a party returning to the car park and explaining to a child that “The lady was taking pictures of the flowers”.  The child was obviously more interested in what I was doing than admiring the view and I’m sure would have been fascinated with all the bees.  It made me wonder how many people tread the well-trodden path and do not look any further.

After we left Minerve we followed a descending road but stopped at a marked view point.  The view was truly remarkable but when we looked a little further we found an abundance of wild flowers.

Wild thyme
Wild thyme

The bees have plenty of forage at this time of year and were visiting the wild thyme.

Yellow orchid
Yellow orchid

Just off the path were yellow orchids,  Ophrys lutea, I think.

Another yellow orchid.
Another yellow orchid.

Close by was another which I think is the Spider orchid Ophrys aranifera, which doesn’t look to much like a spider to me.

Spotted orchid
Spotted orchid

I’m not even going to try naming this one as orchids are extremely difficult to identify.  Lady Orchid, Orchis purpurea (Please see Susan’s comments beneath.)

Lathyrus cicera
Lathyrus cicera

This beauty was pushing up here and there, not as large or rambling as the sweet peas but just as attractive.

A peach tree had already set fruit testifying to the mild climate of the area.  An almond tree was also in fruit with some of last years fruit still on the ground and edible.

Still, like good tourists we pressed on to our next stop and took in the views until the bees called again.

Honey bee
Honey bee

The cow parsley was attracting lots of bees and other insects.

Nomada sp.
Nomada sp.

This is a cuckoo bee, I cannot be more precise for the species.  These bees do not build their own nests but lay their eggs in the nests of other bees.  Their young will be nourished on the pollen and nectar set aside by other bees, quite like mining bees of the genus Andrena.

I was lured back to the straight and narrow by the promise of an ice cream in the village, so I left the bees and my photographing.  It made me wonder though, how often we follow the well trodden paths and how much we miss in doing so.

Returning home on the motorway we stopped just outside Agen.  The weather was fine and we really needed to stretch our legs.  It was the usual petrol station/restaurant set-up but they seemed to have gone a little bit further than many in France and provided more places to sit and a pleasant play area for the children.  Just across from the play area we found – yes, more orchids.

Purple orchid
Purple orchid

(See comments) Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio

Unkown bud

And this beauty that is just starting to flower. (Tongued orchid, Serapias lingua – see comments)

We don’t have to wait for a signpost or a well trodden path to find something of beauty.

Carcassonne visit

Last Saturday morning we realised that if we did not take the chance to get away for a few days we would have no time to fit it in before I go back to the UK in May to be with the family.  A couple of hours later we had booked our hotel in the Mediaeval Cite of  Carcassonne.

There has been no work done in the garden this week but if you would like to share our visit to Carcassonne – here are some photographs of the places we saw.

The area is really beautiful and we hope to return another time to explore more of the countryside.

Beginning of April

It has been a dull start to April.  Heavy clouds hanging over the garden dulling the colours of the flowers and keeping the bees in their nests.

I shouldn’t complain; the north of France has had snow and we are only suffering from a lack of sunshine and below normal temperatures.  It has reduced my walks as I am more tempted when the sun is shining.

Still clear canopy
Still clear canopy

The trees are budding but the sun easily reaches the ground bringing out the spring flowers.

Dog violet
Dog violet

The violets are everywhere but I haven’t found any perfumed ones yet.

Geranium robertinium
Geranium robertinium

The wild geraniums are plentiful.  Unfortunately, they are difficult to tell apart from the perennial geraniums I have planted in the garden and I cannot always remember where they are so it makes the weeding difficult.  I am very fickle, outside the garden I admire them and take photographs: inside they get short shrift and are summarily removed.

Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower or Lady's Smock)
Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock)

I must admit that the common name, Cuckoo Flower, was right on target as I heard my first cuckoo just days  before seeing the flower.  The French name for the flower is La cressonnette ou cresson des prés as it resembles cress.  It is reputed to be edible and can be added to sandwiches to spice up the flavour.  I have never tried this so I cannot recommend it (yet).

Pulmonaria and Lesser Celandine
Pulmonaria and Lesser Celandine

The Pulmonaria is everywhere and is enjoying a spring that has been wetter than usual.

Grape Hyacinth, Muscari
Grape Hyacinth, Muscari

I am always surprised at what grows under the vines.  The vegetation is controlled under the vines in this area by spraying but come spring a variety of plants appear undaunted.

Dandelion and bee with pollen
Dandelion and bee with pollen

My favourite weed at this time of the year is the dandelion.  Its pollen is a magnet for the bees.

Dandelion and bee
Dandelion and bee

Last year I managed to take many photographs of beautiful bees on the dandelions and other flowers and my winter task was to identify them.

Another bee on dandelion (Halictus ?)
Another bee on dandelion (Halictus ?)

Ah, the innocence of ignorance.

I have not identified most of them but I think I have got this one that I saw on the first of April this year.

Rear view
Rear view

If you will note, this little lady has a longitudinal slit in her last tergite.  A sign of the Halictus I have read.  I find identification frustrating, you try for a wing shot to see if the venation pattern will be useful and then find out that a rear end photo would be more useful, anyway she kept her wings folded too.

Red-tailed bumble bee ( Bombus lapidarius
Red-tailed bumble bee ( Bombus lapidarius)

At least I have got the bumble bees that are a lot easier to identify.  The white-tailed are the most common around me and I am still seeing the queens frantically patrolling at ground level looking for a nesting spot.  These are obviously the late risers as I have already seen my first worker, so someone was quick off the mark.

White-tailed worker bumble bee
White-tailed worker bumble bee

The white-tailed queens are very big and can be told apart from their smaller workers.

Mining bee nests
Mining bee nests

I had never noticed  the Mining bee nests in the paths before.  They must surely have been there last year but I must have stamped over them unaware.  Now I see them where the agricultural machinery hardens the paths.  I suppose the ones built on the edges must do better than the ones that will be compacted by the tyres as the seasons pass.

Fox peacock
Fox peacock

I know the eye spots on the butterflies are reputed to deter predators but I had never noticed such a striking resemblance to a fox face as this photo presents.  Does anyone else see a face instead of butterfly wings?

I am waiting for the sunshine which has been forecast to return late next week.  I feel very much like hibernating until then.

To a daisy

We have had much more rain this winter than usual, even the water table level that has been getting dangerously low for some years has returned to normal.  This is all good stuff for gardeners and I look forward to seeing many more wild flowers this year.  What has surprised me is the crop of daisies that has appeared in the grass around the house.  I had not noticed their absence until they appeared in quantity this year.  In the wet west of Scotland there is no shortage of daisies in the grass and making daisy chains was a summer pastime.  I hated the lawnmowers that put an end to them and created a boring green plain.  I was difficult to console and had little sympathy with the adults who assured me the daisies would soon reappear.

I have my own daisies now and I have enjoyed photographing them and capturing the variety of shapes and colours as they unfold.  Some   begin with deep raspberry-tinted petals and some are round like miniature peonys.  Some unfold coquettishly, others  frankly becoming completely white, while others retain a pink rim to the petals.

But the fateful day was sure to come.  I was informed that if the grass was not cut the machine would not be able to cope.  I begged a stay of execution for a patch with speedwell and dandelions near the plum tree and my mining bee nests.  The rest of the grass is now more or less green.

At least I have my photographs.

And I am comforted that Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national poet felt pretty bad about seeing the daisies cut down too. His poem is to a Mountain Daisy but I’m sure its like my daisies.

To A Mountain Daisy (Written in 1786)

Wee, modest crimson-tipped flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r,
Thou bonie gem.

To read more or to listen to it being read,

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