a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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What do gardeners do when it is raining?

Ever since our Barbastelle bat first came to visit us in 2014 we have been thinking of ways to provide shelter for bats in the garden.  See “A furry visitor

A bat box seemed the obvious choice, as did a web search for information and help because we do not know a lot about these fascinating creatures.

One of the good sites we came across was the Bat Conservation Trust

This site provides not only loads of information but also plans for building your own bat box.  Many more plans can be found by searching the web.

Kourosh tackled his bat box on a cold, wet day last February.  He had bought his untreated wood and cut it up to the required dimensions in the workshop.

I popped in from time to time to provide the much needed encouragement and I was pleased to see he had managed to assemble it.

The roof of the box was added and the holes to attach the box were drilled inside the house, where it was warmer to work.

The finished product looked the perfect new home for a bat!  (Well, we thought so.)

Kourosh was insistant that it should be painted to blend in with the house and decorated to be pleasing to humans after all the work he had put in.  For bats that appear to have a penchant for white painted shutters this may be a good ploy.

We felt that having the box ready in February would give the bats plenty of time to settle in this year.

However, so far we have had no takers.  We look regularly of tell-tale signs of occupation, but so far it is unoccupied.

However, this September the same white shutter, so favoured by the Barbastelle bat, was adopted by a Pipestrelle bat.

There is no accounting for taste!

We are still waiting to see if the bat box will eventually tempt any bats.  In the meantime I wonder if I have tempted anyone to have a go at building their own bat box?


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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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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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There is more in the garden than flowers…

1-Disturbed toad

Our hose drips where it is attached to the outside tap and the corner stays damp so that underneath it was very overgrown and needed a good spring weeding.  However, more than the plants had appreciated the dampness and a large common toad (Bufo bufo) had made the corner his home and even constructed a comfortable tunnel under a large stone.

1-Toad in hand

He did not object to being handled and posed peacefully for a close-up shot.  It makes me wonder how often he has done this for us.  My husband likes the toads and I think they are now trained to come to hand when he discovers one.

1-Marbled newt

Beside the toad was a marbled newt ( Triturus marmoratus) who was also enjoying the damp spot.  We often see the newts in the garden or in the old well.

1-Marbled newt with crest

Next to appear were much younger newts and for the first time I saw one (the one on the left) that still had its crest.  The males have a crest during the aquatic stage but this will gradually disappear as they proceed into the terrestrial stage and begin to become more coloured.

1-Juvenile Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus

The other day I needed a stepping stone to use to get through the border to my bee hotel so I looked for a suitable one at the bottom of the garden.  When the stone was lifted there were two young snakes curled up together underneath it but they soon made off.  The above photograph is a set-up.  The stone was replaced and lifted again the next day but this time only one of the snakes was underneath it.   The snake is a juvenile Western whip snake, (Hierophis viridiflavus), they are quite common around here but are non-venomous and not aggressive.  We have lots of wall lizards and these provide an easy food source for the snakes.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

My bee orchid is still doing well and I was quite excited when I thought another orchid might be growing in the garden.

1-Bud Orobanch amethystea

First a shoot like an asparagus appeared.

1-Bud growing Oroba amethystea

Then the bud started to open.

1-IMG_0376.Orobanche amethystea

I thought the flowerlets looked like orchids.  Wrong!  There are similarities but there is no central single lip which is a common feature of orchids.  This is a new plant to me – it is an Orobanche amythystea.  These are not orchids but plants that do not produce chlorophyll and obtain their nutrition by parasitising other plants.  Orobanche amythystea can use various plants as a substrate including wild carrot, sea holly and ivy.  I do hope mine is a parasite of my ivy!  I cannot see where the roots of the Orobache are reaching under the soil but I’d like to think it is joining me in my never ending battle with invading ivy.

The flowers will eventually form seeds but these seeds will be unable to germinate unless they find themselves near roots of their host.  There are many different species and they can become problematic if the host plant is an arable crop.  In France some of the other species can infect tobacco and legumes.

Anthophora plumipes male

Yesterday morning, just after 10 o’clock my husband called me to see the bee he had spotted asleep on a Hydrangea bud.  It was an Anthophora plumipes male.  They are extremely fast moving bees so it was fun to snap some shots of him while he was fast asleep and motionless.

Flowers and trees make up the backbone of a garden but it is all the unplanned arrivals, plant and animal, that make gardens so special.


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Wild bee nest

I’m not sure whether it is technically correct to call this a wild bee nest.   It is definitely bees living in the wild.  Should I call them wild bees or feral bees or even run-away bees (having left their bee keeper never to return), I’m not sure.

Anyway, I have always harboured a desire to see bees doing their own thing as nature intended but I never expected to see it in real life.  But that was before I was talking about bees to our friend Manuel.

Bee nest in the oak

Last autumn there was a violent storm and it brought down an oak tree in some woodland behind vines not far from his house and about two kilometres from our house.  He noticed some bees and found that the tree was hollow but that the nest was now exposed.  The centre of the tree was filled with honey comb.  As time passed he noticed that the honey comb was disappearing.  He suspects that the comb was being pulled off and eaten by animals such as badgers.  Winter was approaching and he took pity on the nest and covered it with a plastic tarpaulin, making sure the bees had a rear entrance.  His strategy obviously worked as the hive has come through the winter despite loosing some of its stocks of honey to predators.

Wild bee nest

I could see the regular sheets of comb in the hollowed out tree trunk.  There were also some little beetles but I think they were more interested in the decaying wood.

Bark beetlesA close-up of the beetles for anyone who knows about such things.

The bees won’t have to go far when they need resin.  An advantage to tree-dwelling bees.

Bee close-up

It was 6 o’clock in the evening and getting cooler after a warm day.  There was not much activity, so I decided to go in closer to see if I could get a shot of the bees inside.  I was delighted to see some bees on the edge of the comb.

Bees on comb

Manuel was delighted that I was delighted but not satisfied with the number of bees I was seeing so he banged the tree with a large stick.  That made a difference.

Bees on comb

I had no doubt that this was a thriving colony with plenty of bees in between the sheets of honeycomb.

bees on comb

Just another couple of whacks with the stick and clicks of the camera and I retired not wanting to abuse their patience any longer.  They gave the impression of particularly laid back good-natured bees and I’m glad Manuel found them and had the ingenuity to protect their hive through the winter.


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A furry visitor

Front door

This is the shutter of our front door which is left in the open position practically all the time.  However, my husband has a tendency to glance behind it when he passes by.

Bat on wall

He did that on the 14 March last year and found a bat clasping onto the wall behind the shutter.

Bat on wall 2

It was a bit of a change from the usual lizards that hide there!  He stayed there for a few days but I have no idea what kind of bat he is.

Open shutter

Today (21.2.2014) there was another bat.  This time on the shutter itself.

Black bat

Black bats are difficult to photograph but at least he stayed still.

Close up Barbastelle bat

Looking closer he has got a cute face.

Barbastelle bat mouth open

Is he trying to tell me something here?

Barbastelle bat close up I noticed that he had a strange indentation on the outside of his ear flap and I wondered if it had been bitten.  When I tried to identify him I saw a picture of a Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus) that had the same marking on the ear.  Can anyone help out with an identification?

Bat back viewHe measures 6 centimetres from front to back and has an incredibly furry coat.  He has five toes – just like us!

I don’t think our last year’s bat is the same species so he still stays an unidentified visitor.

I’ve put a watermark on these photographs.  Do you think it is pretentious?


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La Genette

Genette in van

The other day my friend Annie came rushing in, telling me to come as she had something she knew I would want to see.

Genette in cage

The trapper had caught a Genette (Genetta genetta ) in his trap.  Annie’s husband Yvon is the representative of the French Hunting Association in the area so the trapper brought the Genette so that its capture could be noted and they could discuss a suitable place for its release.  The Genette is protected in France and is rarely caught in traps and even more rarely seen in the wild as it is nocturnal and avoids human habitation.  It is carniverous and will eat any small rodents such as wood mice.

Genette long body

I was fascinated to be so close to such a beautiful but savage animal.  It has a very long body and a beautiful coat, I could understand why it used to be hunted for its fur.  It did not seem at all upset to caged in the middle of the day and was taking the extra attention very stoically.  A loud noise made it go on the defensive and it snarled revealing an impressive set of teeth.  It changed from passive pussy cat to serious predator in seconds.

Genette head

I’m afraid the excitement was too much for me and the pictures are a very poor quality.

Only the pregnant females have a fixed den so I’m sure the Genette will not object to being transferred to new hunting grounds.


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Motorway mice or rather motorway voles

Mouse on grass

Coming back from our trip to Maubuisson we stopped on the motorway to stretch our legs and have a cup of coffee.  I settled down at an outside picnic table to sip my coffee when I thought I saw something run across the grass.

Mouse in hole

It was then that I noticed that there were a large number of holes in the grass.  The sun was setting and it was not too easy to see into the holes.

Mouse looks out hole

A little bit of patience paid off.

Mouse sits in hole

I realised that a picnic area could provide mice with a good supply of food and I thought of all the sandwiches and biscuits that would be accidentally dropped from the picnic tables every day.

Mouse coming out of hole

Nobody else seemed to have noticed them.  I suppose people were content with their drinks and ice creams.

Mouse on grass

They were well camouflaged as they scuttled across the sun baked grass.

Mouse slides into hole

They exited from one hole and soon found another to dive into.

Mouse close up

I’m not sure how many people would have appreciated sharing the picnic area with the mice (short tailed voles, Microtis agrestis) but I enjoyed watching their antics and let my coffee get cold.


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A walk after the storm

Our garden borders the river Seudre.  We have left a part of the land next to the river somewhat wild forming a little forest.  After the recent storm it now resembles a war zone with broken trees scattered along it, waiting for the autumn when I will drag the branches to an open space and burn them.

We are still in the middle of summer and summer storm are not unusual here, but I was reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s Ode to the West Wind:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing – 

Amelia and I often walk on a path only a couple of minutes from our house, that takes us along the river and then through a forest to the nearby hamlet of Madion.  It is a pretty walk that usually takes less than an hour, if Amelia doesn’t stop too long photographing the bees.  Today we took the same path for the first time after the recent storm.

The wild mint is flowering just now and is adored by the bees and the butterflies.

The wild mint

The wild mint

The hemp agrimony ( Eupatorium cannabinum ) remains a favourite of the butterflies.

Butterflies on hemp agrrimony

Butterflies on hemp agrrimony

A little while later I realized why not many people had walked along the path lately.  Between the river and the field of maze, the path was blocked by a broken tree.

IMG_2787We maneuvered our way through the field of maize as many have fallen victim of the storm and were flattened.  On the other side of the fallen tree, I encountered a patch of my worst hidden enemy in the garden: the stinging nettles.   They were covered with caterpillars.  Well my consolation is that at least we will have more butterflies.

Collage catepillars

Like all little boys, I am fascinated by the form of the little snails.

IMG_2780

In the stillness and the heat of the late afternoon, I could see a few  damsel flies and even the dragon flies.

Collage damsel flies

I am not a biologist, but merely an engineer, but it seemed to me that each wild plant and wild flower has its purpose in the life of the countryside.

Wild flowers

I could see that my path was yet again interrupted by another fallen tree.

IMG_2809Never mind, I will turn right through the forest.  That is my favourite route: so peaceful, and yet so full of promise.

IMG_2811A few minute later the forest path was also blocked.

IMG_2813We fought the branches and emerged yet again successfully on the other side and then left the forest into a much more open countryside. along the vineyards.  On my left, a bunch of mislteoe:  Perhaps waiting there for a stolen kiss?

IMG_2823And then a field of pure warm sunshine:

IMG_2827I do not know the people that live in that little farm building, but I have often thought that they have indeed chosen a corner of heaven.

IMG_2834

In the open ground there were more bees and butterflies.  Even a queen bumble bee with her sac of pollen.

Bumbles and butterflies in the open

The grains of grapes are swelling.  Perhaps summer is already approaching its end?

IMG_2845And more wild flowers and berries preparing the countryside for the summers to come

IMG_2831In this part of France they often plant sloe (prunus spinosa) along the edges of the fields.  Its white flowers are pretty in early Spring, its fruit is eaten by some wild animals, and its thorn inhibit the intruders.

IMG_2846

The wild blackberries are already ripening.  Last year we collected several kilos of blackberries at this spot and Amelia made delicious jelly.

IMG_284715th of August is the Assumption day.  It is a National Holiday in France and some towns will have the last fireworks display of the season.  After that the French holidaymakers start returning home to prepare the children for the rentrée scolaire.  

On our return home, after nearly two and half hour of walk, I look again at the devastation that the storm caused in the countryside.  I think back at that night of the storm with 150 Km/hr wind tearing the trees down, and I can’t help but think again of Shelly:

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even

I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven 

We are really lucky here that we have a mild climate and do not suffer from ‘uncontrollable’ wind very often.  Our summers are warm, but not too hot and we are able to enjoy the last days of beautiful warm sunshine well into October and and when autumn at last comes we will return to the task of clearing Amelia’s afrenchgarden.

K


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La Rainette comes calling

The night before last we had a visit.

I just dropped by!

I just dropped by!

We were delighted!  The little green frogs are one of our favourite visitors and we had not seen any since the spring.  It had been a very dry summer and not really frog weather but recently it has been raining a lot and I have heard them in the evening but not seen any.

I'm back

I’m back

I rushed out to say hello – as you can see they are not shy.

Just to give you an idea of size.

Just to give you an idea of size.

I was able to measure this one’s size through the window and the body length is only 3 centimetres (not counting the head), which is very small compared to the ones we have seen before.

La Rainette, Hyla meridionalis 1.4.12

Relaxing in the garden in April this year

I remember the first time I saw a Rainette.  It was a rainy afternoon several years ago and I had just started to draw closed the patio window to stop the rain coming in.  She was sitting comfortably on the hand grip of the door frame and I saw her just in time to draw back my hand without touching her.

We were both startled.  I had never been that close to a bright green frog before.  I didn’t move but neither did she, except to move her head to the side as if to ward off an imminent blow. I felt chilled by the thought that I could have inadvertently squashed her and then by the thought that she was expecting an aggressive blow.  She still didn’t budge and I realised she had no intention of moving unless forced to.  She was enjoying watching the rain from the window as I frequently do myself.  I retired leaving her to her reflections.

On chair in the garden

On chair in the garden

From then on she turned up in the garden whenever she fancied, usually when it is warm and damp.

Among the Wisteria in April

Among the Wisteria in April

I have identified the Rainette as Hyla meridiaonalis, a little green tree frog that lives in our garden and is common in this area of France.  They differ from any other frogs that I have come across as being much calmer and less easily startled.  I see them more often during warm, wet weather anywhere in the garden and our old well (see my post The old well ).   The well had no water this summer but a plentiful growth of ferns on its walls is a favourite haunt of the tree frogs.

Oooh that sun feels so good on my back!

Oooh that sun feels so good on my back!

They surprisingly enjoy basking in the sunshine.

Blending into the colour of the unfolding Arum Lily.

Blending into the colour of the unfolding Arum Lily.

Despite being bright green they can be difficult to see.

Inside on side-table

Inside on side-table

They occasionally come inside and can take you by surprise because once comfortable they can remain motionless.  This one appeared in the dining-room and I only noticed as I bent to put a cup of coffee beside her!

This year they were very quiet as usually we hear them calling from the river in the summer evenings.  Their call makes us laugh and I had missed it this year, so I am glad they are back.

You can hear their call if you go to this excellent site and press the button under the Call heading http://www.herpfrance.com/amphibian/stripeless_tree_frog_hyla_meridionalis.php.