a french garden


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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.