Wildlife in France - Swallow, Nuthatch, Goldfinch, Dove, Peacock, Butterflies, Dragonflies and Hoover Fly!
A Wildlife Haven
On the Wing
Bird-watching or 'twitching' is a delightful pastime, especially when you can do it from the comfort of your garden chair, glass of wine in hand, lunch on the table, in convivial company.
Our paradise in a French village offers us so much in the way of wildlife without even having to go looking for it. The birds are my favourite. Not only do they have beauty, intricate patterns of flight and intriguing behaviour but they also provide wonderful music which captures the heart, sometimes even the soul.
There are other creatures on the wing, of course; butterflies, dragonflies, not to mention pesky creatures like moths round the flame of the table-lamp at night. Some are charming, some annoying, some downright alarming, but all are interesting. We've even named one of our own!
Swallows on the Wire
Swallows can be seen almost everywhere but because we spend so much time out of doors here we follow their patterns of behaviour through the day. They congregate on the wires, they swoop and hunt in scattery flight and they have a strange habit of clinging to house walls. I don't know if this is for resting or if particular insects hide under the window-sills but the swallows do this as a group just at one particular time of day.
Swallows are distinguishable from house martins by their long tail feathers and a creamy underbelly and red/pink throat. Both species seem to fly together without argument but the house-martins favour nesting under the eaves. A swallow prefers to nest in barns or any outbuilding which provides dark ledges and hidden corners for safety.
Their aerial acrobatics and formations are fascinating. How do they twist and turn so rapidly? How do they locate and catch their prey so expertly? Their twittering is distinctive, a pretty sound full of joie de vivre which is catching.
The Elusive Nuthatch
This pretty, timid, elusive little bird is difficult to photograph. You can hear its high-pitched 'tweet' but spying it in the tree is not so easy. A nuthatch's distinctive feature is that it not only travels up the trunk and branches picking insects on the way, but also it often edges back down head first, in short darting bursts of movement. It's plumage is pink/cream underneath, with blue/grey head and wings and a strong dark line from eye to beak. I love it; a bird which minds its own business, seeming to be on a mission, methodically 'working' a tree before moving on.
I also found out, taking these photos, that this bird taps dead branches woodpecker style to uncover grubs; an amazing little bird with a huge character!
Goldfinch and A Mystery
This colourful bird thrusts out its chest and bursts forth into a beautiful song. He sits just over the stone wall on the top branch of a failing pear tree - the same branch each evening. It's as if he says 'I love this tree, I can see for miles and life is wondrous; this song is for everyone to make you all smile.' He then performs it all over again just in case you missed it, then again and again and........
The mystery? What might be a Red Wagtail, I don't really know. Still trying to photo this one but he's a chirpy bird that dips and soars in flight, likes to perch on the ridge tiles and nests in our workshop. It doesn't seem to bother about being disturbed by sawing and hammering and people walking in and out. Perhaps it realises we're its friends.
It looks like a large robin but darker brown and its tail bobs like a wagtail. There is no red breast but the area under the body, at the top of the tail, is dark red. These are quite cheeky birds and will chase off others like a robin does. We're still not sure exactly what they are as there's nothing the same in England.
Pretty to Look at, Pretty to Listen to
Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons
Collared doves are pretty and delicate, with their distinctive 'collar', a pretty tattoo of a choker necklace. The collared doves coo incessantly, making sure each knows where the other is in their local area. Doves make precarious, untidy nests in places which are not particularly hidden or even weather-proof. However, this lot survived several storms and predatory, vicious magpies (about the only bird I don't like). We followed them from egg-sitting through hatching to fledging. It seemed to take ages before they were ready to fly the nest - weeks of feather tweaking, wing-stretching, shall I/shan't I wobbling at the edge. Then one day, they were gone! Difficult to tell which ones were 'our' doves once they'd mastered the skies. They did come back to their tree occasionally. I wonder if we'll see them back again this year?
A couple of wood pigeons decided to build immediately next door in the fir tree. They didn't make good neighbours and bullied the doves a couple of times for landing on what they obviously regarded as 'their' branches. The wood pigeons are the bouncers of the pigeon/dove world - large and blundering, no hand/eye coordination, they can't land for toffee and crash about in the trees, advertising their whereabouts to all and sundry. What's more, they don't have any imagination when it comes to song; in fact, no song at all really, just a repeated collection of phrases sent back and forth. They look quite fine though!
Family of Doves
There are two types of woodpecker in this garden. The small black, white and red spotted woodpecker and the larger, green woodpecker. The spotted woodpecker jumps about over the bark of the dead pear tree, probing holes and eating insects. His call is strident. He doesn't blend well with the background so is much easier to spot than the green one.
The green woodpecker announces his presence with more of a 'whoop' which penetrates the air around. It's difficult to pin-point his whereabouts as he blends so well against the trees. However, he likes to spend time on the ground and uses his wide, coarse bill and tough neck muscles to form deep holes in the soil to reach ants, his main source of food. He is shy but can be watched from a distance. Once disturbed, he'll fly off on a straight course, dipping occasionally, to the nearest cover. The mute to olive to lime greens of his plumage, with the red flash on his head, make this an unusual, magnificent bird.
Butterflies, Dragonflies and the Hoover Fly!
Butterflies are abundant here in many colours and sizes. The patterns and camouflage on their wings never cease to fascinate and amaze me.
Especially wonderful were the delicate colours of these tiny coupling butterflies (immediately above). They were totally oblivious of being moved, emphasising their vulnerability when performing such activities. It was a chance of a lifetime to photograph these creatures, a privilege too.
Dragonflies, too, inhabit the garden as there are several sources of water nearby. They have beautiful lacy, transparent wings and their bodies can be vivid blues, lime greens and dark reds. This one took a fancy to the aerial on the camper van!
When it's hot and humid flies congregate everywhere. However, there is one fly we often see on our outside table, going round and round the edge for hours - really, for hours! It's about the size of a blue-bottle, brown and orange and has a long feeler between the front legs. This feeler sweeps from side to side as the fly walks along, oblivious to any hand-waving or touch - I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. It looks as if it's doing the vacuuming, hence we call it the Hoover Fly!
A Perfect Display
More on the Wing
Wildlife? No but definitely wild in character - proud, raucous and vain. Several peacocks are the property of our neighbour who runs a smallholding the other side of the wall at the top of the field. They often invade our patch for fresh grass, for a roost in the pear tree occasionally. They call loudly and often; the French reckon they say 'Léon, Léon!' It drives some people mad, especially at 5 in the morning, but I like the sound drifting down to the house. They are bullies to their co-residents; chicken, an ancient turkey, ducks, rabbits, goats and guinea fowl. However, they have one redeeming quality - their beautiful, exotic plumage which they delight in displaying and rustling. They're a touch of the orient in a sleepy French backwater.
Proud as a Peacock!
A Wondrous Choice of Life in the Wild
Which type of wildlife is your favourite?
© 2012 Ann Carr