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Monday, December 26, 2011

Martin Simpson

A very quick post because I'm definitely suffering the after effects of too much fine food and wine last night ...... why does Christmas always have to equal excess?!

My mum sent me some CDs in the post, some she thought I would like .... she picked well because one of them was by Martin Simpson, one of my favourite guitar players. Nice one mum!

Said I'd post one of his songs on here by way of thanks as I think she's tuning in today, so here he is performing 'Never any Good with Money'

Friday, December 23, 2011

Boared no, Wild .... I was livid!!!

A few days a ago I was visiting a big local forest, not expecting anything big at this strangely quite time for bird and animal life in rural France, just out with my camera, the dog Balloo and my trusty legs. Like many of the vast woodland areas at this time of the year it's pretty hit and miss as to what you see. Why, I'm not so sure, maybe it's simply because this country is so large that everything is more widely distributed than it is say in the UK. Its still mild too so none of the mass influxes of birds from further north one might experience in other years.

Anyway, I digress! There I was, tramping along the edge of the forest with Balloo skipping along merrily ahead, nothing much doing - a few finches, tits and woodpeckers here and there and some impressive numbers of lapwings overhead, otherwise fairly quiet. All of a sudden Balloo starts going mental, frantically running back and forth along a high perimeter fence, sniffing the air and making funny squeaking noises ... something is making him very excited! And then I spot movement on the ground in the trees about 30 meters away .... Wild Boar, not one, not even two but about a dozen of them! Animal Magic!

They were running away of course but here's the thing - maybe it was Balloo, maybe it was because they had a few young in the groupor maybe they just wanted to make a point, but 3 or 4 of the bigger ones (and they were BIG!) turned around and started snorting at us and doing a few mini charges! Glad of the perimeter fence I whipped camera out, used the fence to steady the lense, zoomed in ... 2 wild boars head on filling the frame, great composition with the trees, focus ..... press the shutter and ........ MEMORY CARD FULL blinking at me in red!!!

Now let this be as big a lesson to any budding wildlife photographer as it was to me that morning - I'm not sure if I'll ever get a better chance to photograph these beasts, let alone 2 that were wanting to charge at me! Yes of course I hastily deleted images but what with Balloo going crazy and me fiddling about they took off. Hey look it was a awesome experience but I found it very difficult to come to terms with not getting the shot, still do!

I cant find any photos on the net that come close to the shots I had primed but these come close and this is what I wsas a memory card away from shooting!

In the immortal words of Arnold Schwarznegger - I'll be back!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bird Report Nov 2011

Okey, dokey not exactly hot off the press but with a trip to the UK, Open University commitments and Christmas presents buy and parcel off to its been an unusually busy time ... oh and I got engaged too (more about this wonderful life event at a later date, when I've decided and consulted on how best to blogify!).

Maybe I've been a bit preoccupied but it seems to have been a fairly quiet month. In common with the rest of Western Europe its been unseaonably mild with winds mainly from the south and west - great for us warmth loving, sun craving humans but frankly rubbish for the usual mass movement of birds, they've simply not had anything to escape from!

Stand out highlights from earlier in the month and already reported here was of course the Common Crane passage with my last Southbound flocks overhead on the 18th, and the 200 or so I saw on that day brought my own personal tally to almost 6000! There may have been others after this date but I was UK bound the same day so I'll never know. I've already devoted a whole post on these magnificent winged creatures (Common Crane Migration ) but one can't get enough of the old grus grus so here's a couple more of my best pics of this years passage.

Staying with wetland birds, a trip out to Le Bren on the 11th brought about 50 Great White Egrets (pic right) in and around the various lakes I visited. Not sure about the migratory status of this bird, I suspect they disperse south and west after breeding but many breed around here and they are increasing as a species across France.

Equally good numbers of Grey Heron (c70) and Little Egret (c30) and it was good to see a couple of Water Rails at the Etange de Sous - ungainly and often overlooked, its always a red letter day when you see one and I was lucky enough to get a reaonable photograph from the hide (pic left)

Plenty of the ducks around at Le Bren with decent numbers of Teal, Shoveller, Gadwall and Tufted Duck as well as the more common Mallard. On to wading birds and those traditional winter wanderers Golden Plover were present in small numbers at Le Bren (c60) along with good numbers of Lapwing but generally a poor month for waders.
Better fare on the raptor front though with some good late Red Kite passage on the 10th with 3 passing through the Rouflamme Valley single Marsh Harrier at Le Bren on the 11th, a single Marsh Harrier over Le Bren on the 11th, a Peregrine Falcon at the Etange de Beavoir on the 14th and a general increase in the number of Sparrowhawks and Common Kestrels around Le Macherie whilst Common Buzzards remain as prominent as ever with a high of 13 seen on the 12th in the Rouflamme Valley; and why restrict this to France, Baggins is after all a traveller by name ... I had a superb male Merlin perched on a hedge whilst I was driving intrepidly across the Yorkshire Wolds on the 22nd - if i'd stopped the car to attempt a photograph it would have flown, so I just drooled and nearly drove into a ditch (that sort of thing is always nearly happening!)

Winter thrushes normally arrive in droves mid to late November, there again I'm normally in the UK so this all very interesting in a 'non thrush' sort of way. Plenty of Blackbirds, in fact a very noticeable influx and a smattering of Song and Mistle Thrushes but what we're after is Redwings and Fieldfares .... seasonal foragers of late autumn fruit and berries. Sadly though, apart from one flock of 40 Redwings nr Moulismes on the last day of the month I had a total of 8 around here in November and not a single Fieldfare! Obviously we're now into December and things have a got a little better, but not much ... .ah well, i'm such a bird nut that I even find their relative absence interesting! I'm sure there are more in the UK and it just goes to show what a great place for overwintering birds my native island is. Not my pics but these are handsome birds that should be adorning fields and hedgerows right now ... have you seen any?

If there were a god of birds (John James Audebon? Roger Tory Peterson? or maybe even Bill Oddie or Chris Packham?) what he doth takes he gives away, and
although I still think it was a quietish month in terms of winter arrivals there were still plenty of surprises in the locker - like the 70 or so Crested Larks in local fields around here and the stunning Water Pipit at La Gabriere on the 11th, whilst big flocks of Sylarks, Meadow Pipits and Cirl Buntings is becoming the norm once again as they mass together in search of food. Its great to be still seeing warblers around the village with a Blackcap on the 14th and a Chiff Chaff on the 28th.

A surprising bird to begin appearing in numbers has been the humble Reed Bunting, another bird that is often overlooked but I think very handsome - this pic was actually taken this month when even more arrived.

Other things to report - Firecrests are Europe's smallest bird and if you look closely and keep your ears peeled (something I find increasingly tricky!) you can see lots of these midget gems over here. Again, not my pic, really struggling to get a good a good shot (pic right) but aren't they little darlins?!

Jays seem to be absolutely everywhere, gathering nuts and making a racket in the woods. Less obvious and less in almost every way, the usually shy and retiring Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are a bit more obvious now the trees have shed their leaves. Never an easy bird to photograph and this one isn't very good as it was taken at distance back in the Summer (pic left) but this is many a fair weather birder's bogey bird!

Ok that's November done, might seem like a strange thing to say but we hope for a cold snap or two to bring in the birds in numbers! Already well into December and dont think we've had a frost over here yet!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Balloo - a short movie featuring mainly sticks and water!

Here he is again, by popular request, the canine star of the year, and this time he gets a short movie casting opportunity, its the one and only BALLOO!!!

Before you play this folks I have to say that this is not the short movie I had expected ...not withstanding that I am a very amateur film maker, I've had serious issues with windows movie maker and when I played it back it paused in the middle (missing one of the best bits .... aaargh!) but just fast fwd ok!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Born at the right time

I love this song, it could almost have been written about me ..... except I don't really get the whole fishing thing!

Thinking of covering it when I play my first solo gig next month

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Winter is here ... Spring & Summer remembered!

Well it had to happen of course, the unseasonal and sometimes barmy temperatures of October & November are now firmly behind us, consigned to our sunny memory banks and no doubt added to the growing stats on global warming. Concerned as we all should be about climate change, this is not the platform .... I'm TimboBaggins not David Attenborough!

I've had a super Spring & Summer here in France .....tramped around the Pyrenees, explored the Camargue, camped out on the Vendee and played my music in all sorts of places with the band 'Beyond the Gap'. To cap it all I got engaged to my chldhood sweetheart Gabrielle and sorry birding folks that was more awesome than seeing my first Black Woodpecker!

I'm feeling self indulgent, because although it's cold and raining outside, I've been out and enjoyed a wet dog walk, my home football team team York City have just won 7 : 0, on my 2nd large glass of red and just found out my fiancee, sis & partner are coming over for 10 days over new year ... who wouldn't be happy!

Ok enough, half an eye on the box in the corner of the room and someone called John Barryman is dumbing me down and then I get assailed by Robbie Savage trying to quick step himself into the semi finals of strictly come dancing .... aaaaarrrggghhhhh!!!!! Dance your way through some of my images from Spring to late Summer - First up some butterflies, there's a nice Swalllowtail, a Comma & a Red Admiral but what are the others?

I've looked in the field guide and still none the wiser but with their all their variations butterflies and entymology in general is at this point beyond me but here's a summer insect I do recognise ......

It's a Praying Mantis of course and have to admit I slightly cheated on this pic by picking up said mantis from the undergrowth and placing it in a more photogenic position .. not sure he / she approved!

I'm on safer ground with birds and of course can identify all of these but thats not the point here ... think spring, courtship and just outright summer sky flying fun!

This Black Winged Stilt looks like it's displaying but in reality it was just might peed off at my presence at a nest site ..... it dive bombed me several times (ah the discomforts we bird snappers have to endure!)

No danger here .... this singing Tree Pipit was oblivious to my camera lense.

Red Kite in the Pyrenees ... awesome, no words I can add other than to repeat myself .... AWESOME!!

Not the best in terms of technical quality but I love this photo of a young fox who was happily feasting on a long dead coypu until I pointed a camera at him..... he's so defiant!
.Spring 2011 saw the emergence of 'Beyond the Gap' .... me on guitar, my sis Jane singing and in good time Mark will join us on 'le contre bass'. This is me n Jane busking somewhere in the Pyrenees back in Spring.

Fete de Musique saw us playing in a village nr Chauvigny ..... no pics of us playing but here's a good friend we made on the night  - Giles & his band 'Diesel' and  a couple of pics of Jane enjoying herself after we played.

Here's us playing the Frogstock festival in the Vienne

And as the whiff of Winter begins to blow and batter its way our way .... here's a few evocative pictures of Summer 2011

Makes me warm just looking at these last couple of pics!
Ok, I have a gig coming up on 6th Jan and in the middle of marking open university papers so my red pen has been busy and my mind whirring with learning words and practising songs! I will try and keep up witht the blog posts of course but have decided to make my 'bird reports' monthly from now on with a round up for Nov coming up next week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Common Crane migration over Le Macherie

The annual migration of Common Cranes from their breeding grounds in Northern Europe and Russia is a spectactular and symbolic event in these parts whether you're into birds or not. For me, newly installed in France, this has been the first time I've witnessed this mass movement and have to say it's been wonderful to see these mythical birds flying over in huge flocks as they head South to Spain, Portugal & Northern Africa.
The breeding population of Common Cranes is roughly 250,000 with around 100,000 of these in Scandinavia and the Baltic region - these are the birds that migrate through here and by my rough reckoning I've seen about 6000 over La Macherie between the 4th & 19th of November ... not bad going eh?!
Cranes are one of nature's mythical creatures and have been revered for centuries with their annual passing often seen as symbols of  'regeneration'. In Greek mythology they were seen as messengers from 'the world beyond the north wind' and the classic V formation of travelling flocks, with the practice of individual birds taking it turns to head the group seen as a symbol of democracy - all this will be common knowledge to followers of Hyperborean worship (of which there are said to be about 17 worldwide) ....but that apart I rather think the Greeks have rather more to contemplate these days, which is a shame.

Anyway, why not catch yourself some 21st century Hyperborean crane worship next time your anywhere near SW France in November. Just look up! Here's some I prepared earlier .... (shot 14th Nov just outside La Macherie)

And of course there were plenty of photo opportunities, here's a small selection I've manged to edit from the many I have on disk from this year's migration.

All passed through now (da da da der ah de da ..... arrived on yet another CraneAir flight delivered on time, beating all other european 'fly pasts' !!) .......been back in the UK for a week and since my return not a crane to be seen. No doubt I'll be recording their flight back come next March!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Montmorillon - The City of Books

The nearest town to me here at La Macherie is Montmorillon, its where I go to buy food, occassionally socialise and one of the paces we perform when Jane and Mark are in town. With only some 7000 souls  inhabiting the place its hardly a buzzing metroplolis but it has to be said (and it's been said many times) that Montmorillon is something of a jewel in the Vienne crown.

Montmorillon is steeped in medieval history with many historic sites includig the Octagon, an 11th Century funeral chapel built by Crusaders,the Chapelle St Laurent and St Chatherine's Crypt with its fine frescoes, and its 12th Century bridge, le Vieux-Pont. It's main claim to fame however is it's association with books with a whole quarter of the town given over to the glorification of the written word. This area of the town, penned Le Cite De'Ecrit, is a major tourist attraction with visitors flocking to browse the many antique book shops (there's even a typewriter museum!) and hosts a yearly international book fair every June. Remarkably this area of the town was a crumbling area of dereliction before 2000 and a major investment and restoration project created this atmospheric gem of a place.

I went into Montmorillon the other evening, not to buy food nor to socialise, but to take advantage of some glorious Autumn sunshine and take a few pics - hard not to go for the obvious 'touristy' type shots and some of these most definitely are just that but one or two of these I think captures 'Magic of Montmorillon'

I should of course know what all of these buildings are called but shame upon shame I dont ... maybe you do? In either case I'll label them when tine allows!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trip to Le Brenne

Friday the 11th of November - Armistice Day of course and although there wasn't a poppy to be seen on either lapel or armband it is a public holiday here in France and the glorious autumnal weather brought many out into the great outdoors. Must admit though I wasn't expecting quite so many family parties and fellow enthousiasts in the Parc Naturel 'Le Brenne'

Situated just to the North of Le Blanc and about 50 kilometers from me in La Macherie, the Le Brenne area is a major fishing resource for France but also an area of outstanding wildlife was given reserve status in 1989. Its an area of many lakes and ponds - some small, some large and some say there are more than 1500 of them! Difficult to believe but as you can see from the following satellite image (Google maps) it's not a dry area!

 Explore the whole area here  and see how many you can count!

I only had 3 hours but managed a good explore of the Western end of the place - there's a scattering public hides on some of the bigger lakes, access to others is a 'stop the car by the road' job and many of the other lakes and wetland areas are frustratingly on private ground but all in all its a lovely area whether you're into wildlife or not. Now I'm not sure how 'into' wildlife the French are but although the public tracks thronging with strollers and the hides packed, I dont recall one fellow birder ... plenty of cameras big and small on show of course but think I was the only one with binoculars!

I think the French just love to admire beautiful things and its true they do value their countryside, more I think than we do in the UK. Anyway, before this turns political (this blog is supposed to be entertaining!) ... here's a few pics (not mine) of what they had come to admire.

 Etange Mer Rouge

Fond Ecran Eau

I did manage to reel off a few good photographs of my own from the hides, bird orientated of course but there's also a Coypu in there and joy of joys I managed my first Kingfisher pic!

Kingfisher. Shame about the obscuring branch but not a bad pose - look at that beak!

Reed Bunting. Looking splendid in the late afternoon sun

Coypu. Common mammals in Le Brenne, this one swam right in front of ther hide.

Water Rail. Always tricky to photograph because they're so shy .. the only other one I got was by mistake - it turned up in the background of a shot of some waders at Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire!

Here's a big brown cow with horns for those that like such creatures!

And to finish off one of several Great Egrets that stalk the lagoons in search of unlucky frogs .... this one looks like he's stepping over the ducks!