Posts Tagged ‘Great Cormorant’

The first three months of this year have so far proved to be extremely difficult for nature watching. The continuous freezing conditions and intermittent heavy falls of snow have restricted wildlife activities, outdoor expeditions and photo opportunities.

This photo of our back garden was taken during one of the few moments of sunshine in January and when the snow – at that time – had thawed a little. Two large pine trees at the bottom of the garden had just been cut down and so it is now much easier to see through to the field and hills beyond.


PrémeryPrémeryThe river Nièvre and the local ‘plan d’eau’ (artificial lake) (left) were frozen for the most part, thus preventing water birds and others from using them. A walk around the lake and alongside the river is one of my favourite nature watching activies.
But it was not all doom and gloom. There were a few bright moments in January and February.

Whenever the sun shone or the temperature raised itself above freezing point I ventured outdoors. Whilst there may not have been a lot of active wildlife to see in the somewhat severe wintry conditions, another aspect of the wonderful world of nature caught my eye. Looking down at the ground, this is what I saw:
The effect frozen snow and ice on the earthy ground and on the plants gave me the impression that I was looking upwards at the heavens and the stars…so I called this picture “Cosmos”.


Prémery PrémeryPrémery One of the perks of living where I do is that every so often there are some great sunsets over the hill at the back of the house. The larger picture (far left) was taken in January and the other two were captured last year.


On one sunny Sunday in January, Nancy and I decided to drive over to nearby La Charité-sur-Loire for lunch. Afterwards, still in the town, we crossed the old bridge over the river Loire to the state protected Nature Reserve. The reserve is 20 miles long and consists of the River Loire and part of the banks on both sides of it between La Charité and Pouilly-sur-Loire (of Pouilly Fumé fame). During that walk we spotted a Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia), a rarity in our area and a new bird for me, and I managed to take a photograph of it (below). Apparently, it is only seen about 5 times a year in the Burgundy region, mainly in January, along the Allier and Loire rivers. It is thought that they fly in from the Massif Central, a range of mountains south-west of Burgundy. A friend reported the sighting to the Rare Birds Committee of Burgundy on my behalf.

Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)

In early February, Nancy and I travelled up to Paris for a few days and whilst there I took the opportunity to birdwatch the Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of the city near the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. It consists primarily of two large lakes, extensive woodlands and walking, cycling and riding paths throughout. According to Wikipedia it is 2.5 times larger than Central Park, New York. The picture below is a winter shot of the island and a section of Lac Inférieur in the Bois de Boulogne.


Lac Inférieur has a large colony of Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and it was not difficult to take close-up pictures of them. I also managed to capture a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) in the woods.
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)Both cormorants in this picture are in early breeding season plumage (note the white thigh patch and the white hairs on the crown and the back of the neck). The Great Cormorant is common throughout most of coastal Europe and the Mediterranean and sometimes inland in a number of European countries. It is can also be found on the Atlantic coast of North America, often associating with the native Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with which it can easily be confused. The European cormorant can be distinguished from its American counterpart by its larger size and a white patch on its cheek.

The Song Thrush is a common songbird across much of Eurasia, although its numbers appear to be declining in parts of Europe, possibly due to changes in farming practices.


Spring is here at last! Daytime temperatures have been consistently in double figures these past few days and the sun has been more present than absent. Birds are courting, flowers are blooming, tree buds are showing and my first butterfly of the year, probably a Small White, appeared in the garden two days ago.

Unfortunately, my outdoor excursions have been restricted of late because of a bad cold which has now developed into bronchitis. Yesterday, however, I sneaked into the garden for a short time in the afternoon.

A cluster of crocuses - and an interloper

Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) femaleDwarf tulip (red and orange)I was about to take a close-up shot of the single crocus (far left) when an unexpected visitor arrived in my viewfinder as I was about to press the shutter button. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a sharp shot of the insect, almost certainly a female Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), but its markings are clear enough for me. These orange and black insects (sometimes known as Flower Flies) can initially be confused with wasps or bees but they have only one pair of wings. Wasps and bees have two pairs, making identification relatively easy in the end. The hoverfly is generally regarded as the gardener’s friend and an important element in pest control because, whilst adults feed mostly on pollen and nectar, the larvae thrive on aphids, thrips and other plant-sucking insects. There are about 6,000 species of hoverfly worldwide and so they are a common sight everywhere. The other picture is one of our flowering Dwarf Tulips.


Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)This is the first butterfly that I have caught on camera this year. It is a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), a widespread species occurring from north Africa to most of Scandinavia. It is often seen during the first warm days of spring since it is one of the first butterflies to emerge following winter hibernation. It flies again in summer feeding and storing energy for several weeks before, towards the end of August, disappearing for the winter. Until the following spring they will not stir, even on hot autumn days. The Common Brimstone can only be confused with one other butterfly, the Powdered Brimstone, but this latter species is found only in southern Europe, especially Greece.
Puschkinia scilloides var libanotica 'Striped squill'Chionodoxa spp 'Glory-of-the-Snow'

Right now we have lots of the usual early spring flowers in the garden (daffodils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, primroses, daises and so on) but I thought I would try and find something different. I was not disappointed.

I found a plant that neither Nancy nor I had seen in the garden before (above left). The picture shows the only example of the new plant that we have found so far. It has turned out to be a Striped Squill (Puschkinia scilloides var libanotica), a delightful little early-spring flower of the hyachinthaceae family. It grows only six to eight inches tall and has sprays of very pale blue, almost iceberg white, six-petalled flowers with a thin deep blue stripe down the centre of each petal. Originating from the eastern Mediterranean region (it is sometimes known as the Lebanese Squill) it is a hardy plant which will grow almost anywhere in the garden but prefers to be under deciduous shrubs or trees. The genus Puschkinia is named after Count Apollo Apollosovich Mussin-Puschkin, an 18th century Russian chemist and plant collector who carried out a major plant expedition to the Caucasus in 1802.

The Striped Squill is a close cousin of the Chionodoxa or ‘Glory-of-the-Snow’, a genus of eight bulbous perennials in the family Hyacinthaceae, which is the subject of my next picture (above right). Its name, derived from the Greek words chion(snow) and doxa(glory), implies that its blue-coloured flowers are often found poking up through the snow in early spring. This plant is also endemic to the eastern Mediterranean region, particularly Turkey, Crete and Cyprus but, unlike its solitary close cousin, it can be found in large numbers in our garden.


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