Posts Tagged ‘Prémery’

May-December, 2010

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After three weeks in the United States (see ‘April in the USA’) Nancy and I spent much of late spring and summer in France. We attended to urgent matters at home and in Paris and, in between, hosted a number of French and overseas visitors. Consequently, opportunities for photographic excursions were somewhat limited. Nevertheless, I did manage to find some interesting and unusual flora and fauna and here is a selection of them.



This picture of the Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) (left) was taken in a farmer’s field at Montenoison about ten minutes away from my home. This internationally recognized common wild flower is also known as corn rose, field poppy, red poppy, red weed and Flanders poppy. It is regarded both as a garden flower and an agricultural weed but more so as a symbol of fallen soldiers. A poem written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918), a doctor serving with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in the First World War, strongly influenced the adoption of the poppy as a memorial to all servicemen who fell in the two Great Wars. Here is the first stanza of his poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.



The Common Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum, syn. Dipsacus sylvestris), (right), is a biennial plant also known as Wild Teasel or Fuller’s Teasel. It is native to Europe, Asia and north Africa and can be found on roadsides, wastegrounds and river banks. At first glance, it could be mistaken for a thistle, since both have spiny heads. Its seeds are a favourite winter food for birds and, for this reason, it is sometimes grown in gardens and on nature reserves in an effort to attract them. The plant is, however, regarded as an invasive species in the United States and is not welcome there. Photographed at the nearby small hamlet of Marré.


Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus)The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) (far left), has a multitude of names: Multivariate ladybird, Southern ladybird, Japanese ladybird, Pumpkin ladybird, Asian lady beetle, Japanese ladybug, Harlequin ladybird, Halloween lady beetle and there may even be others. This coccinellid beetle is native to eastern Asia, but was introduced to North America and Europe to control aphids and scale insects. Its colour ranges from yellow-orange to black, and the spots could number between 0 and 22 (the one in the picture has 18 of them). It is now fairly common, well known and spreading. This picture was taken at the nearby hilltop village of Montenoison.
Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus) (above right). This exceptionally common, harmless insect is often found in numbers outside the house and in the garden during the summer. It is a bug, not a beetle, and in France it is known as a gendarme, apparently because of a similarity to the uniform of the gendarmes at the end of the 17th century. Strange! Photographed in our garden.

Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) or Lesser Stag Beetle (Dorcus parallelepipedus), larvae

Nancy was moving some old, rotten tree logs in the garden in early September when she found a number of enormous grubs hidden in them. A French 1 centime coin (slightly smaller than an American 1 cent coin) is shown alongside a grub as a size indicator. The grub has been identified as the larvae of a Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) or Lesser Stag Beetle (Dorcus parallelepipedus). It is difficult to say from the picture which of the two beetles it is. Lucanus cervus is the best-known species of stag beetle (family Lucanidae). It lives in holes in old trees and dead trunks. There are about 1,200 species of Stag beetles in the family Lucanidae, some of which grow up to 12 cm (4.8 in) in length, but most of them are about 5 cm (2 in). Male stag beetles use their jaws to wrestle each other for favoured mating sites in a manner that parallels the way stags fight over females. Fights may also be over food, such as tree sap and decaying fruits. Despite their often fearsome appearance they are not normally aggressive to humans. Alongside the photograph of the grub I have added a drawing of an adult Stag beetle to give some idea of size and appearance.


Wood White (Leptidea synapsis) provisional IDRinglet (Aphantopus hyperantus)Pearly Heath (Coenonympha arcania) possible IDSloe Hairstreak (Satyrium acaciae) provisional IDMap butterfly (Araschnia levana), female
The butterflies shown above are:
Large picture: Wood white (Leptidea synapsis) from the family Pieridae. This species of butterfly cannot easily be distinguished from the Real’s or Eastern Wood white species. However, the latter two butterflies are not normally found in central France, where I live, and so I am sure that the butterfly in the picture is a Wood white.
Top, centre: Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus). Belongs to the Nymphalidae family.
Top right: Pearly Heath (Coenonympha arcania). Belongs to the same family as the Ringlet.
Bottom centre: Sloe Hairstreak (Satyrium acaciae). Family Lycaenidae.
Bottom right: Map (Araschnia levana), female, summer brood. Family Nymphalidae. Although common in the lowlands of central and eastern Europe this butterfly is expanding into western Europe. To see one this far west is rather a rare occurence. The Map is unusual in that it has two annual broods that look very different. The spring brood have as much orange as black and a few spots of white, almost like a tortoiseshell butterfly. The summer brood, however, have black and white markings with two narrow orange rows as shown in the picture. I don’t know how this butterfly got its unusual name.Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), maleLarge Skipper (Ochlodes venatus), female, with mites attached.
Far left: Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), male. The scientific name for this butterfly was long known as Ochlodes venata, which is also the name of a Far Eastern relative, but there now seems to be some dispute as to whether it should be a separate species or a subspecies of O. venata. Skippers are easily distinguished by their backward curved antennae tips, somewhat resembling crochet hooks, and the fact that, when resting, they usually keep their wings folded at angle as shown in the picture.
Above right: Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), female. This female Large Skipper was seen around the same time as the male in the other picture. I was curious about the red ‘pouches’ at the front of the abdomen since I had not seen them before. The ‘pouches’ are bright red parasitic mites that attach themselves to insects, including butterflies, to siphon off blood but the mites don’t appear to affect their health.
Note: All of the seven butterflies were photographed on the same day in the same small area at the hilltop village of Montenoison in Burgundy.


I also took a few photos of night-flying moths and below are three of them (all the pictures were taken inside the house).
Small Dusty Wave (Idaea seriata)Small Magpie (Eurrhypara hortulata)The Old Lady (Mormo maura) Left to right:
Small Dusty Wave (Idaea seriata),Small Magpie (Eurrhypara hortulata),The Old Lady (Mormo maura)


PrémeryIn my 2009 Review I posted pictures of a dragonfly and two damselflies (see archives). These beautiful insects like both ponds and slow-running water with plenty of reeds, weeds and other water-loving plants for resting, mating and laying eggs. Submerged and emergent plants are needed for the larvae to feed on and develop. On the other side of the box hedge at the bottom of our garden (see picture, left) there is a millstream which is a haven for just these insects and I have spent several hours watching and photographing them. The pictures below are typical of what I can see on a nice, warm summer’s day.

Blue Eye aka Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii), male

Blue Eye aka Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii) malePhotos left: Blue Eye (Erythromma lindenii), or Goblet-marked Damselfly, is a fairly common species in the south and west of Europe but it is absent from the British Isles, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The insects in these two pictures are males.

Blue Eye (aka Goblet-marked Damselfly) in tandemBlue Eye aka Goblet-marked Damselfly, ovipositing

———–Above left: Blue Eye (Erythromma lindenii), male & female. This pair were captured flying in tandem over the water, just like two linked helicopters.
Above right: Blue Eye (Erythromma lindenii). The same pair copulating.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), male

Blue Chaser (Libellula fulva), male

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (top right). This photograph, along with the one below it, was taken beside the river Nièvre in the nearby village of Les Ponts de Beaumont. Calopteryx splendens is a common Eurasian species of damselfly, often to be found along slow-flowing streams and rivers from the atlantic coast eastwards to Lake Baikal and north western China.

The Blue Chaser (Libellula fulva), male (bottom right) has a more restricted range than the commoner and more widespread Broad-Bodied Chaser (see picture in my 2009 review). It is largely absent from Scandinavia, the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula and so tends to be much the rarer of the two species. The females and immature males are of a strikingly beautiful orange colour, which later changes into light blue in the case of males (as seen in the picture) and brown in the case of females. The Blue Chaser has a dark-brown wing patch (on the hind wings only) and a dark patch on the tip of each wing.


Sickle-bearing bush cricket (Phaneroptera falcata), female.The photograph (left) of a cricket feeding on a dahlia was taken at the Parc Floral de Paris at Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital. This insect is thought to be the Sickle-bearing bush cricket (Phaneroptera falcata) but there is a slight possibility that it might be the less common Four-spot bush cricket (Phaneroptera nana), normally found in the south of France. These two crickets are so similar that differences between them can normally only be seen in the hand. I am regarding this one as Phaneroptera falcata for no other reason than it is the more likely of the two to be found in northern France. Crickets (called katydids in the United States) are distinguished from grasshoppers by their much longer antennae as seen in the picture.

Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)

Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) (right). This is probably the most frequently seen lizard in the garden and on walls and outbuildings. It can grow to about 20cm (7.9 in) in total length. It is distributed widely throughout Europe and there are well-established introduced populations in North America where it is called the European wall lizard. The difference in the reptile’s tail is quite normal because the tail can be a different colour or pattern to the rest of the body. I have photographed and seen illustrations of other wall lizards with marked tail changes. Photographed on the steps leading to our garden.


In September Nancy & I travelled to the United Kingdom to see members of my family in North Yorkshire. Whilst there we took time out to visit Northumberland so that Nancy could see more of my home country.
Most of our time was spent on the beautiful Northumbrian coast between Bamburgh and Beadnell (see map). I had hoped to spend a day or two photographing birds but, unfortunately, the weather was mostly wet, cold and miserable with only the odd day of sunshine and warm weather. Consequently, I was not able to take as many photographs as I would have liked. All the birds shown in the pictures below are in their plainer, less colourful winter plumage

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) & Dunlin (Calidris alpina), first-winter juvenileThe Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) (left) is a large wader belonging to the familyScolopacidae. It breeds on Arctic coasts and tundra, mainly on the European continent, and winters on the coasts of western Europe and north Africa. It is believed to make the longest known non-stop migratory flight by any bird and also the longest journey, without pausing to feed, by any animal (11,680 kilometres, 7,258 miles), along a route from Alaska to New Zealand. Their long, slightly upcurved bills allow them to probe deeply into the sand for aquatic worms and molluscs. The name Godwit originates in Old English with god meaning good, and wit coming from wihte, meaning creature.

The smaller of the two waders in the above picture is a first winter Dunlin (Calidris alpina), one of the commonest and best-known waders throughout its breeding and wintering ranges Birds that breed in northern Europe and Asia are long-distance migrants, wintering in Africa, south east Asia and the Middle East. Birds that breed in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic migrate shorter distances to the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts of North America, although those nesting in Northern Alaska overwinter in Asia. The Dunlin is often seen feeding with a characteristic “sewing machine” action, methodically picking small food items. Insects form the main part of the bird’s diet in nesting areas and in coastal areas it eats mollucs, worms and crustaceans.
This picture was taken at Budle Bay near Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

The Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), (right) is a large, long-legged, long-billed shore bird or wader, belonging to the same Scolopacidae family as the Bar-tailed Godwit. The main difference between the two birds is, as their names suggest, in the tail. Its breeding range stretches from Iceland through Europe and areas of central Asia where it is found in fenland, lake edges, damp meadows, moorlands and bogs. They winter in regions as diverse as Australia, western Europe and west Africa, using estuaries, swamps and flooded areas. It is, however, known to be resident in parts of the United Kingdom and France. The Black-tailed Godwit was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. Right now, the world population is estimated to be somewhere between 634,000 to 805,000 birds but, even so, it is classified as a Near Threatened species. This bird was photographed at Beadnell on the Northumberland coast.

In addition to the Bar-tailed Godwit and the Black-tailed Godwit there are two other species of godwit. The third is the Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), normally found in North, Central and South America (see my picture in last year’s ‘April in the USA’ post) and the Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), a North American species that winters primarily in South America.

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)The Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) (left) is another Eurasian member of the large wader and shorebird family Scolopacidae and a widespread breeding bird across temperate Eurasia. A migratory species, it winters on coasts around the Mediterranean, on the Atlantic coast of Europe from Great Britain southwards, and in south Asia. In breeding plumage these birds are a marbled brown colour, slightly lighter below. In winter, as this picture shows, the plumage is somewhat lighter-toned and less patterned, being rather plain greyish-brown above and whitish below. The bird is easily identified by its red legs and black-tipped red bill. This photograph was taken at Beadnell.

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

The Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) (right) is a wader in the oystercatcher bird family Haematopodidae. It is the most widespread of the 11 species of oystercatcher still existing today. In addition to the Eurasian Oystercatcher there is a Magellanic Oystercatcher, Blackish Oystercatcher, American Black Oystercatcher, American Oystercatcher, African Black Oystercatcher, Pied Oystercatcher, South Island Pied Oystercatcher, Chatham Island Oystercatcher (endangered species), Variable Oystercatcher and Sooty Oystercatcher. Apart from the Variable Oystercatcher, the different species show little variation in shape or appearance. The plumage of all species is either all-black, or black (or dark brown) on top and white underneath. The Variable Oystercatcher can be either black or pied. This Eurasian Oystercatcher was photographed at Beadnell.

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus), juvenileThe bird on the left is a juvenile Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) resting on the beach at Beadnell. It was one of two birds found there and both appeared to be exhausted. It is likely that they had left their nesting ground, somewhere in Scandinavia or western Scotland, intending to migrate south to the Mediterranean or west Africa for the winter. The bird in the picture appeared to have injured a leg. Gannets (adults are white with a yellow-buff head and black wing tips) are famed for their spectacular, steep, diagonal dive for fish from a height of 10 – 40 metres, throwing back their wings just before striking the surface of the sea.

Common Eider (Somateria mollissima), juvenile

A juvenile Common Eider (Sometaria mollissima)(right) was photographed in the harbour at Seahouses, a small fishing village on the coast of Northumberland. This large sea duck (an adult male is black and white and the female is brown in colour, similar to the juvenile) is found along the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in the Arctic and in some northern temperate regions, but winters farther south in temperate zones. It can fly at speeds up to 113km/h (70mph).
This bird is perhaps best known for providing a soft down used for filling pillows and quilts. The eider’s nest is built close to the sea and is lined with eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast. This soft and warm lining has long been harvested as a soft filling, but in more recent years it has been largely replaced by down from geese and synthetic alternatives. Although true eiderdown pillows or quilts are now a rarity, eiderdown harvesting continues and is sustainable, as it is done after the ducklings leave the nest with no harm to the birds.


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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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