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Friday, 14 October 2016

The condensed version of our Pyrenees holiday

Hi everyone! We are back and we've had the most amazing time imaginable! Trying to sort through 1,500 photos has taken some time, and it will be a while before I can write more detailed posts, but for now here's a condensed version of our 25 days away.

We started off visiting Le Teich bird reserve near Arcachon, where they have 20 hides and the walk is about 10km. We did it in 36C and by about 2/3rds of the way around I was ready to be carted off in a stretcher! Birding was a little disappointing; autumn is not as good as spring when the birds are singing so you are much more aware of their presence. We did see plenty of water birds though such as this Lapwing which I've never seen so close before.

Once back at the campsite I knew how to cool off and those new swimming cossies got put to good use!

I saw some great butterflies and managed to total 12 lifers! Most of the butterflies were in the mountains where it was not dried out and there were still wild flowers. We also visited a butterfly farm/park in the Ariège department and as well as enjoying the tropical butterflies in the polytunnel, we spent ages in their outside butterfly garden, which to be honest I enjoyed more. There were tons of butterflies in this garden and I could have spent hours there! I really need some Asters in my garden as they were very popular nectar flowers. Below is a Common Blue - I saw lots of them but as they are rare at home I was happy to see them.

As usual you can never get away from Breton 'cuisine'!

We spent three days in an amazing campsite in the mountains of the Pyrénées-Orientales, at Mont Louis. You couldn't imagine a more peaceful idyllic setting, beside a mountain stream and amongst the pines.

A first for me up in the Eyne valley was seeing multiple butterflies puddling! I've only ever seen single butterflies doing this. These are Adonis Blues along with Small Whites (I think, there are other mountain and southern species of white which are similar).

Then it was off to Spain and the Costa Brava where we had a Moho meetup arranged with Monika, a (virtual) friend who I've known for about nine years, first through the Selfsufficientish forum, and latterly on facebook. We both live in France though Monika lives in the middle. She has the most adorable little dog, Olivia, who I would gladly have stolen if I could have! We spent an enjoyable time together before Monika headed back home and we continued our stay, as we had booked a week at the campsite at L'Escala. 

Of course we revisited the wetlands of the Aiguamolls de l'Empordà. This was our third visit and I've already written about our previous visit in 2013 here.

We still found something new in the area and spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the beautiful botanical gardens of Cap Roig.

The weather wasn't always great though! We had wind and rain too!

The sea wasn't so inviting when the sun wasn't shining and I decided it was too cold to swim in anyway.

After the Costa Brava we headed to the southern part of Catalonia to revisit the Ebro Delta, yet another important wetland area for birds. Here in the photo below is where the first thoughts about motorhomes came into my mind. We were picnicking on the beach in 2013 and there was a solitary van here, and I remember thinking how nice it would be to have your kitchen on board so that you didn't have to secretly steal your lunch from the breakfast buffet, and to have a toilet too! There are very few places to 'go' on the Delta. It's all flat and full of rice paddies or lagoons so no going behind a bush. We had to keep going back to the same cafe to use the facilities! My 2013 post from the Delta is here.

The only downside to having a Moho is the parking - we were unable to find parking space beside the hide where the flamingos were, but a good thing about a Moho is that it is much higher than a car, so you get much better views, and can see over hedges!

Still in the Delta, and very close to our campsite was the organic rice farm of Riet Vell, which has a hide overlooking a lagoon. It was the only place we saw Purple Gallinules in 2013 and lucky for us, we saw a number of them again. You gotta love a Purple Swamphen! They have such huge feet and are so ungainly.

Yet again though, the weather followed us. We got to experience our first thunderstorm inside a tin can. It rained so much that the campsite roads turned into rivers!

Inland from the delta is the mountain range called Els Ports de Tortosa. This was where our car overheated last time and was the start of endless overheating problems which stuffed up our holiday as we had to keep to fairly flat land after that. Mary Moho had no such problems and chugged her way up and down steep zigzag roads effortlessly.

Not all of Spain is scenic - most of where we went was delightful, but these flatlands near to Zaragoza were a bit dull to say the least.

Finally back in the Pyrenees again and we ended doing a couple of trips which we had originally planned for the beginning of the holiday, but it was raining in the mountains then. This next photo was at the Col du Somport which is a border crossing. It was looking quite autumnal up there.

We then headed to the Col du Tourmalet, which is the highest paved road pass in the French Pyrenees at 2,115m altitude, and is often used as a stage in the Tour de France. Consequently it's a good road so we had no problems getting up or down.

Sometimes I manage to get my selfies right!

Just past the Col in the ski village of La Mongie you can take a cable car up to the Pic du Midi observatory perched atop a mountain at 2,877m altitude. Thanks to my bravery riding the Devon Eye I had no problems riding the two cable cars to the top; I loved every minute, including when the car rocked occasionally! The views from the top are superb and in places we were looking down on the clouds. This day was the highlight of my trip. I also have a much better head for heights now when we are driving up and down the mountain roads (or maybe it's because K goes slower than he would in the car), although I still get occasional vertigo.

Our last day in the mountains we did the walk to the Cirque de Gavarnie. There is an amazingly high waterfall at the end (not in this picture). After a much tougher walk than I had imagined, about 5km mostly uphill on a rough track, we made it to the cafe where we ate our picnic lunch. I declined the further walk to the base of the waterfall. I know when I've had enough, and I'm jolly glad we did this walk at the end of our trip when I was considerably fitter than at the beginning. The scenery all around Gavarnie is stunning and we spent our last night in an aire up above the town with mountain views on all four sides - just spectacular.

All too soon it seemed, it was time to say goodbye to the mountains. This though, was the first day that we saw the Pyrenees with no cloud cover somewhere!

And as the Law of Sod would have it, our journey the last but one day was with skies like this all the way, until we neared the coast in Charente Maritime where the clouds from nowhere appeared and enveloped us. Our final day driving home was in pouring rain (and traffic jams), until we got near Rennes, when it stopped. Home was dry - not good for my poor dry garden but great for unloading. Mary Moho is now back in her cupboard and I miss her. We could happily have stayed away longer and that is the plan for next spring.... watch this space!

(Oh and two out of three cats were all over me the moment we got home, Harry, however, took a whole week to forgive me.)

Friday, 26 August 2016

Large Chequered Skipper and other goodies at the shooting range

The what skipper, I hear you cry? I certainly did, and I thought I was pretty clued up about butterfly species that I might expect to see in France. But no, I saw a lifer and I didn't even know it existed!!

Different habitat from at home is key here. K is a member of a shooting club and the location is beside a military base in a forest. Not just any kind of forest but at least in this spot, a very damp forest, which has green grass within even in the driest of summers. There are plenty of ditches which remain damper still and I usually see dragonflies here. Why am I going with K to his club? Well I have been shooting with him in the past and immediately saw that the surrounding area would be interesting to explore, and so on the rare occasions when the sun shines on a spring or summer Saturday morning, I go along, armed with my camera, to do a bit of shooting of a different kind! I have only been twice this summer which attests to the infrequence of sunny mornings, at least on Saturday! 

This is the place where I saw the Chequered Skipper a few years ago which was very exciting, so I at least knew that species existed. The Large one is not quite so striking; in fact is rather drab on the upper side, but the underwing markings are beautiful. I couldn't get really close to it as it was very flitty, indeed it's flight pattern has been described as unique - it is very 'bobby' for want of a better word. I got to observe it for quite a while when it was too hard to take photos.

This butterfly is found on the western side of France and its habitat is in damp forest rides and clearings and marshy heathland. The larva feed on various grasses and the butterfly is on the wing from June to August.

Large Chequered Skipper (Heteropterus morpheus).

By contrast, here is the Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) that I saw here several times in May 2014. You can see that I managed to get a lot closer to this species!

Yes, that is my finger there. It was a magical moment. One of the pictures of it on my finger is in my banner image above.

I've seen other interesting butterflies here, as there are a number of disused tarmac roads round the back of the range, where sunlight penetrates and butterflies and other insects can be found around the edges on the flowers. The best place though is the (infrequently) mown grassed area where the archery targets are - here there are flowers in amongst the grass and taller wildflowers and bracken around the perimeter, which includes a ditch. The only downside is that we only get to come here in the morning, and often the bees and butterflies etc are only just waking up close to when we have to leave. I'm not sure about coming here in the afternoon, as although it is outside of the actual military camp it is primarily a part of it and the range is used by the police and military outside of the Saturday morning civilian club slot.

This is the place where I first saw a Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages), and as I have (for the first time) been seeing a number of them around my home territory, I am including an image that I took here in 2014. All my recent shots have been a bit rubbish. There are some skippers that like to rest on vegetation so it is quite easy to photograph them, and others that rarely do!

Back to last Saturday and for the first time I saw a Red Squirrel there. It was quite an amazing, if very brief, encounter. Now the moment I spotted the squirrel on the edge of the mown grassed area and started to try to focus on it, it was off.... and then I realised it was running towards me, so I just snapped and snapped (never mind camera settings!). It came really close, looked at me, seemed to realise that I was a human and not an archery target board, and then legged it!

It stopped one more time to check on me, then off it bounded again and my photos after that were of a blurred bushy tail. We used to have Red Squirrels living in our garden, but I haven't seen one in years now so this moment was all the more special for that.

Some dragonflies have been out and about these two times I have been here this month.

I think is a female Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum).

The following one I think is a male Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum). I haven't much time for IDing at the moment but it seems that Ruddys have black legs whereas Commons have black legs with a pale stripe. Here's a good link which helps with ID. 

I was hoping to see, and was so pleased when it appeared... a Silver Washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia). Not the best specimen but never mind! I've since seen a tatty looking female in my garden. This one is a male.

I'll leave you with a piccy of me shooting my OH's Smith & Wesson revolver. I call it his Cowboy Gun. So be warned - don't mess with me!!

Adios Amigos!

I won't have time to do any more blog posts before leaving for our MoHo trip to the Pyrenees and Spanish Mediterranean. This is our holiday that I planned whilst having chemotherapy - I decided we would have a decent holiday when it was all over and I had had some time to recover. Of course at the time I never imagined that we would have bought a motorhome and that our holiday would be in that! I have managed to extend the original 2 weeks to most of September now *big grin* - well we need to get our money's worth! - OK that is my excuse. :-)

So I won't be blogging whilst away but when I do have access to WiFi I will upload some photos to social media, so if you are interested you can follow me on the following sites to see the photos, which are all posted publically.


I am akaMillymollymandy and @MadameMoorhen
(I've never understood why one needs two names on Twitter) 


I hope you all have a wonderful rest of summer and I will catch up with you in October! xx

Sunday, 14 August 2016

MoHo Trip No. 3: Gulf of Morbihan

After our trip to England in May, we felt the urge to get away in our MoHo again. We were desperate to get back down to the Gulf of Morbihan around the Sarzeau area in search of the elusive Bluethroat once more. We also fancied just revisiting some places we'd been to in April, wanting to see what they would be like now a couple of months later. So off we trotted back to the same campsite, just for an overnighter, on June 7th.

At the Duer Marshes, not surprisingly, there were avocets all over the place.....

.... and Shelducks too, but it was the first time we'd seen any baby ones, which were mega cute.

Various birds seen, from top left clockwise: Kestrel, Brent Geese, Kentish Plover, Chiffchaff, and Kestrel again.

Back at the marshes and dunes around the Chateau de Suscinio, we were really hoping to see a Bluethroat. We passed some birders with tripods and scopes who we chatted to, who then called out that there was a Bluethroat in the reeds. At home my not very good extremely zoomed in photos were hard to figure out; it certainly wasn't a male but didn't look much like a female either. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it was a juvenile or female Stonechat! Oh never mind! We will just have to go back and try again next year.

The dunes beside the marsh were looking pretty with bright splashes of yellow and blue from the Sedums and Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) everywhere. Surprisingly there were very few butterflies here. Maybe it was too windy. Plenty of bees though enjoying the nectar. 

I managed to capture this Skylark singing - there were a fair few of them around, as well as the by now usual Linnets and Stonechats, which we keep encountering on our coastal forays.

Below - the Skylark again top right, and I think a Yellowhammer bottom right. Left, there were snails like this all over the coastal plants!

The highlight though was this magnificent dragonfly which flew over the marshes and settled quite close to us. It's a Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) and I've only seen one twice before (one time in my veg patch!).

On the path round the back of the marshes we were pleased to find that the ground had dried out - in April this path was practically underwater and although we managed to walk it, our trainers got extremely wet and muddy!

Suddenly we discovered an explosion of Meadow Browns - I think they had just recently eclosed. There were dozens of them and we walked amongst clouds of them. When we stopped walking they settled on plants, flying up again when we resumed walking. It was a great experience - I don't think I've ever seen so many butterflies in one place before!

They were already doing the business!

I saw a few Marbled Whites too, but the one at the bottom of the collage had just eclosed I think, which I hadn't realised at the time of taking the photo. I think there is something wrong with its underwings though as they haven't unfolded like the forewings, and if that was the case then it wouldn't have had a very long life, sadly.

A little way further along the track and ...... drum roll....... I saw a lifer butterfly! A Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi). I'm surprised I haven't seen one before as the larva feed on various common fruit trees, including Blackthorn and Hawthorn. It was the only one we saw but very exciting!

Moving on to a flat rocky headland, the Pointe de Penvins, which we hadn't managed to explore last time as it kept raining - this time the sun shone, it was warm and the birds and butterflies were out.

A Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) which was strutting its stuff with a grub in its beak.

Rock Pipit again, and a Painted Lady butterfly. There were more Ladies than any other butterfly in this place! I don't necessarily expect to see them beside the sea!

Our final point of call on day two was the end of the Rhuys Peninsular at the Port du Crouesty in Arzon. Thankfully we managed to find a parking space which is not always easy in a motorhome. The weather was just perfect and all that was needed was an ice cream.

This ice cream shop had the most amount of flavours that I've ever seen. Look closely at the ones in the image below. Do you see anything odd?

Yuk and double yuk!! Can you imagine goat's cheese (chèvre) ice cream? Or Reblochon? Ugh, that's a horrible cheese just as cheese, but as ice cream? Tomato, maybe. Pepper? I don't think so. But oh, cheese ice cream. Dear god. Interestingly enough, I don't see any scoops taken out of either of the cheesy ones. I wonder why not!

We were sensible and I had the most wonderful home made real fresh banana I've ever tasted, plus chocolate brownie which I've never had before and was just absolutely amazing. We'll have to come back here just for the ice cream!

Squeezed into a regular spot in a car park. When we came back to the parking there were several more MoHos - once you spot where a MoHo has parked, you tend to go there and congregate. I guess we have become part of the 'camping car' brigade now. We are not loved by all though - on our most recent trip out in Mary MoHo we came across the idiot van driver who swerved towards us on purpose. That's one of the reasons for having spent a few bucks on the white wing mirror protectors - we've heard some tales of people who have had their wing mirrors smashed by truck drivers who don't care for motorhomes. 

By the way what is going on with the followers numbers? At one point I had 82, then Blogger said they would remove anyone who had followed using a Twitter account or other accounts I've never heard of, so my numbers dropped. Fair enough. But then it said I had 59 whereas when I counted the followers there were about 70! And now I'm suddenly down to 57 as the last two followers have disappeared. Soon I'll be Billy No Mates! :-)