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Thursday, 5 July 2018

A wild Swallowtail eclosing

Hello, it's me. You've probably forgotten me by now but I'll explain in another post. For now it's all about this Swallowtail who decided to pupate on my lavender. Going back a bit, about late April we had quite a few Swallowtails about laying eggs on the bronze fennel. There's a lot of fennel now as it self seeds with a vengeance. A good thing really, as about a month ago I counted upwards of twenty caterpillars and had to move some around onto stalks with plenty of foliage.

Moving forward a bit, I then found a caterpillar on a lavender plant round the side of the house. I knew it wasn't going to eat lavender (their host plants are carrot, wild carrot, fennel and dill) so it had to have chosen that place to pupate. Sure enough, the next morning there was a faint bit of silk spun around its head end holding it in place onto the stalk. This silk is called the hammock. 

I then went to England to see my Mum (had a great time with amazing weather, but if you are in England you know about the weather!). I really didn't expect to see a living chrysalis when I came back, as the time I studied this species' caterpillars in the wild, all out of four caterpillars or chrysalises died from disease, predators or parasitism, whereas my indoor raised ones all survived to become butterflies.

It took me a while to even find the chrysalis as it was so well camouflaged - it looks remarkably like a lavender leaf! I was so pleased to see it looking healthy. Then this morning I had a look and I could see the butterfly's wing patterns showing through the chrysalis and knew it wouldn't be long. I went outside again a few hours later and I'd just missed the eclosion by about 5 minutes! Its wings were still curled up like in the first photo. I didn't have my 'butterfly camera' to hand so by the time I'd fetched it the wings were looking straighter. Then the butterfly started unfurling and refurling its tongue (proboscis) which is in two parts when unfurled. I'm too lazy to google but I think when they first eclose they have to do something that makes those two parts stick together. Or something. You can google if it interests you! 

The following photos are taken with my Powershot SX50 which is ten times better for macros/close ups than my more expensive Lumix which took the photo above!

See the end of the proboscis in two parts?

Here's the chrysalis - the top end is where the butterfly comes out, and the dark bit at the other end is the liquid that the butterfly ejects when it ecloses. Again, I can't remember all the details about that so it's another thing you can google!

This afternoon I have also seen a Large Skipper, a large Fritillary of some sort, two Map butterflies and a Kingfisher, and there's an absolute explosion of various kinds of blue damselflies around the pond. A second brood of Blue Tits have fledged and their "pee pee pee" sound is loud but cute. All very pleasant indeed.

Monday, 18 December 2017

A whole year in one blog post

It's been a while, hasn't it? Well I'm still here, just not been in the mood for blogging. The good news is that I got my 2 year's all clear recently, and whilst both mental and physical health have been tough at times, I've managed to get away on and thoroughly enjoy 5 holidays this year! I realise looking back that I have barely written a thing about this year, so I think I'll make this a recap of the year type post which can also serve as my Xmas newsletter to friends and family, complete with pictures. Lots of pictures. So grab a cuppa and sit down comfortably as this will take a while!

I managed to get to England twice this year to see Mum. Spending a week with her every six months isn't ideal and I would probably try to do this more often, but it's not cheap travelling there on a plane, and is a long journey by ferry (I go as a foot passenger but have a cabin both ways so that ends up making it almost as expensive as flying). Plus I've been busy travelling elsewhere this year (sorry Mum!). I seem to spend all my time in England eating, all those naughty fattening things that I can't get here in France, but for just one week thankfully it doesn't seem to put too much weight on! This year I went over there in August, as well as in the winter, but as usual the weather wasn't great (not that it was at home either), but it was lovely seeing the countryside in the summer and all the beautiful front gardens as we were driving around. My Mum lives in a beautiful part of the country, in Somerset, very close to the borders of both Dorset and Devon, so when we are out and about going out for lunch we are often dipping into the other counties, which are gorgeous too.

In April we took the Moho out for a spin, just an overnighter down to the Morbihan on the south coast of Brittany for some birding and to make sure everything was working OK prior to our May holiday. We still didn't see any bluethroats and I still haven't got the hang of selfies.

In May we set off in the MoHo down south for three weeks. We'd been looking forward to it for ages, ever since we returned from there in September! We travelled around some of the Aude department, the Pyrenees Orientales and went back to our favourite place in Spain, the Aiguamolls wetland reserve near to Roses on the Costa Brava. Being spring and nesting season it was great for bird watching but I also loved seeing the wildflowers in full bloom, as later in the year these places become really parched. There were times that we experienced the Tramontane wind, which is a nasty strong cold wind blowing off the mountains, but all in all after the first few days, the weather was great and it was wonderful after a long winter to get into shorts and T-shirts, and go swimming. The upside to camping is that we mostly get to stay at places with swimming pools, whereas if we were paying for a hotel with a pool, it would be very pricey indeed!

I've seen these Scarce Swallowtails (Iphiclides podalirius) before but not for years, so it was a delight to see a whole lot of them enjoying the Valerian plants at Rennes-le-Chateau in the Aude dept.

We rounded the corner and there it was, the Pyrenees mountain chain right in front of us.

Me at Lagrasse, in the Corbieres region of the Aude dept.

Collioure, in the Pyrenees Orientales dept, not far from the border with Spain.

Me at the Aiguamolls wetland reserve on the Costa Brava in Catalonia.

Yours truly again after she'd been for a swim at the campsite in Spain next to the wetland reserve. Thankfully no mossies here!

And it's me again folks, at the lovely campsite beside the Aiguamolls reserve.

At the end of the trip we visited the Chateau de Peyrepertuse, one of the many Cathar castles in the Aude dept. They were all built high up on craggy rocks in very defensive positions.

The Queen of the Castle! Seriously, it was quite a hike to get up there as you can see from the previous photo, and K had to haul me up some of the steep steps. I was really proud of myself when I made it to the top.

We didn't have much time when we got back before my brother Malcolm came over and we set off in the Moho again! After experiencing sleeping in the not terribly comfortable occasional bed made up of the sofa cushions the previous year, Malc decided he'd prefer to sleep in a tent, so I had fun in Decathlon crawling in and out of tents and trying out blow up mattresses so I could get the kit in advance of his arriving. He then had to try out the pop up tent, and most importantly, figure out how you fold it all up again! After doing this a few times once we were away he became a dab hand at it. 

We spent an enjoyable week travelling around the coast of Finistere, which is the furthest west department in Brittany and the one place Keith and I had not seen very much of previously. Coastal Finistere is very rugged and it all seemed quite different from our part of Brittany, which made it all the more interesting. At times we experienced wind not unlike the Tramontane down south, but this time blasting straight at us off the Atlantic! Though I was quite surprised to see so many of the tender plants which I'd been admiring down south and wishing I could grow in my garden - olives, bananas and oleander bushes amongst others. It's quite mild in these coastal areas of Finistere in winter but it doesn't get as hot in summer as inland Brittany but the exotic plants seemed to thrive there.

This is supposed to be a two man tent but that would be a real squeeze!

 Pointe de Raz, one of the westernmost points in Brittany.
My bro and me trying not to get blown off the cliff!

 Keith and me

Playing on the beach with my brother - Keith doesn't do paddling and stuff.
I think this was the beach at Saint Michel en Greve.

Back home I got the mothtrap out a few times but I didn't get very into it this year. I was however really chuffed to trap my first Lime Hawkmoth and first Small Elephant Hawkmoth!  The only really special things in the butterfly department were the return of my favourite little Lulworth Skippers and a visit by a Queen of Spain Fritillary, otherwise it was a rather uneventful butterfly year at home.

Small Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila porcellus).

This summer we've both been busy with painting! Our exterior woodwork was looking dreadful with the many coats of varnish painted over the years making the wood look really blotchy with different layers which have peeled and been recoated umpteen times. It would be practically impossible to sand them all back to the original wood and start again, so we made the wise decision to paint them instead. Now after a good sanding and two coats of quality exterior paint the house has had a facelift, but it took some getting used to. It's now painted in Rouge Basque! It's not finished as the weather turned and it's a major job with the amount of windows and doors that we have, but it's more than 3/4 done and the rest will have to wait until the spring.

The front of the house after its makeover.

Keith doing a bit more here and there this rainy autumn.

I've been painting indoors so I can keep going through the winter. All these years we've been here we've put up with bare plaster on the middle floor landing and stairwell, and in my toilet and bathroom. I haven't felt much like redecorating and anyway, all my time was taken working in the garden. This summer was dry so the only thing I did really in the garden was water, until the heavens opened in September. I've finished the loo and bathroom and I'm now onto the hallway outside our bedroom. I'm only painting in white but it looks so clean and bright now! I'm really enjoying it too as it makes such a huge change.

The before pic; you can't really see what a state the plaster was in.

The after pic, looking from the toilet into the bathroom.

After another quick overnighter down in the Morbihan just to get into the Moho swing again, we set off on yet another trip down south. We wouldn't normally have chosen mid October as a time to set off, but the reason for going at this time was because towards the end of the month we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary (25 years)!!! Where have the years gone?!!! I thought this was a good excuse to go away again and Keith didn't take much encouraging when I suggested it. This time we chose to go to the other side of the south of France, to Provence. The last time we were there must have been about 17 or 18 years ago - we'd visited a few times when we lived the other side of France as the Cote d'Azur was our closest coastline.

Provence was lovely, but there was just so much to see and we only had two weeks including travelling time. You could spend months here exploring. It was busier than the other side of the country and small villages had plenty of shops compared to the same size ones in the Languedoc which were just sleepy hollows. It was also parched dry as they've been experiencing a drought for quite some time. With no wildflowers to speak of, I hardly saw any butterflies at all - I wasn't expecting much at this time of year but had hoped to see a few, but it wasn't to be. Our first stop in Provence was the town of Avignon which was busy and had quite a vibe which I haven't experienced anywhere in years. I enjoyed it and wished we'd had more than just an overnight stop there and a couple of hours to whizz around the old town. Never mind, Have Moho, Will Travel is my motto though we might have to wild camp to save on the pennies if we keep taking this many trips in her!

On the way down we stopped at a friend's for the night - we met Monika for the first time on a Moho meetup in Spain last September, although we have known each other for years in the virtual world. Our Mohos enjoyed seeing each other as well, and again, I tried to steal Olivia, her darling little dog, but no luck!

Moho meet in the Auvergne - and Monika and me.

Olivia and me.

After Avignon we crossed the beautiful Luberon mountains to the Verdon regional nature park as we'd heard that the gorges there were fantastic. Well wow - it was! I think autumn is probably the best time of year to visit as the colours were amazing, adding to the drama of this amazing scenery.

Mary Moho made to look tiny in the Verdon Gorges.

Verdon Gorges.

Then it was time to hit the coast and we spent a few days around Bormes les Mimosas/Le Lavandou, where the weather was just delightful, no wind and warm and sunny. Just what you need with winter looming!

Oh, the glorious Mediterranean!

At a campsite at Bormes les Mimosas - every pitch had a shaded area like this!

Yup I got my flabby bits out again and went to the beach as we were camped right beside it.

That was the last of the good weather and we headed off to a campsite near Arles where the Mistral was blowing again. For our silver wedding anniversary we did something we haven't done in a long time - we took a bus! We went into Arles for lunch, and had a curry. Haha! We know how to live! We also had a day driving around the Camargue - the birding wasn't great but we got to see loads of flamingos up close, which was something new and interesting. These last couple of photos are from Les Baux de Provence in the Alpilles range between Arles and Marseilles. Les Baux was so interesting (although the wind was horrendous) we didn't get to seeing anywhere else in the Alpilles. Something to do another time!

Keith and Mary Moho at Les Baux de Provence. It looks glorious but the wind was absolutely evil!

Does my bum look big in this?

And here we are, we came back home to a wet rest of autumn and there have been few days where the sun shone all day long since mid July, which is when it seemed like someone switched summer off. Thank goodness for our trip away as we wouldn't have had any Indian Summer if we'd stayed home. Even our Scottish housesitters said that the weather was not dissimilar to Scotland......

View down to the lake with the Liquidambar showing up well on the right.

Last chicken standing - Andrea just after a moult in mid November - now she's looking quite smart but she is the last hen left and I hate that she's all alone, but I won't get any more chickens.

Sooooo, what else to say? Well I don't know if you have got the idea yet that I'm not very happy at home but come to life when we are away..... I have to assume I still associate home with the sick house or something. My doctor doubled my dose of antidepressant this spring and I felt fairly OK all though the summer but fell into a dip again as soon as we got back from this trip to Provence, just like I did last year after returning. I'm back to climbing a mini mountain to get out of bed in the morning and my motto is 'maƱana'. I feel like I need a rocket up my non-existant arse to get me going. Anyhow, this is only a part of it, but after spending last winter battling the brambles, ivy and saplings in the woodland yet again, amongst the many other jobs outdoors, we made a decision - we absolutely have to move as it's just all too much for both of us, we're not getting any younger and we originally said we'd give it 10 years and it's been 13. 

However, when we thought about it, there's absolutely nothing tying us to Brittany. We can get British food goodies online which we've been doing lately so no need to take the car over to go food shopping in England any more. I can fly to see my Mum from other airports and ditto for my brother coming to see us. So guess where we are planning to move to? Down south of course! We've always thought it would be too hot, but with aircon and a swimming pool to cool us down in the height of summer, I can't see it being a problem. The benefits will be lots more sunshine in winter (and the rest of the year), plenty of warm days in the early spring and late autumn that we rarely have here in Brittany. Not to mention glorious views, a whole host of new bird and butterfly species and a thousand and one new places to explore on day trips and mini breaks in the Moho.  It's the Pyrenees side of the south of France that we're looking at, the Pyrenees Orientales or the Aude departments. Amongst my wish list which includes a swimming pool is an olive tree in my garden and an oleander hedge! And a much, much smaller, manageable garden.

So the plan is to put our house on the market in the spring and cross fingers we will be moving next year. Now you realise why we are painting...... Whoever buys this house gets ready made compost and leaf mould, plus the bins, water butts, firewood, a ride on mower, and two ducks. What more could you ask for if you want a self sufficientish lifestyle?! :-)

I'll finish off by wishing you all, friends, family and any of my blog readers still out there a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Mandy xx

Friday, 23 June 2017

Meneham, Finistere and its gorgeous beach

We're back from our travels and it's good to stay put for a bit now! To say it was a bit of a rush in between trips is putting it mildly. As we had housesitters for both trips there's not only sorting out our own things but we have also to think of the housesitters - clean the house before they arrive, have a meal prepared for them that evening, and then washing their bedding and towels afterwards. With my brother here too the laundry pile is astronomical, but there's no rush to get it all done now. 

As it's so hot outside right now* what better to do than sort through my photos indoors! I still have piles of weeds to attack but can only go slowly at the moment and the garden requires watering most evenings now which takes priority.

Despite us all catching the cold that my brother caught off someone on the ferry over, pouring rain on our first day and a lot of really annoying wind, we still had a great time! Brittany's coastline is just amazing and it's no wonder that it is so popular with tourists. This place that we visited was on our last day and it was a shame we had to leave about 4pm for the journey home, as it was the most glorious spot with fab views and a beach to die for... and we had nice weather that day.  I doubt I will be posting everything from our travels but this was one place I wanted to share.

The hamlet of Meneham is one of those places which fell into disrepair after the inhabitants moved out and so it has been restored, with some of the buildings now housing a gite, an auberge, artisan workshops and a museum. The houses are dotted about here and there and aren't the most photogenic but the history of the hamlet is interesting. If you look carefully at the photo below you will see that the thatch has been capped with stone. This was done as back in the day wood was used, but people used to nick the wood to use as firewood as there are no trees about on this windswept coastal site. Meneham once housed customs people before it was taken over by paysans, both fishermen and farmers who worked the land. An important 'crop' for them was seaweed, which they would collect with the help of horses, dry out then burn to cinders. These cinders were sent to various factories to extract soda from them. This info I got from the info boards on site, however the website for Meneham says that they extracted iodine and algin/alginate. 

These cottages have been turned into a gite - a great spot to holiday but you'd have to get used to tourists gawking at you when you sat outside!

The whole area is rocky and so many of the rocks have 'faces' in them - once you start thinking like that you see creatures in them everywhere. I see an elephant below. :-)

This is the little house that is built in a gap between the rocks and the other side looks out to sea. There are only two little windows and it's a one room house.

This is it from the coastal side.

And these are the kinds of views it enjoys!

At low tide the beach and surrounds are just stunning.

And the sand is pure white! Not golden but the whitest sand I've seen in Brittany, perhaps in all of France. There are dunes all along the edge of the beach and at the top of the dunes where the sand is more solid there are sand martins nesting. It was a real pleasure wandering around with these little birds flying around us.

OK so this photo has had a vintage filter so the sand looks golden!

Sand Martin at its nest hole.

There were also quite a number of Rock Pipits, a bird we have been seeing regularly around coastal Brittany.

I spotted this little critter in the sand so got down close for a better look. It is a Sand Hopper (Talitrus saltator), but it didn't hop for us and just played dead. They eat rotting seaweed and in turn provide food for shore birds.

A rock pool!

Keith looking in a rock pool, but I was interested in the rock to the right of him. Can you see the lady's face and hair?

He took some photos of me but only my back view this time (I have plenty of me facing the camera in other places!). I bought the cropped trousers and backpack in a touristy shop on our previous trip. I'm covered up here because we all got a bit pink a few days before spending several hours on a beach.

There was tons of seaweed making paddling (or swimming) at low tide not so enticing; however the variety of seaweed was amazing, with all sorts of sizes and colours. I was most enamoured by a pinky purple one, which I ought to have taken a photo of. I'm not sure what my brother and I are looking at here. 

All in all a place well worth a visit.

The website for Meneham makes interesting reading, although it is in French.
and briefer infomation is given in English here.

* It was 36C when I wrote this several days ago; it now feels gloriously cool at 24C!