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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!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

I'm still around, somewhere.....

... just not in the land of blog. We've just spent 3 weeks down in the south of France in the moho, and no sooner have I got through a ton of laundry and uploaded my photos to my big Mac, than we are off again for another week to explore Finistere in the rain with my brother. 

One of these days I will get back to blogging, I've just lost my mojo. I leave you with a photo of me searching for it.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Butterflies seen during our Pyrenees holiday - Part 2

Continuing on with the butterflies that I saw whilst on holiday last September. These ones were all seen by the Mediterranean sea, both in France and in Spain.

Not a lifer but I don't see these Mallow Skippers (Carcharodus alceae) very often, and I only saw one other skipper whilst away, a Small Skipper up in the mountains; interestingly enough it was pudding close to the Adonis Blues.

10. I'm now not sure that the following two butterflies are the same species or not! It pays to double check before you post those original IDs that you noted. I think the butterfly on the right is a Rock Grayling (Neohipparchia statilinus), but am unsure of the one on the left which was taken in the same location. It doesn't help when the butterflies are very flitty and you don't have very good photos, or they are a tad worn. There were quite a few of these drab brown butterflies flying around the rocky headland next to our camp site at L'Escala. Despite such barren conditions I also saw Wall Brown, Small White and Painted Lady here.

11. Now this one definitely is a lifer and there were lots of them flying around this plant which is something exotic in the pea family. They are Lang's Short-tailed Blues (Leptotes pirithous) and they feed upon plants in the Fabaceae family, amongst others, so that helps with ID. They would not stand still and the shrub was huge, so taking photos was a bit hit and miss; better just to stand back and watch them and enjoy. So long as I can get a few photos for ID purposes then I'm happy. Do you see those two tiny electric blue spots by the little 'tail' though? Aren't they amazing!

I should mention that this and the following species seen on flowers were seen at the beautiful Botanical Garden of Cap Roig at Palafrugell, Costa Brava. If I ever get my A into G I will share photos that I took at this place as it was heavenly.

I'm going to throw a few moths into this post as this next one is just stunning. We also saw a couple mating on a path right beside our camp site, but I prefer this photo of one on a dahlia. It's Zygaena carniolica and it doesn't have a common name in English because presumably it isn't found in the British Isles.

I also saw quite a few of these little moths which were flitting about feeding on Lantana and Heliotrope (?not sure). Not a chance to ID it, unless anyone can help?

Back to the butterflies I include this blurry image as it's the first time I've caught a Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) in flight and seen the topside of the wings! They always but always have their wings closed when they are perching on something.

I have taken some much closer photos of this butterfly in previous years but even here you can see its stunning green eyes!

Again, not a lifer as I've seen one in my garden, but seeing the regal Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) in Spain is just icing on the cake.

12. I have saved the best till last. This butterfly was seen beside a beach at the far end of the Ebro Delta. Now I knew when I saw it that it was related to the famous Monarch butterfly because of that spotty body, but what it was I had absolutely no idea! I searched my European butterfly book but could only find a picture of the Monarch, as it can be found in Madeira, the Canary Isles and the Azores, where their foodplant, Milkweed, grows. However under the Monarch was a paragraph about the African Monarch .... and a google search showed that it was indeed the butterfly we saw! The African Monarch (or Plain Tiger) (Danaus chrysippus) is an African and Asian species which migrates across the sea to southern Spain. Lucky we saw them where we were as the Ebro Delta, despite being at the far southern tip of Catalonia, is still fairly north-ish. What a fabulous butterfly and not one I was ever expecting to see as I didn't know it existed!

So that makes 12 lifers seen, which is pretty darn good I'd say. We are heading down that way again in May so I hope to see some different species, as there should be plenty of wild flowers in bloom. Can't wait!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Butterflies seen during our Pyrenees holiday - Part 1

I have yet to see a butterfly this year so in the meantime, what better to do than to go through all my butterfly photos and notes from my holiday last September.

I saw a lot of lifers plus ones I've only seen once before, the vast majority being in the mountains or hills where it was green and there were flowers for them to nectar on. In the arid areas - and in September there are a lot - no or few wildflowers meant very few butterflies. Even so, part 2 of this post will feature the butterflies seen once we hit the Mediterranean. These following were in the mountains and foothills of the Ariege and the Pyrenees-Orientales. I'm only numbering the lifers in these posts (lifers being butterflies I've seen for the first time).

1. Number one lifer was at the bird reserve at the Arcachon basin however, a Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta), although no photo was possible.

Les Papillons d'Amaranthe, Lesparrou, nr Lavelanet, Ariege

This is a butterfly park but it also has a beautiful flowery garden which is open for you to walk around and spot the native butterflies. Oh, there were tons! I loved it better than the polytunnel with the exotic species. 

The butterfly below I've seen once before, in my own garden, but no less exciting. It's a Long Tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus).

2. This is the best photo I could get but I was still able to ID it from my photos - it's a Great Banded Grayling (Brintesia circe).

3. This butterfly was annoyingly flying low in a paddock with some goats so I couldn't get any closer. I think from being able to get a glimpse of the underwings, that this is a Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja). Even if it's not, it's still a lifer. And I did see a DG Fritillary later on!

4. More blues, this one being a Proven├žal Short-tailed Blue (Cupido alcetas).

Proven├žal Short-tailed Blue again, showing a bit of its upper wings.

5. I'll number this one as a lifer although I don't know what it is, and don't think it's a blue that I've seen before. I need to spend more time IDing but it's those two marks at the base of the front under wing that mean it's definitely not a Common Blue.....

Roadside ditch near the Chateau de Montsegur, Ariege

This ditch was teeming with butterflies as it was full of oregano and pond mint in flower. I could have stayed all day....

One of my blogging friends is going to hate me (you know who you are <grin>); this butterfly isn't a lifer but it's the first time I've seen the beautiful underwings of the Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia).

6. In the same place, Provence Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus hispana), or possibly Chalkhill Blue - apparently it's very hard to tell the difference. The Provence one is usually a little lighter, and given where it was seen I'd like to think it was the former.

Eyne Valley, Pyrenees-Orientales

This valley (1600-1700m altitude) is supposed to be very rich in flora and thus insect life - I read somewhere that it has the most species of bumble bees in all of France. In September there were still wild flowers in bloom and whilst we only walked for about an hour an a half uphill we saw many species of butterfly.

7. I'm not 100% sure as I don't have a shot of the underwings, but think this is a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene). In any event, it's still a lifer!

Now here is a Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) for sure, and you will see from the blurry movement shot of the underwing how important it is NOT to delete all your blurry shots as they can be very important in helping you with ID!

8. Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus). We were walking beside a small mountain river and in places where the soil was damp there were little clouds of butterflies puddling. This means taking minerals and salts from the soil. Upon reading more on the subject I hadn't realised it is just the males who do this - the minerals in the soil help brighten up their colours and thus make them more attractive to females. It might explain why I saw some Adonis Blues which were darker blue than others. I fell in love with these little butterflies.

9. I also saw several of these butterflies which I managed to partially ID after seeing more of them in another location. This one below is a female Ringlet of some sort, possibly the Autumn Ringlet. I hadn't realised there were so many different kinds of Ringlet and they have some very similar markings!

Mont Louis, Pyrenees-Orientales

The location here was also quite high, about 1500m, beside a mountain river in a forest of pines with open areas of grassland, with a few wild flowers still in bloom.

The same Ringlet as above but this is the male.

Next post to follow shortly. Now I'm itching to see some butterflies, it's been far too long!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Rainfall data 2016

This has been the second driest year in the ten years that I've been keeping records (yes, ten whole years!). We either had loads of rain or very little. Autumn was so dry that my lake didn't refill completely until mid January 2017, which is the latest ever. I think during late summer the lawn was the brownest I've ever seen it. I just about managed to keep my plants happy by endless watering; again thank goodness for the 4,000 litre reservoir in the old septic tank, although I don't want to see my water bill as I used mains most of the time.


Jan  134.25
Feb   77.50
Mar  123.0
Apr   44.0
May  36.0
Jun   95.5
Jul    13.5
Aug  16.5
Sep  45.0
Oct   24.5
Nov  95.5
Dec  23.0

TOTAL:  728.25mm

Rainfall data since I started being geeky and keeping records:

2007:   944mm
2008:   878mm
2009:   867mm
2010:   757mm
2011:   663.75mm (over a quarter of which fell in December)

2012:   973.5mm 

2013:   969.75mm
2014: 1,067mm
2015:   769.5mm
2016:   728.25mm

P.S. Proper blog post coming soon; it feels really weird to have been ignoring my blog for so long, but I haven't been able to summon up any blogging energy.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Middle Spotted Woodpecker and December's tree surgery

Brrrr! We are having a cold snap with real winter weather, something we haven't had for more than a few days here and there for quite a few years. The lake has been frozen over for about a week now and every morning I have to go out and take fresh water to the hens whose water bowls have frozen solid. I'm doing the same for the wild birds' water too as they can't drink from the lake edge. It's still not been as cold as in the early years here when we reguarly had -8C, but it was down to -5C/6C a few times. I'd also forgotten about freezing pipes so we've nearly lost our kitchen cold water feed a couple of times but I've got to the tap to run it just in time, however because it's been so long since we had such a cold period I'd forgotten about the 2nd floor shower room, so the cold feed is frozen solid there! It's the first time I've worn my thermals for quite a few years too. Aaarrgh, roll on spring, I can do without all this! (However, the sun is shining all day long..... it is so much lovelier than the milder gloom and drizzle which is due to come back soon.... you just can't win!) (That blurb was written two days ago and the end of the freeze has just started with cloud and some drizzle!)

We have a new(ish) visitor to the peanut feeder. It's a Middle Spotted Woodpecker which is a fair bit smaller and a lot prettier than the Great Spotted Woodpecker. We've seen it here before many years ago (and a Lesser Spotted too) but this time it has become a regular visitor. I haven't got any very good photos so far because the only times I've had my camera to hand have been when it's been either early in the day with low light, or just plain gloomy with low light!

Having seen the state of the peanut feeder in K's photo it was time for a new one, and thankfully he found a spare feeder in the barn, ditto a seed dispenser too which is hanging on our other feeding station. I've now found a good use for the last of the rubbery windfall apples as the blackbirds are enjoying munching on them. This is the kind of weather when it's really important to feed the wild birds and especially to provide them with fresh water to drink and bathe in. (But you knew all that, didn't you?)

This is Keith's photo.

The ducks have managed to keep a small pool of water unfrozen; unfortunately for all concerned this is not close to the bank where we can put food. At first K managed to break the ice but the next day it was already too thick! Dirk is hopeless on the ice and skids everywhere and looks like he's about to break his legs, and although Rachel is managing to get up onto the ice more easily than him, she doesn't seem to want to walk over to the bank where the food is. Luckily K had a brainwave and the pole he was using to break the ice with was put to good use again - this time with the apple picking basket holding duck food! He can just reach to put the food on the ice and the ducks are happily eating it from the water. Honestly, these creatures don't want much, do they?!!

Going back to December, our 'tree man' came and felled a load of trees again, just like he did three years ago. This time some largish trees had to go, mostly due to crowding out with other trees. I had to decide which ones were most important to keep - for example, although I hate to see a beautiful lime tree being cut down, I have five of them, yet only one cedar, as we already felled one of them which had obliterated the path down to the beach. So out of three specimen trees growing into each other, the lime had to go. In the photo below it's a sycamore which has had the chop as it was shading out my liquidambar. We have loads of sycamores so that wasn't a difficult decision. All this wood will be good firewood in two years time.

The monster shredding machine. This was parked right outside the chicken run and the poor hens cowered indoors for about three days, terrified in case the scary monster started making loud noises again. Sorry hens! We have kept a lot of the shredded wood and put it down on the veg patch paths again, and also on the path leading down to the lake.

The lime tree getting the chop but one of these three trees had to go.

Originally the tree man was going to have a bash at removing the fallen stand of alders in the lake, but as the water level had risen by a couple of feet since he first viewed it this was deemed impossible and he will return next year when the water level is at its lowest. He had a mate in to help as there was a fair bit of work involved here - anyway I had a brainwave and suggested that as they couldn't do the tree in the lake, could they prune my apple trees and reduce the height considerably. We had already asked him to clear the stream banks of brambles which were taller than my head - this is a job that's bad enough doing every year but when you haven't done it for three years it gets out of control. I can tell you we both breathed a HUGE sigh of relief at not having to prune the apples and pears this year!

Taken from my living room window - man up an apple tree.

I'm surprised they managed to climb up these relatively thin branches - and so overcrowed inside the trees too.

Afterwards, one of the trees with lopped off branches. All these fallen apples have been feeding Redwings and Fieldfares this winter.

The stream is visible! The other side has now been cleared by the owners of that land - it will grow back but K is going to try to strim it and keep the brambles and nettles down. In the past I've wanted to keep the nettles for the wildlife, but there are times when nature just has to be controlled. There are tons of nettles out in the ditches for the butterflies and moths to lay their eggs on.

At this time (December) there were still some leaves clinging to the Liquidambar tree and glowing in the sunshine.

Even on the ground they retained their colour for a long time. This way you get to enjoy the colourful leaves for much longer!

I'm jumping backwards and forwards in time but I have already uploaded the photos and can't be bothered to delete and rearrange the order here! In this cold sunny snap it seemed a good time to burn all the crap we've been piling up in the veg patch waiting for there to be enough to have a good bonfire. We are not supposed to have bonfires anymore for environmental reasons and because of the nuisance to neighbours. Well we didn't really know that but we do now, although having googled to try to find the law on this one for our department, all I can find is a lot of conflicting information on government sites. What else is new?!

You can see how much stuff there was - a mix of brambles, whippy elm growth, sycamore saplings, ivy and a fair bit of dead thuya hedge, plus a lot of veg patch weeds. The official advice is to compost or shred your garden waste (we do, but you can't do this kind of thing!) or take it to the tip. This would be quite a few trailer loads plus a lot of the twigs and stems would need to be cut to fit into our small trailer, all of which takes a lot of time. I've been cracking on with clearing the jungle much faster by not having to snip up bramble stems along the way.

It did produce a lot of smelly smoke but it's not like we're doing this every week - in fact it is only our fourth bonfire here in 12 years! We won't have one again though now we know it's not permitted. Since I wrote this one of our neighbours has had a smelly bonfire..... :-)

To finish off, whilst I was clearing up our overgrown pathways I found this twig with some interesting fungi on it. It's dead wood and the twig is thinner than my finger so the fungi is really small. I wasn't entirely sure if that is what it was but the underside of the fungi looks a bit like Turkey Tails. The small bits look like scale insect though!

Honestly, the less frequently I blog, the longer my posts get. If you made it this far, well done! It's been quite a marathon for me writing it..... :-)