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Monday, 16 November 2020

Last outing before French lockdown - La Clape

* My op was postponed and I'll tell you why at the end of this post....

I've already mentioned a place called La Clape several times, and it occurred to me I should be showing you where we have been on our outings so I did a screen shot from my ipad. La Clape is the raised area mostly within the green area. It is a part of the Parc naturel régional de la Narbonnaise en Méditerranée. That's a Regional Natural Park to you and me.



Ignore the blue markers - those I've put in to mark parking areas for walks. I usually look on Google maps' satellite view to check out where to park before going somewhere, particularly if we are going out in the Moho, like we did the day before lockdown. I think it was Halloween but it seems so long ago! Funnily enough we had decided to go out on that day as the weather was forecast to be good, then we heard about the impending lockdown and thought, we've absolutely gotta go out before it's too late! The Moho needs a spin at least once every three months so a picnic up in the garrigue above the Mediterranean seemed like a wonderful idea. We had driven across La Clape with my brother and sister in law a week or two before and I'd looked around for parking spots along the way, seeing one in particular that looked bigger than others and had a few mohos parked in it, so that is where we headed. 

The previous time I had seen big birds that I think were vultures soaring about on the thermals in front of the cliff face but sadly on this day there was not a vulture, or indeed a bird of prey, in sight. In fact I don't think there were any birds 😀 but there are always things of interest in the garrigue, like the plants and flowers, not to mention of course, the views!

This won't be a long post in terms of text but I have plenty of photos, so here goes....


Looking towards the cliffs where I had hoped there might be vultures.





Another view from the lookout spot by the parking looking towards the beach and small lagoons.



The garrigue is covered in low bushes in windswept coastal places like this, including this Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera).



However this slightly larger bush-like oak looks different, with downy leaves, which are less prickly, so I'm not sure of ID.



There were also Juniper bushes everywhere.



Keith in the garrigue. The grey leaved plants in the foreground are Cistus (Rock Rose), which I'm looking forward to seeing flower in the spring. You can also see rosemary which was everywhere, in flower, plus low down there was plenty of thyme. All typical garrigue plants which are used to baking sun and little water.


A (sad) sign of the times. 



A lovely little Cranesbill Geranium.



There is an Air Force radar installation here up on top of the cliff. There are many more buildings than you can see from below (I know from Google satellite view!).




Looking towards Spain and the Pyrenees - the highest peak is Mt Canigou, which is in the Pyrenees Orientales department, but can be seen from as far away as the hill behind my house.


Looking in the direction of Spain to the tail end of the Pyrenees.





I'm not entirely sure but think the mountains in the background are les Alberes, which are the tail end of the Pyrenees, and the salines are at Gruissan.



The lagoon above is where my brother and sister in law spent their first night (free) after leaving us! Not a bad spot and they practically had the beach beyond to themselves as well. 







If you click on this picture to view it larger, you may be able to see a dark blob above my head, just below the grey cloud. It's a dragonfly!



* My op is now scheduled for 3rd December, because my Covid test results didn't arrive back in time 😒😷😩. I was told to go to a lab two days before by the hospital but that obviously wasn't long enough (sigh), so next time it will be three days beforehand. Also, I hadn't been sent a text to tell me what time to go in the following day (despite trying to get in touch the afternoon before and being told that texts went out the evening before). I was phoned by the hospital at 8.45am and told they had been expecting me at 7am!!! I was getting ready and we were going to call at 9am when the surgeon's office said it opened. Apparently they had a temp secretary working there who hadn't been told about sending out texts... hey ho, these things happen! Next time is also a 7am slot, ugh that means leaving here about 6.20am, in the dark in winter... double ugh. But it should be worth it in the end, fingers crossed. Thanks to everyone who commented and sent me messages regarding this subject, much love xx

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Family staying and a very socially distanced lunch out!

My brother and sister in law have just spent a week with us, and oh, it was SO lovely to feel normal again in these weird times. To have people in our house to chat to and laugh with and just spend time with seems all quite remote now. We didn't hug when they arrived, but we felt OK to not socially distance, again like I said when Monika came, that would be so hard to do. We knew they had been camping for several weeks before arriving chez nous so figured they wouldn't have been spending much time near other people anyway.

Imagine our surprise though, when Grazyna said, halfway through our cuppa and cake which we had upon their arrival, that she had a pressie for me and a surprise that she seemed itching to show us, despite the fact I hadn't even finished my cup of tea! We went downstairs to the basement to show them the guest room then went outside through the French doors there .... only to be confronted by a campervan!!! What?!! "Did you hire it?" I asked. "No, I bought it" said Kevin (Keith's brother)! Well blow me down, there we had been imagining them sleeping in a tent these last few weeks across chilly Europe (they came from Poland where G had been looking after her mother who has dementia (and has now passed the job over to her sister to give her a break)) when all the time they had been glamping in a lovely moho! (The surprise was lots of choc 😀 and some tea bags and coffee to cover what they would be consuming of ours!).

The inside is lovely too; they have a separate shower unit (unlike our wetroom) and a really large kitchen area complete with oven and microwave. Then two sofas opposite each other which convert to a double bed at night. Not bad at all in a van 6.39m long and is one of the van type ones with the doors that open at the back. Keith though can't stand upright in them so we discounted them from the start when we were looking at mohos. Also no garage space which makes quite a difference really. But each to their own, this van suits them down to the ground like ours does us, and Monika's does hers!



Their first full day I sent them all out for an 8km walk whilst I had a nice quiet kitchen to myself to prepare dinner! The next day, a Sunday, the weather was forecast to be lovely so off we set in the car to the coast for a meal out. None of us had eaten out since the beginning of the pandemic, but we had decided that now that restaurants seemed to be actually following rules for staff to wear masks and for customers to wear them when going inside the restaurant, that we would take a chance. We all really longed for a nice meal out and hopefully moules frites! As we turned the corner out of our road we were confronted with one of the rare really clear views of the Pyrenees, snow clad and much better than the views in summer, which tend to be very hazy. 


The Pyrenees from Fanjeaux (click on photo to see larger so you can see the mountains better).


Having left home a bit late and finding the place we originally were going to full (without, stupidly, booking, it being a sunny Sunday, duh! I hadn't realised it was French school hols too, double duh!), and all the other restos in that village with no tables free, we charged off to nearby Port La Nouvelle, which is much bigger, in the hope we would find a brasserie or somewhere that would still be serving after 1.30pm. In France everyone eats early, the norm being no later than 12.30. Usually restaurants are clearing up at 1.30pm..... 


Me at La Franqui.


Luckily for us we found somewhere with a few free tables outside, and as we wanted to sit in the sun, the waiter pointed to a table sitting all alone outside the actual restaurant patio area, which we thought would be perfect from a socially distanced point of view! I don't know why the table was there in the first place, as it was on the other side of a row of stone benches in the empty space around a bandstand/stage! It was perfectly placed and we sat and watched people roller and inline skating in this area, and although we couldn't see the sea itself, we could see the tops of boats coming from the port area, sailing past buildings, which looked very funny! The food was lovely and most of us had our moules frites so we were very happy indeed. 😀


The bandstand was to the right of us where those steps are.



Socially distanced or what?!!!




After lunch we went right the other side of Narbonne to the far end of the Massif de la Clape, to visit a sinkhole known as Le Gouffre de l'Oeil Doux. We had a short walk up to it and suddenly there it was. Typical France, no health and safety here. No railings whatsoever, just walk up to the edge and hope you don't fall down! It really was quite spectacular and we could see some lagoons and the sea beyond over the other side of the sinkhole, but with the late afternoon light it was very hard to show this in a photo, as the bottom of the sinkhole was in shade.






This is the first photo upside down, showing the beautiful reflections of the top of the cliffs in the water!




On the day they left, we had a photo shoot in front of our vans. However, as G got out a fruit box from our log pile to balance her phone on, someone noticed a rather large insect sheltering on it.





After a bit of research we learned that it was an Egyptian Grasshopper or Locust. They are apparently quite common in Europe and the females can be up to about 7cm long! This one was a good 6cm so must have been a female. Poor thing had some injuries, I hope it wasn't a cat which did it. Could have been a bird, I suppose. She had a peck hole on her eye and was missing an antennae, as well as a wound on her back.  After our photo shoot we put her back in place in her nice sheltered spot, which is under cover and away from the wind 😀.


Egyptian Grasshopper or Locust (Anacridium aegyptium)


When they left this time we did hug, as they had been with us for a week and if any of us had the virus we would have passed it on by now anyway, so we made the most of having some human contact with someone other than our own spouse! What a lovely feeling that is these days. Life is just MAD right now. 😢



Au revoir - until the next time!





Going back a few weeks, I wanted to share this magnificently coloured shrub. Sadly the leaves didn't last long, but it was stunning whilst it lasted. As it never flowered this year I have absolutely no idea what it is! Any ideas?




Also, yet another orchid appeared in the lawn, en masse! These are Autumn Lady's Tresses, and there were a good twenty or so of them. Not as stunning as some of the spring ones, but a nice surprise and lovely when you look at them close up.



Autumn Lady's Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes spiralis).


And now here we are back in full lockdown again from yesterday to 1st December, at least. Hopefully the lockdown will be lifted in time for families to be able to get together for Christmas (not that we will be having anyone visiting). I imagine that is what Bojo is planning now he has finally realised that full lockdown is the only way to really slow the spread of the virus. Anyway, next post will be us going out in the moho on the day before lockdown - making the most of it whilst we could!


P.S. Just seen a Red Kite flying over our house! Yay!! 😄😄😄

Thursday, 8 October 2020

The Aude river flood plain and International Vulture Day

Aude River Flood Plain

We're going back to the 6th August here and we learned of this birding site through the Birding Languedoc group who organised a small outing here after lockdown was lifted. We were due to go but eventually didn't as Keith had a bad cough that developed not long after lockdown (eeeeks!!!) and just got worse and worse; it did turn chesty as well as being dry, but even so was a bit of a worry. Thankfully it turned out to be bronchitis but before he knew for sure we had to cancel, as we didn't want to worry other people or take the risk of infecting them. Sadly there were two outings that we missed - the other we need a 4 wheel drive to do but will visit next spring as it will be too muddy from all the rain we've had and are due to get. This place however we were able to do in a regular car, just a few months later than planned.

As usual we picked a hot day, but every day was hot back then and temps were in the low 30s so manageable! Interesting birds seen down here near where the Aude river runs out to the sea are Bee-eaters, Rollers and Golden Orioles. We managed two out of the three although the Golden Orioles were juveniles flying overhead so it was a brief sighting, though we did hear an adult singing/calling in the direction where they were flying. We also saw several Woodchat Shrikes which was pretty cool, however the star of the day were the Bee-eaters.


There are two Bee-eaters in this photo - my eye is always drawn to the bottom one, perhaps as it shows more blue?


Keith's photos were better than mine as his Nikon bridge camera has a massive zoom lens and he is also extremely steady on his feet.

There were lots of Bee-eaters all flying around in groups. One thing we learned about them which is great for photographers and bird watchers alike, is that they seem to love perching in dead trees!


We walked downhill from where we parked down along beside two overgrown  paddocks with occasional trees in the fields, as well as low trees and shrubs edging them, which is where the Bee-eaters and Shrikes were flying and perching.


Woodchat Shrike



The above is my pic of a Woodchat Shrike, but the bird was quite distant so I was quite pleased with it.


Me chilling in the lovely cool wind blowing from the Aude river, sorry my vaper is in the picture, I try to avoid that as much as I used to avoid being photographed with a cigarette in my hand when they became antisocial..... but I didn't know my photograph was being taken!


The above and next photos show where we went - above are the vines on the flat land (flood plain) running from the river to this hill, which is the very edge of the limestone ridge known as La Clape, which starts one end near Narbonne and ends here where the Aude river hits the sea. In the photo below which was taken from the road leading down to river level, shows the two horizontal paddocks in the foreground where the Bee-eaters were flying up and down, with the vinyards behind in perfectly straight fields with occasional roads or irrigation channels running in between. We didn't see any Bee-eaters in amongst the vines or closer to the river.


All in all a very successful day out birding and we came home glowing, in several senses of the word! 😀😄

Vultures

I don't want to get your hopes up expecting to see lots of pictures of vultures but sadly this day was the complete opposite of the one above. It was, perhaps not literally, but it jolly well felt it, freezing! We met the others (it was another Birding Languedoc jolly) at 8.45am in the car park by the vulture viewing/information area. The trip had been organised because it was International Vulture Day and the LPO had arranged to feed the vultures and give a talk about them. I don't know how many years this has been going on for but the lady who runs BL said they went last year (and saw an Egyptian Vulture amongst the many Griffon Vultures). Apparently the LPO don't feed the vultures here any more with any regularity which is a shame as I had been hoping to find out when they were going to do it next so that we could go along. Never mind because we got to see it after all! We had been lucky enough to witness a vulture feeding quite by chance at a very similar place in northern Spain one holiday so we had an idea what to expect.

Before I go on I just want to say that I didn't take a single photo; I was SO cold that my hands went numb from looking through binocs and after the main feast was over I left before the LPO guy had finished his talk and went and sat in the car. The temp was about 13C which was a huge shock to the system after a summer where the coolest day we'd had was about 25C and that felt quite cool, especially if it was windy. I did have a fleece on and a waterproof jacket on top but a winter jacket and gloves would have been more suitable.

Luckily K took a couple of photos from which you can get the picture. There's an area where the birds are fed (and obviously have long memories as we have seen some hanging around here on a previous visit minus food) then there's the area where everyone stands around watching, which is quite far away, but OK with binocs and even better with a spotting scope, which we have now. A couple of guys went over to the feeding area in a van and dumped a load of raw meat - it didn't look like a lot but was apparently 25kg. Then we all waited, as the vultures started to circle and more and more arrived. Then they descended and got stuck in, fighting over the juicy morsels of butchers' offcuts, whilst yet more vultures kept appearing over the mountain behind. On this day they were all Griffon Vultures which are the most common species, but there are also more rarely seen the Egyptian Vulture and the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier.  It's a sight well worth seeing even if you are not a birder, much as non birders will enjoy a falconry display. Of course, this was a bit more gory, but you are not (sadly) seeing it very close up! When we saw vulture feeding in Spain we saw one Egyptian Vulture and several Red Kites, and from that site you are looking down into the valley where they circle towards the feeding spot, rather than looking at them up against the sky. Looking down is a lot better as you are not seeing the birds silhouetted against the sky.


Putting meat out for the vultures



Griffon Vultures fighting over said meat!


Gorges de Galamus

These gorges are not far from Bugarach and we went here to see if there were any birds migrating through the gorge, but it was not to be. Although the temps had warmed up somewhat it was very windy at the parking spot which is very exposed, so we sat in our cars to eat lunch, with magnificent scenery all around. Some of the group had already left after the vulture feeding (it was a free day trip) and a couple more left after we stopped at a cafe for a much needed warming chocolat chaud. I really enjoyed our time at the cafe as we talked birds, birdwatching and places to watch birds and nothing but - lovely for Keith and me as it's a very specific hobby and not something we talk about with friends other than general garden bird type of chat.

After saying goodbye to the others at the gorge we drove home on a scenic route that took us through the gorgeous Fenouillèdes and up past the chateaux of Quéribus and Peyrepertuse. The road (D19) that leads from Maury in the valley to these chateaux is, in my opinion, the most scenic road I've ever seen, but now I know you have to be driving down it, not up. I kept having to look behind me to see the amazing view at its best! (don't worry, I wasn't driving! 😂😂😂)




This is the hermitage Saint-Antoine built on the side of the gorge which we visited some years ago. We walked about half an hour from the main car park to it, but once there, found that you could go up some steps to a smaller car park right above!! 😂




On our way home we stopped to take a photo of the Chateau de Peyrepertuse from below the village. It's not that easy to make out what is chateau and what is just rock from this distance and angle! There is a second part of the castle higher above the first one, too.


The following is a picture from when we visited and climbed up to the top of the chateau in 2017. That's our Moho parked down below, then you take a woodland path that goes behind the chateau, which is nowhere near as steep as you would imagine! If I can make it up there, anyone can. 😀


Chateau de Peyrepertuse in 2017


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Phew, sorry this has ended up being long! It's also taken me AGES to do with this new Blogger format; it's really driving me potty with the strange things the html is doing. I did try using the new caption feature (which is hard to find) but didn't like it, but don't care too much for just centering text under trying to make it look like a caption either. Oh well. Least I know everyone else is in the same boat!


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Honey Bee on Sedum

Honey Bee on Sedum

Dewy Web

Dewy Web

Coneflowers

Coneflowers

Broad Bodied Chaser

Broad Bodied Chaser

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

Cats past and present

Cats past and present

Cats Past and Present

Cats Past and Present

Holly Blue Butterfly

Holly Blue Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Cricket

Cricket

Dahlia

Dahlia

Marmalade Hoverfly

Marmalade Hoverfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Swallowtail Caterpillar