Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A slight Hiatus on the Home Front....

or "Apologies for no major post last week..... or this, and this and that for that matter"

Sorry... with all this fine weather, and a need to get spuds in the ground at the right time this year... I hadn't pre-prepared anything...
But the moth trap has had two airings so far this year... and we've started to get visitors to the windows at night!
The Swallows are back... swinging in and out of the barn.... and paying a visit in here, too... which took a bit of juggling to create an escape route....
The Black Redstarts are back, as well....and the duck gave us a nice present the other day... a fresh egg that she'd laid on the fly down by the old apple tree.
How do we know it was fresh? Because anything like an egg down there wouldn't have lasted overnight....
A Little Egret had been fishing in the bief...and flew past the bedroom window just as I looked out... no need for binos...
The Nightingales are back... three singing males at least... and a Zizi was singing from the wall early doors... a Zizi is the Bruant Zizi... or Cirl Bunting... relative of the Yellowhammer... with a similar song but it keeps what it doesn't want a secret... "Little bit of bread and no..."
It misses out the "cheeeese"
We've got a group of young Viperene Snakes [Lat] Coulevre vipérine who have holed up together just inside the barn door... four is the maximum seen at one time.

So here are a few pictures taken recently.....

Here's the Bruant zizi... aka: Cirl Bunting.... zizi'ing his little heart out!!

There are four Viperene snakes in this picture
... count the heads... one sunbathing...
three in the gap 'twixt barn wall and the metal...
sunwarmed...
hinge.



Three from the moth trap....
R>L: a Brindled Beauty, a Small Lappet and a Lunar Marbled Brown....
the curate who named the last probably had cataracts.... it is all grey!!

 
A hoverfly.... hovering!

An Ichneumonid wasp...
possibly a female Ichneumon xanthorius based on looks and flight period.
{But, only experts can really tell... and not from photos!!}

Black Redstart [male].... showing his "shirt-tails"!

And finally... for the moment... an orb weaving spider.
Tetragnatha sp.... possibly Tetragnatha extensa which is the most common...
but I need the other side to be certain...and this one was...
thirty centimetres off the ground in stinging nettles!!




Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What's nibbling me willows?

I have been playing "catch up" in the meadow and along the millstream...
I haven't been able to get onto the meadow over-Winter for three years...
so I have been felling timber that needs to be felled as quickly as possible....
with the intention of tidying up afterwards...
the only tidying that I have been doing has been to create a safe environment for me to work...
or to clear the paths.

Some of the felling has involved the "nursery area" that is outside our bedroom window....
three of the young willows were too deeply rooted when Stuart and I were lifting them for replanting elsewhere....
and that, coupled with the fact that the ground had become very unstable by the time we reached them....
and we had no real purchase in the sticky goo... all that meant that they were left...
and, in reality, neglected for a further two years.
By that point they were too large to try and move, so I cut them off as waist high pollards...
this is the height that some biomass and basket making willows are kept at...
which means no back-breaking bending....
the oldest known pollard, some four thousand years old....
and found in the river bed of the Derwent in Yorkshire, is this same height...
so early man thought that too!

And therefore I began to harvest them in a three year cycle.... to create "bushes"...
which has been interrupted by three bad winters...
so I had a mix of four, five and six year old wood...
and I decided to cut them all and start again, because we only want bushes there...
the trees that they had become were blocking our view...
this resulted in a lot of timber
which I cleared to the side as I went, the largest one of which had its top in the millstream [bief]....
the butt end on the bank where I could get at it easily.

We couldn't help but notice....
as we looked out of the bedroom and kitchen windows at the newly cleared area....
that two of the willows were missing bark from the base...
and I thought to blame it on the ragondins [coypu]...

Two out of the three have had the bark stripped from the base... fortunately NOT all the way round

About two weeks ago, however, we noticed that someone had stripped bark from the branches that I had left lying in the bief...
immediate presumption... coypu!

Lovely white wood under that willow bark!

Then we saw this....

The focus isn't too sharp... I'll add a better one at the end

...now, according to the books ragondin do eat bark, but apparently reluctantly... as Pauline has discovered, they "only eat bark when they are desperate" as they prefer grass... visible and growing all this winter... and the fleshy roots of the teasels, thistles and similar plants... which we also have in plenty, despite their efforts and mine, in the orchard... as well as elsewhere.
But they stop at bark... they don't eat young wood!! Not like that, surely....
only a beaver leaves traces like that!!

Now, we've seen beaver activity... right in the heart of town, near the railway station... and they are spreading out quite rapidly from their point of reintroduction on the Loir in both 1975 and again 1995.... 13 animals in both cases... but up the Aigronne??
We needed proof before reporting it on Faune Touraine, the local focus for Citizen Science data collection...on an ever increasing diversity of wildlife.

So, time to deploy the "pieges photographiques"...trail cameras to Anglophones!
We had a stealth beaver... bark was going missing... but no triggers...hmmm!
The ducks were triggering the traps, as were the coypu as they swam past...
and the rats using the branches as a highway to avoid having to swim too much!
But, not what was bark stripping... by which time we had three cameras watching a twenty-five square metre section of stream...
so I contacted Martin of Wildlife & Countryside Services, the supplier of two of our photographic traps and our Wildlife Accoustics bat detector...
and a very useful source of advice....
who came right back with a probably cause... temperature...
beaver swim with only the nose and a flat area between that and their ears...
out of the water...
so as it emerges to feed, the temperature difference between animal and water...
is too little to trigger the PIR on the camera... try different positions!!
AND, bingo....

Yes, a beaver.... right outside the kitchen window...
... we were probably still up!!  And it is thanks to Simon that we've got these stills to insert...

.... yes, a positive sighting of beaver!!

These are European Beaver [Castor fiber galliae] Castor d'Europe....
and are genuine French ones, not Polish as I had read...
the reintroduction was from a remnant population on the Rhône.
Pauline immediately reported the wood chewing evidence on Faune Touraine...
back dated, which is quite normal....
whilst I tried to get a still from the video... nothing I had would play ball... or were programs I haven't had the chance to play with [learn]... but, again help was on hand in the form of Simon of LVTT and Days on the Claise who, after some Dropboxery and his preferred program... lifted out a couple of stills that Pauline reported the sighting with on Saturday night.... it would have to be the First of April!!
But we've supplied the photographic evidence along with the record....
so hopefully no "no you didn't" emails from the moderators on Faune Touraine...
probably thinking "Mon Dieu... it's those damned Anglais again!"

Pauline also had emailed Yohann the River Technician....who Susan posted about in December [an interesting read about a difficult job in itself].... during the afternoon to let him know... he came back with the nearest to us he'd seen activity was near Gatault... only about 2 kilometres from us downstream... so, as they have a multi-kilometre territory when confined to a stream, it/they have probably been going up and down quite regularly... or are doing so now? Looking at the grey wood on the largest stump, they've been here for at least three years it takes around that long to colour... and I hadn't noticed any damage before that....

The bright bits just as the shadow starts are teeth marks from the lower jaw.

BUT we may have also blown the myth that ragondin only eat bark when they are desperate... we got three videos where one particularly large animal stripped and ate the bark.... the tail said coypu, not beaver... unless it was so perfectly "side on" that it appeared the same as a coypu's... but my guess is that coypu will eat nice young bark if it is "presented" to them.

This stretch is perfect for European beavers as... because they burrow... there are plenty of old coypu homes ready to occupy.
It is calm and quiet, assorted different depths of water, too, so an underwater entrance would be easily maintained... even in the driest of summers.
We will keep watching... and feeding... our beaver(s) and add more information as and when!!

Here is the actual video of the beaver... uploaded via Blogger, so invisible on Safari and on Apple machines even if you are using Firefox, sorry....


video

And a much better picture of the tooth marks on the branch...

Yes, it does look dry... I rescued it before the branch broke at that point completely...
it is now strapped to a length of roofing lath as it has almost broken at the thinnest point.
Now... if that isn't natural news for us, I don't know what is!
We keep getting surprised!!

Monday, 3 April 2017

News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert,

News Alert, News Alert, News Alert, News Alert

Exciting news will be appearing here later today!!
____________________________________

....on a more mundane level, the moth trap has had two runs so far this year....
....the ducks are looking for somewhere to nest....

....and we have a nest of vipers....
....actually no... a nest of viperine snakes... coulevres viperines...
a relative of the grass snake.

Monday, 27 March 2017

One man went to mow...

...went to mow a meadow! At the moment in my case, it is one man and his cat to follow on.

We have around two hectares to mow....
that's around five acres in English money...
and the grass needs to be removed...
to lower the fertility and allow the weaker species to grow more successfully...
and hamper the efforts of  les orties* [nettles].

To mow we have "Betsy"...
our big two-wheel tractor with its 53" cutter bar.
To rake we have me and a Bulldog wooden rake...
so at the moment we slowly get a field full of humps and rows that become humps....
and humps that become bigger humps....
and so on....
and on!


Driving Betsy... the grimace is obligatory (as is the hat!)

When Betsy arrived she wasn't heavy enough at the cutter bar, so a cut of around three inches...
[or fifteen centimetres... I am of old measure]...
became a one foot high trim whenever the wheel hit a molehill.
It was very tiring to use and left me aching...
then the suppliers, Trackmaster, sent me two weights to attach to the bar and all changed...
she still bucks at humps but it is easier to get the front down again and she is, overall, more controllable...
which is vital when working near the willows!!
And I have since added a pair of large, wide skids... as those that are supplied as standard, just cut deep two-inch furrows!!



It is a big meadow.... this is the smaller bit....

The other reason for being able to mow large areas quickly and easily is that the meadow has Creeping Thistle [Cirsium arvense] Chardon des champs...
which needs to be kept cut before it flowers and the wind dispersed seed blows everywhere.
This is what the Wildlife Trusts have to say on the subject
.

So you can see that it would not be beneficial to the birds to eradicate it completely...
not that I think I could!!
And, in 2016, thanks to the Barn Owl Trust and Mammal Society....
and Pauline's research....
the mowing regime has changed yet again... but that will be another post!


The selected areas of nettles [*les orties] that I am mowing are to reduce their competition with the grass.
I have no intention of trying to win the that battle either as...
[1] we want the butterflies that use nettle as a foodplant for the young... and
[2] we use the nettles as fertilizer and occasionally as food.
Well, that's my excuse, anyhows!!

Still mowing.... here at least you can see one of the paths along the edge of the bief (millstream).
Betsy is manufactured in Italy by part of the Ferrari works and moves at walking pace...
so I'm driving one of the slowest Ferraris on the planet....
but there is a big advantage with that...
we are working the land for the wildlife it contains and being able to stop instantly and walk forward to inspect for nests when birds fly up is a great help...
also, by cutting the grass and not chopping it with a flail or a whirling blade, allows the grass to fall aside and allows small beasts to fly, walk, run away.

Occasionally I get flying voles...
these rocket out of the grass and run along on the top, before diving back into the sward...
when they run ahead, this is usually repeated a few seconds later.


One of the first 'humps' is visible to my right in this picture.... it grew as the year wore on....
and had finished at around this height when I mowed through it last week.
We will be able to harvest compost from the bigger of these piles.

Betsy has another attachment...
a big wood-chipper that can handle up to three inch trunks....
but that's yet another posting.

/|________________________________________________|\

* Les Orties = The Nettles
(Thank you Susan for the correction.  
[The Nettles is a Celtic band - J.Nettles is an actor])

Monday, 20 March 2017

2010 & 11... Almost caught up!

As mentioned at the end of the last post we started off the willow plantation.
I purchased and collected the willows from Yorkshire Willow...
they came as 10" cuttings... well, lengths...
of one year old stem with about six to ten buds.


The willow sticks in their nursery bed...
some were too young to leave home!!

The idea is to plant each length of willow stem where it is going to finally be...
in our meadow?
You are joking!!...
it was difficult enough to find them the way I planted these ones.

The willows were of seventeen different varieties in bundles of ten.
One hundred and seventy twigs...
what we bought are listed below [the ones introduced as 20cm cuttings]...
and these should be buried with around two inches/two buds above ground.
So I decided to create two nursery areas...
the one pictured above and another one in a damp spot out in the meadow.
I have altered the table below to show the survivors... some have thrived....eg: Bay Willow and Cohu Blue.... others I have struggled with... and some, like the Sekka pictured below... have succumbed because they are not suited to this environment.


On each row I used a Crack Willow stick to hold the label on the left in the photo above...
this year I will plant out the twenty-odd young Crack willow volunteers that were the result...
they will form a coppice area towards the riverbank.


These are the Sekka catkins...
grey against the red bark.
And, in 2017 the last Sekka had vanished...
The majority of the bought 'twigs' took hold in the pictured nursery area...
but the success rate was poor in the meadow.
That wasn't surprising...
I purchased them in late March and planted them in early April...
not really the right time...
and as we were still in the UK for much of 2010...
they weren't able to be regularly watered either.


These are the wonderful Cohu Blue catkins...
they start steel blue-grey, then "heat-up" and, finally...
catch fire.

These young trees were then planted out in blocks...
or patches where there were only two or three survivors...
last year...
the year of the very hot, dry summer....
again not at all good for young trees that haven't got roots down deep.
If you look at the tree list page, you will see a column marked survivors 2012...
I will be going round next week trimming the survivors down to two or three buds on each shoot...
[and planting the cuttings deep, in situ, to extend the blocks/patches].


Tree Table of those species on site

English Name Species French name [if any] Survivors [2011]
[2017]
Uses Comments
Crack Willow Salix fragilis Saule fragile N/A Crop for biomass On site
White Welsh Salix fragilis decipiens 1 ex 10
2017 none!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
White Willow Salix alba Saule blanc (3) ex 10
2017....one left!
Coppice for rods and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Scarlet Willow Salix alba 'Chermesina' 10...
2017 one!
Coppice for colour Introduced from cuttings
Flanders Red Salix alba fragilis 3 ex 10
2017 one!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Golden Willow Salix alba vitellina Osier doré 5 ex 10
2017 one!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Dog Willow or Sage-leaf Willow Salix candida 6 ex 10
2017...
two left!
Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Tora Salix viminalis tora 5 ex 10
2017....
None left!
Coppice for rods and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Continental Purple Salix daphniodes Saule faux-daphné 10 ex 10
2017....
eight left...
not happy!!
Coppice for rods, colour and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Black Willow Salix nigricians 2 ex 10
2017....one left!
Coppice for rods and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Bay Willow Salix pentandra Saule a cinq étamines 9 ex 10
2017....
No change!
Coppice for rods and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Purple Osier Salix purpurea Osier rouge 5 ex 10
2017....
two left!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Cohu Blue Salix purpurea 8 ex 10
2017....
No change!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Green Dicks Salix purpurea 3 ex 10
2017....
two left!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Sekka Salix sachalinensis 9 ex 10
2017....
None left!
Coppice for rods and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Black Maul Salix triandra 11 ex 20
2017....
None left!
Coppice for colour Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Common Osier Salix viminalis 5 ex 10
2017....one left!
Coppice for rods, colour and biomass Introduced from 20cm cuttings
Grey Willow Salix cinerea Saule cendré 1
2017....
No change!
On site
Eared Sallow Salix aurita Saule à oreillettes 1
2017....
No change!
Self seeded at allotment
Pussy or Goat Willow Salix caprea Saule marsault 1
2017....
three more self-seeded!
Plant more as early bee fodder Self-seeded - On site by bridge