All Hallows’

It’s come around again, my most reviled night of the year. A bit of harmless dressing up in costume is fine – kids’ve loved to do so since time immemorial – but I detest the “trick or treat” nonsense that accompanies it. To paraphrase:

Bribe us with sweets to stop us doing something unpleasant

It’s akin to a junior Chicago mob protection racket:

Pay me or I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse

The UK has recognized Halloween for ages, of course, and I’m distressed to learn that the practice of door to door visits seeking treats is not that recent; it was apparently part of an older-than-I-realized tradition called “guising” (after the disguise of the costumes?), recorded in Scotland as early as the 16th century. So, much as I might like to blame America for the import, it seems not entirely true.

I certainly do not remember any trick or treating from childhood, though, and that variation certainly is imported from the States and began surging in the 1980s. I say variation because guisers were supposed to perform some entertainment for their reward and the British tradition did not include any threats, veiled or otherwise.

It seems that the BBC agreed with my more recent assessment above and referred to trick or treat as “making demands with menaces”. The BBC also referred to “the Japanese knotweed of festivals” which, as a conservationist, I rather like.

The massive increase in prevalence in more recent years is naturally commercially driven; our shops have a vested interest in promoting the event to capitalize on the sale of pumpkins to be carved (what a waste of food) and costumes to dress the junior racketeers in, together with piles of sweets which the adults feel pressured into buying to bribe the rugrats to go away. I can imagine dentists rubbing their hands with glee, too. How about taking a leaf out of the ancient guising book and giving the kids healthy apples and/or nuts instead, which were originally traditional for the guisers’ Halloween parties. That tends not to go down too well now and it’ll cost you more but it might be worth a try.

Alternatively, simply go out (timing is critical) or just shut everything up, watch your favourite film with the volume down low – you should know it verbatim anyway – and the lights off and pretend you’re not in.

This year we chose the go out option … out to Spain, that is. Given the Spanish pleasantly low-key approach to that other fast-approaching commercial bonanza, Christmas, I was fully expecting to see no sign of Halloween at all. Not quite so. As in England, All Hallow’s Day is well understood in Spain. Whereas we now ignore it except for the blasted trick or treating, All Hallow’s Day is a long-standing religious festival in Spain. Most regrettably the beginnings of trick or treat seem to be sneaking their way into Spain, too, though. There, in some of the Spanish shops, were pumpkin masks and a few other items for the littlies.

This All Hallow’s Eve we were dropping our guests off at the airport for their return flight and called in en route to the colourful coastal town of  Villajoyosa in search of a parting lunch. Chris fancied sardinas and picked a restaurant. We sat. When the waiter arrived it turned out to be an English run establishment. No matter, the folks were friendly and the food was fine. Accompanied by her father, a small Spanish child wearing a pumpkin mask wandered up and giggled at our waiter, who seemed to know several regulars.

After eating, we repaired to another establishment seeking a coffee and took seats in a strengthening breeze. This, too, turned out to be English run. We’d walked past a parade containing two Indian restaurants, a Chinese restaurant  and an Italian restaurant between our English restaurant and English cafe. I was beginning to wonder if there were any Spanish establishments along the front. [Fear not, I think there are though bearing a Spanish name is clearly no indication.]

Villajoyosa BeachIn between restaurant and coffee searches, Francine had been playing photographically with the beach palm trees and colourful buildings using her favourite ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) technique. Such things are a bit of a lottery but results can improve with practice and she gets some very interesting images amongst the inevitable discards.

Finally it was time to head for Alicante airport and our friends’ flight home. All went smoothly and we returned home where, happily, we remained undisturbed by any junior protection racketeers. 😀

I suppose trick-or-bloody-treat will inevitably gain in momentum in Spain. I don’t like it and, I’m glad to report, neither do some of the Spanish. It’s early days in Spain on the slippery slope towards Americanization but I was delighted to see the following posted on a Farcebook page:

En esta casa, no hay truco ó trato, hay buñeulos y huesos de santo.
Esta es Valladolid, no Wisconsin. Lo siento.

which I loosely translate as:

In this house we don’t have trick or treat, we have fritters and bones of saints. This is Valladolid, not Wisconsin. Sorry.

1st November, All Saint’s Day or All Hallows’ Day, is a Spanish public holiday with the shops closed and families flocking to church. The “bones of saints” referred to above are a traditional Spanish treat, filled marzipan tubes [they resemble bones] eaten on All Saint’s Day, along with the more readily understandable fritters.

So, the initially rather cryptic message is now clear:

Spain has its own religious traditions surrounding All Hallows’ and should proudly maintain them. Trick or treat has no place here and should remain in America.

Excellent! More power to them, say I. That, at least, seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the event, even to a Darwinist such as myself who doesn’t “do” religion.

It is, of course, far too late for the UK which is a lost cause.

Posted in 2018-10 Spain

Autumn Orchid

Aim for Xàbia/Jávea and miss, was my instruction.

Whilst on our spring visit to Spain early this year we had called into the Visitor Centre at the Parc Natural del Montgó. In addition to a large relief model of the Montgó and its surrounds, there was a colourful poster pinned up depicting about a dozen species of orchid to be found in the region. Francine began talking to a helpful Señor Ranger who, for one species, directed us to a track near an old monastery.

Most orchids are spring or summer affairs but the orchid in question now is the only example we know of an autumn flowering orchid, Autumn Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis), so that would need to be the target of a future visit. Since we were now here in autumn, Francine and I were keen to go and try to find it although, with the memory of our instructions now being six months old, I really didn’t hold out much hope.

I began by aiming for Xàbia/Jávea but then missed by refining our aim to the road leading to the track beside the monastery. Someone’s fictitious Gods must have been smiling – at the end of the track was a decent sized piece of rough ground on which to park. So often one finds a target with nowhere to bail out.

We thought we recalled Señor Ranger mentioning a line of cypresses and we certainly had those. A patch of suitably rough ground at the start of the track produced nothing orchid-like so we began wandering along it, scanning the sides between the trees for suspects. Again, nothing.

We also thought we recalled Señor Ranger mentioning the ground opening out but anything like that eluded us. Francine had wandered ahead. I did, though, spot a small gap through a collapsed stone wall/bank leading to a narrow patch of ground with bushes scattered on patches of more open ground. The whole enclosure was only about 10m wide but looked as if it went back a way. Working my way in between the snagging bushes, I drew more blanks in the first two major open patches. I considered giving up but went one opening further. I’m no expert but there, in the centre of the clear ground, was a suspect, a spiral of tiny white flowers on a single stem about 10cms high. I could see maybe a dozen more stems beyond the first and went to fetch the boss.

Autumn Ladies TressesThose fictitious Gods had been smiling again; it seems my suspect was, indeed, our target. Francine appeared overjoyed. We’ve seen a single example on only one occasion before and that was at our favourite French campsite. She began crouching and clicking at several specimens. Some of the blooms were well past their best but there were enough left for her to get some decent pictures.

A little earlier in the season would have been better but we’d been very lucky. It’s so easy to be in the right general area but miss the small, exact spot that often requires precision navigation. This little colony looked very localized.

Posted in 2018-10 Spain

A Bernia Blow

We’ve suffered a day or two with some heavy rain. There is a good deal of sunshine in our little Costa Blanca corner of Spain but when it rains often does so heavily.

‘T was Monday and the fearless leader of our Monday Walkers group was planning what would normally be one of my favourite walks, the route around the Sierra de Bernia featuring a low tunnel through which one has to crouch. Unfortunately the weather forecasters were planning winds of 40kph with gusts up to 60kph [38mph]. It didn’t sound like ideal conditions, to me. I didn’t think we’d get blown down the 1000 metres that would be below us but I did think it could be a tad uncomfortable.

After a brief discussion in the comfort of a relatively sheltered parking area, we set off up to base camp to see how things were higher up. Base camp’s parking area was also pretty sheltered so the general vote was to go for it. Eleven of us gamely set off. This would be our fifth time around the 9km/5.5ml route.

MontgoAs we climbed up towards the famous tunnel, we remained quite sheltered and conditions were much better than I had expected on the exposed lower slopes of the ridge. There are several new faces in the group now – of course, to them our faces are new due to our 6-month absence – and one of the new face’s lungs were suffering a little. A few minutes rest for recovery was no hardship given these views of another mountain to the north, the Montgo, and we eventually continued to arrive at the opening of the tunnel.

Bernia TunnelIt’s an age thing: the tunnel is little more than a metre high at its pinch point and crouching through it gets more uncomfortable on my knees each time I do it. Nonetheless, we all emerged victorious on the south side of the ridge to the impressive sight of … Benidorm.  The more experienced, or less picky, can carefully avoid beholding Benidorm in favour of beholding the nearby Altea; nearby in terms of terms of distance, that is, but not culture. [Altea is down to the left, Benidorm straight ahead.]

UnsettledThe light over the sea made it obvious that the meteorology was feeling unsettled. The forecast winds were coming from the west and we remained comfortably sheltered as we made our way along the southern side of the ridge towards the old ruined fort which stands just before the beginning of the descent. Now we began to feel the wind and nobody was keen on hanging around too long. The path down the western end of the route was cutting. My gloveless hands, holding a pair of trekking poles, soon began to feel freezing. I stowed the poles in my rucksack so I could stuff my hands in the pockets of my fleece for some warmth. At the next corner I moved into some more shelter and life became bearable again.

Most of the walk had actually been quite enjoyable but that one later windblown section was decidedly unpleasant. A couple of beers with a tortilla espagnole went down very well.

Posted in Uncategorised

Damp Squib

I am delighted to report that the remaining days of the Jalón fiesta went off like a damp squib. That is, it was literally occasionally damp and, though we believe there was more music each night, we were saved from racket sufficient to keep us awake. Sleep was had. All hail the patron saint of Jalón, whoever that is.

We have guests who arrived safely, too, who were also able to sleep after their Sunday journey. Ryanair ferried them from Bristol to Alicante arriving pretty much on time, which is to say 21:05. That meant I had to remain sober to drive Francine and myself to Alicante to collect them. It was also sobering to see the hubbub of Alicante on a Sunday evening compared to the relative peace and calm that we had encountered at Valencia upon our own arrival. Nothing too serious, though.

We are repaying some of the hospitality shown to us by the friends that made us familiar with the Jalón valley, those for whom we used to house-and-dog-sit before they moved back to the UK. Naturally we had to drink to a few reminiscences, starting very soon after we parked the car back at Casa. Well, they were bound to be thirsty after their flight 😉

Chris thinks he’s returned home. Here’s the first morning that welcomed him back.

J18_2158 Jalon morning

Posted in 2018-10 Spain

***Kin’ Fiestas

I’ve never really been a party animal. I used to be something of a music animal but even in my youth, it had to be my music on my terms. Even if the music in question was the best Led Zeppelin track ever [I’ll leave that one to you], I do not ever want to hear my neighbour playing it because it isn’t on my terms.

The Spanish, by contrast, absolutely love a party, particularly a town party. They, of course, call their town parties fiestas. There are usually some daytime diversions involved, often revolving around food and drink. [Yes, I am a fan of both of those.] There may be some entertainments/demonstrations, too, such as the curious Catalan habit of building human towers, called castells, by making a small and fearless child stand atop the shoulders of four or five levels of slightly less fearless but much stronger adults, some wearing crash helmets to keep the Spanish health and safety folks happy. [Yeah, right.]

And, of course, what party would be complete without some music? Fear not, a fiesta is a proper party and there is always live music, sometimes even during the daylight hours. What I utterly fail to comprehend about the Spanish mentality is that most of the fiesta music is performed during the night. No, not the evening, the night. Spanish fiesta music stages tend to fire up at about midnight. As the stars revolve around their celestial orbits, rising and setting as the night progresses, the music continues becoming, it seems, ever louder. That could, I suppose, just be the fact that all other ambient noise ceases, but I really do think the volumes get cranked up. This assault on the eardrums of those non party animals attempting to sleep continues generally until 05:00 or 05:30. Why in Darwin’s name must it happen all night?

I have enough trouble getting to sleep at the best of times, i.e. in complete silence, but with a nearby Spanish fiesta in full swing I have no chance. Casa is built half way up a mountain facing a couple of villages and our balconies combine with the hillside to make a very good noise catcher. I’ve tried earplugs but they’re too uncomfortable – just the feel of them in my ears kept me awake – and were, I found, not terribly effective against rock music. What must it be like for the residents at ground zero? I can’t imagine that the sprightly Spanish octogenarians, fuelled by endless Soberano at 8€ a litre, burn their midnight oil and shake their wrinkly bodies down to ground zero until the wee small hours.

Shortly after arriving for this visit, we found out that we’d flown straight towards another local fiesta this weekend. Ground zero this time is Jalón. Our more usual bugbear is the nearby village of Alcalalí, actually slightly closer. There has been a fiesta in Jalón on one of our previous visits and that wasn’t too bad; maybe the wind was in a favourable direction taking the worst of the racket away from us. Earlier this week, we saw a massive marquee being erected in the main square and enclosing all of it but the surrounding footpaths at the sides. Preparations were well underway.

Sure enough, at about 23:30 on Friday we began to hear music. Well, I assume it was music but given the distance and distortion caused by intervening buildings it came across as unrecognisable noise. It was just enough to keep me awake. It continued to be just enough to keep me awake until my last conscious time check during what still felt like Friday night at around 03:00. At some time I must have entered the land of nod because my next conscious time check of what might just about have felt like Saturday morning came at about 05:00, when I had a vague recollection of an odd dream. [Dreams are always odd.] “It’ll stop soon”, I remember thinking. Wrong! This ***kin’ fiesta continued until about 07:30 when whatever was being played had morphed into something sounding even less musical.

And don’t think for one minute that that’s it. This ***kin’ fiesta is something to do with Jalón’s patron saint and we’re told we can look forward to another three nights of irresistible entertainment.

Escaping to the Parador in Jávea/Xàbia sounded appealing. Calpe is out because they’re staging a Moors and Christians event on Sunday: battle #1, lunch, battle #2, knees-up. Besides, we have guests arriving.

Maybe that Soberano might work as an anaesthetic …

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Posted in 2018-10 Spain

Between the Rains

Surprisingly the sun reappeared today. Following yesterday’s late afternoon thrash I didn’t know how muddy it might be underfoot but we decided to have a run out to the marjal de Pego-Oliva to see who/what might be around. Besides, it looked brighter over in that valley.

_18C8796 Aeshna mixtaBrighter it was. There were a few puddles on the stony track but underfoot beside the water conditions were fine and we were soon finding some activity. First up was a female Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) which just goes to show how the season stretches further in Spain than in the UK. She wasn’t posing for pictures, though. A flying Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), whose relatives are still quite active in the UK, was more cooperative for Francine, though, and she captured the subject on the wing admirably.

J18_2116 Erythromma lindeniiJ18_2123 Danaus chrysippusWe were out in some fresh air with nobody else around and it wasn’t raining so we were winning, though insect activity wasn’t exactly high. We found another damselfly species here, a Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii), which did cooperate but most interest and action was provided by a butterfly, the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus), of which there were several flitting about. My only other representation of this species on pixels had been a battered specimen from Hondo which I had needed to repair using Photoshop wizardry. I dislike doing such things but needs must. So, I was very happy to catch an example in good condition which will eventually replace my repaired individual. These are relatives of the long distant migrant, the Monarch (Danaus plexippis); in fact, their common name in French translates as Small Monarch.

J18_2127 Orthetrum trinacriaJ18_2129 Sympetrum fonscolombiiIn the absence of any further interest, we moved on to what had been our very first area of the marjal, the rice paddies. Following our discovery of the river at the back of the reserve, we’ve been neglecting it lately. As well as yet more Plain Tigers, here we found quite a few Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii) – here’s one with sun glinting off its wings – and a Long Skimmer (Orthetrum trinacria), being less cooperative on the ground. The latter is rather fond of eating the former so this should have proved a reasonable hunting ground for it. Even if a hunter yourself, It can be a cruel world as a dragonfly.

By most accounts we’re heading towards a wet weekend.

Posted in 2018-10 Spain

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

[Nice one, David.]

I’m getting too old for 03:15 alarms. I’m certainly getting too old to awake at 02:30 waiting for said alarm. We got up early, bleary-eyed after just three hours sleep and prepared to fly back to Spain. We’re trying something new – well, several things new, really.

Firstly we’re flying into Valencia instead of Alicante for the first time. At the time of booking Valencia proved to be almost 50% cheaper. Our hope was that it would prove to be a quieter, less touristy airport and that we might avoid the occasional Benidorm set that frequent the Alicante route. Fingers crossed, we boarded and were on our way by 07:00.

It’s a 20 minute shorter flight to Valencia, too, and we touched down at 09:00 some way ahead of schedule. We were bussed from the plane’s parking spot on the apron to the terminal. The fact that we’re too old for 03:15 alarms was put into stark relief when a young lady on our shuttle bus offered to give up her seat for us. Arghh! “Thanks but no, we’re fine.“ The bus swiftly delivered us to the terminal where two warm bodies checked our passports much more quickly than the pedestrian automated passport readers ever do. – another advantage. We were soon wandering towards the car park for our rental car.

Having changed airports, it was now time for our change of rental car company: Giner in Benissa a town just a few kilometres from Jalón. This seemed flaky. I had booked on-line, a Seat Ibiza giving my email address and required dates, some while ago but booking on-line clearly just generates a message to the company – nothing actually happens immediately. Some 24 hours later I did receive an email saying that my booking was made. My confirmation came with instructions to make our way to the 2nd floor of the multi-storey car park where, in space 759, we would find a permanently parked white car. This was not ours, it was a marker. A man would either be there or shortly be there. It seems that the representative was actually a third party company looking after the distribution of rental cars for several agencies.

Arriving on the 2nd floor of the car park, sure enough, there was the marker car and, after a minute or two, there were two men one of whom knew our name and popped off to get our car “in 3 minutes”. It was a Spanish 3 minutes that took about 10 minutes. We had been early, though. I signed a 1-page contract and was given a key. We drove out of the airport and onto the autopista in a rental car having paid absolutely nothing nor having provided any driving license or credit card details. We were to call in to the office in Benissa later to pay and complete the formal paperwork. How delightfully trusting. I chose to call in on our way to Casa; the Giner lady was very friendly, too. This could be habit forming.

BeforeWe arrived in sunshine and rebooted Casa. All seemed well, if a little dusty after a 6-month absence. Our standard welcoming lunch of calamares [squid] washed down by a glass or two of rosado seemed in order.

The day already felt quite long but I couldn’t resist checking out the pool by the ford opposite the bar to see if any friends were flying. Sure enough, there were several Orange-winged Dropwings (Trithemis kirbyi) flashing their wing patches and quite a few Epaulet Skimmers (Orthetrum chrysostigma), too. Neither species frequent the UK so they are always good to see. Both were doing a lot of basking on rocks.

J18_2094  Orthetrum chrysostigmaJ18_2100  Trithemis kirbyi

AfterChanges were clearly the order of the day. We’d known that we were flying towards some unsettled weather and the sun that greeted us, if anything, was something of a surprise. A couple of hours later our view had changed to this.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings but we’re expecting changeable.

Posted in 2018-10 Spain

Grasping the Nettle

For a bit of variety, we began by visiting our third high altitude Auvergne lake in three days, this one Lac Montcineyre at an altitude approaching 1200m/3900ft. If nothing else we’d be on more roads showing us more of the scenery in the area.

_18C4555_18C4598

J18_1393 Lestes dryas femaleJ18_1403 Silver-washed FritillaryWe got to a suitable parking area just off the road at the end of a track leaving us a 1km walk up to the lake itself. Frankly, the walk up the track proved to be more interesting than the lake itself; or, at least, at first it did. On our way up we saw another female Scarce Emerald/Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas), which was proving to be anything but scarce in these parts. [It’s a female, BTW.] A handsome Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly kept us entertained for a while, too. Once we got to the lake itself, we scoured the accessible edge of the lake without much of great interest.

A bunch of French walkers arrived and peered at us muttering, wondering what we were scrutinizing the lakeside vegetation for, “Libelules”, we replied, jauntily. “Ah …” – further muttering

Interest picked up as we were preparing to leave. Beside some trees and above a patch of stinging nettles, a cluster of emerald dragonflies was coursing back and forth hunting. Dragonflies don’t actually swarm, as such, but they will gather together at a good food source. Here, there must’ve been in excess of 20 individuals. We’d seen a few on the way in but given the background of a confusion of branches together with the fact that these guys don’t settle very much, we’d left them to their feeding. Now, we did pause to watch and admire their aerial display. It’s difficult in flight with a fast moving critter but we thought we could see yellow markings on them so guessed these were more Yellow-spotted Emeralds (Somatochlora flavomaculata).

_18C4780 Somatochlora flavomaculataThen one settled in the nettle patch a few feet from us. A shadow was cast across part of the abdomen but I was happy to get any settled shot. To my amazement, more individuals followed suit and began settling also in the nettles and not just briefly, sometimes for a minute or two at a time. We both clicked away furiously getting shots without irritating shadows as individual continued to land. You just can’t have too many shots of settled Yellow-spotted Emeralds. 🙂

These dragonflies didn’t appear to be eating when they settled. It’s possible they were pausing to rest but given their habitual tireless flight, I doubted that. I have heard of a sort of time-sharing that goes on with at least one species in the UK, given several individuals in one patch; one or two will patrol for food then appear to make way for others. Given the concentration of individuals here, I wonder if something similar was going on.

J18_1506 Purple-edged CopperOnce we tore ourselves away from the Emeralds, another addition to our butterfly catalogue presented itself as we approached the car; a Purple-edged Copper (Lycaena hippothoe) was feeding in one the very rich flower meadows that abound here in spring. June is definitely the time to visit the Auvergne.

I couldn’t resist one last try at Lac (de l’)Estivadoux on the way back to Guillaume, just to see if I could find an Irish Damselfly/Crescent Bluet (Coenagrion lunulatum) but, despite wading in the lake for a third time, the only different life forms I found consisted of a gang of school kids in the company of a couple of teachers armed with a net. Fearing for our sanity, we stayed at the opposite end of the lake.

That concluded what I considered to be a very successful visit to the Auvergne, albeit without my primary quarry, in astonishingly good weather. Tomorrow we begin our journey back north and home.

Posted in 2018 France

Emerald City

Our second day high in a brilliantly sunny Auvergne and what a glorious region it is in such weather. There are a staggering amount of walking routes all around us with breath-taking scenery to be enjoyed.

Yesterday we spent a lot of time combing Lac (de l’)Estivadoux for the Irish Damselfly/Crescent Bluet (Coenagrion lunulatum). We didn’t find it but we did get a tantalizing glimpse of what I now believe was a Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum). More precisely, Francine got a glimpse of it but I did not. I couldn’t waste weather like this in such far flung habitat; had to go back for more.

J18_1283 Sympetrum flaveolum imm maleReturning to Estivadoux, I put my trusty Salomon Techamphibians on again and we began combing the shallow vegetation-rich lake. Now I had two quarries, the Crescent Bluet and the Yellow-winged Darter. I continued not to see any Crescent Bluets but I did briefly happen across a Yellow-winged Darter – just briefly enough to snag a mostly in focus shot. However, Francine discovered a sheltered dip in the ground beside the lake that appeared to be attractive to them and we managed some much improved shots. This species was just emerging and all the examples we found were immature. This is an immature male whose abdomen will eventually turn red. The wings do show the extensive yellow patches characteristic of the species, though.

_18C4653 Somatochlora flavomaculataI still didn’t find my primary quarry but another interesting character, a Yellow-spotted Emerald (Somatochlora flavomaculata), did put in an appearance as we were leaving, hunting over the access path. It flew tirelessly, as is their wont, but Francine managed to snag it.

Where we left to was another high altitude lake [1168m/3800ft], Lac de Bourdouze.

Lac de Bourdouze

J18_1358 Brilliant EmeraldThis place turned out to be Emerald City. As we approached, we saw more examples of the Yellow-spotted Emerald that we had just encountered at Estivadoux. When we were actually at a suitable observation point beside the lake, though, there was a brilliant metallic green flash as an appropriately named Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) zoomed past. This was one of those critters that I’d observed before but not managed to photograph. The main problem is that they fly almost continuously, rarely settling. This beast was being reasonably predictable, flying a couple of paths, not exactly predictably but at least relatively frequently. We both took up station and clicked away, soon abandoning autofocus [too slow] and switching to manual. “Everything looks sharp on the back of a camera”, sprang to mind. The trouble is, it’s a small thumbnail. Best not to get too excited. We both thought we’d got something reasonable, though. Once back at home base and with processing available, indeed we had. One of my two bogey dragonfly snagged. [Since you ask, I still need the Northern Emerald (Somatochlora arctica).]

J18_1386 Cordulia aeneaAfter a while, I saw an Emerald settle in a tree beside us – dreadful lighting, though. It took off again and began flying. I kept trying more in-flight shots. This one turned out to be a third Emerald species, a Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) which we do have at home. It was nice to snag one in France, though.

So, one more lake but with three different Emerald species and a bogey laid to rest. A pretty good day, really.

Posted in 2018 France

The Irish Problem

Since we ill-advisedly partitioned Northern Ireland a few hundred years ago to create a false protestant majority, Ireland has been a problem for us. You’d think we’d learn but no, we continue to grab land and partition countries causing yet more problems. What use history if we fail to learn from past mistakes?

I have an Irish problem of my own. Of the 45 breeding species listed for the UK, there is one Damselfly that I am yet to see. There is a clue in the name of this beast as to the reason that I haven’t yet seen it: it’s the so-called Irish Damselfly (Coenagrion lunulatum). Yes, in the British Isles C. lunulatum occurs only in Ireland and wild horses wouldn’t drag me to Ireland. Fortunately the critter is also available to be seen in other parts of Europe where the alternative, non-UK-centric name of Crescent Bluet is decidedly more appropriate. There are a few scattered populations in France, including in the Auvergne, which is where we now find ourselves. I wonder why?

One of my fellow odo-nutters informed me of a specific location where my quarry might be found. Somewhat confusingly, the name of said location seems to be documented inconsistently varying from a simple Lac Estivadoux, through Lac d’Estivadoux to Lac de l’Estivadoux. In any event, the key piece of information is the Estivadoux bit and here we are camped but a few kilometres from it. I pointed to the lake on our Michelin map and, guided by my primary navgatrix, we set off to find it.

We failed but not by any fault on the part of primary navigatrix. We had definitely found the correct road, which began more like a cart track, passed through some open countryside on proper tarmac followed by a wooded area, then ended up at a crossroads, a right turn from which soon had us looking over the bigger, more touristy water body of Lac Pavin. We were in the right location; we’d passed Lac (de l’)Estivadoux but not seen anything resembling a lake, just fields. Ignoring the tourist trap of Lac Pavin, we returned to the crossroads where we now spotted a helpful walkers signpost pointed back up our original road saying Lac (de l’)Estivadoux 0.7km. We backtracked, slowly.

Lac EstivadouxFrom this direction, the south, we could see behind the trees into the fields as we approached the wooded area. My eyes were on the road looking for oncoming traffic but primary navigatrix suddenly said, “there it is!” [gesticulates outside left window]. It still didn’t look like a lake; what it looked like was a very flat field, so vegetated was it. Having parked in the woods and wandered a short distance, a picture may help you to see the problem, though from this end you can see a little water which is not visible from the road. At least we’d found it. Now to the searching.

J18_1248 Lestes dryas maleThe first critters I found on the walk from the car to the field lake was another rarity that I’d made a special trip to Norfolk to find, the so-called Scarce Emerald, the better non-UK-centric name being Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas). The place was absolutely inundated with them so that was a thrill already.

J18_1165 Coenagrion hastulatum maleWe started combing the vegetation for blue-striped pyjama jobs – Bluets. I soon found out that there was a mixture of Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum)  and Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella). Drat, that’s make the searching hard work ‘cos you have to study everything minutely. Then I spotted what I thought was my much sought after Irish Damselfly/Crescent Bluet. I snapped excitedly, hardly controlling my breath. I was sure I had it. I hadn’t. Unbeknownst to me, this lake also held a population of the very similar Northern Damselfly/Spearhead Bluet (Coenagrion hastulatum), which had been one of my quarries on last season’s trip braving the vagaries of Scottish weather. [OK, I can just about do Scotland but Ireland is a step too far.] “Bother”, said Pooh, crossly. Well, don’t get me wrong; I was delighted to see these critters again but I was still missing the Irish irritation.

A few years ago I had invested in a pair of wonderfully useful shoes – not particularly useful for Joe Normal but very useful for an odo-nutter. These shoes are Salomon Techamphibians. They were, I seem to remember being told told, originally designed for river guides. They are made entirely of materials impervious to water, including Kevlar cable fasteners. Absolutely nothing on them absorbs water and their grip on wet rocks is quite exceptional. In an uncharacteristic attack of far-sightedness, I had packed them and was now wearing them. [Frankly, they’re less useful in the UK where water temperatures are generally lower – not this year, perhaps – but are brilliant for odo-hunting in the south of France.] I began wading into Lac (de l’)Estivadoux, which proved to be about 30cms deep at most. I tried to study every blue-striped pyjama job that would settle long enough to permit study. I didn’t find anything buzzing with an Irish accent.

_18C4480 Sympetrum flaveolumAs I was wading failing to find anything Irish, primary navigatrix Francine spotted and snagged a Darter. I waded out of the lake but it had scarpered and we couldn’t find it again. Back at home base, I studied the Darter, which was snagged almost full frontal – not the best angle for identification. She’d done well getting it at all, though. I was perplexed; it didn’t look like anything I was familiar with. It wasn’t. Eventually, the heavy black along the lower side of the abdomen gave me the clue and the sizeable yellow area on the wings confirmed it: this was a brand new one for our catalogue, a Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum). Joy! Well, joy except that we’d have to return to try and get better shots of it.

Ireland aside, what and incredible piece of habitat Lac (de l’)Estivadoux is. Here is a high mountain lake, a lake that to the casual eye looks more more like a field, sitting at an altitude of 1250m/4100ft. It is home to at least three specialist species that we did see, including one difficult-to-find Darter that I was thrilled to add to our catalogue, as well as the one we didn’t find, the accursed Irish Damselfly. I like it better as the Crescent Bluet, despite disliking the term bluet.

I removed my Salomon Techamphibians and dried my feet as well as I could – clearly my forward planning wasn’t perfect. We have another two days. 😉

Posted in 2018 France