Yet More Art

We’ve been feeling something like prisoners not only due to the prevailing weather conditions but also because of the condition that the ground has been left in. Farmer Luc has a couple of walks around the area centred on his farm and we’d tried one, only to have to abandon it due to soaking wet thigh-high grass growing through mud. At this time of year the grass is laden with seeds, too, and there’s little better than grass seeds for making a mess of new walking shoes.

20180611_093413When we had been waiting to board our bus tour of the Scenes de Vies photographic exhibits, Francine had spotted a curious sculpture near our point of departure in Fanjeaux. Nadine [Mrs. Farmer] explained that it was to do with celebrating Fanjeaux’s Cathar heritage. It bore a verse from Blake’s Tiger, Tiger poem but translated into French. I find the concept of translating poetry into a foreign language rather reminds me of a wonderful moment in the film Educating Rita concerning assonance which, Rita says following Frank’s explanation, “means getting the rhyme wrong”.

Nadine and Luc told us there were more five or so more sculptures to do with the Cathar heritage in Fanjeaux at a viewpoint so, given an afternoon that was proving brighter and drier, we decided to do our own circuit out through the rear entrance to the farm, to Fanjeaux to see the statues, then back through the more conventional front entrance of the farm. Our poor old legs have been feeling underused.

_18C4054I was expecting, perhaps, a collection of individual sculptures but found that it was actually five sculptures arranged in a group called disputation, sculptures fashioned out of what I assume was scrap metal. They formed an imposing group with the valley as a backdrop.

Our return route back to the farm took us along the 2km road between crop fields. Francine was interested in playing with poppies, photographically speaking, so were kept an eye open for suitable subjects. As if frequently the case when one forms a mental image of a picture, finding the right subject in the right situation doesn’t happen. Solo poppies with their heads above a neat corn backdrop were proving elusive. We did, however, find a group of mixed poppies and white flowers, possibly one of the camomiles, that were intermittently sunny as clouds drifted over the sun and then cleared it. Francine liked the grouping and began playing with that instead.

Isolating the group using a narrow depth of field [no pun intended] worked quite nicely but then I spotted her taking additional shots of the corn to the side, thinking of a multiple exposure shot. Along with so-called ICM [Intentional Camera Movement], multiple exposures are always tend to require some luck along with the vision but she seems very happy with this result.

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Now that looks arty to me.

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Escape to Gruissan

Deluges continue apace, at least in our petit coin [small corner] of France. Yesterday evening was wet, overnight was wet and this morning thrashes were several and frequent. In a bid to escape to better weather and avoid the constant squelching sound of our newly webbed feet as we walk, we arranged to drive over to Gruissan on the Mediterranean coast, a distance of about 90kms, our main plan being to enjoy a plateau de fruits de mer lunch at a particularly good seafood shack that we know. The only reason any arrangement was necessary was that we’d asked our Dutch neighbours if they’d like to come too and they readily agreed. We set off at 10:30, leaving the waterlogged campsite behind.

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We didn’t have to go more than about 10kms east along the autoroute before conditions brightened. Patches of blue appeared in the sky and the view ahead held a promise of continued improvement. It was windy but we’d take wind over continuing rain any day. Parking was a doddle and, stepping out of the car, all four of us luxuriated in the now unfamiliar feeling of warm sunshine.

My trusty Tilley hat, used recently mainly as a defence against rain, was at last pressed into service as a defence against a sunburnt scalp. Only briefly, though; the wind was so strong that Tilley went flying off in the wrong direction. “Bother”, said Pooh crossly, once more. There was nothing for it – out came the inelegant but effective chin strap, which I hate using. Now, If only I could find me a six gun, the effect would be complete.

J18_1002 Sky Blue PinkAfter a brief aperitif wander around the town looking at the market which was now in shutdown mode, we repaired to the restaurant and found that it, at least, provided some shelter from the continuing strong wind. The restaurant faces a salt pan with astoundingly pink water. One day we really must get here at the right time, i.e. in the morning when the angle of the light is best for the colour and with less wind disturbing the surface, to do it justice. This will give you the idea of the effect, though. Naturally, the phrase that springs to mind is “sky blue pink”. See, that mythical colour does exist.

20180613_130241Studying the menu, our friends Hans and Marga fancied a seafood platter, too, so what turned up was a humongous dish laden with seafood for four. A platter order is for a minimum of two and contains a crab, oysters, raw mussels, prawns and whelks, together with the necessary hardware, bread and mayonnaise. We added a bottle of white wine, of course. Maternal remonstrations not to play with ones food are useless faced with a such a feast. We all set about manually attempting to destroy it and very nearly succeeded – very nearly but not quite; a few bulots [whelks] went back with a moule [mussel] or two.

We’ve had three more showers since we returned to the campsite. I’ve always said this site is 50kms too far west.

Posted in 2018 France

Scènes de Vies

For the last five years, the area of La (normalement) Belle France around Guillaume’s favourite campsite has been staging a photographic festival. The festival’s form consists of several Chemins de Photos [photograph trails] “en grand format et en plein air” – large format photographs displayed in the countryside. We were camping here five years ago when the first running of the festival got underway. We had been a little bemused when farmer Luc began thumping large wooden stakes into the shallower waters at the edges of the lake beside which his campsite sits. Confusion diminished a little when our friendly sheep farmer subsequently attached boards bearing photographs to the stakes; “curiouis”, we thought but at least we now knew what the stakes were for.  Quite why one would want photographs staked into a lake remained a mystery.Luc and Nadine introduced to us the concept of the Chemins de Photos. Ah ha.

Photos printed on paper in the open air just north of the Pyrenees (18kms north of Mirepoix, to be exact) did not fair too well for festival #1, which was a bold idea on a relatively modest scale. In the intervening time the festival has clearly continued and, happily, advanced considerably. Festival #5 has a free guide book together with a souvenir brochure [€3], both well produced in colour, and a title: Scènes de Vies [Scenes of Lives]. There are now 21 locations in various villages around the area, some with multiple installations. The photographs are now printed on a plastic, or plasticized material, so are at least weather resistant and may last until 30th September when the festival ends. [In the modern vogue, let’s hope that plastic doesn’t end up in our oceans.]

Today we had been invited by Nadine to join an organized tour by bus of some of the installations. Friday and Saturday had been clement, mercifully, and the farm ground had dried to a firmer consistency. Sunday had brought another deluge so the ground was now once again soggy. Today’s forecast was no better. The concept of wandering around open air exhibits on muddy ground in occasional heavy rain may not have been highest on either of our bucket lists but what else were we to do on such a day? Besides, Nadine had generously insisted on paying for us so we gratefully grabbed waterproofs, donned shoes that were washable and set off at 08:45 to join in the fun; given such hospitality it would have been rude not to.

20180611_102638Over coffee and cakes, two token Brits joined 25 hardy French souls at Fanjeaux. Finally we boarded the bus and began. So did the rain. The driver did a magnificent job negotiating the narrow lanes, most often single track, to some of the tiny ancient hilltop villages. At each installation there was a sometimes lengthy introduction about the photographer and their chosen theme. The introductions were, of course, in high speed French that was way above our level of comprehension. One lady volunteered a teenage girl, maybe her daughter, to translate for us. That would have been way too complex so I thanked her and said it was unnecessary – that, at least, was well within my French. We understood some of what was being said but missed the majority of it. No matter, pictures speak a thousand words.

_18C3563At Belpech, where the rain had relented, there were three installations to wander around before an included 3-course lunch was served. The lunch was preceded by further high speed speeches, both from a festival organizer and from the mayor of Belpech as one of the hosting villages. It was a bit like the Oscars – much thanking and congratulating. These folks certainly could talk. Mouths that were needed for talking were finally freed to eat. I thought our over-worked brains might get some respite now but we were seated with Nadine, who usually moderates her speed in deference to us, and another. Nadine’s speed returned to native normality in the company of her compatriot and we were left mentally scratching our heads once more. The food was good, though – a little too much for us in the middle of the day but good. The river flowing through Belpech had clearly flooded – debris was strewn on the bank – was swift and the colour of mud washed off the surrounding countryside.

20180611_102846This year’s continental European summer continues. The overflowing lavoir at one of our earlier stops may give an idea of just how much rain this country is having to try to absorb. It is failing noticeably.

French lunchtime appetites sated, we re-joined our bus for the afternoon continuation of more villages with more installations viewed in ocasional further dumps of rain. Another lady with some English had befriended us and had volunteered a few explanatory clarifications in English, not so much of the photographs but of some of the village architecture. At least it gave our brains a brief rest and hers seemed to enjoy the exercise.

At 18:00, after nine hours of intense French, we finally returned to Fanjeaux but the tour was not quite over. As is usual, our farm has an installation to be seen around the lake but the farm ground was too muddy to contemplate hosting our bus. So, those who had not yet seen enough collected their cars and swarmed the extra 3kms in convoy to the lakeside. As the foreigner but one knowing the farm intimately, I was amused to be shepherding all the French-registered cars whose drivers were less than familiar with the geography.

_18C3617The photos are of widely varying subjects and styles so naturally not everything appeals to everyone. Our last lakeside photos are of Emperor Penguins raising chicks in the middle of an Antarctic winter, taken by a German photographer who indulges in photography in extreme conditions. Mid-winter Antarctic penguins most certainly fitted his brief. As a wildlife enthusiast, this series is my personal favourite from this years disparate collections.

Honestly, the day was too long. I well remember touring the remains of no fewer than eight ancient Cambodian temples in one day. It all blurred into one and I felt completely templed out. This was a similar experience though clearly the weather conditions had not helped.

And relax …

Posted in 2018 France

Target Carcassonne

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Carcassonne becoming a UNESCO world heritage site, it has been decorated. In this writer’s opinion, the old walled cité of Carcassonne is already decorative enough not to require further adornment; it already looks more like Camelot than would Camelot. Some folks clearly disagree, though. We popped along to have a look, though choosing to go on a Saturday morning when a market was in full swing was perhaps a questionable decision. With yours truly watching traffic and Francine watching road signs – in an unfamiliar busy city one person can’t do both – we finally found first the cité and then a parking spot unscathed, despite at one point thinking I was in a car park that was actually a two-way street. An oncoming car provided the clue.

OK, so “a work of modern art” [instant ringing of alarm bells] has been bestowed upon Carcassonne by a Swiss-born chappie called Felice Varini. He now lives in Paris. As with Antony Gormley of The Angel of the North fame, we benefit from the artistic mumbo-jumbo explanation that necessarily accompanies any true modern artist, according to which Mr. Varini:

… designs his paintings from a a point of view which reveals a geometric shape built upon the architecture. As soon as we leave the right point of view, as soon as the visitor moves, the shapes split and create a multitude of other perspectives.

Ready?

OK, so what adorns Carcassonne is not actually a painting because paint would not be removable. In this instance the work is made of kilometres of very sticky bright yellow tape, the advantage of sticky tape being that it can be unstuck. The artwork is called Concentric Eccentric Circles and is designed to be seen from Port d’Aude on the west slope of the cité.

Personally, I think the mumbo-jumbo is somewhat arse backwards. Having parked and as we approached, some sections of the the city’s magnificently intact walls appear to be covered is disjoint slabs of bright yellow, some of which hint at their titular circular nature but others of which do not. So, this disjointed nature, those so-called “different perspectives”, are actually the first things that any visitor sees (unless, of course, they were to be blindfolded and walked to the design point of view).

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As one approaches the design POV [photographic shorthand], these disjointed blocks of colour do, amazingly, come together into their intended geometric shape, in this case concentric circles.

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_18C3472Think about that for a moment. The towering, convoluted walls of the city, complete with turrets, reaching heights that must top 100ft/30m, taking into account variously curved and angled surfaces, have been accurately taped up in yellow such that, when seen from one point and one point only, those yellow shapes form circles. Firstly, how in the blazes does one work out exactly which sections of the many differently angled walls have to be taped where and, having done so, how does one actually direct and accurately affix the tape where it needs to be? I can only imagine that a precise computer model would  have been made in some Computer Aided Design software.

I must admit that the form of the adornment, whether an artwork or not, is thoroughly amazing. To me, this is more like a complex engineering work than an artwork, though I suppose that the conception would be termed artistic.

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Posted in 2018 France

Solid Overcast and Rain

Thick, even grey clouds with frequent very wetting rain – not thrashing, just heavy and persistent. This is worse than the storm we arrived in yesterday afternoon ‘cos at least a thunderstorm is somewhat entertaining – once you can get inside Guillaume, that is.

I’ve been carrying out something of a long term lake watch at this Fanjeaux site, which we’ve been visiting for about 12 years. Once I became fascinated by odonata, this site proved to be a goldmine and we notched up 20 species, several of the damselflies being in large numbers.

About 6 years ago, a Koi Carp farmer began using the lake to rear fish intensively. Koi eat anything and everything. The lake also had Grass Carp introduced, which destroyed any floating vegetation and the odonata population plummeted. Several species clung  on in small numbers but I expressed my concern to Luc, the farmer. Mercifully the fish farmer now appears to be history and, after a 3-year gap, I was hoping to see how, if at all, the lake was recovering.

This year the lake is very full after a persistently wet spring. It is, though, a very muddy brown colour with all the run off from the surrounding quagmires that pass for fields. Because of the conditions, Luc is very behind with his crops which he needs to feed and care for his 300 sheep.

Unfortunately, the persistently wet spring seems to be continuing and, unless conditions improve, both Luc and I will have problems with our tasks. Luc’s tasks are much more important, of course. However, in one rain interval today we did find a few damselflies, three species in all, sheltering in the vegetation beside the lake:

  • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
  • Small Redeye (Erythromma viridulum)
  • Migrant Spreadwing/Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barabrus)

J18_0858 Lestes barbarusSurprisingly, one of these, the Migrant Spreadwing/Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barabrus) is a new species for this site, making 21 species in all over the years. I doubt that this species count would be seen here in any conditions currently but nature tends to find a way, if left to its own devices.

I can’t recall seeing L. barbarus in the near vicinity so I’m wondering where it might have come in from. I did actually also see a dragonfly, probably a Skimmer, zooming about but it is yet to be identified. A new species may, however, indicate that the lake is being recolonized gradually.

If the weather ever improves, I may get the chance to find out.

Posted in 2018 France

Orange Storms

Basically, this year the European weather system is screwed up. The normal weather patterns are a tad inverted. England, traditionally unsettled and changeable, has enjoyed what I believe is the warmest May on record. We certainly had three weeks of stunning weather and my mind began comparing it to the blissful summer of standpipes in 1976. We have heard from Francine’s pen friend in Bergen, Norway, that they are suffering a ban on barbecues in their gardens, so dry is it. Bergen is normally wet so frequently that they put brave faces on it with phrases like, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Our area of Spain, the Costa Blanca, is known as the second driest part of Spain and was good when we were there but not as good as one would normally expect it to be. So what of France?

Yesterday evening we finished our visit to La Brenne with a doozy of a thunderstorm. Fortunately, it was late enough in the day for us to have done everything we wanted and to shelter in good ol’ Guillaume enjoying the light and percussion show outside. Today we moved on to Fanjeaux and our favourite dairy sheep farm. We weren’t actually booked in but we had informed the site owners, now friends, that we would be arriving today for two weeks. An Englishman’s word is his bond, etc. etc., so, we hitched up and set off on our 485km drag south.

Half way down the route and three quarters of the way down our tank of diesel, we called in to an autoroute services to top up. It must just be one of those trips; on our way down from Neufchatel-en-Bray to La Brenne we first chose a services disrupted by external building works, this time we chose one with internal building works in progress. We ”enjoyed” a coffee and baguette to the almost constant staccato accompaniment of a drill.

As we enjoyed our noisy coffee, a French TV news station showed scenes of devastation caused by flooding in the Alsace region. They moved on to more, widespread similar situations. We were informed that there were oranges warnings of orages [storms] in 28 departements. How poetic the French language can be – Oranges Orages. OK, we’d say amber warnings between yellow and red but the message was clear, the meteorological situation over France was serious. A weather map graphic appeared on the TV. Warm air from Africa was moving up from the south and turning west above France. Simultaneously, cold air was sweeping down from the northern Atlantic and turning east over France. In the middle of France, the two air masses, one war and one cold, were colliding. France was caught in a meteorological pincer movement. Net result: deluges. The 28 departements affected cut a swathe down the centre of France from north to south finishing at the Mediterranean, yes, just where we were heading, in the Languedoc.

Our journey was actually quite pleasant; not sunny, exactly, but dry. We did pass through a few brighter areas and also put up with a spit of rain or two but nothing untoward. Finally we arrived at Toulouse and made our turn east towards the Med. Toulouse was actually quite bright. We began the final 70kms to our destination. After 35kms or so bright gave way to gloom and a black, threatening mass darkened the horizon ahead and just a little to our right. Ahead and just a little to our right was exactly where Fanjeaux lay. Brilliant.

We took our autoroute exit with just 10kms to go and turned south directly towards the black mass. Fanjeaux is a hilltop village that was just ahead of us. Mordor would have looked positively Elysian by comparison. A few gouts of rain hit the windscreen. That was a few seconds before the heavens opened and we were towing Guillaume through a cloudburst. Still, Guillaume could do with a good rinse. We knew the hill top church at Fanjeaux was ahead of us, we’d been able to se it originally, but it had become obscured by darkness. The twisting road up the hillside towards Fanjeaux was more like a river. Trucks descending the road threw modest bow waves into our path. At the hill top we turned towards our destination farm and campsite.  Thunder cracked whilst lightning tried but failed to brighten the sky. The 1km single track road approaching the farm was crossed by unmapped streams washing soil off the surrounding fields. There’s a deep dip in the road before the final ascent to the farm which somehow remained clear. The mapped stream draining the gulley, normally a trickle, was now a torrent, though. We’ve seen some wet in France but never anything on this scale.

I haven’t looked at the Jet Stream flow recently but I did when we were in Spain. It certainly sweeping much further south than usual. We did, after all, spend 41 hours aboard our return ferry in the wake of Storm Felix because of it. Doubtless, it is still the culprit. Had we not been “booked in”, we’d probably have done something else; possibly even, stay put for a while and see if the situation improved before heading south.

In continuing rain accompanied by occasional peels of thunder, we pitched Guillaume. These conditions were a new experience for us. Somehow I got him levelled using our ramp and fought my way through  bushes and overhanging dripping trees to the electricity supply to get him hooked up. It didn’t matter, I was already soaked through. Once I stepped out of the car I was wet so a waterproof became pointless. An old boy scout trick surfaced in my mind and I stripped off my shirt. Bodies dry better than do clothes. Francine, smart enough to put on her waterproof immediately she stepped out of the car,  gamely did her bit fetching water.

One journey of our tow car around our pitch left water-filled ruts in the soft, saturated soil. The weather forecast shows a largely disturbed two weeks, the duration of our stay, thoug hthe coming weekend holds the promise of something brighter. Fingers crossed.

We could be in for an interesting time.

Posted in 2018 France

Orchid Hunts

We have embarked upon a few orchid hunts following various publications and they have been, what shall I say … a little disappointing? The Indre departement seems to have an enviable reputation for orchids and Francine even has a book on them. Perhaps it’s a poor year for orchids. Alternatively, our timing hasn’t been great.

First, there was our orchid field south of Rosnay which was admittedly very pleasant but which yielded only two species, Tongue Orchids (Serapias lingua) and Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera bifolia), though both were in large numbers.

Second, we drove to a village where there was reportedly an orchid walk but we could find nowhere to abandon ship with any degree of safety or confidence, so ended up just going shopping instead.

_18C3227Today, we tried again and followed instructions to a stretch of road near Saulnay, published as an orchid hotspot, where we did manage to park and began scouring the verges. At first, orchids were not jumping out at us but we did begin finding individual plants along both sides of the road. They almost all appeared to be examples of the same single species but Francine also found a pair of Common Twayblades (Listera ovata). [Here’s a macro shot showing the tiny little flowers.] I don’t think either of us would’ve considered this a hotspot. Nonetheless, conditions were pleasant and we sauntered while Francine snapped away happily.

_18C3238On our way there, we’d passed a spot with a track leading off, a spot that I recognised as having been described to me as an orchid area by a contact back at home. It looked just like it did on Google Earth. Having scoured our verges, we returned to it, parked and began exploring the track. We started well with a Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) beside our parking spot, although there was an irritating barbed wire fence behind it marring the background.

J18_0756 Lestes barbarusThen we set off down the track. We saw nothing apart from a couple of Southern Emerald Damselflies (Lestes barbarus) which I was happy to snap.

Our track joined another at a T-junction. Francine took one arm and I, the other. We continued to find nothing. Francine joined me and eventually we came across an opening into a field which Francine entered and I heard her tell-tale “ah ha”. She’d found some more Lesser Butterfly Orchids.

J18_0758 Lesser Butterfly OrchidJ18_0759 posible Brenne OrchidThere were other pink-purple orchids which, along with those on our first roadside stop, Francine thinks/wonders/hopes might be the endemic Brenne Orchid (Dactylorhiza brennensis), though for identification purposes she is trying to work from a French description that she’s having to translate. They are known to hybridize so a definitive species name may prove to be elusive and we may end up having to settle for just Dactylorhiza sp. Back at home base, an English description will hopefully prove more helpful. If it is the Brenne Orchid, Francine will be very happy. 😉

After lunch we made a short bike ride, 5kms or so, to La Maison du Parc, which has a decent dragonfly pond at its rear. Just for the record, to be added to my map later, this is what we found there.

  • Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus)
  • Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum)
  • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)

We made our return cycle ride in the dry but as we were having a reviving shower, the heavens opened and the sky lit up with the occasional lightning flash. It’s OK in the late afternoon/evening, though, especially if the BBQ is out of commission anyway.

Posted in 2018 France

Early Alarm

We are already on holiday but Francine had set this morning’s alarm for 05:45. To find out why, we must rewind 24 hours.

Yesterday morning, Francine had awoken at about 06:00 to peer out of Guillaume’s window and find a misty morning over the campsite lake. This was like a red rag to a bull. Forsaking her beloved first cup of tea, she donned clothes and prepared to grab her camera.

With mist on offer, I wondered if I might get the chance of a picture I have long wanted to try, a dew-covered dragonfly or damselfly still roosting. I joined the early morning madness and threw on some clothes, too. We were in business at 06:15.

_18C2978Francine set about her misty sunrise lake picture while I went looking for roosting damselflies. I like it and the ducks seem to like it, too.

With her lake-scape in the bag, Francine came to join me on the roosting odonata hunt. We’d seen a particular corner of the lake where there was a lot of activity the previous evening so this is where we concentrated our search. They were tricky little devils to find but shortly we began to get our eyes in and started finding some. Sure enough, the little beauties, all White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) were covered in dew as I’d hoped they would be.

J18_0611Dewy White-leggedJ18_0612 Dewy Damsel 1024Getting the right line-up on the right suspect was tricky. I tried against the light thinking that might make the dew drops glisten more, then with the light to get some surface detail. On balance, I think with the light seemed better. The most important aspect, as is normally the case, was background – the clearer the better. Classic portrait stuff, really. That wasn’t easy with subjects generally keeping low down for shelter in a mass of tall grass stems. Here’s a couple of what I think are worthy shots, though they show how important the background is when compared to this one, with which I am particularly happy.

J18_0624 Dewy Damsel 1024

We returned to Guillaume for a cup of well earned coffee, both happy with our efforts.

So, today Francine had set her painfully early alarm hoping to get us out a little earlier for a repeat misty performance. Off went the alarm. Francine scrambled to the window and peered out. No mist. I went to have a look at my damselflies anyway but they were all perfectly dry, not a glistening drop in sight. We made tea instead.

It’s all about time and place. You need the right atmospheric conditions to occur in a suitable location that you’re on top of and you need to know the intricacies of the location. All our ducks haven’t been lined up before but here, we struck lucky.

Posted in 2018 France

A Packed Day

France has not enjoyed a particularly settled May. The disturbed weather pattern had continued for our journey thus far. Having invested in an Aujour d’hui newspaper for the weather forecasts, we had been pleased to see that today held the promise of something brighter.

J18_0635 Black-veined WhiteFellow campers, a Dutch couple, had told us of a field that was supposedly good for orchids. It was “only 3kms away” on the south side of Rosnay so we took to our bicycles for the first time in an embarrassingly long period. We cycled down through Rosnay in search of the field. We failed to find anything resembling it but we did find the hedgerows infested by large, white butterflies that didn’t look quite right for Large White butterflies, if you get my drift. Eventually one settled and I realised they were the delicately marked Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi). I’ve seen them before [they do not occur in the UK] but never in such numbers.

We returned to Rosnay to visit the boulanger for a consolation late breakfast of almond tarts, which we washed down with coffee.

Back at Guillaume, Francine checked a different publication and discovered that the orchid field was not actually beside the road but was about 100m off it. Rats! We took to the car and returned to try again. This time we found a couple of other cars that were clearly visiting the same place. We parked and joined in.

_18C3056_18C3052There were, indeed, masses of Tongue Orchids (Serapias lingua), the same species as those on our Rosnay campsite, though these were not especially photogenically arranged – no clear backgrounds. Looking further along the visitor path, we also found a lot of Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera bifolia). Francine was enchanted by the swathes of assorted wild flowers which accompanied the orchids.

There’s usually one thing, with varying degrees of seriousness, that I forget to pack. This time, I have brought along our cheapo gas BBQ, charcoal being prohibited in much of southern France, but not the lava rocks that go inside said cheapo gas BBQ. “Bother”, said Pooh, crossly, again. We needed supplies and fuel so zoomed off to the nearby town of Le Blanc where we found both at a Leclerc supermarket. Unfortunately we failed to find any replacement lava rocks so we’re still carrying around a useless gas BBQ. Duh!

After a lunch of smoked poitrine, which I had assumed was cooked but which turned out to be raw – this is essentially French bacon – I was keen to repeat an earlier visit to an odonata hotspot called les Terres de Picadon. We’d been introduced to it some years ago by fellow odo-nutter who lives relatively locally. It’s all very well keeping ones notes/information on the Internet but you need a connection to access it. Fortunately the phones were working on xG. A swift memory jog from Google Maps got us straight to the right location. The small parking area was nearly full but we got the last spot.

I was mainly interested in the Terres de Picadon because it is reputedly home to a rare colony of dragonfly, the Lilypad Whiteface (Leucorrhinia caudalis) which we had missed on our introductory visit. We were just beyond the start of its flight season so could strike lucky. Fingers crossed, we set off along the track. Clearly I should be keeping an eye on any passing lily pads; they are not called Lilypad Whitefaces for no reason.

After a short distance, having been bitten [quelle surprise] Francine returned to the car for a dose of anti-mosi potion. We began our walk again.

We were entertained by a few dragonflies and damselflies as we wandered then, on the approach to a corner I spied a pond with lily pads on our right. Scanning through the telephoto lens revealed nothing so I continued. Around the corner was a rickety, shady bridge where we watched a couple of Downy Emeralds (Cordulia aenea) engaged in the occasional territorial spat. The pond crossed by this bridge was much larger with a lot more lily pads in its centre. I thought I saw something land on one of the farther pads. At this distance, surely it was a dragonfly rather than a damselfly. It is not unusual for damselflies to alight on lily pads but it IS unusual for a dragonfly. I snapped a picture through the 400mm lens. It was certainly a dragonfly but the range obscured much in the way of detail.

Francine had advanced round the next bend and called. She’d found one suspect on a lily pad considerably closer to the edge. Actually, it wasn’t a lily pad but the leaf of a species of pond weed. Still, let’s not be picky when a new dragonfly is possible. My image was still not huge but this was clearly my hoped for quarry, my first Lilypad Whiteface, or Pondweed Whiteface, maybe. I clicked away in excitement but really needed my 1.4X extender which was back in the car. Francine gamely volunteered to retrieve it while I kept watch, so returned to the car for a second time.

Armed with more magnification I began getting images of a decent size. The critter originally kept facing away from us but, being a new species for me and a rare one to boot, I was pretty happy with anything recognisable. This angle showed its delightful white pterostigmas and white appendages to good effect. It was keeping its compound eyes open for prey items and zooming off when it spotted something, always returning to the same perch. At last it hopped around (if a dragonfly can hop?) on the leaf, doing a few pirouettes as it eyed other prey and  I managed to get both a profile and a front view, showing the eponymous white face. Ecstasy! I was a very happy camper indeed.

J18_0701 Lilypad WhitefaceJ18_0719 Lilypad WhitefaceJ18_0721 Lilypad Whiteface

This was something it’s worth towing a caravan 400 miles for. Naturally, nothing was going to top the new addition to my catalogue but we continued around the reserve and notched up 12 species in all:

  • Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
  • Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
  • Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum)
  • Large Redeye (Erythromma najas)
  • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
  • Blue Emperor (Anax imperator)
  • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
  • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
  • Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)
  • Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea)
  • Lilypad Whiteface (Leucorrhinia caudalis)
  • Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

On the track to the morning’s orchid field, we’d actually found what made 13 for the day:

  • Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus)
    Posted in 2018 France

    La Brenne Again

    En Route to our favourite dairy sheep farm campsite at Fanjeaux, we planned to spend a few days in one of France’s wonderful wildlife habitats, La Brenne. We hitched up and hit the road soon after 09:00, deciding to follow Sally Satnav, wose route would take us dangerously close to gay Paris. Though her route looked like autoroute and dual carriageway all the way, the dual carriageway section was littered with traffic lights, so a tad slow. It did, however, avoid a notorious bottleneck near St. Remy de xxxxxx on our usual route, which is the main reason we thought we’d try it.

    Back on the autoroute and putting our new “Bip & Go” telepeage tag to the test, we started getting towards the end of our diesel, cruising sparingly, and I began planning a fuel stop. The fuel station I’d chosen was absolutely smothered by building works and the pumps looked inaccessible for a Guillaume – tight right angled turns into the pumps. Fortunately, we were not running on fumes – never plan to run on empty – so getting to the next, more civilized station was easy. This time access was perfect and we were topped up with about 100kms to go to La Brenne.

    _18C2980We have stayed in La Brenne on numerous previous occasions, always at a private site at Bellebouche. The campsite there has always been a little tired, especially les sanitaires, but it was convenient. The Bellebouche site used to be great for odonata but last time we were there, two fishing ponds had been filled in and development, I think for equestrian events, was under way. In search of an alternative, we had spotted what looked like a pleasant camping municipal at Rosnay, a site which also has a lake, so that’s where we headed. 6½ hours after leaving Neufchatel-en-Bray, we arrived, found an appealing pitch and got Guillaume settled. Guillaume has a very good view of the lake and was soon being investigated by White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes).

    J18_0513 Tongue OrchidNot only did we have odonata on Guillaume’s doorstep but there were orchids, specifically Tongue Orchid (Serapias lingua), in the grass around the lake. We were most impressed to see that each group of orchids had been marked with plastic flags to stop the ground staff mowing them down. How great is that? And they say the French don’t care about nature. Many were past their prime but we found a couple that photographed well.

    It was very relaxing, after a lengthy drive towing Guillaume, to be able to stop, draw breath and entertain ourselves without needing to leave the campsite.

    Here’s the list of odonata that we found on site:

    • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
    • Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
    • Blue-eye (Erythromma lindenii)
    • White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes)
    • Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
    • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
    • White-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum)

    It is very gratifying to be able to use some of the often excellent camping municipal sites in French villages. First of all, they attract French campers more than foreign tourers so the atmosphere is more authentic. Secondly, we have all this atmospheric, wildlife friendly location, electricity and excellent sanitaires for a mere €11.40 per night.

    Posted in 2018 France