Chez les Brebis

_MG_5176 les brebisShunning the autoroutes favoured by Sally Satnav, we dragged Guillaume the 150kms across country from the eastern Pyrenees to Fanjeaux, just north of Mirepoix. We’d booked a lakeside pitch from the coming Friday but were arriving four days earlier than originally planned. Such is the draw of our favourite campsite. Luc’s ladies, ~300 dairy ewes, were out in the top field munching fresh grass to greet us. I didn’t expect our prime lakeside pitch to be free four days ahead of time but was quite prepared to shift pitches after a few days. However, it was free so moving would be unnecessary; we claimed our spot in time for lunch.

This campsite is a few other people’s favourite, also, and we’d be renewing friendships from the two years since our last visit. [Last June had been spent at home for me to have a cataract operation.] Most of the regulars here are long term visitors, staying for a month or more. We were particularly keen to renew our friendship with our immediate neighbours, a Wenglish [Welsh/English] couple, installed for a month and lethal with an empty wine glass. On another of the lakeside pitches is a Cornish couple here for about two months this time and there’s a lovely Belgian lady, still installing herself for the entire summer, with the help of family, after losing her husband a couple of years ago. The campsite must be related to Hotel California; I won’t attempt to quote it verbatim but it’s something like:

… you can check out any time you want but you can never leave.

After a 2-year absence, we were greeted with hugs by all the regulars – it was like coming home.

The dammed irrigation lake used by farmer Luc has become something of a personal long-term study. Six or seven years ago it supported a rich diversity of fauna including waterfowl such as ducks, coots, herons, egrets and some enchanting little grebes, together with a large population of frogs and even a few snakes. There were painfully cute tree frogs in the hedges of the pitches beside the lake. The lake was instrumental in getting me thoroughly hooked on dragonflies with 17 species, many of which were present in large numbers.

About four years ago things changed and changed dramatically. Large Grass Carp were introduced into the lake to remove the vegetation. Along with the Grass Carp came some 3rd party intensively farmed Koi Carp. We have never been completely clear as to the reasons but we suspect the huge frog population might have been the main driver – some campers had been known to leave “because the frogs were too noisy at night”.Whatever the reason, the lake’s vegetation vanished and the dragonfly population crashed, though small numbers of a few species still hung on. I was most interested to see what effect two years more had had.

First impressions were that the lake now looked almost sterile. It is much deeper than we’ve ever seen it after some heavy winter rains but it looks sterile, mostly because there is not a single water bird of any description on the lake – not one. Today is very warm and sunny, so perfect dragonfly conditions but I initially spotted just a few Black-tailed Skimmers (Orthetrum cancellatum) at the dam, and a couple of Blue-tailed Damselflies (Ischnura elegans) together with a Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) around the lake.

Neither are there any Koi Carp visible, though the floating feeder is still lashed to the lakeside. The fourth lakeside pitch is occupied by an English fisherman who is pole fishing and catching carp by the dozens of kilos, each individual fish being upwards of 5kgs but, he told us, they were not Grass Carp. As well as the whales, there are very many smaller fish around the margins of the lake but they are brown surface feeders (we suspect Bleak) rather than the gaudy oranges and reds of Koi.

So, clearly things have changed again but once more we’re not sure quite how or why. The Koi were being bread for sale but once introduced you’re never going to extract every single individual so where have they all gone?

Given the rich supply of potential Heron food – fish of many sizes and frogs, which are still present though in lower numbers – why are there no Herons present? We spotted a Grey Heron fly over, do a circuit or two looking around, then fly on as if it had rejected it as suitable habitat – very curious. I can understand a lack of coots and dabbling ducks ‘cos there’s no vegetation to dabble at but why no Heron? I am wondering if the lake margins are currently too deep for a Heron to wade and stalk prey but that is just an idea formed out of desperation.

It’s early days so we’ll see how things go. It’s good to be back despite the reduced fauna. 🙂

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Posted in 2014 France

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