What a difference a border makes. Our first full day back in France and we needed some shopping so we zoomed about 8kms down the road to a slightly larger town with a supermarché – not one that we’d heard of, Colruyt, but a supermarché nonetheless. Gone was the German restriction to pork, chicken and beef [lamb is almost as rare as hen’s teeth in Germany]; now we were faced with the luxury of choices including guinea fowl legs and quail halves marinated for the BBQ. We were like kids in a sweet shop and bought some of each of those to keep us going for the next two days. The quail halves being quite small, I supplemented them with some saucisses aux pimentes d’Espelette. Well, you get addicted to sausages after a few weeks. Oh, and I couldn’t resist some of France’s wonderful Rillettes du Mans (potted pork) for lunch.
After our most enjoyable shopping trip for three weeks, we discovered that our memories had not been playing us false; the local fields of France immediately knocked wildlife spots off anything that we saw in our entire time in Germany. On a brief drive through country lanes on the side of les-côtes, we stopped at a sloping roadside verge smothered in wild flowers. Francine was particularly pleased at last to find an orchid in the form of a small cluster of Fragrant Orchids (Gymnadenia sp).
Many of the flowers on the roadside bank were Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis), which is particularly attractive to butterflies. So, apparently, was a type of Knapweed. Both the Scabious and the Knapweed were absolutely smothered in Marbled Whites (Melanargia galathea) butterflies – I counted 20+ on just one Knapweed plant but there must’ve been 50+ in total scattered along the bank. There were also handfuls of Large Whites (Pieris brassicae) and Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina) but the Marbled Whites won the contest easily. As we drove back along the lanes, butterflies appeared almost every 10 m or so, disturbed from the verges or just flitting across the road to the next patch of potential food. It was a vision completely unseen in Germany. Indeed, this one trip probably outnumbered all those we’d seen during our entire German trip.
We were out looking for likely dragonfly habitat and, after a couple of false starts finding inaccessible ponds on private land, we arrived at les Etangs du Longeau. It looked a bit private with a small campsite and café on the land but there were fishermen beside one lake so we bit the bullet, parked and bailed out. What a find it turned out to be. In about an hour and a quarter, we racked up an astonishing collection of 17 species:
- Calopteryx splendens (Banded Demoiselle)
- Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
- Enallagma cyathigerum (Common Bluet)
- Coenagrion puella (Azure Bluet)
- Erythromma najas (Large Redeye)
- Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damsel)
- Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
- Aeshna cyanea (Blue Hawker)
- Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
- Anax parthenope (Lesser Emperor)
- Onychogomphus forcipatus unguiculatus (Small Pincertail)
- Cordulia aenea (Downy Emerald)
- Somatochlora metallica (Brilliant Emerald)
- Libellula fulva (Blue Chaser)
- Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)
- Sympetrum sanguineum (Ruddy Darter)
- Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet)
Walking back through woodland from the two lakes, we came across one bush playing host to at least half a dozen Silver-washed Fritillaries (Arginnis paphia), too.
What has Germany done to its clearly beleaguered wildlife?