Saturday, April 30, 2011

Snakes Alive!

Large crag
I'll get to the snakes at the end of this posting - if you don't like them - don't look.

I forgot to mention last week that we saw three deer in the field by the hairpin bend going up to the village. So La Chasse didn't get them all. Sadly, no one had a camera on them.

We had a storm on Monday night which put out the power just as we were about to watch a DVD of Mike Leigh's latest film Another Year. We sat in the candle-lit dark for about an hour until it was over. The broadband has been playing up since although I pulled out the jacks while the storm was raging. Anyway, the lack of rain was sorted.

Film good, by the way.

Mostly a week of flora and fauna. Jim snapped this moth:

Small Emperor Saturnia pavonia

We also saw another interesting butterfly/moth? on our walk along the nature trail today but so far I have been unable to identify it. There were several flying about in a particular area but wouldn't settle long enough to get a good picture. We will try again.

Several pictures of wild flowers out:

Broom Sarothamnus scopparius -
this well out now all over the site. This view from the rough road over the Broomfield

Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys
Ox-eye Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum
Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi

I make no apology for all these flowers. This diary is a record of all we have done and seen here and the wild flora and fauna are what I am interested in. If you want something more exciting - here come the snakes!

Western Whip Snakes Hierophis viridiflavus mating
We saw a pair of these, behaving just like this as we were sitting on the bench up at Peter's Place, Friday evening. Rufus drew our attention to them - he has got quite good at telling us where snakes are without attempting to catch them - he just stands and barks.

We watched them writhing and waving their heads about for quite a few minutes. I had my camera out and tried to get pictures but we were standing on the edge of the bank peering down into the scrub of the Broomfield and my attempts failed to get anything recognisable. I lifted the above picture off the web.
The Western Whip snake is non-venomous but may bite if handled. It is present in the southern three quarters of France and is difficult to confuse with any other snake in this country. As its name implies it is predominantly  dark green with yellow dashes or bands which are transversal on the main part of its body and are longitudinal towards the tail, although various forms exist depending on the stage of development.  Being up to 2 metres it can be a large snake, prominent eyes with round pupils. It occupies all types of habitat with a preference for dry, quiet areas – open woodlands and land which is left to scrub or fallow, sometimes to be found near rivers or other wet areas. It is an extraordinary hunter; its prey varies with local availability and it will take small mammals, small birds, frogs, lizards etc. It has also been known to eat adders and even its own species. 

The Western Whip is above all else a powerful snake, though normally discreet it can be obstinate and aggressive, thrashing the ground with its tail and hissing when angered, sometimes tilting its head back and then striking and biting with force, it is this force which gives it the ability to overcome its victims but is of no serious concern to humans. It is also an agile climber weaving its way with speed through bushes and hedgerows. 
Hibernation takes place from October until April using spaces in the ground, low cavities in trees, stone walls etc.
Coupling takes place in May and can result in violent fights between males for a female, this can also occur between the sexes. During copulation the partners roll and twist themselves around each other, keeping their heads raised upright. Between 5 and 20 eggs are deposited under stones, old tree stumps or in rotting vegetation in June/July, the young hatching 6 to 8 weeks later.

Don't let this talk of snakes put you off visiting us however. Most snakes are shy, not dangerous and can easily be avoided. More off-putting, to my way of thinking are the insects - there are just too many of those and they are not shy. 
Finished pergola showing hanging chair

Sunday, April 24, 2011

When Will There Be Rain?

It's been something like three weeks now since we had any rain and watering the new plants and seeds is becoming a chore. The outside water supply is empty so water has to be carried either from indoors or scooped out of the millpond - a job only Jim can do.

However, it has now rained a little yesterday and more is promised.

So, what development on the projects? Well, the pergola is up although Jim has been left the job of putting the top beams in place and to hang the basket chair for which I have to make a cushion.
Here are some pictures of the job in progress:

The first upright is secured

The first horizontal beam

It's taking shape now

Adding the cross bars
View from the other side
Detail of the joints - notice the pegs
I have to plant the grape vine and the two Actinidia deliciosa (Kiwi fruit) that will eventually cover the beams.

The second project was the preparation and planting of the pumpkin field. Some seeds have been planted in the pots I made last week and these have been left in the serre to sprout (hopefully).

It was decided to use the  field below the leat as it is the sunniest and also close to a water supply. Matthew and Andre took the tractor up to the top field where Cyprien's horses have been grazing for some time and loaded the bucket up with the evidence. This was mixed with some bags of bought compost and soil and put into about 45 prepared holes in the field 2m apart. When the seeds have grown and hardened off they will be planted on the mounds at weekly intervals (we don't want them ripening all at once). We have never done this before so we are not quite sure how it will work out.

Mixing the compost
Digging filling the holes
Adding a bit of 'top-dressing' from the leat
The finished mounds with markers
The sunflower part of this project has been left to me - I have to prepare a patch in The Sleeping Beauty Garden and elsewhere if possible where there is sufficient sun. A job for next week weather permitting.

The third project - the boules piste did not get started - perhaps when Peter gets here?

On the Wednesday evening Andre prepared a picnic supper of bean and egg salad and we took it up to Peter's place with a couple of bottles of wine and enjoyed a picnic and watched the sun set. A glorious evening!
Myself, Rufus, Andre and Matthew

Matthew and Jim

Matthew was pleased to find that the little pond he had formed last year where there was a spring had now become full of tadpoles. Also four grass snakes were spotted. These eat tadpoles and frogs so the teeming hordes will diminish in time.

Wildlife pond
And to finish, a delightful little drama we all spotted on the top of the wall -

- two ants carrying home supper for their family

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Origami Pots

Not a very eventful week as I have had a miserable cough/cold and Jim has been busy with his vegetable garden.
Over the years we have been coming here Jim has occasionally spotted a large brightly coloured lizard amongst his veggies. This year there seem to be several scurrying about and today we got some pictures.
European Green Lizard

He is rather splendid isn't he? They seem to have got used to Jim coming and going and just stare motionless as he walks by. Probably be a different story when Rufus spots one.
Jim also saw two Coypu up by the leat a few days after our arrival but hasn't seen them since.

The weather has continued dry and sunny - rather too dry as we are having to water all our new plantings by hand as the garden reservoir is empty. 
All of the trees we brought from the UK seem to be thriving including two suckers from the Sumach at Eastgate which itself was grown from a sucker at Ryder Street and before that Whitechapel. I think the original came from my Dad's garden in Solihull - so it is somewhat of an heirloom.

As Easter is upon us I have set up my Easter Tree in the living room. This is more fun than a Christmas Tree as the dead twigs cost nothing and there are no needles to bother about. I need a few chocolate novelties to finish it off which I will get next time we are in Maurs.

Matthew and Andre arrive on Monday and we are girding our loins for the projects he has on his list:
1. Preparation of seeds and ground for the mass planting of pumpkins (and perhaps sunflowers). The pumpkins are to be used eventually as Halloween lanterns carved by Matthew and sold (given away) at the Moujou Chestnut Festival. The flesh to made into Pumpkin and Chestnut soup. To this end I have made some origami seed pots out of old newspapers and put them into some crates we found in the Cave. Cost - nothing, except for the seed compost which I am filling them with.
Only the best paper - the Guardian and Le Figaro

PS. Matthew and Andre have arrived safely - it is now Monday

2.  A pergola or loggia in front of the gite.
3. The boules piste and badminton court in the Redwood field.

I shall report progress on these projects if and when.

Bumper crop this year - should have made some wine

Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Week Back

We have been back at Moulin du Clout five days now and what glorious weather we have had - until today. The nights have been cold but during the day the sun has shone and we have had our meals on the terrace and sat out there until about seven in the evening. We even had to drag out one of the parasols from the barn it was so hot.

We found everything here very clean and tidy on our return - thanks to David and Johanna who spent three months of the winter here. Not in their scheme of things - they arrived one night early in December in their camper van on their way south. Matthew had suggested they might like to break their journey at the Moulin. They awoke to find themselves snowed in! A rare occurrence here in the Cantal they were told. Naturally, before they could get away they fell in love with the place and stayed until March.

Snow scene over the mill pond - photo taken by Johanna Randall

Ice sculpture in the river - photo taken by Johanna 
Their stay was not without incident as during the three months they had to get the immersion heater replaced and had to call out 'les pompiers' to a chimney fire. It could have happened to anyone!

Fire! - photo taken by Johanna 
We have yet to get the workman, Axel, to come and fix the chimney so that we can light a fire in the stove. It was defective installation which contributed to the fire and until it is fixed we cannot use it.

The surroundings are as beautiful as ever, the hill sides dotted with flashes of green as the trees develop their leaves and blossom everywhere - mostly wild cherry. The fields are full of dandelions - we have missed the salad crop of young leaves as the flowers are now full out. (Remember last year?) Lungwort, violets and celandines carpet the river walk and the newly created nature trail is still navigable although work will be needed soon to keep new growth down.

Lungwort - Pulmonaria officinalis 
Apart from Johanna's lovely photos taken in and around the Moulin there are signs of David's handiwork too. Jim found a splendid fastening to his gate to the vegetable garden. He is very pleased with it. It works perfectly.

'This way' - latch made by David Grove

Bird table - made by David out of bamboo
David tells us there are some Inukchucks around the property that he made during his stay. We have found a small one in a plant pot - are there others? If so, we have yet to find them. We made one in Eastgate but had to dismantle it when the grandchildren were small in case it toppled over.

Jim has been hard at work in his vegetable garden getting it reading for planting and I have been titivating (I do like that word) my gite border and my tins. The frost and snow have wreaked similar havoc here as they did back home and something? has been digging tunnels in the border.
Jim has also planted the Bramley apple and the damson trees we brought from the UK. The French don't have a sharp cooking apple and we missed it so we strapped one to the roof rack and it seems to have survived.

We have yet to prepare the sites for Matthew's projects - pumpkins and sunflowers. He plans for us to have a stall at this years's Chestnut Festival in Mourjou selling carved pumpkin heads (Matthew) and Pumpkin and Chestnut Soup (me!). More on that another time.