Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Well, the past few mornings and evenings, I’ve been out leveret spotting and the good news is… I have no news. There’s been no sign of them and I think their migration from the comparitive safety of the field was due to a herd of young cattle in that field, trampling around them. Patrick is fairly sure that, during the afternoon, the electric fence had been relocated to give the calves a new strip of grazing and that may have interfered with the leverets. I hope they went back, tucked themselves in close to the hedgerow (not ideal but out of the way of bovine feet) and were found and fed by their mother on schedule.

Hares prefer to give birth – and lie low themselves – in pasture which is either lightly managed (ignored!) or grazed by cattle. Sheep graze pasture closely which leaves no daytime cover for either adult hares or leverets whereas cattle ‘browse’ more and often leave tussocks of grass and weeds more or less untouched. This uneven ground is perfect cover for hares who scrape themselves a slight depression and hunker down, ears flat, to wait out the day. Though they do sit up occasionally to check out the lie of the land…

Hare in maize field, early summer – s/he knew I was there with a camera and was deeply suspicious

Getting ready to make his excuses and leave…

It occurs to me that I’ve never written about Grunty, a leveret brought home by Pepper, a yellow labrador X that we had till a few years ago. I’ve a lot of blog-worthy things to catch up with – mating moths, glow worms, Loose & Leafy Tree Following (which I’ve not got around to publishing this past two months) but I must also make time to post about The Leveret Summer – when we raised a 48 hour old leveret from a few hundred grams to a very healthy release weight. In October, when I have a little more time, I think. :-)

Grunty the Leveret, post feed, aged 2 – 3 days old

As if I haven’t enough to fret about… this evening, just as it turned dark, I was driving back from the village to La Fosse when a small creature hopped across the road. At first glance, it was a young rabbit. At second glance…

…it was a leveret – a young hare.

A beautifully camoflaged leveret on the roadside verge – taken with flash

Hares are remarkable creatures. The female gives birth to eyes-open, fully furred, young. She parks them in a field or similarly suitable rough grass where they’ll blend into the foliage and earth colours.

Depending on season and availability of food, she’ll give birth to between 2 and 4 leverets and they nestle into the ground, in the open, in all weathers from day one. Mother Hare returns morning and evening to feed the youngsters and the milk bar is open for about a minute before she is loping off again and leaving the leverets to wait until her next visit. They’ll wait through blazing sun, heavy Normandy rain, frosts and even snow.

Note the black ‘notches’ on the ears which are held flat to the back to present as streamlined and invisible a profile as possible

Whereas young rabbits (born hairless and with eyes closed underground in the warren) will try and run away once they are old enough to be above ground, young hares rely on their camoflage to keep them safe. They don’t run, they fold their ears back and hunker down in the hope that the danger – the predator – will pass them by. So as I’d established that the one I’d seen was a hare, I drove home to pick up a camera in case they were still there when I got back.

They were… two of them (but possibly a third further up the bank at the back of the verge) and judging by their size, they are about 4-5 weeks old. I’d expect them to still be on mother’s milk and am concerned that they were on and adjacent to the road. However, they are big enough to be mobile – though not fast – perhaps they sensed danger in the field (a marten, stoat or weasel?) and decided to move. Or perhaps something has happened to Mother Hare and they were moving in the hope of finding her. The timing, shortly after dusk, certainly fits with feeding time. Well, I can’t know but I am really hoping that these little leverets will survive.

I’ll look for them in the morning, of course, but doing the right thing is impossible to gauge. If I touch them, that’s it: as I have to assume they are still being fed milk, I would have to take them and finish raising them to release weight. If I touch them, Mother Hare – if she is still around – will smell my scent on them and will abandon them.

I hate these natural world conundrums… life is precarious for these little creatures but interfering if you don’t know the circumstances is not a good idea. If I’d seen a hare dead on the road I’d have no hesitation in making an assumption, scooping up these little creatures and helping them over the next few weeks with ewe replacement milk (richer in fats compared to, say, kitten milk) and then weaning them on to grass and herbs. But if Mother is still doing her thing, they’re better off with mum than going through the shock of adapting to being bottle fed.

And if I’m honest, even if they do continue to survive with or without mum, just as they get their legs – the powerful back legs which give them their speed and ability to change direction in a heartbeat – the hunting season will start and if a local gun spots these magical creatures, I can confidently predict the end of several short little lives.

I am not against hunting for the pot, but hares are fascinating, secretive animals and their behaviours are not fully understood even now and I’d really rather see them running wild at dawn and dusk than providing a few mouthfuls on a plate.

Sweet chestnut flowers – male and female are carried on the same tree though two (or more) trees are required for successful pollination

It started about two weeks ago. That irresistible sweaty socks scent on the breeze. Yes… the chestnut flowers were out. The flowers really change the look of the tree – from a distance, it looks as if it has been dressed with lemon icing. The lemon male flowers are usually at the top of the clusters, the female being smaller, greener and, somewhat predictably, underneath.

Chestnut tree in the early July landscape

We had a lot of hot sun last week and the flowers have quickly been pollinated and begun to turn brown. Some of the spent catkins are beginning to fall and the scent is dissipating daily. Now the hard work starts: the tree has to convert the flowers into ripe fruit over the next few months.

The bees – and other pollinating insects – have had a wonderful time. Standing underneath it one afternoon last week, there was no man-made sound at all, just the deafening buzz of the insects amongst the flowers… and the crickets on the hillside.

A few years ago, the honey from our hives was very distinctly chestnut flavoured… the bees had a long and sustained period on the trees and the species is available in abundance in this area.

It will be interesting to see what sort of crop we get this year – sweet chestnuts apparently produce their best crops after a hard winter and last winter was notoriously mild. On the other hand, it’s been a good and settled year for the flowers to get well-pollinated so on that basis at least, we should be on course for a bumper crop. We’ll see.

A bit of a theme in my tree following posts has been the inclusion of a photo showing the full(-ish) moon at around the 7th of each month. I didn’t include one in the June post earlier because I thought it’s worth a brief extra post, to show the moon around midnight last night / this morning.

A ‘honey moon’ over a sweet chestnut tree at La Fosse taken from the top of the drive

The June full moon occurs when the sun is furthest from the earth and the moon is closest. When the moon is close to the horizon, the ordinary atmospheric pollution causes the moon to have the golden (ish) halo, the colour of honey. Apparently, in the 1500s, June was a popular month for weddings and they often took place around the time of the ‘honey moon’.

This evening, wait until dusk and then go out to see if you can spot the moon hanging near the horizon. Does it look any more spectacular?

Take the opportunity of seeing whether the International Space Station is due over at the same time. Using this ISS site, you can put in your post code and country and get forecasts of when you’ll get sightings, the length of visibility and brightness. Sky needs to be clear and the reason you can see the ISS is because the sun is reflecting off it as it moves through the skies enabling it to be easily visible to the naked eye.

For those in northern France / southern England, there’s a good view tonight at about 22.10 22h10 (BST) / 23h10 (CEST) for about 6 minutes. Alternatively, try on Saturday night at 23.00 (BST) / midnight (CEST) on Saturday night. Planes have blinking lights, satellites and the ISS do not – they’re just fast moving lights orbiting the earth.

And though it’s a bit of a leap of faith for you, honestly, this smear of light was the ISS as it passed over the chestnut tree at about midnight (CET) last night…

The International Space Station moving through the sky above the chestnut tree at La Fosse – midnight on 12/13 June 2014

Sorry about the camera shake!

 

And another month has passed. This year is speeding past at a scary rate. We’re rapidly approaching the longest day and yet it feels as if spring has hardly sprung.

It has been a really good month in some respects – lovely guests, some great weather, 70th Anniversary of D-Day commemorations on 6th June (or 5th June if you count the 50 miles of coordinated firework displays along the landing beaches on the evening before), some spectacular views of the International Space Station as it scuds across the clear night sky, the roses are beginning to flower in profusion and the scent at the back of the house has to be sniffed to be believed, particularly in the evening… and the insect activity has to be heard to be believed.

But for now, I will stick with the Tree Following project…

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) at La Fosse – June 2014 – which is part of Loose and Leafy’s tree following project

Isn’t it looking fabulous?

Until the beginning of June, the weather was distinctly chilly even if it was a sunny day. I was still taking a hot water bottle to bed until the first few days of May. Okay, I admit, sometimes that hot water bottle was a great furry Maine Coon cat called Gussie but even so, the effect was the same… though it’s easier to get out from underneath a hot water bottle. An 8 kg cat can dig in for the duration. So that’s a roundabout way of saying that while we’ve had some exceptional spring days (in a good and sunny way) overall I think it’s been a fairly standard year and trees and flowers are where they would normally be at this stage.

The sweet chestnut from the top of the drive

Looking around the fields, first cut silage was done several weeks ago; hay is cut and lying in the sweetly scented fields as I type and it’s ready for baling up tomorrow, the maize – a cattle food crop – is planted and making much better progress than it did last year in the sodden spring 2013 ground. And then there are the crops that have to be grown under licence… more about that in a separate post.

Silaging in the field across from La Fosse

Altogether, it’s looking a more average year… which means the sweet chestnut flowers will be out within the next few days. Pooh.

Leaves and catkins which have yet to open… but they’re close to flowering

In fact, the stale, damp and sweaty, several days old gym kit scent won’t be too bad if it doesn’t rain… it is when it rains that the scent swirls around in its full glory. Oh, it’s not as bad as when the local farmers are muck-spreading and spraying wonderfully nutritious brown stuff around but even so, on a warm and humid day, if a strong, old gym shoes whiff takes me unawares, I do have a panicked moment trying to remember if I showered and used deodorant that morning. :-)

I do have more to say but I don’t want this to be a too long : didn’t read sort of post, especially as it is quite photo-heavy so I’ll stop there and post a few more details in a few days.

Before I add a post with this month’s Tree Following photos, I thought I ought to link to the rather nice photos that I took last month, a day or two after my tree following post:

June’s full moon behind my Tree Following sweet chestnut tree at La Fosse

Full moon ‘hanging’ above the fields at La Fosse, Perriers-en-Beauficel

I shall report on my sweet chestnut tree’s progress tomorrow.

It’s been a busy month – guests (who’ve all been absolutely lovely), fleeting visits to the UK (my mother’s house is on the market), Patrick has started a new job, the bees need our attention… so despite all my best intentions, regular blogging has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list… along with far too many other things.

Oh, and probably the biggest challenge is working with our appalling internet connection – even in rural France, you’d expect better than a 0.10mb download speed and a 0.02 upload speed. Okay, I admit that those speeds are the worst we experience but they’re not uncommon and it makes uploading photos next to impossible… unless I get up at 3am.

Right, whinging over…

In spite of the above, I was determined to hit Lucy’s Tree Following – May deadline so here we go.

My sweet chestnut tree at about 8pm against a turbulent sky!

The tree in silhouette against a west sky shows the slow development of the leaves. After a warm late March / first few weeks in April, it has been colder, windier and there’s been lots of rain. Our rainwater capture tank (5000 lites which does all the outside watering and also flushes our loos) has been at 100% every day.

Leaves in evening sunlight

The leaves further down the tree – bottom half, probably – are more advanced compared to those higher up as the higher the tree the more exposed to the wind it is. And often, tucked away in our fold of the hill, it is several degrees colder at the top of the drive in comparison to the south terrace of the house.

You can see the pod-like strands developing which, in another few weeks, will become the flowers

“Normal” flowering time for the sweet chestnuts in this area is first half of June. My tree is certainly on schedule for that but if the promised warm weather arrives at the end of this week (yes, right!) with the amount of moisture in the ground, the flowers may be early.

La Fosse’s sweet chestnut is down the hill on the right – a slightly smaller, presumably younger tree is at the top of the drive… the tree on the left.

It’s interesting to see how the habit of the two trees mirror each other. Yes, I know that’s what trees of the same type do – think of avenues of trees planted along roadsides, long drives… but it’s useful to see it pictured so clearly in the landscape.

And just to finish off, not a full moon this time but…

Not quite a full moon – top of the photo – and not quite dusk… it was 20h30-ish (France) and still very light

Anne Wheaton

Life in Mud Spattered Boots

Days on the Claise

Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

Real Food Lover

What I eat: organic, local, green, fast slow-food

Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

Pencil and Leaf

Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

LOOSE AND LEAFY

Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.