Monday, 23 December 2019

Not forgetting the squirrel

I forgot the squirrel!  How could I do that? It was the best nature sight of the year.
We walked around sparse heath woodland south of Boulogne, in an area called Camiers where we spent most of the time trying to spot woodpeckers.
There in a fir tree was a shadow which became cleared as it came over to look at us. Couldn't believe it was a red, as the chance hadn't crossed our minds.  It just sat there, posing at various angles and looking down on us. Eventually, after much photographing, it wandered off into the wood.

And just a few miles from the channel ports, duly marked with an X below, with other worthwhile sites marked with Os.

Do it in 2020 ...... Happy New Year!

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Just across the Channel

Unprepossessing place, eh?  The cement works at Dannes is cut ino the chalk downs just south of Boulogne, and seems to have been wound down recently and will hopefully be left to rewild into a valuable habitat.
Just up the hill, though, is a ridge that is already a precious gem, managed by the local wildfife group and being extended into neighbouring farmland.
It's in view of England on a clear day, but has a good range of species that we don't get in Kent - including three that I'd never seen before:

Veronica prostrata scheereri - prostrate or rock speedwell, with a stunning shade of blue. Not very prostrate though.

 And on a visit later in the year ("you must seeee this place"), field erygno dotting the pastures and causing an understandable nuisance to the farmer.

 Chiltern gentian Gentianella germanica, known in France as gentianelle d'Allemagne. It's noticalbly more robust than the autumn gentians we see here.

Let's go down the coast a bit, to the Somme - and just along the river to the lovely village of Long there's a quiet valley that is bridged by the motorway, and there you can take a beautiful walk up the hill through crowds of military and lady orchids. And of course their hybrids.
Nobody around apart from a small herd of drowsy cattle, and no sign that anyone had been there for weeks. Marvellous.


For a change of habitat, by the ponds of Condette there's plenty of nodding burr-marigold, a charming plant.

And all within sight of Dover castle:

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Corsica - the Granite Island

A pretty good view of the island from the evening Air Corsica flight into Figari airport - blue sea, deep bays, maquis mountains and sparse poulation. It was going to be a good week.
The first day dawned (as they all did) fine, warm and bright, and the pattern was set for the week.... swim at the nearby Polumbagia beach in the relative cool of the morning, returning for breakfast when the sun got too hot, walk and explore, lunch/siesta, evening swim to watch the sun go down and chill in the evening.
There were plenty of posh yachts but not many people in the honeypot resorts, and hardly anyone on the rest of the island. I spoke no English in the week, mostly French and heard plenty of Corsican.
It was easy to leave the world behind, and find little gems in the barren countryside where Neolithic life did not change much until a hundred years ago.
 A hill fort here or an oriu there, seemed to have grown organically from the hard granite land. The orii, incidentally, are conveniently shaped boulders that have been adapted as graneries and probably hideaways in times of trouble.
 Talking of times of trouble, the Corsican language has made a resurgence with French government encouragement, and often road signs are bilingual. The locals are, however, still critical of the French after being sold to them by the Genoese a couple of centuries ago, and after subsequent perceived underinvestment, so the French parts of the signs tend to be blasted off by shotguns.

More peacefully, the Corsican music is thriving, and I made a pilgimage to the village of Chera where Culioli lived and sang, to discover that the was long gone. 
 Dorothy Carrington told his story in her masterful The Granite Island, which was a constant guide for me, as it combines travelogue, history and culture in this new land.

While in this village I followed a sign to the chapel which turned out to be about a mile along narrow paths into the maquis, but was worth the walk.

Conditions were perfect for a bit of hill walking.  The Col de Vacca Morta is a reasonably gentle climb to good views, and made a good morning.

Second port of call was Bonifacio, surely no port is better situated.

The hotel looked out over the harbour, now really a marina - because (as someone once wrote) I'm worth it.

Corsican nature

It's our experience that Italy has few birds but plenty of lizards, while Spain has many birds buttes lizards. These facts are presumably connected.
Corsica has few birds but lizards are numerous.... this one is a Tyrrhenian wall lizard.

Late September is before the autumn rains so most flowering plants were burned off by the summer sun, apart from the ever-present stink-asters on roadsides and old fields.
Watered gardens become havens, therefore, for both plants and their insects.

This autumn squill under coastal pines was an exception.

We had seen two-tailed pashas on previous trips to the Med but only from a distance as they flitted across the Maquis looking for rotting fruit on palms and strawberry trees.
My luck was better this time as a pasha had taken a liking to rotting grapes on a cottage wall and stayed gorging itself while photos were taken.

This was followed by an even more unexpected encounter, when another landed at my feet of a beach, and proceeded to feed off the eelgrass on the sand.

Matching the pashas for size were some great banded graylings on water mint by a dry reservoir.

Birdlife was mostly jays, squirrelling away holm oak acorns like there's no tomorrow.
But one event of interest was a roost flight of little egrets out of the salt pans of Porto Vecchio onto these rocks in the harbour. And having collected strength in numbers, then into some reedbeds.

Meanwhile, back at the holiday village, the ponds were crowded with edible frogs -leaping splashily into the water at my approach.

The autumn rains had not yet fallen, so the island was parched and only stinking fleabane in profusion, and a few other hardy plants managed to flower in the dry soil.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Corsican seas

Beautiful beaches, full in summer but almost deserted in late September. This one, Palumbaggia, was five minutes drive from the holiday park and empty in the morning.
Crystal clear water and a few rocks means ..... Snorkeling!


Ornate wrasse - male apparently

Peacock wrasse, protecting his mate
Painted comber - reaches 8kg and has sharp teeth

I don't know who you are, but you're very cute

But you know what I am......

Exit octopus, stage left

And I'm a cuttlefish.....  you ain't seen me right?
IDs are from this website: but any errors are mine.

Great fun snorkelling - there's always something to see, especially if you have a little bread or something as bait....

The wonderful beach at Rocapina, reached down a mile--long dirt track which keeps the crowds away.