Tag Archives: wildlife

The Simpsons Ladies

We are now proud (if nervous) owners of four Warren hens, which apparently were bred for battery farming as they are ‘egg laying machines’ – Marge, Lisa, Patty and Selma. I asked Jake what we should call them, and even though, as you know, I was pressing for Maria Callas, Lady Di, Jackie O and Margot Fonteyn, Jake had already thought of some names. Bart was the first one. I explained, dutifully, that only girls lay eggs. Not quite time to go into my ‘all roosters are rapists’ speech, I feel.

Jake and Steve had cleaned out the hen house in preparation – whilst it might be a little aged, it’s very functional. It has lovely nesting boxes and a couple of ladders to help them get to their perches. Then we’d bought some bedding – flax seemed to be our choice, since it’s more absorbent than straw and I couldn’t find any ‘copeaux de bois’ (wood shavings) at such short notice, which apparently are the best bedding. We’d chosen food for layers and sorted out the fly situation with the hens’ own ‘catch’. Then it was off to Rouillac market. Yes, the market of golden cheese.

I walked past the cheese lady today with an air of severity and seriousness. I’m not the tourist who would be buying cheese for 20 euros (although I had to hide a dried saucisse in the fridge at L’Eclerc today. I need not to sample wares!) and headed for the chickens. I was beginning to wonder where the chickens were. We’d gone past stalls of knives (which, each time, I have to peel Jake and Steve away from…) and stalls of cheese, vegetables, garlic (there must be four garlic stalls, at the very least) and old french-lady-nighties (think winceyette and neck-high) as well as pinafores and slacks. Contrary to popular belief, fashion is not really a French or Italian thing, since a good 80% of the female population expand without reason after 30 (my uncle Paul calls them popcorn women – they are small and skinny until the heat warms them up and then they pop!) and the French ladies have a penchant for pop socks, slippers, winceyette nighties, overall aprons and nylon.

Anyway, past the final stalls of vegetables, there was a general squawking and squealing. There were a few rows of pretty caged birds (how sad!) to get you excited and make you think a little that there are no chickens to be bought, and then there are about 10 stalls of birds. They include all manner of sad-looking poultry – geese, ducks, goslings, ducklings and chickens. There are plenty of chickens for ‘chair’ (flesh) – and a lot of hen-pecked creatures missing feathers and looking a bit worse for wear.

We went to a quieter stall where the chickens looked a lot less sad, although very cramped, and I liberated our four ladies, if only for a short while, since they were then put into very small boxes which we carried back to the car.

Once back, we unpacked our presents. I should add at this point that I’d woken up at 5:30 and Jake at 6:30, which is as rare as hen’s teeth. Jake is lucky if he sees the morning-side of noon. Two of the girls went into the chicken house; the other two wandered about a bit. Molly had come in with us, and we’d managed to contain her a little – although she was excited enough to piddle, I could just tell – although when one flapped near her, she went bananas. After that, we left them to settle in.

Patty and Selma hiding under a bush
Lisa hiding in the hen house

La faune francaise

Despite the inaccurately-identified marmots (ragondins – coypu… not quite so sweet and infrequently spotted) we still have an awful lot of visitors you just don’t get 750 miles north and west… last night’s etranger was une grande grenouille (frog, to you and I) who had decided to take up squatting rights in a recyclable bin we yoinked from Bury council. He was huge – so much so that when Steve went to lift the bin up, he felt the extra weight. Maybe he was taking umbrage at our ‘crapaud dans le trou’ of the other night. Toad in the hole might seem barbaric to him. On the other hand, he might well have escaped from ‘La Grenouillère’ – which if I’m not wrong means ‘the froggery’ and is about 2 miles from our house. Having said that, Steve was most perturbed when he was here on his own in spring to hear the frogs of the Tardoire sitting at the bottom of the castle croaking to one another. Not quite the death of a naturalist. He wasn’t quite as frightened as the young Seamus Heaney by the ‘great slime kings’.

I think a bunch of frogs sitting at the bottom of  a fairy-tale castle is quite romantic. Maybe they are waiting for a princess to kiss them?

But M. Grenouille hasn’t been our only visitor de nuit. We have a nightly (free!) moth cinema. Some of those bad boys are huge! There was a beautiful black one with white markings, kind of like tiger-print. There are lots and lots of plain little ones. Some, unfortunately, are stuck to the ‘catch’ fly strips. I say ‘unfortunately’, but a big part of me thinks moths will get in my wardrobe and eat my clothes. I’m guessing it’s an Écaille Chinée – a marbled tortoiseshell Jersey tiger – but my botany skills leave a lot to be desired after the marmot incident. Many of the moths do amazing spiral dives and re-enact key battles from the Second World War. You could easily spend an entire night watching them (if you weren’t watching the last episodes of 24 Season 2 for the first time)

But the star of the show has to be ‘la chauve souris’ which is our resident bat. He brings his friends over at night to hunt around moth cinema. He lives in our petite grange and gets very annoyed when we disturb him. They fly really close to you when you’re out at night – quite spectacular!

Besides this we have any number of beetles, flies, mosquitoes and other insects. It’s all very Gerald Durrell!

Les marmottes

It’s been a day that improved with age – started off very dull: Steve continued his crepi-ing of the lean-to; I painted the door with my standard black hammerite. It was still a little dull by the time I decided to tackle the potato patch – but getting hotter. Jake came with me, since Steve had gone off to look at some creatures he’d seen on the dried up oued. According to Him, they were a little beaver-ish without a flat tail. Too stocky to be an otter. Too big to be a water rat. He said they had a beaver snout. In fact, he asked me if they were capybaras.

I’ve seen capybaras in the wild, in Brazil. They’re strange-looking things – all fluffy like a big guinea pig, but the size of a medium-sized dog. Not as weird as the tapir, but that’s another story all together. They go around in herds, not unlike cows, and it’s really weird to come across them and see them munching and grazing, just like a herd of cows, but small and furry and odd-looking. I saw them in the Pantanal, which is just about the most fabulous place most people have never heard of. It’s a water-logged plain the size of France that cuts across three countries. The most freaky thing there were the pink trees – not blossom, but leaves. I loved the Pantanal. We stayed on a ranch with ‘tame’ caiman, which the owner used to call every morning for feeding.

Punting on the Pantanal

It was the most peaceful place ever; I really cried when I left. I think I’d had such a relaxing time there and the people on the fazenda where we stayed were wonderful.

Anyway, suffice to say, the creatures in the oued are not capybaras. Or Tapir. Not unless someone is doing a little ‘Lost’-style experiment.

Following our picking of potato ‘treasures’, Jake and I had gone on a bike ride to locate these strange animals. Jake is very good at spotting things. We’d cycled for a little bit and then left the bikes.

“Can we leave the bikes here?” he asked.

Well, we were in a dried up river bed, unfrequented. Fairly safe. Not that you can do that in England, packed as it is.

Then we set off on foot. Jake was a little ahead of me, having gone on to look a little further.

“Emma!” he shouted. “Come on!”

I’ve fallen for his tricks before, but this time he really did look excited. I hurried up and as I rounded the corner, they were swimming across a puddle, running up the banks into their burrows and dived into subterranean holes. There were about twelve, all in a row. They sat in their burrows, looking out at us, noses twitching, grunting quietly.

When I was on my way back, I happened upon our neighbour (again… how he has the cheek to call us ‘Les Anglaises qui promenadent’ I don’t know… he’s always walking his own dogs) and two other fellows who were walking along. I said that we’d seen the animals, and asked if they were otters. “No,” I was told. They aren’t otters. They are ‘rongeurs.’

I did my usual thing of repeating it three or four times to get it right. “Rongeurs” – and came home to Google it. At first, I thought ‘rangers’, or even ‘rangeurs’, but you quickly realise you have to substitute other vowels if the word doesn’t appear. I did this once with the ‘ancerre’ that I thought we had – which is a closed-in fire place. Turns out it wasn’t such an oddity. It was an ‘insert’. As in ‘inserted’ into a fireplace.

It didn’t take a long time to realise ‘rongeurs’ just means ‘rodents’. Not a very helpful sub-classification. Darwin wouldn’t have been happy with that. I’m guessing the neighbours weren’t too well up on it. Still, when I was looking at ‘rongeur’, Jake leaned over my shoulder and said ‘that’s it!’ when we saw a picture of a ‘marmotte’ – which I promptly translated to ‘marmot’ – still none the wiser. Turns out it’s a cousin of the prairie dog and the groundhog (which I also didn’t realise was a rodent!) I’m still waiting for further confirmation – marmots seem to live a whole load higher up or in Eastern Europe, but even so – that seemed to be the closest we’d come to determining precisely what they are.