Dead thrushes and the bloody nose beetle

by Richard Jones

To Soicherons, Villars-Dompierre, in the Cote d'Or region of France for two weeks and the wildlife here is subtly different to that in East Dulwich.

Dead thrushTo Soicherons, Villars-Dompierre, in the Cote d'Or region of France for two weeks and the wildlife here is subtly different to that in East Dulwich. For one thing we are surrounded by large flowery meadows, hedges dripping with Mirabelle plums and more sky than I can take in even with both eyes. There is just too much wildlife to look at in detail, so here is a mélange from the first week of our stay.

Saturday 7th August 2010 Everything is much greener than England so they've obviously had more rain than us. This is a stark change from five years ago, when we last visited this house and the ground was so hard I caught a mole in my bare hands because it was running helpless over the parched lawn, unable to find anywhere soft enough to burrow down into. We've only been here a couple of hours when someone spots a huge black beetle crawling up the wall--the bloody nose beetle Timarcha tenebricosa, so called for the reflex bleeding of bitter red fluid from it's mouth if picked up. A great clunking clockwork model of a beetle, it'll be feeding on the white or yellow bedstraws, drifts of which stain the surrounding fields.

Close-up of the bloody noose beetle, Timarcha tenebricosa, on a child's armSunday 8th Lizards are everywhere sunning themselves on walls and steps; everywhere we walk they are disturbed from their fly stalking and scuttle off into the rosemary or lavender.  Late afternoon the swallows swoop down low,  then, just on the verge of stalling, scoop up beakfulls of water from the swimming pool. Then they sit on the ridge of roof preening and fluffing.

Monday 9th A rose chafer, apparently dead on a bedroom floor stirs slightly in the palm of my hand so we offer it honey water on a tissue. It laps it up and after an hour in the morning sun it flies off, revived.

No such success with the thrush found dead, but still warm on the terrace. We can identify the window it crashed into by the dust-and-feather splat on the glass. It must have been confused by the fanlight of the door on the other side of the house or the bright reflection of the azure sky.

After sunset I sit and read on the darkening terrace. Peering through the gloom at my historic novel (Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel) as bush-crickets start up their sewing machine songs, I can hear the sound of trickling on the wall behind me. The large-leaved Virginia-type creeper (not sure what kind) covering the large west-facing wall is rattling as if sand grains were raining down it. Yesterday it was abuzz, positively humming, with bees and wasps visiting the flowers, all of which are hidden under the leaves. Today, having served their purpose, all of the small green triangular petals and half-shrivelled stamens are falling to the ground in a constant whispering cascade.

Tuesday 10th Hummingbird hawkmoths pester the single small buddleja bush and a few of the patio plants. A mouse nibbles seed heads in one of the borders. There is a Mediterranean bouquet garnis smell in the hot air. Lots of garden thyme in tonight's risotto.

Thursday 12th A nuthatch visits the breakfast patio, but I cannot make out what it is after. Cherry stones indelicately spat there? Perhaps it is just being curious. Wagtails flit on the pool cover which, after yesterday's heavy rain, is now a pool on a pool. They must be drinking the rainwater collected there.

Snail in grassFriday 13th The escargots are out in force this morning, especially on the rough ground behind the tennis court. Their shells vary from almost pure white to streaked mid-brown. To my eyes, used to our common garden snails Helix aspersa, they look huge. I've collected some empty shells as souvenirs, but have resisted keeping them as even temporary pets. I'm reminded why they are starved then kept on a cleansing diet of salad leaves before they are cooked when I find one tucking into a juicy fresh fox dropping. No sight of foxes though and I doubt the fire crackers and rook scarers we bought in the Montbard Market did much to entice them out into the open.

Sunday 15th Very heavy rain today so we'll be making use of the heated indoor pool. When I open the door a fledgling bird is fluttering about in there. The converted barn that houses the pool is tropically hot and almost hermetically sealed, so I'm not sure how it got in. It's obviously confused by the picture windows and flutters feebly, knocking into glass, walls and assorted pool inflatables. Eventually I scoop it up in my cupped hands and we release it outside. It's some sort of grey-brown warbler-type thing, and it defeats my bird ID skills. It flies to a bush outside and immediately starts calling to it's parents. Within minutes there are consoling twitterings and reassuring scufflements in the dense leaves.

Monday 16th We wake to heavy rain again, but from the kitchen we catch sight of two deer walking through the field. One is slightly smaller-- mother and young perhaps? It is quite skittish, as if tickled by the raindrops which are now turning from quiet drizzle to heavy drum. They disappear into the nettle and thistle rough where a small stream goes under the lane. I'm trying to remember, but I can't think the last time I saw a deer in East Dulwich. It really is very different here.

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Gardeners' World Web User 19/08/2010 at 17:41

Beats the pigeon and a mangy cat I had in my garden. But do they have bluebells, birch trees and russet apples?

Gardeners' World Web User 19/08/2010 at 21:56

It all sounds lovely.I am glad we don't get snails that size here,the big black slugs with the orange underbelly are enough of a problem in my garden at the moment.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/08/2010 at 10:02

Reply to Kate Although we were a pretty gastronomically enthusiastic group I resisted the temptation to cook it. There was not much meat on it anyway. And because my taxidermist skills are limited (no equipment was provided in the gite), I simply removed the wings and mounted them spread on card as a simple nature display.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/08/2010 at 11:17

I wondered if any one remembers Clacks Farm. I recall going there just after my Mum died, since my Dad worked for Arthur Billett, and Mr Billett was his Boss previously at Boots working in horticulture at Lenton Research Station. When we visited Clacks Farm, I was approx 11 years old and we went to an open day, and Arthur was expecting us, and my two very young brothers. We were made to feel very welcome, and it was all so lovely, and loads of people looked through his windows and probably wondered why we got a little bit of special treatment.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/09/2010 at 08:25

I have heard that sulphate of iron in a solution with water is good for brown patches on the this correct? Any tips?

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