J’entends une chanson

For the past few weeks, days at home have been cheered by a very vocal thrush who starts his loquacious singing at round about ten to five in the morning, and continues with almost no time off for eating, drinking or rest until about two minutes to ten at night. Here he is, in the featured photo.

For the past few weeks, our small a cappella choir has included in its repertoire a 16th century French song, composed by the German Steurlein, celebrating this very thing. I suggested it, because it brought back memories of the choir I sang with in France. Some members have cut up a bit rough, complaining their French accent wasn’t up to the challenge. In the end, I gave in and wrote an English version. I promised them cheesy, schmaltzy doggerel and that’s what they’ve got. Still, it’s all quite jolly, so why don’t you sing along with the YouTube video?

Oh, can you hear the song bird who trills and sings for me?
His joyful notes are sounding from that far-distant tree.
He banishes the darkness, casts out my dreary dreams.
Oh, can you hear the song bird who trills and sings for me?

I wander in the garden, the birds are always near.
They're trilling, crooning, fluting, and singing loud and clear.
They sound the end of winter, and welcome in the spring.
I wander in the garden, the birds are always near.

Let's greet the start of springtime, the season of rebirth,
The birds and bees and flowers, all creatures on the earth.
We'll welcome all the sunshine, and bid goodbye to chill.
Let's greet the start of springtime, the season of rebirth.

Mountain Apollo Revisited

I had my photos of the much-loved butterflies of an English summer day all lined up to display for Denzils’ Nature Photo Challenge 13# Butterflies. Then I realised I wanted to share something else instead: a photo of a rare butterfly I first saw in the Pyrenees, ten years ago now: the Mountain Apollo.

Mountain Apollo

July 31st 2013

I just want to share a photo I took on our walk on Sunday, when we went to the Gorges de la Frau.  This butterfly seduced us all with its distinctive spots and white grisaille wings.  It turns out to be rare, a protected species, and known only in mountain regions, mainly in Southern Europe.  The French know it as Apollon, and its Latin name is Parnassius Apollo.  If your French is up to it, you can read about it here.  

And here’s a small taste of the Gorges de la Frau, only a few miles from our house.


This week, Denzil, for his Nature Photo Challenge #9, invites us to hunt down long-legged birds.

So I’m going to book-end my post with herons, omnipresent herons, seen in every continent but Antarctica, almost anywhere where there is fresh water. I could have shown you one of our local birds, patiently fishing in the River Ure. Instead, I feature one seen in urban Busan, South Korea, and finish with one surveying the evening scene from his look-out post in l’Albufera, Valencia, Spain.

Let’s stay in Spain, and showcase a stork supervising the nest a-top a church in Tudela, Navarre.

Now Greece, and another member of the heron family, the egret, hunting for breakfast.

Let’s return to England. But you’ll only find flamingos in places like Slimbridge Wetland Centre.

Just as Lockdown came to an end, we ventured once more into the Yorkshire Dales, and found curlews, so newly unaccustomed to traffic that as we parked ready to go on our walk, they stayed nearby, unconcerned.

The patterned curlew blends in so well with the less-than patterned grasses. Especially the legs. Keep looking – you’ll find them.

I bet you wouldn’t expect to find a hen in this post. But our neighbour’s chickens have long legs. And they lay the smallest hens’ eggs ever.

And finally, as promised, here’s our Spanish heron.

L’Albufera, Valencia

Ducks are a-dabbling …

We’re lucky. Our village has not just one, but three village ponds. It’s home to a variety of geese, to coots and moorhens … and to any number of mallards. Males seem to outnumber females. Most days in the spring and summer the laddish drakes – if they’re not lazing around on the grass – like so many teenage boys, mob the younger females in a rather aimless and half-hearted fashion.

We’re nearly at the time of year when ducklings will hatch and charm us all. The ponds are on both sides of the main-ish road that splices the village in two: the mother ducks march their broods back and forth, confident that traffic – yes even huge and heavy municipal dustbin lorries – will instantly grind to a halt to let the young family cross.

Nevertheless, few broods grow intact to adulthood. Jealous mallards despatch ducklings not their own. Geese kill them. Foxes take them to feed their own young. Herons visit. And despite the care most drivers take, there are traffic accidents. We often wonder what happened to the brood that Malcolm spotted one day on a lane near here: a mother duck leading fourteen – yes fourteen – ducklings along the road.

For Denzil’s Nature Photo Challenge #4 Ducks

… and also for another new challenge: Bird of the week

The Eyes Have It

In this week’s Nature Photo Challenge #2, Denzil has us hunting for eyes. That’s a bit tough, isn’t it, photos of eyes?

We’ll go back to last week’s peacock for a bit of help:

And there’s another kind of peacock who can help us: a peacock butterfly.

Here’s another butterfly with eyes to dismay predators: a Gatekeeper.

Since I’ve never been to the Amazonian Rainforest, I’ve never seen an Owl Butterfly in its natural habitat. But they have circled round me at the Butterfly House of London’s Horniman Museum, unnerving me with all those ‘eyes’ they have..

After all these dissembling eyes, it seems only fair to show two real ones. The header photo shows a fallow deer at Knole, Kent, and here is an elephant at Dubare Elephant Camp on the River Cauvery in India.

Nature Photo Challenge: Patterns

Another day, another challenge. This one is from Denzil, of Denzil Nature. He invites us to find and photograph patterns in nature. Nature provides such a rich variety that it’s hard to know where to start. In the end, I thought I’d stick with – birds.

There are understated patterns. Look how the curlew blends in with the rough grasses of its moorland habitat:

The patterned curlew blends in so well with the less-than patterned grasses

There are ones that are slightly less understated. These sparrows in a Berlin café planned on stealing a few crumbs.

Then there’s this female mallard. Understated too, but with a soupçon of energising colour.

Here’s a puffin. That assertively-painted beak begs to be noticed too.

We’re getting gaudier now: this mandarin duck appeared – just once – on a local pond.

Even the pond water has rippling patterns.

Showiest of all, the peacock. From respondent tail feathers to elegant headdress, this bird is a symphony of pattern.

The header photo shows a murmuration of starlings. Here, at this time of year, just before nightfall, the birds regularly fill the skies with a constant swirl and swoop of pattern-making . You can read about it here, and – especially – here, when thousands of birds chose our garden for their evening display.

Monday Portrait: Centre Stage? A Beetle

We’ve seen all kinds of creatures have their moment as stars of Monday Portraits. But usually animals and birds. Beetles? Not so much. But I find this Forest Cockchafer to be a handsome fellow. We spotted this one on our Balkans adventure last year, but he could just as well have lived in woodland or farmland here.

He’s large – up to 30 mm in length. He’s clumsy, and likely to bump into things. He chomps away on leaves and flowers, but not to a destructive extent. These beetles only live for five or six weeks: even though, as a larva, they spend maybe three to five years growing underground.

He’ll make a large whirring noise in flight and may well clatter into your window panes. Not yet though. Look out for him in May and June. Remember, you saw him here first …