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Nature Notes - March 2016

Nature Notes

I am currently in the south west of France where I have been for a few weeks during January and February. The amount of rainfall here is much less than in Britain, and the temperature is on average at least 5 degrees warmer. A consequence of this is that I have seen numerous lizards basking in the sun and scurrying away when they see me. There are also many insects active at this time of year including bumblebees, flies and a few butterflies. Many flowers are also blooming, such as daffodils, primroses and ladies smock. However, I understand that Britain is also experiencing mild temperatures and unusual environmental life activity.

Looking out of the window right now from the house where I am staying I can see a buzzard sitting on a telephone cable, and I have also seen a herd of roe deer in the neighbouring field. Other unusual bird life that I have seen recently includes a male hen harrier, black kite, cranes which over-winter down here and were flying over, and cattle egrets in fields with horses. There are also many small birds including the western continental species of tree creeper known as the short toed treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla. The British species is the Eurasian treecreeper C. familiaris which is rare in France but more common in Eastern Europe and Asia. However, both species are very similar, but can be distinguished by voice and close inspection, especially of the length of the hind claw. Other small birds I have encountered are more familiar, such as robins, dunnocks, blue and great tits, goldfinches, skylarks and stonechats. There has been a mistle thrush singing in a distant copse, and I regularly hear and see great-spotted and green woodpeckers. There seem to be an inordinate number of kestrels here, I see them frequently perched on cables or hovering over fields. I also regularly hear tawny owls calling at night.

There are also native trees in southern France which are considered exotic in Britain, including the fan-palm Chamaerops humilis, one of only two native palms to southern Europe. The other is the Cretan date palm Phoenix theophrasti. Other natives of the area include the black pine Pinus nigra, and the strawberry tree Arbutus unedo.

Dr.Martyn Stenning