Zoodyssee; European Zoo

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The Zoodyssee is a good day out, it is a zoo for European species and as such quite a lot of them are obviously native to France, though not all. Zoodyssee15

They do not have everything that you can find in Europe, ie no Bears but they do have most species. The stars of the show are the wolves and the Lynx, and this Lynx knows it. Zoodyssee6

 

I like the quality of the information provided about each species, one justification for a Zoo is that it educates, especially the young visitors.Zoodyssee19

There is an extensive parkland area where there are all three native deer species, the Fallow, Roe and Red deer. Also there is a small herd of Bison which are quite impressive. Various horses and the Poitou Baudet.Zoodyssee2

I always like the Wild Boar, perhaps that says something about my character?Zoodyssee4

They have an extinct species….. well sort of it is a reconstituted Auroch, basically a cow which has been bred to resemble the Auroch.Zoodyssee5

The Farm area is great for children and has some very cute little chaps living there and some not so cute ones like the Turkeys. I find it a little disconcerting that the goats are housed closer to the Wolves than any other animal and in the same vein the rabbits are just across from the Artic foxes..

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There are quite a lot of reptiles and amphibians but the reptile house could do with an upgrade. I know snakes and lizards do not need a huge area but the presentation is below the standard achieved in the rest of the Zoo.Zoodyssee13Zoodyssee14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My only misgiving is the birds of Prey. I never like to see birds in cages, there is no justification for it, the species they have like the Kite in the photo below are not rare and especially with birds like these which soar majestically on the thermals it seems such a shame to subject them to a life of doing little more than hopping about. They have renewed the cages and they look better to the public but it would have been better not to have bothered in my opinion.Zoodyssee1

 

Here are a few more photos I have taken at this zoo.

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Bee Hotel

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Now I know some people who read this blog are somewhat interested in bees and I also know that some people construct or buy little homes for the bees.

BUT not like this……. This is a five star mega super duper bee residence.bee hotel1

 

So for all you be fanatics look at this and get inspired and create. Forget your little two up two down terrace type structures and make something like this so your bees can really start enjoying life. Here is a close up so you can really get to grips with it.bee hotel2

Just in case you are wondering it was photographed at the European Zoo in Chize.

Poitou-Charentes wild flower of the month April 2014 White Asphodel (Aspodelus albus)

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This is a stunning plant and comes into flower this month and then continues through into June. In Poitou-Charentes we are at the northern limit of its range. It extends down through France, Spain and is also present in North Africa in places like Morocco, Algeria Tunisia and Libya.Asphodel1

Its French names are somewhat predictable, they are L’Aspodele blanc, or Baton royal or Baton-blanc.

The plant has a rhizome under the ground, so it grows in the same place each year. It prefers shady, damp areas and it likes a calcareous soil, chalky. The place I see it most is the wooded area near Mauprevoir in Vienne, but it is common throughout the region, perhaps not so common in the very north of Poitou-Charentes.

Asphodel 1aaIt grows quite tall, over 100cm in height, after flowering the seeds develop and by mid summer the leaves are dying back and all you get is a tall stalk with knobbly black seed pods on top.

The rhizomes have been used in the past for various herbal cures. Along with hundreds of other plants they are supposed to ease menstrual pains, but who knows? I have also read that in ancient Persia the rhizomes were dried, ground up to a powder and then this could be mixed with cold water to make a strong glue.

Finally in many articles about this plant it states that in Barbary it is eaten by wild boar. Barbary is an old name for north Africa. In the woods near Mauprevoir there are lots of wild boar and lots of Asphodels so I don’t imagine the French wild boar eat them otherwise they would have long since disappeared. Perhaps in north Africa food is more scarce and the boar are forced to eat this in order to survive.

For other flowers of the month click the link below, last year it was Lords and Ladies and in 2012 it was Greater stichwort….

http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/flower-of-the-month/

To identify other flowers from this region click…

http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/wildflowers-of-poitou-charentes/

New look for Civray Church.

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Now modernism is the buzz word in the Catholic church since Pope Francis has taken the reins. Could this have an influence in the sleepy town of Civray in Poitou-Charentes…. maybe?Civray3This new pope from South America is maintaining the traditional values of the Catholic church but as one who once rode a Harley Davidson and has a degree in chemistry we are aware that a new wind is blowing through the cloisters of the Vatican.

One area where the Catholic church can give full vent to this modernism is to improve church attendances and the big issue here is to increase the numbers of young people attending church services. This has already been addressed to some extent in South America where the famous architect Oscar Neimeyer born in Rio de Janiero was commissioned to design a Basilica for Brasilia.  This was one of his most celebrated architectural designs and is totally modern.

When recently Niemayer died at the fantastic age of 105 his work and life was acknowledged by none less than Norman Foster who in 2004 was responsible for the iconic St Mary Axe building in London.  This is now more often referred to as the Gherkin.  When it first appeared it did not win approval from the Catholic church as it was considered as representative of ‘phallic architecture’ . However since that time it has become one of London’s - indeed the world’s- most recognised buildings.gherkintower-thumb-560x356-61465

With Pope Francis being from South America, albeit Argentina and not Brazil but with that Latin spirit, and with the buzz of the Harley Davidson in his veins, the message has gone out that church attendances need to be improved and front line in that is a new look for the churches. So out with the old and in with some new designs. Could Civray be in the forefront of this new direction for the Catholic Church? Will we see a mini Gherkin in place of the old Romanesque church?  The new design is still under wraps but already it does have the look of a Gherkin.Civray1

Lizards in Poitou-Charentes

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There are 4 different types of Lizard in this region, so identification should be fairly straightforward.

They are the Slow worm (Anguis fragilis), the Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), the Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata), and the Ocellated Lizard (Lacerta leptida). It is these last two which could cause some confusion as they are both green and both grow quite big, also in their younger or juvenile stages they can look a bit similar.

The Slow worm (Anguis fragilis) In French it is called Orvet.Slow-Worm-Bruce-Shortland

 

(This photo was taken by Bruce Shortland and was in an article for the Welsh wildlife trust.)

This is a lizard but it does not have any external limbs, so looks a bit like a snake, for this reason they are sometimes killed by people who think that all snakes should die, which they should not. In particular the Slow worm should not be persecuted because their favourite food sd little grey slugs that do so much harm in the vegetable garden. The excellent photo above shows a typical example but they can be more dark grey or sometimes more brown to buff colour, even golden. Sometimes they also show blue grey dots along the sides. They can grow up to 50cm long.

Males will fight one another in the breeding season and these fights can result in injury and you sometimes find old males with scar tissue on their undersides. Also as with other lizards they have the ability to shed their tail if being attacked. Snakes cannot do this. The tail never really recovers and a dark short stump will grow back, but it does not look as attractive as the original tail. The other difference between lizards and snakes is that lizards have eye lids and so can close their eyes, snakes cannot do this.

The Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) Lezard des Murailles in French.These are the most common lizards in this part of France, they look similar to the Common Lizard which you get in Britain but the Common lizard does not live in the Poitou-Charentes region of France so that means if you see a small brown lizard it is a Wall Lizard.Wall Lizard2

These lizards grow up to 10 or even 15cm in length including tail, and as their name suggests they are often to be found on sunny walls. They hunt for their prey which consists mostly of small insects like flies and they like spiders. They all seem to show the same coloration which is brown with darker and lighter brown dots and blotches as shown in the photo.

The Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata), Lezard Vert, this can get a bit bigger, up to 40cm long and is often green, the adult males can be quite a vivid green and also have a blue throat, however the females and younger ones will vary and can be a greenish brown and also have some pale stripes which is a bit confusing, however the wall lizard never has any hint of green. So the only possible confusion lies with the Ocellated lizard. Here is a photo of a green lizard which comes from a very good blog site called My life in the Charente.260913LizardGreenHead

 

To view the blog click  My Life in the Charente  I have seen green lizards in the coastal dunes along the Cote Sauvage south of Rochefort, but not inland, they are not so common. These lizards have a varied diet which includes insects, some fruit and even birds eggs.

The Ocellated Lizard (Lacerta lepida) Lezard Ocelle, These can get quite big  ie up to 90 cm nose to tail. They are a green grey colour but the most obvious feature is the blue spots along the sides, which are not universally present but also the adults have a black stippled patern on their back.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This photo from amiralles.com  which is a site containing a selection of photos of European lizards.

I have only seen these lizards in the south of the region, there were a lot living under the big hedges around my parents-in-laws house which was near Brossac. I suspect that they are no longer there as the new TGV line is being constructed about 50 M from their property, (they no longer own it !) These lizards will eat large insects like grasshoppers but also take smaller lizards and snakes also they will raid nests for eggs and fledglings.

Finally can I recommend a site called Herp France which has excellent photos and descriptions of all the reptiles and amphibian which are found in France, however that is quite a lot as it covers all France from Calais to the Pyrenees and includes Corsica. So here we are dealing with just what is in Poitou-Charentes.  Not far from this region and possibly just inside you might come across two other lizards, The Common Lizard and the Sand Lizard, but as it is unlikely that you will see them here they are not included in this blog.

Other posts on this blog which may interest you are;

http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/snakes-in-poitou-charentes/

http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/animals-in-the-house/

 

 

 

Surgeres

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After a good lunch in St Jean d’Angley at Le Scorlion ( see our review based on a previous visit at http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/restaurant-reviews/le-scorlion-st-jean-dangelys/)  we decided to visit Surgeres which was only 17 miles away according to the sat nav. We had skirted round the town in the past when en route to the coast but never stopped and looked. Our first impression was that it was larger than we expected. It has a large car park just across the road from the church, which is where we parked and paid 1 euro for the privilege.  In fact we found subsequently that there are lots of places nearby where you can park for nothing in case you are tempted to visit.

Surgeres is probably now most famous for being a centre for the milk industry. It is home to many familiar brands and one of my favourite cheeses. The “Group of Dairy Co-operatives” distribute many brands of butter, milk and cheese such as Bougon, Saint-Loup, Lescure, Surgères, Le Petit Vendéen and Mottin CharentaisBeurre_Charentes_Poitou

My favourite,  incidentally, is Mottin Charentais. Anyway back to our visit. We headed for the church which is called  egL’Eglise de Notre Dame as so many of them are. It is of typical Romanesque style with all the usual decorations and arches on the outside. Surgere15It has been restored recently and looks a bit artificial in that some of the sculptures look too fresh. It does have two representations of the horseman known as ‘le Cavalier’ which is found on many churches in this area. The one on the right hand side even has the person at the feet of the horse, being trampled underfoot. This may be a representation of Christianity dominating  the forces of evil or the heathen past.??Surgere3

In the excellent book by Freda White called the Ways of Aquitaine and written around 1968 she comments that ‘ It is visible at once that if the original carvings are covered with plaster in moulds, and the casts thus obtained used to replace the old sculptures, they loose the sharpness and delicacy of the originals; the sea serpent of Surgeres is more like a slug’

She also goes on to say ‘I walked round the big church. It has a fine tower made of sixteen very tall pillars, bound at the top by arches. But the cornice has split and a pine tree has rooted in the crack, which will force wider apart with every rainy season. Presently the tower will fall. This fault is common to many churches in Poitou, where the coping has been neglected.’ Surgere8

Fortunately the tower has not fallen and the church is in good condition. Inside it is quite stark and lacks much in the way of decoration or interest. As you can see the church is set in a wide open green space which is also occupied by other splendid buildings, There is the Marie, a Biblioteque and several other prestigious constructions, They are surrounded by the remparts and there is a little entrance with a drawbridge. The restoration work on this was still in progress when we visited but it looked near to completion and this is the last phase in all the restoration which has been on going since 2008.

We then had a quick look round the town which was quite pleasant - lots of little shops and a large covered market which was of course closed as we were visiting mid afternoon on a Thursday. The town has typical white stone architecture which looks very neat and tidy but to my mind it is also a bit sterile- perhaps this is in some way linked to the milk industry!

Below is a slide show of some of the other photos I took during our short visit.

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Mason Bees, and other insects that make holes in houses in Poitou-Charentes.

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Our house in Poitou-Charentes is made of stones held together with mud. It is tradional and over the years it has gradually cracked and settled and had various materials added to it in order to prevent it from returning from whence it came.

The mud mortar is in some places quite soft and provides homes for much wildlife. Little bees and wasps make holes and lay eggs  along with a food source inside and some time later the next generation of bees or wasps appear. This is all well and good  but it does not help the integrity of the building.Mason Bees2

There is a very good blog called A French garden which is about a garden in France – there’s a surprise –  but amongst other subjects related to a garden in France there are quite a few references to bees, all sorts of bees including a type which are solitary and make or use little tunnels to lay their eggs in and which are known as Mason bees.

To visit the site click http://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/mason-bees/ Have a look at the page on Mason bees but then have a good look at all the other stuff- there is a lot of interesting material here and not just on bees.

The manufacturers of bird boxes, some years ago, hit on the idea of making boxes for insects, particularly bees. These are to put it simply a bundle of bamboo canes pushed into a nice box and then sold to armchair nature lovers. In the French garden blog you will see the sort of box I am referring to, only the ones in this particular French garden have been made by Mr French garden at a cost no doubt significantly lower than the ones you can purchase from the advertisers in the RSPB magazine. Also Mr and Mrs French garden will have no doubt gained a considerable amount more satisfaction from their DIY efforts than if they had bought one ready made.

Yesterday I was clearing up a bit in the garden, my French garden, and came across some sticks which were hollow, like bamboo, which came from  an Empress Tree (Paulonia) and so I decided to construct a primitive bee hotel. It is really more of a bee hostel than hotel, certainly not the 4 star accommodation that’s on offer in the French garden residence. It is just a bundle of sticks tied together with string and I stuffed it under the tiles of an outbuilding.Mason Bees1

Flushed with enthusiasm I then decided to try another approach which was to drill lots of holes in an old oak log which sort of doubles up as a bird table. I used two different sized drill bits so any homeless bee or wasp has a choice of a large or medium hole.Mason Bees3

After all this exertion! I then sat back to read a book about insects and see what creatures might make use of my holes.

There are a lot of creatures which make holes and lay eggs in them. It’s not just Mason Bees. Here is a summary.

Wood Wasps. These can be quite large and have what looks like a nasty sting.  In fact it is not a sting but is an ovipositor which is for laying eggs.  These creatures bore a hole in wood, lay an egg and the grub then feeds on the rotting wood.

Potter and Mason Wasps. These wasps either make a little chamber out of mud and saliva, similar to termites but on a less grand scale, or they excavate a hole, into which they place caterpillars and then lay an egg. The grub feeds on the caterpillar. There are variations on the theme. Some species paralyse the caterpillars so that the grubs can feed on ‘fresh meat’ and one species continually tops up the food supply by bringing regular supplies of caterpillars.

Sand wasps and Digger wasps.These vary considerably in shape, size and habits and there are over 100 different types in the UK. However they are all solitary, all make a hole for laying an egg in and all provide paralysed insects for the grub to feed on. They normally make their holes in the ground especially if it is sandy so they are probably  not responsible for holes in my walls.

Mining Bees. Again this is a huge group with over 100 species in the UK alone. They are similar to the wasps in that they make a hole for their eggs but they may lay several eggs in one hole.  Each egg is in a separate chamber and the big difference to the wasps is that the bees provide food in the form of pollen and nectar or honey. This group is split into several different types.  Some collect pollen in baskets on their hind legs like the normal honey bee, others do not have baskets and so collect the pollen on their bellies and another group cannot collect pollen at all and so they have to rely on other bees to do this for them. These are called Cuckoo bees.

Finally there are some parasitic wasps and one which we get a lot is called a Ruby-tail wasp (Chrysis ignita) This is bright coloured red and blue. It is small and totally manic. It lays its eggs in the hole of another wasp or bee and its grub is parasitic on the grub of the bee or wasp.

So there you have it. There are several hundred different insects that make holes and getting to grips with them is all a bit of a mine field!  Get it….. mine field…. Mining bees.  Finally though I would reiterate that a visit to the French garden blog will help you identify some of the more common ones.

Again its at. http://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/mason-bees/

Restaurant Hotel de l’Europe Civray

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This was not a hotel but a restaurant and it was very popular in the early 1990sHotel de Europe1This photo was taken in the early 1990′s with a film camera and now I have coppied the photo with my digital camera and so the quality is not 100%.

It was just up the road from the church and the market square and after the restaurant closed  a sign above it appeared saying Café de l’Europe but when I went past it today I saw that there is now  a large piece of plywood attached to the windows on the right hand side. It has been closed for many years and it is very sad because  it was once a really buzzing place.Hotel de Europe4

This photo was taken March 2014.

My first experience of this establishment was in 1990. We had visited Nowak Immobilier in search of a house to buy and had been driven around by Monsieur Nowak to view several properties. He was a nice guy but obviously took the view that time spent in the car -he had a big Volvo- was not earning him any money, so he made sure that this time was reduced to the minimum. I was terrified! Maybe it was a ploy to get you to buy – ‘OK I will take this one, yes its fine, I love it, and now please take me back to the office and we do not need to visit any more properties - yes its fine, yes I love it and please no more!!’Hotel de Europe3

Eventually the more sedate Reids took over (a Scottish couple who worked at Nowak Immobilier) and we were less stressed. At lunchtime we were directed to the Cheval Blanc which later morphed into Le Cadran. In fact we never made it to the Cheval Blanc but we did make it to the Hotel de l’ Europe and this became our favourite.

I kept a diary at the time, and still do and today I looked up any references to the Hotel de l’Europe because whilst my memory is still quite good it is always better to get back to the original data. There was no mention of our first meal there but this is what we said in 1991.

‘As it was 7.15pm we decided to go and eat before going to the house – fairly mild evening. We inevitably headed for the Hotel de l’Europe where the menu choice was better than ever and still 48 francs. We all had jambon de montagne to start, John and I had mushrooms in mayonnaise, Alan had avocado stuffed with ham and mayonnaise and Caroline had terrine. For main course John had duck, Caroline and Alan had Coq au Vin and I had a fish called saint pierre in a provencal sauce, then cheese, followed by fruit for John and me, lemon mousse for Alan and Caroline, coffee, lots of wine and two glasses of Cognac and all for £22.00.’

This was the only reference I could find which actually detailed exactly what we ate, probably because we ate there so often that it became the norm and did not merit a special mention. What I do remember is that it was always busy both at lunch times and in the evenings. On market days it was absolutely packed and not just with Brits -there were loads of locals and a few Brits. We were favoured guests and sometimes  there was no room but Madame would always drag a table and a few chairs from somewhere and make a space and squeeze us in.

The food was always good. It was rustic but you had the advantage that the terrine was presented in a huge pot and you could eat as much as you wanted before it was removed and placed on another table. The same applied to huge jars of cornichons or big bowls of chocolate mousse. The wine was house wine and in open top bottles but it was always replaced when the bottle was nearly finnished and the same with the bread. Madame was always shuffling round topping up this or moving the cheese board from one table to the next. She did sort of shuffle but it was fairly fast shuffling and you were never left waiting.

There were a lot of standards like escalope de dinde but there were also some specials. We remember the perch in a white parsley sauce - fantastic. You never really knew what was going to be on offer.  It depended on what Monsieur could get. Sometimes you did get a clue. The toilets were outside across a bit of a courtyard and sometimes in this courtyard you might see two rabbits in a cage, in which case it was a good bet that lapin would be on the menu the next day. It did reassure you that all the ingredients were fresh.

Some time in about 1993 or 1994  the owners moved on and opened up in the Hotel de Commerce. It was never so good. The atmosphere was gone, the starters were presented as a buffet instead of being served and Madame seemed a bit tired. She was not happy if you asked to dine on the terrace next to the river -too far to walk!Hotel de Europe2

This photo was again taken in March 2014, now the Commerce is a good restaurant and you are welcome to eat on the terrace with the view of the river. see our review from a visit we made in 2013. http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/restaurant-reviews/hotel-du-commerce-civray/

The venture at the Commerce only lasted a couple of years and then some time later the owners turned up at the café in Saint Romain but I only ate there once and that has also closed now. What a shame. The Europe was really the most lively eating place in Civray during the early 1990s and it  is now boarded up and just a distant memory. Maybe someone reading this will know more about this restaurant. I would like to know when it first started. I do remember that Monsieur was a keen football fan and followed a local team - was it Bordeaux?  Anyway when they were playing service was not quite  100% but we can forgive that.

Thank you to the Hotel de l’Europe and its owners and the good times we had there, and to their little daughter who was very shy but sometimes said bonjour and then scampered away. There was a son as well who sometimes helped with the serving when they were at the Commerce. Where are they now?

Poitou-Charentes wild flower of the month March 2014 Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

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The Lesser Periwinkle is native to central and southern France but is also seen in Britain where it is often grown in gardens as ground cover, being particularly useful in quite shady places where many plants will not grow. You sometimes find it in the countryside in Britain but that is the result of someone dumping some garden waste at the side of the road and it getting established.Perriwinkle131a

In Poitou-Charentes it grows wild in shady places like hedgerows and woodlands and it flowers early in the year, from March onwards. The flowers are bright blue with a hint of purple/lilac colour. It is in the same family as the Gentians which of course it looks quite similar to.  It is a low creeping plant, known as a subshrub, so it is like a very low growing bush, it spreads quite well and can grow up slightly higher if it can use other taller plants to scramble over.

The scientific name is Vinca minor and its French name is  Petite Pervenche, or Pervenche Mineure

There is another Periwinkle which is the Greater Periwinkle and this is very similar except that the leaves are bigger and the flowers are bigger. The best way to tell them apart is that the leaves of the greater Periwinkle have tiny hairs along the margins whereas the Lesser Periwinkle is hairless. In both plants the leaves remain present throughout the winter.

If you have trouble identifying other wildflowers from the Poitou-Charentes region then you can look them up on http://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/wildflowers-of-poitou-charentes/

Dolphins off Calais

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Yesterday we crossed the English Channel in order to purchase some wine from Intermarche in Calais and to enjoy a good meal. I hate the expression ‘Booze Cruise’

The crossing was quite rough and I saw hundreds even thousands of Gannets mostly on the French side and particularly as we neared the harbour.dolphins_2210541b

This photo is not of the ones I saw it is a copy from the Guardian.

However most amazing was the sighting of several dolphins quite close to the boat, these were again seen on the last third of the journey. At one point two surfaced together just ahead of the boat. They were also seen by my wife and another passenger sat next to us. I have never before seen dolphins on a channel crossing.

On they way back it was considerably rougher and there were less gannets and we did not see any dolphins but observation was not helped by the sun being in our eyes and the waves breaking over the bow of the boat and soaking the windows so we could not see very well.

More info on dolphins in British waters can be found at http://www.uksafari.com/dolphins.htm

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