The small, stone quiet village of Bellon sits on one of the endless rolling hills of the south Charente surrounded by large fields of maize and sunflower. The village is like a thousand others that pepper the landscape and together act like myriad anchors across the soft, green ocean that is rural France.
The small village of Bellon.
Bois Jarzeau is just one of the many ancient farms within the commune of Bellon; it perches on a sunny slope overlooking a small river within a shallow valley through which also runs the TGV to distant Bordeaux. The gardens and meadows are dew-drenched in the cool mornings and insects are slow to take to the air. By mid-morning the heat is hurting and now the butterflies and bees work the lesser knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) along the roadsides. The diminutive vervain (Verbena officinalis) does not appear to attract any bugs at all but most probably its pollinators need a more careful eye. The evenings are long and warm and the still, dusk air is full of moths; numerous bats of different sizes emerge from deep clefts within old stone walls and from under red clay tiles to dash up and down the narrow road pursuing them.
Bois Jarzeau is comprised of old stone buildings.
Sunflowers whisper and watch beyond the clematis hedge.
The heavy heads of sunflowers droop dark faces with dead yellow bonnets, a depressed crowd in their serried ranks. The sunflowers are bright green, bolt upright and merrily tassled, happily holding hands. This agriculture is intensive but the mechanical fields sit within blocks of untouched oak (Quercus sp.) woodland thick with hazel (Corylus avellana), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and wild service (Sorbus torminalis) reserved for chasse and champignons. A few herds of cows and sheep and their pastures maintain a mix but these are a dwindling minority. Old pastures are being lost to untamed scrub or converted to cropland.
Sunflowers at dawn under the first mists of Autumn.
The dawn landscape before a hot, sun-filled day.
The wildlife in August is quiet apart from mewing common buzzards from a distant wood, the occasional calls of greater and lesser spotted woodpeckers and the chatter of swallows from the wires. Mixed flocks of tits and warblers roam the woodlands and hedgerows. House sparrows fill thick bushes and eye the cats. On one still evening, a honey buzzard flaps and glides arrow straight over the fields towards a forested hilltop.
The insects enliven the roadsides and rides and lizards dash for cover in the dying grass. The colourful gardens pull in a great variety of butterflies and bees. On the front doorstep of a recently restored farmhouse, a tiny Geranium bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) flits from flowers of scarlet geranium to lipstick pink pelargonium.
A wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) emerges from under the kitchen window, watching for an idling insect.
Geranium bronze or brun des pélargoniums.
The deep purple Buddleja attracts up to four silver-washed fritillaries (Argynnis paphia) and just once a southern white admiral (Limenitis reducta). The hummingbird hawk-moths also work the flowerets at great speed and a broad-bordered bee hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis) does the same.
Silver-washed fritillary on buddleja.
Southern white admiral; the underside is startling white splashes on rich russet. There is just a single line of black spots along the edge of the wing; white admiral (Limenitis camilla) has two lines.
Broad-bordered bee hawk-moth.
On the lawn that is managed as a meadow, common blue (Polyommatus icarus), Provençal short-tailed blue (Cupido alcetas), brown argus (Aricia agestis) and knapweed fritillary (Melitaea phoebe) work the nectaring plants.
Knapweed fritillary on a furled wild carrot (Daucus carota) that currently flowers over much of the meadow.
Along the road there is a small patch of grassland that is slowly being invaded by blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Here there are Adonis blues (Polyommatus bellargus) alongside the other blues. In the nearby oakwood, a war-torn lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia) holds a territory along a quiet ride with patches of sun reaching the flowering hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). If you are lucky this handsome butterfly lands on the gravel road in front of you to suck the goodness from a pile of shit.
Adonis blue on blackthorn.
Lesser purple emperor.