Pech Bely Encore

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French Wildlife

The April weather this year is sharp showers and brisk winds then warm sun and clear light. Dawn drowns in deep dew. The dead vines are pruned and tied and the rows harrowed. The first trees are coming into leaf led by Montpellier maple Acer monspessulanum, bright green with yellow flowers.

The old devils are all present: corn bunting Emberiza calandra on the blackthorn hedge Prunus spinosa, cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus from the top of a dark, exotic conifer, black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros singing its breathless rattle on the new roof. A doe roe deer Capreolus capreolus feeds in the vineyard close to the wood but disappears like the dew as the sun strengthens.

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Male black redstart on the new roof

Kestrels Falco tinnunculus chatter and defend a territory behind the hameau with a nest site perhaps in the old barn; greenfinches Chloris chloris wheeze and trill from the tree tops. Common polypody Polypodium vulgare and other ferns line the steep track to the valley below. Ugly circles of purple toothwort Lathraea clandestina hide in the wet grass and ever spreading ivy Hedera helix, sucking the life from the streamside willows.

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Clouds darken and cast great shadows. The limestone grasslands are decked with early spider orchids Ophrys sphegodes; the first yellow ophrys Ophrys lutea, lady Orchis purpurea and burnt orchids Neotinea ustulata are up too. There is all the promise of spring and a long hot summer in the cries of great spotted woodpeckers Dendrocopos major and nuthatches Sitta europaea that echo the valleys under stone grey skies.

The forests are tinged umber in the last rays of the evening sun. The windmill sits on the hill with sails that never turn. The farmer reports hearing midwife toads Alytes obstetricans from the ancient well but nothing peeps in the quiet evening and the log fire needs lighting.

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The old windmill

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