South Charente in August

The sunflower and maize fields clothe the hills in a pale yellow and dull green patchwork; the cereals have been harvested and the stubbled earth disced and left full of weeds. Fine Charente cattle with newborn calves and attendant bulls are in green pastures; the calves are only present for a few days before being removed for veal production. A field below Bellon is cut for silage and huge, light blue plastic cubes of suffocating grass litter the cleaned ground.

Bellon August - 2
Charente cattle and bull

On a warm evening, the old stone house is shaded from the low sun by a pair of great lime trees. In one, a pair of woodpigeons has a poorly hidden nest and the birds clatter to and fro. A red admiral butterfly flies fast chasing competitors from the territory as well as, it appears, house sparrows that fly overhead; the energetic butterfly repeatedly perches on an exposed leaf in the sunlit avenue before sallying forth again.

The black kites have gone from the oak wood. Numerous kestrels hunt the abundant grasshoppers from telegraph poles. A lesser spotted woodpecker calls from the streamside willows; greenfinches wheeze and goldfinches sing incessantly from the  tops of orchard trees that are full of fruit.

At the large fishing pond down the hill, a wary heron flies off and a large terrapin basks in the sun disappearing with a plop on approach. Nearby, a damp, forgotten water meadow is bisected by a ditch lined with flowering hemp agrimony, water mint, purple loosestrife and water plantain; here butterflies, bees, hoverflies and wasps work the flowers for nectar. A hornet slowly steals amongst them and deftly plucks an insect before flying off clutching its prey to the woodland and a nest somewhere in a hole in a tree. A hobby calls from the top of a tall ash; a falcon flies over and a noisy food pass takes place in the tall oaks in the next door field.

On a hot day in the shade of the willows and ashes on the river Tude, a coypu swims the narrow water and works its way along the bank. It makes it to within a yard and then turns tail with a mighty splash after realising its error. A heron lands and a kingfisher flashes through with a sharp whistle. The remains of bright red, signal crayfish claws and carapace in the field by the water are a sign that otters are hereabouts.

In the forests around the Moulin de Perdrigeau, fritillaries, meadow browns and small heaths are abundant with occasional pale clouded yellows and swallowtails. Jersey tigers erupt from the roadside hemp agrimony in a fluttering burst of scarlet underwing but then either quickly settle back or dash for cover in nearby trees where their beautiful, black and white cloak provides a most effective, dynamic camouflage. A short-toed eagle drifts over in its slow hunt for snakes and lizards; there should be a nest with a large young somewhere on the long ridge of oak and pine forest to the south.

Wood whites flutter along the roadside verge beneath the farm where large, orange melons hang in nets over the wire mesh that holds pigeons and chickens in a coop. There is an old red umbrella that has faded to a pale pink, presumably placed to provide some shelter from the Charente sun. In the warm dusk, bats hunt the open woodlands and the sun drops behind the hill in a slow burn of hot coals.

Bellon August - 23
Dusk on the terrace


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