March and April in the Ariège

The bare forests of early March that carpet the valley sides were only lifted by early blossoming wild cherries and catkin-covered willows. The towns and villages were full of bright Forsythia and orchard blossom. At the end of March into early April, a few days of snow and frost laid waste to the blossom and…

Assault on the River Ariège

I’m not saying that the action on the pretty bend in the river Ariège resembles the Assault on Precinct 13, but the blackbirds are for a few days in mid April at each others throats all day; the chases are endless and dust-ups frequent. There are perhaps five territories all vying for the bushes, the…

Le rat-trompette

The Réserve Nationale de Faune d’Orlu is magnificent; a single track runs up through the hanging beech woods and moss-covered boulders, where Camberwell beauties now hold territory in sunny glades, to a wide valley surrounded by rugged escarpments and snow-capped peaks. The route follows the small river that crashes down through the steep valley swollen by…

Le château de Montségur

19th March 2022 marks 60 years after the signing of the Evian accords that brought to an end the Algerian war of independence. At 11o’clock, in a small village on the way to the château de Montségur, a service of remembrance is taking place; lines of white-haired men and women stand in silence around the…

Spring in the Ariège

I have a few months to watch Spring unfold in the high mountains, the wooded hills and high pastures of the Ariège around Ax-les-Thermes in the heart of the Pyrenees. The land is wild and the few roads follow the narrow, river valleys. The Château de Lordat is perched on a small hill and is one…

Old Lodge warblers, larks and starts

The last week of April is the week when Old Lodge reserve on Ashdown Forest comes alive with the sound of birds; the most obvious is the liquid song of willow warblers foraging in the birches but also blackcaps and redstarts. A mistle thrush sings from a tall pine. A pair of woodlarks forage quietly…

March descending

On the last day of March, the sun makes a slow descent behind the dark hedgerow and April emerges under a blue sky. On the downs, ravens and buzzards are mobbed by nesting carrion crows. Chiffchaffs, finches and buntings are calling from the trees. Bumblebees work the willow catkins in the evening sun and appear…

Spring butterflies

The early butterflies are nearly all widespread species including orange tips, brimstones and ‘cabbage whites’, the exception in southern England is the Duke of Burgundy fritillary and the nearest colony is near Canterbury. Peacocks and small tortoiseshells are also out and both common this year. The hedge garlic and lady’s smock are the host plant…

Red kite mobbed by a carrion crow

Red kites are renowned nest predators especially of rooks and crows. In mid April, most carrion crows pairs have a nest on the go, probably with with four blue speckled eggs in a stick nest lined with wool, and if a kite approaches then the male will climb vertically out of the woods to harry…

Early Spring woodland flowers

Spring in the ancient oak, ash, beech and hornbeam woodlands of the North Downs is announced by wood anemones, sweet violets and celandine but quickly followed by a flurry of others. Moschatel, colloquially known as townhall clock or five-faced bishop is a diminutive and uncommon plant found in small colonies amongst the much showier swathes…

Nuthatches and woodpeckers

An old ash tree probably suffering from ash dieback, has three woodpecker holes in its dying wood. The middle hole is occupied by a pair of great tits that carry in beakfuls of moss. The other two holes are being inspected by a pair of nuthatches but also, from time to time, a pair of…

Sissinghurst on Leap Day

The last day of February brings more squalls from the west with intervals of piercing blue sky and pristine spring sunshine. The castle garden is subdued with the plants starting to grow but needing a run of warmer, gentler days; white magnolias are bursting; the crocus, iris, squill and summer snowflake are out; and a…