Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Tuesday, 30 October 2012
This is Part II of an account of an outing to the Foret de Loches by the Association de botanique et mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. Part I is here.
According to Jean-Pierre, we may be in for a very good fungi season. In the autumn following a hard winter or a prolonged period of dry, the mushrooms are often abundant. Since we have had both this year, perhaps we should expect to be overwhelmed by fungal fecundity!
Monday, 29 October 2012
All the Australian readers will instantly recognise this phrase, but for those of you without the benefit of having studied Australian literature at school, this is a line from the most famous poem written by the most famous Australian poet.
The outing was organised by the Association de Botanique et Mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, of which I am a member and regularly attend botanical outings. I'm not really a fungi person, but it's always worth going on an outing where there are experts to talk to (this applies to any topic I can think of).
Normally, our spring and summer botanical outings are around 20 people. I think everyone was quite surprised to see 60 turn up on Saturday for the champignons. The age range was from primary school to octagenarian too, which was very encouraging. Everyone took it seriously and were keen to know all about all the specimens we jointly collected. My guess is that mushroom foraging is seen as a very important part of French heritage, and its skills are valued as something that need to be passed on.
I stuck with Jean-Pierre, in the hopes of learning enough to identify a few species reliably. It was really interesting, but the weather turned much colder on Saturday, and my feet got fairly chilly. Mushroom hunting is mooching through the forest, rummaging in the leaf litter -- we got barely 20m in an hour, which gives you an idea of just how much fungi there is in this old royal hunting forest. Fortunately we were protected in the heart of the Foret de Loches from the 30 km winds with 50 km gusts from the icy north-east (that's Siberia or somewhere).
Jean-Pierre pointed out that what we think of as mushrooms or toadstools are really just the fruiting bodies. They bear the same relationship to the fungus as a whole as apples do to an apple tree.The 'mushroom tree' is its mycelia, which live in the soil in synergistic relationships with the plants around them. The plants make chlorophyll with their leaves and sunlight above ground, but below ground they absorb minerals and other nutrients courtesy of the fungal mycelia. These far-reaching fungal networks give plants acess to much greater resources and territory than would otherwise be the case.
UPDATE: Apparently it can have lobes, but doesn't normally grow upwards like this one did. See comment from RonRon below.
The mycelia attach themselves to buried wood, sometimes going very deep underground. A succession of fungi will attack fallen branches, causing them to rot and recycling their material into nutrients for the next generation of plants and fungi. The brown rot type fungi start the process, attacking the cellulose in the wood. After they have done their job, the white rot moves in, consuming the lignum. This is the reason the forest floor is not littered with dead wood.
(Tim and Pauline -- feel free to correct me on any of this, as you were there and heard what Jean-Pierre was saying.)
Part Two of the Fungi Foray in the Foret de Loches follows...
Sunday, 28 October 2012
Pepsi's inspection tours and am entertained by Katinka's antics.
Domestic cats are what conservation biologists refer to as 'subsidised exotic predators'. Their population density can reach more than 100 times that of native carnivores, and around 35% of households own a cat. There have been quite a few studies of domestic cat hunting behaviour, all of which show broadly similar results. Typically, domestic cats spend between 5 and 9 hours per day outside. About half of these cats hunt, and 70 - 90% of their target prey are small mammals. They frequent gardens and nearby land if it is relatively open (for example, pasture or the fringes of sparse woodland). Scientists monitoring hunting domestic cats observe that they hunt about 5 or 6 times more frequently than their owners estimate.They manage to capture prey on about a quarter of their attempts. Half of the prey escapes alive, so their total kill rate works out at around 13%, or about 2 kills a week. This kill rate is more than three times as high as owners estimate. Nevertheless, this is quite an inefficient kill rate, and domestic cats are only responsible for low prey numbers in quite small geographic areas. So long as the metapopulation of prey animals is healthy, and the population density of domestic cats not unusually high, they rarely threaten small mammal populations in Europe, where they have been established for centuries.
Feral cats, as Australia knows to its cost, are an entirely different matter. They are not 'subsidised' (ie not receiving supplementary feeding) and so are hunting for a living.
Saturday, 27 October 2012
Just in case you can't make it to the Fungi Foray in the Foret de Loches today, here are some I photographed earlier. These were all taken on a forest trail near Yzeures on Thursday. Note that the IDs are tentative, and I am definitely not an expert on fungi. I am only too willing to be corrected (or to have my IDs confirmed) by people who know more than me.
UPDATE: Magpie Inkcap Coprinus picaeus. See Tim's comments below.
UPDATE: Not Coprinus, but a lookalike Psathyrella sp. See Tim's comment below and the Wikipedia entry for a cautionary tale. Paul Leroy from l'Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine advises it is Psathyrella multipedata.
Friday, 26 October 2012
Thursday, 25 October 2012
Wednesday, 24 October 2012
This pair of horses live in the overflow carpark at the Chateau of Chenonceau. The overflow space is usually closed because the main carpark takes several hundred cars and there is no need for visitors to park way over in the horse paddock. However, when it is really busy and the chateau needs all nine hundred of its car parking spaces, the horses are corralled into a corner behind an electric fence for the day.
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
It's rained a lot this October. I don't know exactly how much we've had, but talking to friends and neighbours, it seems to be somewhere in the vicinity of 130 - 150 mm just over this weekend alone (and it must have rained about the same amount the previous weekend). And the temperature is regularly getting up into the low 20s. It is apparently shaping up to be the warmest October since sometime in the 1850s.
As for the rain, it has to be several multiples of our average for the month. The stream in front of the orchard is flowing again -- strong and clear. At least we are not flooding like the famous pilgrimage site of Lourdes in the far south-west. 'Bernadette -- she's up to here,' (hand gesture to indicate eye level) 'and the water is lapping at the feet of the Madonna', a neighbour tells us. 'The cleanup will cost hundreds of thousands.'
Monday, 22 October 2012
UPDATE: Simon has just found this excellent page (in French) on the history of the old bridge, with a photo of the damage in 1940.
Sunday, 21 October 2012
Saturday, 20 October 2012
With all the wet weather we've had over this year, the orchard didn't always get mowed regularly, and the potager is a complete weedfest. Added to that all the fenceline hedges were getting too tall and I desperately needed some new compost bins. Time call in the professionals.
Our friends Nicole and Alex run a garden maintenance business as well as their gites, and we have used them for various projects in the past (most notably the coin d'apéro).
I called them up a couple of weeks ago and we met at the orchard to discuss the work. It was agreed they would come on 18 October and get as much done in a day as they could, for their standard daily rate of €240 + TVA. We all hoped it wouldn't pour with rain, but they assured me that if it was just damp with a few sprinkles they would work through it. Luck was with us, and although cloudy, the temperature got up to the low 20s and we had to shed a layer of clothing by lunchtime. (And it's rained pretty well non-stop the following days.)
I spent the day down there with them, and while they got on with trimming the hedges, cutting out a dead hazel to make way for some new compost bins, strimming and mowing the grass, I weeded the potager. In the interval between us discussing the work and the appointed day it had been warm and wet, then with a few cold days. The orchids had responded by all sending up leaf rosettes ready for next year. They look very healthy and robust, so I was very pleased. Fortunately they are mostly too low yet to be cut off by the big mower, although inevitably a few got run over. I'm sure they will recover.
At the end of the day, you could certainly see where we'd been, but not in too severe a manicured sort of way, which is just how I wanted it. I picked some grapes, which remain in extremely good condition and are sweet and delicious. Some of them I passed on to Alex and Nicole just before they headed off to pick up youngest daughter Amélie from school.
Friday, 19 October 2012
Knapweed Fritillary Melitaea phoebe on Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata.
Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus.
Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne on Blackberry Rubus agg.
Marbled White male, on Field Scabious.
Short-tailed Blue Everes argiades, male.
Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius on Knapweed Centaurea sp.
Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris on Yorkshire Fog Holcus lanatus.
Violet Fritillary Clossiana dia.