Thursday, 23 May 2019

Rare Moth at the Back Door


On 7 May Tim alerted me that he'd had Patton's Tiger Hyphoraia testudinaria (Fr. Ecaille des steppes) in his moth trap in the Aigronne Valley. I'd never heard of this species and had to look it up. Then lo and behold, on 12 May I woke up to find one, a male, peering in at my back door. We are in the adjoining river valley, and it seems reports are coming in from the adjoining départements as well. We don't know why this year there is such a widespread appearance of a moth that hitherto none of us had heard of before, much less seen.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

It is one of those species that there doesn't seem to be any consistent information about (which makes me wonder if it is in fact a species complex). Some sources say it is an upland species found in the Pyrenees, Massif Central and Maritime Alps and the caterpillars eat plantain (Plantago spp) and dock (Rumex spp). Others extend its range into lowland south-west and central France, as far north as Paris, and provide a much longer list of low growing plants that the caterpillars can be found on, including reedgrasses (Calamagrostis spp) and hairgrasses (Deschampsia spp).

Photograph Susan Walter.  Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

It is said to like hot wet places and there is some indication that its range is shrinking in the west and it is becoming increasingly localised.



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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Botany Lesson on a Loire Water Meadow


Saturday 11 May saw me heading off to Langeais to meet Chantal and Dominique and whoever else turned up at the carpark under the southern side of the Langeais suspension bridge. The outing was to be an exercise in learning about the flora of a Loire water meadow, and it turned out to be way more interesting than I expected. Dominique is a great teacher -- knowledgeable about all sorts of little botanical details and patient enough to make sure I've understood, seen and had time to photograph. It was a great site because there were lots of examples of two (or more) species in a genus, enabling lots of comparing and contrasting. What follows are some general photos from the morning, but I am planning to do a series for Loire Valley Nature covering pairs of similar species that we saw on site (bromes; geraniums; forget-me-nots; bugles; buttercups; storksbills; sandworts, stitchworts, chickweeds and mouse-ears; fescues).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The 19th century suspension bridge over the Loire at Langeais (the town on the other side you can see). This is the only suspension bridge over the Loire that survived the Second World War. Apparently when I say I'm going to Langeais, a French person can't tell if I'm coming here or going to Lingé.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The leaf beetle Chrysolina banksii (Fr. le Chrysomèle de Banks), on Crimson Clover Trifolium incarnatum subsp incarnatum (Fr. Trèfle incarnat). The clover is native to this area and growing wild, not as an improved pasture assemblage -- this water meadow is native grasses, legumes and wild flowers, extensively grazed by the favoured local breed of cattle, Limousin. Reassuringly sustainable and traditional. This beetle species is tricky to identify if you are a beginner, but once you know what to look for, is not too much of a problem. It is widespread and quite commonly encountered, especially on damp sites.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Upright Bugle Ajuga genevensis (Fr. La Bugle de Genève) and Cypress Spurge Euphorbia cyparissias (Fr. Euphorbe faux cyprès). I'd never heard of this species of Bugle and assumed it was a particularly attractive colony of the commonly encountered Bugle A. reptans. However, Dominique pointed out that the open habitat (as opposed to forest edge) was a clue, and the leaves are a different shape.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 The storksbill Erodium cictarium subsp bipinnatum (Fr. Bec-de-grue poilu), showing the striking seed pods and pale dusky pink flowers. Both it and the regular species grow on the site.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
A close up of the extraordinary seeds of the storksbill, with a spring to propel it out.

Photograph Susan Walter.  Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Migrant Corollae Eupeodes corollae (Fr. Le syrphe des corolles ) on Dovesfoot Geranium Geranium molle (Fr. Géranium à feuilles molles).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
A female drone fly Eristalis tenax (Fr. Eristale gluante) on Spurge Euphorbia sp. She can be identified by her widely separated eyes, dark facial stripe, vertical lines of hairs on her eyes and dark front feet and hind tibia.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The very rare and localised mouse-ear Cerastium dubium (Fr. Céraiste douteux). It grows in a species assemblage of Annual Meadow Grass Poa annua and Hairy Buttercup Ranunculus sardous, where they are often found together in a damp depression. Their six teeth on the seed capsule is diagnostic.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Botanists at work (Danielle, Dominique and Chantal).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The sawfly Tenthredopsis cf stigma, nectaring on Leafy Spurge Euphorbia esula (Fr. Euphorbe âcre). This spurge species is very localised, mostly only occurring on the Loire sands.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The weevil Phyllobius betulinus. The French for weevil is un charançon. This species can be identified by its dense large blue-green gold scales on its upper side and thighs (except for the bases of the thighs, which are black), spurs on all thighs. It is known to be present in Indre et Loire and I think is probably quite abundant.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The site, a water meadow with sandy soil and natural vegetation, grazed by cattle. It sits between the levee bank to the south and the river on the north, near the bridge at Langeais. It is part of a site known as Ile aux boeufs and La Chapelle aux Naux which is not open to the public and managed by the Regional Conservancy for Natural Spaces. There are plenty of rabbits on site, so I got mercilessly teased by Christiane, who rescued my red plaid sweatshirt last year from the rabbits, after I dropped it on a botany outing.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
A Mediterranean Spotted Chafer Oxythyrea funesta (Fr. Cétoine grise) on a buttercup Ranunculus sp.



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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Botany Outing to the Courtineau Valley, May 2019


Our Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine outing on May Day was to the Courtineau Valley, near its confluence with the Manse, a valley with an equally rich botanical habitat. This outing was specifically designed as a teaching exercise and our members were training members of the heritage society of Saint Epain about the wild flowers on their patch. Here are some photos of an area I am becoming increasingly interested in, both for it's botanical interest, but also its impressive troglodyte homes and general picturesqueness.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum (Fr. Muscari à toupet) and Greater Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum (Fr. la Belle-d'onze-heures). The blue 'tassel' flowers are sterile and there to attract insects, who can see that colour blue very well.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 Photographers go for that money shot of the Tassel Hyacinth, whilst Chantal talks to the group about what they are seeing in general on the bank. We never did do a proper species count, but it was lots!

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 This bee fly (either Bombylius or Systoechus sp, I can't tell from this photo) is where the real reward is on Tassel Hyacinth -- their lower, dull looking flowers are full of nectar.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 On the middle bank, a different selection of plants.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 Meadow Clary Salvia pratensis (Fr. sauge commune).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 Common Vetch Vicia sativa (Fr. Vesce cultivée). The plant is guarded by ants who receive a reward from the plant in the form of nectar produced from the black spots near the leaf axils. The ants eat or remove other insects that would eat the plant. The species name sativa means 'grows from seed' and by association has come to mean 'cultivated'. Common Vetch occurs wild or naturalised like this one, but is also grown for fodder, as a green manure and occasionally as a companion plant for cereals.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes (Fr. Ophrys araignée).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Chantal teaching people about Stonecrops Sedum spp (Fr. les Orpins) and Saxifrages Saxifraga spp (Fr. les Saxifrages) growing in the middle of the road.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
 Bastard Balm Melittis melisophyllum (Fr. Mélitte à feuilles de mélisse).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon (Fr. Lamier jaune).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Dominique demonstrating how Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum (Fr. Arum tacheté) are pollinated by small flies.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Annual Meadow Grass Poa annua (Fr. Pâturin annuel). One of the perennial Meadow Grasses was growing in the same vicinity. One way of checking if a grass is an annual or a perennial is to try to uproot it. If it comes up easily it is an annual, but if it is a perennial it has a much more extensive root system and is much tougher to pull up.

Post-outing drinks were taken at the nearby house of a member of the heritage society. He is the former director of the Museum of Prehistory in le Grand Pressigny, and has an extensive collection of locally made bricks, which were on display in his lovely garden overlooking the valley.

I managed to frighten the living daylights out of my friend Louisette by making a classic error in French. I said at one point that 'Simon a décidé...' but I managed to mangle the vowels and she heard 'Simon est décédé'. For one reason and another, family, winter, stuff like that, we haven't actually seen one another for about 6 months. You should have seen the look on her face when she thought I was telling her that Simon had died! This is the sort of error you are warned about when you are learning French, but I have never actually done this one before.

Anyway, here is a link to Louisette's photos from the outing. Her photos are way better than mine, but she doesn't have a macro lens.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 20 May 2019

Rhubarb Crumble


Baked and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The crumble mix being sprinkled on the fruit mix prior to baking.

Rhubarb Crumble is one of our favourite desserts, and can be made with the addition of apples or strawberries. The crumble too can be made more interesting with the addition of nuts and rolled oats. I tend to make the fruit compote and crumble in a big batch that will serve 10, but put the dessert together in servings as necessary. I freeze the fruit compote in servings of 4 or 2 and the crumble mixture is stored in a glass jar in the fridge ready for use.

Cooked and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ingredients

Fruit compote
20 sticks of rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut into 3cm chunks
A punnet of strawberries, washed and hulled
4 apples, peeled, quartered and cored
6 generous tbsp sugar

Crumble
150 g wholemeal flour
150 g rolled oats
150 g nuts (flaked or chopped)
150 g soft light brown sugar
150 g butter, cut into cubes

Method
  1. Put all the fruit compote ingredients in a boiler with a splash of water, cover with a lid.
  2. Slowly bring to a foaming boil on medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, covered.
  3. Leave the fruit in the boiler to cool, with the lid on.
  4. Heat the oven to 180C.
  5. Rub the butter into the flour until it is all evenly combined.
  6. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to mix well.
  7. Put the fruit in a gratin dish then sprinkle on a covering layer of crumble.
  8. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  9. Serve with custard.
Cooked and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The rhubarb came from some friends who have a thriving plant as well as from the Jardins Vergers de la Petite Rabaudière, my local organic market garden. They sell from the farm every Tuesday evening and are at the market in Preuilly-sur-Claise every Thursday morning. The strawberries came from here too. They were a punnet that needed to be used quickly and I got at a reduced price. One of the rewards of being a loyal customer.

Cooked and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The apples in the compote and the walnuts in the crumble are homegrown, from my orchard.

The sugar in the crumble is what in France is known as vergeoise blonde, made from sugar beet, but any soft brown sugar could be substituted.

The rolled oats came from the organic bulk buy section of a local supermarket.

The flour is locally produced and comes from the last working windmill in Berry and the butter from our local dairy co-operative at Verneuil.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Australian Bee Hawk Moth


Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Hawk moths are large and attractive, and can be seen the world over. Bee Hawk moths, like this Australian Bee Hawk Moth Cephonodes kingii, are day flying, with clear wings and striped bodies that resemble bumble bees. This one was photographed in a garden in south-east Queensland, nectaring on lantana. Gardens in the northern half of Australia are where this species is typically seen.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Eyebright


Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Eyebright Euphrasia sp peeps out from amongst the grass and low growing wild flowers in the Swiss Alps. It is notoriously difficult to get to species level, so I don't know which one this is.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos.