Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Weather and Wildlife 2015

January: the orchard looks bare.
January: Early - exceptionally mild with a couple of brilliantly sunny days that were windless which meant you could feel the sun's warmth for real, not just enjoy the light. Also many grey drizzly days. Both New Year's Day and the day of the marche blanche in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings were beautiful days. I saw a honey bee out and about on 11 January, but I doubt if she was finding much to eat. Mid month there were some frosts and cold days with overcast skies. By the end of the month it was definitely cold, with a cold wind, frost most days but just getting warm enough during the day to thaw.
January: Scarlet Elf Cup fungus growning on a twig pruned from a fruit tree in the orchard.
February: First half cold, not that much rain, some overcast days, some days brilliant sunshine. Second half wet, with the ground totally saturated.
February: A Daubentons Bat hibernates in the cellars of the Chateau of Cingé.
Overall the winter was fairly average. Rain was a bit low in December and January, but February made up the small deficit. Temperatures were average, with not much frost. Sunshine hours were a bit lower than average, especially in December and January.
March: Sunset as seen from our back door, and a sign of the fine weather to come.
April: Blossom in the carpark of the Chateau of Chenonceau.
April: The trees in the orchard are still bare, but the dandelions are out in the grass.
May: A rather large tree sweeps along the Loire in Amboise during some minor flooding.
June: A young hedgehog (Fr. herisson) snuffles about on the lawn at the Chateau of Cheverny.
July: One of the hottest and driest on record. Luckily, although soils dried out, river flows and underground water remained at good levels and farmers were permitted to irrigate widely, thus saving the summer crops of forage corn at least. We had less than 5 mm of rain during the month, and Indre et Loire (37) and Loir et Cher (41) were the two driest départements in our area. Indre (36) and Vienne (86) had a bit more rain, but not much. The soils dried out very quickly in July, from around normal moisture levels in late June. By mid-July we were categorised as 'moderately dry' by the weather bureau and in the northern parts of 37 and 41 it was 'very dry'. This situation led to what is known as an 'agricultural drought'. That is, not a fullscale drought, but the soil was dry enough to a depth of 2 m that crop growth was affected. Temperatures in the first half of the month were well above average (about 5 degrees higher than normal) but not record breaking.
July: A male Large Pincertail (Fr. gomphe à crochets) dragonfly, a great record for T&P's place.
The hot weather had the big dragonflies like the Blue Emperor (Fr. anax empereur) out hunting in the midday sunshine and well into the evening shadows. Butterflies also peaked in July, with species such as the Map (Fr. carte géographique) absolutely everywhere. Gatekeepers (Fr. amaryllis) were abundant, and Holly Blues (Fr. Azuré des nerpruns) had quite a long season, doing better than many other blues. The migratory species Long-tailed Blue (Fr. azuré porte-queue) appeared in the orchard, and I later saw one in September at the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau. With the hot weather I had been hoping to see one or two as I thought it would suit them.
August: The orchard is a sea of dry grass and wild carrot umbels.
August: Grasshoppers (Fr. criquets) mating in the orchard.
September: Paper Wasps (Fr. polistes) rather inconveniently set up home under the tin 'hat' on a post.
October: The orchard mown in strips to provide a mosaic of habitats (long and short vegetation).
October: Solomons Seal (Fr. seau de Salomon) berries in the Forest of Preuilly.
November: The warmest November on record, with rainfall low, at about 70% of normal and sunshine hours about 10% higher than normal. Temperatures were on average about 4° higher than normal, with one day hitting 20°.
November: A Grisette (Fr. grisette) mushroom in the orchard.
I recorded a Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Fr. pic mar) in the orchard. This delightful little bird has quite a distinctive call and now I know it, I have seen them several times in the forests hereabouts. I think they are reasonably common. Also present most days was a newly resident Common Buzzard (Fr. buse variable). I think perhaps it is this year's youngster from the pair who nest in the woods on the hill as you exit Preuilly towards le Grand Pressigny. It seems to be perched somewhere in or near the orchard every time I arrive. The vole (Fr. campagnol) population is good so it is probably quite well fed. The temperatures may have dropped, but that didn't bother the Common Winter Damselflies (Fr. brunette hivernale) too much. They drift about in the dried plant stalks in the orchard, nearly invisible. I suspect they are a much under recorded species.

Temperatures overall in autumn were average, but with September and most of October being markedly cooler than November. Sunshine hours were slightly higher than average. Rainfall was also about average.

Young Agile Frogs (Fr. grenouille agile) were much in evidence in October, in the potager and in the leaf litter of the forest.
December: Felled oak trees (Fr. chêne) in the Forest of Lancosme in the Brenne.
December: The first half was extraordinarily mild, with average temperatures 2.8° higher than normal. The days around my birthday saw daytime maximum temperatures around 7-10° higher than average and we happily visited the Brenne without coats. The fifth and the tenth were the only exceptions, with frost and day long fog.  The contrast was really marked, about 10° difference from one day to the next and those colder days felt perishing. The second half didn't change much. Some days could be legitimately described as warm and sunny, at least for several hours of the day. There was also quite a bit of cloud cover, but not much rain. The weather bureau is talking about a springlike December, with average temperatures exceeding those you would expect in March (and would be quite respectable temperatures for April). They comment that the duration of the period of mild weather at this time of year is truly exceptional. It was the warmest December since 1900, with temperatures far exceeding the next closest records, from 1934 and 2000. Average temperatures have been 4° higher than normal. It has also been exceptionally sunny for December, but rainfall so low that it has been amongst the driest Decembers on record.

I was able to get a bit of gardening done in the potager and was joined by a Eurasian Robin (Fr. rougegorge familier) sometimes. In English stories they are famous for their confiding nature and will boldly sit on fork handles to watch for worms, but in France they are much less inclined to hang about with gardeners.

Overall the year was amongst the hottest on record, but not the record breaker. It sits at third place, after 2011, with the average temperature 1°C above normal. (2003, the year that everyone will remember for its heatwave summer, is the fourth hottest year on record in France.) Most months in 2015 experienced higher than average temperatures (with the exceptions of February, September and October). Spring and summer were particularly hot, with two official heatwave episodes in July. The temperatures cooled in the autumn, but from the end of October onwards were exceptionally mild, with only a couple of light frosts, and that's really what pushed up the average temperatures. Rainfall was down about 15%, making this one of the ten driest years in the last 50. Sunshine hours were up on average. The fifteen hottest years on record in France have all occurred in the last thirty years.

All photos taken by us in 2015.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Rosy Bonnet Mycena rosea, a very pretty but toxic little mushroom.

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