Friday 16 September 2022

The Roller in France experiences an exceptional expansion in range in 2022.

(Roller Coracias garrulus Le Rollier d’Europe)

The European Roller is a migratory species spending the winter months south of the Sahara. The first ones to arrive in France are noted at the end of April, but the majority of the birds arrive in May when breeding starts immediately, some years from mid-May, but the peak of egg-laying takes place at the beginning of June, late pairs often lay eggs until June 25.

They are a cavity-dwelling species that often uses the cavities dug by Green Woodpeckers and any others cavities it can find in various trees (plane trees, willows, poplar, pine, oak, almond), at a height that varies between 5 and 10 meters. They sometimes will use holes in walls, sandy banks or can even use old European bee-eater galleries (Tron et al., 2008). They do not bring any nesting material into the chosen cavity. The female lays 4 to 7 eggs there, the incubation of which lasts 18 or 19 days. Breeding success is 73%, i.e. 3.6 fledglings per breeding attempt.

After their emancipation, the young Rollers will disperse outside of the immediate nesting zone in the Mediterranean region where they originated. This dispersion classically takes place in the Rhone Valley and in Occitania. However in 2022 this phenomenon has taken on a quite remarkable magnitude with a dispersal covering a large part of the southern two thirds of France, albeit sporadic and localised a situation that is unparalleled in recent decades. Obviously at this stage the reason for this is speculative but one way or another the heat waves that we experienced this summer in France will have been a significant factor with reduced available water and insects.

Above 2021 
Below 2022

NOTE. A single Roller was seen in Lincolnshire, UK, at the end of August this year, (2022)

It's also worth noting that France is one of the few countries witnessing a population increase for this species that is declining elsewhere in Europe.


Thursday 1 September 2022

White tailed sea eagles reintroduced in France

White tailed eagles effectively disappeared from France as breeding birds some 130 years ago. They have not nested since 1959, having been subjected to hunting, poisoning, pesticides, water pollution, egg collections and theft of chicks along with the disappearance of wetlands and other human disturbance and since then we have only a few young birds that visit in winter from the east and north east.

Earlier this year in summer four young white-tailed eagles were successfully released from a zoological park in Haute-Savoie in an already successful method of reintroduction.

After disappearing for more than a century, the white-tailed eagle is once again taking its place in the skies of the Alps. This is the case of “Haute-Savoie”. This young fishing eagle - named after the Departement that sponsored the reintroduction program - measures 2.5 meters in wingspan and weighs about 6 kg. According to Jacques-Olivier Travers, the founder of the animal park and reintroduction center of the Eagles of Lake Geneva she likes to perch on the big trees on the edge of the park.

For 15 years, he fought to reintroduce the eagle, now he is rewarded with the first flights of his eaglets."For me, it's the most beautiful bird in the world, but I'm not objective. To see them fly here, in Sciez, where they flew 130 years ago before disappearing for so many years, I think it has enriched biodiversity in an incredible way. It makes me forget all the hardships and 15 years of fighting. Every day, they give us incredible gifts,"says the falconer.

Like three other eaglets, “Haute-Savoie” was born in Sciez, in the aviaries of Jacques-Olivier Travers' reintroduction centre. All of them were opened a few days ago in August to let the eagles take their freedom. Its reintroduction program, totally unprecedented, is now crowned with success.

The young white-tailed eagle reintroduced on August 12 made a flight of 350 kilometers in two days, from Haute-Savoie to Ain via Jura, Oyonnax and Geneva, before returning to its starting point. This whole journey was reconstructed thanks to the GPS beacons installed on the back of the bird.

"It's impossible that he visually memorized the place where he was born. It means that there is something in his head, or maybe magnetic fields, that allow them to leave and know how to find their way back", Jacques-Olivier Travers.

After taking a break for a day, it headed to Switzerland. A spectacular flight, carried by thermals, up to 3,000 meters above sea level. Within ten years, 85 young eagles will be reintroduced to the shores of Lake Geneva.

The long story in French which is well worth looking at is HERE


Tuesday 4 May 2021

Pesticides in France for members of the public and in public spaces.


From January 1, 2019, only plant protection and other gardening products of natural origin have been available to home gardeners in France. This was originally to have been from Jan 2022 but was brought forward as part of the French move towards reducing the use of products that are harmful to both humans and the wider environment. This follows the banning in 2017 of the use of Glyphosate, (Roundup), and other synthetic pesticides in public spaces including public roads, parks and cemeteries. (The term Pesticides is used generically these days to cover all “cides”, herbicide, fungicide, insecticide etc. to avoid laborious repetition).  


The use of synthetic pesticides continues to be permitted for farmers and professionals registered to work in the gardening business.


Synthetic pesticides are “a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources.” Synthetic pesticides are often referred to as conventional pesticides.


Of course natural products can be equally as harmful if used excessively or in concentrated form. For example salt, vinegar, detergents and even Jeyes fluid are often promoted as being natural but all can and will cause serious environmental harm.

Natural products that have been approved can be found on this PDF list.


Sunday 4 April 2021

Voles and holes in France


Gardeners and householders in France are forever complaining about the presence of voles in their gardens, either because of the holes they make or the harm they can cause to plants and vegetables. Any harm they may cause depends on the species, some preferring roots and others seeds, grains, leafy plants and even insects. 

Although there are eleven species of vole in France only a few are of concern to gardeners or farmers. As a general rule these are the Field vole, the Common vole and the Bank vole. The Water vole in its land based form, (known as rat taupier), can have a major impact but they are only present in some regions of France. 

Occasionally some vole species have a population explosion that reaches a peak and then equally as rapidly the populations collapse back to normal or less than normal for a year or more.

What needs to be considered, as always, is the greater good and voles along with wood mice provide the main food source for a large range of creatures and in some cases what amounts to the only food source.

I would think that birds of prey will immediately spring to mind for most people; owls, buzzards, kites and hawks. All will catch and eat voles to some extent and for some they will make up almost 100% of their diet. They are of particular importance for Little owls, Barn owls, Kestrels, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers, all of whom will either not produce eggs or will experience high chick mortality numbers if there aren’t sufficient numbers of voles available. 

Most of the snakes that are found in France regularly eat voles. 

On the mammal front they will be eaten by Foxes, Stoats, Weasels, Badgers, Polecats, Genets, Stone Marten, Pine Marten and European Mink. 

Although it may seem a bit callous, the more voles that are available for mammals and snakes to eat the less pressure there will be for them to eat other creatures that are either less able to produce large numbers of offspring or that are already suffering population declines due to other causes. 

Due to the harm being caused to other non target species the use of poisons, (rodenticides), in the outside environment was prohibited by law in France in 2012. Poisoning to other creatures was being caused either directly with them coming into direct contact with the products or indirectly by the consumption of creatures that had been poisoned.   

Farmers in France can apply to their Prefecture for derogations to enable them to continue with poisoning fields to protect their crops and sadly this has become normal. It’s also not unusual to see dead small birds around animal sheds where poison grain is being used but that’s a different issue. 

These vicious cycles reduce the number of predators for the voles and other rodents and increases the need for poisoning, exactly the opposite of that which is required.



Saturday 13 February 2021

Protected Reptiles and Amphibians in France

The new list of protected reptiles and amphibians in France has for the first time included the four species of Viper, (Vipéridés).

Vipera aspis - Vipère aspic - Asp Viper
Vipera berus - Vipère péliade - Common Adder
Vipera seoanei - Vipère de Seoane - Seoane's viper.
Vipera ursinii - Vipère d'Orsini - Orsini's viper

For far too long these species have been persecuted and killed. This combined with the destruction of their natural habitat has resulted in a serious decline in numbers.

Needless to say this will not in itself prevent the continued harming of these valuable species but will send a signal to those with ears to hear and to those in authority 



Monday 5 October 2020

Sexton or Burying beetles in France


Our house is full of places where animals live and overall we are happy with that and it rarely causes any actual harm although occasionally something dies which needless to say can smell a bit.

Fortunately, as always, the natural world is well equipped to deal with any small corpses that are inaccessible, (as they invariably are), and Burying or Carrion beetles are one of the insects that make their living from such things. There are some 20 odd species in France with a total of 30 species in Europe although not all are true burying beetles; some of them eat fungi or rotting vegetation.   

This year in September we were finding Nicrophorus vespillo in one part of our house and I would speculate that they had been on a dead Loir, (Edible Dormouse), probably behind the bath or false wall in the downstairs bathroom, one of the places where they frequently live. These amazing beetles can smell a corpse from a vast distance using the highly sensitive hairs on the ends of their club ended antennae. Having found a corpse, usually that of a small mammal, both male and female set about preparing it for use, sometimes excavating below it to bury it or even moving it if it’s small enough. Hairs or feathers are removed as are any eggs or larvae of other species, (flies etc), and the body is shaped into a ball where the beetles eggs are laid around it. Both parents feed and care for the young larvae when they hatch and this can last for up to 10 days before the young can consume the corpse directly. This feeding of the young larvae by adults is very rare in the insect world and is normally associated with social or colony forming species such as honey bees, wasps and ants. In addition to this unusual behaviour the parents are known to regulate the number of larvae in relationship to the quantity of food available on the carcass by removing and killing some larvae if there is a shortage of food or laying more eggs if there is plenty, thus having larvae of different ages on the same corpse. Larvae pupate in the soil or debris under the corpse before emerging between 20 and 30 days later.


Nicrophorus vespillo, burying beetle with mites in France
Nicrophorus vespillo with mites

As with some other insects, notably some Bumble bee species, these Burying beetles carry with them several species of phoretic mites that use the beetle as transport from one corpse to another. The relationship between these mites and the beetles has generally been thought to be benign but there is extensive research continuing on what the actual relationships and effects are. Needless to say it’s too complicated a subject for me and to go into here but I’ve put a link below and to a great video. 


LINK Phoretic mites and beetles 

LINK  Video burying beetle at work and larvae

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Bees killing hornets in France

I know it is stating the obvious but every year is different in the natural world and no two years can be the same, however this is becoming increasingly exaggerated.

Habitat loss, agricultural methods and climate change along with other factors are causing rapid major changes for our native species requiring them to adapt or perhaps in some cases disappear completely.

For some species this is creating opportunities and they have expanding populations that are sometimes associated with an expansion in their range. However for most species there are accelerating declines and this in turn leads to changes of behaviour as species attempt to adapt.

Where I live most insect species have been in overall decline for the last 25 years and this year has been abysmal for them but I want to talk specifically about hornets. 

Following the usual slow start as nests were established and populations grew I started to see a gradual increase in both Asian and European hornets in the 2nd half of July and there are presently sizeable numbers of both around the hives and where the bees take water. Of course it’s to be expected that the Asian hornets would be behaving like this but it’s the native European hornets that are behaving differently in so much as they are concentrating their activity on taking honey bees. They always do take some but this is different and I can only speculate that it’s the shortage of all the usual insects they take to feed their larvae. This in turn is putting them more in harms way than would otherwise be the case and I have been finding several dead European hornets in front of hives.

Unlike the Asian hornets that keep their distance I have noticed that our native hornets tend to get very close to the hive entrance, even briefly landing on it, so it was no surprise that when putting the mouse guards back on the hives for winter the other day I saw a European hornet mobbed by a mass of guard bees when it got too close to the hive entrance. The hornet didn't stand a chance but it was 45 minutes before the bees were finally satisfied that they had dealt with her.

Amazingly no bees died in the process.