Friday 22nd September saw the official start of Autumn in France. We have noticed that the weather has become very autumnal. The mornings have become quite misty and the temperature a little chilly, at times almost frosty and certainly the grass is very wet. The evenings are closing in and it is getting darker earlier and it is a little colder.

The good side is that we have had some lovely bright, sunny autumn days and we have been tempted to get the shorts out once again. Autumn brings changes and the swallows are beginning to gather together, sitting on the overhead wires and preparing for the flight back to Africa for the winter. This in turn has roused the interest of the local hobbies. The hobby is a specialised bird of prey that migrates here for the summer from Africa and spends a lot of time over water catching dragonflies. But, in the autumn they have a change of prey and target swallows who share the same migration routes.

For the hobby a nice snack of swallow en route is like have your very own fast food outlet. The hobby is an amazingly agile bird and to see it twisting and turning while catching dragonflies and eating them on the wing is some sight. This afternoon Mrs. Parish and I watched a hobby high in the sky flying around us and searching for some suitable food. The summer birds are starting to move away and soon we will see the arrival of birds coming for the winter.

Our ants are starting to wind down their operation and on a recent visit to the nest, in the corner of our big field, there were very few ants about. Mostly doing some last-minute repairs to the nest before the queen and a few attendants settle down to hibernate for the winter. They will awake in March to start the whole nest building thing all over again. We still have the bats flying around as there are still a lot of moths and insects about.

The little owls have left the nest and we have not seen them in the garden for a few weeks. They don’t usually go too far and we do have good hunting grounds around us so they are probably roosting in trees not too far away. Hopefully they will be back next Spring to nest in the gite roof once again. Our big hay field has just been cut and so the grass there is very short and certainly, Moggie has been taking advantage and has brought back a stream of field mice. The kestrel and buzzards are also around and taking advantage of the lack of cover to find easy prey.

The good weather has also allowed us to cut back our hedges and get the grass cut. After several weeks of rain, the grass was quite long. So, everything in the La Godefrere garden is looking good at the moment. The cats have also taken advantage of the warmer weather and our car makes a good place for sleeping!

Moggie and Archie, enjoy the autumn sun on a warm car

Autumn also brings the start of the hunting season in France and on a Sunday morning you can hear the sound of the hunt dogs barking, the hunter’s horns blowing and a lot of French shouting and swearing and then the occasional sound of a shotgun as they try to shoot something but more often than not miss! The hunt always seems to be a bit chaotic and just an excuse for local working men to get together and have a good morning in the fresh air, followed by a hearty lunch with cider or wine and a sleep in the afternoon.

Last Sunday Mrs. Parish and I went to Mayenne for a “course des canards” or a duck race along the river Mayenne. It was a charity event and the idea is to buy a duck which along with 5000 other plastic ducks is tipped into the river and the ducks float along for about half a mile. The first duck to float past the winning post won the first prize which was a car. In usual French style it was all a bit disorganised. Like most events in France it did not start on time and there seemed to be nothing much happening for about an hour while the ducks gently floated down stream.

A giant duck oversees the duck race down the Mayenne river

Everyone watching and there were several thousand moved toward the finish line but of course very few could actually see the finish line as the river bank was crowded. There was a commentary but the problem was that the loud speakers were all at the starting point and none at the finish so no one could hear what was happening or the winning duck number. In the end we went home to look up the results on the internet. Sadly, we did not win but it was an entertaining afternoon!

This morning we went to a local event in the nearby town of Ceauce. The annual event is called art and garden and combines the sale of plants with the sale of art work and especially artwork to go in the garden. Mrs. Parish purchased a number of plants and has been busy all afternoon planting and replanting all around the garden. At the fair there was a competition to create art works and there were lots of exhibits using garden implements to make models of birds. All a bit bizarre.

Bird sculpture at Ceauce

We also came across a mobile apple presser. A large lorry containing machinery to crush apples and to make apple juice that is also pasteurised. The idea is that you bring the apples from your orchard and they put it through the machine and give you back containers full of apple juice. The lorry has a route around Mayenne and you just book your apples in for processing and turn up on the day with all the apples from your orchard to return home with apple juice. It was doing a roaring trade. A brilliant idea and a bit like the travelling alembic where you can have your apples turned into Calvados!

The mobile apple crusher

The final Autumn event is of course the “Foire aux Vins” (wine fair) which starts this week. The brochures have arrived and I have been spending a lot of time pouring over them to find the bargains and of course to draw up a list of decent wines to fill the wine racks in the cave. I have my eye on some nice Margaux and some St. Emilion amongst several others. I will report back in full next week by which time I shall probably have made several visits to the various supermarkets who all have a fair but at different times. Our usual supermarket is over the next couple of weeks so plenty of time to stock up for the winter.

All this talk of wine has made me thirsty and I definitely think it is time for an aperitif. Mrs. Parish is in the process of roasting a chicken so I also need to make sure she is appropriately fortified.

A la prochaine semaine