Sunday has come around once again and looking back at the week it has been mostly rainy and starting now to get chilly. Proper autumnal and it is time to say goodbye to the tee shirt and shorts that have been de rigeur throughout the summer.

We did have a lively start to the week when we were doing some tidying up work along the nature trail here at La Godefrere. Mrs. Parish is in charge of the strimmer and was togged up with all her gear, including helmet and ear defenders and a face guard ready to strim back the brambles that were growing again in the area we cleared last winter. We need to constantly either mow or strim back the brambles so that they do not some back and create a new bramble forest. It is amazing how quickly brambles grow in a very short amount of time, and how difficult they are to clear.

I was working with the shears to cut back the established brambles on the other side of the path. We want to maintain some brambles as they provide cover for the birds and butterflies. So, Mrs. Parish was strimming and I was merrily clipping away when I heard a shout saying, “look out hornets!”. I looked at where Mrs. Parish had been strimming and there was no Mrs. Parish, just a cloud of rather angry hornets buzzing around the bottom of the large tree. Mrs. Parish had rapidly retreated to a safe distance without the hornets actually attacking her. The hornet nest was at ground level in the bottom of our large tree. The hornets were very agitated and I decided also to retreat to safer ground in case they blamed me for the disturbance. 

The hornets' nest under our oak tree

Fortunately, after about 10 minutes they settled down again and were happy to ignore us and get on with their own business. But it was a lucky escape. Just when you think we are getting on top of things, nature has a habit of fighting back!

The European hornet or Frelon as they are known in France is largest of European wasps. Frelons measure around 2.5 cm in length with some females growing as much as 3.5cm long. The Frelon can be found in a band stretching across most of western Europe, the southern half of Britain and in parts of North America.

They are in fact very peaceful creatures and are far less aggressive than most wasps and will not attack or sting you needlessly although they will become aggressive in defence if their nest is disturbed or if they feel threatened by sudden or rapid movements. Although painful the sting of the Frelon is no more potent than that of an ordinary wasp, less potent than a bee sting and is only dangerous to those that are sensitive or allergic to bee or wasp stings or if the victim is stung many times simultaneously.

Frelons construct their large honeycombed paper like nests annually from the pulp of chewed up foliage and wood. The nests can reach 60 - 100cm in length and about 50 cm in diameter, they are usually built in tree or post hollows, barns and sometimes attics.

These intricately constructed nests are started in the Spring by the queen Frelon and can house up to 700 worker hornets. They are made up of a series of cells in each of which the female lays an egg which hatches into a larva after 5 -8 days before finally metamorphosing into adults in 2 -3 weeks. This first batch of eggs forms the workers whose task is then to forage, find food and carry on expanding the nest for the queen while she continues to lay her eggs. 

During the early autumn mating takes place but sadly only the fertilised queen is destined to survive the winter, emerging again in the spring to start the entire process anew. (Source Lost in France).

After that excitement, we found ourselves adopted by a kestrel. We noticed a kestrel flying over the house and gite. Over several days it kept coming back and at times was sitting on the gite roof and the overhead wires nearby. It even saw off aggressively another kestrel. It seemed interested in the space where the little owls nested and it may be that it is staking out an interest in us as a breeding site. Certainly, there are enough mice in the surrounding fields to feed it, judging by the number of mouse holes there are and by the frequency that Moggie brings back mice he has caught.

Kestrel on the overhead wire next to our gite

We will keep an eye on the kestrel to see if he stays around for any length of time.

France is a strange and intriguing place. August is the French holiday month and consequently almost everything stops. In our local town of Ambrieres, they have been doing up the town centre and have re-laid paths and tarmacked the roads. They have laid new water pipes and moved the overhead electric cables underground. It has caused a great deal of chaos as it has been difficult to get to the shops and they keep changing the one-way system so driving around town is somewhat hazardous! In July, we seemed to be getting close to completing the works But, at the beginning of August all the work stopped for the holiday. It has just restarted. The same thing is true of the work on our village hall which is being totally refurbished but work ground to a halt in August. The work sites are like ghost towns.

The one thing that doesn’t stop is the maize which grows and grows and blocks out lots of the countryside around us. There are huge fields full of maize for winter feed for the cattle. It is sometimes like a horror film when you are surrounded on nearly all sides by maize. When it is cut down, in October usually, then forgotten farmsteads are once again revealed. It is however a problem for other wildlife as it restricts hunting ground for birds of prey and as the number of fields of maize increases so the number of barn owls here has decreased. The foxes and wild boars, however, use it as cover and can move around more freely.

The maize field across the sheep's paddock

Because we have had such a dry summer the grass is not growing as it should and farmers are having to cut some of their maize early to keep the cattle fed. Our neighbour, Xavier has now taken away the last 4 cows from the field next the gite and the grass is finally recovering. Our hay field grass has not grown since it was cut and so we won’t get a second cut this year.

As we are creeping into Autumn I have decided that it would be an appropriate time to make a fish pie. One of my (relatively few) speciality dishes. It needs time to prepare so I had better get started. At least I have remembered to get the fish out of the freezer in time for it to defrost so it will be tonight and not tomorrow. I also have a very nice sauvignon blanc chilling in the fridge, just right to go with fish pie and maybe enough to go with some cassis to make a kir as an aperitif.

A bientot