I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Birds, Beasts And Flowers

I hardly came across any mammals on the Chemin except for the domestic kind, but wild flowers, birds and insects were abundant. Although many of the species I saw were familiar to me from the UK, there seemed to be a much greater diversity and distribution here in south-west France.

Birds of prey included buzzard, kite, kestrel, sparrow hawk and possibly an eagle. And the call of the cuckoo was the musical backdrop to the whole fortnight. Some more unusual birds I spotted were redstarts and shrikes — redstarts are only locally common in Britain, and shrikes very rare indeed. (Shrikes are also known as 'butcher birds' because of their habit of catching insects and small vertebrates, then impaling their bodies on thorns.)

Shrike.

The 'chirping' of crickets could be heard most days. This loud, rasping wall of sound is produced by the males when they rub one wing against the other to attract the females, a behaviour which is called 'stridulation'. I'm pretty certain they were crickets, and even saw one basking on a wall near Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole. However, checking the natural history websites, it seems crickets tend to 'stridulate' at night rather than in the daytime. What's going on here?

Cricket.

Buttercup, dandelion, ragged-robin, cuckoo flower, wild daffodil, white narcissus, bugle, spurge, tormentil, wood anemone, cowslip, wild strawberry, dog rose, stitchwort, campion, scabious, poppy, St John's wort, speedwell, yellow archangel, lungwort, vetch, clover, marsh marigold, violet, wild pansy, herb robert, oxeye daisy, peony, butterbur, honesty, selfheal, comfrey, broom, bird's-foot-trefoil, scarlet pimpernel, cow parsley...

... were just some of the flowers I found growing along the path. Lungwort (pulmonaria) is unbelievably common, whereas in England this tends to be mainly a garden flower. (Lungwort is so called because its spotted leaves were thought to resemble diseased lungs, and it was therefore used to treat pulmonary infections in the days of sympathetic magic. You can find a post I wrote on sympathetic magic here.) I also saw several different types of orchid, including the rare bee orchid, and later identified with delight herb Paris and pasque flower — both firsts for me.

Lungwort.
Pasque flower.

Herb Paris.
Bee orchid.
(All images from Wikimedia Commons)

5 comments:

Ruth said...

As a writer who loves nature, your list of flowers is an inspiration. I did not know orchids grew in that clime.

Thanks for linking to your post on sympathetic magic, which I had not heard of. I'm intrigued and hooked. I suppose an example of sympathetic magic is the way stinging nettles puncture skin painfully but reduce pain in joints.

Susan Scheid said...

Beautiful catalog of nature, here. I do love so many of the names of wildflowers: speedwell, stitchwort, herb robert. Wouldn't it have been fun to be the one to name them?

Goat said...

Yes, your ability to identify wild plants is admirable. Re: birds - over here I've been startled several times of late to hear a cuckoo, or what sounds to these inexperienced ears very much like one. Wikipedia tells me that it's a very big family of birds, so maybe there's a Korean version. I couldn't detect an accent!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Ruth, Susan and George for reading my nature post.

Sympathetic magic is fascinating, I agree, Ruth. Lots of flower names have their origin in this. And as for orchids — we have wild orchids in this country too, and we're even further north!

I think I would have named my flower Herb Robert, Susan — if someone hadn't got there first! I may have to settle for Wild Spotted Bob.

A cuckoo is unmistakeable, Goat, er, due to it's call of 'cuckoo', so I'm sure your Korean version must be a cuckoo.

The Solitary Walker said...

I meant thanks Goat, not George.