Roller ringing

The other week we went over to the westernmost of the two A Rocha France centres at Les Tourades, ninety minutes drive away. There were two reasons. The first was that Chris, as a member of the conseil d’administration, wanted to have a chat about possible plans for the future given that A Rocha France has sold the building there but wants to continue a presence in the area. The other reason was it was a good chance to see some of the bird ringing (banding to you Americans) that is being done there by Timothée Schwartz, A Rocha France’s science officer, who is in the middle of his PhD on the subject.

The ringing party. Roller nest boxes have been put in in these woods on the edge of open fields. Yes, that’s a ladder, an essential part of the equipment.

European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) are a wonderfully spectacular bird with a distinctly African air about them. When, very rarely, they make it to Britain, the roads get clogged by twitchers. That’s understandable as there is none of the drab modesty that bedevils so many European birds about Rollers, they are simply glorious. In the open farmland around Tourades they are quite common, although we have also seen three or four together flying around by our house at Taradeau.

Here’s why you need the ladder: to take the roller chicks from the nest so they can be ringed

Timothée has done a great work in both ringing and in a few cases, putting radio transmitters on the birds. As a result of his work and that of others , their epic migration to and from southern Africa is now well documented. Given that we are in a second round of heatwave at the moment, and all the emphasis is on climate change, it might be argued that roller ringing is slightly irrelevant to the big issue of our time. Actually, birds that migrate over long distances are extremely good indicators of developing problems. At the moment roller populations seem to be holding up fairly well in Europe, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on such things. The principle that a canary in the coal mine can alert you to problems has a wider application beyond that particular species.

First the ring, then measurements and a breast feather for DNA analysis. The last two pictures show the rings and the sheets to record all the data
These chicks are nearly ready to leave the nest. This one has the bright blue adult wing colour.

And finally, like almost everyone else, we are utterly appalled by Boris Johnson becoming British prime minister. We are currently finding out what the French terms for ‘clown’, ‘buffoon’ and ‘congenital liar’ are. They are going to be much used words.

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Lavender time again

We have now got into the habit of driving north to the lavender fields at this time of year. A combination of soils and climate means the plateau to the west of Lac Sainte Croix (Plateau de Valensole) is just right for huge fields of lavender and barley.

The air is filled with the sound of bees, but there are also lots of butterflies which are extremely difficult to photograph…

Left: not a honey bee but an enormous blue Carpenter bee. Right: Chris managed to get this Sulphur butterfly with its wings open – not easy!

It’s extraordinarily spectacular but it seems that more and more people are coming to take photographs, not just of the lavender itself, but of themselves in the lavender. Lavender selfies are clearly a big thing!

By all accounts the lavender farmers are finding the increasing number of visitors something of nuisance.

We took our photos and slipped away for a quiet swim in the lake.

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An interesting interlude

One of the problems with these blogs is that we cannot flag up in advance what we are planning to do. (We don’t want to advertise the fact that our house is empty.) But the last weekend of June we had a long-anticipated and highly significant weekend in York, where our younger son Mark was ordained in the Anglican church. We decided that we had never visited York as a couple and that any visits had therefore been nearly 40 years ago. So we went up a day early and very much enjoyed wandering round what is one of the most attractive and compact English cities, did a bit of shopping, caught up with a couple of films without subtitles, and had a some good meals out.

One of York’s old streets

The Sunday morning ordination service was Anglicanism at its best and worst. York Minster is of course a wonderful and inspiring building, and although other people may disagree, there is something to be said for church services that lock into the history of what is probably over 1,500 years of continuous worship. We also enjoyed most of the liturgy, although it did seem a little repetitive – the service went on for nearly two hours which was something of a strain for younger children and older bladders.

Before the service started. Taking photos or videos during the service was forbidden, and anyway, it’s a service not a performance

The music was very much in the Anglican choral tradition: splendid but did we really need to have two quite long chunks of Palestrina with Latin texts that most people would have found incomprehensible? We also found ourselves wondering how much all the copes, gowns and glorious clerical embroidery had actually cost. There were at times moments where it appeared to be grand opera without the music.

However when everyone broke into applause after the individual ordinations, Chris decided it was legitimate to take a photo. Yes, that’s Mark with the beard.

The twelve new deacons with assorted other clergy after the service

But it was a great event and we were very happy to travel a couple of thousand miles to be there for it. It was also encouraging to meet some of the people from the church where Mark will be a curate, St Barnabas, Middlesbrough. They will be moving to Yorkshire at the end of July.

Lunch afterwards with visitors from Middlesbrough and friends

So we find ourselves in the rather curious position of having both sons in Christian ministry. It’s a tremendous blessing.

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Courmettes and moving

June was a busy month. We had a visit to the UK for our younger son Mark’s ordination in York Minster (more about that next week) and have been busy with visitors, doing various things and surviving the heatwave. (The heatwave incidentally has formally ended but temperatures are still pretty high. The new weather station at Taradeau hit 39.8°C yesterday. Ouch!)

It was good in the early part of the month to go up to Courmettes where Jean-François (now national director of A Rocha France) and his team have really been doing some impressive work.

We mentioned in a previous blog the wonderful display panels created by our friend Esther Brouwer. It’s been somewhat unfortunate that people have just been walking through the centre without stopping to find out anything about its history and purpose. These panels should remedy that. There’s also been the clever switch of the buvette (the coffee shop and information office) from the front half of the office to a larger room which has an exhibition about Courmettes and its history, giving the team a lot of much needed office space.

information panels at Courmettes
new buvette at Courmettes

We also took the opportunity to go over to the spectacular perched village of Gourdon, which we have mentioned before in these blogs, from where you can get splendid views of most of the Courmettes estate. We needed to stay overnight, but because Courmettes was full we decided to stay at the rather attractive Auberge des Gorges du Loup, which has a great deal of character and a very fine restaurant.

auberge des Gorges du Loup
Our car outside the auberge. Fortunately the coach had moved by the time we left in the morning!
Gourdon from the auberge
View of Gourdon from our room


We mentioned some weeks ago that we were hoping to move. In fact, we have made a great deal of progress on this and are due next week to sign the initial contract on a rather attractive house we have located in Lorgues. You will doubtless be hearing a lot more about this. We hope to move in September and so at the moment we are in the process of putting our current house on the market. This is a much trickier business than in the UK because of the “Mediterranean” habit of having somewhat flexible prices that are “open to discussion”, otherwise known as bargaining. If there is anyone reading this who is interested in buying property in France, we offer one salutary comment: house prices here do not automatically go up with time. We are buying our new house at 100,000€ less than it was bought for in 2008, despite a lot of work having been done on it since.

We first visited the house on a rather grey day. Those are solar panels for water heating on the garage roof to the left.

Fortunately with selling our present house, we shouldn’t lose much, if at all. In the meantime we are talking with the bank about getting a bridging loan partly to avoid having to transfer UK funds over at the present desperate exchange rate. It would be really nice if those folk in the UK could either complete or (preferably) abandon the whole Brexit debacle. Please!

Lorgues from St Ferriol
From the road above the new house you get a good view of Lorgues, including the big ‘collegial’ church, which we will have to blog about some time soon.
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Cannes and canicules

We’ve blogged many times on the madness that is the Cannes Film Festival, but it’s not the only big event that happens here. After all, what’s the point of having lots of conference space, hotels and bars if you don’t use them? In popular imagination, Cannes is all about the outrageous and extrovert self-promotion of the film festival. This conceals the fact that lots of other conferences, trade fairs and festivals are held here. Although we wouldn’t use the adjective modest for anything at Cannes, except perhaps our church, the managers of these don’t panic when they don’t make the front page of worlds’s press. Often only really known by folk ‘in the trade’, some of them are very big indeed and obviously involve massive investment .

Setting up for a festival. Sadly the cutlery in the photo on the left still seems to be plastic. The flowers probably are too.

In fact some of these other events are actually bigger than the film festival. Cannes Lions is one of those. Unsurprisingly, it’s nothing to do with animals but is rather ‘a five-day festival that explores and celebrates the value of creativity in branded communications’. In plainer words, it’s all about advertising: how you do it, how you get your brand out, etc. So here’s a compilation of some pictures taken either side of a Sunday morning service at Cannes as they set up for that event.

Whatever structure they are building, it’s got to be ready by tomorrow
All the slogans seem to be in English, but still don’t make much sense.
The famous red carpet has been taken away from the steps, and these women are going for comfortable footwear rather than exaggerated heels.

One other development this year at Cannes has been an extension of the public beach at the expense of some of the private ones. This photo was taken around 9 am so the beach isn’t crowded.

And finally, as we write this, we are enduring the blast of the hot air from Africa as it spreads out over the whole of France. The one exception is Brittany whose inhabitants, we gather, are celebrating the fact that they alone are immune from the heat wave, the canicule, which comes from the Latin for ‘dog days’.

It’s not been too bad with us, partly because down here we are used to temperatures of 39°C or 40°C and we have good air conditioning units and a pool. The real concern of course is that this is still June. A question hangs ominously in the stifling air: if June feels like August what will August feel like?

It’s not easy to see, but our thermometer is showing 40°C – that’s about 105°F

On this map we’re not in the red, but near enough!
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The Unmissables 3: Cap Dramont and the Plage du Débarquement

In the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at those sites we tend to default to when we get visitors. There are multiple requirements: they need to be not too far away, to have a guaranteed satisfaction level, to have a good coffee shop/restaurant and be suitable for a variety of interests. The typical demand for the last requirement comes with a visiting family where everybody wants something different. Cap Dramont and the Plage du Débarquement next to it fits the bill and more.

The bay of Plage du Débarquement looking west. There weren’t so many trees there 75 years ago.

For the military expert or anyone interested in politics or history it is one of the big sites of the landings in the south of France 75 years ago.

For those interested in wildlife there is a nature reserve on the hill with butterflies, birds and curiously dark red squirrels, and if, your abilities extend to use of mask and snorkel, there are fine fish to be seen in the clear waters.

A marbled white butterfly. Yes it really was just resting on someone’s shirt. The beautiful bright yellow ones always seem to fly around too fast to photograph.

It may not have sand, but the stony bottom makes for very clear water

There’s shade under the trees for those who want nothing more than to stare into space, and for those who know their Tintin, there’s the thrill of looking at what is claimed to be the prototype of the tower in The Black Island.

For a very small number of people, there is some wonderful geology, involving an igneous intrusion and some metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. And, last but not least, there’s a fine restaurant that is reasonably priced and has splendid views. As the cliché goes, what’s not to like?

And finally, we found that no less than Barack Obama had visited a small vineyard about a mile away from our house a couple of days ago. And he never popped in to say hello!

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The unmissables 2: Gorges du Verdon

OK so we know we have mentioned the spectacular Gorges du Verdon before in these blogs (just check the tags on the right), but when we’re talking about ‘unmissables’, this is surely one of the top ones.

We’ve visited the gorges again and again, and each time there is a ‘wow’ factor at the spectacular views. But it’s not just the cliffs of Europe’s deepest gorge, it’s the sight of flocks of griffon vultures or individual vultures seen at almost eye height.

Not photoshopped, honest, this really is about 40 vultures wheeling above the cliffs.
And the family watching those vultures

And then there’s the path down the gorge, which we’ve featured before, with its tunnels and spectacular views.

Oh and did we mention Lac Ste Croix, into which the Verdon river flows? You can hire a boat and go back up the river a certain way, seeing the cliffs from river level.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a haul to get to Verdon – over an hour on winding roads, some of which require very careful driving. The weather too can be tricky. It seems common for a sunny day to degenerate into spectacular mountain thunder and lightening. But after many visits, it never fails to arouse us to awe. Every visitor we have taken up has been impressed, although we could name one or two who have spent a considerable amount of time in the car with their eyes closed, clinging onto the door handle. Well we haven’t lost anyone. Yet.

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