Dragonflies, swallows and kir petillant

And still France continues to share its wild life secrets…

A few hours ago, we were sitting outside – taking a smoke and drinks break before yet another stage of the fucking interminable process of putting together an Ikea Hemnes wardrobe – when Mrs Shark exclaimed that she’d just seen the biggest hornet ever.

Closer examination of the ‘hornet’ revealed that it was, in fact, this:


It’s a Broad-bodied Chaser – or so Google has reliably informed me – a female.

Never seen one of those before.

Amazing wings – almost like Tiffany glass…

Whilst I was typing the first part of this blog entry – sitting in the dining room with a JPS 100 and another (sic) nice glass of kir petillant – there was a great commotion when a swallow flew in through the doors and Oscar caught it.

As far as we know, this is the first bird that he’s ever actually managed to get between his jaws.

I managed to get it off him and – fortunately – it seemed remarkably unphased and uninjured and flew off out of my hands when I took it outside.

My god, but it was beautiful…

I feel doubly blessed now – and, after my fourth glass of kir – very full of honhomie.

Just call me Mr Congeniality…

…better had, or I’ll twat you one…

Footnote: the photo was taken by me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 compact camera.

Tomorrow, the world…

Out of the two Maine Coons we have, Django is by far and away the better hunter, with many bird and small mammal kills to his name.

However, Oscar achieved a first today – as far as we know – by cornering a snake.

Whilst we were having lunch in the garden, we saw that Oscar was busy jumping and pouncing on something. On closer investigation, it proved to be a grass snake about 70 cm long which Oscar had got backed up against the trunk of the large oak tree in the center of our garden.

We distracted Oscar so that the snake could escape, although he saw where it had slithered off to and watched that spot for an hour afterwards.

I’ve been wearing gloves to clear undergrowth of stones and sticks before I strim in case of snakes and, having seen the grass snake that Oscar was facing off to, I’m glad I have.

There are adders about, I’ve been told, and although their bite isn’t fatal, I don’t fancy finding that out the hard way…

Stop press, Oscar just caught a frog.

So, that’s the animal kingdom sewn up – Django has the birds and mammals and Oscar has the reptiles and amphibians…

Headline of the century?



That’s a big one!

I’ve just been doing some serious brushcutting in the garden and a few minutes later this beauty appeared near to where Mrs Shark was doing some weeding:




I guess I must have disturbed it which was a pity, but it did give us the opportunity to see our first Green Lizard here. Aptly named as you can see. It was big too, about 30cm long from its nose to the tip of its tail, although I’ve heard they can grow up to nearly 40cm long.

Small fry compared to another French lizard species found in the Pyrenees – the Ocellated Lizard. This can grow to 90cm and will take young rabbits, for fuck’s sake!

I’ll pass on that motherfucker, thanks…

The wildlife here never fails us and often amazes us – from the abundance of wild flowers like primroses and cowslips to the wide variety of birds.

And neither does the amount of work still to be done on the house and garden!

Painting our bedroom later…

Happiness is a hoopoe!

After a week of weather here that would put many a summer’s to shame, it finally broke last night.

We woke up to a rather damp day and the sun is struggling to shine so it’s not too bad now, although I’m sure the farmers here would have liked a bit more rain. It’s been very dry for months now.

About half an hour ago we were sitting in the dining room having lunch and looking out at the day when all of a sudden Mrs Shark asked, ‘What’s that bird?’, in a very excited voice.

I looked where she was pointing and saw something I’d only seen once before.

It was one of these:


Yes, a hoopoe!

It was digging about in the verge by the side of the communal road here – probably because the rain had made using that long beak beak to skewer insects or worms in the damp ground a bit easier.

OK, they might be commonplace here – although I think they’re more often found in the south of the country – but we were totally gobsmacked.

The only other time we’ve seen one was when we were on holiday much further south in the Herault departement. We were renting a house on a terraced slope in a village and saw one flying through the trees down below us, although we heard its distinctive cry a lot more often.

Anyway, we’re feeling dead chuffed and looking forward to another sighting.

Berrying bad news

Brambles – les ronces to the French here – are utter bastards.

I’ve just spent a useful but bloody hour armed with a pair of loppers and some welding gloves cutting some out of the trees along our boundary.

I pulled some out that were easily 30 feet long with vicious fucking thorns on them.

A quick look at the Wikipedia entry on them has been mildly interesting.

I already knew that you could get blackberries from them and that there were various cultivars developed from the bramble, like loganberries and tayberries, but I never knew about some of the others:




This has a pedigree that has more twists and turns than the Windsor family tree:



Well, all very interesting, I suppose, but it doesn’t help to staunch the flow of blood from the lacerations on my arms.

Note to self – even though it’s a hot sunny day, wearing a t-shirt to cut back brambles isn’t the smartest thing to do……

Leapin’ lizards!

It’s a gorgeous day here and so the lizards which live in the walls of our house are taking the opportunity to catch some rays:


At one point I counted 12 of them basking on or near the piece of wood.

It put me in mind of this:

And then this:


So, how did I get to Mott the Hoople?

Answers on a postcard, etc, etc. etc

First correct answer gets instant fame by being mentioned on this blog.

Ginger bastards update

Time for some long overdue cat news…

Over the year in the house we rented whilst we looked for, bought and finally moved into our own property here in the Mayenne, our two Maine Coon cats settled in to ex-pat life very well indeed.

Django, now almost fully grown at 4, had a particularly good year chalking up many kills including mice, voles and a mole, as well as many birds of several species.

That wren didn’t stand a fucking chance…

Oscar, Django’s half brother and nephew (work that one out!) isn’t much of a hunter, although he  did his best with flies, moths and craneflies.

Oscar is now bigger than his uncle with another year to grow so he seems almost certain to become one of the bigger Maine Coons and I’m glad to say that along with this growth spurt he’s become a very affectionate and companionable cat. Django is a bit more aloof, although still fantastic company.

Now, the process of change has to start all over again for them.

We’ve been here for almost 2 weeks, during which the cats have been kept in. After a few puddles and turds Oscar has finally started to use the litter tray which is something he never did a year ago when we first came over here. I’m inclined to think that this shows that the disruption of moving here wasn’t as great for him as last year when the two cats had to travel on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen without us.

Liberation day is this coming Saturday when the cats of war will be unleashed upon this tiny and unsuspecting community and Ginger Bastardom will reign in this corner of a foreign field…

A thing of beauty…

We’ve just been given an early housewarming present.

Mrs Shark’s bestest friend Annie is an extremely talented seamstress and she’s been making this on the quiet for most of this year:


It’s a quilt decorated in embroidery and appliqué, mostly made out of raw silk. It was inspired by a garden wall plaque of the Green Man which Mrs Shark gave me for my birthday a few years ago. The corner panels show trees and the ones at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock show ferns. The Green Man himself is in the middle of course:


But the photos don’t do it justice at all…

It’s quite, quite breathtakingly beautiful, and Mrs Shark and I think it’s the best present we’ve ever been given.

Thank you, Annie!

Kitteh update

Our two Maine Coons, Django and Oscar, are an important part of our lives here. They’re great companions, marvellous entertainment and very efficient footwarmers now that it’s getting colder here.

We were a little concerned that with pet insurance being so limited here and thus deciding not to bother with it, when it came to vaccination booster time we’d have to hock a kidney or two.

However, we found a recommended veterinary practice a few miles away from us with a vet whose English is good, so we took Oscar for his booster and went away after he’d had a thorough health check and injection, having parted with a mere 40 Euros – about half the cost of a similar appointment in the UK.

I have to say that the two ginger bastards have settled here very well.

Django continues to decimate the wild life and just 10 minutes ago he appeared at the door with a vole in his mouth. As far as we can tell, Oscar doesn’t seem to be a rodent killer but if there’s an insect buzzing around he can be relied on to chase it down mercilessly.

Both cats seem to enjoy sacking out in front of the fire and I don’t think they’ve ever been more relaxed.

P1010457  Oscar



Oscar continues to grow and although he’s a year younger than his half brother Django he’s now considerably bigger and heavier. Some Maine Coons can grow to a huge size and I think that Oscar shows all the signs of being one of these.