The joy of wildlife in the rural and unspoiled countryside of France is one of the things that author Susan Keefe loves best about life in France…
I adore the lack of artificial noise in our peaceful hamlet in France in Le Mans, Pays de Loire. Now you may wonder what I mean by that. Well, apart from the fridge/freezer, unless our neighbours are cutting hay or chain sawing, the only noises we hear are those of Mother Nature.
Early summer is heralded by the arrival of the Swallows who make their home in the old cottages opposite our house, their arrival means we have to more alert, remembering to open the window opposite our stable door so they have an exit route otherwise our cats are a danger to them. The Doves cooing, Buzzards calling, Wrens chattering and sawing sound which the Black Redstart makes during its summer visits are wonderful to hear during the day. Then, as the summer progresses we have the joy in seeing the little flocks of Goldfinches, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches feasting on the thistle heads.
Our neighbour has a lovely large lake where I often see the wonderfully coloured Kingfishers as Toby the dog and I walk around, and the Heron making a quick exit from its meal of our neighbour’s fish. The Dragon and Mayflies are beautiful to behold especially the male Damselflies Calopteryx splendens, which have beautiful blue/green iridescent wings.
The grass is alive with insects from the giant Praying Mantis, Crickets and Grasshoppers, to the Mole Cricket who calls from below ground after dark. When we moved here, I thought I knew all the major insects in our garden until I discovered that we have Stick Insects as well. I have never liked them and their camouflage is so good that you don’t always know they are there, until it is too late…
The Mole cricket is not the only night time caller though, besides the owls, the Edible Frogs who also live in the lake, make it sound just like an Amazon rainforest. When we first arrived, we were sure the noise we heard was a bird of some description; however, our neighbour astounded us when he showed us it was this small frog making so much noise.
Of course, not all the creatures make a lot of noise, some only do so at special times like the Foxes who can be heard early in the year calling to each other as the mating season comes underway.
It is quite common to come across baby Hedgehogs in spring whilst walking along the footpaths, and sometimes on warm summer evenings you may hear them snuffling around in the undergrowth. Another common visitor to our yard is the Midwife Toad, which makes a strange beeping electronic sound from underneath a pile of old beams we have there, or even our bedroom where one could be found every evening during one week last summer!
Of course, during the sunny weather we may hear a rustling sound and catch a glimpse of a snake, which we have disturbed, or a beautifully exotic coloured European Lizard with its bright green body and tiny yellow spots. Skittering about on the walls in the sunshine are the Common Lizards or Gecko’s.
Settled snug in our valley, as the year progresses, our home becomes invisible from the little lane, which passes it. As we disappear from view during the summer months, we enjoy watching the small groups of deer eating grass in the water meadows in the cool shade of the very early morning and late evening.
Then, as the year draws to a close, during the winter months when the leaves have fallen, and the smell of wood smoke from our wood burner drifts in air, our horizons widen and the whole valley is exposed to its forest lined edges and we can delight in watching the deer and wild boar wandering back and forth.
France has many wonderful places and beautiful areas to visit, but for me, the wildlife around us is a real treasure!
Susan Keefe is an author and book reviewer