Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday 9th October: Campsite

The last day of our Ardeche holiday.

First thing this morning, I made my way through the scrub to retrieve the mammal traps and crayfish net, not expecting to find anything, especially after a day of heavy rain yesterday. The mammal traps were indeed empty but, when I got to the riverbank and looked down, I was delighted to see this in the Crayfish net.

Here it is on dry land. I’ll have to check, but I’m assuming that it's a White-Clawed Crayfish, the same species that we had in one small stretch of our Bedford river system until, in all likelihood, it became extinct a year or two ago. The pincers were white underneath, though this specimen was a little larger than I would have expected, so it wouldn't surprise me if it turns out to be one of the dreaded American Signal Crayfish which have infested our European rivers. As I held it, it waved its pincers and kept snapping its tail in a whip-like action, presumably to try to shock me into dropping it, or in an attempt to dislodge itself from my grip.

Close by was this: a Wild Boar mud wallow that I discovered a few days ago at the same time as the Beaver signs. I should have photographed it then because it was just thick mud, with lots of signs of activity, but yesterday's storm has filled it up – now it’s a Wild Boar swimming pool!

Following my close encounter with the Wild Boar a few nights ago, I found these droppings. I did bait a quiet area of the campsite with apple quarters yesterday evening, and sat close by until it began to rain at about 12.30am, but didn’t spot anything. The apples were still there this morning. I’ve put them in a fragrant pile close to where I first heard the Wild Boar. I’m sure he, or she, will appreciate them later.

This afternoon, I was walking along the river bank looking for a nice bit of driftwood to take home to remember our holiday by (inspired by the chapter, Driftwood, in Roger Deakin’s amazing book: Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees, which I’ve been reading this past fortnight). I picked up a piece that had been gnawed and dropped by a Beaver further upstream. As I began picking up other bits of branch and twig, I suddenly realised that nearly all of the pieces snagged in the rocks were, in fact, of a similar origin. It starkly emphasized just how much Beaver activity there is taking place in this area. I stumbled back to our flat with a big armful of ‘Beaver-wood’ and sorted out some of the best pieces. Some had the bark totally stripped away; here and there the clear marks of molars were apparent with their patterns indented into the soft wood. Some of the wood had bright red lines running along it like blood-vessels. I made up my first driftwood sculpture, which you can see above, and entitled it ‘Lodge’….

….and Carole can’t stop laughing!!

I walked down to the river again at dusk this evening and savoured the ambience until night fell. The hoarse cries of the Herons gradually faded. Fish were jumping all over the river, including a large one that hit the water with an intensity of sound exactly like someone dive-bombing a friend in the campsite pool! I could still hear the constant, but now comforting, buzz of the Honey Bees in their nest within the large tree against which I was sitting. A deer barked in the scrub a few hundred metres downstream. Bats flew so close to my face that I could feel the wind from their wings. I slowly picked my way back through the trees in almost total darkness…tomorrow night I’ll be back home.

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