Sunday, 17 September 2017

Haute Vienne - briefly back in France before returning to warmer climes!

On one sunny day last month, we decided to go for a drive - we do not seem to have had many of those days in the recent weeks!!  We hope that you enjoy this virtual trip as much as we did doing the real thing.
Firstly we drove through the small town of Mezieres sur Issoire, 20 or so miles north of Limoges, in the canton of  Haute-Vienne. We had passed through it by chance a few years ago, following a car navigation route which was avoiding toll roads, and we promised ourselves a return trip!! It is known throughout France for its sheep fairs...

There are loads of concrete sheep throughout the town to remind one of the important role these animals play in the local farming  community.

We then drove on to nearby Mortemart which is labelled as (another!) one of those "most beautiful villages in France". Mortemart is the name of a celebrated French family, whose distinguished military and political history goes back 1000 years and is famous for the beauty of its ladies. One such was a favourite of the Sun King, Louis XIV! We stopped for a look around.
 Above is the covered market in the village centre, erected in the 17th century and restored in 2013. The timber structure is oak, but the boarding supporting the tiles is chestnut, these being the timbers traditionally used for the job. Same in our house! Weekly and monthly fairs were established in 1681 with approval from the Duke of Mortemart and these fairs continue today.

The post office, with not the easiest of accesses for the less agile!

Le chateau des Ducs - the front elevation, with windows of the 15th century. The chateau was built in the 10th century, was dismantled on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu, sold as government property after the Revolution in 1789, but bought back by the family 100 years ago and restored to its present state. It's not open to visitors, but the commentary outside states that inside, there is a granite "spiral" staircase in the 5-sided tower.

The rear view of the chateau, with this grassy slope leading down to a small lake, which is all that remains of a moat which encircled the chateau!

Eglise Saint Hilaire is the ancient chapel of the Augustine convent and became the parish church in the 18th century. The bell tower was added at this time and the church contains a number of treasured features....

The altar inside

These beautiful carved oak choir stalls are from the 15th century. The carvings are all different and represent animals, vegetables and local personages (the order I have put them in is from the original French!).

The recently restored gilded lutrin was made in the 17th century and is topped by the eagle of Saint Jean the Evangelist.

We then drove on to the neighbouring village of Montrol-Sénard.  A portion of the buildings in the village have been turned, by the local council, into an agricultural heritage museum, in a bid not only to preserve the way of life, but to attract visitors! Between April and October, the present villagers seem to get on with life in a working museum and tourist venue!
The old school house

Inside, the desks and benches have the appearance of the 1920's or 1930's, but we missed the guided tour which no doubt would have provided more information! You can see that rudimentary central heating was supplied!

The lavoir. Building work was obviously going on at the time and this would account for the colour of the water!

Old farm equipment laid out everywhere and several of the village buildings were opened up as part of the museum effect.

The old forge, almost as if the farrier has just departed for lunch!!

Grandma's (herb) garden with a good selection of culinary and medicinal plants.

Historic photos and information displayed in yet another building. The enormous detail was a bit overwhelming, but it was satisfying to see that a detailed record of an old way of life had been preserved!

The village church -dedicated to Saint-Julien-de-Brioude with stonework from the 12th century. Most of the building budget in those days was spent on the front! Saint Julien was a Christian soldier in the 14th century, beheaded by his enemies in another part of France but martyred and his head buried in Vienne . He was a popular saint, with about 800 churches in the country dedicated to him!

A view of the altar. Note the exquisitely crafted timber slat vaulted ceiling and the very simple but beautifully restored stone walls!

The ancient carved stone font bearing someone's coat of arms!

To conclude our tour, one of the stained glass windows - impressive!

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually! 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Part 3 of our trip to Botswana and South Africa.

We spent some time the next morning driving around the Rhino Sanctuary  (see Part 2) before going back onto the main road and heading for Chobe National Park, situated along the Chobe river in northern Botswana. The park is the third largest park in the country.
Crimson-breasted Gonolek or Crimson-breasted Shrike  (Laniarius atrococcineus).  A  very striking bird which is unlikely to be confused with any other species. The male and female both have brilliant crimson chests.  They feed on small insects and fruit.

Grey Loerie (Corythaixoides concolor) which is now officially called the Grey Go-away bird.  It is named for its alarm call, "Kuh-wê!", which sounds like 'Go Away!'
So many birds have recently had name changes.  Something to do with International naming and I must admit to being more that a little confused, after so long with the old names!   

Tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus lunatus). They are grazers and prefer feeding on new shoots. The tsessebe are often found with other species such as zebra and wildebeest. Generally, there is no competition for food, as all three species prefer different parts of the plants they feed on. They are also the fastest antelope in Africa.

As stated in my previous post, the white rhinoceros (ceratotherium simum) used to be common, but because of poaching, they are close to being endangered.  Botswana has very strict anti-poaching laws and the government is doing everything possible to look after its rhino population. Many rhino have migrated here from countries to the east, presumably because they perceive it is safer.

Shaft-tailed whydah (Vidua regia). This is a male in breeding plumage, easily recognised by the long thin tail feathers with broadened ends.

Giant African bullfrogs (Pyxicephalus adspersus) are the largest amphibians found in Southern Africa. Males can reach a body length of 245 mm (9 ½ inches) and a mass of 1.4 kg (3 lbs).  They can also be quite aggressive as my father discovered some years ago, when he put his foot out towards one. Luckily he had good shoes on, as the front of the size 10 shoe almost vanished from sight into its mouth!!!

Blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)  This ungainly antelope, is also called the brindled gnu. The gnu was made famous in the 1950's by Flanders and Swann, who sung a popular comedy hit entitled "I'm a Gnu!!"  Here you see adults with their young.

We had booked to stay at River View Lodge, a fairly small and exclusive development, situated right on the bank of the beautiful Chobe River in the Kasane region of Botswana.  Our host was the delightful Candy, who made our stay there an absolutely unforgettable pleasure, including arranging all our trips for us.  Not only in this post, where were treating ourselves to a private "booze cruise" on the Chobe river, but also, as you will see in the next post, to take a trip across to Zambia to see the mighty and magnificent Victoria Falls.

Out in the cruise boat in the late afternoon, we saw this young elephant doing its very best to keep up with its mother.... There are no fences here and the wild animals wander at will anywhere they like. Often you will find an elephant right in the centre of the road.  It is best to just stop and wait for them to move out of the way.  BUT beware, if the trunk should go up and their ears flap while looking in your direction, reversing at top speed is advisable! They can be very dangerous!

This one was having great fun playing in the river.

An unlikely meeting, a young elephant showing off and approaching an African (also known as a Cape) buffalo. (Syncerus caffer).  I was sorry I did not take a video, as the buffalo was not at all concerned, but trotted off with the young elephant triumphantly chasing after it!

We had a very light shower of rain while out in the boat, as this faint rainbow shows.

Getting a little too close for comfort!
Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) are semi-aquatic and found by rivers, floodplains and swamps. The deep grunting of hippos is one of Africa's characteristic sounds. Although they are grazers, hippos are blessed with massive teeth that are used in territorial fights and displays. They are renowned for their aggressive, territorial nature and they are one of Africa’s most dangerous animals!

Feeding on the river banks.

Luckily for us, Kaizer, our guide out on the boat, knew exactly what he was doing and kept us far enough away from any risky situations.  His knowledge of the animal and birdlife was incredible and impressive; he not only identified each and every one we saw, but also informed us about their habits and behaviour.  We all learnt a lot from him!

The first time I have seen a Lechwe (Kobus leche).  They need dry land on which to rest, but are otherwise adapted for life in the seasonal floodplains of Botswana. They have elongated hoofs to adapt to the mud of their habitat, and the hind quarters are larger and more developed than the front to assist when running through the water.

African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus).  Its diet consists largely of insects, although it will also take crustaceans, worms, fish, frogs, lizards and small mammals.  It will also take eggs of other birds and crocodiles!  Brave bird! The nest is a large platform of sticks and branches built in trees or bushes, or placed on the ground on rocky islands.

Returning to River View Lodge; the accommodation was much more comfortable than our night at the Rhino Sanctuary, but both locations offered experiences we all thoroughly enjoyed!

Nothing beats the setting African sun!

As above.

Back at the comfort of the lodge, Diane, Nigel and Patrick having a coffee .... and I am sure a glass or two of excellent South African wine as well!

....while listening to the restful sounds of a  Cardinal Woodpecker (Dendropicos fuscescens) tapping away at a tree close by.

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually! 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Part 2 of our trip to Botswana and South Africa

Apart from the the first two photos, which were taken en route to the Rhino Sanctuary, (see previous post), the remainder were taken around the Sanctuary itself, before we moved on to the next resort; I took a great many shots, so I have tried to select the better ones for these blogs! 

Just outside  Gaborone, the capital city, street vendors such as these ladies, are a common sight at the roadside. It’s also quite normal to see them in any busy location, either sitting in the sun or under an umbrella, waiting for their next customer! The people sell almost anything from drinks, snacks, fruit, vegetables and knick-knacks.  They all presumably make a living, but it must be a hard life!

Patrick, Christelle and Nigel enjoying a coffee at a small cafe in the city centre. Rich and imaginative African decorations bring life to the walls!

Next to a small waterhole, we saw these zebra and an eland (taurotragus oryx) in the foreground.   The world's largest antelope was once widespread across Africa but is now only found in protected areas, though still fairly common.  This eland looks as if it has a deformed horn but presumably that does not cause it any discomfort.

Impala (Aepyceros melampus) are very common; this is a youngster.   They both graze and browse, depending on what fodder is available; this ability to expand their feed variety helps them to be one of the most successful antelope species.

The white rhinoceros (ceratotherium simum) used to be common, but because of poaching, they are close to being endangered.  Botswana has very strict anti-poaching laws and the government is doing everything possible to look after its rhino population. Many rhino have migrated here from countries to the east, presumably because they perceive it is safer.

A springbok (antidorcas marsupialis) is one of the most  common antelopes.  Its name derives from the Afrikaans words "spring" (to jump) and "bok" (antelope).  A behavioural feature unique to the springbok is called "pronking", in which the springbok performs multiple leaps into the air with stiff legs. It looks so joyful!

A warthog (phacochoerus africanus). They are very common, and easily spotted in open areas of the bush.  I suspect this one is fairly young, as its tusks are not well developed. Warthogs have the peculiar habit of kneeling on the front knees while feeding.

Waterbuck  (kobus ellipsiprymnus) are also fairly common.  Their rump have a characteristic white ring, like a target! Only the bulls have long, forward curved horns, so these two will be  females.

Southern yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) are a common sight.  They feed on seeds, small insects, spiders and scorpions. They have a distinctive swooping flight and when on the ground, they hop around, looking for food.

 A Burchell's zebra foal. (equus quagga burchellii) The Burchell's zebra is the only zebra occuring in Botswana and it has been adopted as their national animal.

Brown-veined white butterfly (Belenois aurota).

Cape vulture also known as Cape griffon or Kolbe's vulture, (Gyps coprotheres)  posed characteristically in a look-out tree. They are listed as endangered, many having been illegally poisoned or shot by livestock breeders. The species usually breeds and roosts on cliff faces in or near mountains, from where it can fly long distances in search of the large animal carcasses, on which it specialises.

The crowned lapwing (vanellus coronatus) is common on open grassland.

A dung beetle, one of the 800 species in South Africa and Botswana! Unsurprisingly, I am not sure which one this is! There are four different kinds of dung beetle, named according to the way they use to move the dung. This one is known as a "roller" – it  rolls dung into these smooth, neat, round balls for use as food, or as a depository in which the females can lay their eggs. The beetles are extremely strong, capable of rolling a ball of dung 50 times their own weight!

An elegant grasshopper (zonocerus elegans).  The bright colours will let any predator know that it is poisonous.  Its toxins are ingested from the plants it eats. It probably would not be harmful to humans if eaten, but will cause problems to smaller creatures.

The european bee-eater (merops apiaster) is common.   As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially beeswasps, and hornets. They catch insects in flight, and generally nest in burrows which both males and females excavate in earth cliffs.

The gemsbok  (oryx gazella).  Their preferred habitat is dry open grasslands.  They are fairly common and their very striking facial features and back-sloping horns make them almost unmistakable!

A giraffe (giraffe camelopardalis). They are visible from a long way off, but being the tallest animal in the world must have pros and cons!

These herbivores browse for their food supply, and have the advantage of height which enables them access to food supply other herbivores cannot reach. 

Black-backed jackals (canis mesomelas)  are fairly common.
They are opportunistic feeders, capable of adapting to most habitats and most often seen singly, or in pairs, at dusk or dawn.

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually!