Friday 4 January 2013

A day of blue skies

So far the weather has been mostly grey. Thankfully we've had no heavy downpours, although yesterday we had a mizzling rain and it stayed very misty and murky all day; 'driech' as they say in Scotland. It is all down to a high pressure system sitting above us, which means it is mild. With no wind, the murky grey blanket stays put. It's called 'grisaille' here and we get it a lot during the winter. The ground remains very soggy and squelchy underfoot.
Sunshine on one of the lakes in the Brenne
However, on Wednesday we were given a brief respite with a day of beautiful clear blue skies. As we hadn't been over to the Parc naturel régional de la Brenne for a while we grabbed the camera and drove over. A lovely way to start the new year.

The parc régional covers quite a large area, but at it's heart lies a flat wetland landscape of about 3,000 lakes and ponds. All were artificially created to serve as stew ponds: to farm fish, mostly carp.
Large white egret frog hunting in a field
Since 2006 there's been an ongoing project to find out more about the age of the ponds. Using historical records, recovered artifacts and dendrochronology at least 750 'historical' ponds have been identified and as well as some which have silted up over time as they are no longer in use.

Tree lined dike at the edge of a pond
Ongoing maintainance of their water management systems has, from time to time, revealed ancient oak heartwood planking lining the small runnels or channels which helped regulate the water levels and flow of these 'historical' ponds. As this wood remained completely encased in mud it did not rot and thus did not need to be replaced as did other wooden parts of the sluice systems. Dendrochronology showed the specimens they found to range in date from 1407 to 1940, with a quarter dating from the Middle Ages and half being pre-17th century.
A lone crested grebe
All these ponds mean the area is an oasis for wetland birds and according to the literature 267 species can be seen in the Brenne, 150 of whom nest. On Wednesday we only saw a couple of crested grebes, some great white egrets and shed load of mallards.

If you want to read more about the widlife of the Brenne, Susan & Simon of Days on the Claise wrote one of several excellent posts about the flora and fauna here.


the fly in the web said...

What super use of a sunny must have felt as if released from a prison of greyness!
And thank you for the's a fascinating history of land use.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - according to TF1 météo back more grisaille for the next few days at least :-(
The Brenne is a really interesting place.

Tim said...

The large white egret is definately a Great White Egret... but look at the books... it doesn't exist in this region in winter... however there now seem to be a lot of "doesn't exists" here... very recognisable... heron-sized with a long "broken" neck and YELLOW beak are the give away... also it doesn't have as good a crest/pair of plumes as the Little Egret. Very nice spot... one was driven out by the frozen lakes in the Brenne last winter and chose our valley with running water to make its temporary abode.
They are also currently present [three birds] in the UK... now the most certainly have never existed there before....
except for about the last five years! Damn... distribution data out of date before the guides are published... if a species is expanding its range... all great fun!!

The info about the age of the wood is great... was this from a curent display... or your own research?
And, as a bird watcher... thank you very much for a religion that demanded that the faithful eat fish on Friday!! It gave us the Brenne...

Tim said...

Appogeeez for the terruble smelling in the above commet!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Tim - we saw quite a few great white egrets but most flapped off before we could take their photo. This one was a little further off [and maybe hungrier?!] and stayed put.
We knew that the medieval monasteries created ponds to farm carp and that it grew from there but the specific info on the wood comes from the official Brenne website we linked to [in French] which tells of the different types of archaeology they are undertaking in the region. There's also an interesting bit about very early iron working.

Perpetua said...

How fascinating. I'm glad you too had that brief oasis of sun on New Year's Day. A friend of mine is now living on the eastern side of the Brenne Regional Park, with her drive pointing straight at one of the lakes across the road. :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - lucky her! It is a lovely place although sometimes it can be a little otherworldly.

Vera said...

We have a lot of those white birds around, and it is nice to know that they are egrets. Like that top bar photo as well. Although we are near the Pyrenees we do not get hardly any snow, and if any does fall it is gone by mid-day since it is only a scattering. Hope you are staying warm, and also wishing you a happy new year.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Vera - it is mild here ... so far... and we haven't had any snow. In fact some days we haven't even lit the woodburner until the early afternoon :-)
Banner photo is from last year when we did get a long very cold spell. It went down to -12/15C!

Vagabonde said...

The parc naturel de la Brenne must be something really beautiful to visit. As I grow older it seems I like nature more and more. Unfortunately when we go back to France as I don’t like to drive there (and my husband is not allowed to) it is difficult to visit these parks. I enjoyed the post.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Vagabonde - driving in Europe can be a bit of a shock. I know my uncle used to hate it when he came from the US to visit :-)
Though if you got down here you might find it ok as it is quiet -- even in summer.