All photographs are copyrighted to Peter Hughes or to Neville Stott (or as credited)
Joined now by Gareth Brown whose photos are also copyright

Peter Mobbs writes
I just came across TAG on-line and the section you edit on photography. Very impressed by many of the photos - particularly the dragonflies. I don't know if this will be of any interest but here goes. My wife and I moved to Haute Serre near Penne about a year ago, and I have just started to put together a web-site devoted to the natural history of the area. It is largely photographic in nature, reflecting my own interests in photography, particularly macro photography, butterflies and other animals. For now it is a kind of butterfly collection that will grow as I process the photographs I have taken this year. I also hope to add blog content that will highlight the plight of wildlife in the South of England and encourage people here in the Tarn to realise just how lucky they are with the species diversity that exists locally. I would be interested to hear from anyone who lives nearby who shares similar interests. I also make weird devices for improving (?) macro photos - that is the subject of another blog - it fell silent while I set up house here but is taking off again.

The natural history/photography web site is here: and the weird technical one is here: If you can, take a look!

one from Malc
What a beautiful bird he is, this chap. Look at the fan of his tail feathers, we have the parents flashing past the window all the time, making us say " wow" look at that, constantly. That wall was clean a couple of weeks ago but now the youngsters are getting bigger they come to the opening and eject their poop out.
Comments to

Hi Val & Malc

Here is a selection of today’s kestrel photos. You can clearly see that a chick is swallowing a mouse whole! It is interesting that only the male visited the nest whilst I was there. Perhaps the female is more nervous or does the male do most of the feeding?

Thank you for the opportunity to visit such a special nest!

Val says normally it is the female who feeds so I imagine she was more scared of the newly placed hide.
Comments to

Going green

Dear Val and Malcolm,

It is that time of year when the animal kingdom is pairing up but no rude pictures here though.  I photographed these green lizards -Lacerta viridis, topping up on their tan but this prompted a question, do reptiles get sunburnt?  

a pair



                          Apparently the scales of reptiles protect the inner dermis, and they also retain moisture, which stops the reptiles from dehydrating.   I did some additional research and found a study which demonstrated that there is a variation between species, in terms of the transmission of UV light through their skin.  This variation also found that thisdifference, affected the basking habits of reptiles, those with a higher tolerance would stay in the sun longer.

comments to

Seen 21st January 2015 on a buddleia outside our kitchen window. Not to confused with Europe's smallest bird, the goldcrest.
photos by Malcolm Johnstone

Tractormania 2014 "Toys for boys?"
Photos from manic motorist Gareth Brown

Lames a Najac
photos by Nev Stott

Nuits frappées de Bruniquel
photos by Neville Stott

Night shots from Gareth Brown

135mm f2 lens, 0.5 sec at ISO 32000.

Neville Stott says

Ladybirds - La Coccinelle

It's always a pleasure to observe these little beetles in the garden. I have found that the best time to photograph them is in the morning before they have fully warmed up as they are not as wriggly.  Ladybirds are natural pesticides and consume aphids and scale insects to keep all you keen gardeners happy.  You might think that their bright colour would attract the attention of hungry predators but in fact the colour serves as a warning stating "I am not a tasty snack".

    These photos are taken using my trusty Nikon 100mm macro lens.  What that means in reality is that I can get close up and take life size pictures, which is really handy when ones eyesight starts to fail.  I am there crouched down in all the early morning dew, getting soaking wet, juggling camera and tripod alike and then when getting up into a more conventional homo-sapiens position, I get pins and needles. Oh! the things I go through; but I enjoy the results, so in my book it is worth it.

Peter Hughes says
I wondered if you would be interested in some photos that I took today at the Moulin d'huile de noix in St Antonin.
The walnuts are collected at the end of the year & allowed to dry. In late winter the men break the nuts open by hitting them with a little hammer & the women collect the pieces of the kernel of the walnut. 35 kg of whole nuts produces 12 - 14kg of kernel & about 5 litres of walnut oil.

The nut kernel fragments are crushed by a huge mill wheel which is driven by a horse.
The nuts are ground down to a fine paste which is then cooked over a stove in a pan which must be stirred constantly. After cooking for 4 hours, the paste is transferred to a huge beam press
The beam is forced downwards onto the paste contained in a box below it & the oil emerges from the spout. The far end of the beam is "screwed" downwards by a huge screw turned by a large hand wheel

I hope to see the moulin actually working at the "Fête des Battages" next year.
Peter Hughes
Butterfly photographed by Malc

Peacock (paon). F5.6 1/1000 157mm ISO 1200

Photo  taken by Gareth Brown  shot at  ISO 25200, 

Dear Val and Malc,

Long post for this week but it does have a happy ending

Redstarts and the Cat

Well this year we had black redstarts nesting in the barn just behind a wooden pillar that holds part of the roof up.  I did think it was abandoned as there was nothing on the nest which at the time has 6 white eggs in it.  But never fear the parents were just out for lunch and soon a pattern emerged, during the night one of the parents would roost, if that is the correct term and during the day roosting was sporadic.  As we have a cat with fine tuned hunting ability for anything that walks or flies (can you tell he is French) and as the redstarts were well within jumping height I decided to fence off the pillar to discourage any murderous intentions.

After a while five of the six eggs produced redstart fledglings and whilst the parents were gathering insects I managed a sneaky shot of them with their beaks open wide. 

So as not to bother them too much we made a wide berth around the area they were nesting but the cat decided that it was his turf and if he wanted to sunbathe under the nest then so be it.  This went on for some time and the parents were not unduly concerned until one morning around 6am I could hear the alarm cheeps of the parents then a noise not unlike a cat sliding down stock proof fencing.

Quick as a flash I went outside, well as quick as anyone can at 6 in the morning and there on the floor was a dead chick and a cat with a told you so look on his face.  So I stuck the cat in the house tossed the chick over the hedge and surveyed the damage.  Well there were two chicks left,  I suspect the Jays might have had a couple at some point.  One was hanging off the stonework and the other was in a nest that had been knocked for six.

So options: leave it as is and chalk it up to experience or meddle.  I chose to meddle, so I tidied up remains of the nest as best as I could and put the other chick back in, yes I know, blah blah blah, should not handle birds, let nature takes it course, whatever.  So next steps were to make a compound around the site with chicken wire and netting and all this before the first cup of tea of the day.

Well the parents did comeback and the surviving redstart chicks fledged and all appeared to end successfully I have a couple of shots of the fledgings out of the nest and one of mum with a nice large crane fly for one of them.  I think for next year I will encourage them to nest higher up at out of the reaches of his nibs. 

The Orchids of the Midi Pyrenees  from Nev

Here are some more Orchid pictures, we have been out and about and Louise eagle eye spots them and I try my best to take a picture.  This normally involves me contorting myself into abnormal positions,  frequently lying on the ground dry or wet, but no one forced into this so I only have myself to blame for the bumps, scratches and pins and needles.  Louise is usually off to one side recording this on her camera for future posterity or posteriorty.

As like many of us probably have more garden than you can handle we decided to leave some of ours to meadow and cut paths through it.  The result is we do get loads of different flowers including Orchids so I do not always have to travel too far.  I think we have about six or seven varieties and there are a couple more down the lane, sounds good but this does pale into insignificance when there are 48 varieties in this area alone and I think double that in the Midi Pyrenees as a whole.

I have a picture of a pair of Burnt Orchids, this was taken in the Aveyron, it was a really windy too as we were on the top of the Causse, I can see why they have this name but I do not know how the Violet Birds Nest Orchid became so named.  This particular Orchid does not have Chlorophyll so has a symbiotic relation with fungus from which it derives its food but this Orchid is not alone in having symbiotic relations and rather than reel off a lot of fluff this website has some real insight on the reproductive nature of Orchids and makes for good reading there will be a quiz later.

Moving on we have a Monkey Orchid spotted in the Forest at Puycelci in fact on the road to the forest we saw loads.  I also saw a reference to them called Naked Man Orchid I cannot think why.  Finally a Tongue Orchid these we have in the garden along with the similar larger Long Lipped Orchid.  Trust someone will enjoy these and I have some more for later viewing.

Hello Val and Malc,  12th June
Dodgy Monet?
We are surrounded by fields of Wheat and Barley and when I looked out of the window this morning I did a double take as there was a deer with its head just above the corn.  The sun was barely up, likewise for me, I popped out my trusty camera and snapped off a couple of shots.  The resulting picture is a little grainy because of the hi ISO so I convinced myself that this is the Monet look I was after, especially with the poppies in the background  ahhhh.

This is a male Roe Deer or Le Chevreuil as it has antlers, they will eat pretty much anything that grows.  Fortunately they are put off by dogs so they have not penetrated and eaten anything in our potager but we do have a Broom, both the plant and the sweeping kind, the Broom plant had been nibbled not by a deer but a hare, I know as I found him or her sleeping not far off.


4th June 2014
Dragons and Damsels
from Neville Stott
 I have taken quite a few pictures of dragonflies and damsels most of them at rest so I thought I would try and give myself a challenge taking pictures of them flying it is not that easy as I found out. Dragonflies can whizz around at speeds of 50kmh (30mph),  more usually they coast along at 15kmh (10mph) which does not really sound much but when trying to track the flight whilst holding 2kg of camera, lens and using manual focus, well suffice to say it is quite a challenge but great fun with loads of blurred shots and several of "spot the dragonfly" which means it was too quick and it is not even in the picture.

I have a selection of pictures, one of them is a newly hatched Emperor still with the exuviae below from which it has "hatched" from.  The pale colour will change over a few days to the more normal bright green and blue as can be seen in the pictures of the same dragonfly in flight.  The broad bodied chaser pictured is female the male is bright blue,  they can be seen flying around the pond and try as I might I could not capture the male at all as he is really fast.  The trick I used with the female as in reality she is no slower, was to wait until she was laying eggs, then she will hover in the same place and then dip her ovipositor into the water.

The pair of Darters were really whizzing along in Tandem looking for a mating site.  To enable this tandem flying spectacle the abdomen of the male are designed to lock into specific grooves and notches on the female prior to mating.  This tandem flying is common to both dragon and damselflies but both go about it slightly differently. While on the subject of damselflies I was trying unsuccessfully to capture at least one flying but whilst they fly more slowly than there counterparts they are smaller and hard to see through the viewfinder.  Returning later in the day there were several damselflies all vying for the same piece of reed to lay their eggs and it was so much easier to photograph and you might agree a really interesting picture

29 May 2014
Peter  Hughes writes
I took these photos of a pair of Green Lizards (Lacerta viridis) in our garden three years ago. The Green Lizard, which with the tail measures up to 40 cm, is the largest lizard of central Europe. It makes its appearance in April & the breeding season lasts until June.
Here is the female. She has pale throat & a finer head
Here comes the male

In the breeding season the male has a bright blue throat & a more robust head. The throat loses some of its colour when their period of sexual activity ceases.

He grasps her tail in his jaws

But not for long! Here is the loving couple together. About six weeks after mating the female lays 8 -20 white eggs & buries them in pits dug in the ground. The young hatch in August or September & immediately set about catching insects.

Dear Val and Malc,
The Cat and the Hoopoe
 On our travels walking the dog,  it is always nice to see nature in action and when it is on your doorstep it enables one to easily return and study the habits of the subject.  By observing one can choose when and how to approach taking a picture without disturbing the subject and sometimes the unexpected occurs, which is what happened with the Cat and the Hoopoe.

The story starts by going back a few days when I noticed that a Hoopoe was entering a crack in the side of a stone barn.  By watching over a few days I could see which approach it would take to get to the nest and then where the ideal place would be for the equipment to go, in this case behind a stone wall.  Birds in general have a large circle of fear, so you, and your equipment need to be some distance from them, especially when they are nesting. Fortunately I have a zoom lens, tripod and a remote release for the camera that works really well and allows me to hide several metres away in fact so far away I cannot hear the shutter so I can only hope that a picture has been taken.

Whilst the Hoopoe was off fetching food for its young I set up the camera and tripod and sat waiting for it to reappear.   I was able to get a few pictures of it hanging off the entrance to its nest, there is one of its crest up but in this instance it did not turn sideways so it is not easy to see.  Do you think that wildlife does not always understand the concept of its best side.

Nature is always looking for opportunities, and the following day when I returned there was a feral cat sat in the opening adjacent to the Hoopoe's nest.  

The cat had obviously seen the same activity that I had.  The cat noticed my approach and was not particularly bothered as it had dinner on its mind.  The Hoopoe on the other hand was not at all pleased with the situation as it was potentially the dinner.  
Rather than set up the tripod which would have disturbed the scene, I snapped of a picture of the cat and then the Hoopoe which was sitting on a post beak full of insects.

 I then retraced my steps allowing the battle of wills to continue.

The ending of the story is that the cat, not able to catch the Hoopoe left the ledge and probably went chasing mice or rats instead.  The Hoopoe will, I am sure manage to finish off rearing its young and they might return again next year.

8May 2014 
Here are a few more of the "mystery" bird photos taken by Malc

5 May 2014

Butterflies from Peter Hughes

Scarce swallow tails love lavender.

1 May 2014
From a walk with Michael Fontes
Dear Val and Malcolm,
I enormously enjoyed my afternoon with you yesterday, and I was pleased to get plenty of interesting photos.  I append five, for you to deal with as you wish.  
The occasional obfuscation by pieces of grass, as in the pyramid photo, is intentional.  I rather like the hazy effect it gives to photos which aren't intended to help people identify the plant or butterfly - I have plenty of other photos for that.
I'd be delighted if you'd give my enterprise a boost.  I sell my cards and photos, rue du Chateau, at the bottom of the hill from the castle going towards the village, late mornings in the summer (April to late October), and by appointment ( throughout the year.  I have a very wide stock of photos of the flowers and butterflies of the Najac area and I make cards on the spot from any photo that people choose.  I also come out to people to take photos of their houses or gardens, from which I make large photos and/or cards.  The photos can be framed immediately and inexpensively (eg. 20 euros for a photo 8 inches by 12 inches) in unglazed frames specially made for me from solid Najac chestnut.  I'm always delighted to receive people who want to come late mornings (between 11 am and 1 pm) Rue du Chateau, to discuss what they've found or to help, if I can, with identification of a flower or a butterfly.
The photos from yesterday are up on the site now.  I was particularly pleased to find all those flowers, which may seem very ordinary to you, but which I'd not yet found this year, because mostly I've been in the Caussy places where they don't grow. It was lovely to be in those lush meadows. 
It was great to meet you both.  Thank you very much for your kindness to me and don't hesitate to be in touch or to come to see me in Najac, whenever.
Best wishes, Michael   to see the full site visit
Orchis Pyramidal / Anacamptis pyramidalis / Pyramid Orchid - 30/04/14

Glanville Fritillary on a Buttercup

La Mélitée du plantain / Melitaea cinxia / Glanville Fritillary - 30/04/14

Scarce Swallowtail on Crimson Clover
Le Flambé / Iphiclides podalirius / Scarce Swallowtail - 30/04/14

Orchidée à la langue / Serapias lingua / Tongue Orchid - 30/04/14

Small Blue on Kidney Vetch
L'Argus frêle / Cupido minimus / Small Blue - 30/04/14

Fine and Dandy

With all this talk of Orchids, I feel that someone needs to stand up for the less showy offerings; what could be better than the lowly Dandelion or Dent de Lion, which sounds better than the other French name for it.  Our field was full of their yellow heads, a real treat to see like miniature suns nodding in the spring breeze.  Now the flowers have gone to be replaced with the wispy seed-heads waiting to be taken on the wind to scatter across the fields (ahhh).  There are many photos of Dandelionheads on the internet and on people's computers.  Here is my take on this photogenic subjectThese were taken this morning whilst funnily enough, I was out looking for Orchids.

I was talking to someone recently about close-ups and it is really difficult to take a photo and expect it all to be in focus from front to back.  The problem is physics.  I will not bore you to death with the ins and outs but instead the answer is to take many shots, with a different part of the subject in focus,  then stack them one on top of each other: bloomin' magic.  Okay, I have relented and included a picture of a Lady Orchid for your viewing pleasure with the steps that I took to create the resulting image.


Dear Val and Malc,

Twisting the night away

I was in Caussade a couple of weeks ago and noticed the contorted shapes of the Mulberry trees in the revamped village square by the tourist office.  I thought that is a photo waiting to happen but it needed to be different in some way.   I really wanted an ethereal fog but it is the wrong time of year for that and in any case probably would not happen in the town.

So after a comfortable night in we jumped in the car around 11:30pm and parked up in the square.  Under the sleepy eye of the local gendarmes we set up the tripod, camera and obligatory wide angle lens for that really distorted look.  Looking on with amusement the gendarmes shuffled off and left us to it.

It is really uncanny how you can imagine (well me anyway) the form of these trees taking on human shapes, one looks like a cricket bowler from the back, another has arms raised as if it was a runner crossing a winning line and there are a row of three stretching as if in an exercise class.  I will leave it to you to find your own interpretation.

Dear Val

With all this wind I might go and buy a kite ha ha.

Snakes, Herons and Cows giving the slip

A few days ago we were out walking and we spied a patch of Snakeshead Fritillary.  I really like these wild flowers but they are becoming increasingly rare in the UK.  We planted some years ago in our bog garden and they are still doing well.  As the weather was slightly better today, I decided to take some pictures, fortunately it was not too windy this morning and there was a hint of sun, so armed with camera and tripod off we went.  After taking the pictures of the Snakeshead we noticed some Cowslips close by, in fact they are really abundant around here so it would be rude not to take a picture of those too.

Following the small river back to the village, we always stop to look at the family of Ragondins, not everyone's cup of tea on the wildlife front but we do enjoy watching them play and sunbathe, our dog Lottie also takes great interest in them but as she is averse to water they are quite safe.

Anyway on the way back we spotted a Heron looking bird which flew off but did not go too far.  So we donned our invisibility cloaks and slowly approached its new perch,  took some pictures but did not really have a clue what type of bird it was.  Anyway the Internet is really useful and in fact it is a Black-crowned Night Heron.  These birds are active early morning and at dusk and it usually stands around waiting for frogs or fish to go by which it then spears with its long beak.  This is a juvenile as the adults have red eyes stand between 23 - 28 inches high and have a wingspan of up to four feet.



Green finches dispute

 Whilst trying to set up for a kestrel shot, Malc spotted a couple of greenfinches who had decided that there wasn't enough seed for all.
Sunday 16 March 2014.

First orchid photos of 2014
Photographed at kestrel corner Mas del Sol on 12th March these early orchids are the first seen by us this year. That spot is always the place for the most precocious blooms.

 Photos by Tudor Powell

Morning all,
A couple of pictures to start of this sunny jour.
What am I?
Peregrine Falcon, Merlin  or Sparrowhawk?  what a choice: this is a tough one.  
Earlier in the day I was resting on my shovel in the trailer after emptying a ton of ballast and stone me, a 
Peregrine Falcon flew right past me at ankle height, it had a lovely grey back and a purposeful short wing flap as it disappeared round the side of the house.   I am sure they know when you have no camera to hand.

So I dust myself down and after a cuppa, exit into the garden with the intent of tracking down the 
Peregrine.  I reckon it has noticed our highly populated bird feeders and is hoping for a feathery snack.  Okay found it. It is sitting on the post at the end of the garden and I have plenty of cover in front so I can sneak a little closer.  Look at that front, all that plumage, definitely Peregrine Falcon and those talons - ouch!   But hang on a second, the picture with it diving off the post shows some nice dark stripes on the tail feathers just like a Merlin and so it was also definitely Merlin.

This is a conundrum could it be a hybrid? No. Back to the books and a quick search on the Internet.  Eureka, or should I say Voila?  It is all in the eyes, 
which are a striking yellow, so it is a Sparrowhawk or épervier for those wishing to learn the French word.

Sparrowhawks are very similar in size to the Merlin so it was an easy mistake to make as it flew past but it was the shot on the post that highlighted the key difference which was the eyes.

Hello Val and Malc,

I have compiled some pictures on the theme of camouflage says Neville Stott

It is normally quite hard to spot wildlife when it is stationary, especially if one is not really paying attention.  Typically, what happens for me is that I might catch some movement out of the corner of my eye or hear sound and then I can try to home in on its location or, in the instance of the Milvus milvus (Red Kites), I saw them landing in the tree from some distance away and I managed to get closer without disturbing them.  How many times have you seen something whilst out walking and other people walk right past you completely oblivious to what you have seen?

The following pictures show how wildlife can blend into its surroundings either to avoid being eaten or to actually become the hunter.  The pair of Red Kites were motionless in the tree as the sun was going down and it is easy to see how their colouring allowed them to blend into the tree's branches.

The Chorthippus-brunneus (Grasshopper), Empusa Fasciata  (Mantis) and Haldimans Shieldbug again demonstrate how colour plays a part in the "cloak of invisibility".  In the case of the Shieldbug, it, as the hunter, found a nice juicy caterpillar and believe it or not, this picture was taken at 5 minutes to midday, so even the French insects have a sense of lunchtime.

Next, there is the Empusa Fasciata which can be easily confused with the Empusa Pennata. The difference, as can be seen, is that on the Fasciata there is a little lobe behind its knee.  This one is a juvenile and its camouflage goes a step further because its shape also resembles the grass it inhabits.

Last but not least is a tiny flatfish from the family of Pleuronectiformes, admittedly this is not in the Tarn & Garonne but on the north coast of France.  It was really hard to see and photograph.  I also  managed to get wet knees in the process.  It was so tiny, about the size of a small fingernail, virtually invisible as it swims through the water.  In the last picture it is much more noticeable as it pauses over a seashell.

Kestrel - Le Faucon Crécerelle

Kestrels are probably the most recognisable bird of prey and are often seen hovering over fields or by the sides of motorways.  The English name Kestrel is derived from the French word Crécelle meaning rattle or ratchet and is descriptive of their call.   Kestrels are true Falcons, which comes from the Latin word Falco, meaning scimitar shaped wings.  This wing shape gives all members of the Falcon family the ability to fly really quickly with expert manoeuvrability.

Kestrels hunt by either hovering or by waiting high on a perch.  They have the ability to see well into the ultra-violet (UV) spectrum thus allowing them to see where their prey, typically the field vole, has been, as these trails are marked by urine.  For those rat catchers amongst you, using a UV torch allows you to see where the rat runs are as they too mark their trails with urine.

Once the prey is located the Kestrel dives down, sometimes flapping its wings to increase speed, coming up fast behind its prey with talons reaching forward and finally closing round the prey within fractions of a second. The prey is then dispatched with a twist of the neck by the notched beak.

Kestrels do have disputes with each other.  One of the pictures is of a pair of Kestrels, the one on top is a female as the head is brown rather than blue/grey the other might be a juvenile encroaching on its territory.  You can just make out that they have placed their talons around the opponent's eyes and there is even a small blood spot close to the eye on the bird underneath.

Wild Boar shot, as in photographed by Neville

Nev says '' It's just a squirrel''

Dear Val and Malc,

Trust you are both well. I went in a different direction for this week and looked at photographing something a little different from normal hope you like them.  I have 4 photos; the 4th includes a little explanatory text on how I achieved the effects I was after.

Hidden but not forgotten.

I was having a poke around the neighbourhood and have always been intrigued by this old farm, so I took my camera and tripod to see if there was anything of interest to photograph.  The first picture is of an old well which has seen better days, with a stone sink in the foreground or probably a stone trough as it is quite large and adjacent to a dilapidated barn.  Mind you, there are a lot of those sorts of buildings here and they are still in use, so I'd better be careful on what I say.

In the barn is an old Renault 4 van or Fourgonnette.  The Renault 4 models were manufactured from the early sixties right up until 1992, so tradition is strong in France.  This particular van is from around the late 70s and one of the noticeable features is a hinged flap door above the double doors at the rear, which I presume is for those extra long baguettes.  In another corner, tucked away under a massive stone staircase, I spied some hibernating lawnmowers. Luckily I managed to take a picture without disturbing them from their slumbers.

For you sharp-eyed folks, you might notice that the pictures are what you might say surreal or everything is visible from the front of the car (in the dark shadows) to the bright skies behind.  Well, normally I just take one photograph, but sometimes there is a greater range of brightness in the scene than my camera can cope with, so in this instance I took more than one photo of the same scene.  To do this I mounted the camera on a tripod so that it does not move.  I then set the camera to over-expose (first shot) so the shutter stays open for longer, which allows the camera to capture the detail of the interior of the barn.  I then set it to normal exposure (second shot) to capture the side of the van, some of the floor and the beams in the roof.  The final photograph is set to under-expose, so the shutter is open for less time than normal to correctly capture the bright sky and the grass outside of the barn.

Neville Stott

Thought the following pictures of a spider we ‘rescued’ during the summer just gone might be of interest for the Wild Photos section. I found this beauty climbing my chest (on my shirt I may add) whilst we were moving rocks around the house.  To say I was somewhat shaken was an understatement to say the least.  After cautiously taking a few snaps, we dropped her off across the road, out of harm’s way. Maybe one of the readers can advise of the specie

Brad and Roberta.

Hello Malc and Val,

I guess you have the animals in the front room all tucked up and you and Malc are scoffing mince pies drinking mulled wine while watching BBC reruns.

Happy festivities

Neville and Louise

Winter Sun and Snow

Well, as we are in the deep mid winter, I felt it appropriate to have some snowy pictures to get us into the festive mood. However, it was really sunny yesterday, as you can tell from the Donkey shot, so I pinched these snowy photos from earlier in the year.

The pictures were taken whilst out walking with our dog and amazingly, we saw three Roe Deer that had escaped the gun toting crowd of chasseurs.  There are a couple of urban shots: one of Puylaroque, the other of Cayriech village.  Lastly, the donkey picture, well, if you can't beat them, join them is my motto.

Dear Val and Malc,

Another set of pictures for the Wild Photos section.

Charming Sight:

A couple of days ago whilst walking with the dog, we saw that a farmer had left a huge field of Sunflowers unharvested.  This field is probably around four hectares in size and of course, there were some rather nice Doves feasting on the Sunflower heads. I say of course, as again I did not have my camera.  So, a few days later, when the sun was shining, we went back to the field armed with my camera and were overwhelmed with the shear volume, not of Doves, but of Goldfinches.  I knew that Goldfinches flocked together in winter and I would expect maybe 50 to a 100, but at a conservative guess there were at least 300 of them and probably more.

The collective noun for Goldfinches is a Charm and it is, in my opinion, a fitting name as they are outstandingly colourful and have a really nice song.  Goldfinches, being granivorous means their diet is primarily made up of seed or grain but they will also eat insects for added protein when feeding their young.  Like all granivorous birds their bills are adapted to suit their preferred seed type.  With Finches, their beaks are thin and tapered to allow them to pull seeds from plants such as Teasels, Thistles and Sunflowers.

A funny thing relationships. Take the Cattle Egrets' relationship with livestock.  The Egret follows the passage of cattle, eating the grasshoppers and other insects that are thrown up by their hooves, or the Egret will pluck flies or ticks directly from their bodies whilst the host animal looks passively on.  This habit benefits both species and the Egret has migrated to other large grazing animals and can be seen in large numbers around grazing herds.

Coypu or Ragondins on the other hand have outlived their useful relationship with man.  During the 19th and 20th century, these animals were relocated from their native South America to North America, Europe and even as far as Russia.  They were bred in captivity to meet a demand for their fur however, these large river rats have long since fallen out of favour and either have escaped or been released into the wild from non-profitable ventures.  Time again we displace or upset the natural order of nature and are often so surprised at the problems and consequences of our, or our predecessors actions.

Hello Val,

Some shots for the wild photos tab.

Well, after a couple of weeks walking and basking in the sun, we arrived back in France to minus temperatures, brrrr. But at least it is sunny.  I took these pictures just before we left. Misty mornings and autumn colours.  The stone cabane is a characteristic building which can be seen all around the southern parts of France. This one has a clay tile roof, but many have the original stone-tiled roofs.  These small rural edifices have had many uses over the years, typically used by people working the land where they would stay overnight sometimes even accompanied by the whole family who, during the day, would work alongside each other at times of harvest.  Another use is as weekend retreats for city folk during the early 19th century.

Plane trees are most noticeable lining the roads and canals throughout France, originally thought to be planted for shading Napoleon's troops but not sure if that is an urban myth.  Unfortunately there is a disease that attacks the Plane tree that has been moving north from Southern Europe for a number of years and as a result there is a rolling program to remove the Plane trees from the Canal du Midi and replace them with a disease resistant strain.

Le Cirque de Bône is a fascinating geological formation 3km from St Antonin Noble Val.  We visited the tourist office in St Antonin one year, and we bought a walking book "Circuits autour de St Antonin Noble Val". Having also booked some French lessons, we decided to go walking after each lesson and translate the walking directions as we went along. It worked really well.  One of the walks climbs up Le Cirque de Bône from the river Aveyron, but you need to be fit: PR13 for those who are interested. It also comes with a vertigo warning.

More shots for the wild page from Neville
Hedgehogs - Les Hérissons
Out walking with the dog on Friday we spied a hedgehog on the edge of the village, snuffling around a field close to the river. Biggest problem was, I had left my camera at home.  So after arriving home, jumped in the car in the hope it might still be there.  On the way back to the hedgehog field we stopped to have a chat with a couple who live in the village and mentioned that their daughter was down from Paris with the kids and also asked if we played cards as there was a Concours de Belote on Saturday, which they insisted was a fun night with the losers providing cakes the following month.

Anyway back to the field and of course the hedgehog had disappeared as they can move around quite quickly. We decided to stake out the field anyway and were rewarded by the returning hedgehog.  Hedgehogs will eat all manner of things: insects, slugs or worms but do not feed them milk as they are lactose intolerant.  They are active at night but can also be seen around sunrise and sunset; not unlike our cat except hedgehogs do not normally jump on your bed when soaking wet or bring in mice as presents.
Val says look in wild photos to see the pictures in 5 mins.
Peter Hughes, vet and photographer told me if you want to feed them it is OK to give them dog or cat food. I am hoping ours will eat the cannibal slugs, but not doing so well as yet.

Aerial Antics

Did you know that the Great Tit, or to give it its French name Mésange charbonnière, is the largest European Tit? About as long as my spectacle case, probably why it is has the monika Great. They are colourful birds with a yellow belly and a distinctive black stripe that runs down their front.   As usual, the male has to have a longer stripe and of course, the more dominant the male, the wider the stripe.  Apparently the females love it, like the fashionable kipper tie from the '70s; how could you resist that, ladies?

Along with Blue Tits, they are frequently seen in the garden, especially when word has got around that there is a peanut feeder waiting to be emptied.  Great Tits reportedly have high intelligence and the ability to solve problems using insight rather than trial and error to get food.  For variety we planted sunflowers this year to make it more interesting for the birds, and the following shots display the aerial antics involved getting a single seed.

Following on from last week's pictures we had a bit of a triumph.  I was chopping logs and noticed a butterfly stuck in the greenhouse, so I called to Louise who managed to let it out and then proceeded to take some photos as it recovered from its exertions on a nearby flower.  Shortly after it flew off and Louise decided to wander around the veg garden and the next thing I hear is her bellowing "NevilleScorpion fly! Male!".  Well, with tripod and camera in hand, the log splitting was quickly forgotten and we managed to get a shot of it noshing a fly on one of our green chillies and another shot
whilst it was probably digesting its lunch, that captures its splendid tail which is, in fact, its reproductive organ and is not used for stinging.

Scarabs, Scorpions and Emperors photos taken by Neville Stott

Sounds like a trip to Eastern shores but no; all can be seen in the back garden.  Just last month, the blackberries were ready for picking, so off I went with plastic bowl and step ladder to the edge of the wilderness, far behind our house, where the best blackberries can be found.  But what is thishave I been beaten to the fruit by the local wildlifeNot quite; I have a Rose Chafer, a Scorpion Fly and a Lesser Purple Emperor.The 
Rose Chafer is from the Scarabaeidae family of beetles.  Not to be confused with the Noble Chafer, these large attractive iridescent beetles can occur in a variety of colours and feed on, amongst other things my blackberries.   They are capable of quick flight and interestingly, fly with their outer wing cases closed. 
Next in line is the Scorpion Fly which has a black and yellow body, a reddish head with a long beak. This one is a female. The male is equipped with a scorpion-like tail, from which the name is derived.  They can be found in hedgerows and brambles and are omnivores, so they feed on some plant materials (such as pollen and nectar) and also on dead or weakened insects.  
Last but not least is the Lesser Purple Emperor. This shot is of a female and took most of this morning to identify; commendation to Louise for being successful.  The Lesser Purple Emperor butterfly has a large wingspan of up to 70mm and there are two forms of Apatura iliaTypicalform and form clytie. This one is the latter with orange belts on the upper sides, whereas the typical form has white belts. Only the male butterflies have purple wings, so I shall be looking out for those next year.

Dear Val,

Not strictly winter shots but felt they might brighten up the day.

Hummingbird Hawk-Moths, I recorded over a dozen at once of these day flying moths on some lavender bushes. 
They have long proboscis which allows them to drink nectar from flowers that other insects cannot reach so avoiding competition.  It is also reported they return to the same flower beds at approximately the same time each day.   Using a fast shutter speed allowed me to freeze the action of their wing movement, quite tricky as they move so quickly from flower to flower.  
Sent by Nevile Stott

Two photographs taken by Malcolm Johnstone
October sunrise at Mas del Sol, with cloud in the valley

October sunset at Mas del Sol

A spider gets his prey

 I noticed that a grasshopper had become entangled in a spider's web. At this stage it was very much alive & kicking in its attempts to escape.

The spider soon arrived on the scene & rapidly wrapped the grasshopper in a cocoon of web filaments. The grasshopper grew weaker & weaker & soon stopped moving.

The spider then appeared to grasp the grasshopper's head by its legs & presumably by its jaws. This lasted several minutes. It was my impression that by now the unfortunate grasshopper was dead.

Then the spider moved away from the victim & bit through most of the surrounding web filaments. This enabled it to move the grasshopper into a corner of the nest in deep shade where I could no longer photo it. When I checked the web the following morning, all traces of the grasshopper had gone.

Raindrops & Grasshoppers

My wife had gone off for a Fifi lunch & it was raining. So I could not work in the potager. However some raindrops on a rose leaf caught my eye.
Then I looked around for similar subjects. I spotted two grasshoppers on Hibiscus flowers that were also covered in raindrops. Being cold-blooded, insects are sluggish in such conditions & therefore easier to photograph.

I used a little infill flash for these two shots of the grass hoppers & my macro lens.

After a few minutes my camera was also covered in raindrops & so I retreated indoors.

We are lucky to have a colony of Lesser Horseshoe Bats in one of our stone barns. Local bat experts from French equivalent of our UK Wildlife Trusts (Conservatoire Régional des Espaces Naturels de Midi-Pyrénées) keep an eye on them & advise us. They assured me that the bats are not distressed by flash photography as the duration of the flash is a tiny fraction of a second. So of course I had to take some photos.

The species gets its name from its distinctive horseshoe-shaped nose. It is one of the world's smallest bats, weighing only 5 to 9 grams. It has strong feet that it uses to grasp rocks & branches (& beams in our barn.) It can see well in spite of its small eyes. Their prey is small insects such as flies, moths & also spiders which are hunted by echo-location. When hunting they are quick & agile, often flying within 5 metres of the ground while avoiding contact with trees & bushes. In the photo above you can see the "wing knuckle joints" of a baby bat in between those of its mother. The bats leave us in the autumn & hibernate during the winter months  in caves in the Gorge de l'Aveyron.

Here are photos of two very similar birds, the Marsh Tit & the Willow Tit, both taken in our garden. The birds love to feed on the sunflower seed heads.

This is the Marsh Tit. He has a glossy black cap & a small bib below his beak.

This is the Willow Tit. He has a dull cap and a larger bib which extends at the lower edge.
Actually the best way to tell them apart  is their voices as their calls are quite different. However it is a little difficult to demonstrate that on a blog!

Here are three photos of meteorites of the "Perseid Shower" taken Sunday evening. Some of them I could not see with the naked eye but the camera managed to record them!

A Western whip
These photos are of a snake that I found in my potager last year. I took them using a 400mm telephoto lens. I then rushed into the house to fit my macro lens but of course the snake had disappeared by the time I returned.

An expert identified it for me as a Western Whip snake. They can attain a length of up to 180cm. They have a very varied diet, for in addition to various small mammals & birds, they eat lizards, snakes (!) frogs & tadpoles, beetles & slugs & snails. As a rule they do not kill their prey beforehand but swallow it alive. They are  not poisonous.

Tuesday over Verfeil
During the thunder storm last night I managed to get a photo of the lightning.

If you are interested in having a go, you need to mount your camera on a tripod because of the very long exposures involved. In addition I use a cable shutter release so that I don't need to touch the camera. Set the focussing to manual & focus on infinity. I set the aperture to f11 & the shutter to"bulb." The bulb or B setting means that the shutter will remain open whilst you depress the shutter (hence the cable release.) You hope that lightning will "strike" whilst you have the shutter open. Of course most attempts are failures but the joy of digital photography is that such failures can be deleted without any expense being incurred. There are no hard & fast rules about how long you keep the shutter open but the exposure for the image above was 24 seconds.

It helps if you have a view of the horizon as I do from our terrace which also protects me from the rain. However last night I had to suspend operations as the wind was driving the rain onto my lens.

Always take care when photographing lightning. Remember that a strike can be fatal & if the action is getting too close, retreat indoors!

Here is a other photo of lightning taken two years ago. You may be able to recognise Verfeil. 

Red Squirrels
These photos of the red squirrel were taken several years ago when we first bought our house. There used to be a walnut tree right outside our bedroom window & so we could watch squirrels & greater spotted woodpeckers when we woke. The squirrels loved the walnuts. They would strip off the green husk & then dash off with the nut. Often they would bury them in the garden & if they subsequently forgot where they had hidden them, we would get a new walnut sapling the following spring.

If you look carefully at image 4 you should be able to spot a tick (an external blood-sucking parasite) just below his right ear.

Sadly the tree died & so we no longer get squirrels so close to the house. I am nurturing a sapling in the hope that it will encourage them to return!

looking for those nuts

I put them somewhere, just cannot remember where! [bit like us all with keys]

Ah! these two are just the job

I am going to eat this one.

Hello Peter,

We met briefly the other day at Mas de Sol Hawk Conservancy.  There was a comment on from Malcolm regarding definition on the kestrel leaving the nest.  This can be attributed to a couple of things.  Firstly, slow shutter speed this will have the effect of subject blurring meaning the shutter is not fast enough to freeze the action.  To combat this, select a higher shutter speed.
  The second is distance to the subject: the further the lens is away from a subject the harder it is to discern fine detail. Solution is to either get closer or use a lens with a longer focal length.

Once the image has been capture post processing 
in applications such as Photoshop can also be used to improve the image quality.  I have modified the original shot to demonstrate some slight improvements.  Hope this helps.
From Nev Stott

Peter says:
Hi Nev

Thanks for your input. We will change the image on Taglines for your modified one.

Best wishes
New "improved version" of kestrel in flight by Malcolm

Three chicks in a dead tree

Food arriving

We are starving here, Mum

All this hard work will soon be over!

A bit of feeding going on

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be given the chance to photograph a family group of foxes. Our neighbours have an old stone-built barn under which a vixen had made a den. She had 2 cubs who stayed in the den during the day but emerged late in the evening to play.

The time of day meant that I was having to deal with very poor light. Not ideal for photography. I set the ISO setting on my camera to its maximum, 3200. A high ISO setting increases the camera's sensor sensitivity to light but it also reduces the picture quality because it introduces "noise" (artefacts) mainly in the shadow areas of the image. I opened up the 400mm telephoto lens to its maximum aperture, f 5.6, & this gave me a shutter speed of 1/6 second. Despite the fact that the camera was mounted on a monopod (a one-legged tripod) at such a slow shutter speed some camera shake & subject movement were inevitable. These factors explain why these images are not as sharp as I would prefer. In addition, the poor light meant that there was very little contrast in the images but I was able to increase this by tweaking the images in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on my computer

Click on the image for a larger photograph

I am happy to respond to any questions or comments on this section of Tag lines. Please email Peter on

Peter Hughes was born in York & went to school just outside the City walls. As a child he was a keen bird & wildlife watcher & would spend hours on the local ings & moors observing wildlife. This led him to decide to be a vet by the age of seven.

Six years training at Cambridge University allowed him to fulfil his ambition. He first worked in a large practice in Devon dealing with dairy cattle, small animals & a few horses. After two years there he & another fellow Cambridge graduate, Bob Mercer, set up their own practice in Essex. Mercer & Hughes flourished & soon had three surgeries covering an area around Saffron Walden, Great Dunmow & Stansted manned by a total of six vets.

Peter specialised in equine veterinary medicine but all the vets worked with small animals. His particular interests included plastic reconstructive surgery & Koi carp. During this time he was on the committee of the BSAVA & was heavily involved in the local Round Table helping to raise lots of money for local charities.

He is a very keen photographer & owned his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera, at the age of eight. He is also a keen golfer & sailor & kept a 35 foot yacht on the River Orwell.

Peter & Val were married in 1970 & have three children. Bethan is a GP in Bury St Edmunds & Katie is a linguist married to a Foreign Office diplomat living at present in Argentina. Gavin studied American history at Sussex University & at the University of Texas in Austin & now works as a project & sales manager in London.

The veterinary practice was passed on to the junior partners when Bob & Peter retired together after 32 years in 2006. It still bears the name of Mercer & Hughes. Peter & Val sold their Old Vicarage in north Essex & retired to Suffolk to be near their four grandchildren. They also bought a house here in the SW of France fulfilling a lifetime's ambition.

Retirement should mean having more spare time! Peter is very busy building, gardening, playing golf & practising photography. His interest in wine, good food & computers means that he always has lots to do.

Peter on his balcony with a view
Does Peter sound just perfect to be our TAG photography editor. His love of animals and his Round Table activities raising money for lots of charities fits so well with the TAG ethos. Welcome on board Peter and enjoy writing, presenting your pictures and helping other photographers with your depth of knowledge and expertise.Keep your eye on his label ''Wild photos'' to see his wildlife pictures. Peter will also look forward to seeing your pictures and giving advice if needed. Any pictures sent must be sent as attached jpg's
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Two kestrels chicks but only one has the cricket
Photos in this label are copyrighted to Peter Hughes who is the wild life photographer.
This is how you do it kids!

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