In contrast to the explosion of life in spring and summer, autumn can seem quiet and dull. But the P-O still has plenty to offer, from small creatures to dramatic vistas and skies. Look and you will see; listen and you will hear.
Where there’s mud…
… there may by footprints
… can still be found in the foothills of Canigou.
The Carline is named after medieval King Charlemagne, whose German name was Karl der Grosse (ie. Carl the Great). Legend has it that an angel showed Charlemagne how to use the stemless thistle to treat his soldiers, who were dying of plague.
In those days – perhaps even today in some rural German villages – carline would be carried by people to ward off evil. In Basque culture it was traditionally fixed on front doors as a symbol of good fortune, and elsewhere it was regarded as a rain forecaster: in humid air the flower closes to protect the pollen.
The root was used as a diuretic and cold remedy – among other things.
Also called Naked Lady and Meadow Saffron, this isn’t a true crocus and its stamens must not be mistaken for saffron.
As its French name implies, it contains colchicum, which has anti-inflammatory properties. However, all parts of colchicum plants can be poisonous – to animals as well as humans!
“Gentian” is attributed to Gentius, King of Illyria in the Balkans during the 2nd century BC, who apparently discovered that the plant was an antidote to venom.
Reptiles and insects…
… still take advantage of the last warm days and nights.
Despite appearances, they’re harmless to humans – folklore has it that the French once thought a mantis would point a lost child home. In real life, they are gardeners’ friends, helping control pests.
Murmurations of starlings (étourneaux sansonnets) might catch your eye, or you might hear strange calls, like a cross between a turkey and a goose coming from common cranes (grues cendrées) on their way south from Eastern Europe. Look up for flocks flying in V formation.
If you have a garden, small surprises may hide there. In mine, one November morning, I discovered this pellet caught in a tree. It’s from a tawny owl (chouette hulotte).
Already partially disintegrated by rain, dissection revealed more bones and the remains of a couple of beaks. Owls are best known for pouncing on small rodents, but they also snatch small birds from trees while they’re asleep or brooding eggs and chicks on nests!
Talking of owls, this is the month to hear the massive yet elusive eagle owl. With a 1.38-1.7m wingspan (versus the common tawny’s 0.9-1.04m), no wonder its deep, booming “ou-hou” can carry 2-4km!
Although our most colourful and impressive summer residents have returned to Africa for the winter, many birds remain, including a couple of my favourite warblers.
Almost every garden seems to have at least one sardinian warbler (fauvette mélanocephale). This is a male (orange around the eye helps distinguish them from blackcaps).
Now that leaves have fallen, it’s easy to see this year’s nests of Asian hornets (frelons asiatiques).
Last but not least…
… if you don’t see anything of note close to hand, the P-O is never short of moody vistas or dramatic cloud formations.