The Big Birds are Back.

Storks are the regional emblem of the Alsace and tourist stalls are loaded with stork hats, stork plates, stork stuffed toys and stork snow domes, but these magnificently huge birds were almost completely wiped out in the twentieth century and numbers went as low as 9 pairs in the 1970s.
Birds were shot at, electrocuted on overhead wires and poisoned. Many starved in their African wintering grounds due to droughts.
They were completely extinct in Switzerland by 1950, but a determined school teacher from Solothurn went to Africa to find chicks, which he reintroduced to his country and here in the Alsace and Southern Germany programmes of captive breeding slowly pulled the White Stork back from the brink.
By feeding birds here to encourage them to avoid the hazardous migration south, numbers have increased to the point where breeding and feeding stations in local villages like Rodersdorf have recently been closed, as the population is thought finally to be stable enough not to need intervention.
The sight of storks returning to their nests on the rooves of local churches, on random telegraph posts and the even mobile phone towers is a sight to gladden the heart at this time of year.
The birds can live for thirty years and nests can weigh from 60-250Kg. Nests can be used year after year and many other birds can nest in the lower reaches of the bigger nests including sparrows and starlings.
Courtship and pair bonding is accompanied by wonderful clacking as they throw back their heads and point their huge beaks upwards. An average of four eggs are laid and chicks that hatch later in the season often do better than those who hatch earlier, as they avoid the perils of a cold wet spring. Successfully reared juveniles may opt to stay in Europe during the winter, especially where food many be plentiful as for instance around the zoos in Mulhouse, Basel and Zurich, but others will attempt the long migration into Africa to feed for insects, small mammals and amphibians in warmer surroundings .
So whether they have crossed continents, just hoped the border in our tri region area, or spent the whole year in the same spot; their nesting brings another generation of these magnificent birds back to my part of France, where they were so nearly lost forever.


Wild dog chase .

Today it is British snow : white out and wet. The snow came exploding down on that momentary hinge between exuberantly fat flakes and dispiriting sleet. All day it flumped down on the right side of sublime and all was white – for a while.

In the woods I continued to try to identify the animals that had walked before me in the snow. We noticed double light tyre tracks that we decided were from a pram or buggy. We admired the intrepid parents who had pushed their offspring out in such weather. We followed the increasingly erratic path, as it veered strangely from side to side. Were the parents trying to tip the child into the snow? Was their child particularly annoying?

The tracks  went on and on, up passed the chapel at the site of the abandoned plague village  and up to the Swiss border stones almost unnoticeable in the trees. We were turning back to get warm and dry and then I remembered. In the village there is a dog with crippled back legs. His doting owner has fitted him with a trolley to keep him mobile. We were not following an homicidal parent, or a wild creature unknown to man, but a lucky old dog hopping wild on a wet snowy day!