Holiday Time

Holiday Time - The view of the Pyrenees from our bedroom window
The Pyrenees from our bedroom window

I’m often hearing the comment that I spend a lot of time away from home and even a recent shot I posted from last November noted that I like holiday time. I have to agree that Rose and I do travel quite a bit, a conscious decision made following a life-changing occurrence, but still constrained by Rose having a day job. Our plan is to travel while we can and build a bank of memories that we can look back on when the ‘lure’ of international air travel has waned. 

We’ve reached the stage now where all of our holiday trips are photography-based, except for one, a situation that has evolved since we first raised a camera in anger back in 2011. With only one exception (2013), since 2009 we have spent 2 weeks every year in the Gascony region of France, either in June or September. In recent years, the September date has been favourite, as I like to spend my birthday there.

Originally, the attraction was to spend our time there indulging our preferred pastime of cycling and to some extent it still is. For my 60th birthday, we celebrated by cycling up the Col du Tourmalet, Rose from the western side and me from the eastern route, meeting up at the summit. But as the photography took hold, we found ourselves bringing all of the camera kit as well as the bikes. The garden of the house we always rented gave us some wildlife shots that have been published and there was plenty to see in the fields around and about.

We had daily visits from Green Woodpeckers, wild Rabbits that were quite tame and even my first sighting of a Southern Scarce Swallowtail butterfly. There were plenty of Buzzards, although they were even more flighty than in UK, usually a pair of Jays and on one of the June trips, a pair of Black-shouldered Kites with a chick that fledged while we were there. We had Red Kites, Black Kites, Hummingbird Hawk Moths, White Stork and an abundance of other insects. Away from the house, in the Pyrenees we saw Griffon Vultures and on one day on the bikes, a Lammergeier.  Across the fields were Red Deer and in one of the local lakes, Coypu.

It got to the stage that in 2015 we even packed our hide and set it up in the garden. But it seems that was when things started to go downhill. All we managed to photograph that year were Pied Flycatchers. The last couple of years we reached the stage where we only took a camera as insurance and in case I came up with a landscape that caught my eye.

It’s difficult to know what caused the change, it could be Brexit I suppose. What it did was take us full circle so that the holiday became a rest from photography and enabled us to do some cycling on nice quiet roads. Drivers there are fully tolerant of cyclists and we didn’t feel endangered or threatened at all. So much so that on return to the UK the urge to ride the bike was hugely diminished.

If you’ve followed me this far you are probably wondering what place a post about holiday time has in a website that is primarily about wildlife photography. That’s not a bad question, but I’m writing this on my return from our latest, and last, trip to that particular house in Gascony. The house has been sold and will no longer be available so we have had to find somewhere new. Fortunately we found somewhere about ten miles away in a valley, which will give us access to plenty of cycling routes from the front door.

The shame about that is, this year there were signs that the wildlife situation is coming around. The trees at the bottom of the garden are visited daily by Woodpeckers, Jays and on more than one occasion, Black-shouldered Kites. I’ve seen a Southern Scarce Swallowtail in the garden, the first since 2012 and Red Deer in the field opposite. There were Buzzards aplenty, although still just as flighty, as was the local Kestrel that had been missing for the last couple of years and a couple of Red Kites.

I’m at a loss to know why the situation changed as it did. There appeared to be nothing that had changed locally to cause it, but I guess we’ll never know. That’s a pity, because I have the feeling that next year would have been less cycling, more togging. Of course we may find there is plenty of wildlife to photograph when holiday time comes around at the new location, so perhaps we should again take full togging gear just in case.

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