Mont d’Orge, Sion, Switzerland

Sion, (pronounced Cee-on, as in Sea-on, by the way), is the capital of the Swiss canton of the Valais, which is in the south west, french speaking, part of the country.  It has around 30,000 inhabitants and a football team in the Swiss Super League.  Due to its position in the fertile Rhone valley, it has a rich and wonderful history going back to Prehistoric times.  It’s perhaps best known now for its two 13th century hilltop fortifications – the Basilique de Valère and Chateau de Tourbillon.

However there is a 3rd hill close by, called Mont d’Orge, which also has a ruined castle or chateau on top.  It can easily be reached from the railway/bus station and, for added interest, there is a small lake to the north, which teems with wildlife in the summer.  (See information sheet, pic 21, for a list, in French, of some of the creatures found thereabouts).

I’d read about this walk some years ago in a Rother walking guide, but had never done it, until yesterday.  Sadly the skies were a little dull for good photography, but I’ve done my best.

Those clever Swiss people have made best use of the geography by setting out a fitness trail up and around it’s sides.  (See pics 4, 15, 16 & 17 below).  I also stumbled across a yellow flower which my research suggests, (please let me know if I’m wrong), is either a Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem or an Early Star-of-Bethlehem.  If it’s the latter, then this is a very rare flower in the UK (where it’s also known as the Radnor Lily) as it only grows at Stanner Rocks in Radnorshire, Central Wales.  They believe that there are only 1,000 plants, of which only 1% flower each year.  However, it is quite widespread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Last, but not least, I spotted a signpost with a plaque (pic 29) which shows that I was on one of the Swiss links to the famous Way of St James or Camino de Santiago de Compostela.   That makes it a little over 1,900 km to my good friend Arthur’s house. 😊

 

Forêt de Finges, Valais, Switzerland

After several days of sanding down and painting our shutters, Jude and I decided to have a day off and go for a walk down in the Rhone valley.  Sunday is pretty much a rest day in Switzerland anyway, as you are not allowed to make any undue noise (like mowing the lawn, drilling or hammering).  This is one of several ‘rules’ in Switzerland, which I may well blog about one day.

Anyway, the Forêt de Finges is a nature reserve of national importance which lies between the River Rhone and the main road from Sierre to Leuk.  It effectively marks the ‘border’ between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland.  Our route would take us around a few small ponds which, to our surprise, were almost completely frozen.

We’d taken our binoculars in the hope of spotting a few interesting birds but, unfortunately, we didn’t see too many – just a few Coal Tits, Crested Tits, 2 Buzzards and something that looked a bit yellow!  On the plus side, we did spot a butterfly which came to rest on a bank above us.  After clambering up very carefully, I did manage to catch a reasonable photo – see pic 15.

 

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly

I mentioned in my previous post that the weather here in the Val d’Hérens has been rather sunny of late.  Well, despite the air temperature only hovering between 0 and 11 degrees C (32 and 52 F) and there still being 80-90% snow cover in our valley, we’ve actually seen 3 or 4 butterflies flitting about.

I was interested to find out which type they were, so I went in search of a photograph and sure enough, only a few yards up our road, I spotted a Small Tortoiseshell.  It had its wings closed and was well camouflaged so, given the distance I was away and the light shining on the back of my point and shoot camera, I was amazed to capture it in the centre of the picture.  The image below is exactly as it was taken (though reduced in pixel size to make it easier for you to load).

This is not the first time I’ve witnessed these brave and hardy little things out in the snow – as this picture from March 2017 shows.

 

Eurasian Siskins

For the past week or so we have had a flock of Siskins (Eurasian variety) hoovering up around our bird feeder.  It started with maybe 8 of them, then there were maybe 15 and the other day, I couldn’t count how many there were.  It must have been between 30 and 40.    We have had these cute little visitors in the summer, but never in the winter, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

My RSPB bird book suggested that they were “nut basket feeders”, but all of ours were seen scurrying around the floor, picking up what the other birds (mainly Great Tits, but also Blue, Coal, Marsh/Willow, Crested and Long Tailed Tits) had dropped onto the ground.  That is until yesterday, when we saw several of them hanging off the nut basket.  And today I’ve noticed a distinct absence of Great Tits.  So I think the Siskins have ganged up on the 10 or so Great Tits and scared them off.

Anyway, while I was taking some photos with Jude’s SLR camera (my point and shoot is hopeless in the sunshine as you can’t see what you’re pointing at) who else should make a short appearance but our old friend the (Eurasian) Nuthatch.  Not only that but my photo shoot was interrupted when I noticed what I thought were 4 parascenders in the sky, but it turned out that they were hot air balloons.  I then remembered that the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival takes place around this time of year.  So they must have taken off from there (which is many miles from here) and they were heading south over the glaciers and mountains to Italy when I last saw them!

Even after deleting many, many photos, I still couldn’t decide which of these pictures were “the best”, so I thought I’d post them all.  Please stick with the gallery as the quality (at least of image) improves towards the end as I edged closer to the feeders.  Also check out the look of the 2 birds on the feeder in pictures 13 and then 14 as the bird above hops off its perch.  (I thought it was quite amusing anyway).  There was quite a bit of squabbling going on as you will also see.

A Strange Find…

After a pleasant lunch on the balcony, watching and photographing some birds, I had a little time to kill before the football started.  So off I went up the path behind our chalet.  In a way, this was a little foolhardy, as the road has been cordoned off for 3 or 4 weeks, due to some (and by that I mean several tonnes) of loose rock above.  However, my neighbour told me that it had been given the all clear, so it seemed like a change from walking by the river.

Now I often say that you never know what you are going to find, or see, on a walk and today was no exception.  With all the snow around I was amazed to find a small skull, no bigger than 6 inches or 15cm long.  It clearly had some sharp teeth, but I have no idea what it might have been.  So if anyone out there can identify it for me, I’d be eternally grateful.

Snow and birds

Yesterday morning we were woken by the sound of a helicopter and bombs going off.  No, we don’t live in a war torn area (thankfully) and the bombs were not like those I remember from my days living in London in the early 70’s.  The bombs in question were being dropped to deliberately set off avalanches.  After 2 solid days of snow, the mountains can be a very dangerous place to wander and the powers that be send up the helicopter(s) to trigger the avalanches in a controlled way.  See this link for a video of some bombs being dropped in our neighbouring valley above Grimentz:
Huge Avalanche triggered by helicopter bombing

I think I’ve said before that it never ceases to amaze me that some birds hang around throughout the winter in this extremely harsh environment.  Temperatures recently have been as low as -14 C (7F) with a high during the day of no more than -4 C (25F).   The ground is now covered completely, so there can’t be many insects for them to find.  Needless to say, our feeder has proved very popular, with the birds below all photographed in the last couple of days.

Merry Christmas Everyone

The clock is ticking and we are nearing Christmas Day here in Western Europe, though I do know it is already past midnight in Australia.  So I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of my followers a Merry Christmas and a very peaceful new year.

The photo below was taken by my wife a few years ago now and features a very festive looking male Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula).

Cheers everyone! 🍻

Merry Christmas

La Luette Walk

I’ve agonised over posting pictures of this walk (from last Thursday) because ‘silly Mike’ forgot to take his camera with him and these images were taken on his phone.  After downloading them, it soon became clear that the zoom on a mobile phone does not take very good landscape images.  You all probably knew that, but I don’t use my phone very often, (even for calls), so it sort of came as a surprise how blurred and grainy they were.  However, I was very impressed by the close ups and, in particular, the quality of the first image…

I was also pleased to see one or two butterflies still around, though I suspect picture 7 will probably the last one for this year.  The weather has turned decidedly cool in the Val d’Hérens over the past week and is currently barely over the freezing point.

 

Lake Como trip

My sister, Karen, came over to stay with us last week and she wanted to visit somewhere a little different.  So we booked an apartment in Argegno on Lake Como, Italy, for 3 nights.  Although the drive over the Simplon Pass was on a perfectly clear day, the forecast wasn’t great for the few days that we were there.  However, we did risk walking to the top of Mount Tremezzo (@1,700m or 5,577ft), hoping the mist would clear, but it didn’t quite, (see pics 5 to 15).  And, of course, we had to visit Como itself and take a boat ride back from there to Argegno.

It rained pretty much all the way back via Lake Lugano and up the Nufenen Pass, but as soon as we arrived back in the Valais, the sun was shining again… (as indeed it is again today). 😊  Makes you wonder why you go away sometimes!