I have had a difficult time with the sit~spot recently because I have had a bad reaction to the insects there. Yesterday, I woke up with a swollen eye and spent the day feeling very ill because I had a total of 19 mosquito and horse fly bites all over me, the worst being on my knees, arms and face but I also had them on my scalp, back and legs.
They were from half an hour sitting in my new spot, the day before. It is strange that I have not been affected too much by insect bites in the last few years, although when I first moved to the Alps, I had a swelling on my knee from a horse fly bite that was so bad it had infected my joint and I was unable to walk for a week. It seems that this year however, I am going to be at risk again. I put it down to changes in my diet, as I have been recently trying to rid myself of a parasite infection (picked up from China) and I think this must have changed my body chemistry and I know that mosquitoes and horse flies are attracted to the (bad) smell of our bodies.
My recent Kamana lesson has been about the South Shield, which details the idea of commitment and focus and I know that this insect episode has given me a prime reason to give up my sit~spot practice. Sitting in that place and getting bitten again just seems too much to bear right now but I know that the South Shield has taught me that I must persevere if I am going to get anything out of this practice.
After doing a little bit of research into Anopheles plumbeus – a variety of mosquito found here in France, I walked back to the sit~spot this morning to check out the insects and yes, they were still there (I only got one horse fly bite on my leg). However, there were certain areas out in the open that did not have mosquitoes or horse flies. I found out that mosquitoes cannot fly if the wind speed is anything above 1 m.p.h. so I realised that I could position myself on a small hill next to the river, a short way from my original spot, which is out in the meadow and next to my friend’s beehives. Believe it or not, I am not allergic to bee stings, having kept bees myself in the past and being stung quite regularly by them, without having a single reaction. In this new position, the horse flies will still be a problem but I have found them to be a problem everywhere; mostly along shaded paths, so I figure that if I keep in the sun as much as I can, at least I will have a chance of seeing them land on me, where I can easily get rid of them. I will cover up and find a natural insect repellent and carry on – for I really have to carry on.
At least I now have another two species to add to my ‘hazards’ journal list.
I have been on an adventure in the last few days to try and recover an animal skull I recently spotted lying on the shore of the river. During the terrible storms that we have been having, the water level was too high to go out onto the spit and grab it. Each day after the evening storm I would go and see if it was still there – it was, but the movement of the high waters was pushing it further and further towards the main river and I knew it was only a matter of days before it would be washed away. So I made a plan to go out into the water and get it.
I went barefoot and used a sturdy stick to balance myself against the surge of water. Within a minute, my feet were hurting so much because the water is icy cold, having come off the snow melt from the high mountain plateaus above but no matter, I got the skull and was able to bring it back home with me.
I realised afterwards that it could possibly be the head of the red deer that was killed earlier in the winter by either a wolf or a lynx right next to my house. If it really was part of the kill that means I have found every bit of the skeleton now, albeit in different places within a 200m radius of the kill site meaning that animals had scavenged it and dragged off the different parts to eat. The skull was the only part of the skeleton that had been washed clean by the river, all the other pieces were in different states of decay; the first piece I found was the hind leg, which had been freshly killed and dragged away from the site, complete with fur and flowing blood. The next find was the kill site itself, with more fur and intestines strewn about – only two or three days old, the third find was the rest of the skeleton, bar the head, being picked over by insects and worms a month later and the last find was the head on the riverbed, washed clean by the water, four months later.
The river is always a very interesting place to walk, as it often brings skeletons and bones out into the open and the driftwood roots and branches it liberates alongside the water after a storm have the most sculptural beauty. In addition, the black sand is very useful to practice tracking pressure releases as it is often wet and holds footprints and animal prints really well and in great detail.
There have been torrential storms this week and I have sad news; the spotted flycatcher’s nest has been destroyed. I hope that the chicks were able to fledge before it collapsed from the side of the tree, and I think that they have already gone because there has been no sign of either parents or young for the last few days. I am keeping my hopes up that they have survived. Following this disappointment this morning I thought it would be hard to sit for an hour and watch basically an empty glade, whereas four days ago it was filled with such activity and excitement.
I am planning to make a few open fronted nest boxes and positioning them in my sit~spot area just to give the birds a slightly more favourable chance of laying a second brood of eggs this spring, as the original nest was so very fragile (just a piece of bark that was still attached to a dead tree shown above), which makes me think that perhaps the parents were inexperienced, as I am sure the nest was getting more and more waterlogged as the storms continued – making it heavier each day and that is what finally made it collapse. I can’t really believe that these birds lay eggs in such vulnerable nests. It was so easy to spot, so open to the elements and obvious to predators and the two parents were so noisy in their initial defence of it.
So, I after I discovered the collapse, I was really disheartened to carry on and stay for an hour in my sit~spot practice. I had to remind myself that the collapse of the nest was just part of the natural process of the wood and that other things would take its place and more chicks would be fledging and making their way out into the world. I didn’t have too long to wait to see evidence of this as I heard almost immediately a continued chirr-tweet coming from the undergrowth and I was able to pick out a baby blackbird siting on top of a pile of fallen brushwood. There had been quite a lot of uneasy adult blackbird activity whilst I had been there; low fly-bys and agitated alarms going on and I realised why – the adults were defending the baby who was obviously still helpless and vulnerable.
But he was also so cute! He sat up on a twig and waited and waited, chirping a little once in a while. He was very small, his tail feathers had not yet grown and he was finding it very hard to manoeuvre around as he tried to get higher and higher to get a better view of his parents who were still swooping by, caterwauling as they went. They were very frustrated with me but I figured that it was okay to sit and watch for a little longer as the baby was coming to no harm. He had such a grumpy expression and just sat in the same place and waited for something to happen.
Eventually dad blackbird flew in low and hopped closer and closer to the baby, so he could feed it. By then the fledgling was so desperate that he feel of his perch in an attempt to get to his dad anyway he could. It was then that he disappeared from view, thank goodness – out of imminent danger. I realised then, that all the squawking and agitation I had been hearing all over the forest for the last few weeks, was probably parent birds defending their fledgling babies from disturbance. I was regularly hearing the alarm calls made by blackbirds from the forest floor and the birds I managed to catch glimpse of were stiff and flighty with tails bobbing up and down, managing to jump and react to every small movement; really very disturbed. I also saw the same behaviour in great tits and crested tits in the canopy yesterday; they caused an absolute rumpus if I went too near to their ‘patches’ – the places where there young were – shouting and complaining and flitting this way and that to warn me off. It was only when I had been sitting in my spot for more than an hour was I able to see a group of blue tit parents and fledglings moving through the woods chattering quietly amongst themselves as they got on with the business of catching insects; flitting happily from branch to branch together.