Storks, cranes and puffballs

On February 25th we in the Lot had the sight of over 300 enormous birds flying overhead in a north-easterly direction. The sky was heavy with cloud and the light was poor, but they were flying low beneath the cloud and easily seen. There were four groups; the first group came from the east and close by us they paused and circled, making all the time a loud musical honking. Soon another goup was heard coming from the south-west. The noise was so loud that you could hear them from nearly a kilometre away. They joined up with the first group. I wondered if, fed up with the weather, they were looking for an overnight roost on the Dordogne. But they flew in V formations towards the north-east, on their way, I supposed, to Scandinavia and Poland.. These first flights came overhead at about 2.30 p.m. Towards four o'clock came two more formations, again flying in V formation. Our neighbours, like us alerted by the noise, assumed they were geese. One neighbour said 'If you hear them now then the weather will be cold till the 15th of March!" This suggests that the local people are used to the sight and sound of these birds flying overhead at this time of year. However they were not geese.

I thought at first that they were storks. They had the great square wings of storks terminating in long spreading finger like feathers. They had, like storks, long necks and beaks and long trailing legs. It took me a while to realise that they were cranes. Cranes are noisy birds which fly in V formation. Storks are quiet and fly in random flocks.

My other interest this month is the annual occurrence of the fungus Tulostoma brumale or the winter stalk (not stork) puffball .This is a very small puffball carried on a stalk. In the photo the small leaves on the right hand side are thyme leaves. The heads are up to a centimetre in diameter. They are found sporadically on the grazed rocky limestone soils which are mossy and with thyme. Again, the books can be misleading. Some say that it is found on sandy, chalky soil or on sand dunes. The soils it occurs on here are not at all sandy. It has appeared always in late winter in February. Is it T.brumale? Could it be T. niveum? But the latter is only known from Scotland and Sweden. Anyway the spores are too small and they fit brumale. The habitat would seem to be appropriate for niveum. If it looks like brumale, is it brumale?

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