White birds and weather August 2011

Feeding in harmony

It’s already 6th September and the SF (Statistics Freak, aka my husband) is going frantic because I haven’t yet posted up the weather update for August. Before I do, I’ll share with you the image above that I took a few weeks ago of a flock of white birds feeding alongside a herd of cows in the neighbouring field.

This is the closest shot I could get with my point and shoot camera without scaring them off. We have never seen them before but this summer we saw dozens of them regularly in the area, always feeding around the cows. A combination of my RSPB bird book and the Internet revealed that they are Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus Ibis), a small variety of heron. So what are they doing in an area notorious for its lack of water?

It turns out that this is one of the most successful breeds of bird in terms of its range of expansion. They started off in Spain, Portugal and Africa but were noted in America in the 1940s and began colonising France a little later. They bred successfully in the UK for the first time in 2008. Although they breed near water, Cattle Egrets prefer to eat insects, notably grasshoppers, flies, ticks, etc – hence their symbiotic relationship with cattle that attract some of these things.

The adults are snowy white with yellow beaks but they acquire an orange crown, neck and breast during the breeding season. We saw one up close in the winter when a marauding buzzard brought it down in our garden. Severely damaged, it died from its wounds but we admired its snowy white plumage before disposing of it.

Now for the weather. Every month I post an update on how the weather has been, based on the statistics we have kept since 1998. To see the other weather posts, please click on ‘Weather’ under the Topics tab in the right-hand sidebar.

Weather assessment for August

A quick reminder of our subjective weather assessment: we assign each day a plus if it’s fine, a minus if it’s bad and a zero if it’s indifferent or we can’t decide. In contrast to July, which was one of the worst we experienced in 14 years, this August was one of the best. We awarded it:

Pluses – 23
Zeros – 4
Minuses – 4

The graph shows the percentage of plus days each August for the past 14 years (the line is the trend). When we first moved here, August was one of the months when you could almost rely on wall-to-wall sunshine. But after a few years it became much less stable.


Our rainfall stats go back to August 2004. This August 42.5 mm of rain fell compared with the average of 64.7mm. It rained on 7 days against the average of 8.3 days.

Despite the rotten weather in July, this year has been dry. Average rainfall for the year to the end of August is 555.5 mm; this year the total rainfall for that period is 450 mm, only 81% of what we would normally expect. The trees are already turning for lack of water. They didn’t get it in the spring, when it is most beneficial and it doesn’t want to rain now, either. Although we have a lot of walnuts this year, many of them look bad with brown patches so it may not be a good crop.

This year's walnuts

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


  1. Cattle Egrets are very common in the Caribbean too. Our dogs take great delight in chasing them out of our garden when they land, which is frequently, especially after the grass has been cut and there are lots of insects stirred up. We have so many of the egrets that at night they love to roost all together in one or two trees down in the mangroves. From the distance it looks like the trees are covered with large white fruit.


    • Cattle Egrets have certainly been successful in spreading across the globe. We had never seen them here before and so I knew nothing about them before consulting various books/Internet. It must be an amazing sight when they roost at dusk. Here, I have no idea where they go. Some days they are here in force, others not at all.


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