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Our Wild Normandy - by Sam

Updated: Feb 25

When we moved to our home here in rural Normandy, we could never have guessed how we would be sharing it with some really quite extraordinary house guests.

The one acre plot, with four ancient dilapidated cottages and a handful of out buildings, was once a small farm, with a huge apple and pear orchard completely encircling it. The orchard has long been let to an Organic dairy farmer, who grazes his cows there in spring and summer then harvests the fruit in autumn to make cider, Calvados and Perry.

The main house hadn’t been lived for a decade or so and the other three for much longer, in fact one had been used as a cow shed with the remaining two to store grain and hay. 

We had to do a lot of renovation work, put in electricity, and a septic tank and gradually make this once neglected house into a home. As you know, we have tried to do most of the work ourselves and decided to concentrate on the main house first, and get around to the others at a later date. Along the way we have had some truly amazing wild lodgers. The first of which was a marbled newt, a colourful European cousin of the great crested newt. We were astounded to see this bright green and black beauty, with an orange line along her back. She came right into the lounge, through a small hole under the door frame, she did a tour, under the sofa and around the edge of the room, totally unperturbed by our presence, then exited by the same route.


The female marbled newt pays us a visit

We observed this spectacle in complete wonder, and were amazed, when the next evening she came back for another tour! This happened on many occasions over several years.

The next lodger to arrive was a female tawny owl who made a nest on an upstairs window sill and raised a brood of four chicks. I was able to observe the growing chicks from inside the house and when they were around three weeks old I noticed there was one who kept going to the edge of the windowsill to look out (see picture).  Then one morning I saw there were only three chicks in the nest. When I went outside I saw one chick on the ground! It was too young to fledge, so I put on some leather gloves and picked it up, took it indoors and placed it back in the nest. Thankfully it remained there until they all fledged a few weeks later. Mother owl returned the next year and successfully raised another brood. But  the following year a pine marten (a predatory mammal in the ferret family) who had taken up residence in a close by cedar tree, scared the mother owl off her eggs, and sadly, she moved on.

Tawny owl chick peeps out from the nest

Mother owl watches chicks from a nearby tree

Other inhabitants include bats, dormice, fire salamanders, swallows, goldfinches, and redstarts who are among the many creatures that make a home in the buildings or garden here. Roe and red deer, wild boar, hares, red squirrels, buzzards, peregrine falcons, and sparrow hawks are also frequent visitors.

Here I have seen so many plants and animals, insects and birds that I had never seen before in my life.

The fact that the plot and surrounding land has been untouched by pesticides and herbicides is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the thriving wildlife here. The lanes and waysides in this area, known as the Pays de bocage (meaning hedgerow country) are full of wonderful wild flowers like primroses, leopard orchids, dog violets, cranesbill geraniums, lesser celandine, self-heal, and red clover. Sorrel and wild strawberries thrive along the banks, and wild watercress and water mint grow in the streams that intersect the fields.


A swallowtail caterpillar

A pearl bordered fritillary

Insect life here is no less impressive, with swallowtail, peacock, small blue among many other butterflies in abundance, along with moths, bees, dragonflies, and damselflies.

Male Hoopoe attending the nest site

Next a pair of hoopoes arrived and have raised three broods of chicks in a hole in the stone on the side of the house over successive years.

Their distinctive ‘hoop-hoop’ call a herald that summer is just around the corner. Although quite shy birds, they are fascinating to watch as they bring food to their chicks and occasionally treat us to a display of their crest, when extended, like a chieftain's headdress in all its glory. Around the same time a pair of treecreepers nested in a gap above the front door and also raised two broods of chicks. This winter, on the very coldest of nights, a barn owl has roosted on a bedroom windowsill, taking advantage of the warmth found there.

We feel very privileged to be able to share our space with all this wonderful wildlife and wonder if there will be any new arrivals in the coming year, if there are we will be sure to let you know all about them, and maybe we will also capture some video footage to share with you. We hope you have enjoyed hearing about them too!



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I enjoyed the visit today. Thank you for sharing.


That hoopoe is such an interesting looking bird. I’ll need to do some research into it.


Alison Wade
Alison Wade

So much interesting wildlife. It must have been wonderful to see the owls so close.


I am quite jealous (in a good way). Would love to hear more with accompanied picture. 😏


Wonderful tales of your wildlife experiences. Tell us more!

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