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The Roannais in autumn must certainly be one of my favourite times to experience the splendour of the valleys, mountains, forests, and waters of this superb region in France.
Of course, each season has its own individual character and beauty, but the vibrant, warm, rich colours of trees, hedgerows, and harvested fields in the autumn is a magical time.
Low, warm sunlight and fresh blue skies with the honest, natural aroma of damp soil and grass after a frosty morning refreshes my soul.
Symbolic of change and the essence of decaying summer, autumn is, however, a bountiful time.
This is certainly the case in France, with the traditional wine harvest, farmers storing the balance of late crops and feed for their animals in readiness for winter, and the myriad movement of birds on the lakes and rivers, and swirling in the skies around.
The hunters' season of duck hunting continues, and they also wait in calm, but eager anticipation of deer and wild boar to enter their domain.
At La Loge, autumn's mood is warm and welcoming.
Once again I visited this hunter's kingdom with my family during October at the invitation of our good friend, Michel ( I never hesitate to accept the opportunity!)
Autumn was in full parade here!
We walked along the tracks, beside the vast lakes, their waters still continually disturbed by the movement of large carp, rat, vole, or 'ragondin'. As soon as you leave the base of the lodge and start to wander through the vista of trees and tall grasses you feel your mindset change.
You feel yourself relaxing.
You become part of this beautiful, natural world, and return to the wild!
Michel is always eager to explain the ways and means of his domain.
I am always eager to listen and learn! His wealth of knowledge about plants and animals is marvellous and intriguing, and its great to have such a wonderful hunter-naturalist guide with you while you amble along the hedgerows at leisure.
He is proud of his world and loves it beyond measure.
The more I visit, the more I realise why this wildlife haven is so special and remarkable. I love it!!
Cormorants were flying across the lake, although Michel knows they consume far too many fish from his lakes for his liking ( 5 times more in a day, for example, than a heron!)
Large, plump swans, too, were swooping low over the water, before they settled to a steady paddling.
Beautiful as these birds are, however, they tend to disturb the many varieties of breeding and visiting colonies of ducks which provide the targets for the hunters shooting season.
As always, the whole setting and views across the waters are magnificent, and we had another exceptionally enjoyable day.
My son, Ellis, simply adores the excitement and fun of this natural world.
It is pure schoolboy adventure, mystery, charm, magic, fear, unknown, delight, and wonder! Given half a chance he would disappear like one of the 'lost boys' in Peter Pan's 'never,never land'.
(Come to think of it Michel could make quite a good French pantomime version of Captain Hook, hunting the ever-ticking crocodile!)
The birds, animals, insects, trees, varieties of flora and fauna, and the hunters' rough-made walkways over ditches and streams, and their laddered high seats in great leafy trees, to watch for their prey – all this is an immense paradise for Ellis.
My wife, Lucy, and her mother, Juliane, also came along this time, and delighted in the whole vastness of the place, particularly in this autumn season when a new side of its personality was revealed.
We all, as usual, had a great walk-about, and after awhile Michel suggested that it would be good to visit a bird sanctuary just a short drive up the road.
So, we climbed into his hunter's truck and headed out to get another perspective on this amazing part of the Roannais, called Forez.
The bird sanctuary was called 'The Domain of Biterns'
It was a large water bird reserve based around a large lake and central island. All developed, and created by the Federation of Hunters in the Departement of La Loire. Very ecologically friendly with a 'learning' edge. Freely open for all to visit.
A beautifully created place, and demonstrably showing that hunters are also not destoyers of life, but actually lovers of it! A sensitive subject for many, I know, but Michel and his friends enjoy the sport, but carefully manage the habitat and the countryside around, protecting it now and for future generations. In their own traditional way they virtually look after, and tender, a large, localised eco-system. They hunt and eat what the kill. They don't do it on a grand scale – they are countrymen, and they love their country! It is a rendezvous for family and friends.
The French are very good at creating nature reserves of all types. This bird reserve was not the biggest or the best, but it was laid out with care and simple country style. There were pathways and hides to view the hundreds of different birds flying, paddling, and diving around.
All sorts of plant and tree species had been planted along the walkways with their names and descriptions clearly to be read. The whole environment was a little educational treat.
We didn't have time to go round the whole reserve and visit some of the higher hides with better views of the island and lake, but we shall return. I certainly know Ellis wants to!