Thursday, July 26, 2012

Marais Poitevin

The Poitevin marshes, which have been slowly drained with canals, dikes, and sluices for a thousand years, cover about 197,000 acres (80,000 hectares) between Niort and the sea.  The area is now a regional park, divided into two parts.  To the north and south of the Sèvre estuary is the Marais Désséché (dry marsh), where cereal and other crops are grown.  The huge swathe of the Marais Mouillé (wet marsh) is upstream toward Niort.

The wet marshes, known as the Venise Verte (Green Venice), are the most interesting.  They are crisscrossed by a labyrinth of weed-choked canals, adorned by waterlilies and irises, shaded by poplars and beeches, and support a rich variety of birds and other wildlife.  The maraîchins who live here stoutly maintain that much of the huge, water-logged forest is unexplored.  The picturesque whitewashed villages hereabouts are all built on higher ground, and the customary means of transportation is a flat-bottomed boat, known as a platte.

Coulon was our convenient starting point for a boat trip around the marshes.  We rented a boat with a guide.

The minute we entered the waterways, I was reminded of the mangroves in the Amazon.

Cows are brought to the area in the spring for grazing and return home for winter.  We saw Charolais cattle, as well as Maraîchine cows, known for their milk production and their adaptation to humid climate.  I particularly loved their eyes since they looked like they were wearing mascara - very attractive in the bovine world!

This fenced area is where the cows are assembled in late summer, early fall, to be transferred to the higher lands by boat.

I can understand why people refer to this area as the Venice of France.

This family of swans (cygnes) followed us around, hoping we would have bread for them.  They eventually settled next to the picnic area.  These swans are smart!

This is Mom and Dad, the male having a thicker neck than the female.

Baby is still a brownish colour until he grows into his white plumage.

A weeping willow that enjoys the abundance of water.

Do you suppose the wind always comes from the same direction in these parts?

Remember when the rain was coming in at a slant in our Thouars house and there were leaks in various parts of the roof?  Well, that big storm hit the Marais Poitevin as well, and these trees were blown over.  Not as bad as a few years ago when 30,000 trees were torn out by their roots during a fierce windstorm, all within 30 minutes!

Look very carefully - those are flames on the surface of the marais!  Our guide and the one from the next boat over, jumped into the water, stirred the mud at the bottom, then lit the surface with their lighters: methane gas!

Wish I could remember the name of this insect, but apparently it's very rare.  When the guides find one of these, the entomologists take photos and call their colleagues and get very excited.  We were privileged to see one yet can't remember the name...

We did see a lot of dragon flies (libellules), which eat lots of smaller bugs, including mosquitoes.  That is why in such a marshy area, there are very few mosquitoes to bother us - or the cows!

Now if only there were a bug that could eat up the heat...  it was 36 today with very high humidity.  When we got in the car, the thermometer read 42, but that soon got reduced to 36 once we had driven a ways with the A/C on.  Our boat ride in the Marais was pleasant when we were in the shade, but it was burning hot when the branches would part and the sun shone in all its glory.  Could it not have been a little more temperate, with more heat when we were freezing in June, and less when we're touring at the end of July?

La Maison des Marais Mouillés, located in the old toll house, presents an account of life in the marshes in times gone by, along with details of the wetlands' flora and fauna.

We were hot and tired by the time we arrived on rue de la Tremoille, and there stood our creaky and cozy guest house.  It felt, on so many levels, like a pleasant homecoming.

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