Just spent a cracking few days in the Loire Valley with Mrs D, her outlaw parents and the fading and superbly eccentric aristocracy of Lorriere, a chateau about 30 clicks north of the big river, from July 1-6.
The outlaws are staying down there for the summer, as they have for a good few years.
The excuse for this vin-fest, was a surprise visit to Mrs D's mother, who was celebrating a landmark birthday - she won't thank me for saying which one.
Given the drinking, tomfoolery and partying didn't stop for three days, you could say she celebrated in fine fashion.
Ta for putting us up.
Once the dust had settled I had two days to wander (okay, stagger) through the wildwood, rivers and fields surrounding the place, in extremely hot conditions (France is experiencing its driest year for a century).
Not so good for looking at birdies, although Honey Buzzard, Black, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Golden Oriole, Stone Curlew, Barn Owl, Black Redstart, Hobby, Black Kite and Serin are never to be sniffed at.
It was however, very good for insects, among them, plenty of Silver Washed Fritillaries, Marbled Whites, Commas, Meadow Browns, Red Admirals, Swallowtails and a nice, if worn, Scarce Swallowtail feeding on lavender in the baking farmyard behind the chateau.
Didn't realise they came this far north.
The woods and Marconne river were good for dragonflies too, with many Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles, and some very confusing damselflies.
Wild Boar, Fox, Brown Hare and Red Squirrel added to the most impressive mammalian site - a maternity roost of 500 Greater Mouse Eared Bats in the turret roof above our rooms.
A quick consultation with the local bat protection monsieur and I was allowed a peek at the big squeakers as they hung upsidedown from the rafters above.
When they emerged to hunt in the warm night air, you could hear the wind in their batty wings as they swept past, inches away.
You could also hear the buzz of the wings of the numerous Hummingbird Hawkmoths feasting on the farmyard flowers.
Bloody hard to get a decent pic of the hyperactive little weasels though.
With everyone dozing after another evening of food, vin, biere and more vin, I "borrowed" the outlaws' car and nipped down to the Channay arm of Rille lake for dawn.
This site gets better with every visit, despite the low water levels of a heatwave.
Squadrons of Cattle Egrets, Great White and Little Egrets, Purple Heron, Cirl Bunting, Serin, Golden Oriole, purring Turtle Doves, Stone Curlew, Green Sandpiper, Melodious Warbler, Stonechat and a fine pair of Red Backed Shrikes made for great birding.
With a bit of waiting I managed a few digi-scoped pix of the male Red Back as it perched up in between hunting forays....much better than my last attempts a few years back.
The hospitality of the De Bresson clan and friends was overwhelming as usual, so merci bien to them, especially Thierry ("let's all go looking for nightbirds - it's only 1am, and we can take wine"), and Henri, who for some wonderful reason took me to meet Arnaud, a tremendous guy with wild Barn Owls, Ring Necked Parakeet, Grass and Smooth Snake in his garden, and the most amazing collection of salamanders and newts from around the world.
Arnaud appeared to be one of the world authorities on the beasties, and indulged me with a stunning tour of his tanks and aquariums (he had an infinity of 'em).
Berkeley in the States sends him specimens so he can monitor breeding behaviour etc, so he must know his onions, or rather, newts.
Shame my schoolboy French doesn't take in complicated scientific explanations, but you can't win 'em all.
Numerous subspecies of Great Crested Newts, Fire Salamanders, Rufescent Salamander from Mexico, and even species as yet un-named by science, scuttled around his carefully monitored leaf litter and pools.
Another memorable French morning.....and remarkably little to drink.
A great time was had by all. "No god, not state" (the rousing toast of the immortal Madame De Bresson - she may not see 87 again, but she can still neck more whisky than a thirsty Scotsman) indeed.
Time to book some time in rehab.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...