If Alsace’s Storks Really Do Deliver Babies, We Could Be In For A Big Surprise

We’d heard storks were the emblem for Alsace, we just didn’t expect to see two giant nests the minute we drove up to Euguisheim, our first Alsatian town.

Two nests

Storks were once plentiful in the area.  For centuries, the storks of Alsace lived among humans, building their nests on Alsace’s buildings.

They migrated every year to Africa ( mostly Mali and Mauritania), a 12,000 kilometer (7456 mile) journey.  Over the years, their  population decreased until the 1980’s, when only two pairs remained in all of Alsace.   There were several causes:

  • 90% died on the migration due to hitting power lines, exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Pesticides
  • Urban growth
  • Draining of the marshes along the Rhine
  • On the annual migration to Africa, large numbers of them smashed into power lines.
  • African droughts in their wintering habitat depleted food supplies.
  • In warring African nations, starving residents ate them.

Alsace under took a program to repopulate the area with storks.   They built stands for the nests in Alsatian trees chimney stacks and bell towers.  They also developed stork parks for breeding and raising storks.

For the first three years, young storks are kept in enormous enclosed aviaries to rid them of the instinct to migrate. Alsace took other steps to encourage their repopulation.

  • They provided addition food, in the form of fluffy, yellow, day-old chicks (they also  eat field mice, snakes, frogs and smaller birds such as sparrows).
  • Electric company developed special screens to keep the birds from nesting on poles to decrease electrocutions.
  • Between breeding seasons, they repaired deteriorating nests.
  • Residents are strictly forbidden to remove nests from their chimneys and rooftops.

Today, many storks do not make the dangerous migration and live in Alsace year round, delighting Alsatians who adore them.  Only about half of the Alsatian white stork population migrates.  Half those migrating storks travel to the traditional wintering grounds in Africa.  Others go to Spain, where open dumpsters provide easy meals.  Now, Alsace’s stork population is over 400 nesting pairs!

We visited one of the aviaries and watched storks feed their babies.  It was pretty cool.   Watching them, we could see why the people of Alsace love these majestic birds.  Not all the nests were enclosed.  It was exciting to watch the parents soar overhead.  Each time, I was so busy staring that I didn’t get my camera ready in time to get a picture.  Sorry.

Storks symbolize of happiness and faithfulness/fertility and luck.  According to legend, storks deliver new babies to their families. According to Alsatian custom, a child wanting a little brother or sister places a piece of sugar on the window ledge to attract the stork.  The hope was that it would leave the precious bundle in exchange for the treat.   In case you were wondering, we didn’t leave anything on the windowsill of our hotel room.

Visitors to Alsace, don’t have to look hard for storks (La Cigogne in French).  From souvenir shops to decorations, they are everywhere.

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How Do You Know When Spring Has Arrived In Geneva? Check The Chestnut In Old Town

How do you know spring has arrived?  Flowers, spring showers, sundresses or swimming in the lake?  In Geneva’s old town, there is a tree, a chestnut, that is the official harbinger of spring.  Well, maybe it’s only the quasi-official harbinger, but it’s good enough.  In Geneva’s Old Town, on the Promenade de la Treille, is a tree whose first bud marks the official arrival of spring (Marronnier Officiel).  It’s known as “l’eclosion” which translates as “the hatching” or “the blooming” but in this case means “the budding.”

The first bud was charted since 1808!  It has always come sometime between January and the beginning of April, varying considerably (but generally getting progressively earlier).  This year, it arrived on March 13!  It’s official, spring is here.

Since observations began, several trees have been used.  The original from 1818  to 1905, the second from until 1928,  and the current since 1929.  The current tree is so bent over that it has to be propped up with a pole.

In 1808, Marc-Louis Rigaud-Martin began recording the tree’s first bud, likely out of a kind of scientific curiosity.  Since 1818, all the dates have been recorded on a parchment-roll in a special place in Geneva’s State Council chamber.

Workers of the city stroll past the tree over periodically during the key months and even use binoculars to examine the tree in greater detail.  Once, an employee hastily returned from vacation during exceptionally warm weather to avoid missing it!  They know exactly where on the tree to look as the first buds always appear on the eastern side.

Our Favorite Trees In Geneva

Geneva has Platanus, planes, or plane trees.  They are a hybrid of a couple of different types of Sycamore trees.  These ornamental trees are common here in Europe.

Their umbrella like branches provide shade and line country roads, promenades and town squares.  If not pruned back, they can grow quite large.

Everyone who visits remarks on the trees.  The produce lush foliage, are majestic and lend an elegant air to the lakeside.  However, most visitors are intrigued by/interested in its bark, which has a mottled, scaly appearance.  Mature bark peels off in irregularly shaped patches.

Plane trees have a storied history along roadsides in this area.  Napoleon ordered their extensive planting on roadsides so that he could take advantage of their grand canopies to keep his marching army cool.

Unfortunately, a fungus is attacking them.  During WWII, US soldiers brought munition boxes made from a US version of the tree.  They carried with them a fungus that has been attacking the trees and has spread.

Geneva’s trees look unaffected.  They prune them back in the fall after their leaves have fallen.  With their interesting bark and elegant shape,  we like the look of them in winter too.  Heck, we like them in spring and fall as well.

 

We Saw Lions!

The lion cares less about being the king of the beasts than about finding his dinner.” –Mason Cooley
When we were in South Africa, we visited Pilanesberg National Park.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with lions hunting behavior, the lionesses do the hunting as they are more aggressive by nature.  The males usually stay with the young and wait for the females to return.  Lions usually hunt in groups and rely heavily on the element of surprise as they don’t have great stamina.  They hunt, among other animals, impalas.
We saw four lions (two males, two lioness).   We also saw four male impalas.  Surprisingly, the impalas seemed to taunt the lions.  They stomped their hooves, snorted, shook their heads while facing the lions and moved closer!
Our guide was over the moon and said he had never seen anything like it.   We kept expecting the smack down on their brazen behavior and braced ourselves to see some blood.  Our guide said that the lions must have had eaten recently because they walked away…right in front of us!
The coolest thing was that they walked right toward and past us!  It was amazing to see a lion stroll around.   Check out the scars on his back leg!
I now understand why kings like lions on their heraldry, they are truly powerful, majestic and regal (even if the ones we saw weren’t hungry).