January Lunch

Susan Morgan

On January 21st, thirty-six members and their guests met at La Grange, Varennes-sur-Loire, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and the luxury of having the room to ourselves, since the restaurant, usually closed in January, had opened especially for us.

Then we were transported north to a land of ice and tundra through the words and pictures, of our speaker, Victor Leray. Victor is a keen wildlife amateur, and his trip to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago, enabled him to observe a whole variety of arctic nesting birds as well as many arctic animals.

Several days of the trip were spent on an ice-strengthed ship, where the group were accompanied by three armed guards, since the polar bears in the region can be dangerous. The main interest of the group was the wildlife, but they also visited a deserted Russian settlement where coal used to be mined from beneath the permafrost. The abandoned accommodation had a desolate air, one could imagine that the life must have been hard for the miners, labouring to extract coal.

Apparently, bird watching in the arctic can be dangerous. Arctic terns are fiercely protective of their eggs and nestlings, and people are advised to carry a tall pole reaching a metre or so above their heads when approaching a nesting site. This distracts the anxious parents so that they attack the pole and not the head below.

Victor’s talk aroused a great deal of interest, and many questions followed. We felt that we had been given a glimpse of a very different land; one where cold temperatures with ice and snow, are the norm, rather than being occasional events in the year.

Terrence thanked Victor for his interesting talk, and a presentation of a bottle of sparkling wine was made.

Our president, Patricia Curd, reported that the society had ended 2016 with eighty-two members, which made us the largest of the French branches. Membership renewal was proceeding apace, with fifty-eight members already signed up for 2017. We welcomed one new member, Pierre Zerna at the lunch. By the end of the lunch, three people who had come as guests decided to join the society. The society currently has two student members, Pauline Percevault who attends meetings regularly, and a post graduate student, who is being given help to find a temporary work placement in an English speaking country.

The photographic competition was well supported, with some very attractive pictures. Rosemary Coleman’s picture ‘Forest Frost’ took first place, with Julie Dufour’s ‘Saumur Château in the Frost’ taking second place. Roy Powell took third place, with ‘Le Thoureil’, and there were joint winners in fourth place; Corinne Chardon with ‘One Gabare’, and Pauline Percevault with ‘Saumur Château’. All these pictures will appear in due course on the welcome page of our web site.