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Casta Cattle, La Brenne, France [Alamy image ref. AFDKKH]

It’s always a pleasant surprise when a publication chooses two or more images from one’s Alamy stock on the same day… as happened recently with three of mine taken on the same day in the “Parc Naturel Régional de la Brenne.” I have visited the Brenne many times and illustrated it previously… click on “Brenne” in the keyword list in the sidebar right]. It is a 1,672 sq km (646 sq mi) area of natural landscape located in the Indre département of France and was created in 1982. Previously La Brenne was a region in the old French provinces of Berry and Touraine, west of Châteauroux and east of Tournon-Saint-Martin, an area bisected by the river Creuse. Like in all French national and regional parks, there are people living within the boundaries… so the park has 47 communes, of which the capital is Le Blanc with a population of around 7,500.

La Brenne is said to be one of France’s best kept secrets due to its large area and numerous secret locations – some private and others restricted – but a good map and guide will open up a wealth of opportunities to the naturalist and ornithologist. Its origins date back to the middle ages when many lakes and ponds were formed for fish farming by local monks who had established abbeys at Fontgombault, St.-Cyron and Meobecq.

It is an exceptional location for bird life with over 260 species recorded of which 150 are resident or breeders. It is also home to an abundant array of insects, butterflies and dragonflies. The woodlands and heaths provide natural shelter for horses, cattle, wild boar and deer which can be observed from numerous well-constructed hides and observation points.

Le Temple lake, La Brenne, France [Alamy image ref. AFDKKN]

The first of three images used by the same magazine I have already described from another usage, the second image being of the French “Aure et Saint-Girons” breed of cattle. They are also named “Casta” meaning chestnut colour. This breed comes from the south of France, in the middle part of the Pyrenees, and is bred from “Aure” cattle – draught oxen used to bring down timber from the mountains to the valleys, and “St Girons” cattle, a dairy cow used to make a mountain cheese named bethmale.

Originally a multipurpose breed, it is today used mainly for meat. The cow usually produces one calf per year for as many as 15 years… spending five months grazing in the mountains during summer. Only a few farmers continue to use the milk to make cheese, and a small group of breeders from the “Midi-Pyrénées” region are trying to increase the number of cows to save the old breed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aure_et_Saint-Girons

My third sale that day was of the “La Temple” étang, or lake, and was taken with my standard 55mm Nikkor not long after the dawn image of the cows (70mm end of a 70-200mm Nikkor) with the sun still quite low above the horizon and just after the early morning mist had cleared. I was aware of many bird calls and rustling in the trees and surrounding undergrowth, but no large birds were visible for my long lens… although on other occasions I have seen many Grey Herons and Cranes roosting and fishing.

Both these plus the Château le Bouchet image were RM licensed by Alamy for one month in a British magazine with a 100,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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La Haute Touche, Indre, France [Alamy image ref. B4NAHM]

The animal and nature reserve of La Haute Touche is the largest zoo in France. Located in a 500 hectares forest in the Brenne National park in the Indre département (36), it has over a hundred hectares open to the public and is the home to more than a thousand animals with more than one hundred species from five continents. The park is only 15 minutes from where I live and provides a very reasonable 8€ (5€ OAP and children) value-for-money for a day’s education and enjoyment.

This zoo is not like the average commercial zoo with cages and aquariums… it is quite different being very open, tranquil, natural and non-commercial (although there obviously has to be a restaurant and café for refreshments). La Haute Touche is more about seeing and experiencing animals in a much more natural environment than behind strong iron bars and thick glass.

I didn’t know it before I took this particular shot only a couple of minutes past the entry point on my first visit, but the safari park at La Haute Touche is reputed to have the world’s most beautiful collection of wild deer which freely roam the forest mingling with many other species. Within the reserve there are 75 species of mammals and 31 species of birds, and most can be seen on by walking or by bicycle… the latter a very good idea (and they are for hire) because of the wide area of habitat that may eventually be covered by the curious animal and nature lover.

The vast size of  the park, allows the animals to be housed and presented in roomy enclosures (some of up to 2 or 3 hectares each), and their environment means that they can thrive in what are near natural conditions for African animals of the savannah such as Hyenas, Leopards, Antelopes and Giraffes.

From my first visit to the zoo – and I only saw, at most, ten percent of the animals and birds, I saved twenty-five images as suitable for stock… which is more than I normally achieve in a half-day shooting sortie. For a specialist “nature” photographer much more is obviously achievable… but for me, not knowing one deer from another (unless it was pulling Santa’s sleigh) I got enough shots to satisfy a general coverage. However, having edited my shoot I can see many gaps which will be filled during my next trip to La Haute Touche.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 10,000 print-run for Worldwide distribution for a 12-month period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

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