My brother and his wife came to visit this week so I took them out to the Maison de la Foret to show off the beauty of our forested mountainside and explore the birds and the flowers. I had declared we would be going for a “nice easy walk on the flat”, yet I had forgotten that the access road rises up quite sharply to reach the starting point.
“Err… how far do we have to walk?” asked Richard with concerned edge to his voice, as he breathed heavily in the thin air.
“You’re going to walk a hundred metres and stop for lunch,” replied my husband in a soothing tone.
“Ahhhh… excellent news. That’s exactly what I needed to hear!” chuckled Richard with pleasure.
Laura was bright and chatty as always as she handed us our plates of “Assiette Valaisanne”, a deliciously assembled selection of very finely-sliced cold meats and local cheeses served on a wooden block with wholesome, nutty bread. The forest hut is a cosy and informative place, and the staff are very knowledgeable about their surroundings. Laura showed us the freshly-cut sprigs of apple mint that the local bar uses for their mojitos, and a tasty-looking plate of bolets that she had just picked and was planning to eat later.
We sat outside on a wooden picnic table in the shade of a huge larch tree, overlooking the stunning mountain panorama, with its jaw-dropping views across the Rhone valley some 1000m below.
Feeling suitably prepared for a post-prandial stroll in the forest,we announced that we were heading off along the Five Senses Nature Trail (Sentier des Sens). Laura duly handed us a satchel filled with wooden boxes and wished us a pleasant walk. Each wooden box contained a bird whistle and some instructions on how to communicate with the specific bird depicted on the box.
Within minutes we were in the calm of the larch forest, and I started blowing on the whistles with all of my imaginative genius, desperately peeping and cooing in an attempt to sound realistic. The forest responded with silence, although I suspected I could hear it chuckling quietly at my foolishness.
“Are you hunting the birds? Will you shoot them…? Eat them…?” asked one lady who walked past, eyeing me suspiciously as she tried to peer into the satchel for evidence of a feathered feast in the making.
After a few more minutes perfecting my Pipit whistle, I suddenly heard a clear response from further up the footpath somewhere. A bird had responded, perhaps thinking I was a potential mate! A thrill rushed through me and we all hushed excitedly. Out of the trees came another group, walking towards us with their own satchel, and we all burst out laughing as we realised that they had been making their own Pipit calls in response to ours.
“Here, let me try the Song Thrush!” said Richard, gamely, when they were once again out of earshot. What happened next had us briefly stunned into silence. He proceeded to chirp and whistle on the small wooden device, and expertly finished the call with a little trill. The response was immediate, and from the tree tops we clearly heard the call exactly repeated. Another tune, with different chirps and trills, and again we heard the response. Laughing with glee now, we urged him to do another, then another. Within minutes there was a crowd of other people gathering round us and pointing with joy towards the tree-tops as yet another response rang out from above. Here’s a sound file that will help you to understand how hard it is to imitate:
This simple connection with nature had brought the forest to us and as we walked on, it seemed now that we were hyper-tuned to the wonders around us. Birds fluttered from tree to tree, flowers were suddenly loaded with butterfiles and bumble bees, and mushrooms appeared all along the sides of the path wherever we looked, seeming to sprout up just in front of our eyes.
The mile-and-a-half-long circuit was too soon finished, and we stopped off to share our success stories with Laura. She was expertly multi-tasking, serving beers from the bar, delivering food to the tables and chatting with everyone who wandered in or out. She froze in shock when she heard Richard, the Bird Whisperer, chirping and trilling on the whistle.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been working here for over five years, and I’ve never heard anyone play the bird whistle that expertly! What are your rates? Can we hire you as a guide?”
“I was just messing around…” said Richard, looking pleased with himself.
The Maison de la Foret in La Tzoumaz is a kilometer or two above the village and is open from early June to the end of September 9.00 – 17.00, with a range of activities that engage the five senses for young and old to enjoy. It is pram- and wheelchair-friendly and accessible to all. Don’t miss the children’s playground and the interactive wildlife display rooms before you head off to walk around the circuit.
Further information from the Maison de la Foret website, with pictures and videos (text in French only):
You can learn more about the Song Thrush on the RSPB website: